Moondance; Celebrating Creative Women

 

La Charette

"La Charette"
By Chrystel Sarrazin

I had envisioned fucking many handsome Doctors Without Borders, which is how I ended up in Bosnia at 2 AM delivering Tampax and lipstick to the Red Cross delivery trucks on a burned out field on Christmas morning. The lipstick and Tampax were not my idea; they were a product of the Women In Bosnia movement, a little something from their woman friends in the US, England and France to help out in one of the most overlooked areas of wartime famine and chaos. I was a pilot, hustling my donated airliners from London to Bosnia without being shot out of the sky behind enemy lines. I'm obviously a delivery girl with a serious weakness for physicians.

It is cold out here, an extraordinary 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind has really picked up; I felt it coming in but standing out here on the tarmac, it really eats through my thin blue WIB windbreaker. I'm moving these huge boxes labeled TAMPONS from the belly of the plane to the trucks with the help of two men whose names I didn't catch. They'd been waiting for my plane on the airstrip, that's all I know. The trucks are Red Cross issued, which I find nice and comfortable, a team spirit sort of blending between charities. The boxes aren't heavy but they are large and bulky. I walk with the last one over to the truck and throw it inside the tarp. I have been doing this for two months and I have not seen a single solitary doctor.

Doctors. I had imagined serious looking gentlemen with soft hands, luminous brown eyes, and deeply held convictions tending to the women in their kerchiefs, bandaging the civilians up, giving babies formula and vaccines in villages. So far, as I said, I haven't seen anything of the kind. The actual doctors are busy; I know this, which is why they're not standing around waiting for me to put my plane on an unmarked airstrip four kilometers from the action. It's sort of a catch-22.

But tomorrow it is Christmas, and the Director has promised me an honest shot at meeting doctors. There is a small gathering, I don't want to say party since the sound of gunfire is within field goal distance, but there's a gathering and at least 250 doctors will be there. The Director personally guaranteed this number.

I am thinking, as we drive the tampons to the distribution center, that by this time tomorrow, I should be wailing under a doctor and happy about it. I think this thought as I am led to my little room in an abandoned warehouse where the women sleep, just me in here tonight, and as I undress in the dark it is the only thought that keeps me from driving back out to my plane, flying straight to Antwerp, and catching American Airlines straight to JFK.

War sucks, even modern ones, even ones that are not being fought on your own turf, even ones that are not even being fought in a language you understand. It's oppressive and sad and you feel so small sometimes. Tampons and Lipstick. Other times you feel like a hero. None of my American friends are here, after all, they're enjoying their Jumbo Ruby Red Grapefruit, Dilbert cartoons and 24 hour net access while I'm out here flying over strange airspace, trying not to think about the actual war, trying to just do my part and do it well. So I shuttle the tampons from the allies to the war zone with regularity and, I hope, with a sense of humor if not perspective.

When I finally get my chance I realize that I have to open up a box of lipsticks and pick a tube of Revlon, a magenta shade of Very Berry, before I feel attractive enough to leave my warehouse room. I'm in my standard jeans, two sweaters, Doc Martins, a green pea coat (bought it in London at Harrods two winters ago) a scarf and a skullcap. I'm still freezing and I don't think anyone is going to notice the lipstick. Still, I file into the General Warehouse, which is used for meetings, meals, and other community activities. And as the Director promised, it is like a Cathy cartoon dream come true, men are everywhere. In fact I think I'm the only female. At first sweep it certainly appears that the odds are in my favor.

Doctors, doctors everywhere! I am suddenly buoyant with this fact, feeling like Augustus Caesar thinking... hum... I'll take.... THAT ONE! And that cute tall one over there and the one with the dimples, no not him, but the one next to him, and the brown eyed sweetie holding a plastic cup of something that looks like tea but that could be anything, including Bosnian tap water.

I don't know anyone here, I realize. I fly in three times per week and every time there are different people who help transport the tampies and lipstick to the dist. center. I haven't forged any real friendships yet, and this fact is both daunting and relieving, as I have no standards of behavior to live up to.

Girl Pilot Gone Wild In Bosnia. I can see it now. Even though so far I am just standing around trying to make out the Director, the only person I report to and the only one I know. Piers Margoulis, he's a Brit, a doctor, and he's gay. Utterly safe. I see his handsome profile near the row of portable heaters and walk over. He's talking to a man I instantly hope is a doctor.

The doctor-hopeful sort of smiles at me and then blinks, I think, realizing that I'm a female at the exact same instant I catch the wink of his wedding band. Dang. One down, two hundred and forty nine to go.

I do see another woman. She's an English doctor, Piers tells me. Extremely bright, very compassionate, gave up a lucrative practice to come here for a year at least. I have never until that moment wished I were anything but a pilot, but I am suddenly filled with the knowledge that in an alternate life I too could be a gorgeous female doctor, adored by men doctors. As it is, I'm just a transpo girl and nobody cares that I can put 6 tons of corrugated metal safely on the ground in a raging snowstorm under enemy fire. In America the President would call me a hero. He would wax about the importance of my mission, delivering sanitary and beauty products to the world's oppressed... while she would be Just Another Doctor. There was some weird satisfaction in that. That my story is more newsworthy.

Piers diverts my attention by introducing me to several doctors, none of whom, I'm surprised, catch my attention. Their stories are not the stories of brave, compassionate heroes but tired, maladjusted brats. "So I'm like, trying to explain to this idiot about Histocompatibility testing, you know, telling them that the self antigens (HLA) on the tissues of a transplant donor with those of the recipient, her son, are like, not close enough. I mean, the kid will just reject the kidney. Any second year med student could see that, right?"

"Obviously," I say to Dr. Death, glancing around for someone a little less tightly wound.

Maybe they're just tired, I think. When they ask if I'm a doctor and I say I'm a pilot, their attention scatters even more. Airplanes. Who needs airplanes in a war. Bah! This room is freezing too. The heaters are pumping out warm arms of heat but very little of it travels beyond two feet. As a result everyone is lined up at the heaters trying to stay warm. And the overhead florescence lights are dim, flickery, and unsteady. Someone managed to light some candles and placed them throughout the room. That's pretty but I'm paranoid about my scarf catching fire. There is no Christmas tree but there are some bits of holly and a few strands of mistletoe. On Radio Free Europe, they're playing Edith Piaf. I feel like it's 1942.

It has been an hour. I've met doctors but I haven't fallen in love or lust yet and I'm cold. In fact, I feel more depressed than before I came. I walk outside to see a few snow flurries coming down, twisting in the stiff wind. By morning there will be fresh curbs of snow everywhere. It will remind the East Coast people of home and it will secretly delight the people from the west and south because they almost never see snow.

I walk back to the female warehouse and then decide on impulse to go back to the airstrip. It's pretty there, on an open field, and quiet, and I want to think about things. Not just the doctor situation, but the Tampax and lipstick situation. There has to be more I can do. If the US were under siege and we had nothing, I know the lipstick and tampons would help, but I would want More. Always, more. But I'm a pilot, I'm not sure what else I can actually do besides deliver the goods.

I get a dist guy to drive me back out to the airstrip. My plane is still on the tarmac. It's an old Boeing 747, formerly owned by Continental. They donated the plane and the logo on the tail has been painted over white. I tell the driver to go back and he says he isn't authorized to leave me alone with the plane, especially since I still have the keys.

"Suit yourself," I say and hop out. The temperature has dropped another ten degrees. I climb inside my bird and sit in the cockpit like a sullen child, not sure why I'm here in a Continental jet in Bosnia on Christmas in the freezing cold snow. How did I end up here? You wanted to screw many doctors, a voice in my head says. What I really wanted was to make a difference. We in the US can barely say that with a straight face, but in my case it is the truth. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and this is what I fell into. War is good for things like that, for testing the limits of your unselfishness. I considered the doctors simply spoils of war.

I hear a bang on the door and carefully open it. "You got a heater in this thing?"

I nod and let him in. I wonder if he'd authorized to leave the truck unattended.

He sits in the first officer seat. The cockpit is extremely silent.

"I'm a pilot too," he says, to break the quiet I suppose.

"Really?"

"Yep."

I nod in a distracted way. I didn't want to meet pilots I wanted to meet doctors. Handsome doctors. You would think that in a program called Doctors Without Borders that wouldn't be difficult but Oh how wrong you would be.

"I'm flying to Chechnya tomorrow morning," he continues.

"In Russia? What for?"

"It's a program called Uniting Europe. We bring together families broken by war or national disaster."

"That's nice. I transport tampons and lipstick to the women in Bosnia."

"Someone has to," he says. He says it with enough of a smile in his voice that I turn and look at him. He's got a pleasant, amused look on his face. Cute face, but he's leaving for Russia in the morning and even though I haven't been laid in seven months, I don't want to screw anyone with a face that innocent and then have to say goodbye in a few hours.

"I think I would like to fly covert missions and actually take the women out of Bosnia," I say suddenly. "With their kids. Just remove them entirely from this situation."

He nods.

"It's probably against the Geneva Convention at the very least," I say, "but I want to do something impactful, real. You know?"

"I know," he says.

"I would like to bring them maps so they can plan an escape. I would like to have planes coming in here every thirty minutes like the Houston to Dallas shuttle, taking them out of this place to someplace calm. Maybe even for just a little while. I'd call it the Holiday From War program, I'd shuttle them out to . . i heck, I dunno. . . I could take them to Greece, everybody loves Greece. Or across the Adriatic to Italy."

"Nevermind the fact that they don't have passports," he says.

I nod glumly. There is no external rescue for them. They're stuck and all I can do is deliver tampons and lipstick.

He smiles in the darkness. "I know how you feel. Sometimes I just wish I could take all of Europe and Russia home with me to Michigan. Keep them all safe."

"That's a nice thought," I say. What else can you do in this world, I thought, but wish everyone an American way of life.

"When I joined Flying Doctors we had-"

"Flying doctors?"

"We fly our own planes to help children in need of all kinds of treatments."

"You're a doctor?"

"Anesthesiologist."

I smiled then and was ashamed of myself. I tried not to let on, I wanted to hear about Flying Doctors.

"I used to bring American toys to kids in Russia and while there, deliver whatever kind of medical treatments they needed."

"That sounds like a nice program."

"There are all kinds of social programs out there," he says thoughtfully and locks me into a gaze with his warm whiskey brown eyes, "all kinds of people willing to help the oppressed and scared. You know, you just have to look."

"Maybe I could... transport doctors, as well as tampons and lipstick."

He nodded. There was some sort of magnetic shift, we seemed to be leaning in to each other. The plane suddenly felt like a warm little cave and his presence, I realized, was integral to the feeling. When he kissed me I wasn't thinking of Bosnia or the Russians. I was thinking of the last great American cause: the liberation of the American heart.



Cate Meredith is a writer trapped inside a digital nomad's body. She is working on the great American novel.



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