Jacqui was once a journalist who became famous overnight when she wrote about the human drama of the mega-earthquake in Sumatra in 2004. A quarter of a million people died worldwide in that disaster of the century. She immersed herself among the survivors to be able to write first hand the poignant story of their lives. As she was writing, tears fell on the keyboard.
Now, she is a high ranking official at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). But she is bored in her desk job. When she hears about the African famine in Ethiopia, she jumps with joy and wants so much to go. She is attracted to the harsh field of human disasters. It is the journalist in her blood. Her boss Frederick was angry.
FREDERICK Tell me one good reason why you have to go, Jacqui.
JACQUI This is special for me, Frederick.
FREDERICK You have tons of tasks here. This trip is out of line. It is not in your job description. You can’t go. I’m sorry. There is nothing special for you in Ethiopia.
JACQUI Yes, there is. It’s close to my heart.
FREDERICK Not good enough. You have to strip yourself of this journalism disease you still have inside you. I know, I know. It is addictive once it has made you famous. Forget it.
JACQUI It’s not that. The laurels mean nothing to me, Frederick. You know me. I’ll die if I don’t go.
FREDERICK See. You have the reasons of a child who is denied of her candy. You’re obsessed. A professional does not get obsessed and attached.
JACQUI So I am obsessed. I don’t care. I’ll die if don’t go, Frederick. Please, I beg you.
JACQUI Then I resign. I can’t stand it anymore.
FREDERICK Be reasonable, Jacqui. I need you.
From those last three words, Jacqui knows she has the upper hand. She quickly storms out of the room. But outside, she walks slowly, hoping to hear him holler. Silence. After ten paces, her heart sinks. Tears roll down her cheek. She cannot resign. This job is her last card before boredom and alcoholism.
FREDERICK (Screaming) Jacqui, get your ass back here!
Jacqui gives a soft scream. She wipe her tears as she re-enters the room.
FREDERICK Okay, you win. Fifteen days, that’s all you have.
JACQUI Thanks, Frederick. I will never forget this. I promise to work double time when I come back. I am your slave.
FREDERICK Get out of here before I change my mind.
And so, Jacqui wins. She is doing the one thing she does best, that is, absorb the feelings of people in pain. It makes her whole and, ironically, it strengthens her spirit to see and help people in pain.
Arriving in Ethiopia, she is met at the airport by David, a UN veteran who is an expert in massive food programmes. He is feeding a staggering 850,000 who are dying of hunger.
DAVID Ms. Jacuiline Durmont?
JACQUI Just call me Jacqui.
DAVID We go straight to the refugee camp on my jeep. Hey, you look so happy and excited.
JACQUI I am, I am.
DAVID This is not the place to be happy about. About 4,000 die everyday, about one half percent of the entire camp. More than half of them are children below four. Are you still happy?
JACQUI Okay, okay, I’m wiping off my smile.
DAVID I read your writings. Are you here to write about the people here. If you are, I can’t help you. I will not permit you to use these people for your ambitions to stardom.
JACQUI I am not here to write. I am no longer a journalist. I represent the UNCHR.
DAVID I bet. That’s your cover. I know your kind. Not one journalist who has been here was able to write a story. I have a nickname among journalists. I am called the anti-media snake. Ms Durmont, you won’t get your story, I promise.
JACQUI Jacqui, that’s my name.
DAVID Ms Durmont, you have to prove you are not a journalist.
JACQUI Why are you so hostile? (She gets her cellphone out of her pocket.) Frederick, I got problems here. You know my problem? Well … okay … okay … (hands the phone to David) … he wants to talk to you.
DAVID (On the phone) Yes sir … yes sir … yes sir …right away sir …. (Hands the phone back to Jacqui). Jacqui, right?
DAVID Sorry. It’s the place. After two weeks, it gets into your system.
JACQUI My turn. We don’t need softies here. You want me to recommend your transfer?
DAVID Nope. Okay, your turn. Let me show you around. We go to the refugee camp.
Cutting across the vast desert, the jeep churns a cloud of dust. All around, they see people trudging along the direction of the camp. Jacqui sees something.
JACQUI Stop, stop.
DAVID We can’t stop here, Jacqui. Protocol. There is a rule. High-rank UNCHR personnel unescorted by security, cannot stop. It’s dangerous out here, Jacqui.
Jacqui suddenly shifts the gear to neutral, and the jeep slows down, jumps out, falling to the ground. She picks herself up and runs towards what seems to be a pillow on the ground. It is an abandoned baby in last stage of malnutrition. Jacqui shoos off the flies in the baby’s eyes, and goes back to the jeep.
PHOTOS x JACQUI Remember, David, protocol is a man-made bullshit created by administration people who have no field experience.
DAVID It is still protocol. I can’t violate protocol.
JACQUI David, why are you here?
DAVID To help people in need. That’s pretty obvious.
JACQUI You better make up your mind, help people or follow protocol. Because at a certain point, they contradict each other and you have to make a choice. If we did not stop, protocol would have killed this baby. One small advice, David. The heart, your wanting to help people, has primacy over the mind, your wanting to obey protocol. [Jacqui hands the crying baby to David.] Make sure this baby makes it. If she doesn’t, I will make sure you don’t make it.
They reach the camp. David hands the baby to a nurse and gives instructions. A convoy of seven ten-wheeler trucks full of sacks of grain arrives, churning up a cloud of dust, triggering a commotion among hungry refugees.
JACQUI Where is your security force?
DAVID The colonel won’t give me one. He said I don’t need one.
JACQUI You realize if there is a riot, we could get killed. Get me the colonel on the phone.
She hands her cellphone to David. He calls the colonel and gives the cellphone back to Jacqui.
JACQUI (To the colonel on the phone) We need security here at the camp, colonel. My name is Jacqui Durmont, UNCHR.
COLONEL THE Jackie Durmont? I’ve read all your writings. You are one son of a bitch of a writer. Do you know, your writings move me to tears?
JACQUI Cut the crap, colonel. Correction – daughter, not son.
COLONEL We can talk about your request over dinner. Tonight? I pick you up at the UNCHR office?
JACQUI Can you send security right away? We may have a riot here.
COLONEL Sure thing, mam. Right away. They will be there in an hour.
JACQUI Thirty minutes. Don’t mess with me, colonel.
COLONEL Alright alright. I want to talk about your days in Tunisia. You described the Sahara as a sacred place, remember?
JACQUI Pick me up at the refugee camp. [She clicks off the cellphone.]
DAVID I like your style. Swap security for a dinner date. Really nice, Jacqui.
JACQUI Want me to call off the date?
DAVID No, no. I owe you. We really need the security.
JACQUI I know. That’s why I will be the martyr, tortured to death by a boring macho colonel.
DAVID You know him?
JACQUI I was here as a journalist last year. He’s been eyeing my ass.
Refugees are crowding the lead truck. There is a commotion. A near riot situation is emerging.
JACQUI We have to get to the lead truck. You push, I follow.
The two penetrate the screaming mob. In ten minutes, they make it through, going up the truck. Jacqui’s sleeve is torn. She raises her hand to quiet the mob down in vain. The noise instead intensifies. Jacqui grabs a megaphone and speaks in perfect vernacular. She is ignored by the hungry crowd.
JACQUI [Screaming through the megaphone.] I was here a year ago. I don’t know if some of you recognize me. [A few raise their hands.] This is a lullaby song a mother taught me before she died. Her baby died of malnutrition in my arms ten minutes after her.
No reaction from the mob. She starts to sing. There is a sudden quiet and calm as a lullaby echoes across the hearts of desert people. At the end of the song, a deafening roar of applause.
JACQUI The security force will be here in a few minutes. If they are here, and we have not formed a line, all of you will be pushed back and will be the last to be served. I need five of your leaders to form the lines. Five lines please.
A dozen raise their hands. Jacqui selects the five leaders. They start to move.
JACQUI Okay, those at the back, move back. Only the women, the mothers will be served first. Let the women stay in front. Move, move. Those women carrying children at the very front. The men, stay behind please.
Jacqui sings another song. Some women join her. The lullaby echoes across the desert. In ten short minutes, a near-riot mob turns into a quiet disciplined crowd. Five long lines are formed, women in front, men at the back.
In another ten minutes, a convoy of three trucks of soldiers arrive, rifles on hand as they alight from the trucks. The colonel goes towards Jacqui.
COLONEL Hello, Jacqui. This is impossible. How did you do it?
JACQUI Simple, colonel. Just touch their hearts.
COLONEL Just touch the hearts of a violent mob? Are you kidding? Impossible. [Jacqui starts to sing the lullaby again. The colonel sings with her.] You are an amazing woman. I bow to you.
The colonel gives a slight curtsy. The crowd applauds.
COLONEL Dinner tonight?
JACQUI On one condition.
COLONEL What, another condition? Okay, shoot.
JACQUI I want your commander to monitor the food distribution 25 hours a day. And tell David here if there is a problem. One more thing. I want lobsters for dinner.
COLONEL No problem, boss. Your wish is my command, my queen.
They board the jeepney and fade into the red sunset. The dust gives an orange glow.
never let your mind take over always let your heart take charge for the heart has wisdom the mind is blind to
bernie lopez eastwind email@example.com