Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just A Swim At Night

Through the garden by the hotel. . .

Up the stairs and then across an overpass, with a armed soldier standing guard at the other end and

You find yourself at the edge of a huge and inviting swimming pool. We saw this beautiful spot earlier in the week but just one of us had gone over for a swim.

Weeks before when this conference had been announced we had been told that there would be an opportunity to swim. We had not expected this and neither of us had brought swim suits when we came to India. The first night in Sri Lanka we went to a recommended outlet department store. Look at the labels in some of your clothes and you will see "Made In Sri Lanka." This store was nice, but when you looked at an item everything available was in the same size. Definitely an outlet store with mostly overstock items. I did locate pants in the right size so I could ride an elephant.

We found a subdued pair of gray men's swim trucks but they were trimmed around the bottom with orange flames. We didn't care. We bought them. There were no women's suits in the whole store. We were about to leave when we ran into a pair of black shorts. That gave us hope and twenty more minutes of looking unearthed a black over blouse with spaghetti straps. Voila! A woman's swim suit.

That was a Monday and now Friday arrived and we had not yet taken time to go for a swim together. At noon a stop at the hotel gift shop to borrow their scissors, two quick cuts and then five minutes upstairs with the little complimentary sewing kit and the makeshift, black swim suit was ready for use.

Now late Friday night after dinner we debated on running down for a swim. The decision was yes. Gathering our gear we were off. At the last minute at home in India I had thrown in a large wrap of cotton batik fabric. As I walked out of the hotel room I grabbed it from the suitcase and we headed down to the pool.

At the pool the attendant sent us right into the locker room. I had just changed and was turning the key in my locker when there was a power outage. I wished I had taken more time to notice all the angles of the room and how many doors I had passed through coming in. My memory wasn't bad and I did not trip over any stationary benches as I made it to the last doorway before I had a stupor of thought and could not remember the last turn. At that moment the young woman sitting on a bench in the locker room remembered that she had a light on her cell phone. In one moment of flash I saw the last door and was out. It was dark outside too. General power outage. Very familiar, we got those everyday in India.

It wasn't hard to follow the edge of the pool in the dark and I found my companion already swimming. At the close end of the pool was an Italian restaurant and we could hear voices of patrons. As we swam we noticed the shape of one man back by the trees - probably security. The pool was large and as we traversed back and forth we got a lot of exercise quickly. By now the waiters in the restaurant were placing candles on each table. The scene was perfect but the next day was a travel day and long so we made for the far end of the long pool and the large steps.

As we finished our stokes the sky was full of sweeping search lights and as I reached the steps the night lit up with red streaks. At the top step gun fire began. I took a few more steps and then it seemed expedient to crouch down. In this position I watched as my companion still in the pool, stood looking into the sky. He had spotted an airplane. As the gunfire was going on and on I yelled for him to get out of the pool. He came to me and we sat for a few more minutes together then I thought that we should get under the wooden table near by. We shoved chairs aside and climbed in.

(Later a member of our group who was former Secret Service said with a chuckle that the table would not have saved us. Instinctively I knew this. I was hoping just not to get a bad burn on a bare leg from a stray spark. THE MOVE UNDER THE TABLE WAS SYMBOLIC TO LET HEAVENLY FATHER KNOW THAT THIS WAS NOT THE DAY THAT WE PLANNED TO DIE.)

Has everyone tried to visualize the horror of being safe one moment then hearing guns coming closer and closer? War must be horrendous! These guns did not come closer they were up close from the beginning. The red in the sky came from just over the back wall near the far end of the pool AND leaped from the other end of the pool too. too. We were in a war zone and the only thing that was missing was Wolf Biltzer. The red lights in the sky were accompanied by rapid fire of antiaircraft guns. Did we have fear? Maybe but it was not conscious, just awe and hope that it would end soon.

There was a deafening explosion but still the swooping lights and guns were in action. Bad things can often seem longer than they are, but the shooting went on for over twenty minutes. Long to us. It stopped but we waited and it started again. The next time it stopped we waited a minute then decided to run for a better spot. Dashing along the pool we found another group huddled under a roof connecting two buildings. "Stay with us," they called and we did.

The people there were mostly employees. We didn't know if they had a leader or just a take charge guy, but a firm male voice told us to lie flat and we did that too. We stayed there for another ten minutes. People were tense but calm. One woman was pregnant and two people kept wanting to take her to the hospital. she kept saying that she was fine.

A car drove from the hotel and discovered us in their head lights. We were instructed to go to the hotel and enter by a back door which would put us in the basement. We started out at which point the man from the car called out softly but urgently, "Go quickly." We moved rapidly now and the only panic seemed to be the lady behind me calling out,"We are going to die. We are all going to die." This continued until we entered the basement of the hotel and her voiced was lost in the chatter of hundreds of hotel guest as they visited and drank soda.

It took a while to locate our conference group but through the long hall and then on to the very back of the grand ballroom we found them gathered with a circle of chairs. Their first action was not to greet us with gladness for our safety but to whip out cameras for the photo op. I was so glad that I was swathed in the batik wrap and later one of the group handed me his extra shirt. Love that man!

We soon got moved out of the ball room. I noticed windows there all the way up at the ceiling. (Not to mention huge crystal chandeliers.) We all crowded into the long hallways which were under the lobby. The concern to get us from the pool and into the hotel fast had been reasonable because it turned out that the loud explosion had been an enemy plane crashing into a high rise but there were two planes.

We waited in the hall another half hour and then the call came that the second plane had been shot down at the airport. We were all sent back to our hotel rooms. A simple ending? Maybe, but even though the two pilots were the enemy rebels they were some mother's child. Nuts to war!

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Bob and Joan said...
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Elizabeth said...

Those pictures look like how I would imagine a Sri Lanka night.
I am glad you were able to record this crazy experience.

Jaime said...

what a story--we are going to share with boys at fhe. crazy you are in the middle of a world still defining itself...what a contrast it must be- teaching the peace of the gospel amidst the chaos of the war. what strength.

Jenny said...

great should report for CNN!

Michele said...

Omigoodness!!!! I am so glad you guys are safe. What an adventure. You certainly are not in Vista anymore, huh? Be careful!

KarenM said...

Such a crazy story/experience. Hopefully it will be the only exciting thing to happen on your mission.

Grandma Evans said...

Wow...What an experience. Grateful you are safe. What a difference between our missions. We arrived in Nauvoo 3 days ago, and it seems like we are in a celestial bubble...especially when we are in the Temple. You can check our blog to see keep taps on us. God Bless!