Was It Scary?
By James E. McEldowney
A Kashmir Holiday Stories - Table of Contents The School Party


A weapons carrier
Do you think one has to be brave to be a missionary? When I talk to children they often ask me, "Wasn't it scary to live in a strange land like India? or "was your life ever threatened?"

In a few minutes I'll tell you of one time when my life was really in danger. There were many other times when I realized there must have been a guiding hand that spared me from harm.

Such a time was an afternoon when Ruth and I had gone to Almora high

up in the Himalayas, the very highest mountains in the world. From the house where we stayed we could looked out on a whole skyfull of snow-covered mountains. Early morning they were lost in haze and a blue seemed to float down over the highest peaks. At sunset the rays of the sun made them almost brilliant pink, and in between t he y were crystal clear white.

Then one afternoon we were invited for tea to the Methodist Girl's School. We had just finished tea and were about to start back to our bungalow when the earth began to shake and everything in the room began to sway back and fort. Plunk! the wall had cracked and a big piece of it fell at our feet, so we rushed outside. Every few minutes the earth shook again.

As soon as it stopped shaking we said we should be going. When we got back to the place we were staying, we saw Victor, our cook, and another man rushing in and out of the house. Victor brought a load of clothes and put them down on the grass. "Whatever are you doing?" I asked. He replied, "Just look inside. It was good you were not here." We stepped inside. The room was filled with dust. A great logs from the roof had fallen right across your beds. The rest of the ceiling had fallen to the floor. Victor was doing his best to take out as many of our things as he could. Had the earthquake come during the night we would have been crushed. Earthquakes happen in many countries and it didn't happen to us because we were missionaries, but it could have cost us our lives.

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Another scary time was when Dr. Gerald Downey and his family came to visit us. He had been a missionary in China and had to leave China because the Japanese were invading China and all foreigners were told to go.

Gerald had been a fellow student at Simpson during my student days. How good it was to see him and his family. At breakfast the first morning, when Chaitu, the cook, brought food to the table, Gerald said to me. "I need to talk with your cook after the meal ." I had no idea why he wanted to see him, but very soon he called me and said, "Chaitu has leprosy." Can you imagine what a shock that was? Leprosy is a dread disease and our cook had leprosy.

We took Chaitu to a doctor and sure enough he was in an advanced stage of leprosy. Gerald said, "You really have nothing to fear. I have treated many cases of leprosy in China." He had seen that Chaitu was a very clean and efficient cook so he told us we were in no danger. But what were we to do? We could not let him cook for us any longer. "You must have treatment right away," I told him. "We will pay for the treatment and we will continue to pay your wages." Both Chaitu and his wife were heart-broken. He said, "I am an old man. I am in the hands of God." Neither he nor his wife were willing for him to go for treatment, so his wife took care of him at home. He lived only a few months.

That could be called scary. We probably would never been exposed to leprosy had we not gone to India. Later I visited many people who had leprosy and was always careful so I did not suffer any ill effects.

You might think it scary to find myself the only white person in a crowd of many thousand Indian people. That happened many times and I can say that at those times I never even thought about it. I was just part of the crowd. Most Indian people were friendly and even went out of their way to be kind. They seemed to be interested in what I was doing.

Now I'll tell you of the most scary experience. It happened just after the war ended. I had been in Calcutta helping the American Government sell and dispose of the great mass of material they had sent to India to help in the war effort. Our college had been without a bus for some time so we had applied for a motor vehicle. The only one I could get was a Dodge weapons -carrier. Then I found typewriters, barbed wire, canned food, reams of paper and some medicines for the college. I put all these things in the truck ready to leave for Jabalpur.

Well, I was almost ready, but then I had to apply for a supply of gasoline to take me the 700 miles. I got the permit and filled the ga s into a large barrel which I put right behind the driver's sea t in a place where I could siphon gas out of the drum into the tank of the truck. I suppose you know what a siphon is. I would [++Page 97] put a hose into the barrel reaching to the bottom, and suck on the other end until the gas started flowing. Ugh, what a taste. Then I had to keep my end of the hose lower than gas in the barrel so the gas would flow through the hose. In that way I was able to get gas from the drum into the truck. During that 700 miles I had to syphon gas many times.

It was the third night on the road and after dark I had my threatening experience. I had to go through a native state called Rewa. The ruler was a Raja or prince. You might have read about the Raja of Rewa because he was the only one in India who had tigers in captivity whose stripes were white instead of yellow. There was an article in the National Geographic some years ago about those tigers. I didn't go into Rewa to see those tigers but I had to go through that state.

At the entrance into the state there was what was called an octroi post. You had to pay taxes on whatever you brought into the state. The officers there expected me to stop, give a list of the goods I was carrying, and pay the tax. Then when I was leaving the State there was another octroi post and it I had not sold any of the goods or left them in Rewa, the tax would be refunded. But that would take a couple of days.

I knew that I would not be stopping in Rewa to sell anything so I decided I would rush by the octroi post and avoid that delay. I did that. Then I came down into the town of Rewa. It was time to syphon some gas into the truck so, I selected a place along the road where there was a street light and began to fill my tank with gas.

Almost always when anything unusual happens in India a crowd of people shows up. That night the crowd grew larger until there must have been a hundred men surging around the truck. One of them claimed to be an off-duty policeman. "Hey Mister, what are you doing? Where did you get that gasoline (He called it petrol)?" I told him. Since gas was rationed and difficult to get he said I should not have that gas. I told him I had a written permit, but he would not listen. Then while my hose was still in the drum and the air was so hot there were gas fumes all around, that fellow deliberately lit a cigarette. I quickly pulled the hose out of the drum and closed it. I still do not know to this day by that lighted match did not blow up the truck and me with it.

Then I had to get rid of that fellow because the crowd began closing in on me, so I promised I would go some distance but I would return and talk with him. Then I drove a couple of miles out into the country and filled my truck with gas. When I returned to Rewa he was waiting for me. He ran toward the truck and jumped on the running board before I could stop. Unfortunately I had tied two large rolls of barbed wire on the running board and he found himself stuck in them. Was he ever mad!

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About that time two uniformed police officers came up to find out what the fu55 was all about. They did not know the fellow who said he was a policeman. I showed the police my papers and they agreed that what I was doing was proper. They said, "You had better leave town right away before he gets the crowd riled up." As I went I breathed a prayer of thanks that my life had been spared.

There is a postscript to that event. I drove about two hours and when I came up over the top of a hill I found a bus stopped. It was in a jungle area far from nowhere. The bus had run out of gas. Four or five women in the bus were almost frantic. They were afraid of what the large number of men might do to them if they were left stranded on the road in the middle of the night. They begged me for some gas. I wasn't sure how much I could spare but I drove my truck close to the bus and siphoned three or four gallons into the bus. I never before experienced such gratitude as those women gave me. I think every one of them came, stooped before me and put her head on my feet - the way Indian people show extreme gratitude.

I drove on through the night and made it to Jabalpur just as the sun was coming up on a new day. once at home I had a shower and threw myself on my bed under the fan. We had no air conditioning but after having been on the road three days and the last 30 hours without sleep I was exhausted. I slept around the clock and the next day I went to the head Octroy Office in the city and paid the octroi (tax) for the things I had brought into the city, and then left for a few weeks with my family in Landour.

Probably during those years I was safer in India than I would have been battling highway traffic and withstanding years of high- pressure living in America. At least I am alive to tell the story. [by James E. McEldowney, August 1997]

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