Night Of Terror

By Sr. Rosalinda Gonzales, mmm

Sr. Rosalinda is a missionary doctor who has been working in Tanzania for many years now. Together with her fellow Sister nurses and doctors, they run the Kabanga Hospital mostly overflowing with refugees – one of the perennial concerns of Africa. Here she tells us of a night of terror when armed robbers broke in into their convent.

It was a quarter past midnight. Staff Nurse Loyce was walking through the dark hospital alley holding a torch because there was brownout. She was going inside the Male Ward where she was assigned when she saw a male patient and his companion go inside the neighboring Children’s Ward. She thought they just went the wrong way so she requested them to follow her to the Male Ward. Suddenly one of the two men straightened up, pulled out his gun and gave her a shove which made her fall to the ground. Then the men ordered a group of hospital staff who happened to pass by the same alley to lead them to the administrators of the hospital. With the gun being pointed at them, the hospital staff were force to bring the gunmen to the convent of the MMM Sisters who run the hospital.

Walking up to terror

Meanwhile, in my own room in the convent, I was awakened by heavy footsteps going past my window. I presumed that the security men had a problem to refer to Sister Patricia Byrne, Hospital Administrator. I tried to fall back to sleep but then the footsteps were back at my window a few minutes later. I recognized the voice of our security guard, Fredrick, calling, “Doctor, Doctor.”

I got up from bed and drew the curtains a little. It was pitch black but I could recognize about a dozen of people in the dark. One man was close to the window, holding a lighted torch which was directed to my face.

Me: “What is your problem, Fredrick?”

Fredrick: “This job is endangering my life, doctor.”

Me: “How come there are many people? Who are they?”

I did not recognize then that hey had guns and that the hospital staff among the crowd were hostages already. A voice from the crowd said, “We are policemen of Kigoma.”

Me: “How come that policemen from Kigoma are here at this hour?”

Voice of gunman: “We need your help to sustain our life.”

Me: “What help do you need?”

Voice of gunman: “Give us money.”

Me: “Sirs, there is no money here. This is a Sisters’ house not a place for money. Our work is to help and serve the poor and the sick. Money is found in banks.”

Voice of gunman: “Sister, open the door.”

Alert call of the Sisters

I suddenly sensed something amiss was going on so I retreated from the window, drew back the curtain and quickly left my bedroom to alert the Sisters. I was surprised to see the Sisters all up and awake. Sr. Fidelia Adigon, hospital matron, asked me, “Who are they?” “Robbers,” I replied. “They flashed there torches at my window but I ignored them. I closed my window as soon as they left.” Sr. Patricia added.

The firing started

The gunmen realized that I was not opening any door so they shouted, “Sister, sister, fungua inlango!” A little later there were strong bangings at the back door as they were trying to force it open. Then minutes after they started to fire their guns. As I returned to my bedroom to collect my handset I heard Sr. Celine saying, “What is that on my foot?”

When I came back there was already blood on the floor, she had been hit by a stray bullet.

Meanwhile Fredrick, the guard, was able to run away. He jumped over the hospital fence and rang the bell repeatedly at the village hall. The village people responded immediately as someone shouted, “Wake up, wake up and help the Sisters!” They marched toward the hospital compound with their cutlasses and sticks. But I thought to myself what can they do against these armed robbers?

Handset radio

The thieves outside heard the sound of the radio being turned on. They said, “Hurry, hurry, she has a radio.” I ran towards the convent chapel silently were the Sisters had gathered for safety. It was five bedrooms away from the backdoor. I locked the sacristy door and the chapel door and joined the Sister who were fervently praying four our safety and deliverance. Sr. Celine’s foot was elevated to lessen the bleeding. She was in pain but we couldn’t apply any medication as we had to keep still for the moment lest we get hit by stray bullets. The sounds of the gunshot were like cannon balls and the bangings on the doors continued on as though the convent roof was ready to fall on us.

I sat down on the cement floor and contacted the police: “Alpha Papa One (the police) for Alpha Romeo 614 (my call sign). Please help us, armed robbers have surrounded the MMM Convent and are shouting and firing continuously. One Sister has been hit by a stray bullet. Come immediately to Kabanga Hospital.” The police mobilized their forces in a flash. While they were on their way to Kabanga Hospital I continuously gave them information on the armed robbers’ activities.

The handset radio was loaned to me by the Red Cross for easy and quick communication with Kabanga Hospital where they refer their patients from the three refugee camps under their care. All NGOs working for the refugees, the Kabanga Hospital, the Police Departments in the District and refugee camps were connected to the same channel.

Missed death by an inch

The thieves were able to open the backdoor by firing at they keyhole. The bullets penetrated the metal glass door into the long corridor. Two bullets went as far as the metal glass door in the front of the Convent. Thus the gunmen were able to enter the refectory where they ransacked everything an even punched a bullet into the socket for the bread toaster. It was a bullet which passed through the metal glass door which wounded Sr. Celine. I noted later that there were two bullet holes at the exact location where I was standing before at the corridor but missed me, through God’s grace, when I entered my bedroom to get the handset radio.

The police gave instructions to keep ourselves safe and informed us as to where they were. This gave us hope and some relief. The whole ordeal lasted for half an hour but to us it seemed eternity.

When the police cars raced up the armed robbers dashed away to the back gate and jumped over the fence.

Sr. Celine’s splinted toes

After a short while the village people filled the hospital compound. Thank God they were not harmed by the robbers. Sr. Celine was immediately brought to the operating theatre. The bullet had penetrated from the outer small toes of her left foot and out to the inner big toe. The tarsal bones were all splintered at the distal end as shown by x-ray. She was in her post operative bed by 1:30 am. The two German doctors who operated on her were volunteers at the Kabanga Hospital for two months and would be leaving at the end of the week. Sr. Raimund Feigeler is an orthopedic doctor and was assisted by his wife Dr. Waltraub Feigeler. Due to lack of facilities Dr. Raimund referred Sr. Celine for reconstructive surgery in a consultant hospital.

The following day Sr. Celine was flown to Nairobi accompanied by Sr. Helen where they took an international flight to Ireland. She was brought straight to the operating theater and had a four-hour reconstructive surgery. Dr. Raimund’s emergency surgery at Kabanga Hospital saved the foot of Sr. Celine according to the surgeon.

Who can be against us?

At the same day Misa de Gratia was held at the hospital. It was an occasion to thank God for His presence and protection during our ordeal.

It took days for the police to pursue the robbers and we found out later when they were apprehended that most of them were refugees and some locals. A newspaper account later mentioned that all the armed robbers were able to get from the Convent was a loaf of bread, a half bottle of homemade wine and two table knives.

It takes time for things to get back to normal again after such a traumatic incident. Our lives were endangered but the Sisters and the hospital workers who were directly affected continue with our work as usual. We trust that the Lord who protected and saved us will bring the healing in due time as we continue in His service. After all if God is with us, who can be against us?