Count to Ten© (Drama/Historical Fiction) In the vein of Schindler’s List and Blood Diamond
On Friday, October 23, 2015, I watched a CNN documentary about a Eritrean man who reached out to an Eritrean born Swedish radio host letting her know that his wife had been kidnapped by the Bedouins and that she was being held for $30,000 US dollars ransom. I sat on my couch watching, learning, and wondering. The film left no resolution in my soul. I started watching videos and reading articles, and I’ve learned much more. I learned about the main players (the Bedouins and the Eritreans). I learned about the raping, burning, beating and organ trafficking. I learned there are good people too – such as Mohammed Abu Billal and Ibrahim Munai – the Sheikhs who provide a safe house for refugees awaiting to be returned home. There is also the kind hearted Hamdi al Azazzy who gives some dignity as he buries the mutilated corpses he finds in the lawless Sinai. He also photographs the faces and bodies so that loved ones may find answers about their undocumented family members. I found out that usually the fate of the captured lies in one of three outcomes: the family can’t meet the ransom, and the human being is outright killed (or used for organ trafficking), the person’s ransom is met, but he or she is shot at the border of Egypt and Israel, or the person escapes into Israel, but it seems there is no social or cultural acceptance. These people remain poor and uneducated – just in a different country. And, I also assume that rarely the kidnapped are reunited with their loved ones. “Count to Ten” is to honor those who’ve suffered, increase global awareness and inspire effective change and action.
Eritrean-born, Swedish radio host, Meron Estefanos, receives phone calls from family members pleading for help because Bedouins have kidnapped their loved ones – (Eritrean refugees). The Bedouins torture the refugees in order to coerce family members to pay ransom. One caller is Awate, whose wife, Winta, is being held captive. Meron contacts CNN and Executive Producer, Cathy Bates, decides her main staff is overwhelmed with other stories and freelances the work out – to Maggie Constance. She chooses Maggie knowing her father was Leonardo Penn.
Maggie was raised by award-winning freelance journalist, Leonardo Penn. He is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, elderly and remembered by few, yet his framed groundbreaking articles cover the walls of his den. Maggie is a struggling freelancer who thinks this opportunity might be just the break she needs. Her father tells her to “do the story right.”
Flashback to Awate. Beyond serving eighteen months of mandatory conscription, he was forced to work for 6 years. After making a public criticism about Eritrean government, a military officer has him arrested, detained and beaten for two months. Upon his release, he and Winta decide to flee the country to Israel. Winta asks what he did to survive during his time and Awate replied, “I counted to ten. If I get to ten, I know that I am still alive, and then I pray.”
The couple pays smugglers who take them as far as the Shagarab refugee camp in Sudan. The camp is attacked by Rashida Bedouins; in the chaos and violence, Winta and Awate are separated. With no prospects, Awate seeks help in Sudan and plans to rescue Winta, but there is no hope; Awate returns to Eritrea.
The Bedouins contact Awate by cell. They rape Winta and Awate hears her screams. After her rapist hits her, she counts to ten as tears fall from her eyes. They tell Awate he must pay $16,000 US or Winta will be killed. Inside the prison, many others are being chained, beaten, starved, and burned. Some prisoners, whose families can’t make the ransom, are trafficked for their organs. Awate calls Meron, who puts Awate in touch with Maggie. Maggie investigates and feels great compassion. Maggie requests funds from Cathy, who refuses to provide support and thinks this atrocity is just one of many in a world full of such events.
Cathy receives a phone call from her estranged daughter, Judy, who tells her mother she must meet with her. Cathy meets Judy who is visibly pregnant. Judy asks for support; Cathy refuses. Flashback to Cathy’s childhood. Her father did cruel things to Cathy, who, in turn is distant and cold. Judy does not understand her mother’s past experiences.
Awate receives another call learning Winta has conceived a child. Awate begs family members for money; many do when they can, but there is little pay for most people. Awate faces one dead end after another, but he sends what he can so the Bedouins do not kill Winta. He offers to trade places with her, but the Bedouins laugh and refuse. The Bedouins take a fellow kidnapped refugee, Kifle, and send him into a ‘hospital’ for organ removal. He dies on the operating table shortly after his organs are removed. The Bedouins toss his body in a shallow grave.
Two children are playing on the outskirts of Egyptian border in the desert. One child discovers an arm (that is attached to Kifle). Another child finds clothing. The children run screaming realizing they are playing among corpses.
Back in the states, Maggie cannot understand the apathy and begins to see the ignorance of American people. She wants to open the eyes of people starting with herself. She knows awareness brings change; she begins to educate people with little changes such as buying fair trade. She also begins to teach her own daughter, Rose, (13) how to recognize greed and corruption and to take a stand and take action. Maggie then continues to delve into her investigation learning about the good people such as Mohammed Abu Billal and Ibrahim Munai – Sheikhs who provide a safe house for refugees awaiting to be returned home. There is also the kind Hamdi al Azazzy who provides dignity to the murdered as he buries their mutilated corpses that he finds in the lawless Sinai. He also photographs the faces and bodies so that loved ones may find answers about their undocumented family members. Maggie is more determined to get CNN – to not only put this story in the forefront of their news/media coverage, but to start The Freedom Project, that will denounce all forms of inhumanity as well as ways to stop it.
In the Sinai prison, refugee, Mewael, fakes his death and is thrown into a pile of rotting corpses. Another refugee, Tasfalem, wants to as well, but he is too afraid. That night, Mewael sneaks off and reaches the border of Israel, but he is shot by Egyptian border guards before crossing.
In the US, Maggie continues to crusade for human rights. She confronts Cathy calling her a weak coward. Cathy fires Maggie, tells her she has no right to the footage and information she’s gathered and has her removed from the building.
Judy arrives at CNN to ask Cathy if she would be willing to be present in the delivery room. Cathy says she’ll think about it, but Judy’s water breaks and she begins premature labor.
In an Eritrean café, several people gather around a computer. A woman, Saba, is in search of her brother, looks through pictures that Maggie is forwarding in an email sent from Azazzy’s collection of documented corpses. People in the café recognize some of the dismembered and deceased. Saba recognizes her brother, Mewael, and begins to wail.
Maggie confesses to her father that she feels defeated, and her father tells her to “stand with her heart, not with her legs.” Maggie says she’ll do this on her own if she has to; Rose offers to help.
Local tribes unite and decide to pool all of their resources; they will declare war on the Bedouins.
Penn succumbs to his illness and dies. Maggie does not think she can go on. Rose inspires her sharing a response from a major department store explaining they will open a fair trade section. Maggie rallies strength from her young daughter and decides to keep going.
The tribal rebel forces gain support, and they obtain weapons and vehicles. They prepare their attack on the Bedouin prison.
When Cathy holds her newborn grandson in her arms, she weeps and vows, whispering to her grandson that she may have done a bad job with her own daughter, but she will now make amends.
Back in the prison, Winta gives birth to a girl who is burned on the scalp at the hands of her own father. Winta cannot count to ten.
Cathy invites Maggie to CNN whereby she introduces her to the new team. Maggie is confused and does not understand that she and this new team will begin her vision of global awareness and action for humanity. Cathy hires Maggie to be the team leader and says that Maggie has done her father proud.
Maggie, and The Freedom Project team, transport Awate to Israel. There he meets other Eritreans who are homeless. They have no jobs, education, medical care or other services. They wait for nothing. Maggie decides to use her personal funds to pay Winta’s ransom. She arranges for Winta’s ‘transport’ via a shady middle-man. Maggie is unaware that the tribes are rallying to ambush the prison.
That night, the tribal rebels ambush the prison. Some Bedouins are killed; others take up arms and fight back. Tasfalem and Winta run to the border. They fall. Tasfalem is shot; Winta keeps running holding the infant in her arms. Meanwhile, the commotion reaches Maggie and Awate who dash towards the border.
There are gunshots and mayhem. As Maggie runs she yells, “One, Two, Three, etc.,” She reaches the wall and jumps with the baby in her arms, shouting “Ten!”
Awate and Winta are reunited.
The CNN Freedom Project changes the world, one person at a time.
Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash