She tells me she wants to fly.
Doreen Mshana’s feet are strapped to an elliptical at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
Her doctor, here from Tanzania, is watching her. Elias Mashala, the orthopedic surgeon at the government hospital in Arusha the day of the bus crash.
Her mother is watching, too. Grace Christopher, who stood outside a makeshift morgue with the other parents that day, praying and waiting.
Doreen and her classmates were traveling to another school that rainy first Saturday in May to practice for final exams.
All of the seventh-graders, 35 students in green-and-blue uniforms and their teachers, were in the bus when the driver lost control and it careened down a ravine.
They held the funerals for 32 of those students, two teachers and the bus driver in a soccer stadium — wooden caskets trimmed in gold paint — attended by heads of state and more than 100,000 mourners.
Two months later, Doreen arrived in the United States on a stretcher, unable to walk. The 12-year-old who loves science and basketball and speaks three languages had three shattered vertebrae, multiple breaks in her right leg and left arm, fractures in her face.
You can see the scar on her chin — a jagged question mark — but not the scars in her heart.
The two surviving classmates who flew to the U.S. with her, Sadia Ismael and Wilson Tarimo, are still in Sioux City, Iowa, where all three students have been treated.
Doreen and her mother and doctor left Wednesday to rejoin them, her four-week rehabilitation at Madonna finished.
In a few weeks, the Tanzanian entourage will drive to North Carolina and board a jet owned by Franklin Graham and his nonprofit — Samaritan’s Purse — for an 18-hour flight home.
“Every day, thousands of people there are just waiting for us to get back,” Elias Mashala says.
The soft-spoken doctor is one of three orthopedic surgeons in a city of 1.8 million. He remembers Doreen arriving at Mount Meru Hospital, unconscious and intubated, the most severely injured of the surviving students who had been flung from the bus along with their classmates as it hurtled into the ravine.
“After six hours, she was able to say her name,” Elias says. “And then they told her mother she was alive.”
Grace doesn’t speak English, and the doctor translates for her. She slept in her daughter’s room at Madonna, her two small sons and husband back in Arusha.
Doreen is a responsible girl, Grace says. She likes to help at home.
“She is a good student, a good girl,” Elias translates. “She wants to be a doctor.”
Doreen likes Madonna.
She likes the two Sarahs she sees Tuesday — her physical therapist and her aquatic therapist. She likes the slide in the play area and the game of Yahtzee.
She doesn’t like the food, she says, making a face. So her mom cooks for her, food from home, rice with beef or chicken and spice.
Doreen moves from the elliptical to the swimming pool, pushing her wheelchair with her metal canes like a cross-country skier.
Her spine is mending. She can walk with her canes. Every day her right leg is stronger.
The goal is complete recovery, Elias says.
“To walk, to run.”
Doreen is listening, wearing her pink headband and making sly eyes.
* * *
The bus accident dominated the news in Tanzania for weeks.
Stories of mourning, along with charges of negligence on the part of the school for sending 35 children and their two teachers off with an unlicensed driver on a vehicle designed for far fewer passengers.
The magnitude of the crash devastated the east African country, where car accidents kill thousands every year.
But the globe shrunk that Saturday in May, when a Land Rover filled with members of an American missionary group got a late start to its day.
A delay that put the 13 members of STEMM — Siouxland Tanzania Educational and Medical Ministries — at the scene moments after the crash.
Three members of the STEMM medical team helped locate and treat survivors and, in the days and weeks that followed, more members worked to bring Doreen and her classmates to the group’s home base in Sioux City for treatment.
“Crossing the chasm of country, color, creed and culture, the reclamation of these miracle children serves as a great example that when the world says no, God often provides the yes,” the group wrote on its website.
After the students arrived in Iowa, one of STEMM’s founders reached out to an old friend in Lincoln.
“He told me what happened to the kids,” says Doug Tewes. “He told me they were working to get her down to Madonna.”
Steve Meyer asked Tewes, a fellow orthopedic surgeon, if he would consult on Doreen’s case.
When it turned out his medical expertise wasn’t needed, Tewes took on a secondary role: “To be the community person for Doreen and Grace and Elias.”
And that was easy.
“The story of the accident, it’s so touching that as soon as that information got out to the folks in my office, everyone was on board.”
The Tanzanian guests were Lutheran and so was Doug, so his church, Messiah Lutheran, became involved, too.
“I was really thrilled to see a segment of the Lincoln community rally around these people the way they did,” he says. “Anything they could do, they did.”
Trips to the lake, to the spa, to the grocery store.
And last Sunday, Doreen did something she hadn’t before.
“During prayers — we all looked down the row and there she was, standing.”
* * *
Doreen changes her clothes and puts on blue boat shoes.
The water in the therapy pool is 94 degrees.
Here her body is light.
She holds her therapist’s hand, the other Sarah.
They play badminton and four-square and Doreen shoots basket after basket.
Grace and Elias sit on a bench. Grace slips out of her sandals and looks at her phone. The doctor checks his messages.
On Facebook, Lazaro Nyalandu, a Tanzanian politician with 64,000 followers, posts updates on the three survivors’ progress. He is planning the celebration for their return Aug. 18.
“It will be a good morning to see the world in Tanzania,” he wrote in his last post. “Our God has answered all the prayers of all.”
Doreen will be there, leaving her wheelchair behind.
She has more recovery ahead, her doctor says. Body and mind both.
“She had a psychologist in Sioux City and when she gets home, too,” Elias says. “Some questions she ignores.”
But the girl in the water, flapping her arms and chanting — I like to fly! I like to fly! — the girl who has lost so much, her teachers, her classmates, knows the answer to one question: What does she want to do when she gets home?
“Finish my final exam,” she says. “Go to the next grade.”