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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guest Blogger: Himself on Haiti

Himself writes a monthly column for his hometown newspaper. It's called "Rambling With 'D'". It's a bit of this and that, quite often observations he's made in his travels. In light of the January earthquake, his latest article is about something that he experienced when he was in Haiti years ago.


“To Care a Little”

I’m sitting in my clinic on a ship anchored near the island of ‘Atka’—part of the Aleutian Island chain. Looking out my porthole I see a world of mountains, snow and water. Oh—and a tree. This island has one visible tree. (One LOST tree!) Though pleasant enough to look at, this scene is a world away from what I am used to.

To help deal with the isolation, wife Teri keeps me up on ‘news from back home’. Her daily emails mention everything from her latest home project to local town happenings to world events. With no radio, TV, or Internet, I don’t hear much from ‘outside’. We do have a small printout of ‘news’, but it mainly deals with sports and finances. Few details. No pictures. Concerning the small bit of world news in it, I have to get clarification from Teri to understand its significance...or its scope.

I was going to write ‘Part Two’ of Russia this month, but with another area of the world in the news and on people’s hearts, I will pause on Russia one month to write about a place closer to us, but in a way even further. Haiti. From what I have heard thru Teri, it dominated the news for weeks. As it should have. You have seen what I haven’t—TV news flashes & newspaper articles galore. I have a single picture from an old newspaper someone brought aboard that was already a week old when it arrived. I cut out a picture of an elderly male nurse from America comforting a young Haitian woman who needed comfort. The picture is priceless. It reminds me to...pray.

I mentioned Haiti being ‘closer to us, yet further’. That is a comparison to other countries I have visited. I didn’t think that was possible until I went there for a month in 1995 as part of the UN Peacekeepers. Up until then I had been in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. I had see places that were poor—some because the actual available resources were scarce, and some because war had reduced the people’s very hearts to poverty. To almost no hope. (That is the worst type of poverty...) Haiti, though not in an actual war, was both. And ‘just a stone’s throw’ (so to speak), from our American shores. Until I went there, I didn’t know.

In the midst of tragedy seen on TV, yet another sad story isn’t what I have to share—but a story of comfort. And dignity. Of a Haitian woman who had little and was about to lose what little she had. Her name was Sonya, a 40-ish Haitian woman who was fortunate enough to get a job ‘as housekeeping’--cleaning our UN Peacekeeping tents & bathrooms daily. A thankless task in that sweltering heat, it was a job she did with efficiency & dignity. Finishing her daily tasks, she would give a quiet ‘thank you and goodbye’ before returning home that evening. Early next morning she started all over again. And at a rate of $7 per day, she was grateful.

I first noticed Sonya in a roundabout way. While working, I noticed she was ‘hiding something’ during her work—favoring her left arm. Turns out she had fallen two weeks earlier and cut her elbow. I didn’t notice at first because she covered up her injury for fear of losing her job. The military unit we replaced—in a hurry to leave--neglected to treat her. It got infected. Badly. By the time I noticed, losing her job was the lesser problem--I feared she would lose her arm below the joint. Being all Haitian workers had been ‘signed over’ to us from the other unit, I inquired what was to happen to her. I got the impression she would be released and another housekeeping woman brought in. Just like that.

It was incomprehensible to me that this could happen—to release an injured worker without even trying to help. To be ‘just left’ like that. What must she think? I admit I don’t understand the legalities, but there had to be something we could do for a worker who had so little, and nothing to fall back on. And now, knowing her name, Sonya wasn’t ‘just a worker’ anymore, she was...a person. A wife. A mom.

Without asking permission, I determined to treat her injury once a day. With no authorization for an anesthetic, I took a brush and scrubbed this deep wound while cringing. Sonya? She would occasionally wince, but outside of that, she was stone faced. Yet calm. I don’t know how she did it. But no matter—I scrubbed and scrapped and rinsed, giving her strong antibiotics at the end of each session while explaining things thru a translator. And I prayed.

Fearing the worst, in two weeks there was a remarkable turnaround--the deep wound seemed to clear and healing tissue started to fill in. By now Sonya’s hide had been punctured from injectable antibiotics and her diet included oral ones. Many bandages had been used--subtly, as this wasn’t supposed to be happening. Sonya, with impassive face, gazed off into the distance through it all.

Then I noticed a change. It was in her face. More—it was her eyes. As treatment came to an end, Sonya watched me wrap her elbow one last time, and then looked up to my face. In her eyes I saw...gratitude. It is like something else had been healed. Her faith. That someone noticed. That someone...cared.

Shortly after this I returned home to Tennessee. Before leaving I asked thru a translator if I could get my picture taken with Sonya. I found out Sonya’s English was better than she let on--at the mention of ‘photo’, Sonya’s hand whipped up to her head wrap as she exclaimed one word, “Oh!” Then I heard one other word—“Tomorrow!” Well, tomorrow came, and Sonya, even though it was her day off, showed up in the cleanest & whitest rough cotton dress you have ever seen. Her best. She also gave me a beautiful wooden mask her husband had carved. It was all she could give. She then stood next to me for our photo together—me smiling, she with that steady & dignified look of hers. But if you look carefully, you can see something else in her eyes.



  1. What a wonderful, and beautifully written story! Love is that invisible string that connects us all. How inspiring to be able to give someone hope. It truly is all that is left sometimes.

  2. I'll convey your compliments to him, Nancy. Thanks.


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