How much can one person take? Today after one week here we are still seeing seriously wounded people who have yet to see a doctor. We are seeing tent cities that have 1000’s of people living in a crowded space with no water, food, or sanitary conditions. On one level life continues, but on another level it will never be the same. 10 minutes ago I translated for a young boy who barely spoke. His head was soft as a rotten pumpkin, and his leg was infected. His grandfather brought him to the Jesuit compound because he knew there were doctors here. No one else in his family could take him because they are all dead. Today was the first day the grandfather found his grandson, and today was the first time the boy saw a doctor.
Earlier today with our team we drove to a location that a boy scout told us about yesterday. Again, 1000’s of people living under sheets in conditions that would be unheard of for an American pet. One woman of about 60 years old had infected wounds in her legs that allowed me to see the bones. Our doctors dressed the wounds and she bravely endured and hour long ordeal of scraping and removing flesh. I held her, we prayed, and I listened to her scream. To keep her mind off the pain I started singing the few songs in Creole that I know. A crowd formed and joined in with me. We all sang at the top of our lungs to keep the poor women distracted from the tremendous pain. She cried, held on tight, and sang. When it was over she said she will never forget us. When it was over she went back to living under the stars in a crowded park with open sewage.
We went to another park as well. Amputees, infected wounds, and dehydrated people came rushing to our medical station. They wanted water, food, and medical help. We offered limited medical help, but they were happy we came and asked us to come back tomorrow. Tonight we heard about another location that has even more need.... 8 days without a doctor. We will go to the new location most likely, abandoning the people we saw today. The space in our tap-tap is limited, and our team is getting to the point that unless you have something clear to offer we can not support your presence. Today Jake had to let go one of our translators. He now has lost his temporary job, and the friends he thought he had made. Our team will be better without him; he will sleep on the street.
The parks are full and every doctor on our team is worried about an epidemic breaking out. I took one of them to speak to the US military personnel we had already met at the General Hospital. Our doctors explained the situation. The US military was sympathetic to our request, and understood the problem. They asked a simple question... if they were to get port-o-potties installed where would they empty them? We had no response.
Twice today in the tap-tap I broke down and cried. I’m not embarrassed anymore to do that. Everyone on our team understands that reaction. My guess is most have done that as well. I ask myself how much of this can I take? Why can’t August be here already when I can go home and swim with my niece and nephews in a Michigan lake. Why can’t I see children other than those who want only a drink of water, or parents who are not grieving their dead children, buildings that are not a pile of rubble, or elderly who have the comfort my parents have and deserve? But then I stop and reflect... I will see all this again. My future is secure no matter how long I spend in this country. My family is not dead, and even though this is the first time in my life that I have not one cent to my name I know my present and my future will be productive. How much can one person take? I have hope, faith, and love, and therefore can take much much more. My prayer is that as noble as these people are they do not lose their hope, faith, and love. To this point I do not believe they have. To this point they continue their lives putting up with much more than I am. How much can one person take? How much can Haiti take? So far the answer is more than most people could ever imagine.
Brother Jim Boynton, S.J.