Monday, February 22, 2010

Not Another Concrete Graveyard

By Crystal Wells

Sometimes the most memorable moments arrive wrapped in the mundane. For Luben, a frail man who seems older than his 47 years, it was watching an ant crawl across his kitchen table.

The image of that ant, clinging to the trembling table as the Jan 12th earthquake hit Haiti, was his last memory before the ceiling collapsed around him, pinning his body against the wall. For four days, Luben lay trapped on his side, cheek pressed against a wall, eyes closed for fear that he would die if he opened them. Then a man crawled through the wreckage of his home and dug him out.

Buried under the concrete slabs of his house, Luben dreamt that God gave him four pills - one for each day he was trapped - to sustain him until his rescue. “I pray everyday,” he said.

Luben was taken to an outdoor clinic hastily set up near the crumbled remains of Church of St. Louis Roi de France near downtown Port-au-Prince, where he still is recovering. An extraordinary Haitian physician named Joseline Marhone has provided medical care there in a shaded courtyard since the day after the earthquake.

In normal times, Dr. Marhone serves as the Director of the Coordination Unit of National Food and Nutrition in Haiti’s Ministry of Health. But these are not normal times and with her home and office both destroyed, she decided to make the church grounds a place of healing. Here, amid the debris, she lives and works. The nearby church collapsed with the priest and nine others inside. International Medical Corps supports the St. Louis clinic with staffing and medicines, enabling Dr. Marhone and other Haitian doctors and nurses to see as many people as possible.

I came to St. Louis on a Sunday morning with one of our doctors to deliver supplies. Expecting chaos and suffering, instead I found rival. A crowd clapped and sang beneath the wood frame of a simple outdoor chapel. Blue balloons decorated a line of pews that spilled into the courtyard. The sick, some in chairs, some lying on mattresses, lined the side of the chapel like a bow, each one close enough to hear the sermon. Haiti was on its way back.

Luben’s spot is just to the side of the pews. On days he’s not well enough to sit through the service – like the day I met him – he follows along from his mattress beneath a tarp. His mother lives at St. Louis too. She never leaves his side. She lost her home and all her other children in the earthquake. She will not lose Luben.

When Luben was admitted, he was malnourished and dehydrated, but he is recovering day by day. “I still cannot sleep because I am in pain,” he said. “But every day I feel better.”

Luben is one of hundreds healing in the heaps of rubble and broken glass that could have been just another concrete graveyard in Port-au-Prince, but instead was dusted off and filled with hope, song, and unforgettable moments that undoubtedly show how far human compassion and strength can go, especially in the face of tragedy.

1 comment:

slb said...

a very compelling piece. I felt as if I were there. Thank you for this story and the help you are providing the survivors.