Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Hard Life

A Liberian cemetary

We met an older gentleman who was recovering from stomach flu. He went on and on in great detail, about how he had "the diarrhea" and how he was dehydrated and it lasted more than a week, but now he was better and gaining his strength back a little each day. "Thank the Lord" he said. It seemed like an odd conversation to us, with someone we hardly knew, but he was very pleased to have survived this bout with stomach flu and wanted to share this fact with us.

We all know people who are overly "in tune" with their bodies. Every ache and pain is a big deal that they seem to enjoy sharing with anyone who will listen. Upon our arrival to Liberia, I at first thought that this place was full of these types. Not so. Every illness, infection, accident, has the potential of being life-threatening. And Liberians are painfully aware of this fact. When they are recovering from some ailment, they freely praise God for healing. When employees return after an illness and we ask, "How are you doing?", they usually answer, "I am better; praise God!"  or they will say, "Trying small; praise God."  "Trying small", in this context, would mean they are slowly getting better. 

One of our employees had a baby recently, and she called Babs within hours of the event and said, "Mother, I have given birth and I am OK!" (The nationals call Babs "Mother.") In a country where the maternal death rate in childbirth is one of the highest in the world, it is an accomplishment to give birth and be well. She was happy to have had a baby and to be alive.

Last month, one of our maintenance men took a day off to bury his brother in law. The brother in law had a fever, and hailed a taxi to go to the clinic for treatment. In route, the taxi rolled over, killing him. He was thirty five years old.The next day, another employee had a niece die from unknown causes. Her niece was thirty four years old. Two days later, one of our mother's had an older sister pass away. She was in her fifties, "a good age." And then another employee lost a ten year old nephew from unknown causes, and a cook buried an uncle who died from malaria complications. It was a rough month.

Yesterday, we were reminded again how hard life is here in Liberia. I had to go into town. Going into Monrovia is not an activity I enjoy. It is much work! But I could put this chore off no longer. We were out of some essentials in the kitchen. At 8 a.m. I was out the gate, dodging pot holes filled with water from the overnight rain. About a mile from the highway, ten young guys flagged me down by standing in the roadway. The spokesman of the bunch said that they needed help getting their friend to the hospital. One of their cohorts was being transported in a wheel barrow. I was informed that he had been "chopped" in the head and was not doing well. Would I transport him to the clinic? Sure enough, this young man had taken a "chop" with a machete, right in the middle of the face. Being the gracious Samaritan that I am, I said, "You can put him in the back seat. Keep him from bleeding on the upholstery," and off we went. This young man did not need a clinic; what he needed was a trauma center and a neurosurgeon, but today the local hospital would have to do. His buddies informed me that everyone had been robbed in the area where they worked, and a neighbor thought this guy was the thief, so he chopped him.  When we arrived at the hospital some 30 minutes later, the victim was alive but not responsive. If he lives, his life will never be the same.
This is how it is here. If you get sick and have "the diarrhea" and you put off the visit to the hospital too long because you know the visit will use up all the money you possess, you die. If you deliver a baby and everything does not go well, you most likely will die. If you get into an altercation with a hot headed neighbor and you do not have friends that will run the neighbor off and load you in a wheel barrow and stand in front of a white man's car, you will die. 

So, when I ask that question, "How ya' doing today", and they answer, "Doing well, praise God", they are not answering flippantly. They are quite serious! They are alive today, by the grace of God.