Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Prayers Over the Ocean, in the Dead of Night & The Loss of an Irreplaceable Woman

Both boys fell asleep even before take off, as I had imagined they would. I ate, watched a bad movie (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and slept too. Six hours into the flight, Linton woke up for a while, so I turned on the map function on the screen. We were flying slightly east of Haiti at that moment and my thoughts turned to the unspeakable suffering of those people. I do not watch much, if any, television, but last week I watched several reports about Haiti on Brazilian television and I couldn't help but have those images and stories replay in my head as we flew over that country in the dark of night. So I prayed and thought of them.

The earthquake in Haiti was a great tragedy for Brazilians because it took the life of the pediatrician and humanitarian Zilda Arns (Neumann), the founder of Pastoral da Criança (Children's Pastoral) and also the Pastoral dos Idosos [Elderly], both grassroots/ volunteer community service and education organization linked with the Catholic church that has spread to over 20 countries around the world (according to McGowan's essay linked to below). Coincidentally Chris McGowan wrote yesterday on The Huffington Post about Arns (as opposed to Robertson). Zilda Arns's efforts helped reduce infant and child mortality in Brazil tremendously and she was in Haiti to train volunteers (religious workers) to expand the Pastoral's efforts in that country.

Brazil's army has also been present in Haiti for several years, serving as part of the peace-keeping United Nation's corps and at least 11 men perished as well in the disaster. The Brazilian networks paid homage to them by broadcasting recent reports including interviews with some the deceased servicemen and women, one from last Christmas, and showing their family. Tear-inducing television, for sure, but bringing the tragedy very close to home. Even the sports program of Globo Network (the main one in Brazil) re-broadcast a report on Haiti with the reporter in tears on screen (presenting the program). I don't know how the coverage was here, but I was proud of Brazil because they had nothing to regret -- the country had already been helping Haiti and showing its tragic poverty in the news before.
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If you're curious to know about us, the trip went well. There was a delay of over 1h30 for boarding and take off because the aircraft landed late from its previous flight. As for security, the line was insanely long, but my father-in-laws got us to go in the preferred line (senior citizens, pregnant women, special needs, and people with small kids). Later at boarding they did search every passenger, even the children, men and women separately, frisking each of us with that beeping wand as well as inspecting each bag (theme park entrance style) -- but that was not the major reason for the delay. This initial problem caused us to miss our 8:20 am connecting flight and we arrived in Philly only 1:30 pm. This was OK because a dear friend was in town just for the day (interviewing for a medical residency application) and we got to spend a few hours with her before dropping her off at the airport.

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Seeing Michelle again after over three years was wonderful and it brought my day full circle to its beginning in the middle of the night. Michelle's family is originally from Haiti and her mother still has family there. Her relatives are safe, but her presence with us for a few hours -- such a beautiful, tall, well prepared young woman, a few months short of becoming an M.D. -- made me think of what the children of that country could become if they had the same living conditions we have here. How could things be made different for the most miserable countries on earth? And how incredible the effects of immigration on only one short generation are, no?

I'm sure I could say much more about this, but an hour has passed and I have to unpack.

I'm glad to be on the other side. More on that later.

1 comment:

Lucy C said...

what a moving post... welcome home.