Travel. It’s such an exotic term that exerts thoughts of wanderlust and adventure. It’s a word that creates images of young people taking off on their own and finding their place in the world; while backpacking through Europe or snorkeling with exotic fish in Australia. Travel creates glorious memories to be cherished as “the best time of our lives”, like posing with the statue of liberty or the Eiffel tower, right? Well, allow me to respectfully burn these images from your mind as I introduce you to the world of travel in a developing country. It is a whole new ball game, and you won’t survive without a few bruises and tears.
My last few years have been filled with life-altering challenges and extreme soul searching, but I have come to the conclusion that every twist and turn in life has lead me to where I am today and I am now standing right where I am meant to be. I am not off saving the world, and I am not some glamorous hero who will eradicate world hunger or poverty. But my presence in Haiti has given happiness if not hope to a few nameless children that have crossed my path, and possibly to a few special people who I will always hold dear to my heart.
My eyes have recently been opened by the heartbreaking case of a little girl that I had the blessing to help. Nassa was 11 months old when she came to me, she weighed 7 pounds and was very ill. The sight of her made my stomach churn. How could a child get to this point? How could anyone that saw this little baby girl not step up? Not do something ? Since birth she has been suffering from HIV which had progressed quickly and then she contracted TB. Her chances of making it were slim from the get go. When I rushed her to the hospital in August, Doctors told me she would not make it through the night. They removed her oxygen mask as well as her feeding tube. They had given up hope. Little did they know that I would stay by her bedside forcing her to drink water from the cap of my water bottle and forcing her to eat whenever she had the strength to do so. I prayed like crazy hoping that this little girl would make it, and if she didn't, then I prayed that she would least know that someone was by her side. Nassa's mother was also very ill. The family could not afford medications or transportation to and from the hospital, they could barely afford to feed themselves.
Despite her unfortunate circumstances, she didn't stop fighting. After spending over a month in the hospital, she was discharged. In October I went to visit her and her family. She looked amazing. She had gained weight and regained her strength. Finally that little girl could laugh and play around like any other baby. She sat there grabbing at my face and giggling and twirling her little fingers through my hair… It was easy to forget that her quality of life was extremely limited, especially in the poverty in which she lived. That is why it came as a shock when I received the message on Sunday.
Since I had returned home the mother became more ill and was less capable of caring for her children. The family stopped the treatment for the mother and also for Nassa. The mother passed away last week and I was notified as I was walking in to write an exam, it crushed me. But the news I received this Sunday crushed me even more.
I am angry, and I am confused. I am angry knowing the family stopped her treatment, but I’m even angrier with myself for leaving; because I know that if I had stayed in Haiti she would have received the treatment. I'm angry with the medical system. I am angry with the government for not doing more for their people. I am angry that there is so much poverty in this world while there are others that indulge in anything that they possibly can. When doctors should have been doing everything in their power to help baby Nassa, they were doing nothing, they gave up hope. I witnessed her case become the joke for hospital gossip, a true interest piece for doctors wishing to discuss the curiosity surrounding why a white woman cared so much about a baby with AIDS. They were disgusted that I wanted to hold her and that I was determined that she would live. And apart from their obvious fascination with this, they simply shuffled their feet and acted as if time was purely suspended above us. I wish there was more sympathy from Haitians for the suffering of their people, and I wish there was a different outcome for that little girl. Because Nassa died on Sunday, November 9th and today...I paid for her funeral- something I had never imagined happening.
Getting that news literally tore my heart to pieces. I loved that baby girl and although she didn’t have much time on this earth, she impacted my life in such profound ways. This is the part of "traveling" that makes it so hard. You stop wanting to learn names, you stop wanting to reach out to those that are suffering, because you know that you may lose them. You know that it will cut deep. And you know that with each loss, you also lose a part of yourself.
Some things happen in life that make us wonder how we will wake up the next day. How will we ever laugh again, or enjoy the company of others, or care for another child or for another person that is suffering, .... or smile. A mother lost her child. A brother lost his sister. A littler girl lost her life, and we may never know why or how it came to this. But when these days fall upon our shoulders, it is important to remember that without heartache we wouldn’t appreciate all the beauty this world has to offer. Haiti has given me the chance to experience life through the eyes of those who suffer, and because of this I now find myself more appreciative, more humble, and more content than I ever did back here in North America.
My heart is at ease knowing she is not suffering, but it’s breaking knowing that she didn’t have the opportunity to fulfill her life. She deserved that chance. Every child does. Even though I am hurting, I feel an urgency in my life to do more, fight on behalf of more, rescue more, love more, and give up more. I'm determined to keep turning my tears into action. I am determined not to turn my head at the suffering. No child should have to die from an illness that is manageable. No child should have to die from malnutrition. There should be access to medical care for those who cannot afford it. My only prayer is that more people stand up and fight for those that are struggling. Fight for those that are voiceless, because they deserve a chance. They deserve to live.