Hardly anybody. In America, anyway.
This is why it was so shocking to hear that one of our translators in Haiti – a healthy father with children – died of typhoid fever recently.
I didn’t work much with this particular translator, Daniel, mostly because he spent so much time interlocuting between our group and the local community leaders, especially in Noyo.
I spent my second week in the very rural village of Noyo, and my experience there was vastly different than the one I had during my first week in Thomaseau. The physical village looks like a bunch of twig huts that all unrolled themselves from one giant ball as it bounced down a mountainside.
Despite this scattered layout, the people there were a tight-knit bunch; working with them required constant communication. Work of the kind we did in Haiti brings with it nearly endless opportunities for misunderstanding. Daniel was a big part of that because he was well-connected with the local leaders.
A few times, I wondered what besides common humanity kept the locals from simply overrunning our tiny isolated clinic, taking all the medicine and holding us hostage. We’re not just talking about picking up some bling bling, either. They could demand HUGE ransoms for each of us, and never be in poverty again.
I thought about this frequently in Noyo because the village clings to lost and forgotten hillsides so far from roads that you can’t find it on most maps. We hiked for over an hour to get there. And the road that brought us to the beginning of our hike arguably ended miles back from where we actually stopped our battered 4-wheel drive monster trucks.
I think the moral fabric of Haitian culture gets most of the credit for keeping us protected during our time in the mountains. But some also should be given to people like Daniel, who moved easily between native, locally-powerful villagers and obtuse, big-hearted, mildly-guilt motivated Americans.
More than once I saw disappoinment in the faces of patients as I sent them out the door with not much more than a toothbrush and some TUMS.
I’m sure I projected a bit, but often I felt their dismay at my ineffectiveness in the midst of so many very real problems. I could almost hear some of them say, “This is all you have for me? Look at all that medicine in the back of the church! Look at those nice tents you live in! Look at that nice watch and thousand-dollar camera you have. All you have for me is some antacids? Do you know that I could feed this child for weeks with just the money I could get for your sparkly watch? How is it worth that much to you? How can you still cling to your expensive camera when it could feed a family for months? Is that moral?
If you claim to be a Christian…how is this not a sin?”
Often I reflect on how much I care about my children – the lengths I would go to protect and provide for them. In that light, I do not think I would be nearly so gracious if it were my child wasting away in my arms and some rich foreign king gave me only calcium tablets and a toothbrush (until we ran out of them and just gave the calcium).
Although the Haitians displayed celestial graciousness because I believe they are by nature a gracious people, translators like Daniel helped undergird that goodwill.
Being Haitian, he could agree that yes, these people come from a rich country and enjoy many things that people can’t even dream of in Noyo.
But he could also point but these particular people don’t have as much as it seems. He could explain that these kings used a very large amount of their own money just to be there, in the suffering, trying to help however they could. He could explain that even with the best medicine, their children might still be very sick. He could point out that ALL the medicine we have left over will be given to the village, to the most in need.
Typhoid fever shouldn’t kill anyone. It causes some fevers, some abdominal pain, some gnarly diarrhea and maybe some delerium. Throw any of a number of antibiotics at the problem, and the odds of dying from it drop to about 1%. If I gave you a 99% chance of winning big in Vegas, I bet you would put a good part of your inheritance on those odds.
Even untreated, typhoid fever is fatal in only about 30% of cases.
So Daniel’s story is a tragedy simply because death is a tragedy. His death is a tragedy because there is a wife somewhere who loves him and is now alone. It is a tragedy because there are children huddling around their mother wondering in pain and incomplete understanding what happened to Daddy. It is a tragedy because his role was so valuable to our work and efforts in Haiti.
But most agonizing…Daniel’s death is a tragedy because it didn’t need to happen.