Two Stories: Flora and Elie

28 Jan

Last week, I bought my dog — a pug named Flora — rubber boots.

Last month, a two-year-old boy in Haiti named Elie Joseph died from gastro-intestinal infection, complicated by the fact that he had a hole in his heart.

Photo: John Carroll

Photo: John Carroll

There’s nothing wrong with buying rubber boots for my dog, of course. They only cost a few dollars and allow her to keep going for walks through all the slush and salt on the city sidewalks this winter.

But I can’t help but think that my dog, that any dog in Canada, receives better care than a toddler like Elie, than any poor child in Haiti. Here, even poor people can take care of their dogs, make sure they at least have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep.

I know about Elie because Dr. John Carroll wrote a blog post about him yesterday. According to Dr. Carroll, Elie and his family had been living in a tent in an IDP camp called Cite Aviation since the earthquake that ruined their house. His parents and an older sister, a little girl called Karen, are still there, of course. The Haitian government can find land to build a five-star hotel near Petion Ville, but it can’t find land to build apartments for families like the Josephs.

Last February, Elie’s mother, Claudette, brought him to the peds clinic where Dr. Carroll works, and where an examination showed that he had a congenital heart defect, called a ventricular septal defect.

Elie and his Mom were supposed to go to the Dominican Republic (paid for by a U.S. charity) for an operation that is routine here. But the Haitian bureaucracy kept delaying the issue of a passport which  would allow them both to take that lifesaving journey.

“Due to Claudette’s excellent care, Elie was able to survive somehow in the filthy subhuman environment of Cite Aviation,” Dr. Carroll writes. But last month, he became sick with diarrhea and vomiting. He spent seven days in a hospital but could not eat anything despite getting medication, and on the seventh day, he died.

Dr. Carroll asked Elie’s parents, he writes, “if they thought it was the Haitian government’s responsibility to help them out. They calmly replied that yes they thought it was the government’s responsibility but in three years they had never seen anyone from the government visiting their tent city. They said they would be happy if a government official did visit. I asked them if they are angry about their situation. They said they are not angry that they live in these dire conditions. They explained to me that they have no money to build or rent. They didn’t take it any further than that. They never blamed anyone for anything and they didn’t blame anyone for Elie’s death.”

Dr. Carroll also writes about the utter lack of urgency in housing Haiti’s 350,000 homeless people still living in tents. And it’s true: during both my trips there last year and through all the reading and research I’ve done, I haven’t seen any sense of indignation, any show of energy from anyone, whether it be the government, the big lenders or the big donors or the NGOs, expended in dealing with this problem. It’s just ‘well, there’s no land and no clear land tenure, so it can’t be done.’

And so today I think about the death of a fragile little boy whose entire life span fits into the post-earthquake period, whose entire life was spent in a tent in a slum. And I wonder what kind of a world we live in where some of us are so care-free and others so care-worn, about what it must be like for Claudette to have lost her battle to save a child who clung so fiercely to her, it was difficult for Dr. Carroll to even get his stethoscope onto his chest.

This story doesn’t make me angry either, just sad. Making dinner in my nice warm house, the snow-covered garden outside dark and silent, it makes me feel even more solicitous towards Flora, feeding her pieces of chopped apple, relieved to have her company because, somehow, she takes me away from all things human and into a simpler world, of simple needs and unalterable affection, simply given.

There is no moral to this story and nothing to say. It’s just one more minute detail in a system that imposes this reality on us, in a picture that is, in so many ways, all wrong.

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