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The Untold Stories of the Dead: A Reality of Poverty

...I know you saw me as you drove by that fateful day. There I was laying face-down on the wet and muddy driveway with my face turned away from you. You could not divert your eyes from seeing my dull listless body and my blood-soaked hair. You pondered whether my bashed-in head was the cause of my untimely demise as you imagined someone beating me severely with a blunt object until my limp body slumped to the ground. Here I lay lifeless…fully clothed without shoes surrounded by several onlookers as they contemplated who I was.

Was I a rogue who was attempting to rob someone? Was I a son returning home after caring for my ailing mother? Was I a father coming home after a long day of working and hustling to provide for my wife and children eagerly waiting my arrival? By just looking at my decaying body you and the many onlookers could not determine who I really was or even why my life was cut short.

As you continued your journey to town, I know many questions filled your head because you were haunted by what you had witnessed. Let me paraphrase these questions for you. “Did the war desensitize everyone to where [my] body could lie uncovered alongside the road for several hours as if no one cared? Did any of the onlookers consider that it could have been them lying there, instead of [me]? Did I brutally die somewhere else where [my] body was moved later and placed along this busy highway? Did [I] have any identification so that [my] family could be notified?”

These are questions that I cannot answer for you, because I died with no witnesses or at least ones that were willing to talk. I was someone who was still young and I had so many possibilities waiting to be discovered. However, my life story ended when I took my last feeble…shallow…breath. Now I am just a mere statistic, a number on a report that marks a person who had a name, a life and a future...

This story was based on an actual scene that I passed on my way town last week. It clearly illustrates how death is a cold harsh reality in Liberia and many other developing nations. In fact, dying is an everyday occurrence for most people living in the southern hemisphere. Children die of treatable diseases like malaria, because pharmaceutical companies find saving their lives not profitable. Mothers and fathers are dying of terminal diseases such as cancer, because their hospitals or clinics lack the necessary diagnostic equipment (i.e. ultrasound) for early detection and life-saving treatment. And many more people die because they are food insecure (i.e. hunger and malnutrition), live in areas that are prone to flooding or drought, and lack safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

As someone from the northern hemisphere and a prosperous developed nation, I could easily surmise that the Liberian people have been desensitized by death, because of what they saw or experienced in the long and brutal civil war. Instead, I have witnessed people being overwhelmed with loved ones dying that extending sympathy to a stranger lying along the roadside can be difficult.

I recently saw how one family in my neighborhood was impacted by an untimely death of their mother, who was in her 50’s. It was a Monday morning when I heard a woman across the street wailing in total despair. I knew right away it was their mother, because she had recently been diagnosed with cancer though I did not know the extent of her condition. So, I rushed over to the house and found one of her adult daughters crying and pleading with God, because their mother suffered all night in excruciating pain. I asked a neighbor in the room, if she had been given any pain medication like morphine. Sadly, this woman was not prescribed anything.

I then walked down the hall to the mother’s bedroom and as I entered there she was lying awake on the mattress surrounded by her family. I could see the pain in her face as she struggled to resist it. I noticed one woman was calmly telling her to let go that she did not need to struggle anymore. As I listened to this woman coaching the mother, I looked around the room at the faces of each person, and I quickly noticed that we all shared the same look of helplessness. I went to work that day just mortified knowing this woman had to suffer in so much pain and there was nothing I could do to ease it. That afternoon, I received a phone call that the mother had just died and I was grateful for that blessing since this entire family had suffered greatly.

When I came home that night I visited my neighbors to sympathize with them. This is where I learned how they spent over five months taking their mother to one hospital or clinic after another, but with no accurate diagnosis. They finally went to JFK (i.e. John F. Kennedy) Hospital, one of Liberia’s better medical centers, and this is where the doctors determined it was terminal cancer. It is difficult for any family to watch someone die of cancer, but it was more difficult for this family knowing that if it could have been detected earlier with proper equipment their mother could still be alive. Instead this family had to sit and watch their mother’s body waste away from cancer.

Liberia’s medical sector is still below standard, because of the war’s devastation and the lack of resources to rebuild the system to better serve the healthcare needs of its people. In fact, diagnostic equipment or at least operable ones are pretty scarce in Liberia leaving many to die miserably from treatable diseases because they were not detected early. Also, the pain-numbing narcotics such as morphine are usually not available in the nation. Regardless if Liberia had the right medical equipment or supplies, the fact remains that most Liberians are unable to afford the specialized diagnostic tests, and the life-saving or pain management treatments. So, this is how poverty becomes their death sentence, and their plight is usually oblivious to those who live in developed nations.

Since my first visit to Liberia in 1998, I have been unable to escape the reality of poverty, because it is staring me in the face everywhere I turn. I have analyzed this realization and discovered how people of developed nations can ignore the problem of poverty by simply diverting their attention away from it. In countries like the United States, the impoverished areas are usually isolated in inner-city neighborhoods, rural areas or Native American Reservations like Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the poorest area of the U.S. So this makes it easy for many people to avoid places of poverty as if they do not exist. I believe this point was summarized well by this quote from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

I have discovered from my own experience that when we leave our comfort zones, we become more aware of the world around us. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to travel to war-torn developing nations like Liberia, because there are areas nearby that can give a glimpse to the suffering and uncertainty people face in developing nations. In fact, one can easily compare the poverty related issues for the people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation with those in Liberia and how it is very similar to a “third world country.” It is when we enter this “world” that we discover the “real world” for so many people living in continuous peril.

The stories of the young man lying along the roadside and the woman with cancer could happen anywhere in this world. Death is the reality for everyone, because it happens to every living thing on this plant. And yet, it is justifiable that nearly one half of the world’s population living in abject poverty is dying because they lack the basic life essentials that the other half of the world’s population possesses? This is a question that those of us living predominately in the northern hemisphere and in developed (i.e. first-world) nations need to ask ourselves.

(Posted by Uniting Distant Stars Blog on September 10, 2009 - http://unitingdistantstars.blogspot.com/2009/09/untold-stories-of-dead-r...)

Comments

Maria Cuellar's picture

Good point

Wow, Heather,

This is a shocking story of poverty, coming from the point of view of someone who has seen what life can be like in a developed country. I love when you say "I have discovered from my own experience that when we leave our comfort zones, we become more aware of the world around us." I think this is something you can only learn from experience, and writing it doesn't really convey the pain you feel when you see it with your own eyes. What you say is true, however, about how we don't have to go to war-torn developing nations like Liberia to see this. We can see it everywhere, and we should. It's good to be away from one's comfort zone and aware of the world.

Thanks for writing this,
Maria

heatherc67's picture

Thank you Maria!

Thank you for your comments and evaluation of this story. You are right in how it is hard to express what you saw and how it can disturb you. So that is why I gave the man I saw a voice, because he deserved to be heard like the countless others who have passed away as result of poverty.

Blessings,

Heather

Nusrat Ara's picture

"I have discovered from my

"I have discovered from my own experience that when we leave our comfort zones, we become more aware of the world around us." is a fact but how many of us are ready to do that. And what difference will it actually make on the ground.

I agree with Maria getting away from ones comfort zone is good but it is possible to see things otherwise also. Doing that will increase the number of people getting aware therby making more difference.

Thanks for the post.

Nusrat

heatherc67's picture

Thank you Nusrat

Thank for your comments and sharing your perspective. Though not everyone may leave their comfort zones, but the more of us that do we can maybe awaken something in their hearts thus increasing the number of people being aware of the plight of nearly half the world's population.

Blessings,

Heather

jodelight's picture

thank you for this

Heather,

This entry is so thought provoking and insightful. I am so glad that you shared this with PulseWire. In the western world, we don't often realize how much we have, in education and medicine. I am so saddened to read your entry, but I so agree with your thoughts. When I was working in Cambodia last year, I also saw people constantly sick. Death is a harsh reality there, as in so many developing countries. Somehow, people just embrace life more. There is a preciousness to life, that I don't see as often in the US.
I love a particular sentence you said, "I have discovered from my own experience that when we leave our comfort zones, we become more aware of the world around us." True. So true. When we leave our comfort zones, we do see the huge world around us. Now that I've left my comfort zone, I can never go back.
Thank you again for the piece. So sad, but definitely sentiments that must be heard.

In like thought,
Jody

heatherc67's picture

Thank you Jody

Thank you for your thoughts. I like what you mentioned that life is precious in the developing world more than the U.S. This is so true, because people don't take their lives for granted in nations like Liberian and Cambodia. I think we can become desensitized in the U.S. because many of us have insurance for our cars, home, and health that we have this false sense of protection. For people who don't have these safety nets, they know the true reality of life since they see their loved ones dying every day and often to preventable or curable ailments.

Blessings,

Heather

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