Thursday, January 14, 2010

Triumph Comes

Once in a while I come across extraordinary stories that are made even more special by retelling.

Florence is one of my nurses on night shift.  She's from Uganda, and has been in the States for 20 years.  She left to escape the political and civic unrest in her country.  Truth to tell, I am glad to have met her because Uganda, when I was very young, meant only gory stories from the book The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin.

In 1986, at the height of war, Florence was on her ninth month of pregnancy, and one night,  felt the first pangs of labor.  Her family took her to the nearest clinic in their village, unable to brave the flying mortar and face the violent, bloody riots in the streets, to go to the hospital.  Foremost on everybody's mind was to escape.

She was in labor for hours but the baby wouldn't come out.  She was the only patient, and the doctors and nurses wanted to leave.  The country was in a big chaos, and survival and self-preservation was the priority.  Finally, after more than 12 hours, the baby was delivered, dead.  Florence's water broke a long time ago, and for whatever reason, the amniotic fluid had continued to seep, and the baby died in her womb.

The baby was delivered, and the doctors and nurses left.  They said the clinic was the safest place for Florence.  If anybody happened to come by, they were unlikely to hurt a newly-delivered woman.  So she lay there on the delivery table by herself, while all around her the war raged on, her baby gone. For how long, I forgot to ask.

She said she wasn't even able to name the baby, and because of the general chaos, somebody just offered a portion of their private property to bury it in.  That place is now a gymnasium.  I said to go to that place and just offer a prayer the next time she goes home.

This story is special for two reasons.  First, she has never told anyone (at least, at work) about it except me (she said it's okay to write about it here), and she's been there years before I even got employed.  Second, Florence never got pregnant again after that, and had just had a total hysterectomy last October, meaning, she will never be able to conceive anymore. 

She likes to cook African food for the staff, and has a recipe for me, which I will share next time.  She is a very good nurse, and said I inspire her (thank God for that). 

I like to meet and work with people whose passion for life is deep and touching.  Their experiences and outlook make my life all the more meaningful and purposeful.  Sometimes, we don't fully appreciate what we have until we hear stories of survival and triumph.


The recent earthquake in Haiti is heartbreaking.  My thoughts are with the survivors, and hope they get through this difficult time.

All my prayers for everybody.  Let's be thankful for the gift of life.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Inspired to Live

After the fall of Saigon, there was much oppression, alienation, and public outcry between the divided Vietnam.  Many people lost their lands and property to the Communists. It was amid this chaos that able-bodied Vietnamese decided to flee their country, in hopes of a future (not even a BETTER one, just a future).

Many of them landed in the Philippines (as many more had perished in the sea).  This story is about a couple who had managed to beat the odds. Before I continue though, please be warned that I am not sure if this was one story or two stories I'm melding into one, as I have read it/them a long time ago.

But read on.  The gentleman belonged to a prominent family in North Vietnam, so much so that they owned maybe 2/3 of all North.  When the Communists took over and they had lost all, he was among the people who fled.  He sought refuge in the Philippines, along with his wife, and in time, had assimilated the culture.  However, because they were deemed illegal immigrants, they couldn't be granted citizenship. 

This gentleman, though, was educated, and helped improve the fishing industry of the country.  In time, he was allowed to go to America with his wife.  While on the boat,  he felt a sudden wave of depression thinking about the life he left in Vietnam, the fortunes he had lost, the family members so long not seen nor heard from.  He was filled with so much anguish that he wanted to jump overboard.  He almost succeeded if not for his wife, who stopped him, and begged him to change his mind.  She willed him to think not of what they had lost, but what they stood to gain, however hard it was to understand.  In that moment of darkness, the couple looked to each other for hope and reason to live again.

They reached California, and started a life working in a bakery/grocery store.  They helped bake the bread, and tended the store in the daytime.  They slept on the kitchen floor at night.  They used public bathrooms to clean and relieve themselves.  For two years.  And even after they had saved up enough to afford a decent apartment and a car, they chose to continue their disciplined if not odd existence, because they had a goal.  In 3 more years, they would be able to buy the grocery from the owner.  They reasoned that if they lived in an apartment, they would have to spend for everything that went with it. The same was true if they bought a car.

So for 3 more years, they slept on the kitchen floor.  After 5 years, they had enough money to buy the place, and that was the beginning of their good life.  Maybe they were able to send for the rest of their family in Vietnam.  I don't remember.  But somehow, their story found its way in the pages of a book, and I read it.  It is a source of inspiration for me.

In a few months, my family and I will become American citizens.  While we have not endured the hardships that the Vietnamese couple in my story did, we have our own story to tell.  Every immigrant in a strange land always has a story to tell.

The moment we pledge allegiance to the American flag, my heart will weep a little because it is then that we have to renounce our loyalty to the Philippines.   Or at least that's what the application forms say.  In my heart and mind I will always be equally a Filipino and an American.  In due time, we will make that possible by applying for a dual citizenship.

Meanwhile, life goes on.  And we celebrate.

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someone very blessed to walk this life with you