Saturday, August 27, 2011


Dezòd.  Disorder, literally.  Basically, it means “trouble.”  Most of the time, the word is spoken lightly with a smile and a knowing shake of the head.  In this tone of voice, dezòd is that funny kind of trouble that toddlers and kittens get into, smearing food on their face or tangling themselves up in a mess of yarn.  But every once in a while, the word is uttered with a more somber tone and a grave expression.  In those cases, it’s the more serious kind of trouble.  Unrest.  Fighting.  Turmoil.  Strife.  Chaos.

We heard about an instance of the second kind of dezòd yesterday.  A group of our students went to volunteer as Creole/English interpreters at the USNS Comfort, a huge Navy oil tanker that has been converted to a massive floating hospital with twelve operating rooms and one thousand beds.  It travels around the world and provides free top-notch medical care and surgical procedures to people who would never be able to afford it otherwise.  It first came to Haiti a week after the earthquake to provide emergency relief.  Paul Farmer describes it in his book, “Haiti After the Earthquake.”

“The ship was vast... it was, truly, an American hospital—not as fancy as Harvard hospitals, perhaps, but clean and efficient and spacious... I was grateful for the civility and compassion that I will always associate with this ship.”

About a week ago, the ship had returned to continue its humanitarian mission in Haiti for a few days.  Sadly, its visit was interrupted due to fear of Hurricane Irene, during which they went out to sea to get out of its path.  On Wednesday, once the non-event storm passed, the ship came back in to anchor in the bay which Port-au-Prince overlooks.  The ship itself is reserved only for surgeries—patients were flown in by helicopter, or ferried in by boat.  For all other patients, the crew sets up a sizable base at a nearby port, where our students went to volunteer.

Every day that the Comfort was present, a massive crowd gathered at the gate of the make-shift base very early in the morning.  Many people had traveled significant distances, hoping to receive the medical care that they badly needed, but couldn’t afford otherwise.  In batches, they were admitted and triaged, receiving a numbered blue wrist band and a paper with a simple statement of their presenting problem.  They were escorted by our student volunteers from one waiting area to another, each time getting one step closer to the general practitioners, optometrists, dentists, or pediatricians.

On Thursday, a day prior to the real dezòd, I was present at the base with a group of the student volunteers.  My Creole is not strong enough to interpret for medical procedures, so I was assigned to help manage one of the open-air tent waiting areas.  Also under the tent were an American nurse who was traveling with the ship for a month, a tall sailor who spoke of her little sons whom she hadn’t seen since the ship left Virginia in April, and a soldier from Bahrain who was one of three volunteers from his country.  They were all warm and professional, both towards me and toward the patients who made their way through the tent over the course of the day.

As the patients trickled in, I smiled and invited them to sit down on a folding chair in the shade of the tent.  When a group of them were called up to see the doctor, the other volunteers and I were charged with getting the remaining patients to advance forward in the chairs, following an orderly snaking pattern through the rows.  Once we got the hang of how to clearly deliver the instructions, row by row, it worked pretty well.  Especially by the time that patients got towards the front of the tent, they understood the system and smiled as they advanced toward the first row.

But at the back of the tent, especially with the people who were newer to our area, things got a little messy from time to time.  When they saw that there was an open seat a row or two ahead of them, they would try to push through chairs and other patients to get to the free spot.  Of course, the spot wasn’t really free, since someone else was being instructed to advance into it following the orderly pattern.  It started to remind me of a big game of musical chairs, devolving into some confusion, impatience, raised voices, and occasionally two people sitting on the same chair and trying to push the other off.  A little dezòd. 

Thankfully, people tended to respond well to a few firm and kind words of redirection.  Please step back to your place, sir.  Please sit here, ma’am.  Don’t worry, everyone will have a chance to see the doctor.  Please move forward like this.  Thank you for your patience.  With a little bit of instruction and gentle reminders, the line moved through, bit by bit.

The following day, the dezòd became more serious.  Outside of the gate, where people were assembling to get onto the base, a fight broke out.  I don’t know the details of what happened, but it is not hard to imagine.  Hundreds of people crowded around the entrance with no particular line or organization until they were let it.  With each handful that was admitted through the gate, everyone who was left in the street surged forward, hoping to be next.  Hoping to be admitted.  Eagerness turns to urgency.  Urgency to impatience.  Impatience to elbowing.  Elbowing forward to pushing.  Pushing to yelling.  Yelling to hitting.  Hitting to brawling.  Dezòd.  It became so serious that the officer in charge stopped letting anyone in.  The team finished up with the patients they had already admitted and banded, and shut down the base early for the day.

When I heard about this dezòd, and when I witnessed the smaller-scale pushing and vying for position in the waiting-area tent, my first instinct was judgment.  How could those people be so rude?  How dare they push past that older woman with a cane who clearly can’t move very fast?  Can’t they just wait their turn?  How could they be so impatient?  Hm.  Impatient.  Impatient after waiting for hours at the gate, then waiting for hours in tent 1, then waiting for hours in tent 2, only to go up to the examining room to wait for another length of time to actually see the doctor.  In the heat.  Without food.  With little water.  With some uncertainty about whether or not all this waiting would actually lead to seeing a doctor and getting treatment.  With few (if any) other options if they can’t get in.  Maybe a little dezòd in a situation like this is not that surprising after all.

As I thought about this ugliness, I started to see that impatience has arisen in my own heart under much less severe circumstances.  There are times that I just get tired of waiting.  In which I feel bored or uncomfortable or unfulfilled or restless.  And at those times, there is dezòd in my own spirit.  The kind of dezòd that elbows past the needs of others, often my own beloved husband, and pushes my way forward at their expense.  The kind of dezòd that bucks against rebuke and feels justified and unrepentant.  The kind of dezòd that tunes out the gentle and firm voice of a God who is asking me to step back to my place in line, pointing me to the next seat, and reassuring me that the promises that have been made will be fulfilled. 

The more I thought about this dezòd, the clearer it was to me that, in fact, judgment is perfectly justified.  But, the recipient of the justified judgment is not those people, but me.  Impatient me.  Untrusting me.  Dezòd-filled me.  It was the kind of realization that makes me see the darkness in my own heart, and brings me to my knees, with my face on the ground.  In this place, I’m drawn in by repentance, and find myself lifted up by the sheer gift that it is to be forgiven, and even [gulp] loved.  Like a parent loves a toddler.  Or a child loves a kitten.  Dezòd and all.

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