Tissue warning to people like Miracles and Javelina.
I think many people on this site could relate when I say that we try to suppress bad memories so we don't have to go through the pain those memories cause us. Then something happens and all those painful memories come rushing back. This is one of those cases. Last week sometime, I read SnowQueen's "Unexpected Thing Are Always Welcome." Her story brought back a painful memory while I was in Sri Lanka.
A group of friends and I (including me, there were 6 of us) volunteered with the Red Cross to go to Sri Lanka to help with the Tsunami relief. I could tell you that the Keetha that went there is not the same Keetha that came back; I was totally changed. We had spent four months there (we actually took a semester off college to go there) and it was a huge culture shock. I experienced a lot of stuff there but to keep this story short I will concentrate on the part that affected me the most (and believe me when I say that there were a lot of things that affected me).
Right after the Tsunami hit there were a lot of people who were displaced. Many people didn't know where they were or who and how many people from their families died or survived; this was a couple of months after the Tsunami hit. As volunteers, our jobs were to help the people back on their feet by helping them build back their homes, schools, business, etc. And also, tracking down any surviving family members so that they can be brought together and in cases like SnowQueen's friend's brother, find a loving home where they could be brought back to a normal emotional and physical state. And many volunteers who had medical or first aid training helped the doctors take care of the sick and those were affected by the tsunami and survived; if there was a job to be done and you had the ability to do it or learn it quickly then you were expected to do it. Many times we were doing things that we wouldn't even think to do here. You can say that we gained a lot of employable skills in volunteering there that we might have never gained as quickly here.
The volunteers were told to stay together constantly and never venture off alone. The reason is because of the civil war that was going on and on top of that there was a lot of looting going on and our group leaders didn't want us getting lost, robbed or hurt. Each area we went to, it was setup like a camp and many times, if there weren't buildings to be slept in, we would sleep in tents (I think I got the most mosquito bites ever while I was in Sri Lanka).
I will leave out the names of villages and change the names of the people so I could give the privacy that they need and deserve. This event happened in the second month we were in Sri Lanka. My friends and I were given various jobs like building houses to cooking and feeding the village and anything the doctors wanted us to do. While at this particular village, I became attached to this little girl. She was about 10 years old and her name was Jennifer. When I met her, she had closed herself from the world. As a social worker, I had worked with kids like her so I took it as a personal mission to help this child get back on her feet. When I met Jennifer, nobody knew her name or anything about her. The only thing that the doctors knew was that she was weak from not eating for days (they found her in a cow shed between two dead cows) and water in her lungs. The doctors were giving her treatment for her ailments but couldn't get though to her. Like I mentioned above, I decided to take Jennifer on as a special case. Ever so slowly, I was able to coax her name out of her and she grew to trust me.
I found out her name was Jennifer and that her father was a church minister and her mother was a housewife who took care of the cows, chickens, and goats on their small farm. She had two older brothers and one younger sister about two years old. According to Jennifer, the family had two motorbikes; one belonging to her father and one belonging to her oldest brother. When the tsunami hit, her father and her two brothers left at the same time to go to church and college, respectively, on their bikes. Jennifer wasn't feeling well that day so she was at home playing with her little sister while her mother was feeding the chickens. Jennifer said that about a minute before the water hit, she heard a really loud roaring sound like thunder hitting the ground then in a blink of an eye water surrounded her and she lost track of her little sister. The next thing she knew she was in the cow shed and she started crying for a long time before people came to get her.
With the information provided by Jennifer, my friends and I started searching for her family (the Red Cross told us that there was a bleak chance of finding her family and the chances of finding them alive was even rarer and that they were probably put in a massive grave somewhere). My friends and I knew that but we told them that at least we check it out to see what happened so that we can bring some closure to Jennifer who was having night terrors about her not being able to save her family. Like Red Cross said, we never did find the bodies of Jennifer's family. According to people at the church where Jennifer's father was a minister, he never made it to the church. As for the motorbike, it was never found (probably, stolen by a common criminal) and the same thing with her brothers (two of my friends actually made the trip to the local college to find out but it was so difficult to find out who actually made it to class or not but from the records of students that survived the tsunami that were gathered, her brothers were not on the list and they were never found. Her mother and little sister were a lost cause (we actually search in and around the house in the last hopes of finding them because Jennifer was found in the cow shed but nothing).
Anyways, my friends and I return to base camp with heavy hearts at not being able to help Jennifer. When we returned, a church sister informed me that Jennifer got sick with a fever and was at the makeshift hospital. I rushed over to checkup on her and when I got there, she somehow knew that we didn't find her family and started crying and the doctors had to sedate her. After a few days, she was feeling better and started taking walks outside of the hospital and came to hang out with my friends and I.
One particular night, a group of displaced people and volunteers gathered together after dinner and starting talking, telling stories, and singing. Jennifer had come and she sat on my lap (I was sitting on the ground under a tree). About half an hour in, Jennifer's head started drooping and I thought she was going to fall asleep. So, I turned her so that her head could rest on my shoulders. Just then Jennifer started convulsing and it scared me really badly. I screamed at the doctors to help and we were able to bring her into the hospital for treatment. Since one of my friends was a trained nurse, she was able to go in with the doctors to help but it was too late. Apparently, Jennifer had a seizure because she had a hole in the heart and since she was already weak from the recent fever attack and the water in the lungs, her body couldn't take on the recent seizure. Apparently, Jennifer has had the hole in heart since she was little and without her parents or relatives to tell the doctors about it, they didn't know.
Anyways, we had a small funeral for Jennifer and we had her buried. At the funeral and afterwards, I had the feeling of being watched. At first, I thought that since I was surrounded my people working, I was getting that feeling but there was always people around and I didn't feel like that before then. I told my friends what was happening and they told me that it was probably my grief for Jennifer and how I couldn't help her fully was making me feel like that and that I should give myself a break because I really tried my best to help her. Mentally, I accepted what they were saying but my heart was still in pain because I set out to help a kid and I couldn't fully help her and that is something that will stick with me for a long time. As a social worker (and I think people who are in a position to help others would agree), more than the successes you have had, the failures are the ones that hit home the most and this one certainly did it for me even though mentally I knew I was dealing with some impossible tasks.
About a week of feeling like someone was watching me and a presence walking around with me, I had this dream with Jennifer standing beside my cot. She was surrounded by a group of people who I took to be her family and she was really happy. Jennifer bend down and put a hand on my heart and told me to be at peace with myself because I did more than anyone did in a long time and now she was extremely happy because she wasn't in pain anymore and she was surround by her family. In the dream, her family also thanked me for taking care of Jennifer when they couldn't and now they were a family again. After that, they just simply walked away and I woke with a start like someone dropped something on my stomach. You know how when something or someone touches you and then they let go and there is an imprint left behind for a few seconds? That is what I felt in the area where Jennifer placed her hand in my dream but after I woke up. The weird thing was all five of my friends had the same dream as I did at the same time as I did. They were all freaked out when I told them about the dream because they all realized what just happened.
Although, it still hurts to think about it, I have come to peace with myself that I can't save the world and that people like Jennifer will be okay wherever they are.