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My Child, For a Day

The following are excerpts taken from a diary entry of Marco Jiménez, with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

March 11, 2010: Port-au-Prince is in ruins. Dust everywhere. Seven and a half weeks after the tragedy, it seems the earthquake happened only yesterday. The emptiness is like a silence within a silence. Hollow. Close your eyes and you can feel it. Words fail.

Port-au-Prince University General Hospital is a medical compound in the center of the city. It was almost completely destroyed. A nurse’s school on the campus collapsed—with 120 nurses inside. Today, there are bodies that were never recovered. The smell of the dead comes and goes, depending on the wind. It is an inescapable reminder that under that rubble are people. It is beyond the merely tragic.

The pediatrics faculty is no more. The Haitian health care system has had support from the Red Cross and other international organizations to keep going. Right in front of the destroyed buildings, tents serve as surgical, obstetric and orthopedic wards.

This afternoon, I arrived at the hospital to witness how this work is helping the people of Port-au-Prince. The first thing I see are the people in the outdoor waiting area. They seem tired.

A child A child who did not seem to be much older than two—the same age as my youngest daughter—was walking and crying out, “Mum, muuum!”

The child continues walking, crying and calling out for his mother. He is walking alone. A tear sits in the corner of his eye, almost falling down his right cheek. He seems not to have enough strength to cry.

I notice two other things about the child. First, his head is completely covered with bandages, which seem uncomfortable. He keeps trying to remove them. Secondly, he is missing his right lower arm.

My child I take him in my arms. I take him the same way I take my little daughter, Telma, when she cries. I put him against my chest, stroke his back, whisper in his ear, “Shush, shush, it’s going to be OK.” He calms down. He leans his head on my shoulder—as Telma does—and puts his arm softly but firmly around my neck. His left arm.

I look around the hospital for someone who might know something about this child. Soon, a man walks toward me and says he’s the father. I asked him about the child’s mother. He answers that she died in the quake. Silence falls.

He tells me that the child was trapped under the rubble for several hours. His skull was fractured in several places, and he was very sick. He lost part of his right arm—like thousands of others—and suffered in pain for many days. But he survived, and in spite of everything he seems quite strong.

I did not ask the name of the child. I did not dare. I’m not sure why. Maybe because this child today, for me, is all Haitian children. I don’t know. Today this child was my child.