Bonswa, Mes Amis

Brian Hertz, MD

Winter 2011 - Volume 15 Number 1

"Bonswa, mes amis" means "good afternoon, my friends" in the mixture of Creole and French that allowed many of us to look directly into our patient’s eyes, and make a deeper connection than relying completely on translators. This time, however, "Bonswa, mes amis," introduced a talk about Haiti in San Rafael, CA. What a beautiful surprise when five or ten people in the audience smiled and said in a spontaneous unison rhythm, "Bonswa, mon ami" or "Good afternoon, my friend." The delicate voices sent chills down our spines and brought back the memories of so many intimate encounters with people in Haiti, who had responded the same way.

There were several Haitians in the audience that day. As our audience listened to the presentation of the desperate living conditions, and stories of our friends, colleagues, and patients in Haiti, there was another sound from the audience: the sound of tears.

We presented our experience in Haiti. We shared our experience of being part of a collective international aid effort, one that focuses on a population with tremendous needs; needs that are unmet by the fractured Haitian governmental and private infrastructure. Needs that have not lessened at a time when the news media has shifted focus away from Haiti. Our presentation was a call to action, recognizing that the people of Haiti are part of our world community.

We avoided our most gruesome images in favor of pictures of the lives of survivors living in camps with plastic sheeting for homes, with no electricity, and with no reliable source of clean water or food. We showed pictures of people cooking and ironing with charcoal heat, pictures of people nursing their postoperative wounds, and one picture of a toy fire truck and police truck, built out of plastic scraps.

In spite of our efforts to present a positive call to action, the tears kept coming. The tears got in the way of more than one Haitian who stood up to share his story of his family in Haiti, and his efforts to help the ones who have survived.

That day in San Rafael, the tears of mes amis reminded us how deeply personal loss can be, to those in our communities, here and around the world. Bonswa.


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