I’ve been sharing a journal kept by my mother, Martin Johnson, that chronicles six months she spent in Haiti from October, 1987 to February, 1988. She worked as an RN in a clinic sponsored by a non-profit located in Searcy, Arkansas.
This journal documents Mama’s first residential work as a missionary nurse. She took a leave of absence from her job as a home health nurse in Weakley County, TN to see if she was physically and emotionally able to work and live in difficult circumstances. She began this journey just three years after her partner (in all ways), my father, died. Being a nurse who spent much of her time completing paper work was not satisfying her, and she was searching for a new challenge.
Jomba: A Happy Haitian February 12, 1988
One day when arriving at the clinic we heard this fellow singing a hymn at the top of his voice. If the hymn had five verses, he was singing all of them. As we walked in the gate we saw Jomba on top of Joseph’s house doing his laundry. He waved and smiled and continued singing.
As I began my work I thought, “How does this guy have the heart to sing?” He had just spent the past 24-48 hours at the hospital with his baby while his wife kept her rendezvous at the clinic to get her TB meds and consultation. His baby is almost a year old and has been under the care of the clinic since his birth. He still weighs less than 7 lbs. A “Failure to Thrive” baby born of a TB mother and in the hospital this time for at least a month and still malad anpil, anpil.
At the end efforts were made to feed him with an N/G tube. All efforts, including prayers and medicine were to no avail. Little Donald died mid January. After the funeral we went to Jomba’s house. As is the custom, he served each guest a plastic cup of soft drink and some bread. Jomba’s house is about the size of a small bedroom. People spilled out into the yard where a crude canopy had been erected.
Jomba was a gracious host, thanking everyone for coming.To Jerry and the rest of our group he said, “Mesie, anpil, anpil, anpil, Bondie beni ou.” (Thank you so much and God bless you.)
Everyone was Jomba’s friend because he was a friend to all. He was always ready to work and lend a helping hand. Many of us helped him financially, and he did not seem to forget this or continue to expect it.
Our last day at the clinic he came to Jerry about 1:30 complaining of diarrhea. He had been busy around the clinic, carrying water and other chores. I filled his script, exchanged a few words and he left. In about an hour friends came to say Jomba was “bad sick.” Jerry left to go by his house on the way home.
Jomba was singing when Jerry arrived – possibly delirious. Jerry gave him the dehydration solution and went on home. A phone call within the hour came — Jomba was worse. Jerry took him to the hospital, a 30-40 minute drive. Jomba died just before they arrived. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
This was on Wednesday so Jerry came straight to the church building to tell us. I know why the Haitian people weep and wail. I felt like it. Debbie, Jerry, and I who had been closely associated with him were crushed. And of course Jerry had all the feelings of inadequacy and guilt to deal with.
We just don’t understand how a young, strong, guy can go so quickly. I have seen patients carried into the clinic and wanted to ask, “Why bring them here to die?” And then I would see them recover.
The most often repeated expressions in Haiti:
I don’t know! I don’t understand!
Without a strong faith in the Almighty I could not survive here.
How we will miss Jomba! He would have made a good elder for the Lord’s church in Haiti.
Epilogue to Jomba’s Death
On Friday night following Jomba’s death, Lange came by to visit. Our conversation drifted to Jomba’s death. I again expressed my lack of understanding. Very quietly Lange said, “I think — someone killed him.”
The next hour and a half was a lesson in Haitian culture – things so hard to believe: superstition, poison, spirits, jealousy, but above all FEAR.
As the story unfolded over the next few days . . . .
A man named Paul, whom we all knew (and everyone including Haitians only tolerated) had asked Jomba to give him some cement from the building site where Jomba was a guard. Jomba not only refused but reported the incident to Joseph. (Paul was a member of the church and the building will be a school for the poor children of St. Philomena. Joseph is supervising the construction.)
Paul became very angry at Jomba, but he pretended to Jomba that things were okay. Then he offered bread to Jomba with the poison in it.
So that explained Jomba’s sudden death.
Saturday night at the wake at Jomba’s house Paul showed up, and stupid person that he was, declared he had killed Jomba! Mob action occurred and they killed Paul, then and there! These were probably Jomba’s family and neighbors. For sure no one was telling who was involved. No police investigation, but they did provide security during the funeral Sunday evening in case Paul’s family retaliated. But it seems that was not necessary as Paul’s body was not claimed by his family. Their attitude and many others was – good riddance!!
Again and again I give thanks for this legacy my mother left her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.