Houston, We Have a Problem

“Houston, we have a problem.” [1]

I watched Hurricane Harvey approach along with my fellow Americans and the rest of the world. Harvey’s Category 4 storm winds devastated Houston, Texas, America’s fourth-largest city. Experts estimate the costs to clean up and rebuild the city at a staggering $75 billion. [2]

Photos of destroyed homes, flooded streets and ruined businesses filled the media. When I watched and listened to footage of interviews with the locals, I had a strange déjà vu.

  • “I know it’s not a safe place to be, but … I don’t know where else I can go.”
  • “I was scared. I’ve seen a lot of things but that terrified me.”
  • “I just lost everything I worked for. Everything. The only thing I got are the clothes on my back.”
  • “We just had to go.”
  • “If they don’t restore power and water for three to six weeks, we have no choice but to leave.”
  • “It’s important for individuals, particularly that are in shelters, to let their family know that they’re safe and well and where they’re at.”
  • “If my kids are safe, my husband is safe, the dogs are with us, who cares.”
  • “There’s no way to get our family out.”

I listened as a young man carrying a small child told reporters that both his home and workplace had been destroyed. He needed shelter and a job, and was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to support his two-year-old daughter. [3]

These quotes come from the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. I’ve heard them before, word for word. These are the interviews I watch on the German nightly news with refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq. These are the stories of the two asylum seekers I massaged to treat their trauma.

The hundreds of thousands Texans and, later, Floridians who were forced out by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma aren’t all that different from the families escaping war zones. It is devastating when your home is gone. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says “We used to look at citizens as disaster victims. Now they’re looked at as what we call disaster survivors.”

I’m not sure what conclusions (if any) to draw from the many similarities. Perhaps it’s that we’re all connected. Suffering is not limited to any one region or situation. Regardless of nationality, race, or religion, I hope our compassion is universal. Let’s extend it to families everywhere who lost all they had and now struggle to rebuild their lives.

As a survivor bravely added, “Life still goes on.”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] Phrases.org.uk  [2] “Moody’s Analytics, a New York-based financial analysis company, has pegged the destruction to southeast Texas, which includes the Rockport area where Harvey made landfall, as of mid-morning Aug. 29 at about $75 billion, covering homes, vehicles, businesses, infrastructure and lost economic output. Homes and vehicles alone in the region are expected to suffer about $30 billion to $40 billion in damage, according to an email from a Moody’s representative. Regional businesses could see up to $15 billion in damage.” Bizjournals.com [3] Quotes gathered from The Washington Post, Daily Mail UK, Caller Times, Houston Chronicle and personal interviews.

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The Long Haul. Helping Refugees: Part 5

At the start of each week I spend my afternoon massaging a traumatized refugee. When I volunteered back last fall I promised her, her family, and myself that I was committed to doing this, that I’m in it for the long haul.

Almost a year later, the haul feels long indeed.

I knew on all sorts of levels it wasn’t going to be easy. Progress was going to be slow and probably measured out in small increments. We would face language barriers. Culture barriers. Experience barriers. The trauma she’s gone through.

No worries. I figured, I’m a trained professional, I could deal with the patient work her therapy was going to entail. Sure I could. In reality, I was clueless. Ten months later, I’m still clueless. I don’t see any improvement other than the way she no longer cries through the entire session. Now she only cries for most of it or just a few minutes. But she always sobs with pain at some point while I’m working on her.

With the exception of Christmas, a week when I had the flu, and a day when she had other appointments all day long, we’ve never missed a Monday. So why isn’t she better?

I arrive at the refugee housing and some days there are lots of small children playing in front of the building, their asylum-seeking parents going about their chores. We all say hello. Then I climb the stairs to the apartment where M and her family live, take off my shoes outside, and knock on the door. I greet the daughter who translates for us and head for the bedroom where M is on her side in bed with her eyes closed, or propped up on pillows in bed with a smile, waiting for me. Either way, she’s never without pain, her body is still a treacherous surface of hidden nerve hotspots. The family insists I should keep returning each week, that the massages help her and she’s always happier on the morning she expects me. So what am I doing wrong? What do you do with expectations and hopes that seem to go nowhere? The long haul looks like a long road to no place I can predict or hope to reach.

I go back each week anyway. To do so I’ve needed to reconfigure everything, and I mean everything, I thought I understood about the goals of therapy and the protocols to measure success.

I threw them all out.

I can’t have goals because there’s never any visible improvement. I can’t aim for success as I understand the term, because success in this case has nothing to do with measurable, quantifiable progress. Give your level of pain a number from 1 to 10, I told her. Is it worse here? Better when I press here? If I can’t end her pain, maybe I can help her to see it as lessened.

M can finally breathe into the painful places. One day she spoke in a loud voice and I asked her daughter to translate for me. M had growled something along the lines of, “I don’t want to give you a stupid number! Just give me the massage!” It was the first spark of will I’d seen or heard from her. The fact that this traumatized, raped refugee felt secure enough to snap at me was a good thing. This is how I now measure ‘success’, this is what I can call ‘progress’.

The journey she and I are on together inches its way forward.

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts Helping Refugees-Part 1, 23, 4 to read more about my attempts to come to grips with the refugee crisis.