Of Poverty and War
OF POVERTY AND WAR
As I rounded the corner towards the elevator of The Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a very young soldier fully in command of his wheel chair, lower limbs almost cut to his thighs, both upper limbs gone and with just one eye passed me by. The left arm was cut just below the elbow and a prosthetic arm replaced the one that was blown by a bomb while the right arm his doctors cut almost to the armpit. I assumed the prosthetic arm use to feed himself, to move his chair around and to do his private thing in the bathroom. I was told he was hit by a bomb in Iraq. This young soldier, a six footer man before the bomb reduced him to a torso, seemed so small in his wheelchair.
I remember when I just graduated from college. It was 1973 and the family struggled to cope with the effects of the martial law recently declared nationwide. Food and job were scarce. The company that my father worked was in great distress. The government rationed rice, the basic food of the people. Salaries were not paid in full.
We had a pig in our backyard that my mother used to raise. We fed the pig with the combination of left over foods for garbage from our neighbors and water spinach that my father planted in our backyard. We kept plastic containers outside the kitchen of our neighbors’ for collection every morning.
It was New Year’s Day. The neighborhood quietly sleeping towards the daytime after a night of eating and lighting of fire crackers, the after effect of all night celebration of the New Year. My mother had discovered a freshly thrown carcass of a roasted pig in one of the plastic containers. She carried the plastic container with a smile on her lips. The night before, we celebrated New Year’s Eve, with one big bottle of Coca Cola and a loaf of bread.
“Pilar wake up” my mother shook me from my deep sleep.
“ I have a big surprise for all of you” she said, a thin woman not more than 5 feet tall. Her eight children woke up to a delicious smell of roasted pig coming from the kitchen. My mother, instead of feeding the pig with the carcass of a roasted pig that came from one of the plastic containers from our neighbors’ kitchen, my mother washed it and cut it into nice little pieces, put in some sweet smelling herbs that grew in our backyard. She covered the kitchen table with the plastic table cloth that she only used on special occasions. Last night, she did not bother to cover our kitchen table. We sat down to a delicious breakfast that we have not tasted for a long time. Despite the good smell of the food I felt sorry for myself and for my family. This one milestone in my life, I will never forget. I will find it hard to forget, not because I have suffered through it, but because I rose above it.
How I wanted to cry for the soldier today, I wanted to cry aloud then.
Yet, how can one rise in a situation where there is none. I have heard that this young soldier will receive medical aid the best that the US Army can give. All available therapies will be accorded to him. One thing is sure; all those material things available to him will not make his arms grow, nor his legs nor return his other eye. And he knows this. Yet, this young man, a soldier par excellence, upon entering the elevator greeted us all with all smile. “Good morning”.
The Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the U.S. Army’s flagship medical center from 1909 to 2011. Located on 113 acres (457,000 m²) in Washington, D.C., it served more than 150,000 active and retired personnel from all branches of the military. The center was named after Major Walter Reed (1851–1902), an army physician who led the team that confirmed that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes rather than direct contact.