Friday, November 9, 2012

My Friend Lamie

[I really wanted my next post to be fun, upbeat and light-hearted. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Sorry. Maybe the next one?]

Does God ever just bring people to your mind? You know, you just keep thinking about them and praying for them? I have learned that when someone keeps coming to my mind, there’s usually a reason. Just the other day, I was going to ask you to pray for two people...two people that God keeps bringing to my mind. The truth is, I wanted to show you you could put a face with a name and pray...but I didn’t want to show you this photo:

This is Lamie.

I have sat down many times to try to write about Lamie. But there just never were the proper words. I haven’t talked about him to most people, because again, words were not sufficient. I would try to tell the story, but there wasn’t a happily-ever-after yet, so I waited. Today, just now...the story ended.

I met Lamie just before Easter. Well, when I met him, he couldn’t even tell me his name. I honestly didn’t see him until Elena asked me if I’d seen the man laying on the side of the road by the dumpster. That evening, after we loaded our bikes up at the end of our bike ride, we intentionally drove past the dumpster. There laid a man. We weren’t sure how long he’d been there; a few days, at least...and the sun had been blistering hot that week! We began to talk about our options, as we tried to figure out what to do.

The next morning, we sent Momo [thank God for Momo!] to go investigate. When you’re the ‘white woman,’ you quickly (and sometimes difficultly) learn that if and when you jump in to help, it complicates things and changes the entire situation. You are suddenly either held 110% responsible, or you are 110% to blame. So, that’s why Momo went on a fact-finding mission. He began to ask the women who were selling in the market about the man laying on the side of the road. People told Momo that the man was crazy, he ‘wasn’t correct’ and that whenever someone threw 5LD (about 7 cents) his way, he’d buy alcohol. During Momo’s investigation, he took the above photo and came back to the house. 

The situation didn’t sit well with Elena or I. It didn’t make sense. It was too hot for someone to be out in the hot sun all day. The man was very thin. And to make matters worse, he was disabled and couldn’t even get out of the hot sun, garbage and his own toilet if he wanted to. Even if the man was a crazy drunk, he surely didn’t deserve this. Even the chickens scratching around the dumpster deserved a better place to scratch.

Momo continued to investigate, and eventually heard that a woman in the area used to care for the man. So Momo went to talk with the woman, and she told him that she couldn’t take care of him anymore, so she had to put him on the street. Momo met with the woman a few more times, in order to get sufficient information, before the white women got involved. We decided to go and meet with the woman and her husband. We prayed that they would be compassionate people who really cared for the man, but just became too overwhelmed. We sat under the coolness of the mango tree in their yard and talked about ‘having a human heart’ and not being able to leave a human being like that. We were told that they just didn’t have a place to keep him, but that they had built a friendship. Long (and painful) story short, we agreed to finish a small room on the side of their house for the man to stay, and we would help provide things like soap, a mattress, laundry tubs and clothes for the man. When we met with the woman, we learned that the man’s name was Lamie.

We bought a mattress, put it in the bed of the truck and went to take Lamie from the street. He got a bath and clean clothes. Momo gave him a haircut. Lamie couldn’t communicate, but I told him that he didn’t have to say anything because I could see the thankfulness in his eyes. I think that’s when I became his ‘daughter.’ 

Lamie lived in his new room for a week, and then all hell broke loose. We ‘weren’t doing enough’, the woman couldn’t take care of him anymore, people were threatening her and wanted a share of the money she was getting (she wasn’t getting any money...we were scraping to provide!), and so she was going to put Lamie back on the street. [We were expecting this to happen, but were hoping and praying that it wouldn’t.] There was so much ungratefulness and anger and deceit and evil...I had reached my breaking point!

We knew the woman really didn’t care for Lamie; so we knew he couldn’t stay there...but where would he go? We were also we wanted to take our room (or at least our zinc) with us. I’ll be honest, there was anger and I felt so disappointed by the human spirit and there was principal. That’s when things got momentarily ugly, but in the end, we took Lamie and his soiled mattress and left. Lamie ended up living on our front porch. It was truly a team effort to bathe him, dress him, bundle him up at night, do his laundry, make sure his mosquito net was over him and help him move around. We were all pushed to the limit--taking care of Lamie was taking time away from the children and our other responsibilities. We were exhausted!

But, Lamie’s cheeks got fatter. He was eating...and eating. He was clean. He was starting to talk and smile and limp around with his walking stick. I enjoyed bundling him up at night, and talking with him. He would just laugh and laugh. Drinking hot tea was a treat and he even started bossing Momo around! Lamie was improving so much, but he couldn’t live on our porch forever. We began asking around to see if there was any kind of old folks or nursing home around. After a few attempts, we found an old folks home downtown, and they sent three social workers to our house. They were very hesitant and, in actuality, probably didn’t want to take him, but they did. I had to tell Lamie that he wasn’t going to live on my porch anymore, but he was going to a new home...that was inside and he’d make friends.

During the week that he lived on my porch, I tried to ask Lamie about his life. He couldn’t remember much, but whenever I would ask him about where he was from or his family, the tears would well up in his eyes. I could tell when he would get flooded by memories. It was evident that Lamie had had a stroke, and his left side was paralyzed. It also affected his speech and memory. He told me he was a tailor, and he used to work in town on Mechlin Street. I told about how I sew with the girls at the orphanages, and maybe one day when he was healthy and strong, he could sew with us too! That brought a smile to his face.

The next day, we loaded Lamie and his mattress back into the bed of the truck. I didn’t want to take Lamie to his new home because I knew that he was sad to go and I felt like that was saying we were giving up on him. But, because I’m his ‘daughter,’ I took him to his new home to show him that he was a part of our family, and that we weren’t giving up on him.

Because of our work schedule, we would go and visit Lamie about once a week. If I told him I’d see him on Tuesday, I would make sure that I was there on Tuesday! I had to stick to my word with Lamie, because I knew it mattered to him. His new home wasn’t the best of places, but there wasn’t any other option. There were about 25 other old people living there, and it was always fun to see them, especially the ‘characters’. They always brought a smile to my face, and I always brought a smile to theirs. 

Lamie began to improve. He was gaining more weight; which could only be seen in his fat cheeks. He was getting around alittle bit, with the help of his walking stick and friends. He was smiling and laughing. I felt like our prayers had been answered, but I also knew that the home couldn’t fully provide for all of Lamie’s needs.

After a few weeks, Lamie got sick. He was coughing alot and not eating very much. One day when I went to visit, I found him laying on the floor on the other side of the room--he had tried to get around and had fallen and couldn’t get back up. I was worried. I kept praying and kept visiting Lamie.

My time in Liberia was coming to a close, and I knew I was going to have to tell Lamie that I was leaving Liberia. I went to visit, and explained to him how I was going to the States because my sister was having a baby. I told him that I didn’t know when I was coming back to Liberia, but that I would always be thinking about him and praying for him. He didn’t say anything, but the tears began to roll down his cheeks. That made me lose it! I gave him a big speech about how I wasn’t giving up on him and that he was still part of my family and that he couldn’t give up on himself, even when the people at the old folks home were giving up on him. I told him I would come back in a few days before I left for America.

That day was terrible. I was sad and he was sad. There wasn’t much to say. I gave him another speech, and prayed for him. I told him that I would come and visit him as soon as I got back to Liberia. He was so sad, and I told him that he needed to smile so I could remember him happy instead of sad. And just like that, as he was laying in his bed, he rolled over and gave me the biggest smile. His smile matched the smile he had when we snuck plums in for him and he ate one...juice dripping all down his face and arms...he was like a kid in heaven! That’s how I remember Lamie--his big toothy smile, his child-like laughter and his strength and determination to overcome so much!
I was thinking about Lamie alot yesterday, as well as this morning. I checked my phone and I had four missed calls from Momo. I called Momo and he told me that he went to visit Lamie today and when he got there, he was told that Lamie had died.

My only response was, “are you serious?!” And then my eyes began to well with tears.

Life is so unfair. This isn't right. It doesn't make sense. Why does a man have to suffer so much and feel so unloved and unwanted, only to die alone. I am filled with sadness, but I’m still seeking the joy.

Lamie’s body is whole again. Lamie died knowing that those crazy white people loved him. We fed, clothed and gave cold water. We fought for truth, justice and for what was right. It didn’t matter that we were different or that he was from a certain tribe or that he was a stranger. It didn’t matter that he was physically disabled--his heart was gold! He brought laughter and unity and compassion. He was an example, and a reminder. There is no happily-ever-after for this story and this morning, Lamie’s story came to a close. But, I know that his story and his life weren’t told and lived to be forgotten. He lived his story so that he could be remembered. His insurmountable obstacles, but he kept that spark in his eye. The joy in his smile, despite his circumstances. His literal example for us, to be the Good Samaritan. Lamie was my friend--my beautiful, laughter-filled, sweet-spirited (unless he wanted a haircut from Momo) friend. At one point, Lamie had taken everything out of me, but I pressed on because Jesus filled me and equipped me to keep going. Lamie was and is a part of my story...and a reason why I just can’t walk away from Liberia.
[This is the only other photo that we have of Lamie. Consider this the "after".]

[The next post will be about that second person that I was going to ask you all to pray for! And then we'll get something happy up in here!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I tell you the truth, whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me." Thank you for sharing this story and for sharing your heart.