18Oct 2017

The Umbrella Woman

After a grueling day of clinic, a sudden downpour had people scurrying for cover in their “homes”. I say “homes” because they are a flimsy frame of sticks with layered black garbage bags thrown over the top. The Rohingya people have been driven out of Myanmar, starved, beaten, raped and now living in “homes” that eerily look like a big garbage bag of human throwaways.

“Quickly!” Our guide called out, as he ducked for shelter.
While trying to decide which hovel I should try to squeeze myself into, suddenly a tiny woman with an umbrella appeared. She drew me in.

The rain was pounding overhead, but under the black umbrella her unfamiliar words floated around me gently. A thin baby in one arm, and a gaunt boy at her side, no husband in sight.

A deep chest cough came from the boy. He had no shoes, pants that fit too loosely and no shirt. Wrapped around his shoulders was a ratty old towel that was damp. He was a bit taller than my daughter, so I’m guessing maybe 9 years old. As I would do with my own kids, I put an arm over his shoulders and drew him closer to the middle to keep dry. That’s when I noticed his breathing was fast, and his forehead hot.

This day, in just 5 fast-paced hours, our tiny little group of Rohingya community health workers and two volunteer nurses had seen over 100 people. Common ailments were acute malnutrition, anemia, pneumonia and diarrhea. The medicine was all packed away, and we were walking to the food distribution site when the rain hit.

“Quickly!” our guide said.
The rain was now slowing, so we made a mad dash for the field where the food was to be distributed. I turned back looking for the umbrella woman. I wanted to keep tabs on her, and if I could manage it, get some help for the boy. But I lost her face in the crowd…

Closing clinic for the day had been such an effort, because there were many more sick to see. Opening up those boxes again might mean leaving after dark, getting in trouble from the army at the gate, etc, etc… Yes, and, that boy needed medical care.

I spotted the umbrella woman, harsh angles of her thin elbows, her sleeping baby curled into her shoulder. With the help of a translator, we asked her to follow us on the way back and I would give some medicine for her son.

The broken are many, and the helpers are few. We are doing the best we can, as quickly as we can. Yet sometimes, in the midst of it, we can share a moment of friendship under an umbrella.

**The photo above is not a photo of the family this story is about.

-From a Partners relief team member.