Strength In What Remains
By Tracy Kidder
Sometime ago I reviewed the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by this Pulitzer prize winning author. The subject was Paul Farmer an American doctor who worked with the poorest of the poor in Haiti.
This book is also about a doctor, but it begins when he is a medical student on the run from the massacre in Burundi and Rwanda. The young man is named “Deogratias” and this book tells of his incredible escape from a country gone mad with killing. His run from the madness left him starved and emotionally injured; seeing villages of people burned to death and little children killed with machetes made him wish for his own death.
Through the connection of friends, he boards a plane for America. He speaks only French and in his pocket is $200. He is both terribly afraid and amazingly brave.
He believes himself to be lucky to have such a lot of money, knowing that it would buy many cows in his own country. His arrival in New York is terrifying in its own way.
His first acquaintance in America is a man from Senegal, who works at the airport. He takes Deo to the building where many black people live as, “squatters.” There he lives in squalor and wonders why America is said to be so special. At least his new friend speaks French and helps Deo to obtain work as a grocery delivery person. First he must learn his way around that area of New York city. He is a good student and learns the subway system by riding in every direction; rides which take a lot of his money. Deo feels invisible in this great city, but he discovers bookstores and libraries and he begins studying English from a dictionary. He has tried to be friendly by saying “Hi” to those he meets, but his dictionary work tells him he has been saying, “Hee.” That explains the strange looks he has been getting.
Deo’s dream is to return to medical school and complete his studies, and eventually open a clinic in his own country. This seems impossible because he was now sleeping in Central Park, and delivering groceries. Some days he did not eat at all.
All stories like Deo’s include people who simply helped. First he met Sharon, a Christian woman who speaks French; then James, a lawyer and then Mr. and Mrs. Wolf (Nancy and Charlie). None of these people were rich, they were people who saw potential and encouraged someone with a dream.
This young man, 24 years old, when he fled Rwanda in 1994, enrolled in Columbia University Medical School in 1995.
If you have read Shake Hands With The Devil, by Romeo Dallaire, then you know the horror that was Rwanda. This telling, (from the victims side) is very gruesome.
So how come this turns out to be a book full of heartbreaking bravery and great hope?
Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.