I just woke up from one of those nightmares that clings to you even after you’re awake. Don’t read any further if that kind of thing bothers you. I’m putting it down to get it out of my head.
I was part of a group that had volunteered to help in a relief project. I didn’t find out what it was until we got there, and was surprised that we landed on a small island that was very impoverished. I thought we were there to bring food, medical aide, and supplies, which we did do. But the main reason we were there was much more horrible.
We were taken to a “compound” kind of place, an area where an order of Sisters were helping the local people with their needs. Like a St. Theresa organization. In some cases, they had pets (my dream, you knew there’d be animals) because they found the abandoned and orphaned children that they took in, responded to caring for and receiving unconditional love from these pets.
The place had been attacked and every Sister killed. Their bodies where stuffed in trash bags or rags, and shoved under floor boards, dumped in the street or rooms falling apart from the attack and ransacking of the place. We had been asked to give them proper burials, out of respect and for health reasons.
John and I were shown into a room and the floorboards were pulled up to show us the bodies stuffed there. One woman had curled up as she died, hugging her knees to her chest. That’s when we found out that we had to be there to bury them properly. John asked me if I thought I could do it and I said I didn’t know. A woman came in to talk to us, a survivor from the island’s attacks, but before she got far, I heard a noise and looked up. Lining the water line, some of them even standing in the rotten water, were tons of people. I thought there were the people from the island. The woman said: Some of them are, but some of them are the Sisters’ families. They came here to help us identify them.
She put a piece of torn cardboard in my hand. It had a badly copied photo of a young woman in a white habit. Some words were scrawled around it. The woman explained it was from the family, giving me this Sister’s names and what they felt it was important for us to know. So that we understood she was a person, a loving person who had dedicated her life to this mission, but a person who had laughed with them and loved the color green, and had an imaginary friend as a kid, and gotten into trouble at school for fighting with boys. My heart broke and then I felt some tug on my t-shirt. A boy in accented English told me she had a small dog who had also been killed, and I would please put them together because Sister would have liked that. And he shoved another picture in my hand of these young nun with a tiny dog.
Obviously I made myself go through with the burial because it meant so much to the people who knew her. John came up to me at the end from the burial he had done. He was shaken. He told me, “I could see her face. I didn’t expect to see her expression.”
We were separated again. I was taken to an area where I could get water and people were taking the scraps of paper, cardboard, broken wood, anything the families and the local survivors could find to tell us about these women. I was reading them when a laptop we had in this area (for communications with the main rescue foundation) showed a broadcast from home. We were sickened by seeing the attack had only made a few small articles in the news, and that instead of people being horrified by the attack, they were in love with the Pirate angle. A movie was being discussed with people like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt playing the pirates, both men saying they couldn’t wait because the whole thing was so cool. Pitt was even having his adoptive kids play the children on the island who would run up to them at the end and say “I want to be just like you.”
Meanwhile, I had chosen three women from the pile of descriptions and walked to the trough of bodies to find the ones I needed to bury. People had started writing their names on whatever they were wrapped in, so I found the first one pretty quickly. Some people stood by, an older man with a shovel and the rest with anything they thought they could use as shovels. They were her family, ready to help me give her a decent grave. She had had a pet too, and her mother helped me look through those little bodies until we found the right dog.
I woke up then because Elphie and Casey shifted around me in the bed.
Moral of the story: Stress and the subconscious are dangerous things.