Haitian Child

Haitian Child

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Cruel Randomness of the Awesome Energy of the Sea

The beach at Las Penitas is a destination for the Leon and area locals on Christmas Day. Dozens of buses arrived, standing room only, and the bus stop was right beside our casa, so we knew the town would be crowded.

Mid-afternoon found us walking with a Kamloops couple we'd met earlier in the day. Louise was ahead with Lynn, and Ron and I were doing our best to keep up but not to burn our feet in the scalding volcanic sand.

The surf, the shoreline, and the beach was filled with thousands of people. As we turned North on the shoreline to walk back to our casa, I saw a crowd of a hundred or so people ahead. The crowd encircled something. My first thought was a performance by a local artist. Who knew?

Crowds beget more people. What was so fascinating for so many people? We were drawn to the centre of the drama.

As we closed on a mass of humanity, with every person pushing towards the centre, some words of spoken English floated above the crowd.

"body," was the word that stood out.

I skirted the perimeter for a better sight advantage but the wall of people was five to ten bodies thick. I dropped to the sand and looked under the feet and sure enough I saw the body caged behind shuffling legs.

Ron came to me, knowing, to accept my pack, camera, and binoculars. Then I pushed my way through.

"Medico," I kept repeating.

At the centre on the ground was a young man with foam at his mouth. "Seizure," I wondered.

Beside him lay another young man, wailing, covering his eyes, writhing in an emotional collapse beside his friend or brother.

I knelt down beside the body. The young man, who looked in his early twenties, wore jeans but was naked from the waist up. My hand first searched his apex for a heart beat and then the carotid for a pulse. Nada.

He was laying on his back, perhaps drowning in the foamy fluid in his mouth. I turned him on his side and did a single finger swipe to clear the back of his throat. A lot of foamy mucous came out. Then I rolled him back onto his back and started CPR. With each chest compression the ocean poured forth from his still chest.

"Drowned, of course," I realized.

After about a dozen compressions I stopped and checked his eyes. The pupils were dilated wide and fixed in death. They didn't move a millimetre when I opened up his lid.

An official looking fellow in a white shirt and ball cap touched my shoulder. "Policia." He shook his head.

I squeezed the young man's shoulder, got up, and pushed my way back out of the crowd.

On my return to the casa I noted a bruise on my left knuckle.  While sweeping the back of his throat clear, his upper teeth had scraped my hand. Death "bit" me.
The next 24 hours included considerable reflection on the senselessness of this lost life. A lady in the next casa remarked that every year a young person drowns on Christmas day. "Alcohol," she offered as the common denominator. While the demon rum is a common factor, I sensed a randomness to this death that alcohol alone cannot explain. Something else happened. Something to do with the power of the sea, with the awesome energy of nature. 

I wondered if perhaps his neck had broken with a powerful wave, slapped down through the shallow surf, his neck at just the wrong angle as his head struck the sandy bottom. Only a good autopsy might tell the truth. This was only my sense, perhaps born from personal fears of the power of the sea. 

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