A letter from Cindy Morgan in Bangladesh
September 30, 2012
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
A Presence in Suffering
Living in Dhaka for the past six years has placed me in close contact with the suffering of the urban poor. Many times a serious illness intensifies this suffering by pushing a family from poverty into rank destitution, a transition I am now witnessing in the life of my young friend Saddam and his family.
Going to visit Saddam this morning, I crossed town on a crowded, scraped-up bus, sitting in front with the women while men filled all the other seats and stood packed in the aisles. Everyone was sweating in the gridlock of cars, trucks, horse-drawn carts, rickshaws, bicycles, and motorcycles. Dhaka, home to 15 million people, is the fastest growing city in the world. Every day over a thousand people pour in from the countryside hoping to find jobs, mostly in the garment industry.
After arriving at Saddam’s 8-by-12-foot tin hovel on the side of a back street, I sat beside him on one of their two beds that also serve as sofa and dining table. In the heat and darkness of their home, he caught me up on what had happened since my last visit as his sister brought us tea.
Saddam, who was 6 years old when his father abandoned his family, never went to school. He started working in a garment factory when he was 14. In a dingy, poorly lit room on the fourth floor of an unmarked building, he learned how to mix paints to be rubbed through a silk screen onto blank T-shirt tops, then he worked his way up to become the factory’s Color Master. Small, hidden factories like this hire children to fill subcontracts for larger companies. The family took Saddam’s brother out of school just after fifth grade to work in the factory with him. Then a couple of years later they took his 11-year-old sister out of school to cut threads off newly sewn garments—the most menial job in the garment industry.
With three children working, the family was finally able to purchase what they needed to meet their basic needs. Then Saddam’s fever began. Because of the contaminated water supply, everyone presumed it was typhoid fever, but lab tests revealed something more serious: leukemia. Sitting in the silent stillness of his home, Saddam told me how his abdomen had grown precipitously large and painful during the four days he had to wait for a bed to become available in the packed government hospital. Every few days his mother had to seek out loans from friends, family members, or neighborhood lenders in order to buy the next set of IV bags and tubing, needles, medicines and chemotherapy. With much effort, Saddam completed the 25 days of hospitalized chemotherapy he needed.
Once I accompanied Saddam and his mother on a follow-up visit. After being pushed about in line while waiting to get his blood drawn, we wove our way through a muddy back alley to stand in another long line to cram into one of the two elevators in the blood cancer building to get to the 14th floor. That was where Saddam had been an inpatient and where his doctor was making rounds on ward patients. We sat on the bare floor in the hallway outside the packed ward for three hours, waiting for the lab tests to come back and to meet with his doctor.
Today I brought Saddam some special sweets and a grapefruit-like fruit called jamborah. His appetite is improving, and with his strength returning he hopes to start back to work again soon, but at a slower pace. To keep his leukemia under control, however, he will need to take a medicine called imatinib every day for the rest of his life—a medicine that costs twice as much as he can earn. Saddam is slowly coming to grips with the fact that he cannot afford the only medicine that will keep him alive.
To make matters worse, having borrowed money from all corners to pay for his hospitalization, Saddam’s family is now deeply in debt. With predatory neighborhood lenders demanding 10 percent interest per month, the pit into which Saddam’s family is falling is deepening precipitously. Worse still, the factory in which Saddam’s younger brother and sister have been working since April closed in August without paying their employees their last six weeks of salary or the overtime pay they are due. The management simply locked the doors of the factory and disappeared.
Saddam and his family are my friends, so his illness and the injustices they are suffering are especially painful for me. The hospitals here are filled with people like him whose families, without the benefit of health insurance, are dragged into destitution by the unrelenting costs of medical care.
I am struggling to cope with the immensity of the suffering all around me, yet I believe God has called me here, to Bangladesh, to feel his indignation and his deep sadness. I pray that God will use my abiding presence in the midst of their suffering as a testimony to Saddam and his family of a power that is greater than the injustices of the world, of a comfort that speaks to their deepest pain, and of a love that will not let them go. Please join me in praying for Saddam and his family.
In the name of Emmanuel,
God with us,
Cynthia L. Morgan, M.D.
Email: Cindy.Morgan@pcusa.org (use the "Write to" link below)
Postal address: P.O. Box 4026
Shreveport, LA 71134
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 181