Today was a day I’ll not forget for a long time – a day where rumor became reality and justice seems like a nonexistent dream. Let me first give you some background.
Over the past two weeks, there have been reports of cholera cases here in the Jeremie area, but it has been difficult to get an estimate of how widespread the disease actually is. Fear of the disease is rampant, however, due to lack of knowledge regarding transmission and prevention and, more significantly, due to the deep-seated suspicions of people whose lives are lived in fear of the supernatural (i.e. Voudou). There have been concerns among the local people that malevolent individuals are trying to poison local water sources as a means of making people sick and blaming it on cholera. Just last week, according to local rumors, in a town near our home in Jeremie, there were two young men who were inquiring about the location of the local water source. After talking with the men for a while, some of the local villagers felt that the men were intending to poison the water source, so they killed them on the spot – no police, no trial, no judge – a case of vigilante justice. There were rumors at the time that local witch doctors were responsible for the cholera deaths, which were actually poisonings as a means of fulfilling curses on the individuals involved. This led to some of the local witch doctors leaving the area out of fear for their lives.
Today, when we were up in our clinic, we heard that there were many cases of cholera in a town up the mountain from us called Previle. Many people had already died, including two members of a family who died this morning as some of our patients were passing through the town. There is a small government clinic in Previle and they, with the assistance of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) have set up a cholera treatment center where they are treating and hospitalizing infected individuals. Local individuals felt that the source of the cholera was a nearby river that has become contaminated. But, there are also concerns that the local witch doctors were poisoning the river and other water sources.
One of the most powerful witch doctors in our area was a man named Pierre. We had interviewed him during our initial community assessment and had seen him several times in our clinic. We actually waved to him this morning as we passed him on the side of the road outside his house. This afternoon he was questioned by some local individuals who heard that he had poisonous powder in his possession and was intending to poison one of the local water sources with it. When he got up to go into his house to presumably retrieve the powder, they stabbed him with machetes until he died. They then killed two other men who admitted to working with him. We heard about the deaths as we were closing up our clinic, but the news took on a deadly reality as we drove past their bodies lying along the road on our way down the mountain, blood scattered on the dirt around them. No one else was in sight – just the bodies lying in the darkness – no police, no UN, no neighbors. Suddenly vigilante justice became very real.
All I can think of as I write this evening, is to ask for prayer for this country and its people, the majority of whom are law-abiding, non-violent, wonderful, hard-working individuals. Unfortunately, it is the violent ones who are shown on the news and are responsible for the deadly acts such as that which we witnessed today. Pray for our work here, which is known as a Christian evangelical endeavor, to not only improve the health of those we care for, but change their hearts as well, removing their fears and giving them power over the evil in their world. Pray!