ONE ARM, ONE LEG RAMON MERISTIOne tragic day, thirty two years ago, 13 year old Ramon Meristi accompanied his father on horseback as they approached a railroad track. A train loaded with sugar cane approached. The events that followed are not clear, perhaps because the boy’s memory blocks them and perhaps because he failed to communicate completely to this missionary. Perhaps it was a frightened horse. Regardless of what caused it, Ramon’s loving father made the terrifying decision, without concern for his own welfare, to sacrifice his own life under the train in an effort to push his son out of the way out of the jaws of death. He did save Ramon’s life, but the train unsympathetically sliced off the boy’s left arm at the shoulder and left leg at the hip leaving him scarcely even a stump of either limb.
Surely words cannot express the pain and anguish Ramon suffered during the months that followed. His mother, heartbroken because of the death of her husband and a hopeless witness of Ramon’s suffering wasted away until she left this world. Ramon and two other young siblings remained to struggle on alone. Ramon’s sister is living in La Romana. His brother drowned in a fishing accident.For 32 years Ramon has been basically alone in the world without means or resources. Is he bitter? Does he curse God?
We think not!It is true his source of income is begging on a street called Sarasota in the city of Santo Domingo. It is true he hops wherever he goes. It is true he suffers and continues to face many trials such as hunger, sickness, setbacks and every other natural human emotion. But to the condemnation of the rest of many of us, he is happy with life and constantly wears a huge smile to prove it!
Fortunately he does not stand on one foot completely alone. He has a wide circle of friends. We even felt drawn to him. One of his best friends is Adela who sells her wares of telephone cards on the same corner as Ramon and provides him a place to safely lay his head at night in her own humble home. Between his “work” corner and the place he calls home, many people share with him the little bit they have and a few people driving in the streets within the safety of their protected environment of metal and glass offer him bits and pieces of alms. Sometimes he goes to places there are lots of people window shopping. He throws his hat on the ground to receive offerings and dances the bachata and marangue on his one blessed leg to entertain. Every day and all day, he hops through life with a huge smile on his face. Can we not have the same happy countenance ourselves?
We came prepared to find a way to purchase him a prosthetic leg or arm using humanitarian funds of the church. We figured we knew what was best for him. To our surprise, he kindly said “No”. He has walked on one leg for 32 years. The good Lord blessed him with exceptional balance and strength in his good right leg. To him, hopping on one foot is “normal”. He could not walk on a prosthetic limb any more than you or I could walk on stilts all day. He feels he would be uncomfortable and throw a prosthetic limb aside in preference to what the good Lord has granted him. He believes (and is probably correct) that here isn’t enough stump to attach limbs anyway.We asked him how we could help him. His answer was that if we could help him find a little humble place of his own, small and humble though it might be, just something he can call his own and be safe at night from the winds, rain and storm that would be his dream come true.
Can we help him? He already has helped us!
There are chiriperos (street vendors) of all kinds at every major intersection trying to sale their wares. Windshield vendors are a common site. Wallace always took an hour to change the wipers when he did it back home. This fellow was particularly pushy when he saw Wallace was taking pictures of chiriperos. In the time it takes you to say “No!” “Don’t touch my windshield wipers!”---in that amount of time he had removed our existing wipers and put on different ones. Wallace told him to take it off. Our truck is brand new and hardly needs wipers. In the blink of an eye he had change it again---at least we hope he put the same one back. He was really really fast. He would have completed both sides in less than a minute. We wonder how many he changes in a day? He was a friendly guy.
BLOCK WATCH CHAIRMAN?This is Jose Carbonal. He is our neighbor. He sits right here ALL day long and rarely moves. He is kind of looney, but a nice dude. We made the mistake of giving him some reading glasses we had laying around so now he is asking for all kinds of things---which we haven’t given. Wallace says he is going to put him to work cleaning up the street. If he does not, we will give him something. At least he is watching everything that happens---We wonder if that makes us feel better?
This is a home built in the 60s. Trujillo owned it at one time. Later it was a clinic, then a home for children and finally vacant and taken over by gangs who stripped the home and made it into a den of thieves. Finally it was rescued by a neighborhood group who got rid of the drugs and gang and are turning it into a school to rescue youth who are getting into trouble. It isn’t our perfect project, but the stake president is enthusiastic about it and would like to help them. We will see.
HEALTH CLINICWe witnessed the most amazing thing today. We drove into a stake center parking lot and found the building filled with people. The stake, under the leadership of the Stake Relief Society president had organized a health clinic. Everyone in the neighborhood was invited to receive free health exams and medicine and vaccinations. Doctors and nurses came to volunteer their time and resources and hospitals donated medicine. It was an incredible sight to see. We have never seen a better member organized service project and what is better they did it all by themselves! It made us feel wonderful.