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A Promise Kept

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)

David was nowhere to be found at first.
It was our first morning in Managua and we had just arrived at the barrio. The girls in the van were all excited, but no one was more eager to arrive than me. It would have been too perfect had David been sitting at the gate where I left him in July, but I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. He could be at work or at school or back at his house for all I knew. As we pulled up to the clinic, I looked out my window for him to be waiting. But David was not there. We all climbed out and exchanged greetings with the other brigadistas before we found seats in the small school desks that fill the open-air waiting area of the clinic. The UPOLI nurses who run the clinic gave us a brief description of the clinic and took us on a tour of the facility. Then it was time to take a walk through the barrio to meet our families. Our group emptied out through the gate. I was putting my camera into my bag when I heard the voice I had been waiting for.

“My friend, you have returned!” It was David, walking down the rocky lane toward me. His black hair was cut shorter, but his wide smile was just as bright. “You have come back!” he said as he embraced me.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?” I said, laughing.

“Ahh, yes, so you did. And so you have kept your promise!”

In the span of an hour, David succeeded in capturing the hearts of all the girls. They knew who David was from the stories I had told about him, but now that they had finally met him in person and become the direct recipients of his infectious charm, they were all instantly attached. By the time we were headed home from the barrio at the end of the first day, the consensus was clear. Everyone loved David.

“Lee, your dad is here.”

Kelly’s words make me stop in my tracks and spin around. My dad is here? How in the world is that possible? In a moment, I realize that Kelly is referring to the father of my Nicaraguan family. I look out the door of the office in the clinic to see Alvero standing there. He smiles and waves. A lot of people are smiling today. Dr. Ross is here.

We have just finished eating lunch on Monday afternoon. Doc will begin seeing the people in just a few minutes. Ashlee and I completed the initial assessment of our family this morning and decided that Alvero’s chest pain needed further investigation at the clinic. We are both relieved to see that our dad is here. And I am glad to know that my Dad is still in Pittsburgh. That would have been too weird.

The clinic has only been open for a few minutes, and already the desks on the porch are filling with patients. We have divided the duties of the clinic into four categories: pharmacy, triage, observation, and playing with the children. Every hour, we rotate positions. Today, Ashlee and I are assigned to the children first. I walk out onto the veranda to see how the triage process is working. Normally, our plan for the day goes down the drain within the first half hour. It’s the difficult reality of third-world healthcare. But we always work as a team, and eventually, all the patients are assessed, educated, and sent on their way with the medications they need.

Somehow, in the end, it all works.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice David sitting by the gate by himself. When we are working, he often sits patiently and simply waits for us to finish. I don’t have much to do at the moment, so I walk over. I have been looking for an opportunity to ask him about something since seeing him on Friday.

“My friend, you are not working?” he asks as I sit down beside him.

“I have a few minutes. I wanted to ask you about your trumpet.” On my first trip in July, David had taken me home to his house to show me his most prized possession, a beautiful trumpet. He played it for me and described his dreams of one day being in a band. We decided to call that band The Barrio Boys. Not long after I returned home, I received an email from David. His house was broken into and his trumpet was stolen by a neighborhood gang. He was heartbroken. David’s smile fades quickly when I ask him about it now.

“Yes, it was stolen,” he says. “I am sorry I cannot make the band now. I still want to be in a band though.”

“Who stole it from you, David? Do you know the men who stole it?” Here in the barrio, violence and theft runs rampant through the night. It is the upstanding young people like David who are often the victims.

“Yes, I know them. They came right through our door in the middle of the night. They took so much, but most of all, they took my trumpet. I am sorry, my friend.”

“You don’t need to apologize, David. It’s not your fault,” I reply, patting him on the back. “Can I ask you how you got the trumpet to begin with? Did you pay for it? Or did the university lend it to you?”

“Oh no. I pay for the trumpet. I save for a year.” He catches himself. “I’m sorry, I say in the past tense, yes? I saved for a year.”

“You saved over an entire year for it? How much was it?”

“Yes, yes. In dollars, it was one hundred and sixty dollars.” I shake my head in disbelief. I have seen the place where David lives. I know what he gets paid. It must have taken him hundreds of hours of hard work to put that money aside for such an expensive instrument. “Yes, I was going to be in a band. You remember? The Barrio Boys, yes? But now I have no trumpet, so I cannot be in the band. Now I just sit and watch them play.” My heart is breaking for him.

“Did you try going to the police? Is there anyone who could help you?” I ask next.

“I did go the police. But you know they are… how do you say?….corrupt?”

“So they did not help you?”

“No, there is no help for burglary. It happens so often. I am just so sad. It is sad to save for so long and so hard, and then all is gone in just one night.”

I shake my head as I listen to him. I am visibly upset. This eighteen-year-old boy has been the victim of so much injustice during his short life. His father left when he was young. His best friend was killed when he was twelve years old. And now his escape hatch into the world of music has been taken from him as well. But shockingly, David does not show the slightest sign of bitterness or resentment. On the contrary, he is more concerned about me than he is about himself.

“My friend, why you look so sad?” he asks with genuine concern in his voice.

“I’m just upset, David. I know how much that trumpet meant to you. You deserved to have it.” His next words to me are said with such conviction, it makes me wonder how I have ever found the nerve to complain about the petty hardships of my padded existence.

“Do not worry about it, my friend!” He smiles and puts his arm around me. “My life is good!”

It’s in this moment that I have never been so happy to fulfill a promise in my life.

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