a party on Wednesday night.
It was his first in at least 13 years, and
with a little help from an old New-York-City-party-promoter, he
killed it. Dinner for 50. Loud music. Two doormen and a crowd outside.
The man who lived for more than a decade on
the fringe of society, the man once monstrously deformed and rejected
was now the instant and unlikely celebrity. It was truly something
Harris had come home. And everything was different
A few hours earlier we stopped for lunch in
Buchanan after the long drive from Monrovia. Mercy Ship colleagues
Todd and Matt were with me, as was Sam, our Bassa translator. The
meal was almost torture for Harris, now only minutes from his home,
his father, his neighbors and his canoe. It was the calm before
the storm. And looking at Harris across the table, I thought of
how in the Bible, a prodigal son came home to a jubilant father
who made everyone drop everything and party. He killed the best
calf and prepared a feast with dancing and music.
As Harris's father is a fisherman, and lives
well below the poverty line, I knew this wouldn't be possible for
"Harris, pick any place in town. We're going
to throw a party for you," I said, barely able to contain my excitement
at the idea. Harris did a double-take, then knowing me well enough
by now to know I was serious, grinned and we high fived.
Since the sandwiches we'd ordered hadn't come
yet, Harris and I drove off to arrange the evening's festivities
at the place he picked, Jah Glory. Outside, I spotted a radio tower
and decided we'd crash the United Nations FM station. With Harris
in tow. I flashed my press pass at the guards manning the entrance
with AK-47's, and we bounded up the steps. I told the station manager
Harris's incredible story, and he immediately taped an interview.
He had often heard of the man with a tumor by the sea, but had never
met him. Harris thrust forward a picture I took of him before surgery,
reveling at the man's astonishment.
And then it was time for the homecoming. Back
to the restaurant to pick up the sandwiches and the others, we headed
towards Harris' shack by the sea. Harris grinned and thrust a hand
out of the window as we approached. A throng of about a hundred
waited. They greeted us with screams. They cried and praised God.
Some simply could not believe that here stood the same man they
had known. It was chaos. Harris spent about an hour, greeting them,
shaking hands, shyly enjoying the attention.
He told me he wanted to see his canoe, and
a shout went up from the crowd. The fisherman was back to fish.
We walked the same path to the beach that we had a month earlier,
this time trailed by a throng, dancing and shouting.
It was just over a month ago that our worlds
collided. After an eavesdropped conversation led me to find Harris
by the ocean. A month since the 34-year-old man with a seven-pound
tumor in his mouth walked with me up the gangway of a hospital ship
towards new life.
It was a magical time for both of us.
* * *
His last days on board the ship were anything
but dull. After a dramatic seven-hour surgery, his tumor was thrown
with medical waste into the ship's incinerator. And then I watched
as Harris began a painful recovery process. Unlike so many others,
who tread tentatively with baby steps, Harris leapt foward towards
health with a strong will and forced grins.
Food by tube and then to soft diet. Ensure.
A blue handheld mirror, the now constant prop, replaced the dirty
brown towel that used to catch the steady drain of pus from his
mouth. He was learning to put his lips back together. Learning to
speak again. And most importantly, learning to laugh.
He was full of zest now, full of fire and
always getting in trouble. Urinating into the sea off the back of
our 522-foot floating hospital when he thought nobody was watching.
Sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom of the ward. Playing practical
jokes on patients in nearby beds. But the jester was also a gentleman.
I'd catch him cradling a baby in his arms, softly encouraging a
patient who'd just had surgery.
And finally, it was time to go home. He'll
need to wait two months before his second surgery, a bone graft
slated for April 2. Anxious at first, he was bursting at the seams
the morning we left.
If anyone deserved a good party, it was Harris.
* * *
We joined the party at Jah Glory around 8:30
p.m - fashionably late. Two policemen worked the door, and I pushed
us through a large crowd to reach the door. People from the town's
other radio station were there to interview Harris. He had changed
into the black Banana Republic mercy shirt I'd given him on the
ship, and was moving easily between the room where they would eat
and the door.
I got the guys from the radio station past
the doormen, and because Harris was so busy, spoke to them first.
I talked into an old tape recorder about Harris, about his courage
and remarkable faith in a God he truly trusted to deliver him one
day. Harris took over a few minutes later and told them himself.
While he was occupied, I spoke about his surgery
to a table of about twenty I was later told were ex-combatants.
So interesting to me that Harris had invited some of the people
that had treated him cruelly for a decade. I explained that Harris's
tumor hadn't grown as a result of a curse. I told them the extra
skin on his face would shrink over the next few months as his face
remembered its pre-tumor shape. I explained about the bone graft
he would have on April 2.
It was after midnight when Todd, Matt, Sam
and I left for a tent at the nearby UN army compound, and the party
showed no sign of slowing. It cost me $180. White rice and cassava
and fish for about 50 at $1 a head. The rest in drinks. And $5 each
for our bouncers, the Liberian National police.
It was the best money I've spent in years.
The next morning, word had spread of Harris's healing throughout
Buchanan. When we arrived at his shack, a crowd of sick waited for
us outside. Some had clubbed feet and were lame, some had goiters.
Some came in wheelchairs. Simeon showed me a swollen pouch of flesh
in his side where he thinks the bullet that shot him still is. Little
Nyanyan had a huge swollen head - water had leaked into her brain.
I examined a boy with epilepsy, and another that shakes violently
in the night. A little baby with a neck that wouldn't move and eyes
rolled back in her head. I donned rubber gloves from the first aid
kid to avoid infection from open wounds, took pictures of all of
them and contact information, referring many who were not candidates
for surgery to Monrovia clinics and doctors.
Perhaps it was the desperation of the situation,
seeing so many with conditions we couldn't operate on, so many we
couldn't fix, that prompted us to pray. After the mini-screening
was over, we invited them one by one to enter Harris's dingy, broken
room and sit with us. The four of us huddled around in wooden and
straw chairs, and spent the next few hours with them.
We prayed to the same God Harris had for years.
A God we believe has the power to save. A God we believe is in the
business of finding the lost sheep.
Towards the end of our time with them, Phillip
walked into the room. Phillip had a large tumor on his face that
had been growing for 9 years. It took me only a second to know we'd
bring him back with us to the ship.
He had surgery 24 hours later.
3 minute video. harris
goes home. | homecoming
images. | more
words. harris parts one & two