Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This weekend, I was reminded of the scary fragility of my body, and of being far away from the people I love. Before I say anything more, I want to say that I'm shaken up but ok, and taking time to heal. The story seems so extreme, and although I really am recovering well, I got really close to not being here at all. I was swimming with friends (Emma and Jess) on vacation, a little out from a beach that is just for swimmers, and was hit by a motorboat (it's all right if you need to laugh, I've laughed a lot about how absurd it is). It swept over me and hit my lower back/ tailbone, which bounced me down away from the propeller. I came up kicking and yelling for help, and within seconds, several people had heard me and were heading to help. I sustained an impact to the lower back and a short cut on my elbow. After an afternoon in various hospitals, we got results that I am not fractured, but need lots of rest to heal.

Accidents are terrifying. There is no warning, no chance to plan ahead, and they can go both ways, toward a miracle or toward so much pain. The same night, I called my Mom and realized that it was the anniversary of my grandpa Joe Shenk's death, which came on the heels of my uncle Reuben's death. Joe was hit by a truck while running in Nyabange, Tanzania, and died several days later from complications that went undiagnosed and unoperated, in some ways because of the unavailability of medical care that might have saved him. On Saturday, we explained that MCC will pay our bills. We called an ambulance, and although it was poor quality and unequipped for real emergencies, it still got us quickly and safely to the clinic. In the first clinic, they wheeled us past lines of waiting Colombians, many of whom were thinking about their bills, how and when and who was going to pay them. The security guard looked at me as we were heading out and said something like- “look at how well they treat the blond girl.” We went to a second clinic, a private clinic, and paid for another consult, saw a specialist, were attended relatively quickly, and paid the bills.

I am not skimping on my care. MCC is good about saying that we need to take care of ourselves, whatever it takes, because a sick worker can't do nearly as much as a well one. We must heal ourselves. Guilt is powerful though. Accidents are equalizers- everyone hurts, and everyone deserves what they need. I went to the emergency room in the US with a friend a year ago and was horrified. In other wings of the hospital, you hear mostly English. In the ER, I heard many languages- there were so many immigrants, undocumented or documented, without health insurance, with many more hoops to jump through.

Through talking about priviledge with the other Seeders, I think we've come to think about things in terms of basic rights. If I have access to clean water, it's not smart to give that up to be in solidarity with those that don't have clean water. I should fight all the harder for everyone to have clean water. I had potentially life-threatening injury and I needed urgent care. I want that to be true for everyone. It isn't, and that breaks my heart, but it should be.

The other week, I had a long conversation with Ann and Jim Hershberger, who turned out to be the MCC reps in Nicaragua who had received the body of my mother's cousin, Dan Wenger, who was an MCC worker there in the late 80s. He died in a car accident during his term. As we talked about Dan, and now, as I reflect on my accident and that of my grandpa, I'm shaken. I never want to live scared. I believe in what I do, and I want to continue to travel, to work in service, even though the roads might be worse, the water might be contaminated, and the levels of crime or urban violence might be higher. Accidents happen everywhere, and we have to be smart and safe. The hardest thing is that an accident far from home is more traumatic. My family can't see me or know that I'm well. I feel so far from them right now, and am all the more aware of what could happen. I'm not leaving though, far from it.

A day later, my sister's best friend was killed in a car accident. She was sixteen, blooming, growing, full of light. It is such an enormous loss, and so arbitrary. I am healing, she is not. We both were in accidents. Horrible things happen all the time to people who never deserve them, and we are left with no way of dealing with them. There is no motive, no justification. How does my sister lose her friend? How do we say goodbye when we can't prepare or reason? When I ask people in my community about their losses in the massacre of 2000, they all tell me that there is no why. They were left with no way of understanding why their family members were targeted, for what motive they were taken away. How do you heal that?

The only thing I can think of right now is presence. I am so profoundly grateful that I haven't been alone in this. Emma and Jess made sure that the nurses stopped fiddling with my elbow and let me lay down to ease my back pain. They fed me sardine and mustard crackers in the clinic and cracked jokes about the ridiculousness of the succesive injuries in the Seed group (and how I have now one-upped everyone). The other Seeders and MCCers have been calling everyday. My family lovingly posted alarming messages on my facebook wall. My mom, who is confronted by several tragedies at once, is strong enough to keep calling, to keep talking about all of it. We were talking about what to do about my sister's friend, and she said that Thandi's mother had just asked her to sit down with her and eat food- there was so much food, and nothing else to do. I remember that during the horrible weeks of my uncle and grandpa's death and funeral, my aunt Rose had so much food to eat, and through the fog of dealing with unimaginable loss, we sat and ate. These things are terrible, but Anna and I will sit in Sincelejo and make chocolate cake and eat vegetables. Gilly and Mom with go to Thandi's house and eat with her family. I will keep sitting with people in my community, telling stories and cooking and taking one step forward at a time.


  1. Oh my dearest Larisa! You write so thoughtfully about your accident which is still so recent. You've managed to keep your humor and perspective very well. I remember thinking some of the same things after Dad's accident in Tanzania--about access to care for an mzungu--the private airlift to Nairobi, to some of the best care the continent had to offer--which still wasn't enough to save him, when a simple MRI would have revealed what was wrong. But so many people have so much less! It's complicated. We're very lucky on a lot of fronts, and especially to have you safe and sound!
    Eat, my dear, and drink lots of water.
    Love! Rose

  2. Your entry has brought tears to my eyes, Larisa. I am so grateful, as is everyone, that you are in one piece and healing. I was especially touched by your very honest expression of not wanting to live fearfully. That will be my particular prayer for you as you rest up and continue your life and work there. I'm glad that Jessica was able to help take care of you (although mustard and sardine crackers seem pretty heavy-duty on the heels of an accident! :) Sending love and prayers your way--Judy

  3. Larisa: Your reflection on your accident was so moving. It made me remember times in the interior of Brazil where people lived much as your village does. I faced some of the same questions about access to health care. I and those living with us on our compound had access to a nurse and good medical care. Other of my friends living out on their own did not have it as easy. Thanks for the reflection and reminder about how we must work untiringly for equal health care for all. Grandma Eddie and I send our love to you, Dennis

  4. Larisa-
    I just happened upon your post as I was browsing this evening. We too, feel the fear around the edges and the fragility of life. So very grateful for your life and health at this moment. We cherish our time with you in the last days and I particularly carry the image of your deep connections in the community you call home.

    Prayers for healing and peace for body and soul.

    Please tell your fellow SEEDer to stop trying to outdo each other in injuries!!!

  5. Wow. I read this out loud to Ted tonight. We love you and are so grateful for your good recovery. Life is fragile. Praying for good recovery and that God will continue to work within you both to will and to do His good work. May this fresh look at life be empowering to you and those around you. We must never risk for risk's sake, but should certainly risk all for the call He puts on our lives--for then we are certain to go out "with our boots on" and not have regret. Live. Eat. Fully, abundantly and robustly. We love you.
    Anne and Ted, Emily & Ben

  6. Larisa,

    Thank you. You've given words to all the emotion I've felt the last three days. The first news I received on entering the US was of Thandi's death. After your accident, it felt like a cruel joke. While we were celebrating your good fortune, someone else I know and love was leaving this earth for good. It hurts just to think about, and all the more so for being far from our families. I'm still reeling.

    I'm also so grateful to have been with you through the last 3 days, and to know you're being well cared for now. I love you very much.


  7. Larisa, Thanks for sharing your thoughts, fears and feelings with us who are miles away. I care about the losses you experience and the TIME it'll take to heal. Eat both cake AND veggies :-)

  8. This was a lovely post Larisa. It reminds me of the current secular push by people without faith communities, but with strong communities nonetheless, to do the equivalent of sitting shiva (sp?): where the only thing you can do when you've experienced loss or been reminded of the fragility of life is to sit with your community.