[saymaListserv] "You Can't Bury Water": reflections from Kathy Kelly on her way to prison
nc_stereoman at charter.net
Sat Dec 11 10:08:44 JEST 2004
A number of SAYMA Quakers have been involved in civil
disobediece actions at the "former" School of the Americas at Fort
Benning, GA, a facility that was revealed to be a training ground for
torturers, and subsequently changed its name to obscure its legacy.
Friends joined with other concerned people of conscience to keep
the School and its awful legacy in the public eye, despite the name
change, and many continued being arrested there. Among those
arrested was Kathy Kelly, a co-founder of the Voices in the
Wilderness organization and for twenty years a Christian
Peacemaker in Latin America and the Middle East. Kathy describes
her Moral Values in a way that is instructive to us Friends:
"I feel a deep urge to be silent and listen to the cries of those
most afflicted. Their cries are often hard to hear, but when we
hear them, we’re called, all of us, to be like voices in the
wilderness, raising their laments and finding ourselves
motivated to build a better world."
At her trial last Winter she was sentenced to four months in the
Federal Prison at Pekin, IL, for her actions of witness to U.S.
militarism. Before she left, she wrote a reflection on the way our
nation's policies affect those who are "most afflicted". The
metaphor about "burying water" is a poignant one, as water is
more precious than gold to the poorest of our planet's people.
Kathy's witness and her unrelenting personal accounts
demonstrate a calling that transcends slogans, sects, bumper
stickers, and political campaigns to address a most fundamental
spiritual concern: what Jesus reportedly called "the least of my
brethren" (Matt 25:40).
by Kathy Kelly
In the summer of 1994, I was part of a four-person Christian
Peacemaker Team dedicated to filing reports on human rights
conditions in Jeremie, located in the southern finger of Haiti.
When I arrived, I spent one day in Port au Prince, waiting to
travel by ferry to the tiny coastal town of St. Helene. That day,
eager to be Helpful Hannah, I joined some young girls to haul
Hinckley Schmidt size water containers, destined for a
neighborhood center in Port au Prince’s appalling Cite Soleil,
across a ravine. My arms were trembling almost immediately.
When we reached the cement ledge where the plastic water
containers were lined up for vehicle transport, I dropped mine
down with an exhausted hurrah and then watched in horror as it
split. The girls flew into action trying to save some of the
precious water. “Si ou cache verite, ou enterre dlo” – the Haitian
proverb says that to hide the truth is like trying to bury water.
The truth was gushing out. Throughout that summer I watched
women carry water, on their heads, walking miles uphill. One
day my friend Madame Ti Pa nearly fainted from the ordeal.
Madame Ti Pa struggled to support three children: Natasha, 8,
Petiarson, 2, and Patricia, 1. Natasha was an orphan whose
parents were killed when the overcrowded Neptune ship
capsized off Haiti’s coastline. Madame Ti Pa found Natasha
wandering tearfully in the street and took her into her home.
Natasha was elegible for financial help to attend school, but
Madame Ti Pa couldn’t afford to buy her a uniform, socks and
shoes. Nor did she have money to feed the children properly.
The children appeared malnourished and were often feverish.
Even so, they sang, laughed and cuddled together, obviously
responsive to Madame Ti Pa’s animated spontaneity.
St. Helene’s hilly roads were rocky and jagged, rough on wheels,
shoes and bare feet. Beyond St. Helene, one path led to a
smooth, paved road with attractive interlocking stones called
“adoken”. Lined by gorgeous plants, trees and flowers, the road
passed through the richest section of Jeremie.
Our Christian Peacemaker Team members hurried along this
route two mornings each week to make radio contact with Port-
au-Prince. The sisters at the House of the Good Shepherd let us
use their equipment. Afterward, it was always pleasant to chat
with the kindly sisters and to hear of progress at the cooperative
farm they sponsored. Sixty-five families were supported by
women who cultivated crops in fields next to the sisters’ home.
One day, Madame Ti Pa asked me to go with her to talk to the
sisters about joining the project. A woman in Port-au-Prince had
written her a letter of recommendation. Madame Ti Pa’s eyes
shone with hope when she showed me the typed letter. Then,
she asked for a bar of soap. She hadn’t been able to wash
clothes for weeks, soap having become a luxury.
Letter in hand, dressed in a clean skirt and top, Madame Ti Pa
met me to walk up to the Good Shepherd House. When we
reached the smooth road, Madame Ti Pa told me the story
behind it. The “adoken” bricks were ordered by President Jean
Bertrand Aristide to build a road through St. Helen, but the
shipment was delayed and didn’t arrive until after the coup
d’etat. The bricks were then confiscated and used instead to
cover the already paved road through the richest section of
town. The people of St. Helen felt disappointed and cheated.
More disappointment was in store for Madame Ti Pa when we
arrived at the Good Shepherd house. Sr. Angeline firmly told her
that it was impossible for them to accept any more women into
the project. Madame Ti Pa was one of many who had begged to
Walking back along the “adoken” road, Madame Ti Pa trembled
with weakness. She hadn’t eaten since the previous morning. I
thought again of the attitude I’d heard macoutes express: “The
poor are too lazy and stupid to run the country. They just want to
cheat and steal.” On that road, even the very stones would cry
out. (Habakkuk 2: 9-11)
What could we say to people who had driven Haitians to raw
despair? Days later I met a man reputed to have committed the
worst crimes. He was accused of theft, torture and murder, yet
because he had a gun, he had power. He used this power
against simple people who had nothing and craved little more
than basic rights. Yet, I had to ask, did I come from a country
that had more in common with him or with the people he
A cold shiver ran through me when I recalled similar awareness
of the power of water, the power of guns and the grinding power
of poverty encountered in Basra, Iraq during the summer of
2000. Our small peace team, again four in number, wanted to
settle into the poorest area of Iraq’s southern port city to study
Arabic and better understand conditions in a neighborhood
blighted by the effects of economic sanctions and a
dictatorship’s abusive rule. Three of the first words I wanted to
learn, in Arabic, were, “Don’t do that!” I wanted to shout the
phrase at playful boys who, in the blasting heat, would cup their
hands, dip into the sewage ditch running alongside the road, and
pour water over their heads to cool off. By the end of the
summer, my companions and I would sometimes clap our hands
over our eyes and shout “OK, my turn,” then pucker our lips as
the boys poured water over our heads. The alternative was to
pass out under the harsh sun as the temperature rose to 140
Each morning, in the household where I stayed, Nadra, whose
name means “exceptional,” would rise at 4:00 a.m. to begin
scrubbing every surface in the sparsely furnished home. Her
next task would involve removing a stone, lowering an electric
pump into the well below, and siphoning off some of the
available tap water supply. Nadra was one of a very few people
who could afford such a pump. Our team members didn’t drink
the pumped water, for fear of becoming deathly ill. We drank
bottled water and spent more money on two days of bottled
water for ourselves than Nadra’s household spent for an entire
month. So you can see the pecking order: Americans get
purified bottled water, an Iraqi family in the good graces of the
regime could at least manage to pump somewhat sanitized
water, and the poor would be the most vulnerable to water-borne
Again, memory takes me to a scene of painful conflict over
water. I’m remembering a time when our friend Caoihme
Butterly walked into the wretched remains of the Jenin Camp on
the West Bank, in April of 2002, carrying two heavy six packs of
bottled water. Immediately, small boys ran up to her, eager to
greet her. “Caoihme, Caoihme!” they shouted. Caoihme is a tall
woman. She towered over them, holding the valuable water. I
watched her eyes fill with tears when the boys, in frustration,
began to fight with each other as they reached up to grab her
cargo, eager to bring a bottle home to their family.
I wonder how Natasha, the eight year old orphan whom I met in
St. Helene, has fared. Is she an eighteen year old woman with
luminous eyes and a gorgeous smile? Would she remember
waiting outside her home, each morning, to run and greet me
when I stepped out of mine? I hope she doesn’t remember a
morning when she was crouched on the ground and looked away
when I called her name. I walked toward her, wondering if I had
done something to hurt the child’s feelings the previous day.
Drawing closer, I could see tiny pebbles glistening on Natasha’s
lip. Natasha hadn’t run to see me because Natasha was eating
“You can’t bury water,” said our Haitian friends. “And you can’t
bury truth.” The British medical journal, the Lancet, estimates
that upwards of 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of
the war. Child malnutrition is escalating and chronic outbreaks of
such diseases as hepatitis and cholera occur regularly.
After 18 months of US war and occupation, contaminated wells
cause water borne diseases; rivers are so polluted that not even
animals can safely drink from the rivers; the lack of electricity
means food and medicine can’t be preserved and water and
sewage can’t be treated. Because of chaos and corruption in the
US occupation, Iraqis remain in desperate need of jobs, services
A decade has passed since I first met children in Haiti. Next
month, Voices in the Wilderness will mark a decade since we
first declared our intent to become “criminals” by traveling to
Iraq. Several of our members are returning from recent trips to
Haiti with stories worse than mine. I hope the children we’ve met
and all those who hunger and thirst for justice will teach us to tell
the truth, nonviolently, and to never be so foolish as to think you
can get anywhere by burying water. Many of the people in Haiti
and Iraq have the truth but don’t have the water. We have the
water, but we don’t have the truth.
nc_stereoman at charter.net
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