3 Stories from Liberia, Pakistan and the US: A Changed Afternoon in Ann Arbor

Posted: February 1, 2016 in Death Penalty, Documentary, Ebola, Honor Killing, Medical School, Oscars 2016
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Body Team 12

Garmei Sumo, Body Team 12, Monrovia, Liberia [image source: mountainfilm.org]

Listening to these stories was hard. The first was the accounting of Garmei , the only female member of the one of the teams charged with picking up the bodies of Ebola victims in Liberia during the height of the epidemic. The second story featured Saba, an 18 year old woman shot in the face by her father as part of an attempted honor killing in Pakistan. While still recovering from these two, I heard about Manny Bobbit, executed in California in 1999 for a 1982 murder, a case complicated by his history of PTSD and a bungled defense. I left the theater drained having experienced three of the short documentaries nominated for the Oscars in 4 weeks . . . and all three stories left me with tough questions . . .

What is the point of us in Ann Arbor, far removed from the cultural contexts of all three stories, witnessing these tales? Is it so we can shake our heads somberly and say “That’s terrible” Surely, there is more to hearing such stories than well-meaning sympathy . . .

Are such stories a call to action? Should we engage in an educational effort in communities like those in Monrovia, Liberia where Garmei was deserted by her friends for taking on the gruesome but necessary task of collecting victims’ bodies? Perhaps join an activist group to draw attention to the ongoing issue of honor killings in Pakistan? Take a Criminal Justice course to learn more about the flaws within the system in securing justice for the vulnerable?

I will admit I am susceptible to the call for action interpretation. Such stories are so harrowing and so heartbreaking, that my natural inclination is to want to “fix.” It’s hard to sit with pain. But perhaps such stories are asking us to do something even more challenging. To examine afresh our own experiences and relationships where we are in light of these seemingly “foreign” experiences. Before we jump on a plane to Liberia to volunteer, or join that campus activist group to draw attention to honor killings, what about an internal taking stock? Garmei talked about joining the body team because many men were afraid to confront death. How well do we confront end of life issues here? How can we, like brave Garmei, walk into dark, hurtful places where people are afraid? Her daughter called Garmei the “Ebola hero” each day when she came home. She was willing to confront the unpopular, the uncomfortable and yes, the dangerous. Perhaps, we don’t need to be on a plane to Liberia yet. There is enough around us to confront that is unpopular, uncomfortable, and perhaps even dangerous. Will we do it?

Saba was shot in the face by her father for marrying outside the family without permission, as part of an attempted honor killing. She survived after being dumped in a  river and somehow managing to emerge for help. The incident tore her family apart as her mother and sisters were caught in the middle. She was estranged from her mother and didn’t talk to her for months. Are there not many families in disarray right here in the USA or where you may be in the world? If a mother and child are not talking to each other, do the specifics of the conflict really matter? The end result is the same, a lost relationship. Can we really categorize the pain of the mother whose son’s body was picked up by Germai, or Saba’s mother when she first saw her daughter’s disfigured face, or Manny Babbit’s mother when she got the phonecall confirming her son’s death by lethal injection? Or our own?

Stories don’t need to have an agenda, but they should provoke reflection. The tears I witnessed on those three faces today whether in Monrovia, Lahore or Sacramento all looked exactly the same . . .





  1. Malaika says:

    A very thought-provoking post JB! I very much agree with the idea that there is so much we can do to help those immediately around us. Thank you for the reminder and call to action!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sam Dosanjh says:

    This is fantastic. I am so happy I ran into your blog! Just wondering, where are you based from? Also from reading your other posts I saw you are interested in surgery. Are you in residency now? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam, thank you for your kind words and for checking out my blog. I’m wrapping up medical school at Michigan this year and then starting residency.


      • Sam Dosanjh says:

        My son read your blog and he now says you’re his idol. I have also done a lot of international work that was heart and eye opening! Do you know where you will be for residency? I would love to grab a cup of coffee with you in the future. You are the inspirational and next wave of life saving surgeons!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the kind words (especially from your son!) Glad to hear of your international work. I find about residency in 3 weeks. Would be glad to sit down with you for a cup of coffee!


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