Saturday, September 17, 2005


All men are brothers, and that's why we don't speak to them

From my previous posts about the plight of the Vietnamese community here, you can probably tell that I was quite moved by their stories of being refugees for the second time in their lives. Had the flood waters risen another three feet, there would have been hundreds of them drowned in their little attic shelters. And now the viability of the community, already challenged by the economics of the shrimping industry before the storm, is now very doubtful. Yet despite the desperate nature of the situation, the Buddhist and Catholic Vietnamese communities are carrying on a kind of Cold War here. It got so bad today that I walked off in a huff and a couple of choice curse words.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of days.
Thursday night and Friday, Myhanh and I hung out with local Vietnamese. Myhanh spent the night with the family of one of the physicians who works in the Gulfport hospital, and was talking about setting up a better medical care clinic in a tent, rather than using the tiny area in the back of the Buddhist temple. From her and from observing the situation the next day, it is clear that there is a lot of suspicion between the Catholics and Buddhists.

From Myhanh, I heard that the church had run out of their donated supplies of rice andd fish sauce; and the temple still had a large supply. But the Catholic parishioners would not come to the temple to ask for it. Instead they considered that the supplies had been ‘misdirected’ to the temple. At the temple I met a local businesswoman, Anna. She has lived in Biloxi for twenty years; she owned a very popular new restaurant, the Pho Palace, which had been in operation only a month before the storm, and which took her life’s savings. She also owned a travel agency and several rental homes.

All of this was destroyed by the flood waters. Despite her husband’s desire to leave, she wants to stay here in Biloxi.
Anna told me that a Mr. Henry Lee, an Asian businessman in San Jose, California, had donated $100,000 of oriental food supplies, and arranged to have it trucked to Biloxi to be delivered to the (entire) Vietnamese community. But depending on whether the truck unloaded at the church or at the temple (the two are next to each other), these were now “the Buddhists’”or “the Catholics’” supplies.

During this discussion yesterday, two officers from the hospital ship USN Comfort and representatives from Project Hope arrived. We told them of the small clinic set up by Dr. Wing in the Buddhist temple, and warned them of the bitter political conflict. We all walked over to the Catholic church, where Father Dong was offering the use of a large, empty warehouse. It has an intact roof and clean concrete floor, so it would be better than a tent for providing medical care; sheets could be hung for privacy in exam rooms.

We asked Father Dong about the potential problem of the clinic being shunned by the Buddhists if it were on Catholic land; we even saw that access to it could be cleared from another street so the Buddhists wouldn’t have to cross through the Catholic churchyard. It looked like it was going to work--although I still sensed from Father Dong's response that he wasn't working with the Buddhist monks at the temple.

Today, I found Navy and Project Hope physicians working at that new site, but they needed more medications. So of course we walked over to the temple, where Dr. Pham was seeing patients, and where the donated medications were located. When we proposed moving the clinic to the new site where more people could be served, Dr. Pham said we were ‘overstepping’ because the medical supplies—although intended for the entire Vietnamese community—had been delivered to the temple, and so now ‘belonged’ to the Buddhists. I pointed out that many of the supplies had been brought by Myhanh and me, donated by FEMA (Myhanh had spent the previous evening sorting the medications by category to make it easier; now they were all blended.) It was at this point that I used what my old friend and patient Brian Gallagher told me were “The two most beautiful words in the English language”, and left.

I’ll be going back to the new site, to drop off some diabetes medications which they don’t have. Then I think I’ll go to lunch with my FDNY buddies, and tomorrow perhaps over to the clinic in d’Iberville if they need me there. This is the United States of America. We are witnessing the greatest outpouring of personal, organizational, and governmental generosity in the history of the world, and some folks don’t get that we don’t worry about where the rice was dropped off. There is plenty to go around, children, don’t fight over it!

OK, let’s not leave it on such a negative point.

The morning had started out grand: Yesterday I asked building maintenance at the hospital to get Old Glory off the roof so she could hang properly again from the front of the hospital. The sight of her had been, I know, an inspiration and lifting of the heart for many. Well, they tried, but the flag was still not hanging properly. I found the stairway to the roof and went up, but a flag this size is really heavy, and I wasn’t able to move it into place.

This morning I asked my buddies to help me get her set right, and of course they set to work.

Here are John Seiler and Chris Edwards, FDNY (ret.), restoring Old Glory to her rightful place.

What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Go back to Fr. Dong and ask him to make the approach to the Buddhist monks. The Catholics and Buddhists are capable of working together if they are prepared to accept each other's religious beliefs.

Go and see the Buddhists monks and ask them to help their fellow Vietnamese through the fair distribution of the rice and medicine.

Here in Australia many Vietnamese refugee families, regardless of whether they were Catholic or Buddhist were given refuge by a local Catholic community in Sydney. The families who cared for the refugee children did not insist that they became Catholic, but they were encouraged to remain true.

Both of these communities have a great potential and they need to forget these artificial differences and get on with the job that Christ expects of all of us.
The sight of the American flag always gives me chills. God Bless America and all of its citizens.
Dr. Goodheart,
This is off topic...but will you please write about the best ways to prevent heart attack and stroke on your blog site?

It would be so helpful to know your thoughts.

Thanks and thanks for all the ways you are helping people.

Best regards, Dore'
The inconvenience and complexity of human nature is not exactly a new phenomena. Sometimes with a little understanding, skill, and persistence one can move people to see the right way and to act accordingly. This ability is one of the hardest to develop but can also be one of the most useful. Might it not help to ask Dr Pham to see the other building, show him where he could set up to treat his patients. Remind him that hoarding relief supplies might be illegal. Then let him think it over and try again the next day? In most cases it is better to keep communication positive and friendly in order to maintain good will and allow for future cooperation desipite differences of opinion and inner turmoil.
a bodhis...a, the operative word in your post is "Sometimes", and from a quantitative standpoint, "sometimes" can mean "hardly ever".Dr Pham is an educated man, a putative healer, but also a bigot in spades.
Dr Goodheart: Thank you for your blog, thank you for the showing the true heart of our country and the American people.

It is heartwarming and terribly sad all at the same time to read about the plight of the poor people who have lost everything and yet still will share something precious with another human being who came to help.

I pray that Dr. Pham comes to his senses and perhaps God has placed you to be the mediator or the catalyst where it is to badly needed.

You aren't retired, you have found another job that needed you to do it.
I agree with egranger, thanks for your efforts and sharing of what is really going on in the local communities. Even though there is mistrust within the two faiths, they both can work for the common good. A third party (such as your small team) can be very helpful in bringing them together. May God's peace be with you and give you the wisdom of Solomon.
I agree with our Buddhist friend who has suggested a way to encourage Dr. Pham to think things over.

I do know that both communities can work together if they are shown the way. In this respect I agree with some of your other correspondents that perhaps you are meant to be the mediator.

Thank you for the work that you are doing and the blogging which is helping us to see what is happening on the storm front.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from