Third World America

Flag of Acadiana region of Louisiana

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I worked as a nurse in southern Louisiana, dubbed Acadiana. It was a beautiful place full of lush green foliage and winding country roads, with classic French architecture. People were polite. People were gracious. The food was extraordinary and the women were among the most beautiful I have ever seen. These are the memories I carry. I can never forget the old gentleman in the farmers’ market. He had chiseled facial features, speckled, gray hair and deep blue eyes. As I was about to say, “G’mornin’, sir; how y’all doin’?” he suddenly said to me, “Bonjour, monsieur! Como ca va?” I was dumfounded. He spoke not a word of English; only Cajun French. He smiled. He knew. I was ‘Anglais’. We weren’t expected to be able to speak the correct language. All was forgiven. He had come to the market ‘en bateau’ in a dugout canoe, poled through the bayou. Where he lived, people did not need to speak English. People lit their homes with kerosene lamps. They fished the bayous and hunted in the forests. They had outhouses. If they had to travel long distances, they drove a horse drawn cart. Otherwise, they went everywhere en bateau, or walked. Life was simple: no complex questions; no complex answers. When life decided to be complicated by a serious injury or illness, this is where I became involved. I worked in the ER at one of the ‘charity’ hospitals. I also worked in the ICU and the neonatal unit. We had to tear up the most ragged of the tattered bed sheets in order to make washcloths and towels to bathe our patients. We weren’t supplied with bath linens. We had to bathe our patients with our own liquid soap, too. The state did not supply soap, either. I worked nights. I had the dubious privilege of speaking on the radio with the paramedics from the local, private ambulance company, when they brought someone’s ancient grandmother in to the hospital. She never spoke English. Most of the ER docs were from Pakistan, and spoke thickly accented East Asian English. They never knew the local French. Communication was challenging. So was the poverty. People were so poor, that to obtain medical treatment, they would often wait over twenty four hours in the ER waiting room, with never a complaint. Life was what it was. Why complain? The patients were happy just to receive care. I made a friend, while I was in Louisiana. His name was Guidry, a Cajun. He told me, once, that “a lot of boys from the area wound up walking across Bataan with the Japanese. They thought they had it pretty good because they got plenty of rice.” That’s what they were used to back home; plenty of rice.  I rode a bicycle for transportation; to and from work and to the store. Bridges crossed dark, polluted streams meandering through forests so deep, they became engulfed in blackness. Neighborhoods could be modern, middle class on one block, and then the street turned into a dirt road with occasional ancient shanties which looked like they were ante-bellum. People lived in them. One of my patients did not speak French. He spoke Creole. He was so black, he was ebony. He would die of a fungal illness people got from peeling crawfish. He had worked in a crawfish processing plant. It was a ramshackle affair, made of corrugated, galvanized steel, covered in rust.

This is why I am so offended by Congressman John Fleming’s whining about only having four hundred thousand dollars left over after meeting his expenses and paying his taxes. I doubt most of the polite, kind, gracious people in Louisiana would know how to spend that much money. It would probably take them a long while.

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About Stefan Jacke

MagicRobert presented me with a vellum document, composed in an insane script. We were in a well secured vault in the Michener Library. His face exploded into a broad smile, as he saw me recognize the words, "That government governs best which governs least." It was a copy of "On Civil Disobedience" in the author's own hand. The experience called to mind a conversation Henry David Thoreau had with Ralph Waldo Emerson, as Thoreau sat in a jail cell, incarcerated for protesting the Mexican War. Emerson asked, "David, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau responded, "The point is, Ralph, what are you doing out there?" Once, long ago, I jumped off of big red trucks, lifted weights, and cleaned toilets for a living. Then I wrestled drunks, ran around in circles, and got splattered with blood and all manner of body fluids for a living. Now I enjoy the stillness of early morning in my rocking chair on the porch, with a hot cup of coffee, trying in vain to forget the past. Thank you, Robert!
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