Born Ugly

a picture of dan







My friend Melissa tells me that if I think I'm a flawed human being, I must be contrasting my life against someone else's. In some places, no one is ugly or flawed. There is Hollywood, for example, or the pages of leading fashion magazines. The rest of the world, however, makes me feel better about myself.

On Sunday, 2 February at a few minutes before six in the morning, a very ugly man arrived on foot at my door. Out of the darkness, he called my name. I was expecting him and I yelled from where I had been sleeping "Bonjour! M'ale!" I ignited the propane lamp and opened the door. The ugly man on my doorstep chose not to come in. I invited him, in my best Haitian Kreyol, to eat breakfast, but he declined, stating that he only drinks coffee in the morning. I gave him a bread with egg inside, which I wrapped in a newspaper.

I myself ate cold cereal and dressed. We left on foot through the early morning, arriving an hour later with the dawn at the highway, the mud of the walk still on our shoes.

The ugly man explained that his name was Silvera Saman; it took me a long time to understand what he was saying since I barely understand the only language he speaks. He also explained that his cleft lip was congenital; he was born ugly.

We didn't or couldn't say much to each other on our journey to the capital. I gave him roundtrip fare in case he got lost; otherwise, he was carrying no money. He understood by context or by my fucked up Haitian Kreyol that the money was for bus fare and he paid the cobrador.

In the capital, a taxi took us to a public hospital in the colonial zone. By now, it was 9:00 and there was a long line moving slowly towards one entrance of the hospital. We got in the back of the line, on the way passing any number of people with deformities or scars.

We waited for a damn long time outside the hospital. First they called the children, thus depriving me of the perfectly good company of a young girl born with a cleft palate and without her fingers. I went and got coffee, telling Silvera as best I could to stay in line. He instead thought that I wanted him to stay in one place; when I returned, we were absolutely last in line.

By this time, both of us had absolutely abandoned trying to communicate with each other. I instead spoke at length with the former dentist and his wife who stood in front of me. The former mouth-torture-shaman had been electrocuted by an obscene amount of current. His casual encounter with high voltage had left him with extraordinary scars all over his body. His wife, on the other hand, was kind of cute.

I soon bored of the poor electrocuted former dentist's story both of spending three months in a coma and also of God's grace, to which he attributed his eventual reawakening. I attracted the attention of a guy named Juan who was both attending to his only modestly malformed wife and bursting forth in little fits of Kreyol with my ward, Silvera. Juan agreed to translate for us for the doctors.

Annie came and we had a serious conversation. I told her that completing a stint as a Peace Corps volunteer certifies that one knows what one wants to do with his or her life. I said this because some of us came here, figured out what we wanted to do and set to doing just that. Others figured out what they wanted to do and left to do just that. The rest of us realized too late, with epic daily routine and boring tragedy and drama, what we would have preferred to have been doing, and woke up for days, months, and years wishing we were doing just that. Annie said she was a happy person, and accused me of the same thing. I told her that her impression of me must have arisen from the fact that I am always happy to see her.

Just inside the doorway, Juan and I explained to Jon the Midwestern plastic surgeon how translating would work. I would translate from English to Spanish, and Juan would translate from Spanish to Kreyol. Jon's job was to speak good proper English and Silvera's job was to speak Kreyol. First, I tried to get Silvera to say what his problem was, but Juan asked me if I was fucking kidding or something. "He's got an ugly face!" I didn't translate for Jon, but he said, "Yeah, of course, his lip's messed up. I can see that." Jon continued, "It's kind of rare we see adults who haven't had this fixed-- can I take a photo?"

I sort of wanted to collect a prize if he was going to take a photo. What do I win? Ugliest man brought to clinic? But Jon motioned for me to step aside. "He shouldn't have to live like this," said Jon, "we can fix it." He gave us a number and showed us where to walk.

After a couple more hours, Silvera and I had an appointment for the following Monday. Silvera was not interested in hearing anything more from Juan or me, so he mutely followed me back to the bus stop. On the ride back, I watched him use the good side of his mouth to eat the egg sandwich. I wished I could have a piece.

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last revised 15 August 2015
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