Entering the ward, I saw Gaye sitting on his bed, carefully filling in the lines of his coloring book with a red crayon. Liberia is the only place I have ever witnessed a 21-year-old man so enthralled with paper and crayons. As I walked past his bed, he paused from his coloring, flashing his bright, brown eyes toward me.
"What is your name?' " he asked.
"Megan. I'll be your nurse."
"Meggee? That is a fine name."
Every Liberian patient I take care of instinctively changes my name from Megan to Meggee.
Before returning to his coloring, Gaye charmingly added: "Someday maybe I will name my daughter Meggee."
I felt intimidated that night when I received my nursing assignment; I was alone and in charge of seven male patients, whose ages ranged from 19 to 43. As a pediatric nurse, taking care of adults felt uncomfortable. Being the only woman in a room full of men added to the feeling.
The men of "A" ward were keeping themselves entertained by a lively conversation. When I completed my list of nursing tasks, I decided to join in. Grabbing a rolling chair, I positioned myself between the two rows of patient beds and listened.
Everyone was laughing at Abraham in bed No. 20. Abraham, who was barely 5 feet tall, was walking around the ward in bulky, oversized sneakers. The group agreed that Abraham looked silly because he did not bring slippers (plastic flip flops) to the hospital.
Abraham told the group he would continue to wear his big sneakers because they made him taller.
Gaye, still coloring, brought me into the conversation with a question, "Meggee, do you love fufu?"
Fufu is to Liberians what pizza is to Americans. Made of ground plant root, it has a soft and sticky texture that I'm not fond of, so I had to answer honestly: no.
Although surprised that anyone would not love fufu, Gaye continued to ask me questions. Soon, all the patients joined in inquiring about my home, family, church, school and job. We even ventured into politics when Gaye asked me who I thought would win the coming presidential election.
Last July, while riding a motorbike, Gaye was hit by a truck. He broke his leg and arm and did not receive the medical care needed to repair his injuries. As a result, his bones did not heal correctly, and a large ulcer developed on his foot.
For almost a year, he walked with a limp, and has been unable to attend school. He came to the Africa Mercy to have skin grafted onto his foot and possibly to receive orthopedic surgery.
After a half-hour of being grilled, it was my turn to ask questions.
"Gaye, do you live with your mother and father?" I asked.
Gaye put down his crayon and his bright eyes grew serious. He softly answered: "My father was killed in the war when I was very small."
Understanding the pain of war, the other patients became silent as Gaye, poised and intelligent, proceeded to share his story.
Gaye was 3 when the war started. His father was killed, leaving his mother alone to care for four children. Fleeing for safety, Gaye's family was separated; he and his sister stayed with his mother while his oldest sister and brother went with an uncle. They would be separated for years as Gaye's childhood was consumed by running and hiding throughout Liberia's bush.
Gaye remembers when rebel soldiers came to his school seeking new recruits for their army. They pulled up to the school's fence in a truck carrying large weapons.
As the children and teachers tried to escape, the rebels grabbed boys who were old enough to be soldiers - boys as young as 10. A man grabbed Gaye's arm intending to take him away, but the sleeve of his school uniform ripped off and he escaped.
His best friend, however, was not so lucky. That day, he was taken away by the soldiers and Gaye learned later that he had died.
"Meggee, the people of Liberia have known great suffering," he told me.
For 14 years, Liberia fought a bloody civil war in which about 250,000 died and thousands more fled the country. The country was left completely devastated. Roads were destroyed. The electricity was gone. The economy collapsed and the health-care system was made non-existent.
At least two-thirds of the women experienced sexual violence and thousands of children were robbed of their childhoods.
Each face in the room wore a uniform, reflective look. The people of Liberia have known great suffering; all my patients had experienced it.
One by one, they shared their stories.
I cried that night as I filled out my paperwork.
I thought about the brightness and hope in Gaye's eyes as he told me his plans to finish high school and become an accountant. I thought about the compassion in his voice when he spoke of Liberia helping other countries the way it has been helped.
"I am determined," he repeatedly stated.
I thought about my own brother, who is only six months older than Gaye. He was playing Little League baseball and collecting Star Wars cards while Gaye was escaping from soldiers.
It didn't seem fair.
Before falling asleep, Gaye taught me one of his favorite phrases in a native Liberian dialect.
"Kou Kile Kou gar ton non," meaning, "We are all one."
That night, the men in "A" ward weren't a shocking statistic or tragic story.
They were my brothers.
We are all children of God. We breathe the same air. We have the same fears. We share the same dreams.
Some of us have never known need; some of us have only known need.
We who are blessed did not choose to be so, but we can choose to help our brothers.