Every year since the opening of the hospital in 1956, the Mellon’s hosted a luncheon for employees the Friday before Christmas. In the early years, when we had fewer employees, the event was held in the hospital cafeteria. Over the years, the event has moved down to the Mellon House, with tables set around the large Strangler Fig tree.
Since the first year, Mme. Mellon made or designed personal gifts for each employee – shoulder bags from traditional denim cloth, wooden boxes, painted birds, items from the ceramics shop, and more. They were always a surprise, and much anticipated. As the number of employees grew, we turned to commercial items – flashlights, bucket hats, waterproof bags, usually labeled with “Hopital Albert Schweitzer”. Several weeks ago, I was with a group of nurses from the operating room at a funeral, and as we drove home, I was subjected to a set of creative questions which might have provided a clue about this year’s gift, but I was able to dodge the questions successfully. They were very pleased to discover that this year could choose from a display of quick-dry towels in a delightful rainbow of vibrant colors.
A ritual has emerged for the day; employees arrive in groups, register at a desk at the front door, and then come down the hall to the living room, where they are greeted by a member of the family and administrators, provided with words of thanks and holiday wishes, and then receive the present. Then they go around to the porch, where hospital managers serve them a meal and a drink, and then proceed to the tables. A special party mix of Christmas songs was culled from Haitian, American, and Swiss seasonal CDs, and set a festive tone which bespoke the multinational character of our personnel.
We are all aware that at this year’s event, we were observing the end of two very difficult years for HAS and Haiti, starting with the earthquake in January 2010, and through the emergence of cholera, with two separate epidemic peaks. The spirit at the party was upbeat; we have a large staff, and many of them do not know each other well, as community field workers mingled with hospital employees. Soon, however, they were laughing and sharing stories, lingering long in the day.
We know that the party provided only a brief respite from our challenges, but it was welcome indeed; a chance to bond together, to reflect on our collective work, and to celebrate a message of hope and emergence. We wish all of you the same opportunity as you gather with friends and family this season.