This has already been one of my most interesting trips here. Flying from Miami to Port Au Prince I met a young Haitian man, TJ, who's Mother runs a school and a feeding program in Port Au Prince. As we neared our destination I gladly accepted his invitation to visit her school. On arriving, I was shocked to find that the school and houses had been destroyed in the earthquake. This dear lady in turn, opened up her property for the families of the school children, as well as anyone in need, to move into one of the tents donated by the country of Japan erected on the property. As she so graciously made every attempt to make me feel welcome, feeding me, moving my chair into the shade, explaining the classes the 200+ children were taking, I was moved beyond words at her expression of grace. Here was a person who had lost everything, yet still sought out any avenue available to her to continue to give. My God, how can we be such a selfish people when devastation and needs like this exist such a short distance from our homeland?
My prayer is that you don't find this a boring blog with it's history; but instead, that you will be touched deeply by what the Haitian people have endured and how they have chosen to respond. There is definitely a lesson in handling adversity to be learned from the Haitian people.
I came across a song today written by a minister and musician, Bryan Sirchio
Staring At My Overflowing Plate
It's so easy not to see you
Close you out like a shade in the window
Your condition seems so foreign
Are you lazy? Why are you so poor?
Someone said you and I are connected
That your hunger is linked to my fatness
But how can that be-I never met you
I don't know your name
I've got problems of my own
I'm so busy-I do good things
And I don't know if I can make room
in my life for your misery
Someone said that the whole world is changing
For you no longer will stand to be used
But talk like that-it makes me frightened
Scared what I might lose
Apparently Bryan wrote this song in Haiti after dining at a restaurant. As his plate, overflowing with food arrived at his table, the waiter was quick to pull the shades to block out the noses of the starving children's face pressed against the window. In a country where over four and a half million people try to subsist on less than a dollar a day, it is very easy to want to pull down the shades. Anytime I am stopped for more than a few seconds, the whiteness of my skin draws children, old women, and men with outstretched hands crying M'grangou - I'm hungry. And they are. I have no concept of real hunger other than what I have witnessed here in Haiti. My son says he has seen the change in me when I visit home in that I really just view food as fuel. It is so hard to enjoy any kind of luxury meal after seeing how gratified a person in Haiti is for a simple plate of rice in a day.
As I study more of Haiti's history, it is so disturbing - Even guilt inducing to learn the role that even we have played in oppressing this country over the past 100 years. Yet the Haitians still love us. These are the warmest, most loving, and most forgiving people I have ever encountered. After living in such incredible oppression for the entire life of their country, I guess they have the choice of going to either extreme. God bless them for choosing the good path.
Knowing these things, seeing these things, seeing the mountain sized garbage piles on every street, seeing the women and children wasting away from AIDS (which incidently sex tourists from the USA introduced to Haiti), and seeing the determination of the people in spite of these things is both heartbreaking and an incredible motivator all at the same time.
As I spent the afternoon at the tent city with my friend and his family - and 400 of their closest friends - it soon dawned on me that I would be spending the night in Port Au Prince on Monday when I arrived. I knew God had a plan, so I just said my yes and went along with the program. We shared a meal of rice as they told me of their losses in the earthquake. More importantly they shared their hopes and dreams. Plans to rebuild stronger than before. The perseverance to continue their school and classes in the midst of the tent city. Along with the love and affection that any normal family expresses when a loved one has come home. It was hard to watch TJ's expressions seeing the devastation of the quake for the first time. Seeing his crumbled home. Seeing the secondary school he graduated from in ruins was very hard.
As darkness fell, with no electricity, bedtime comes early. The mother prepared things for TJ and I to shower, then told me we had to walk over a mile to where would be able to take a shower. She would never have presumed to ask me to shower as they did with small buckets of water drawn from a larger bucket behind the tents. I finally convinced her that I was really okay with it, and was able to join 50 close friends in a shower area. After the shower, I found that the mother had moved her things out of her tent for me to sleep in, and she would be sharing a tent with her son and daughter. No amount of arguing on my part could change this. If you haven't seen pictures of the tent cities currently in Port Au Prince, please do a Google image search for them so you'll have an idea of what the conditions were like. Not only could you hear the sounds from the tent next to you, but the next ten tents or so as well. I count it a blessing to have been able to have this experience just ot have a glimpse of what these people are so cheerfully enduring. As roosters can't tell time in Haiti, they began their crowing around 3:00 in the morning. As we had planned for a driver to take me to Cap-Haitien at five O-clock, I decided to go ahead and read my Bible a little while while I waited for others to begin waking up. For the third time since beginning this mission, God had me read Luke 9. While the 1st part seemed to apply early in the mission, now it seems that learning to die to myself is really the message meant for me. It was a very powerful time of study and prayer.
At breakfast I learned that this tent city, along with all of the other "small" ones, aren't receiving any medical care or community clinics. I had some medicines donated by church members that I was able to leave with them, along with several hundred cell phones donated by Digicel. Additionally I agreed to try and spend my last week of this trip helping provide community clinics for their tent city along with three other nearby. Each one is progressively closer to Cite Soleil. A massive slum, built on a landfill, with more than 300,000 inhabitants. Mother Teresa once called this two and a half square mile area the poorest spot on earth. I am actively seeking a medical team willing to come to Port Au Prince on May 9, and stay as long as they can or until the 17th. I plan to provide community clinics there during this time. Please pass this on to any doctors and nurses you know that might be interested.
I arrived home in Cap-Haitien late Tuesday evening. A wonderful man, Sandro Visani, MD, gave up his medical practice several years ago to do volunteer work as a Urologist. Despite his rocky arrival - I was in Port instead of Cap on Monday to greet him, he found his way to the hospital and we began seeing surgical patients today to schedule procedures for him to do during the month he is working here with us. He has volunteered all over the world and has the most incredible stories that I could sit and listen to for hours in the evenings. Many patients will be very blessed by his work here. I'm also busy preparing for a second medical team coming in next week. We will be providing some much needed community medical clinics with part of that team during their visit. As you can tell, it is a busy time. More importantly many Haitian people are being blessed by your prayers and support for the work here.