(I wrote this May 2010, after I came back from a week in Haiti)
I went to Haiti last week. My flight attendant benefits and fairly flexible schedule allowed me the opportunity to join my uncle, along with his family and a group of medical volunteers at a hospital located just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince.
I was hoping that I could be useful in some way, even without any medical training. Selfishly, I was also hoping that the experience would be life altering for me in some way. In a sense, I came back disappointed, because I don’t feel like I was able to contribute much, and I haven’t had any life changing epiphanies yet. Yet.
I have a lot of questions. I question how my existence can make a difference in this world. I question how God can just watch so much destruction, so much pain. Over four months since the earthquake, piles of rubble, tent cities, chaos, and brokenness is. It just is.
I asked Joseph, one of the translators, what it is like to be Hatian. “You have to be strong. You must be a soldier. You have to fight for yourself. Look out for yourself. Have your own weapons. Sometimes, maybe, someone will help you. But usually not. You just must be strong, because you are alone.”
The woman at the clinic says she can’t eat. The nurse inquires to why. In Creole, she says she doesn’t have an appetite. The woman then turns and points to a large pile of rubble right behind the makeshift clinic. “My daughter is in that rubble.”
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Reggie says if he could take it all back he would. He grew up in Miami, speaking English perfectly. He moved to Florida, from Haiti, with his mother, when he was five years old. He’s back now, and not by desired choice. He was convicted for a few crimes in the United States was subsequently deported. He is only 26.
Along with the time Reggie spent in an American prison, he spent twenty-one days in a Hatian prison. According to Reggie, Hatian prisons are an entirely different hell, and they make American prisons look like The Ritz-Carlton.
A very small space becomes a place to sleep, a bathroom, a shower. The only source of food is if the prisoner’s family brings it to them. If the prisoner has no family to bring food, the prisoner has three options: another prisoner shares his food, starvation, or fight someone for their food. Reggie says you can’t blame people for fighting. It is just about surviving. In Haiti, survival is about looking out for oneself.
It strikes me how strange it is that I am walking past tent cities and garbage studded dirt streets with a convicted felon, in a country with no sense of safety, and me, with no sense of direction. Ironically, I feel protected by a person that I would me and frighten me if I was to meet him on the streets of LA.
For right now, I trust Reggie. Sometimes, you must trust people. I question who can the people of Haiti trust. Can they trust that they will see the benefits of the 1 billion dollars in aid money and supplies that have been sent? Can they trust that their babies will be fed? Can they trust that their homes will be rebuilt? Can they trust that their lives will improve? Can they trust in their Voudoo gods?
With no infrastructure and no leader, they have learned that they can only trust themselves.
Sabrina’s clinic is constructed from tarps and poles. Everything about it is mobile. The “pharmacy” is divided between four suitcases that lie on the dusty ground. The “exam room” is made up of the 90 degree convergence of a brick wall and a vertical hanging tarp. It is Sabrina’s Clinic because it is organized and operates due to the efforts of an amazing 20-something, nurse-mid-wife of that name.
For four months leading up to the January quake, Sabrina searched unsuccessfully for a nursing position. Even during the recent shaky economic times, nurses have still been in high demand, but Sabrina’s search proved fruitless. She felt strongly that God must have some reason for her unemployment and she leaned on the faith that God was going to do something in her life. A couple days after the quake, she got a call asking if she could be at the airport in an hour and a half. She was needed in Haiti.
I asked her if she is lonely. Her family is not with her. She’s young. Everything is so different. She thinks for a moment and then replies, “No. Not really. Since I came here, I believe that God has been telling me that I need to go to Him first. Not a boyfriend. Not a best girlfriend. Not my family. Instead, I need to rely on Him completely and tell him everything first.” She shakes her head for emphasis, as she continues, “So, no. I’m not lonely.” Her words are spoken with strong conviction, accompanied with a calm peace.
In Haiti, she has found something to trust. In Haiti, she has found the only thing to trust.