There is a section of the ravine where most of my patients live. It is a labyrinth of tiny shacks in an area about 200 feet long and 100 feet deep. I stand in the shade across the street and my regulars come to me so I can treat their children for diarrhea, colds, fevers, scabies, and any variety of complaints. We have been getting to know each other better - I can actually remember about half the babies' names now - and the parents are learning to trust me. Now, when I tell them there is nothing seriously wrong with their child and medicine is not necessary this week, they believe me because they know I mean it and because they know that I will be back the next week. A few months ago, many of them would have argued and insisted I give them something regardless.
Last week, the level of trust moved a step further. For the first time, I was invited into several people's homes. At first, it was to see someone who was seriously ill: a woman with a stroke and a father who had been beat up, but I was also asked just to come in and say hello. Walking through that labyrinth, surrounded by people who know me and who are greeting with me big smiles instead of suspicious stares was a very fulfilling experience. God has good timing - we needed to reach this level of trust to handle the things that happened the following weekend.
We had been hearing whispers that some of the houses in the Ravine were marked for demolition, but they did not have the spray painted orders on them that we had seen in other areas of Delmas. People were saying that the houses would be taken down on Tuesday, but Tuesday came and went. Nothing happened on Wednesday or Thursday either, so we decided it must have been rumor.
But on Saturday evening, I got a phone call. Bulldozers had come in the late afternoon and knocked down houses in the Ravine. I jumped in the car and drove to the Ravine with Sherrie and Sam, Kervens' adoptive brother who is visiting from the States. When we got there, it was chaos. Hundreds of people milling around, piles of belongings in the street, crushed concrete and torn tin roofs lying everywhere. I cried.
The people just flocked to me. Within moments, I was surrounded by a crowd of 100 people. Small children were tugging on my hand, "Miss, they knocked down my mama's house." "Miss, we don't have any where to go." Adults told me about what happened, how the bulldozers came with police and a judge. They had a few minutes to remove their children and belongings before the machines went to work. Many of them did not get everything out before the demolition began.
Every house in that block came down and then the workers pushed the rubble into the ravine so that the people would not be able to rebuild. No one will be reimbursed for any rent they have already paid, nor has the government offered any sanctuary for the families. "They don't want to improve the streets," one older man said angrily. "That's just an excuse. The bourgeois (upper class) wants to get rid of us. They want to be able to show people around and brag about how beautiful the town is, without seeing people like us."
I asked everyone to be quiet for a minute, and in the middle of that circle of desperate and destitute people, I prayed out loud.
No one knows exactly how many houses were knocked down, but the people guessed that the total was close to 300 homes. Nearly 1000 men, women and children homeless.
I found several of my regulars and started helping them look for a place to spend the night. One man agreed to let two of my families stay in an unfinished part of his home, so I worked with Nadine, Fedner's mama, to clean out the broken concrete and trash. We had just started moving their belongings inside when Sherrie came to get me for some translation help.
In that section of the ravine, there is an old warehouse that is currently empty and on sale. Sherrie had managed to find the man who maintains the building for the owner and was trying to convince him to let some families sleep inside it for the night. My Creole is better, so I took over the negotiations. It took nearly 30 minutes of finagling, praying, pleading, and some rather shady deal-making before he agreed to open the doors.
We left after making sure that everyone in the immediate area had somewhere to sleep and we promised to come back first thing the next morning.
I was back in the ravine with Sam and Casey before 7 o'clock on Sunday morning. Men were digging through the debris, trying to salvage whatever building materials they could find. My two families were still safely settled in the unfinished house but most of my other regulars were nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they had all found places to stay, at least temporarily.
In daylight, the extent of the destruction was even more evident. It took my breath away.
On Monday morning, I met privately with 3 of my families and gave them money to help them find a new place to live. I wish I could have helped all of my families, but I could not find some of them and I honestly would not have had enough funds to support all of them. I've had these particular children, Fedner, Stephane and especially little Fabiola on my heart for a long time, and it would have killed me to not be able to help them.
Some people were able to find refuge with other friends or family right there in the ravine, but those houses may be going down this week, so the number of homeless people will nearly triple. Others have simply disappeared. Perhaps they found places to stay in other parts of Port-au-Prince; perhaps they returned to their homes in the countryside; perhaps they are sleeping in the street in another part of town. I worry about them, especially the ones that I saw frequently, such as Douly and Sadrac and the lady suffering from a stroke. I hope and pray that they are being cared for.
Please join me in praying for my families in the ravine, but pray also for the Haitian government. The motto of the mayor of Delmas is "God, Patriotism, and Love" - I think it would be fantastic if he started truly living by that motto.