Before the earthquake, when I would leave my house, I always walked past a young man whose back, chest and arms were covered with tatoos. He would lounge in front of his house at the top of my street and he always asked me to take him along. "Where?" I would ask. "Wherever you're going!" he would respond with a cheeky smile. I would just wave him off and keep walking. Haitian men frequently say that sort of thing to me and I have become quite talented at ignoring them.
Three days before the earthquake, I took my 5 gallon water cooler up the hill to get it filled at Caribbean market. The store was closed for inventory though and since I didn't know another place within walking distance, I returned home with my empty cooler. When I walked past the tatoo man, he asked why I hadn't gotten water and offered to show me a store right around the corner that sells water. For some reason, I accepted, and the man, who introduced himself as "G", escorted me to the little store and then insisted on carrying the water all the way home for me.
Thus it was that in the middle of the night after the quake when I needed someone to hold a flashlight for me, I looked around and the only person I saw whose name I knew was G. I called to him and he instantly came to help. I did not ask him to help all night; I just needed him for a moment while Walnes and Abbey were busy. But he stayed. And remarkably, he was better than any flashlight-holder I've ever had. Most people get distracted and tired while I stitch people up, but G not only stayed focused, he also figured out by our second or third victim when to come closer, when to shift angles and when to illuminate my surgical kit instead of the wound. Then he started recognizing what instruments or supplies I needed and handing them to me before I could even ask. Eventually, at 5 in the morning, when the constant arrival of patients had waned, he sent me to rest while he stayed up and on the lookout for injuries.
As soon as it was clear that things in our camp were temporarily calm, G urged me to pack up my supplies and walk into the ravine behind St Joseph's to treat people there. I was exhausted and wanted to do nothing more than sit with Bill and TiPatrick, but G urged me on. "There are lots of people who need help! C'mon, Keeez."
Every day was like that. G would find me early in the morning, we would load up our bags and we would set out on foot to find refugee camps where people needed stitching and bandaging and medications. I would get exhausted and he would push me to keep going. We walked 6 or 7 miles every day, carrying all my medical supplies and sometimes also carrying bags of formula to deliver to Dorothy's en route. In the evenings, I would come home, take care of Bill all night, and then get up the next morning and do it again.
Back at Delmas 91, there were about 300 people camped out in my neighbor Alex' field. I raided my house for towels, diapers, baby formula, soap, sanitary pads, sheets, baby blankets, extra clothes - everything I could find, I loaded into boxes and with the help of my neighborhood kids, brought it all up to the field. Haiti is full of horror stories of riots whenever donations are being distributed, but I would just hand it all to G and he would peacefully and equitably pass it out.
A week after the quake, I told G, "I need to go across town to check on the kids at HFC today. Do you want to come with me or do you want to stay here and watch out for the camp?" He said he would come with me. Later, as we were walking down the street, he nudged me, "Kez, I don't like it when you ask me if I'm coming with you. Wherever you go, I am coming too. You need to just accept that!"
He has been true to his word. Everywhere I go, G comes along, just like he always wanted. He guides me around parts of the city that I am unfamiliar with. He buys me food and drink when we are far from home. He holds my hand and leads me through throngs of people downtown. He saved my life one morning, yelling my name and pulling me back as a taptap came flying around the corner too close to the curb. As I jerked away, I felt the mirror clip my arm but thanks to him, I was unharmed.
That same day, my tough guardian finally broke down. We were walking back to Delmas when a woman called his name. A moment later, a man appeared and G fell into his arms, crying. It was his father. The man lives in another part of Port-au-Prince and neither G nor his father had known that the other was alive. We got home that day in the late afternoon, more exhausted than I think we'd ever been, but I packed up a bag with all the food I had left in the house and G took it back downtown to give to his hungry father, aunt and cousins.
One evening after our day's work, G and I went for a walk. We took no supplies and just walked through the neighborhoods behind Delmas 91, enjoying the coolness of nighttime and the little signs of life returning to normal. He took me to the back side of Caribbean market and pointed out the sidewalk where he had been walking when the quake struck. It was completely buried in large concrete slabes and rubble. Somehow, he was fast enough to run up the street before the walls came down and crushed him.
It has been three weeks since the quake and G continues to be my amazing assistant. We argue and get on each other's nerves, but most of the time, I am thrilled that he is here. He and Alex, the overseer of the field where everyone is camped out, are fully responsible for the distribution of food and water and supplies to the refugees. G also organizes the neighborhood men into teams of night watchmen. They work in 3 hour shifts all night long, monitoring the camp and the surrounding streets. I sleep better knowing that at 1am every night, G and his boys are checking on my house.
I don't know where he gets his strength from. He didn't sleep at all the first 3 nights. I tried to convince him to stop working and rest, but he told me he couldn't, even if he tried. "There is so much that needs to be done and the people are looking to me to do it," he explained. "I can't rest yet." The first time he slept after the quake was on Friday when we hiked down to Dorothy's. While I was inside talking to her, G curled up under a bush in the yard and fell fast asleep.
I cannot express in words how blessed I am to have G beside me. He has been the greatest assistant, bodyguard and friend that I could have asked for. In many ways, he is the reason that I have gotten through the past 3 weeks. But when I thank him, he just shakes it off. "I should be thanking you, Kez," he says. "You aren't Haitian but here you are, working to help Haiti. This is my country, my people. If I don't help them, what am I worth?"