Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fear runs deep

This week, one of the St Joseph's boys came to me in obvious mental distress. "Kez, you won't believe what I did today at school!" he moaned.

Emmanuel's English teacher asked him to stand in front of the class and teach them some English. The 15 year old told the class to clap their hands. They did. Then he told them to stomp their feet. They did. Hard.

Instantly, the other classes began to panic. The noise and the vibration made the students think that another earthquake was happening! Emmanuel watched in horror as teens, young children and even teachers fought over each other to get out the doors. He saw people knocked over, trampled, and violently shoved aside in the frantic exodus. "I spent the rest of class crying," he admitted.

Fear is still rampant in this country. I estimate that more than half of the people living in tent cities have a viable home to which they could return, but fear of living under concrete keeps them in the tents. How long will it last? How much rain will have to fall before my neighbors, my patients pack up and go home? Or will Haiti become a permanent tent society?

For months, Frantz has been the only one of the local children who will come into my house. Finally, this week, the rest of the kids came in and one even asked me if she could spend the night. But their parents are not pleased. They want the children under tarp or tin roofs only and they certainly don't want them anywhere near the debris of St Joe's. I haven't felt a tremor in over a month, but to be honest, I still flinch at the sound of my gate rattling when it's closed or at the slighest shaking of my bed. In February, radio stations and television channels were predicting another large earthquake before the end of the month. Now, they are saying it will hit before the end of the year. So people stay out of their homes. But how long can one continue to live in fear? If the prediction gets pushed back once more when 2011 arrives, will my community still be afraid?

Perhaps we just have to wait it out. Perhaps it will be a gradual process as families move one by one back to their homes. If they do not, will it be such a tragedy? I suppose not, though it is sad to have lost every open space that was once available for soccer games. But it is not the act of staying in tents that bothers me; what bothers me is the fear that makes them stay in those tents. Stay if you will, my friends, but let us work to cast fear out of our country!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Images of today

Missing a leg from birth. She will probably need a medical visa to go the States for some corrective surgery and for prosthesis fitting.

A very happy Myson, home with his parents after being shipped to the US for emergency brain surgery after being injured in the earthquake.

Boxes of food and hygiene stuff ready to be handed out to the tent city, courtesy of Operation Blessing and prepared by my neighbor and community leader, Alix.

If you don't have bandage supplies, just use what you have on hand: duct tape and a child' homework!

Lauren's boyfriend doing the dishes.

I have never seen sunsets like the ones I see in Haiti.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum on their way back to school for the first time post-quake. I miss them...sort of.

Bill Nathan, happy to be alive and happy to be back in Haiti.

My Shoebox, currently housing me, a nun, my boss, and a recycling center for rebar and other treasures of the demolition process.

Demolition goes on and on

The soundtrack to my life is the pounding of sledgehammers as the demolition crew takes down the remains of St Joseph's. On days when I don't have to go out, I frequently put on my work clothes and my Haiti bandana and go to work too. Sometimes I'm shoveling, sometimes I'm filling wheelbarrows, sometimes I'm handing buckets down a chain of workers. I am usually the only white person working and I am ALWAYS the only female. It's a blast.

What's not a blast is when they decide to do daredevil feats like removing the huge slab of concrete that you see in the above photo. To the right of the slab, you are looking at the roof of my Shoebox. If the crew slips up just a bit, that slab lands on my house and I am homeless. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous that weekend.

To my great relief, the slab came down without squashing my house. Yay! But the drama was not over yet. The whole next week, we were working on the courtyard between the old building and the new one that they have just purchased. Hanging over us were chunks of the roof that were anchored by rebar, but we figured they'd been hanging securely for months, so we have nothing to worry about.

I got a phone call as I walking out of church on Sunday. One of those giant pieces of roof had come down unexpectedly while some Americans were moving things on the roof. It landed precisely where we had been working all week. If it hadn't been Sunday...

This week, the team is back on the roof, taking down the remaining hanging pieces and clearing off the layers of roof, chapel floor, and dance floor. They chop it up, load it into buckets or wheelbarrows and dump it 2 stories down to the street in front of my house or beside my house. The dust cloud each time a load falls is impressive. My whole home is coated in a fine layer of white dust. I am coated in a fine layer of white dust. My laptop as I type this post is coated in a fine layer of white dust (wait, that can't be good for it!). I am deeply grateful that I have never suffered from dust allergies and I am pretty sure that the entire country is going to have "quake lung" within the next year or two.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gifts for the Gonaives orphans

A big thank you to my Aunt Amy, my cousins Lily and Bea, and Bea's class in Monmouth, Maine who created and sold cards to raise money for my work in Haiti. They also put together a package of goodies for the Gonaives orphans at Sherrie Fausey's. We had a grand old time blowing balloons and laughing at silly photos of Bea's classmates.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Almost a vacation!

This weekend, I left Port-au-Prince on a 2-day trip to a village near Port-de-Paix, on the north coast of Haiti. A pair of brothers from the village want to donate land to Angel Missions so that we can build a school or clinic or community center. Sorelle, one of the brothers, drove me, Vanessa, and Bill (who is a member of the Angel Missions board) across the country to visit the area and evaluate the needs.

After a 6 hour, neck-breaking, back-thumping, butt-aching drive, we arrived in the tiny village of Haut Moustinque, about an hour and a half outside Port-de-Paix. We only had to ford the river 3 times and drive over 10 miles of terrain that cars only drive in SUV commercials. Maybe that's where Haiti's economic salvation will come from: off-road vehicle advertisements!

We'd hoped that our visit would be subtle, a quiet mission so that we wouldn't get anybody's hopes up if it turned out that we couldn't do anything. No such luck. There were over 500 people sitting in a newly built community center, waiting to greet us.

After our welcome speeches, Vanessa asked for any children who were not in school to step forward. Our tour of town showed us two schools, a national school with about 500 students from several nearby villages, and a small community school with 200 students. Despite that, close to 100 children stepped forward to get their names recorded that they were not in school.

The committee members and Sorelle led us from the community center all around the village and surrounding countryside, showing us different properties that they want to simply give to us. Dozens of villagers followed us around as we hiked up and down beautiful Haitian mountains. We climbed through thorns and banana trees and past voodoo priest houses and goats and sheep and donkeys and lots and lots of congo beans. My favorite piece of land was one that crested the hill and flattened out into a little valley adorned by a grove of sour orange trees and mango trees (second photo).

Bad knees and asthma do not make the experience of climbing up and down Haitian hills particularly pleasant. Vanessa was a real trooper and Sorelle and Bill were also real troopers, helping her out on the steeper parts. Good times, good times.

For the past 3 months, I have been surrounded by rubble from dawn to dusk. My home is constantly coated in gray dust from the demolition and my clothes and hair are stiff with dust by the end of the day. It was such a treat to be outside Port-au-Prince, to just see green again.

Even better than the beautiful mountains and all the trees was the river that runs through Haut-Moustique. The villagers took us to the spring where the river is born and they showed us the little bathing spot just below the house where we stayed. Growing up in Boston, my family's favorite pasttime was going to the woods where we hiked and we played in the streams and rivers. It was deeply therapeutic to spend an hour that evening splashing around, throwing rocks, bathing my feet, and chasing the goats and Bill. And in the morning, I woke up before everyone else to just sit in the stream and think and pray. It felt so incredibly good.

I think it was the best weekend I've had since the quake. It was almost, almost a vacation.