Haitian roads are treacherous places. Vehicles are overloaded, speed limits don't exist, streets are poorly maintained, and traffic laws are more suggestions than laws. As I see the buses and trucks flying past on National Route 1from Port-au-Prince to Gonaives, I think of the accidents that happen and I say to myself, "Someday, an accident is going to happen and I'm going to be the first responder."
Apparently, someone decided to give me a 'Welcome Home' gift. On our way to Gonaives, my first week back after a 2 1/2 month furlough, we came across a bus that had crashed off the road and was lying on its side in an irrigation ditch at the bottom of a steep 20 foot slope. Grace and I slid down the hill and I helped her climb into the sideways opening that had been the door. While she oversaw the search and recovery from inside, I splashed through thigh-deep water to the far side of the bus and found several people, pinned between the bus and the muddy bank.
The next 30 minutes are a blur for me. I know that I helped some men pull people out from under the bus and we carried them, one by one, through the filthy water and up to the road. I remember yelling at Katie to get our truck and telling some man to start loading the most serious victims into it. Mama Kathy left with 5 or 6 people within 10 minutes, but we filled 3 other pick-up trucks and sent them all to the hospital in St. Marc, about 35 minutes away.
There were ugly injuries, injuries that threw me right back to that awful night after the quake. I can remember distinctly the feeling of a broken limb in my hands, sagging and flopping like a rag doll. I remember the vacant look in the eyes of the victims, some of whom must have been stuck for 40 or 50 minutes before we finally got them out. I remember an older man whose legs had been snapped mid-calf; his bones were sticking out and his feet hung at a strange angle, held on by a thread, it seemed. He lay in the mud chanting to us, to himself, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken," over and over. While we lifted him up, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken." While we carried him up the slippery wet hill, "My feet are broken, my feet are broken."
There was a huge crowd on the road watching. Cars and trucks and police and even reporters all stopped and stared. A select few were in the mud with us, working like madmen to save lives, but most just stood there. Time and time again, I crouched by a victim and yelled to men nearby, "Come help me move him!" but they didn't budge. I was muddy and bloody from head to toe, but the police officers were still perfectly clean in their uniforms when it all ended. I don't think they even went down the bank to see the accident themselves. I don't know if fear, shock, or indifference kept the onlookers back; whatever it was, I still don't understand their hesitation. And I would love to talk with those who were in the mud beside me to know what it was that made them risk their safety for the sake of others.
The last one I pulled out was a middle-aged woman who'd been pinned in the very front of the bus. I crawled into the mud, half under the bus to support her lower body as two men yanked on her arms. She was limp and felt to me like every bone in her body had shattered. She'd been dead for almost an hour. I left her in the mud and walked away, feeling dizzy and sickened.
That was three days ago. I'm home in Gonaives, settled in, and trying to sort out my emotions. I honestly don't know what I feel. In some ways, this seems like nothing compared to the magnitude of what I did after the earthquake. But I know from the way I've been avoiding talking to God that there is emotion buried somewhere and that I'm subconsciously afraid of it.
This morning, I asked God one of the questions that had plagued me post-quake: "Where were You when all this was happening?" And for the first time, He answered me. I don't love the answer; it feels insufficient in some ways but it is an answer from a God that I have committed to trusting even when I don't understand or agree with Him. He said to me, "I was right there. Wherever you were, that's where I was, right there."