Haiti – Torn between two loves…. June 23,2010

As I land in Haiti (Ayiti) for the third time in five months, my heart begins to get excited.  I needed to feel some sign of hope that my homeland was on its way to rebuilding herself.  The airport itself was my first inkling of change; they have made some progress with a new bus line that transports passengers from the airplane to the terminal, and it has air conditioning!  However, as I proceeded towards the makeshift terminal, reality hit me as we stepped into the 115 degree, tin-roof building.  I immediately hit the ground running in the chaos of immigration, baggage claim and ground transportation.  Not much changes there. 

After an exhausting day of travel, I arrived late Wednesday night at the guesthouse in Petionville, with the group of ten team members.  We all arrived a little lighter than we would have liked because the airline lost all our suitcases somewhere between Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale and Haiti.  Judging from the look of the Baggage Claim Attendant, we thought we’d be lucky to get them back before our return flight the following Wednesday.  Losing my luggage taught me a couple of things.  The first lesson is that the kindness of strangers can be very overwhelming.  Within minutes of checking into the Bethel Guest House, the other guests who learned of our lost luggage lavished us with everything we could ever need to survive for the entire week.  The second lesson in losing “everything” is that for a few moments I felt as most Haitians did when they lost everything in the earthquake.  While my loss was minor compared to the loss of lives, life savings and all possessions, I indeed felt the pain of my countrymen even if it was just a few seconds. 

As we drove through the wrecked streets of Port –Au-Prince, touring the devastation of the quake (or gudome gudome — as its been renamed by its survivors), I was drawn to the expressions of the people.  I studied their body language and tried to read their minds from behind the window of our chauffeur-driven minivan.  I made a connection – there was anger in some of the faces.  I thought perhaps it’s because they see another bus full of rich white Americans with cameras, pockets full of money, mouths full of empty promises of aid and rescue.  Right then and there I realized the great divide between the Haitian on the street and this Haitian (me) — fortunate to be just like my white colleagues.  Their faces asked me: how long will you let me sleep in this tent before someone remembers that tents are made for temporary shelter?   Their faces asked me: where is the 14 billion dollars that was raised for our aid?  The children’s faces asked me: when can I return to school and regain some form of normal life?  The stares were piercing.  Over and over I felt the envy of those who would do and give anything to walk in my shoes.  I look at God and asked Him: “Why me?  Why am I here and they are there?  How did I escape gudome gudome?  This could have been my life!”

Tent-city-living seems to have become the “new” and normal way of living in Port- Au-Prince.  People have become accustomed to brokenness and rubble in the street, immune to the images of torn buildings and blue tarp roofs.  City parks still serve as tent city high rises, and outside showers and port-a-potties are normal structures in the capital city – the city of the first free black republic!  Haiti is still paralyzed; she’s been abandoned and left to fend for herself.   CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the hundred of NGO’s who first responded to the crisis during the first months have returned home or have moved on to the next big story or project.  All but missionaries and a few committed organizations still remain for the long haul.  People who can afford to patch up the broken walls in their homes have done so, and have finally begun to move back into homes that had minor structural damage.  Some have abandoned their properties altogether because the trauma is just too difficult to endure.  Others are waiting — waiting for someone to say “it’s safe or not safe”.  Someone to make a decision, someone to say we will help you rebuild – we will help you tear down and make sure that you are ok.  Someone to say, “we will not abandon you in your worst time of trouble.”  Some are waiting for a hand out, others are waiting for a hand up, and while many await a hand to pray with or arms to hold them. 

For two full days we were able to be those hands that cared for about 90 Haitian women.   I was a member of the five professional counselors (three Haitians and two Americans) that led a weekend seminar with the theme “Soigner Son Coeur Pour Aider Ses Soeurs” (Care for Your Heart to Help Your Sisters).  Our goal was to educate and train women on trauma and the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Women in leadership throughout Port -Au-Prince were invited to a free seminar hosted by a Christian Leadership Organization and co-sponsored by Westerly Road Church and Church of the Savior.  We spent two full days caring and loving on the women, and gave them all an opportunity to share their own personal stories in a safe and caring setting.  Some shared that it was the first time that they ever talked about their experience since January 12, 2010 and some said it was the first time that they could cry without feeling a need to be strong in front of their children.  The weekend was full of laughter, songs and joy!  The women left the seminar feeling empowered and ready for service to their homes, churches and communities.   What a blessing for them and what an honor for me to give back to Haiti.

The rest of the week was filled with various activities and visits to decipher where we could have an impact as a church and individuals in Haiti.  We visited orphanages, debilitated churches and schools, more tent cities and camp programs.  I became overwhelmed seeing the amount of work that Haiti needs to do in order to restore her to a functioning republic.  My body and mind soon became numb to it all – it was its way of protecting itself from the vast emotional toll that I was experiencing.  I was traumatized.  I continuously asked how I could make a difference – how could I go back to my constituents and report or present a clear and precise project that we could sponsor with a long term commitment?  What is to be my answer?  How can one drop make a difference in this huge bucket?  “Oh God, show me your will…show me your plan for the restoration of Haiti, and show me how to stay focused on you – for I look up to the hills, but where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let you be defeated.  He who watches over you never sleeps.  He who guards Israel never rests or sleeps.  The Lord guards you Haiti – call on the Lord and He will guard you.  Psalm 121.

I am back on U.S. soil…..I am “home” again – yet my heart is torn between two loves.  I am so happy to be an American, yet my Haitian heritage calls me “home”.  Why me Lord, why do I get to leave and they have no choice but to stay?  How do I live in such richness and they live in such poverty.  I struggle with these questions over and over again – and my Lord seems to remain silent – although deep in my heart I know the answer…I was blessed to be a blessing!

On My Way Back Home

Journal  Entry – Princeton NJ – Back Stateside

“And what was the purpose of your visit to Haiti and Dominican Republic?” the immigration officer asked me as he reviewed my passport at the International Airport in Philadelphia.

“The purpose of my trip?”  I paused in my response as a thousand reasons and memories surfaced.   I went to Haiti for a multitude of reasons;  I went because when I heard about the earthquake on January 12, 2010, God spoke into my heart and said “Go.”  I couldn’t hear anything else but those words until I finally went.  I went on this mission because my whole life seemed to have been shaped “for such a time as this;”  my skill sets, giftings, training, even  my personality and my passion were exactly what was needed at that place and time.  I went to love on little kids while they cried, to bring comfort to the sick, to hold a hand of an elderly man who felt alone, sad and broken.  I went to wash someone’s feet and wipe away some tears. I changed the dressing of another to stop them from getting an infection.  I went to sit and to listen to one story and then another and another.  I went to give someone a smile and look them in the eye to say “yes, you are going to be ok!”  I went so that I could learn to love, learn to give, and learn to cry like Christ loved, gave and wept.  I went because I could go when others could not.  I said “here I am Lord, send me,” and He did. I went terrified of what I would see and with no guarantee that I would return.  I went because to have stayed would have been too hard.

I went hoping to give but gained so much more.  I went with my pride and came back humbled.  I went with a pocket full of money and came back with little.  I went home to see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands the faces of my dad, uncle, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew.  I went because I am Haiti and Haiti is me.

I looked into the stern face of the immigration officer and said “the purpose of my trip was mission work.”

He stamped my passport, handed it to me and I was on my way home.

“Preach the gospel – If necessary use words.”     St. Francis of Assisi

A Farewell Prayer “po Aiyiti Cherie”

If all good things come to an end, do all bad things continue?  I’m sitting on the hospital roof top looking down at the finality of this amazing experience.  The green and white tent has been taken down and is now a home to orphaned children in Leoganne.  The white tent is now an empty shell, with abandoned bed frames and blood stained mattresses.  The Spanish tent (named in honor of the teams from Spain) remains with about 20 patients and the children’s wing (aka chapel) now is the critical care ICU wing with about 10 patients that will remain until Sunday.  The transition has been hard on everyone; patients and volunteers alike.  Not only have I had to provide counsel to the victims but also a few nurses and doctors who have loved on these poor people for a week or two of their lives.  We will never see them again or each other.  Yet the intimacy that we have shared while serving side by side is inexplicable.   Doctor Dave said “see you at the next disaster” as he got on the bus for the five hour drive and then the plane ride home.  All we volunteers will take that same journey within the next forty eight hours.   It will be a bag of unexplained emotions; glad to see our loved ones, relieved to sleep in the comfort of our beds, longing to see our favorite pet, watch aTV show (24 for  me) and glad to have a nice, long, hot shower.  But in our hearts the sadness will linger as we remember faces and names like Azaline, Margaret, Joane, Patrick, Etiene, Guillaume, Violet and Victoria.  I will respectfully try to remember each story in my head; to hold them dearly and treasure the strength of each survivor in choosing joy and peace and love and not hatred or anger.  I will engrave the strength of my Haitian brothers and sisters on my heart, with their tenacity and love for life, surviving at all costs.  While the earthquake has certainly broken and damaged a country, and crippled lots of people, it delayed the progress of an already under-developed nation.  BUT what it couldn’t do was kill its spirit.  Haiti’s heart, the soul of this rhythmic nation, beats stronger than before.  The nation called out to God for those 42 seconds while the ground shook under their feet and as they surrendered to their deaths, God heard them and he will restore them somehow, some way. Haiti will rise up out of the rubble and will become once again Haiti Cheri (Sweet Haiti).

A Plea for Haiti

Journal Number 12

I don’t know where to start; I have never had a day as complex and as emotionally draining as today.  I’m in the middle of an internal struggle:  My mind and body begs me to escape from it all, yet my spirit stands in place.   I am drunk from the weight of “personal stories” floating in my head.  I am drained from having to hold it all together and not fall apart while watching suffering people all around me.  I’m tired of being strong when I am really, really weak.  I want to lie down in a bed and have someone ask me for a change how I’m feeling today….. “Stop complaining Carine,    suck it up and stop being so self absorbed and stop the pity party Carine” those are the thoughts flowing through my head tonight.  This is not your feel good journal entry….it’s the reality of life – the life I see, the life that is raw, painful and harsh.  Forgive me for not painting a rosy picture, forgive me for being angry at this damn earthquake that has shaken a nation, a people, and   destroyed savagely all that it saw.  Destroyed the lives of those with so little, a quake that ruptured the innocence of children shattered their dreams while they sat in classrooms learning to read and write.  A quake that destroyed the future of a nation by wiping away its best and brightest as they sat in colleges and universities learning calculus, math, science and art.  A quake that took mommies and daddies and left orphans to fend for themselves.

I am angry at a quake that dares to torment the victims day after day to never again know the safety of four walls and a roof over their heads.  Their trembling hearts that will forever skip a beat from the sound of any loud noise.

Forgive me as I vent – cry with me as I weep, listen to me as I plea for Haiti.

….

Jenny’s mom died tonight.  After finding Akaline  I had to say goodbye to her today for the last time.  The hospital will be closing down in the next couple of days.  For many intricate reasons, we can’t accept any more patients. I have to begin severing my ties to this place, to the mission and to my people.

A Love Story

Journal Number 11, Monday, February 22, 2010

I’m sitting in a hospital room with a patient who is dying.  She is in the final stage of life and I’m called to console and help her daughter through the process.   It’s ironic that this patient has been through the worst of the earthquake and now after surviving more than a month she is dying of complications from previous medical issues.  Jenny, the youngest of her five children and her boyfriend are present; she has signed the DNR, the doctors provided her mother with the best care possible and now I sit with her awaiting the hour that she will pass away.  As I sit here with Jenny I’m glad that I am able to bring some form of strength and orient her through the final stages of death having seen it happen last year with my aunt dying.   I don’t believe that she will last through the night, and as we sit here together I’m again reminded of the value of life and family, and the lessons in love.

Jenny’s immediate family has not been able to cross the border to join her here, but it’s as if God has given her an adopted family.  The two other patients in the room and their families have been given the option to leave the room to protect them from another traumatic experience, yet they have chosen to stay and be with Jenny during this trying time.  Other members of the Haitian community have been coming in and out, visiting, supporting and consoling her and her boyfriend.  I continue to be in awe at the sense of community and the amazing care complete strangers have been able provide to other complete strangers.  Without their support she couldn’t make it.

As I sit and wait with Jenny, let me share the best love story I’ve heard so far.  It’s the story of Erick, a 29 year old young entrepreneur, and Roberta, a 25 year old young lady.  .  I came to know them when I walked into a room hearing a young woman screaming her heart out.  When I entered the room I saw the extent of her injury as doctors tried to remove the mound of gauze they had stuck in to drain and clean the massive wound.  It was almost enough to make me pass out.  Erick was occupied examining the injury so I held on to Roberta and prayed with her, we  prayed and  asked God to relieve her pain while the doctors cleaned her wound and examined how they were going to close the massive hole on her back side.  As I saw Erick comfort her and patiently, lovingly explain the upcoming procedure I thought to myself”what a great couple.” I admired how much he loved his wife, how much he cared for her well being.  I asked them how long they’d been married and then they laughed and Roberta told me that she’d never met him prior to the incident.

Erick worked as a telephone salesman in an office in Port Au Prince.  He was walking the streets during the hour of the quake and his office was turned upside down.  He managed to escape without any major injures.  The next day he went into the streets helping survivors and providing first aid help to anyone.  For three days he walked and helped, walked and helped.  On Friday, three days after the quake, he went on Gran Rue Boulevard where someone yelled out “someone is alive here; someone is moving a stick through this hole!” People began to dig out the rubble until they pulled Roberta out of the dungeon she was in.  She was alive by the grace of God after being stuck in a hole for so long.  After spending three hours digging her out, Erick quickly took her to the general hospital in Port Au Prince since she had some minor scrapes and had a bruise on her right buttocks.    He asked her about her family but she wasn’t sure they had made it.  While in the hole she heard someone had rescued her mom but she has not heard anything from her since.  Erick decided to stay with her to be sure that she had someone to advocate for her.  He left her at the hospital but promptly returned the next day to check up on her.  He stayed eight hours by her side chatting away, telling jokes and listening to her story; how she made it through the three days in the hole.  She told him how Christ was with her; how she never got lonely or sad or hungry.  She said she did get thirsty but she found water somehow; she reached out her hand and found one bottle of water.  She was afraid to drink it all, thinking she wouldn’t have more but then she found another bottle, then another.  She no longer thirsted because God provided her with all the water she needed.  Erick returned to see her again the next day when he realized that he was the only person in her life at the moment, and he started fighting for her to get all the treatment she needed.  Her injuries became worse as the days went on; there weren’t enough medical doctors to care for all the injured patients.  What started out as a minor wound caused by a stone on her back side ended up as a major infection 12 centimeters wide by  8 centimeters deep three days after she was hospitalized.  Roberta’s injury became life threatening.  She was about to lose her life and Erick was not going to let that happen.  They transferred her from the general hospital to the Love A Child hospital in Font Parisian near the border.  He fought and fought for her, finally he got the attention of a doctor that suggested she be transferred to Jimani hospital.  Erick then shared their beautiful love story.  He said that he hadn’t been home since January 15, 2010.  He has called his mom to explain the situation.  She wants him home but he’s told her that he can’t come until he is sure Roberta is OK.  He can’t abandon her here alone.  He has tried to help find other family members but has not been successful.  He will stay with her until a family member is found or until she is well healed. “I’m the one who brought her here; how can I abandon her?  Everyone has told me that this woman that I’ve found in the hole is my woman for life… that God has saved this woman for me.  While in my heart I’ve left it up to God and if that’s his will that’s fine but I don’t want to put any pressure on her heart; no obligations”. Erick says with a huge smile on his face, the kind of smile that I’ve seen on a man in love.  “My service to her is from my heart; God put me in a place to serve her, help her through this time and care for her that is my only reward, that I do the will of God.  If something should come out of this then that’s beyond my primary intention.” Erick shared that after his work is done here, he is not sure what will happen.  The building where she lived is totally gone.   So I have to work out something.  We will see what becomes of us.”  I told him to be sure to invite me to the wedding when it happens.  He looks at me with a grin and smiles. And that is the greatest love story I’ve witnessed here or maybe ever.  In the middle of this sad, sad disaster; Erick and Roberta found love.

Its 7:00 PM – death does not always come at the hour we hope or expect.  I’ve spent most of the day in this room; praying with the family, singing praise songs, consoling Jenny and everyone that needs attention.  I hate to leave now but I must.  Tomorrow when I come back I hope that their suffering will have been relieved and that Armel Etienne Israel will be home with her Lord and Savior.  If she isn’t I’ll be here with Jenny.  I’ll be here like all her other brothers and sisters whom have come to support her and be with her until the end.

Typical(?!) Day

Journal Entry # 10

I thought you might be interested in reading what a day in my life looks like on this mission.  So, I’ll trace back my day so that you can see;

Saturday,February ?  2010

6:00 – Awaken to roosters, barking dogs and mopeds outside my window.

6:05 – Trying to go back to sleep but the mosquitoes are annoying me with buzzing in my ears.

6:30 – I surrender and wake up and head out to exercise.  I put on my iPod and ignore all the hard           lookers who aren’t used to women exercising.

7:30 – I take a nice, cold shower…. I think I could actually get use to daily cold showers…. (NOT)

8:00 – Dress and leave for hospital

8:30 – Meet with staff for updates on patients that need psychiatric care

9:00 – Start my rounds in the children ward

Counsel session with mom who lost three of five kids in quake, she is experiencing nightmares.

Counsel session with 12 year old Ernest to convince him to walk as required by his physical         therapist.

Console a crying little girl who is in pain from her leg injury.

Console a parent of a little boy who will lose the mobility of his right arm.

Session with a 18 year old sister of a patient about guardianship for her little sister.

11:30 Move over to the adult tent

Check  in on adult  patients who have imputations .

Translate for doctors /nurses/therapist

12:30 – Sit down for a break – check email –

1::00 – Run down to ER Recovery Room from noise of a screaming patient.   Help console a patient who                is in pain of her leg surgery.

2:00 – Debriefing session with a patient about earthquake.

3:00 – Counseling session with a new mom

3:30 – Counseling session with woman diagnosed cancer (since earthquake)

4:00 – Counseling session with severely depressed patient.

5:00 – Group Meeting

6:00 – 8:00 – Down Time

8:30  – Lights out!!

Although every day is different here, they pretty much follow a similar pattern of caring for patients who are experiencing serious medical and mental challenges weeks following the earthquake.  I am seeing more and more signs of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and distress from patients and family members.  The need for mental and continuous physical care is urgent.   It is a strenuous pace and the intensity of it all can be overwhelming at times.

Care for My People

Journal Entry #9,  February 17, 2010, PaP, Haiti

The seminary campus at Boulouse, has become a haven of rest for many of the earthquake survivors.  On a given day, there are probably 100 displaced people who have made the campus grounds their home. At night the number amplifies to 500 people now.   My experience here has been primarily focused on providing psychological support for the missionaries and seminary students.    I had very little contact with the majority population until today.  We set up a medical clinic for this displaced group in front of the campus chapel; I served as translator for the three nurses in attendance.  Men, women and children came out in droves, sat patiently while we provided medical support to probably 150 people.

The symptoms range from colds, headaches, dehydration, hyper tension and diarrhea. We had so many cases of fever, diarrhea and headaches that we thought we had an epidemic in our midst; but  the nurses believe that it’s because of the poor eating, dehydration and poor sleeping (sleeping outdoors in the rain).  We also have an outbreak of chickenpox in the camp being passed from child to child.   Many of the adult patients were coming with symptoms of chest pains,   lower backache and tension headaches; all stress-related symptoms.  We prescribed Advil, Tylenol or a multi-vitamin to most, and advised them to drink plenty of fluid.  But at the end all I could do was to say “you are experiencing  shock and stress from the most traumatized event in your life.  This is your body’s way of reacting to the situation.  Take care of yourself, drink plenty of fluid and pray yourself through it.”  The confirmation that I provided in their own language seemed enough to change the demeanor for most.  For others it will take more than just my reassuring words.

The tip of the psychological impact for some of these people has not yet peaked.  There are many that will never recover like the man I saw today who lost all three of his children and his wife within 40 seconds. Or the twelve year old boy Guillaume whom I held tightly in my arms, consoling him while screaming his heart out “map mouri Jodi a’ (I’m going to die today) because he was in so much pain as the nurse changed the bandages so that his infected leg would not have to be amputated.  The young mom who was on the verge of having a miscarriage and all we could tell her was to let nature take its course.  Those victims will never forget January 12, 2010.

I don’t know if I will ever forget January 12.  As I prepare to leave Haiti tomorrow my heart aches like all those patients that I saw today.  I’m dehydrated from the tears that I’ve cried over so many lives that were lost.  No amount of Advil or Tylenol can take away the pain, sorrow or despair that I’ve seen in so many faces.  Yet I have hope; and it comes from twelve year old Guillaume who after an hour of screaming, hops away on his crutches because he didn’t want to be late for his small group meeting with his new friends and counselor.  The same counselor that I had trained days before on effective debriefing skills for children; children like Guillaume.