I’ve been home from Haiti for five weeks. Their rainy season started the day after I left, and there is still so much more work to be done.
Due to my short two week stay and my long two day return, it didn’t take much time to readjust to our typical life in the Bay Area. My wife surprised me with a few days at a hot-spring resort, we got to enjoy playing tourist when her mom came to visit, the next school quarter started, and the job search continued. Life returned to normal.
However, I have not forgotten Haiti. I have been actively following the #Jacmel twitter stream, and I am working with Burners Without Borders to put together an awareness-raising slideshow presentation here in San Francisco. I have been approached by several people wanting to talk about volunteering, and about setting up a ‘Bikes-for-Haiti’ project. I’ve assisted the next batch of volunteers going to help Shelters International in finding their way and knowing what to expect. My contribution to her recovery by my own two hands was miniscule, but my hope is that my voice may continue to draw attention to Haiti’s need for help. As a travel writer and photographer, sharing the world through storytelling is what I do best.
As I look back on the experience, there are a few things that particularly stand out for me;
➣ First and foremost, the generosity of the 33 people who contributed more than $2,200 to help me get to Haiti in the first place, with more than half of that going directly to Shelters International. Usually when one donates money to some charity, they don’t really know where the money goes or how it gets spent. In this case, I knew that money would help feed their volunteers for a month.
➣ Camping in a grazing field, with goats and chickens being a constant presence, along with an occasional marauding band of dogs, or a bull, cow, or donkey, all next to a barbed-wire United Nations ‘Minustah‘ compound, under the watchful eye of a manned guard tower. Being across from the airport meant that more military aircraft flew overhead than I’ve ever seen before. Every day there were choppers and planes landing or taking off. The most notable were the white Mi-8 transport helicopters emblazoned with large black letters ‘UN‘ on the sides, and the monstrous C-130.
➣ The day that I set off to check up on a friend-of-a-friend’s mother, Marimathe Blaise, who had been inside when the quake happened and was now living in a tent outside of her damaged home. She was so grateful for the visit, which made her feel like she was remembered and loved. As we parted I palmed her a 1000 Gourdes note – about $25 – and while that would barely pay for a dinner out at a restaurant for two back home, it would help her feed her family for a week. It felt great to be able to help someone so directly affected.
➣ Working hard and playing hard. During the weekdays, we were up at 7a before spending a full day under a hot sun, demolishing schools with pickaxes, sledgehammers, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of the day, the Haitians and myself alike would be the same color of grey from the concrete dust. After a shower and dinner, we might go visit the ‘Speakerman‘, and on the weekends, we went to the beach, to either a closer party beach, or a farther-away quiet beach. The weekends weren’t just time to relax, they were time to let one’s body heal before the onslaught of the next week.
➣ There is relatively little variety in the food of Haiti, but I acquired a taste for Lambi and Barbancourt & Coke. And while rice and beans might sound boring, they were the perfect food for lunch on a hard work day.
➣ Lastly, but certainly not the least important, were the people. Bill & Laura, the Canadian founders of Shelters International, were truly birds of a feather. The Haitian volunteers, both from Gonaïves and Jacmel, were friendly, warm, jovial, and buff. I consider them all family, and hope to see them again someday. The people I would see on the streets smiled, waved, and carried on in the face of such humbling destruction. The Haitian spirit was truly inspiring.
Haiti is not a country that was ever on my radar. It wouldn’t have appeared on a list of places I wanted to visit in my lifetime. Had I not this terrible excuse to go, in all likelihood I might never have set foot upon her shores. So while I am so saddened by the devastation and loss of life caused by the earthquake, I find that I am also thankful for the opportunity to have met such a wonderful people on such a beautiful Caribbean island.