Saturday, January 16, 2010

Port-au-Prince, Haiti 5 years ago. . . and today.

Many thoughtful friends have reached out to me to ask if my farm or friends were effected by the earthquake in Haiti. Thankfully I do not know of any damage done in the DR. I have been in communication with a friend in the Santo Domingo and she said she didn't even feel it.

One good thing about the really rural setting of my farm is that there are no second stories that could fall on any one. There are just wooden frames with tin roofs that flex under heavy winds. In a quake, the houses would probably just dance the same.

I was in Haiti five years ago. I spent a few days in Port-au-Prince. There were UN Peace Keeping Troops everywhere. Their blue helmets marked many street corners and they didn't care batons. They carried machine guns. There were tanks patrolling the streets. Port-au-Prince already looked like a war zone before I got there. It showed in peoples faces' from years of challenges and corrupt governments. People were obviously in self-preservation mode. And when people enter that mode, they will do anything for money. When I was there, it was becoming profitable to kidnap people for ransom, not just political figures, they took professors, they took aid workers, they took high-schoolers on service missions. The pot holes I saw could swallow a dump truck whole. The lack of trash pickup around the open air markets left piles that were 2 stories high. The week before I entered Haiti, a friend of mine bailed on the trip because he heard that there were three Haitian Police decapitated publicly in a poor ghetto of Port-au-Prince

Several friends have expressed the desire to go to Haiti and help. Well, I've been pretty honest in my response, "You don't have what Haiti needs". It isn't like a community trash clean up project with rubber gloves and bottled water. When I was there, the attitude was every-man-for-himself, which is common in capital cities of really poor countries. But now. . . Haiti is not for anyone who isn't protected.

When I left Port-au-Prince, I was able to relax. The fear of getting kidnapped dissipated and I was able to walk around without feeling like a target. I really loved the Norther Capital called Cap Haitian or O' Cap. Over all the Haitian culture, food and people that I met on my one week stay were amazing. The food was more flavorful than the food in the DR, the culture was totally different, and I found that the people were very . . . cool. It is hard to described but they had an understated vibe of wisdom taught through exceptionally hard times.

The loss of life in Haiti is horrific to think about. To lose 100,000 people in a country with only 9 million people is huge. I would imagine every Haitian has lost someone or knows someone who has lost a loved one. I am leaving for the DR in 4 days for a two week trip that I scheduled many months ago. I don't plan on visiting Haiti, I do plan to continuing to pray for them because that is the only service I can really provide. Given the chance to go there an serve the Haitian people that treated me so well when I was there would be an honor, but stepping into a war zone to help everyone with no tools, direction or protection is like stepping in front of a firing squad.

What Haiti needs is prayer or if that word doesn't resonate with you, then they need good thoughts.


Kim said...

Thank you Byron. I have also had this same circle of thoughts. It starts with overwhelming compassion for our Haitian brothers and sisters that leaves me crying in my car everyday (sad driveway moments NPR). I pray, and then it seems useless with the magnitude of the situation. Then I ebb to action based thoughts as all you hear are please for help on the ground. I mean, I can put on some gloves and haul rocks, form part of an assembly line, hold someones hand in a hospital. But I talk myself out of that when I remember how I would only add to the chaos by needing some kind of infrastructure, translator, and security in my lacking expertise. Why didn't I get trained in disaster relief, or something more useful in a time of emergency?
Which brings me right back to prayer or positive thoughts. Thanks for your honesty and compassion Byron!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your insights. Sometimes it's hard to put things into perspective when major media is your primary source of info.