Saturday, March 13, 2010

Empty Bags, Full Heart

Departure day from Haiti is always emotional…how could it not be, when a week has been so full? We had a 6 am ride back to Port au Prince, so were up sipping coffee by predawn candlelight as the orphanage stirred quietly to life. Leaning over the second story porch railing, I watched the night watchman in a hooded sweatshirt, cross the porch below me, carrying his small mattress across the dusty courtyard to store it for the day. He sleeps on the ground by the gate, for security. Sunrise glowed gently in the east, over the banana trees and the school, another dry and clear day in Hinche. My group of nurses, midwives, and daughters, and the Richmond Haiti’s Kidz Healthcare team had drunk beer and hugged and traded emails last night, but hugged each other and said goodbye all over again. After sharing the work of the week, we’ve forged friendships through the unforgettable experience, and the spiritual journey of trying to serve and help the poorest of the poor. Luggage that once was 3 or 4-50-lb bags each, now collapsed into empty bags within bags. Only clothing, personal items, and the artwork we purchased from the street vendors occupied the space. We did our best to give away all our money to good causes or individuals that we can trust to help and share with the Haitian community. Incoming M4H –Doctor Steve got up to wave us off….he tried to the bitter end to get me to stay and work with him and Nadene for the next week, but I imagine I may not remain married if I don’t show up at Dulles tonight, and rightfully so. I’ve barely seen my husband for 2 weeks. My midwife partners wouldn’t be too happy, either! But it’s nice to be wanted.

Haitian music on the radio as we left Hinche and began weaving the dusty path through the usual parade of dogs, chickens, and donkeys, going “fastly,” per Moliare, to make good time for our flight out of PaP. Everyone’s nausea calmed down after a couple hours when we got to the paved road in Mirebalais. Our driver, Moliare, has been helping the Midwives for Haiti program for years now. He works for the Episcopal church and lives in Port au Prince, but came out to Hinche to drive us in. Time permitting, he wanted to drive us through downtown PaP; he feels strongly that the world needs to be aware and stay aware of the depth of this disaster. He cares for his people, and has demonstrated his heart and integrity to us many times. Some volunteers have stayed at this house, met his kids, and seen the family and community members he supports. On the previous ride out, he had given me a good lecture on his opinions of what will help Haiti (education, infrastructure, education.)

So we got to PaP on time, and headed into the downtown and some of the worst earthquake damage. The roads are cleared enough to drive, but often only 1 lane due to the rubble. So many concrete homes, businesses, cinder block walls, crumbled, collapsed, gray wreckage with rebar and dust. Lives were lost inside them, not just bodies injured or killed, but the life contained in places of work, commerce, and education. He brought us past a school where 5 stories fell on 300 students; no bodies have yet been recovered; it’s just too deep a pile. The oldest cathedral of Port au Prince looked like it was hit by mortars. Then the “tent cities”; oh, this is too tidy a term. Yes, there are some areas with many tight rows of nylon tents and tarps set up by USAID and numerous international aid groups; but many, many city blocks between buildings are now fields of makeshift shelters with sheets, sticks, plastic, and cardboard, filled with ragged Haitians and the smell of poor sanitation. And in the city, in the street, around and under the tarps, life goes on: cooking on fires, frying of plantains, carrying buckets of water, repairing of tires, selling of vegetables. I try never to leave Haiti with more than a few dollars in my pocket, so planned to give all my leftover cash to Moliare to provide aid to the tent city in his neighborhood. I began to mention this to my team, to ask if anyone else wished to add their cash, but it caught in my throat and I started to sob. Money is help; probably the most liquid and useful help, but my heart was too hurt for my Haitian friends to feel like it was adequate. I was so sad to see this country and this people suffer this way. I wish I could do more, and the giving of cash humbled me. My sister nurses hugged me as I wept, and cried too, and added their money… and Moliare, the Haitian, said “Oh, don’t cry. It will get better”. Trust the Haitian to be the strong one in the car, and to comfort me. Dear Lord. So we assembled our money, and when he left us at the airport, about $200 was also sent to help the tent city north of Petionville.

The needs are so great, and the problems of Haiti so profound, that the possibility of despair and grief is always a shadow in the background. The Haitians hang on to hope, though, and I believe God commands us to do what we can. Moment-by-moment acts of grace and love will never be in vain, and we must hang on to them. One of the loveliest moments of my week, was at the mobile prenatal clinic in Bonabite. Jammed in the sweaty shack, I met the 20th woman of the day: Pregnant for the 8th time, she had one living child. Besides other early losses, she had given birth to a stillborn at 8 months of pregnancy, and another child who did not live to see 9 months of infancy. She was about 4-5 months along in this pregnancy, and said she still hadn’t felt this baby move. I checked her weight, blood pressure, and her belly size…all normal. Then I put my Doppler on her belly and we heard a nice strong heartbeat. She broke into the most beautiful smile. I smiled back, and through the interpreter, she told me she was so happy—she had been worried she would lose this one, too. I reassured her that she’d feel more kicking soon, and reviewed how to take her vitamins and iron, and return to the clinic in a month, if she could. She now has some hope and some life to hang on to. It gives me life, too, and fills my heart. It is why I do this work.

Each trip to Haiti is an exercise in flexibility, perseverance, and a spiritual adventure. I am reminded powerfully how my own small efforts and understanding are only a little part of the picture. Things happen that are clearly not all “human engineering”. My heart breaks and is filled, over and over. I cannot imagine how one can see the tragedy and beauty of places like Haiti and yet deny the presence and the essential need for God. The Haitians are all believers: they have to be. Connecting to this need and this faith must be why I keep coming back. So much is unknown: I didn’t know I would ever in my life see a hospital without any running water, or help deliver a baby on the sidewalk. I didn’t know, this time, that we’d discover a building that could be our new school and maternity center. I didn’t know that I would mourn so deeply for the people of Port au Prince, or how that woman’s smile would melt my heart. I didn’t know the girls dancing and drumming would lift me up so much. I don’t know, so many things. I know that I came with a lot of stuff, and left with empty bags and a full heart. It is worth doing. Thank you to everyone who helps me do it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wendy,
    welcome home. Thank you for your most eloquent entries. I will be volunteering as a CNM first time( in Haiti or anywhwere) and will be coming in for a week from4/10-4-17 to Hinche When you're settled back could you give me a call, so I can help prepare. All my best, Burt Ames, CNM or 413-367-2716