On Sunday morning, I jumped into the backseat of a friend's 4-wheel drive and accelerated under the overcast sky to Bon Repos. We swerved around tap taps full of church-goers and 4-person motorcycles. The mangoes and papayas were still arranged in their usual pyramid displays lining the streets of Titanyen and other landmarks along the way. With all 4 windows down, you may try to imagine the state of my hair when we arrived at our destination 30 minutes later. Not that I spent much time on styling beforehand, but let's just say it was better off that I didn't have access to a mirror.
As we revved gears and tried to avoid the potholes my eyes were glued to the scenery. I rarely head south on Route Nationale #1 (the QEW of Haiti), so this was a significant trip for me to observe the life of Port-au-Prince residents since January 12th. Although this may seem delayed or lacking compared to others in the country, here are my jot notes and some prayer requests from the journey:
#1 - Tent cities
This is probably what you are hearing about Haiti on the news back home. I saw 3 significantly large tent city areas from Titanyen to Bon Repos (distance spanning approximately 20 kms). Samaritans purse tarps are everywhere. They are big and blue and have giant slogan decals patterned on them. They are mounted on tree branches and random tent poles forming cube-like shelters. Bedsheets, rusty pieces of tin and garbage bags fill in the gaps. I couldn't even begin to count the number of shelters I saw within the 'city' itself. Most of them were joined together into a grid-like puzzle, but hundreds were scattered apart from the group all the way up the mountain. Rainfall from the night before had gathered into streams and large puddles amidst the tents. One thing I've realized in thinking more about the protectiveness of these structures is that even though the thicker or better tarped tents allow less rainfall to come through, they do not provide any ventilation during the day. As a result, as soon as the sun comes up these tents turn instantly into saunas. The rainy season is here now in full force - down pouring consistently for at least an hour at night and drenching those who want to keep their dwelling places somewhat livable by day. Please keep these people in your prayers and that adequate shelter would continue to be provided here.
#2 - Unstable buildings
After the earthquake, and with the high frequency of aftershocks, everybody I talked to who had a crack in their house (or worse) were sleeping outside. Now the story is different as people are choosing their broken homes as a better option than tents. This might imply that people's fears are wearing off, but I am more prone to think that they are simply desperate for decent shelter. While driving, I had to do a double take on a building that was on a lean of at least 70 degrees (check your protractor). The building had once been two stories, but had crashed down to one, leaving just a shell of the roof and a few beams still upright on the second story. Nonetheless, there were sheets of tin nailed up as wall replacements, giving clear evidence that people were residing inside. This makeshift home is just one example of the hundreds of Haitians that are searching for more adequate housing and resorting to unstable buildings as a place of cover. As aftershocks become more few and far between, this may be a logical option, but it doesn't take away the fragility of the beams still standing nor the risk of wind and rainfall to cause further damage. Please pray for the safety of these families and that the development of more protective, stable structures will be available for them.
#3 - Brick walls
Properties in Haiti are pretty much all bordered with cinder blocks and mortar. Barbed wire, broken Coke bottles, or for the luxurious types, conch shells, line the tops of these walls for security.
I can say pretty confidently that these walls were the first to fall on January 12th. Everywhere you drove after the earthquake, you could see the cornerstones or center beams for these walls still standing vertically, however the cement blocks lie uniformly separated on the ground to the right or left.
Now it's different. First of all, many of the walls that bordered the downtown city streets were brightly painted with advertisements - everything from Coca-cola to car rental companies. The walls that fell are now being rebuilt from the ground up except the painted bricks that once formed a picture are not being pieced together in the same way. What now stands is a mosaic of different coloured bricks and letters that once puzzled together properly. You can easily identify the walls where some bricks could not be used again because they are replaced with bricks from other walls that were once painted.
Secondly, there is no mortar in between the bricks. People are gathering together all of the blocks that didn't break and are lining them up to create a new wall, except these ones are even more shakable than before because there is nothing holding them together - think of it kind of like Jenga. It is clear that people are doing everything they can with the resources they have to go back to the life that they once knew. Unfortunately, these walls offer very little stability and security.
#4 - The valley
There is a landmark in the barren hills between Bon Repos and Titanyen where a large majority of those who died from the earthquake were taken. At the highway, there is a dirt road path that begins and from the main road you can see it curve around a large mountain and descend into a valley. I have spoken with a few people who have travelled beyond the highway to bear witness, but I haven't given any consideration yet to going there myself. It still breaks my heart to think of these people being disposed of. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, best friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbours. Each one of them had a story. Each one of them was somebody's 'baby'. I still cannot fully grasp the tragedy of these individual lives being piled together and taken truck load after truck load to a place where they will never be identified again. As my gaze followed the trail up to where the road dipped down to the valley, my heart was once again reminded of this terrible nightmare of loss.
In my everyday life in Haiti, I can easily forget the devastation of so many people losing their lives because I was not directly affected by the grief of losing someone close to me. I look into the eyes of people at the market or in the villages and smile, and they smile back, but little do I know of the ache in their hearts and the suffering they have endured over the past 5 months. It's more than just a loss, it's a sorrow that lingers through their lives and the reminders are everywhere. Please pray for all of the earthquake survivors that they will have strength to continue forward in each passing day.
#5 - Beautiful people
Let's go back to the Sunday morning drive. Our destination was a gathering place in Bon Repos where a friend of mine offered to take me to see first hand how smaller city churches were coping after the earthquake. Upon our arrival, we walked down a dirt path where I could hear the sound of a lady praying. When we turned the corner of a brick wall, I could see that it was an elderly woman standing in the congregation holding a baby in her arms and reverently speaking words of adoration and praise to God. I observed quietly the large blue tarp that ascended from ropes around nearby rebar frames and cement walls, and at the humble gathering of about 90 people, ranging from newborns to senior citizens. Toddlers bobbled down the muddy aisle in silence, the pastor stood behind a wooden box at the front of the group with his head bowed, and a woman who noticed us arrive beckoned us forward with a soft smile. I followed my friends and we were given large wooden chairs (the only ones left) that were arranged for the church leaders close to the podium. Over the hour and a half I spent watching quietly, I witnessed the pastor speak about the importance of raising up families in the Lord in order to strengthen the church and one another. This time of preaching was followed by a congregational discussion where men and women stood from their seats to ask questions or share other parts of Scripture that applied to their teaching time. It was almost like Sunday school or a bible study - and I was amazed at how simply and beautifully their passion for the Lord was shared. I was blessed to witness the loving and welcoming spirit of the congregation, along with their sincerity and desire to know and understand truth from the Bible. Despite their circumstances, despite the tragedy they have endured, despite their lack of resources, they sang with their whole hearts and gave all they had. What a picture of the body of Christ.
#6 - Keeping on
The Mission of Hope, in partnership with other missions organizations in Haiti are still moving at a rapid pace in bringing healing and reconstruction to this broken nation. There are more construction projects happening on site than I can count, and every time I go down to visit the clinic and patient dome it is full of new patients, supported by a top-notch medical staff that rotates weekly. The warehouse gets truckload after truckload of food, medical supplies, clean water and family care packages that are distributed to villages in need. The School of Hope has resumed it's classes again, and there has been a lot of healing for students through the weekly chapel times. Short-term work teams and interns are in full force and news broadcasters make frequent visits. We've also started a fully functioning prosthetics lab where numerous of earthquake amputees get fitted with new limbs and undergo rehabilitation. Check out my friend Diana's blog, who is working alongside the prosthetists every day. I could go on and on about the fast pace of what each of our staff members are involved in here. Please continue to track with their blogs in my 'hot spots', to stay connected with the challenges and celebrations of life in Haiti.
Thank you for your continual prayers in each of the different aspects I have written about today. Together we can be vessels of His hope to this beautiful nation.