| Feb 21, 2010
It is with great deal of mixed emotions that I write this email tonight. I can’t believe how time has flown since I got here last week. Tomorrow is my last day in Haiti, and I have to return to another world. I won’t say the real world, because what is happening here is very real. I started saying good bye today to Pastor Andre, Miss Margaurite, (if I ever had a Haitian mama, it would have been her. I must leave Little Sebastian and his cadre of friends and fans. I must leave the mud tent villages of Croix-des-Bouquets, and the G’s orphanage in Carrefour, giving hope to so many.
I will miss Areyou, the 10-year old girl and her 4 year old brother, who would wake me in the morning by staring in my face until I felt that someone was watching me. They would want to see what “Uncle Nate” would teach them today. How to write new words, how to add number or just a new game on my phone was the highlight of their day. I will miss laughing at the sight of a waaaay overcrowded city bus. The city bus has legal seating for 10 but carrying 25 passengers, kids on top, older people sitting, boys holding onto the sides and riding the bumper. The buses are so over loaded, that the boys have to jump off and help give it a push to build up enough compression and then run to catch back up with it. It seems that no matter how crowed it may be, no one is denied a ride.
This whole trip started out as an idea that came about because of my daughter Sophie and son Noah. They were so worried about the kids of Haiti, so they made wish list of items, so that anyone who came over to our house would know what to send them. Some of the things needed to be brought in person.
After being asked by Rev. Jesse Jackson to go there and when my colleagues at Lilly stepped to the plate and so graciously opened their hearts, giving millions of dollars of products and a lot of cash too, I decided to follow the call and come with Medical Teams International, who needed to come here to assess its next steps.
I can see where one could feel pity and sorry for this country, or so overwhelmed you would not know what to do. However, (and I know I am an eternal optimist), I really do believe that the world has seen this unprecedented human tragedy and is going to make some major changes in how we provide real aid and assistance to countries and people in need.
We are starting to see signs of mental health decay, like when the children were asked to draw what they were feeling and the scenes were so sad and depressing. However, when asked to explain the pictures to the doctors, some of them would be smiling the whole time. Out in one village we visited today, a young girl, I will call her Alice, just sat on a dirt mound all day rocking and laughing to herself while the other kids played around her. However, maybe a sister or cousin always made sure she was never alone. No bullying her, no name calling or teasing, as they would each take turns sitting with her and sometimes actually rocking along with her for 5 or ten minutes at a time. That’s what I call real family values.
I am further encouraged by seeing a changing of the guard in so many places. Here in Leogane, near the epicenter of the quake, nearly 95% of everything that was standing collapsed. However, the group of people who were put in charge to make the decisions on rebuilding the town is a group of talented young professionals. No they don’t have all the latest technology, but the cell phones and computers they do have they are being put to good use. They are respecting their elders and making sure to keep them abreast of their plans, but in return, the elders offer advice, support and encouragement and not divisiveness so much.
During a break in between meetings this afternoon, I saw some families digging through the rubble of what use to be their home. I decided to give them a hand to help them salvage what they could. Although we did not understand one another we seemed to know what the other was doing. Whatever language barrier that existed, was broken down when a young girl found part of one of her old dresses. She held it up to her chest and just wept. Since you don’t see many tears, I felt I had to hug her as I would either of my kids who were grieving. The others saw what was happening and immediately came around her and me. They all stated talking at once in Creole and realizing I did not understand, they just clutched their heart and hugged me…No tears, just hugs, one people, one heart.
Finally, today I did something so life changing, that it startled even me. We went out with The World Food Program (WFP) to do food distribution. I am sure many of you have seen the pictures of the kaos that can erupt and sensed the danger the workers have felt. That is where I was today. 6 kilometers deep in the brush with no cell service, no armed guards or any of my “homies” from East Pasco. We went into a village of about 200 families to check on the food distribution in the area. Well, when they say us arrive in our jeep, they figured more food was coming. Upon inspection we found that the distribution for the next week had already been done, and there was no more than what was left in the nearly empty storehouse.
I cannot explain the tension in the air as we were surrounded by a large crowd of men and women who looked very displeased that there was no more food being brought in. I flashed back to those scenes of people rushing the place, a little afraid of what could happen. My heart began to race as they all closed in around us 70 or 80 of them only 5 of us. I said to myself, “Lord you said you would never leave me nor forsake me and you brought us this far to do good”. It was at that moment that the local Haitian community leader, who we took with us and is involved with our organization said; ”Wait, do not take this food, it is for the families who have not made it here yet today”. “Further, let’s show order to these, our friends, who are bringing us medicine, and more food later and who are here to help us.”
It was amazing, the respect they had for this man. The desperate, frustrated look in their eyes turned to warmth and adoration. The store house was not touched, even though it had no lock on the door and I know many of those people were suffering from malnutrition. No one rushed us, except to give a hug or two. We took pictures and they walked us to the jeep. One spoke to me in French and the translator said “He said, promise you will come back, promise that you will not forget them. I could never forget them and the world should not either.
As I drove off for the last time, looking at all the face of the kids who went back to playing in the dirt, mothers cooking over the open flame pits and seeing the strong young men breaking the bricks to get the steel out of it for salvage. There was no sadness, no remorse…no time. No only a sense of pride in their poverty and a spirit that said “trouble won’t last always!” I was reminded of the scene from The Color Purple, when Mister said to Celie “Nobody want you po, you Black and you ugly” and she says “I may be po, I may be Black and I may eeeeeeevn be ugly…BUT I AM HERE!” Yes, the People of Haiti are still here and as the poem “Invictus” goes, “Head bloodied, but unbowed”. So I say good-bye to you, for now, from Haiti, May God continue to smile on this place, its people and the people in need around the world and at home.