I’ve been stalling to blog about this trip. Trying to put what I saw and experienced into words that could be as powerful as the reality and I realize that I just can’t do it. I’m a photographer not a writer so I will let the photographs speak for themselves and interject where I can tell you something that isn’t obvious. I will begin by saying that like you, my heart was broken with the news of the horrible earthquake and devastation that hit Haiti on Jan 12, 2010. My previous trip in Jan of 2009 was a turning point for me in regards to to life, my focus and my outlook on the ‘American Dream.’
This trip has left me with a sadness that I cannot seem to shake and a level of thankfulness that I never want to lose.
Myself, Leigh Ann Miller and Jimmy Potts were fortunate to have the freedom, resources and determination to re-arrange our lives and gear up within 48 hours of the invitation to go. Gary Hyppolite, founder of Bethel Mission Outreach, was already on the ground and furiously doing all he could to help in the chaos. We had only a basic idea of what to expect. Leigh Ann is a friend of mine and I was really glad to be sharing the experience with her as I see her as an action chic, ready to charge the hill.
Jimmy is an experienced international traveler/driver. He is head of the board for an all girls orphanage in Honduras where he has 25 girls who adore him. I saw him in action last December when I had the privilege of spending a week there and let me just say that I felt totally safe and secure with Conan I mean Jimmy as our travel partner. Driving across the Dominican Republic was crazy but he made it seem like a sunday joyride.
This is Gary. Haitian by birth, radical lover of Jesus by choice. He is the real deal and I would follow him anywhere. He loves, LOVES God, his family and the people of Haiti and he has dedicated his life to pursuing the divine and rescuing the mortal.
The first night in the DR we traveled as far as we could to the border and searched for someplace to sleep when we couldn’t go any farther. It was dark and none of us spoke Spanish (well). We made a few attempts and laughed our heads off when we realized that the few nicer looking places were actually rent by the hour Vegas style joints so when we hit the coastal town of Azua we headed for the shoreline hoping for a quaint place to rest. We were relieved and somewhat apprehensive when we found this cute little place. $18 bucks for 2 rooms, armed guard included.
The drive was warm and interesting. 80% travel by mopeds, we saw an entire family (4) on one and I never saw a single speed limit sign. The landscape reminded me of Hawaii except for the occasional topless palm tree.
When we crossed the border into Haiti, our phone stopped working and we didn’t have a map. We are all pretty adventurous and I was hoping that I would recognize something along the way and we could figure out how to get to our destination. We stopped and bought a new phone and a digicell card and sent a text to Linda, Gary’s wife, in the states and asked her to relay the message that we were lost and needed him to contact us. I was so excited to turn a corner and see a fully standing, recognizable iron shop where I had photographed the owner, staff and security guard the year before. I was so excited so I walked in and made weird hand gestures when i recognized the girl sitting by the desk, like me: take: picture: of: you: and was delighted when she laughed with strange embarrassment. The guy standing behind her looked like the guard but he was in normal clothes with no gun. I went for it anyway and held up my imaginary rifle and then my camera. A wide grin came across his face and without losing eye contact he raised his shirt at the waist to reveal his (undercover) colt 45. I knew it! It was him!
The photo below is from last year.
Jimmy was an instant hit with all the kids and especially the boys. I don’t think they have ever seen muscles like that with tattoos and all. The repeatedly wanted to touch his arms and legs and help him with whatever project he was working on.
We brought about 1000 lbs of supplies including 800 lbs of beans and rice to make quart size bags for distribution. We also cut pieces of Alaskan Cod, jerky style, to add some protien and flavor and then we went out into the surrounding community and met people and listened to their stories and saw the damage to their homes. Children can never contain their curiosity when we come strolling through and especially when we started handing out cookies. We spent over 3 hours listening and caring for our neighbors, handing out food and holding babies. Every time we left a house we would have more children following us to the next one. 17 people asked Jesus into their lives that day.
This young man was the neighborhood’s “intimidation factor.” He was the equivalent of a young thug here and that is why Leigh Ann’s face looks like that. He was showing off for his friends that were watching from afar and did his best to intimidate both of us. He tried to take my camera a few times, wanted to look in our back packs and said to Jimmy, “Give me my money.” He laughed and jeered and did his best to show off for all the younger boys watching. It wouldn’t have felt that tense if it weren’t for Pastor Gary praying for a woman who was known for practicing voodoo. (they are out of the picture) and the 3 women who were her companions that had followed us, announcing ahead that we were coming. The best way to describe the level of tension that we were in is to say that it got very spiritually hot for a while and I thought we were going to get ambushed there for a minute or two.
I love this image because of her face and what it reminds me of. Isaiah 50:7 says, “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”
These two girls asked Jesus into their hearts and followed us around the rest of the day. The next day they showed up at The Rock and did the same. They look like pure joy.
This baby had been abandoned by it’s mother and was being cared for by the neighbor. Leigh Ann loves babies. I mean she LOVES babies. Her heart broke while holding her and she couldn’t stop thinking about her the rest of the trip. She had someone go back and inform this neighbor that if she didn’t want to keep caring for the child, Leigh Ann would take her. We thought about how we could do it. (I know, those missionaries accused of trying to take the 33 children across the border) and I say that only because we would never try to kidnap or do anything that would harm anyone but we found ourselves trying to work things out so we could bring this little girl back with us. It didn’t work, they wanted to keep her which is ultimately the best. (If you want to know what I think about those 10 Christians who were arrested for trying to take 33 kids out of the country, this guy sums it up for me)
The girls were enthralled with our blond hair and if we were found sitting for any length of time, a practicing hairdresser would be styling in a matter of seconds. I loved letting them care for me in that way. You know I mean it too because I’m putting my roots out there for ya’ll to see. Before I left I would have thought twice about it but something has changed in me and I no longer care so much about impressing people. I am finding a lot of freedom in just being myself. After I was finished with hair I moved to waxing. Lol. Dimmy used a razor to shape the brows.
Fish being pounded to create Leigh Ann’s favorite fish sauce.
Watching a movie under the stars. I think there were about 50 kids.
The devastation was incredible. We drove into Port Au Prince on several occasions and even into Carrfour and we were all in a state of shock. The need is so great. The questions are unanswerable. Where do they start? How will they ever get back their lives? How will they go on with so many lost loved ones?
Before leaving a man at church prayed for us and told us that we would be invisible when need be. Can i just tell you that we could have drove in and out of the border without ever being stopped. We drove into military zones where others were denied and on one particular invisible day, Jimmy ‘invisible’ Potts asked if we wanted to drive into the airport. Doesn’t sound that challenging but it was guarded and reinforced with tanks, guns, UN and check points. Every country was using it as a base, including some serious high tech Americans and all of the supplies to distribute are also there so needless to say, everyone wants in. The outside is a place of chaos and we zigzagged and dodged and drove right through. It felt like a moment in a movie when the course of the story is about to change. We met and were generously given 4 huge tents by Jane at Shelter Box, they came with a bunch of other stuff and she was so happy to be able to help. Each tent sleeps 10 which was perfect because the kids had been sleeping under the roof of the damamged school. You would have thought we set up the Tag Mahal, it was cool to watch their faces.
This is Daniel. A beautiful little 3 year old boy who barely had the energy to speak. I turned around one morning and there he was, sitting on a chair with those big beautiful eyes. He looked so sad and weak, I kept giving him food and cookies and he would just eat and eat and eat. I carried him around with me that day and wondered what his story was. Where were his parents? Who was taking care of him? That evening I was told that he had a mom who was also at the compound and I asked to meet her and found her name was Shena. I tried to hide the confusion I felt because I hadn’t seen her for a single minutes the entire day. What was wrong with her, I critically questioned. The next morning I heard a child crying so I walked towards the bathroom and saw Daniel standing there naked from the waist down and Shena was whipping him with a switch. I was shocked and tried to find out what the cause was in a language that she didn’t understand. I asked to hold Daniel and I could tell that she was frustrated and embarrassed. I called Gary to in to mediate and it turns out she was whipping him because he had diarhea. I was really, really mad. How could a mother punish a child for being sick? Jimmy and I were going to the airport again that day and we asked if we could take him with us to see a doctor. I am not telling this story to disrespect her but to point out how easy it is to judge and condemn. We were pulling out of the compound with Daniel and Pastor Gary came up and said, “she wants to go with you and I know that’s not what you want to hear right now but this is a good opportunity to love her, because you don’t know what’s she’s going through.” As we were pulling out and starting on our way I had to make the choice to show her love even though I wanted to be cold to her and take her son. Gary was right, I didn’t know her circumstances and since I couldn’t communicate with her my only chance was to be an example of love. I held her hand and gave her snacks from my bag while Daniel lie in my lap, barely able to move. We found a pediatric tent hospital and sat on a cot in the dirt surrounded by broken extremities and post traumatic stress syndrome. It took 2 nurses over 14 tries to successfully penetrate a vein while I held him in my arms and tried to keep him from moving and looking. My heart broke, for real. His mother wasn’t able to understand what was going on, she just hung her head in her lap. He was severely dehydrated and after 500cc’s of fluid he was released. The next morning we left early to drive back to Dominican Republic, I said goodbye to Shena and asked for Daniel. She took me into their tent and where he was lying on the floor, swollen from the fluids. He saw me and lifted his arms and started to whimper. I picked him up and made gestures to explain to his mom that the IV was the cause of his puffiness and she seemed grateful to understand. I hummed to him, kissed him and said goodbye. I have the hospital bracelet from his arm on my desk and it reminds me to pray for him and his mother and to never forget the incredible power of example.
The man on the left is Dr. Paul Auerbach from Stanford University. He was flown to Port Au Prince the day after the earthquake. He’s the leading expert on wilderness medicine and how to perform critical proceedures in primitive environments. He blogged about his experience and has written chart topping books on the subject. The doctors who spent time there are true heroes and I can only imagine how it changed their lives.
He was hit in the face with a brick the day of the quake and had this huge abscess. They took x-rays to see if his tooth had shattered in his jaw and when it came back clear they shot his face up with novocain and took a razor and sliced his jaw open. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff that came out, it was like afterbirth and the smell was enough to make the entire tent grab anything they could to cover their faces. It was horrible. I asked if they couldn’t give him some pain medicine as he groaned and they said that becuase he had to get up and walk himself out they could only give him tylenol.
Leigh Ann’s husband Mark is the football coach at Woodward Academy and they had shipped boxes of uniforms down with Gary. She was able to distribute them to all the kids who were staying at The Rock and they were way excited.
Driving back across the border. Huge lime mines give a stark contrast to the bare dry land. It is used in making the bricks that 98% of the buildings are made of. Taking the place of coarse sand it is one of the reasons that so many walls crumbled easily. It can be ground to powder which isn’t very strong for holding cement.
Back in the DR, the atmosphere is dramatically different. People smile and wave, music is heard (loud!) on the side of the street about every mile or so and in comparison to Haiti, joy is tangible. We stopped at this pool and jumped in for a swim. Music was blaring and I felt guilty for being able to wash the dirt and dust of Haiti off so easily. It seemed surreal that just hours ago I said goodbye to 60+ kids who didn’t have parents or know what their future would hold.
We arrived in Santo Domingo to a gigantic parade that went on for miles and miles. I have never heard music that loud, every one was drinking (and driving) even the police and I couldn’t figure out what it was for. Football? An unknown holiday? It was like the whole town was participating! Later on the plane I showed the photo to a man sitting next to me who could speak English and he informed me that it was politics. wow! Talk about dedication! The Reformation party has a LOT of support.
We spent the night in Boca Chica and cruised the streets and typical tourist spots.
The next morning the sun rose out of the ocean and as we packed and drove to the airport I wondered how I would ever adjust back to my life as it was. I’m still working it out.
On Friday the president of Haiti cancelled carnival festivities and called the nation to fast and pray for 3 days. No one was allowed to work and the entire nation cried repented and cried out for mercy. I’ve just heard from Gary that each morning at The Rock hundreds of people gathered to pray, 500 on Friday, 700 on Saturday and Sunday it was impossible to count. 50 people gave their life to Jesus yesterday including 5 Voodoo priests! In Gary’s words, “One Voodoo Priest who claimed to have the ability to travel to the invisible world, go to other countries without a plane, could get any women he wanted and the ability to transform into anything including pigs, donkeys and other animals, brought with him all his magic books and other paraphernalia AND BURNED EVERYTHING RIGHT THERE IN THE SERVICE! He said ALL HE NEEDS NOW IS JESUS! Another Voodoo Priestess brought her basket of voodoo items including her magic wand and money she used to serve the devil and THAT TOO WAS ALL BURNED UP! 2 more Voodoo Priestess asked Bolivar to come to their place tomorrow and BURN UP EVERYTHING!”
I put together a slideshow, and encourage you to continue to pray for Haiti. Love your family, neighbors and friends. Try not to take life for granted. We are never guaranteed tomorrow.