Everyone has become acutely aware of Haiti since the earthquake in January. My husband and I were no exception, so when the opportunity arose for us to go to Port-au-Prince with a disaster relief team, we took it. We found out that the trip was a reality on a Thursday night, one week later we were vaccinated, and one week after that we were on a plane to the Dominican Republic.
We flew into Santo Domingo and took a bus into Haiti. Popey, the Dominican man who drove our bus, is the most talented driver I’ve ever seen. The state of the roads, traffic, pedestrians, and goats that would have caused even the most mature drivers to crash, didn’t even faze this man. He delivered us safe and sound to a church in Carrefour (just a few minutes outside of Port-au-Prince) where we were greeted by a group of men from the church as well as neighbourhood children. We set up our tents on the roof of the church and became acquainted with the area.
We spent our days with Haitians whose homes had become too dangerous to sleep in. While cleaning up debris, smashing damaged cement, and building new walls out of old bricks, we were given a glimpse into the lives of our new friends. We were often met with mocking faces and negative attitudes from the surrounding neighbours, however after an hour or so their smirks would turn to smiles and they would eventually pick up a pair of gloves and join in. As we worked together, each side began to trust the other more, and friendships started to form.
A Haitian man told us that if we could travel all the way from Canada to help his country, than he could help as well. He spent the next 3 days with us working on homes. On our last day, we went to his home. His whole house was demolished by the earthquake. What was once a yard, was now filled with broken cement, rocks and debris. We broke down the remaining cracked walls, removed debris, and leveled the ground so he could put up a tent. Most of the people we met were sleeping under a tarp next to their broken down homes until they could put up something more permanent. Despite having next to no materials, these makeshift shelters were welcoming and felt like home.
Thursday was our most difficult day. It was spent breaking down a man’s home and cleaning up the debris, as usual, except this was the first time we knew that there were people under the debris. An 11 year-old boy was running by the house when the earthquake happened and was killed as it fell. The owner of the house also lost his one-month old baby in the quake. The man was so grateful for our help that he was almost brought to tears. It really affected us to hear his story because it made the deaths a reality. The earthquake stopped being a news story and became personal.
We spent our evenings relaxing with members of the church we were staying at and playing with kids who lived nearby. The kids haven’t had school since the earthquake, so they were usually waiting for us to get home to play games, sing songs or kick a soccer ball around. Most of these kids lost a parent or sibling in the earthquake and are trying to adjust to their new life. Life is not easy for these kids, but they are extremely resilient.
When walking around the neighbourhood, the children ensured we were safe and protected us from cars and mopeds that zoomed by. It was the first time in my life that I trusted a 6 year-old more than I trusted myself. This proved to be a wise attitude to take on, as the next day I was saved yet again by a little kid. While digging through the rubble I uncovered a scorpion, and as I looked at it in fear, the little boy beside me whipped a rock at it and killed it instantly. The kid looked up and smiled at me as I laughed at the irony of being so well taken care of by kids.
We travelled to and fro in a Land Rover Defender. Sometimes we sat on top, sometimes we all squished inside. We drove around for an afternoon with 15 people in a vehicle that fits 9. I would never do that in Canada, but for some reason, it was fine in Haiti. I also would not usually sit atop a truck while driving up steep, narrow streets surrounded by merchants on either side.
Life felt strangely normal while we were there, and it is only now that I’m realizing how abnormal it was. I’m sure this will continue to happen all week, so I will continue to write about my time in Haiti as the stories come up.