Port au Prince, Haiti Day 15, Trip 3

In the early part of this week I resumed staff support/counseling sessions for another NGO who contacted me in January, and who have waited since then for my availability.

As I begin to write, I wonder who I am writing for. I believe I initially began this blog so thatanyone interested might receive some first hand information from Haiti. Later, it seemed to me that I wrote for myself; to share the images, stories, words I cannot carry alone. Now, I believe I blog for every Haitian who has courageously opened up and shared with me—-and for those ho might still be waiting for someone to listen.

These stories take up residence in our bodies. Unshared, they can begin to form and shape us from their hiding place inside. No-one should bear the weight or shape of these stories alone. One man, whose story I will share later, only wanted to speak what he had seen, smelled, touched, heard, felt—and never spoken. Then, he was finished. He didn’t seek advice, or a promise that things would be better. He didn’t even seek “therapy”. He sought a place to rest his story.

Many Haitians share how previously, it was not customary, or culturally common, to open up with a stranger and share emotions. Psychology was stigmatized by many, and inaccessible for most.I have been reminded many times in the many trainings and group sessions I have held since 1998 that “Haitians don’t cry in public”, that “Haitian men don’t cry so as to remain strong”, that “sharing personal, private information with people outside family or community is simply not done”. Since the earthquake,I have been asked these questions many times.

Am I normal if I cry so much?

Am I normal if I sit with a psychologist and share my thoughts, feelings and experiences?

I don’t understand why I still cry, feel fear, feel alone – why have I changed? What has changed for me?


Haiti is not the same. Her heart has broken, into many pieces. There is no apparent leadership to comfort, reassure, rebuild. As one man who has spent his entire professional life devoted to rule of law and governance in Haiti told me yesterday: “I can never share this with anyone else, but I have to say this to you now. There is no-one here who can lead this country.We cannot lead or direct ourselves into the future. My heart is so broken; I am bereft for my country. Our Father cannot take care of his children. Haiti can not do it.”

I have known him for almost 10 years, and this was the first time I saw him sit in silence for an extended time, and weep.

It is customary when I begin a new assignment that I meet with the Director and get a briefing and overview of the organization, and the needs of the team, from his or her perspective. When I sat down with the director earlier this week, I heard his story, because his story was so intimately woven into his teams’ story. He was in a major government building when the earthquake happened, and it fell, instantly. For three days, he and the others he was with pulled bodies—some alive, many dead—from the heavy piles of rubble. They spent much of those 3 days trying to get a woman out who was still alive. Her feet were pinned and crushed; her head was caught in between the metal base of a chair. They had only a crowbar to work with. They freed her head before they freed her feet. She was bleeding and weakening. At the end of the third day, he described having made the “moral decision to amputate her feet” in order to free her. They did get her out without an amputation, then drove the city for 6 hours looking for someone to treat her. There was no-one. Finally a doctor took her to the Dominican Republic. Attempts to find out what happened are futile. Her family has never heard from her. He fears she did not make it.

Following her rescue, he began to walk the city to find every member of the staff. He walked 25 kilometers in less than a day. He went to every house to know who was alive, who had a house to live in, who was gone. At the crushed house of one of his senior team members, he helped him dig, barehanded, through the debris to locate his 1 year old son. He was dead. His tiny feet and legs were crushed.

I spoke to that Father later.He is the one who asked only to “rest” his story. He ran to his home after the earthquake to find his wife and son. She had been out, so she arrived too, distraught. They dug and dug until they found him. He showed me his photo. An angel. He was a child they waited for, for years. After many years and multiple failed attempts to become pregnant, they adopted. Their adopted child is still alive. Shortly after they adopted her, they had their birth-child. He was a dream come true, a gift, a treasure.When he found his body he had to hold him tightly through the night to keep a growing circle of dogs from eating him. He had been napping on his mat, and died instantly. His Father wandered with his tiny body for 5 days, looking for a small coffin. He passed piles of dead bodies. He described the stench as horror-as unforgettable. He finally left the small child in a makeshift box at a morgue. He “fights” to go on. His wife lost her work as the school she taught at collapsed. She is bereft; spends each day in despair. Each time she cries, which is often, their tiny daughter reaches for her face and wipes her tears away and says “Mommy, Mommy—don’t cry”.

He pauses as he reflects on this.

“She comforts us with her tiny hands.”

He cries. His eyes have black circles of exhaustion under them as he fights to keep the tears back. He holds his head. He shakes his head. He looks at me, holding my gaze for a long period of time. He says “I am living for my daughter, for this love. For my wife, for this love. For the gift of my son, even though it was for only a brief time. I am holding on to the knowledge that he did not suffer. I think he is still sleeping; he just kept on sleeping.” He describes himself as “fighting” the immensity of grief everyday. We talk about the importance of knowing our beloved children do not suffer when we cannot protect them—and how protecting them is our deepest longing and mission.

He looks at me and his eyes are a question.

I don’t know.

All I can say:

“If your grief were the ocean, these are your anchors. Your wife. Your daughter. Your love. Your son did not suffer. He is sleeping, eternal.”

There is nothing else I can say.

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