Port au Prince, Haiti Day 9 & 10, Trip 2

Returning home, this time for a few weeks, I prepare to be in a place where homes still stand, where the air is fresh and clean, where driving to the store and stocking up on favorite snacks is not a luxury or a privilege, but just another task in a busy day.

The morning I flew to Haiti, news reporters were swarming American Airlines check in counter, interviewing Haitians flying on the first commercial flight to Port au Prince since the earthquake.

When I rushed up, my clothes crooked and hair uncombed because I had dressed so quickly when I learned my original flight was leaving 2 hours early, I was relieved to find a seat on the second flight and was signing the credit card receipt when one of the reporters yelled “Hey, thats woman’s buying a one way ticket!” Suddenly there was a glare of many cameras on me and 5 microphones in my face. “Are you buying a one way ticket?!” “Whats your relationship to Haiti–have you ever been there?!” “One way–are you going to come back?!” I was momentarily stunned, and then began to answer the questions and apparently, made it on several Miami news stations and a few radio casts. It was pretty simple: I bought a 1 way ticket because my flight had left without me, and I had a return; Haiti is my hearts home and I have worked and visited there since 1998; Yes I would come home; here is what I do there…. I imagine the contrast of my pedestrian answers with the image of a white, disheveled, hectic woman rushing up to buy a one way ticket to Haiti where the largest disaster in terms of human loss and destruction to a major city was playing out.

Now, there is very little on the news about the Haiti earthquake because it is no longer new. People ask me if its getting better; if things have improved? I don’t know how to answer. Yes, more rubble is cleared, the air was less dusty and the stench had subsided except in a few areas; there were more tents and less makeshift plastic sheeting structures; supplies are arriving to Port au Prince, Leogane and Jacmel; the airport is open now.


There are at least 211,000 people known dead and countless more who will never be found. A million people have lost homes. A friend who has a long-time, successful business had to let go 70% of her staff because there is no economy. Many of them had worked for her for over 20 years. She was heartbroken, crying, trying to find tents and safe places for them to live, raising money for them to rebuild homes, providing medical care for their babies and children. There are still remnants of bodies rotting under debris and sometimes being pulled out from under. There were two more quakes when I was there, and many aftershocks. Every time, the same fear and terror coursed through people’s bodies and they came to my office, sweating, trembling, crying; or at night, let out a collective cry in the streets which was audible throughout the city.

When I first began teaching in Haiti, I was told that crying (especially for men) was not done publicly, and “therapy”–speaking openly with a stranger–was not common in this culture. Yet I had lines of people some days, waiting to talk, to cry, to share things they could not tell anyone else. Men 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, sobbing for 20 minutes, terrified of the future, afraid they can not support their family members, still trembling inside like the earthquake never stopped.

I don’t know what better will be for Haiti, but I know it won’t happen if Haiti drops off the radar and is forgotten. On my flights home, many people were returning from Haiti and as we talked about our experiences, almost everyone commented on the resilience of Haitian people.

Yes, they are resilient, and its because of this resilience that they deserve our ongoing support. The words I hear to describe people at food distribution centers, in tent camps, in clinics: “Resilient.” “Dignified.” “Grateful.”

I believe that the Haitian people are world leaders in resilience, and hope that they will someday have the opportunity they deserve to teach the rest of us to embody the same collective strength and grace that they do.

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