Friday, March 19, 2010

Back in Haiti

Saturday- March 6th- Back in the U.S.
I've been fortunate to spend the last few days in Florida recharging, relaxing, and resupplying. After much thought, I decided to head back to Haiti to continue implementing my grief therapy program. I booked my ticket, started making arrangements, and am gathering supplies.

Tuesday- March 16th
Well, here I am back at the airport with a backpack twice the size of me. Again, it's full of protein bars and supplies to bring into the country. This time, it's particularly full of vitamins and diapers- two things we are running out of here. I find myself particularly tired and not nearly as enthusiastic as I was the last time to come to Haiti. Then, everything was unknown. Now, there are feelings and experiences attached to the pictures and memories. While many of those emotions are beautiful ones, there are many memories that you do not wsh to linger, let alone re-experience. It's a real headtrip to be thrust into a place like this, jump back into the U.S. where you appreciate the safety of non-shaking ground, no gunshots at night, convenient transportation, and a refrigerator full of food... just to jump right back into a third world disaster zone. From the land of plenty to the land of none, it's fitting with the general theme of contrast this country reflects. You're either rich or dirt poor here. You're home is either standing or reduced to rubble. You're family either survived or has died. Your'e either educated or illiterate. Truly, though, that is the theme of most poverty stricken nations- countries of contrast.

Despite my personal contrast in the feelings surrounding my departure, I know it's still the right decision. I still feel that God has work for me to do here. I'm comforted by some of those cliche expressions we often rattle off... "God doesn't call us to a task he doesn't equip us with the ability to complete", "I can do all things through he who strengthens me", "God never gives you more than you can handle", and "Where God is for me, no one can be against me." All of those little slogans really start to mean something in transitions or decision like this. So, here I am... headed back into the hot zone, and all will be provided for.

I had to stop in Ft. Lauderdale for a 12 hour layover. I stayed at a hotel close to the airport and found myself more comfortable and at peace than I have in the last month. I was sitting outside in weather that was comfortably neutral... not hot, not cold, just perfect. I was typing away on my computer and along came a little creature tapping on my elbow. I turned around to see an adorable raccoon that was more interested in my Cliff bar than he was of me. He actually climbed up on the chair with me, and I shared my snack with a smile. Sure, he could have had rabies or something terrible, but a raccoon hardly seems like a threat compared to the place I've spent the last month. The furry little thing made me smile. This was one of the first nights I've been able to spend to myself in the last several weeks. It was peaceful, quiet, and refreshing.

Although it was a peaceful night, I couldn't fall asleep. I was perfectly comfortable and resting right on the verge of sleep, but I couldn't actually doze off all night. That made this mornign a bit rough, but a complimentary breakfast of waffles and biscuits helped perk me right up. The flight into Haiti was smooth and without glitches. You'd never believe it, but as I got on the plane, someone said, "Aren't you Julie Pearce?" I looked up and the person introduced themselves as someone from Duluth. It was Cory Dufault and his wife Jennifer. Cory had deployed a couple weeks before I first ever did and was coming back with his wife and team. They also had a guy with them from Walker, Minnesota. It's such small world and it was nice being able to bridge that gap between Haiti and the Northland.

At the airport, we all struggled to get our bags and get through customs. There were probably at least a thousand people packed into the airport hanger and they were throwing the bags through a little door one by one from about 5 different commercial carrier. Nobody knows which pile of bags is from which airline, everyone is pawing over the next to try and find their piece of luggage, the heat was intolerable, and people's patience was shrinking. I was worried I'd never find my bag, and then it popped through the hole and I was a happy girl! As I was walking out from the airport, I heard, "Jitterbug, Jitterbug!" It was my friends at the airport waiting in line to pick me up. I was doubly happy now.

From the airport, we went to grab some food and then headed to the hospital. ­At the hospital, I finally remembered why I had left. As I made my way through the tents, I got to suprise patient after patient that I was back. They cheered, smiled, gave me hugs, some put their hands in the air, and some of the little kids just clung to me. I've never felt so loved. I must have been glowing! The best was seeing Joshua. He let out that ever so happy excited wail he does and throws his head back. He put out his arms, grabbed on to me, and just about broke my neck by the time I finally tried to pry him off. These are good people, patients who I truly love.

One of the things I brought back with me this time were duplicates of some of the photos I took so that some of our patients and translators could have pictures of themselves- something many of them have never owned. I went through the camp handing out pictures of kids to themselves and pictures of kids to their moms and dads. They would get really excited and want to go start showing people. Soon, we had a whole crowd around who was interested in seeing the photos. I sure wish that I had printed more! Later in the day, I continued at the hospital with the group I had originally started the group therapy with. We didn't get too indepth, but I told them explained to them what they could expect and we decorated the "Therapy Box". They don't know about the insruments I brought yet, and I can't wait to bring them out!

Back at the house I was settling in. It's quite a change from the last time I was here. At the end, it was just myself and 4 other people. Now, the house has about 20 people! It's packed. The little front room I had settled into was taken and the only space available was on the floor upstairs. I did what I could to make things cozy and get settled in, but I'm honestly terrified to be on the second floor. Truly, if a building collapses and you're still in it, your odds of surviving are better if you are higher up. However, I don't plan on being in the building if it collapses because I'd hope I would have run out fast enough to watch it fall. On the first floor, I was able to just dash out the door in within the 15 seconds your supposed to be able to have. However, on the second floor, there's no way I'd make it out in 15 seconds unless I jumped out the window into the swampy pool below... probably not a good idea either. Before falling asleep I was talking with the guys about the escape plan and fell asleep feeling very disturbed. That night I slept well, but had terrible dreams. The first dream, I escaped a house and watched it buckle on top of the rest of my medical team who had made it outside but not stepped back far enough. We had to go rescuing them from the rubble and it was terrible. The rest of the night, I dreamt about at least 5 or 6 other houses that collapsed which I was inside. In every dream I was unharmed, but had to figure out a way to escape. I did everything from tie sheets together to make a rope, to a zipline from the top, and crawling out hand over hand. I woke up seriously disturbed. What must it be like to be inside the dreams of the Haitians who were actually here on January 12th? What I've experienced so far has been such small earthquakes compared to the big one they survived. I think I may know why Haitians seem to go to bed so late now and wake up so early... sleeping brings on dreams, and the dreams bring to life the nightmare they lived. God bless these people!

We did the traditional hike into the hospital today. It was nice to take our usual route, see the familiar vendors, neighbors, and our little old lady friend who is now dry because we gave her a tent. Once we got into the hospital today, I started getting organized for today's therapy groups. One of the logistics coordinators and myself went on the roof and did some morning prayer. We talked about how amid the brokenness, there is rebuilding and healing going on. We prayed for the people still suffering and that opportunity would continue to spring up for all around. It was a solid way to start the day.

I gave my friend Hivelt a call and he agreed to be my translator for my work outside the hospital. He came and met me and we walked a couple miles to General Hospital downtown. I met with the chief of Pediatrics briefly and we began our first session at this hospital. I had about 16 people in the group and it was pretty neat because some of the parents participated with their children. Since this was the first time this group had met, we did more of an overview of things today. We all got to know each other by passing around a little stuffed bear and sharing things about ourselves. Everyone shared briefly about where they were then the earthquake happened and what happened. We talked about feelings, what different ones look like, and did an art activity to compliment the lesson. The kids seemed to enjoy it, but I think I'll split the group up tomorrow so there are 2 groups with less kids in each one. Too many people in a group hinders the quality of sharing and increases the distraction factor. At the end of this session, it felt appropriate with this group to end with a prayer. Everyone in the big tent joined hands and we prayed the "Our Father" together in Creole and English. It was beautiful.

From General Hospital, we went into tent city to visit a few people. On our way winding through the maze of homes, we passed some kids jump roping and we joined. In another spot, there was caribbean music playing. Hivelt taught me how to do some dance and then we got some others involved and we had a little impromptu waltz. A bunch of kids then came over and we all started dancing together. It was like a little party! Crossing the street, I saw a young Haitian man wearing a clown nose. I looked over at him, ducked behind my backpack that Hivelt was carrying, put my own clown nose upon my face, and peered back over at the man. It was like two misfits who had found each other. I ran over to him like a scene from a movie and we gave each other a big hug as we laughed. I feel so blessed to be able to spread happiness and cheer throughout this town and then go back and do some real medical work as well. As we traveled to our next spot, we came upon the Champs de Mar (sp?) square where there used to be these huge fountains spraying water into this cauldron. Now, it's like a stagnant cest pool. People's tents surround the terraced concrete stairs that lead into the murky bottom.

Back at the hospital, I did a bit of regular nursing work and went to grab some lunch. I ended up at a little "restaurant" on the sidewalk at the end of the block. It's the craziest thing, you order and they give you a chair and a tray. You just sit there and eat the food on the tray in your lap on regular glass plates and metal forks as cars pass about a foot behind and the smell of diesel exhaust graces every bite. Meanwhile, your eating a meal that was prepared in a giant cauldron, a vat of hot recycled grease, and from jars of mayonaise that have probably never seen a refrigerator and congeal in the warm Haitian sun. This was one meal I think I'll go chase with some Cipro for dessert, so I can avoid getting sick. I'm not too sure about what it might end up doing to my stomach.

Grief Therapy for the kids at CDTI today was very productive. This group is a little further along than the other group. We are focusing on anger. It's one of the main stages in grieving and there's a lot of people here angry at what happened to their country. The thing that makes their anger difficult is that they have no one to be angry at. To address some of their anger, we made balloons out of the latex gloves, put an angry looking face on each one, and had a dialogue with who we now referred to as "Mr. Earthquake". The kids went around and got to tell Mr. Earthquake why they are angry. Everyone together then looked at the face on their balloon and said why they were mad. It was sad to hear some of the things the kids had to say, "I'm mad at you Mr. Earthquake because you took my leg... because you took my mom... because you ruined my house... because you broke my legs." Loss. It's the theme around here. At the end of this activity, we went around with a pin and each kid got to tell "Mr. Earthquake" that they are done with him, that he can go away, and they symbolically popped the balloon. As the pieces of latex flew into the air, each time the children would clap and celebrate the next person's release. It was nice to see.

At the end of the group, I told the kids that I had a surprise for them. I went and pulled out the pile of instruments that I had brought into the country with me. We had tamborines, maraccas, bells, a triangle, and a drum. The kids started to play their instruments, some of us clapped, and we all sang. We gathered quite the crowd as well. A local Haitian doctor was at the hospital that day and made a comment to one of the ladies that it was "the happiest he's been and the happiest he's seen everyone else since January 11th." That spoke volumes to me and reminded me that I was supposed to be here for this very reason. God is working here. Healing is happening.

I ended the day back on the rooftop overlooking the mountains on one side, the harbor full of ships on the other, and utter destruction all around and in between. The sun was just setting, so things were starting to cool down a bit and it was just barely starting to drizzle. I sat up on a AC vent and started typing away doing some journaling. It was another good day in the hot zone and I am blessed to be here.


At March 19, 2010 at 5:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew when you came back it would not last. I suspect you are on a life changing journey for you and those you touch. You continue to be my prayers and it is a pleasure, although sometimes a difficult one, to read of how God is using you to serve his people and show He is real.
Kathy K. - CSS staff.


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