Saturday, February 27, 2010

More on the Task Force

Another article about the task force this week. This time in the LDS Church News, and with a terrible picture of me at the top!

This one line from the story cracks me up. "a member of the Utah Hospital Task Force, dances to entertain Haitian people at one of the improvised clinics in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Such entertainment helped many Haitians experience a moment of normalcy." Um, because it is normal for white guys to do silly dances to entertain Haitians?

Images of Haiti Photo Exhibition

Come out and support Haiti!

Friday, March 5
5:30-8:00 pm
Alpine Art Studio (downtown SLC
430 E South Temple, SLC

On March 5, 2010, Alpine Art in downtown Salt Lake City will join photographers Joel Addams and Misha Tulek in presenting images of Haiti during the month after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is encouraged to benefit the locally founded Healing Hands for Haiti and the Red Cross, both groups that Joel and Misha worked with in Haiti. Joel has been photographing for seven years and is currently represented by Aurora Photos, Getty Images, and Corbis. Misha Tulek, recently completed an internship with internationally-recognized photographer James Nachtwey and now freelances out of New York City.

Healing Hands for Haiti has been focused on providing prosthetics, orthopedic devices and rehabilitation for Haitians in need for over ten years. They have also extended the benefits of their organization by employing local Haitians at their medical and production facilities. Before the earthquake, the majority of the prosthetic devices used by patients were crafted in their own facility in Haiti. In addition to providing mobility devices to people who would otherwise be unable to function in a country where manual labor is a way of life, Healing Hands for Haiti also provides opportunities for the people of Haiti to gain vocational skills that enable them to support their families.

Alpine Art is an established fine art gallery and custom framing shop in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Alpine Art has a history of donating time, space and framing to a variety of charities. It has recently donated to A Night for Sight, The Salt Lake Fire Department, Kindred Spirits, the Ronald McDonald House, the Odyssey House, New Orleans relief (Crossroads Missions), National MS Society, HRC, Utah AIDS foundation, and High Road to Human Rights.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Finally, my first non-Haiti post

I managed to go two weeks in Haiti without so much as indigestion or a hiccup, but one night out with my family to a sushi place, and I've got a "tummy issue" going on. (As does my brother, mother, and sister.) So not fair.

I guess this means we are back to life as usual. I'm back to job-hunting, back to watching way too much TV, and back to my lovely case of insomnia. The hard part about job hunting post-Haiti is wanting to do something more important with my life. It is hard to convince myself that I can just work for money for any job. I still have this overwhelming desire to serve, to change the world, and make a difference. But as a career adviser once told me, "Even Superman had a day job."

So I've reconciled my ideals, motivations, and expectations. It is now my first priority goals to adopt a young child from Haiti, and to become a foster parent. (As long as I am unemployed I am not in a situation to become a foster parent, as soon as I have a job and income again, I will be able to take a child in to my home.) To assist in reaching these goals, I am now more focused on finding companies that provide superior benefits. (My last 3 employers did not offer superior benefits. Trust me, it makes a difference.)

But if I could have my way, money wouldn't matter, and I'd be back in a tent in Haiti tonight!

Haiti news links

As I wrap up my Haiti blogging I thought I'd share a few of the news articles about Haiti, the orphans, and our organization.

Sean Penn Talks to Larry King 
Health Crisis in Haiti

Couple Dies Picking Up Newly Adopted Son

Utah Hospital Task Force
LDS Church News- Home From Haiti  (includes a really bad picture of me)
One of our volunteers blogged from Haiti daily for

Meridian Magazine special features on our trip and on Haiti-

Photography- our group had two professional photographers with us that have now posted their pictures on their sites.  (on both sites you will need to look at portfolios, then haiti)
Misha Tulek  (#6 is my favorite, #10 breaks my heart)
Joel Addams (served double duty as doctor and photographer!)

And not that my photography is any great thing, but if you'd like to see the rest of my Haiti photos, you can see them here-

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Haiti

I am just about out of things to say about Haiti. (I'm sure a few of you were wondering if I'd ever run out of material!) So before I'm done, I thought I'd share some of the "volunteer lifestyle" experiences.

Port au Prince is covered in "tent cities." If you've been paying attention you will notice the "tents" the refugees are living in are not actually camping tents. They are sheets strung up with sticks and boxes. Seeing such poverty and conditions it wasn't hard to be grateful for our little "tent city" back at main camp.

We lived in these lovely little 1 man tents, with a wool blanket, and a thin 1 inch inflatable mattress pad. Most people were living in them with a roommate. (2 people in a 1 man tent!) I was one of the very lucky few who only had a roommate for 2 nights, (then got sent out to the orphanage with 15 men) and then had my own solo tent. You'll noticed in the picture a lot of people threw their gear outside of the tent. Our tents were so crowded that it was just easier to keep gear on the outside, people on the inside.
We were camped out in a soccer/polo field with the US Army 82nd Airborne Division. Those guys were just awesome. They provided us with the latrines, shower, and potable water. We gave them the Super Bowl (more on that in another post- trust me, its worthy of its own post). I think they think we are even. But personally, I say we are forever in their debt. We saw the rest of Port au Prince. We saw the nasty. We saw the devastation. We know we lived like kings in that field. Our field was in the middle of a factory compound, which the Army was able to secure. We knew we were safe. We knew we could leave money and passports in our tents and not have to worry. The Army is just plain awesome. 

HA! What a joke! Our first few days we had a "shower" made from a ginormous cistern with a spigot. You could use a bucket as well. You had to stand on plywood, protected by some poorly hung up tarps. It was nasty. I'm glad I only suffered through that once. Out at the orphanage we designated an empty room (in the unfinished concrete building) as the "shower room." We could fill a bucket from an underground tank of water (rain water I think), and use that. Again, remember how I was living with a dozen men? Did I mention the room the guys picked for the shower only had a half wall and no door on it? Yeah, that made showering interesting for me. It required a guard in the hallway, and finding large pieces of plywood to cover the half wall. One of the more memorable showers was the night the goats walked into the building, following the water most likely, and they pooped in our "shower." Grrr... I hate goats. But those bucket showers felt good! (And I only accidentally walked past one of the guys "showering" twice. Er, I mean I walked past 2 guys showering. But not together. I walked past the shower two separate times, and saw guys bathing. Or something like that. Whatever.) Once we got back to main camp the Army allowed us to use their beautiful, deluxe, amazing HAZMAT decontamination showers. 4 jet sprays. Lights. Warm water. Its a beautiful thing. One of the more humorous memories for me will be my first decon shower (and you know what? after that much time in Haiti, I felt like I needed a decon shower). I was in their in my special little zip up stall, and Ally was nearby. And apparently there were two soldiers in there as well. Ally and I were chatting, and the soldiers joined in. It was a lovely ten minute shower with the Army boys. When we (Ally and I) got out of the shower (fully dressed), we caught the Army boys peeking around from their side of the tent to see what we looked like.
And for those 12 other days in-country where I didn't get to shower? Baby wipes. Lots of baby wipes.

The decon units-
(picture stolen from nurse claire's facebook photos)

I've looked through all of my pictures, and through hundreds of my friends' pictures. And I can't find one picture of an MRE. And I can't say I'm surprised. Yes, ladies and gents, we ate MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for 16 days. I'm grateful for those wretched little bags. I know I had it better than ten Haitians combined. But I hope I never ever have to eat another MRE for as long as I live. They are actually better than I expected. And I actually didn't mind the beef ravioli flavor. But really, yuck. And the rye crackers? Double yuck. And then there were the Pro Bars. Now, I'd like to thank the good people who donated the Pro Bars to us. They helped. They kept us alive. But I can promise you, I'm never eating another one for the rest of my life. But you know what? I ate them. I survived. I didn't get sick. I didn't get Haiti belly. And for that I am grateful.

It was strongly recommended (and nearly required) that we all take an anti-malaria drug while we were there. DEET and sunscreen were also much needed. I can't speak for anyone else, but I took those all very seriously! Additionally, Imodium and ibuprofen came in handy. As do sleeping pills for when you are sleeping in a hot tent, on a thin little pad, and the guys in the tent on two sides around you are snoring, and there are helicopters and C130s going overhead all freaking night long, and the roosters are eagerly dispelling all myths that they only crow at sunrise.

Bathroom facilities?
Running water? Flushing toilets? Where do you think we are? The Haiti Hilton? No, we used latrines and hand sanitizer. At main camp our latrines were not horrendous nightmares. (Unless you didn't think your steps through very clearly when entering one in the dark without a flashlight. Out at the orphanage is another story though. That "latrine" was not the lovely portable units you have seen. It was a 30 ft hole in the ground, with cinder blocks around it to create a seat. (No, I never sat on it.) And it was surrounded by cinder block/cement walls for privacy. Since, again, I was out there with all guys, I would "announce" myself as I approached the latrine. Usually by singing something stupid. Feeling confident that no one was in the latrine, I walked around the wall, scurrying a little bit because I really had to go! I stepped around the wall, and a chicken flew up out of the latrine into my face, causing me to scream. (lesson learned: chickens can fly!) And well, nearly wetting my pants. It wasn't pretty. One of the funniest things I heard said about that particular latrine. "My quads are screaming." "Why?" "I just used the latrine!" "Huh?" "I had to squat for so long my quads are burning!" "OH!" (Personally I devised my own method that involved holding on to the outer walls and leaning back. There was no way I was going to risk a) touching that nasty "seat" and b) falling into the hole. Which trust me, was a frightening thought.)

After sharing all of this it is hard to explain that I miss Haiti. I'd still rather be back there using a latrine, eating MREs, and having a baby wipe bath in the privacy of my little tent. Life had a lot more meaning there.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Lord is My Shepherd- in Haiti and everywhere else I go

 the view from the roof of the orphanage

Haiti Voodoo: 
Another central feature of Voodoo is the service, the religious rites of the religion.
  • These are usually held outside, under a rough roof and around the poto mitan, the center pole. A houngan or mambo almost always directs these.
  • Drums are used extensively to provide music and dancing is absolutely essential to the whole service.
  • Services are fully participatory. Not only the houngan and mambo participate but nearly everyone present.
    • A master of ceremonies (La Place) is often present.
    • A hounganikon directs the music and motion.
    • Hounsi (women only) are serving ladies, usually dressed in white.
    • Those in attendance are nearly all participants and most can be mounted by loa.
  • In most services the loa mount people. That is, they come and take over a person's body for a time. When the loa come the person is gone. (It's not clear where the person goes.) The body is the body of the person, but it is really the loa. If a male loa mounts a female person, he is referred to as he, not she, during the mounting.
  • Nearly every Voodoo service has animal sacrifice. By killing the animal one releases life. The loa are exhausted by the taxing task of running the universe. Thus they can receive this life sacrificed to them and are re-juvenated. They are usually quite happy about this.

Two weeks ago tomorrow I had one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever had. I was exhausted from working out in the hot sun all day at the orphanage. I joined the men up on the roof of the orphanage to go to sleep that night. I was laying down on my thin little mattress pad, hoping to fall asleep quickly. I hadn't been laying down long when an earthquake aftershock rattled me. One thing I learned while I was in Haiti- I HATE earthquakes. I never ever want to feel one again. When you are living in a country that has been decimated by an earthquake, even a small tremor like we felt that night can be frightening. I did NOT like it. But I was glad I was sleeping on the roof, and not inside the building. Suddenly my compassion and understanding for the Haitians who refused to go back inside perfectly stable buildings grew.

Realizing sleep would not come easy to me, I took two sleeping pills and knocked myself out. Normally under such conditions I would sleep straight through till morning. (I've been told that I did sleep through Brigham poking me trying to wake me up several times.) But I was not so lucky this particular night.

Somewhere late in the middle of the night, in the pitch darkness, I woke up to the most awful sound I have ever heard. It was a voodoo service in a nearby field. It sounded like hundreds of voices in pain. There was chanting, drums, and "singing." It was the horrible wailing I remember the most. It felt dark and evil. I hated it. I hated the sounds and the feeling in the air. I tried to block it out and fall back asleep, but it was nearly impossible. I just laid there in the dark, vaguely aware of a glow in the nearby field, praying for sleep. I fell back asleep at some point. I don't know how long I was awake. It felt like the voodoo sounds lasted for hours.

But then, just before sunrise, I woke up again in a peaceful darkness. At first I thought it was the voodoo waking me up again. But as I sat and listened I realized I recognized the music. There was one solitary voice singing in the darkness. And it was singing (in Creole), "Amazing Grace." It was so beautiful. I listened as the song changed and the man began to sing (in Creole), "The Lord is My Shepherd." I laid there on my mat until sunrise, just listening peacefully as the voice grew fainter and further away.

I asked a Haitian friend later what I had heard. He said I had heard a voodoo service of about 200 people. He confirmed my fears that they can be dangerous, and that they can be evil. I asked if he heard the man singing. He said yes, that it was a shepherd leading his flock. He sings as he walks in the darkness and his flock knows to follow him.

I am glad that I believe that the Lord is my Shepherd. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

The People and Faces of Haiti

Today I thought I'd share some of the beautiful faces I saw in Haiti.  The stories behind each face are starting to become fuzzy in my head already. I wish they weren't. I'll add what I can to make their faces and stories more real to you.

This little darling is Nathalie. She's 9 mos old, but only maybe 6 or 7 lbs. I love her natural mohawk. Most Haiti babies have these funny little mohawks. (From always being held, and the hair rubs off on the side. As compared to American babies that get bald spots worn off on the back of their heads from their beds!) I love the way she's looking up at me, like we're having an interesting conversation. She was such a little doll. I loved her!

This little Haitian princess was afraid of me at first. She didn't want the "blanc blanc" touching her. (White white.) I couldn't touch her, but she always wanted to touch my hair. I came back a few times to visit her. By my last day she had warmed up to me, and let me hug her.

This little survivor is the only remaining sibling of triplets. Look how huge that diaper is on her. Her charts say she is 6 months old. Have you ever tried to read doctor handwriting? How about doctor handwriting in French? Sometimes the charts are just plain wrong. Or completely illegible.

These little guys were more than happy to pose for me. I was trying to keep them from getting hurt or in the way of the construction crew. I took their picture and played with them- bilingually! I was at a serious loss for what to do with them. So I sat down with them on the rubble, just feet away from where 2 bodies had been caught and killed in the rubble. And I taught them to sing "Give Said the Little Stream." Then we went for a walk around the Healing Hands Campus, singing songs to the sick patients to make them feel better. (video below) (one of the guys gave the boys the tennis ball to play with. you would have thought he had given them a million dollars by the way they held that up for the video!)

and then the tennis ball became a soccer ball, shoes, rubble, and power saws be damned! and you can hear me having a funny conversation with one of the little boys, "pas parle kreole!" (i don't speak creole!) "pas comprende!" (i don't understand) over and over. how can i not speak creole, when clearly i am speaking creole to him!?

my little glee club singing to one of the "sick patients"

One night I got to go over to a local chapel to use their internet and electricity (to blog for you!). These three kids were told to not go in the room and bug me. So they stood right in the doorway all night long just watching me. Occasionally they would burst into giggles, or ask me for cookies. So I amused them by taking their pictures.

I believe this is the bishop of one of the wards, and his family. (Full disclosure, I stole this picture from Pete's camera.)

At a food drop.

Food drop

This is Bobby. He would follow me around out at the construction project and attempt to teach me Creole. He spoke fairly decent English. In return, along with Ret, I taught him to sing the soccer song, "ole, ole, ole, ole..." With the Real Salt Lake ending. There are now half a dozen Haitians walking around singing the RSL mantra.
Charlie posing with the little boys and their muscles.

These kids were so dang cute. They are all one family. The 3 sisters could sing beautifully. We caught it on camera, but on someone else's camera- not mine! They were all smiles till the camera came out. Haitians rarely smile for a camera.

This adorable little girl would show up every day just to sneak up and hold Charlie's hand. There's half a dozen pictures of her all in different outfits on different days holding his hand.

Resilience. Earthquake survivor. Amputation survivor.

We all fell in love with this sweet little guy. His mother had her arm amputated. She was in the bed at the end of this hospital tent. And every day when we went by her little boy was sitting there on a cinder block, playing nicely by himself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on Haitian Orphans

Want to hear me cry on the radio? Well, here's your chance!
 (taken at the airport, waiting to get the orphans on the plane)

This interview was conducted at the Port au Prince airport, literally just minutes after we got the 66 orphans on to the plane. To give you more context, I was suddenly placed in charge of 13 orphans (which turned out later to be 15 orphans!). We (the volunteers and security agents standing around us) were all heartbroken that we didn't get all of the children on the plane. I was probably also in a good amount of shock! It was our first true day in-country, and I was in a very surreal situation.

That all being said, I still stand by what I said. But I do want to go on record as saying that I do support the US government in how they are handling the situation. I am grateful for all that the Haitian government did on that day to get the orphans out (which at the time of this interview, I had no clue about!).

At the end of the interview I pretty much lost it. I wasn't trying not to cry anymore. The interviewer, Dolores, was also crying. She put her equipment down and asked to hold a baby. She wasn't the only stander-by to just pitch in and help us that day. We were truly blessed with wonderful angels helping us that day.

The Volunteers of the Task Force

I thought today I would change directions a little bit and share a little bit about the volunteers that I served with. Put a few faces with the stories, and put a more personal spin on things.
As mentioned before our organization was divided up into three basic groups- medical, construction, and translators. But actually there was a fourth group of miscellaneous people. I fell into this fourth group. We were the ones who had a variety of other skills, from being organizers, to having political contacts, or maybe money contacts, to being able to fly a plane, or provide security. Let's say you are taking a plane load of volunteers into a Third World country and things are volatile there, and you aren't sure what might happen. What's your contingency plan? Your SNAFU-back up plan? How about someone who knows how to make phone calls to political powers? And a person with financial resources to make things happen? Someone who packs a big gun? And how about a pilot to fly you out of there if things get really bad (assuming your other resources can get you a plane)? You might also want to take along your trusted religious adviser, or your best friend, to council you in these crazy situations. These are all people that were part of our trip. My role? I served as press secretary, organizer, loud mouth (no, seriously, one of my key parts in the first few days of the trip was to yell really loudly), back up EMT, and serve as the communications hub for the group.

I hope you don't mind that I'd like to share with you some of the more light-hearted parts of our trip. Tears and heartbreak were common. I called home one night and started to cry on the phone. My mother told me to suck it up and not cry. (She said it nicer than that actually.) I told her it was okay, that crying in Haiti was perfectly okay. We're all human, and no one was going to pretend we could see such devastation and horrific scenes without some emotion. Crying was permissable. But so was laughing. We could and would laugh at the crazier things we witnessed. We laughed with little children. We smiled at them so they would smile back. We waved like pageant queens as we were driven through the streets of Port au Prince in the back of Army humvees and trucks.

Introducing Bry. Bry is one of the few people I met on the plane that I really remember well. This may be because I was standing over him when we hit some turbulence, and I took a nose dive into his lap (more than once). I shared a few experiences with him that I will never forget. One was a poignant and heartbreaking moment in the back of a van. We were driving through PauP and passed yet another destroyed building. Somehow we both looked up and saw the same small thing hanging from the top of the rubble. I could tell from the way his body went still (there is no such thing as personal space in Haiti, we're all always smashed closely together) that we both saw it. Finally he broke the silence and said, "you saw the arm too?" And I had. Amidst all that chaos and confusion in the rubble we both saw an arm hanging from a building. There was no question that there was a smashed body behind it, pinned in in such a way as to never be recoverable. There wasn't much to say beyond that. Death was everywhere. Just sometimes it was more visible than others.
But I said this was going to be a more fun post, right? So on that completely sad note, I give you one of the more funny moments I also shared with Bry. He explains it at the beginning of the video. But in case it isn't too clear, I shall explain as well. He was working in the ICU tent across from mine. In it there was a large, stark naked woman singing. And singing LOUDLY, and not so terribly on-key either. You can hear her "singing" in the background, as Bry tries to not crack up laughing as he explains it all to me.

All of our volunteers were exactly that- volunteers. Nobody made any money off of this trip. In fact, as far as I know everyone was losing money by being there. They had taken off time from their jobs to go serve. I wasn't the only one who didn't have a job down there. And I know of one person who quit his job when his boss wouldn't let him go otherwise. Not only were we all volunteers, but in many cases people were putting their own money into the trip to make things happen for the people of Haiti. The construction crew left behind their tools and equipment, as well as personally purchased key materials for the orphanage. I don't know of one person who didn't leave behind clothes or camping gear for church members or orphanages. I have a lot of respect for my co-volunteers who made such huge sacrifices to be away from jobs and families to be there. And I have a lot of respect and love for the families that sacrificed their dads/husbands and moms/wives to allow them to serve. I especially have a lot of love for the wives of the awesome construction crew I got to serve with. I'm sure they weren't so thrilled to hear there was a girl sleeping with them in the boondocks. But I can say they were all true gentlemen, and great protectors of me. Thank you for raising such fine husbands and men.
My awesome construction crew-

This picture is specifically for my new friends/the family of the guy in it. He was a good friend to me throughout the trip. Thanks for sharing him with me. I feel like you are all friends of mine already too! Thanks!

Finding a cold drink in Haiti is next to impossible. Our water was always luke warm, our food served at whatever temperature it was in our backpacks. So you better believe when we found a cold, safe, drink to be had, we went crazy. And I wasn't the only person going through some serious Diet Coke withdrawals. One day one of the guys found a street vendor selling "safe" Diet Coke and bought him out to share with the girls. This made us very happy, as you can see in this next picture. (those lovely white things on our heads are our breathing/respirator masks. we wore them both for medical prevention purposes, and because sometimes things just really smell bad in Haiti.) (Think I should send this picture in to the Coke company??)

This was our very typical mode of transportation. I can't say that it got commonplace, or that it stayed a novelty to us. We were incredibly grateful for the 82nd Airborne and the transportation they provided. And it never got boring driving in a convoy all around Port au Prince!

Some of our cute nurses and other "red hats!"
(Ladies, this is Dr Corey. He's a pediatrician, and totally amazing. He's a little too young for me personally, but I'm willing to set up worthy candidates with this loving, kind, smart, hilarious, and amazing man.)

This guy and I got to spend a lot of time talking to each other due to our behind the scenes roles as organizers. Pete- you were incredible. Its never easy to be thrown unexpectedly into a situation where you have to trust someone blindly. But that is what Pete and I had to do with each other. He's amazing. Thanks for everything, Pete! (Pete also taught me that "pete" means "fart" in Creole. Which I will likely never forget.)

Sometimes I like to take pictures not because of the great photo op, but for capturing the moment just as it was. This picture isn't all that great of me or of him. But to me its a great reminder of exactly how things were. We were sitting on the ground together (chairs? who had chairs? those were a great luxury!), just being tired. And that is what I remember when I see this picture of me and "Other Aaron." 

This is Neil. I'm also taking applications from girls interested in meeting a musical, funny, hilarious, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent man. And really, do you need to know more about a guy than the fact that he willingly went to Haiti to be a humanitarian aid worker?? Is that not enough of a selling point? But I'm going to be honest, I'm not so sure I'm willing to share Neil yet. You may have to fight me for him. 

That's enough for today. I'm sure I'll have more to tell you tomorrow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The More Spiritual Side of My Haiti Experience

I thought today being Sunday would be a good day to share some of the more spiritual aspects of my trip to Haiti. I hope that I can share these in the right spirit and light, and that you can receive them as such.
Before going to Haiti I heard the question raised "How can God let this happen?" And I admit, I asked myself the same question several times. But for every moment of doubt, as my eyes searched over ruins of rubble, wondering how many bodies were trapped inside, I saw dozens of Acts of God as well.
Something worth noting about the Haitian people, no matter how awful and terrible they have it right now, they still praise God. They gather in parking lots at night to create makeshift worship services and sing together. They break into songs of praise in fly infested and boiling hot hospital tents. They pray together. They have not turned against God.
There is one particular personal experience I want to share of a spiritual nature. There were dozens and dozens of moments where I knew I was in His Hands, but this one experience means more to me than all of the others.
I knew when I left on this trip that I was leaving behind my mother who is known for her amazing ability to worry about others. I knew she would be sick with worry the entire time I was gone. She's used to my crazy adventures, but that doesn't make it any easier on her when I take off for a Third World Country, talking about my malaria medications. I knew she would be praying for me and my compatriots every step of the way.
One afternoon I was with 4 men from my camp at the UN compound. We had left the (very safe) compound during daylight, and with plenty of time to get back to our own camp before dark. Bad things happen after dark, and the whole city shuts down. You don't want to be out after dark. We were hitching a ride the 15 or so minutes back to camp.
We came upon a roundabout just a few minutes from our camp. There was massive Haiti style gridlock. Don't be picturing lots of stopped traffic in a few lanes of traffic! Haiti style gridlock means what used to be a 2 lanes going 1 way, and 2 lanes going the opposite way, has now become 5 lanes of traffic, with cars pointing every which way, completely gridlocked in, unable to move. Our 15 minute car ride in the back of a pick up truck, was suddenly going to take much much longer.
After over an hour of sitting in traffic, we were getting concerned. It was dark outside, and we were uncomfortable with our surroundings. This was exactly the kind of situation we were always trying to avoid. A bunch of Americans sitting in gridlocked traffic in a pickup truck bed, are sitting targets. We didn't speak much to each other about the situation, but we all knew what the others were feeling. We needed to get out of there before trouble began.
It wasn't long after that that a few tires were being burned in the area. In Haiti this is a very dangerous sign that there is trouble in the area. I became increasingly worried about our safety.
I finally decided to say a small prayer, acknowledging that we needed to get to a safer place, and that I didn't want to let down those people who were praying for my safety in Haiti. I felt like I was letting so many people down.
No sooner did I silently say "amen" in my head than three US Army soldiers appeared in the darkness. They just came walking through traffic, right out of the dark, and right out in front of us. I immediately thought that they were there because my mother had prayed for this sort of moment. I yelled out over the honking horns (I'm convinced that all Haitian cars have an automatic switch that keeps the car horn blaring incessantly on its own) to the privates. "Hey Private! Come here!" The soldier nearest me looked up with total surprise in his eyes. A white American girl in the middle of this traffic jam? Yeah, probably one of the craziest things he's seen all week! He asked what was going on, and I explained (screaming loudly over the din) where we needed to go. He smiled and paused and said he'd be right back. He ran over to his 2 partners, and ran right back to us. Each soldier spread out through the traffic, placing one hand on his machine gun, and with this other hand, waved away the traffic. These soldiers moved the cars out of the gridlock formation, stopping 5 lanes of traffic, and waved our truck across. We crossed over the road, and drove down the sidewalk for about half a mile in order to get back on the road, past the gridlock. We got home to our camp in safety.
It was a simple moment. And maybe to some there was nothing remarkable about it. But I had prayed for a guide to safety. I trusted in the faith of my mother that when I needed rescuing someone would be there. And then there it was. The moment of scary darkness wondering what dangerous thing might happen next. And 3 soldiers appeared in the darkness to help us out. I never saw their convoy (usually they would be attached to one). I never got to thank them appropriately. But they got me safely home. They answered my prayers.

Images of Port au Prince

The earthquake epicenter was in Port au Prince, the largest and most populous town in Haiti. As is widely known, over 200,000 people were killed, and continue to die, from the earthquake. As many people will point out, Port au Prince was a dump before the earthquake. But it is far worse now.
I wish I could tell you the story behind each of these buildings and houses. But in all but one case, I won't know anything about the buildings at all. The simple explanation is that yes, there were probably people in the buildings when they fell. No, they probably did not get out alive. Their bodies are trapped in the rubble, and will never be pulled out. The stench of death is prevalent around the larger buildings. There are no definitive plans yet as to how Haiti will clean up all of these buildings. Most people intend to live in their "tents" indefinitely, which will pose some very serious problems come the rainy/hurricane season in a few months. I took over 90 pictures of just destroyed buildings or rubble.






 (a short video taken on my very cheap quality camera as i walk through downtown port au prince. if i live without ever hearing my valley girl voice again, i will die a happy girl.) 

I said I would only know the story behind one building. That would be the National Palace of Haiti, where the seat of government used to be. This was considered to be one of the most beautiful and powerful buildings in Haiti before the earthquake. It is estimated that over 100 people died inside. One thing I wanted to know, but never got answered is why the Haitian people choose to sleep in the streets in their tents, and not in grassy areas. It really bugs me that the National Palace has such beautiful lawns around it, and no one is sleeping in there. Wouldn't it be more comfortable? And safer? 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Orphans in Haiti

There is a lot of focus on the orphan situation in Haiti. I don't know what the current legal situation is regarding adoptions. There are too many rumors and not enough stable facts. And I do know everyone (American and Haitian) is trying to make some fast changes. I've heard way too many conflicting things to know enough concrete facts to be an expert on how to adopt out of Haiti.

But this is what I can tell you. I will be going back to Haiti (soon) to adopt my own children. I will adopt them from the orphanage I helped build. I will go back and rescue my own children from that field. I can tell you I left a part of my heart in that field. And there will always be a part of my heart in that field.

There are thousands of orphaned children in Haiti. There were thousands before the earthquake, and there are thousands more now. They are in orphanages, in the streets, and in the hospitals. Not all are available for adoption, because they are parental surrenders. Their parents hope to come back for them. This is when they parent(s) voluntarily signs over custody of children because they can no longer provide for them. This happens a lot with special needs children. The number of special needs children has increased exponentially since the quake. The pediatrics wings of the hospitals are full of children with amputated limbs. These children will be likely discharged to go home with their parents back in their tent cities. It is just a matter of time until their parents will decide they cannot provide for a handicapped child while living in a tent in a street. Soon the child will be surrendered to an orphanage. There is an ever increasing need for families willing to adopt a physically  handicapped child from Haiti, in addition to the full-bodied children who need homes too.

 (this little sweetheart is not in an orphanage, nor up for adoption, but is a good representation of what sort of injuries you will find in Haiti.) 

 (a common looking "tent city" community where 1 million homeless and displaced Haitians are living. can you imagine raising your family, let alone a handicapped child, in these conditions?)

I cannot give advice on how to adopt from Haiti. I will recommend using Wasatch International Adoptions. This is the organization we worked with to help get children sent to their waiting adopted families in Utah. I trust them to be honest and work quickly to help adoptive parents.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Things I Can't Wait to Tell You About Haiti

I'm back from the big trip to Haiti. There are so many things to tell you and to share, and honestly it is hard to know where to start. There are so many stories, experiences, feelings, people, places, and more to tell you. So I'll start first with telling you the things I can't wait to tell you about. Rather than the usual travelogue diary, I will break things down into subjects, and not day by day activities.Today's subject- service.

It is an incredible experience to be able to spend every day in the service of the most humble of people. The days were not about me. They were about helping our serve Haiti. (My role primarily being a support role to the camp and organizers.) We served. I can honestly say no one complained. Sure there were little comments made here and there about how much we all came to hate MRE's, (seriously, the egg omelet MRE is of the devil), how much we missed showering, and oh my stars and garters, the state of the latrines. We jokingly made comments about the trivial things. But no one, not once, ever complained.

Sidenote: At this moment in time I am sitting outside, on the tarmac, at Port au Prince airport. We have no idea how many hours we might be sitting here. We're tired. We're sweaty. We're hungry. And we're all anxious to be getting home. But no one is complaining. That being said, I'm eating a beans with potato MRE, and I think the inventor of this particular flavor may be trying to kill off the US Army one by one. As gross as it is, I am still always acutely aware of how much more I have than the average Haitian family. My food may be an MRE, but at least I have food. And I won't have to stand in a line for hours tomorrow to get a bag of rice from USAID.

Back to service-
We served in many capacities. We truly arrived in country not knowing what to expect. Our people were construction people, medical people, and translators. Our translators were all former missionaries for our church in Creole speaking missions (primarily Haiti, but also in Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Bahamas, and Boston). We had approximately 40 translators, which, for the record, is way more than the Red Cross and the Army has. We brought surgeons, physical therapists, nurses, medics, and EMTs. And our talented construction crew was skilled in a dozen different ways.

When we arrived in country we identified the different existing clinics and hospitals where volunteers were serving. Our medical personnel were assigned to go work at the different locations. One of our nurses became a key director in one hospital, and one of our doctors was a crucial member at another hospital.
No matter where we went we all wore our navy blue t-shirts that read “Utah Hospital Task Force” across them. Our shirts were known and recognized all around Port au Prince. I doubt we all truly realized how many barriers we crossed, or how easy things were for us at times because of our shirts and hats. We also all wore red, white, or blue hats identifying our organization, and which team we were on (white= translators, blue= construction or other, red= medical).

Some days we were not at hospitals, instead we would go to specific locations, often identified by the US Army (more on them later) that needed help. We would go set up tents and tarps, provide our own medical supplies (donated by you!), and provide medical help. One of the most profound days for me was at a place we called Refugee Tent City.

Everything in Port au Prince is a tent city these days. This particular camp was no exception. There were approximately 3,000 people living in “tents” (often not actually tents, but actually sheets and tarps strung up with string and sticks) at a high school. The 82nd Army Airborne drove us there. We were escorted in with security. What I saw when we entered will likely never leave my mind. Hundreds of people standing in a huge long line, squished as close together as possible, in 95 degree heat and high humidity, just waiting for us. It was humbling. And in a strange way, overwhelming.

We set up tarps for shade (thanks awesome construction team), and put tables under them. We set up a triage area, a waiting area, and a treatment area. All around us were our own security detail we brought (also awesome guys), the 82nd Airborne, and believe it or not the equivalent of the Haiti Boy and Girl Scouts. They served as our protection throughout the day.

We saw over 300 patients that day. It was incredible. It was hot and it was not easy. We saw all sorts of patients. We worked our tails off and melted in the heat. But let me repeat. Not one person complained.

It is my fear that our awesome construction team will get overlooked in all of the acts of service. I'd like to go on the record as saying that it was my privilege to be assigned to their service for a total of 6 days in country. They are my friends and my brothers and at many times my protectors on this trip. It wouldn't have been the same without them.

These fine men were assigned into different types of service. Many of them went out and visited the homes of LDS Church members to check on their houses to see if they were stable and safe. Sometimes their jobs were to set up tents and tables for the medical crew. And then there was my crew, who worked their butts off to build a temporary shelter for an orphanage in need.

I have written about them before. But I want to say it again. My construction crew boys worked out in the searing hot sun, and high humidity, using less than perfect tools at times, to build an outdoor kitchen, a latrine (10 feet deep!), picnic tables, and a swing set. And I will say it again. Not once did they complain or say they wish they weren't there. I watched those guys sweat in the heat, get sunburned, and work until they could barely move. They didn't get paid. In fact, many of them put their own money into the project. They all left their tools behind. And they did it all for little children they have never seen, and will probably never see. I have never been more impressed with a group of volunteers.

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