Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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.


  1. I'll scrap with you for Neil. Bring it on sister!!

  2. Anonymous10:14 PM

    I would like to volunteer myself for being set up with your new best boys. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make!

    On a serious note, I am in awe of what you were able to do. I'm sure there is a lifetime of memories and good changes in store for you because of your service! You rock!

  3. If you two are going to scrap over Neil, I'll happily take Dr. Corey. Hello dimples!

    I am loving all these stories! What an incredible experience. Thank you for sharing!


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