I think we were all running on adrenaline for the first part of the week, but none of us knew we were. It was that mix of wondering and watching to see what was going on, going online when we could and trying to get info when we could. The hard part was that there was very little. No one really seemed to know what was going on. Best guesses about Hanna’s destination were repeatedly wrong. It was all just so unpredictable. The guys went out on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings to see how bad things were, but I was stuck at home and just heard second hand. I didn’t realize what that was doing to my stress level. It just left me feeling unsettled and out of control.
When word of the bridge problems came on Wednesday evening the stress level heightened for all of us. You don’t realize how it can feel to be cut off from things until you either are or are very close to being so. Personal stuff aside I kept thinking about what it would mean on a bigger scale. Crops had already been damaged, and they were already having difficulty transporting much needed supplies to the Gonaives area. That bridge is the only access from Port to our area. It would cut off hundreds of thousands of people that were already living in a state of destruction from food and other things like fuel. People would get more desperate. Desperation makes people do crazy things. I was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. It’s hard to describe.
On Thursday morning I had to go out to do an errand in Pierre Payen. It was my first time off the mission property in 5 days. I drove slowly so I could see as much as possible. There was very little traffic since vehicles couldn’t move over the bridge. People were using the road as a sidewalk essentially. As I parked the truck I saw a man walk by with plastic bags tied over his shoes. Practical. I went to do my errand. I was broadsided with just how much people were picking up and moving on. Like they’d had a little rain, not been swept by a major tropical storm that dumped over a foot of rain in most places in our area.
I was hit with the contrast of what was going on in the US at that very moment. People were being evacuated from areas that may get hit by Hanna. People were bolting down and preparing. Those in New Orleans were returning knowing that it would be weeks before life was even close to normal. In Haiti people were hanging things out to dry and going around with business as usual, as much as they could. All morning as we were trying to find news articles I was struck with what I found. The articles that I did find would mention a paragraph or two about what was happening here, but then went on for the rest of the article to talk about how it was going to affect the US, what preparations were being made etc. It was a feeling of being unimportant and forgotten, yet looking around and seeing people’s lives in shambles, and those people being willing to just move on. I found myself on the verge of tears because of the resilience that I saw here, but it saddened me deeply that people here have learned to accept this as part of their normal. I know that if it was something happening in North America it would take months to recover from the magnitude of what was going on around us. It wasn’t just one city, it’s an entire country.
I came home and my own levy broke and I couldn’t stop the tears. All of the emotions that I had pushed down over the previous days – fear, anxiety, curiosity, uncertainty, helplessness – all washed over me and I just cried. It was a few minutes, but it was enough to give me room to breathe again. I went from feeling all jittery and anxious to being able to think and move again. It was such a strange feeling. The sun was out, the sea was calm, I did laundry, the guys went back to work. Along with everyone else around us we were trying to get back to “normal” and go about our day. That reality kept bouncing back and forth with everything I had seen over the past few days.
Later Thursday afternoon I went with my friend Elsie to go see the bridge in Montrouis just so I could see for myself and essentially get an update so we would be able to better gauge things here and make plans for how we were going to go about our daily stuff for the next couple of weeks.
When we got to the bridge I was surprised by the amount of order that I saw. There were a lot of people standing around and watching everything going on – a very normal thing for people to do here. Busses and tap taps were driving to the bridge on our side, turning around, parking and unloading their passengers and cargo, then reloading with the people and things that walked across the bridge, and continuing on down the road. Men with wheel barrows were loading up cargo on one side and walking it across the bridge to waiting trucks, busses and tap taps on the other side. People just walked over and went about their day. I was happy to see this because it meant that the things that were needed were still getting where they needed to go, it was just a bit slower. I was impressed with the ability to degaje (make it work).
The bridge itself had been surveyed for damage and spray painted marks were made where it needed repair. There was a backhoe in the water scooping up the river bed near the outsides of the river and piling it in the middle to divert the water around the middle support that had sunk. I was happy to see that there was something happening. Normally things like this would take months to fix just because of the speed of how things work here. Thankfully the UN are on high alert and the Dominican road crew that’s doing the repairs on the highway have been working in our area for the last few weeks. All of the machines and equipment they need are already here and they didn’t waste any time getting to work.
As Elsie and I stood there I was acutely aware of the fact that we were the only white people amongst the hundreds that were standing at vantage points along the banks. At one point I took a picture and the man next to me told me that I needed to give him money for taking the picture. I laughed at him and told him that I didn’t need to give him anything. Another man standing near me started talking to me in English and it turned out that he had seen me at one of the local resorts with friends. When I responded to him in Creole he happily said, “Oh! Ou se yon blan Ayatian!” Oh! You’re a white Haitian! I smiled and appreciated his comment because so often people are telling us we don’t belong. In the midst of everything around us I stood out, but one person made me feel like I was just like everyone else – standing there trying to get a sense of what was going on, a compass point, so I could figure out how to move through the coming days.
Yesterday we got invited to go visit friends in Montrouis for the evening. We all agreed that we needed the diversion. We parked the truck on one side, crossed like everyone else, and our friend met us on the other side. We had such a good evening. We swam in their pool, had “tea” and spent the rest of the night playing cards. It felt normal. It was fun. It was relaxing. We were all letting out a breath.
That said, there’s an underlying feeling of uncertainty hovering around as word passes about IKE. After the last week no one really knows what to expect. If it goes by and leaves us with rain it’ll mean more problems in the ravaged north. This morning we looked online and saw that it had moved a bit south – not good. We’re talking and thinking about how to prepare. I feel like we’re just waiting. It’s subtly stressful.
Please be praying for the people of Haiti. Pray for those that are trying to get much needed supplies and help to the Gonaives area. Until the bridge in Montrouis is fixed they are reliant on water transport of everything that they need to get to that area. People are still stranded and the aide workers in that area are going to be getting tired and frustrated, not to mentioned worried about the coming days.