(NOTE: What came out of this blogpost is not what I intended when I sat down to write it. Nevertheless, writing this has been important for me. It's the first time I've put down into writing some of the things I experienced and felt on and after January 12th. It is not intended to be sensational, but rather a way for me to process my experience and to share it with people that love me.).
Cheese whiz and chicken nuggets. These are two of the things I've eaten since January 12th that should indicate to you what my life has been like for the past month. Where do you even get cheese whiz in Haiti?! I didn't think twice before devouring these not-food products. My sister's response? "At least you are taking the time to eat."
The cheese whiz. The earthquake was on Tuesday. On Wednesday night, we were taking friends to the embassy to evacuate. Ben and Matt found them at the hospital in Canape Vert, hours after we discovered that their 5-story apartment bulding had collapsed, and we assumed that they were dead. Until then, sometime late Tuesday night, I was emotionally atuned to the horror around me - fear watching Ben climb into crumbling houses to help people out, tears as I hugged a woman who lost her children, tears when I pronounced a young man's wife and baby dead, urgency as we dug people out of rubble with our bare hands. I had to suppress the urge to vomit so many times - crushed limbs, crushed bodies. I had put a pair of medical gloves on, but they were useless almost immediately. We were choking on cement dust and our hands were raw. We cursed and cried and prayed while around us, it seemed like the entire city was screaming. Our phones didn't work and at some point, we decided we needed to check on the rest of our MCC team. We drove down to Canape Vert on the motorcycle. It's impossible to describe that drive. It felt like we were in an end-of-the-world horror movie. Place Canape Vert was a sea of scared and wounded people. When we turned the corner and saw Joel and Rachel's building reduced to a pile of rubble, I went numb. I sat on a concrete block in the middle of the street while Ben took a MINUSTAH soldier from Benin - legs crushed - to the hospital. Eventually we made our way to Matt and Esther's. I stayed there and spent a lot of time hugging Gabriela until Ben and I finally went home at 4:00 AM and slept for about 2 hours.
I don't even remember what we did during the day on Wednesday, except that we were carrying around backpacks packed with our passports, first aid supplies, cash, snack food and clean underwear. It's amazing what becomes important when you think you'll lose everything. There were still consistant and large enough aftershocks that we were pretty sure our house wouldn't be standing when we returned to it. If we could have put Luna in a backpack, we would have. We learned that the US and EU were evacuating citizens. We heard rumors of another earthquake, rumors of a tsunami, rumors of looting and impending violence.... If it hadn't been for Ben, his strength and calm, I probably would have gotten on that flight. I barely slept those first nights, afraid of tremors, afraid of thieves and unable to get images of Tuesday night out of my mind.
The chicken nuggets. The earthquake was on Tuesday. By Saturday, I was working non-stop at the UN logistics base (and once in awhile, eating in the cafeteria there). If I'm completely honest with myself, it was a relief to be able to do something to help without having to face the people that actually need help, the smell of death, the mass graves, the growing camps of displaced peoples, the rubble of this city that I love. There were between 6 and 15 people sleeping on our driveway every night and so it felt safe to sleep. We had no idea when and where we would be able to buy food and water in the city again and I was irrationally worried about our supply of cat food. Matt and Esther left - they were leaving in February anyway - and saying goodbye to Gabriela was one of the most emotional moments I've had all month. We started having team meetings, started distributing rice, corn and beans purchased from the Artibonite Valley.
We've moved on from cheese whiz and chicken nuggets. A couple nights ago, we made turnip, sweet potato and carrot soup. Last night, Sharon made hummus. Our favorite sandwich shop, Epi Dor, has reopened and we're eating big lunches at the MCC guesthouse during the day. Much to our suprise, yesterday the electricity came on. We were able to pump water and take real showers. Sporadic as it was before the earthquake, we were prepared to spend the rest of our time in Haiti without overhead lights. So, watch out for dangling power lines if you're in Haiti - they're live now! Damaged buildings are being demolished and the rubble is being cleaned up. The government has designated semi-permanent areas for internally displaced people. There is rebuilding. We are working harder than ever.
And, we are looking forward to whole wheat waffles and eggplant lasagna, along with hugs from our families next week. Tuesday a month will have passed since the earthquake and Tuesday we fly home for two weeks to rest, think and plan. We're confused about a lot of things right now. We're confused about much of the international community's response to the earthquake. We're unsure of what exactly our jobs will look like for the next year and 1/2. We love Haiti and we have a home and a community and a cat, but the reality is that our lives here - as well as the lives of the almost 4 million Haitians affected by the earthquake - will never be the same.