Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mixed Feelings

It has been wonderful to see our families, relaxing to have two weeks of (almost) no work, restful to spend lots of time sleeping, therapeutic to talk about our experience with family and with a therapist. It’s also been frustrating to be in the States for the reasons that being here always frustrate me combined with post traumatic stress and a whole host of complex post-earthquake feelings that I’m in the process of sorting out.

I’ve been afraid to be alone since the earthquake. Ben and I both startle easily these days and continue to feel the earth shake, even here in North Carolina. We’re grieving and I find that I can finally cry from time to time, which feels really really good. When I think about what happened though, I mostly get angry. Some of this is anger at myself for things I did and didn’t do after the earthquake, though most of it is anger at God and anger at the pre- and post- e.q. injustices that I'm constantly faced with in Haiti. We also both feel guilty (and have learned in our therapy that this is called “survivor’s guilt”) – guilty that we’re alive when so many others were killed, that our house is standing when so many others aren’t, for how little we lost, and that we were able to leave for two weeks to recuperate simply because we are not materially poor Haitians. More injustice.

Many people have asked if we’re ready to go back to Haiti on Wednesday. The answer is yes. In Haiti we don’t need to try to explain what we’re going through. Everyone around us in Haiti was there and gets it. Having had this experience has bonded us to Haiti (not to mention to our friends, neighbors and colleagues there) in a new way. For the time being, there’s nowhere else I want to be. And in spite of the earthquake, I miss what has been my home for a year and a half. I miss my cat. I miss being in my own space.

I think I also need to be in Haiti to see what I can only hope will be the redemption of all of the loss, destruction and suffering caused by the earthquake. I hope that being back in Haiti I will see and experience continued healing, both for myself and for Port-Au-Prince.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fault Lines

Ben and I were extremely impressed by this video that touches on the structural issues that made Haiti so vulnerable to the earthquake. It also presents a life-giving and sustainable alternative to the model of aid that has oppressed Haiti for many years. I've had the privilege of working on advocacy issues with PAPDA (one of the featured organizations) and can attest to their beautiful vision for social and economic justice in Haiti.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Today, 30 days after the earthquake, was a national day of mourning in Port Au Prince. Crowds gathered to mourn, pray and sing. More than 200,000 people have died. It's insane for me to remember the moment 30 days ago when most of those people lost their lives. And it's even more troubling to think about those that died under the rubble in the days that followed. It seems like way too much grief for one country to have to handle. Even as we see people going about their daily lives, I wonder how it is they can move forward. I met one woman last week that had lost four of her five children and she seemed numb, another guy who had lost his pregnant wife and had been drunk for days.

At the same time, we've lost so little and yet are also finding it difficult to move forward. Today we flew from Pennsylvania to Charlotte. It was strange to be among people on business trips, vacation, traveling to visit family... since our own lives have been totally consumed by what happened in Haiti on January 12th. Being out of Haiti has intensified our grief in a way that we didn't expect.

This evening we were sent a copy of the following corporate prayer, held at the MCC office in Akron today in honor of Haiti's day of mourning:

At 4:53 pm a month ago, a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti. We gather together today to remember the lives lost and those forever changed by this event. During the times of silence we will have bells ringing to remember the 200,000 lives lost and the millions homeless and or injured. Let us pray.

We mourn the death and destruction in Haiti, And we pray for each person who died and the life left behind;


We pray for the living - the survivors.
Be with them, Lord, in this traumatic time.
May they experience Your healing,
In their spirits as well as their bodies.


We are so thankful for the way individuals and communities affected have come together in solidarity. We are awed by the resilience of the Haitian people. We are grateful too for the world community as they have responded to this crisis as they offer aid and comfort.

Gracious God, we pray that the depth of despair felt by the people of Haiti will be buoyed by the many who care. We pray that as we walk along side that we can be your hands and feet to minister to all those in need, as life builds up from the ruins.


Grant us the strength to do what is needed, the wisdom to do it with care, and the endurance to do it well.

Bless the MCC staff in Haiti and the myriad of volunteers going and coming - we pray for travel mercies and safety as they work along side Haitians and others from the world community.

God in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Debt and Haiti

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” –Matthew 6:12

“It must be right that a nation buried in rubble must not also be buried in debt.” - Gordon Brown, UK prime minister


Haiti, once known as the Pearl of the Antilles, has long been one of many nations bound by enormous debts owed to other countries or international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Debt winds its way through the nation's history. A former French colony, Haiti was founded in 1804 after a slave rebellion. After gaining its freedom, it was ordered to pay France 150 million gold francs (the equivalent of $21 billion) as retribution for the destruction of colonial plantations. Haiti did not finish paying off this debt until 1947.

As of last year, nearly half of the country's $1.4 billion debt was accrued from 1957 to 1986 under the Duvalier family dictatorships. These funds were used to finance the Duvaliers' lavish lifestyle and support their brutal, 29-year rule. Yet the Haitian people continued to pay interest on those loans — money that could have been spent on health care or education in a country that only spends approximately $5 per capita on education.

In June 2009, the World Bank, IMF and countries including the UK and Canada forgave $1.2 billion of Haiti’s external debt. This action was celebrated by Haitians and human rights organizations worldwide.

  • January 11th: Haiti’s outstanding debt still totals $890 million.(1) This breaks down to approximately $100 per Haitian citizen.
  • January 12th: Haiti is hit by a devastating earthquake that displaces some 500,000 people and affects an estimated total of almost 4 million people.
  • January 14th: the IMF gives Haiti a $100m loan for emergency assistance. The IMF has since pledged to turn this loan into a grant.
  • February 5th: US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner indicates that the US will seek to “reach an agreement” for the funds Haiti owes to the multilateral donors, which include the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Association.(2)
  • February 7th: the rest of the countries of the G7 group - Canada, the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – pledge to forgive the debt owed to them by Haiti.
Jubilee South, of which many Haitian human rights and faith-based organizations are members, released the following statement after the January 12th earthquake:

“We call on governments and international organizations to immediately and unconditionally cancel the external debt claimed of Haiti, the servicing of which affects millions of lives. We also demand that the resources allocated for relief and reconstruction do not create new debt, or conditionalities that are imposed or any other form of external imposition which vitiates this goal... We also reject the intervention of private multinational companies who seek to take advantage of this tragedy to reap multibillion dollar profits in the reconstruction of Haiti… or to exploit cheap labor and continue to plunder the country’s natural resources.”

  • Commend your government for their decision to cancel Haiti's external debt and request that they follow through by encouraging the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Development Association to do the same.This will allow Haiti to stop paying interest on odious debts and free much-needed resources for the country to rebuild itself in the aftermath of the January 12th earthquake.
  • Call on your government to honor its commitment to provide any further assistance to Haiti in the form of grants, not loans.
  • Pray for wisdom in the halls of power as policy-makers determine how to continue responding to Haiti’s needs for financial assistance.
  • Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
  • Find out at at who your elected government officials are. Write them a letter, email or postcard to share your views.
  • Contribute to and join organizations that support debt cancellation for Haiti.
  • Use this information sheet to explain the situation to family, friends or your church community and encourage them to use their voices to get Haiti’s debt canceled.

Jubilee USA Network :
“Joining hands to break the chains of debt”

Jubilee South Network :
“Shifting the balance of power to achieve basic social changes in our countries and in the global system”

Oxfam International :
“Act now: Now more than ever, Haiti needs to have its debt canceled”

For more information, contact

(1). Wynn, Rebecca. “Cancel Haiti’s Debt and Ensure Poor Areas Don’t Miss out on Reconstruction.” Oxfam International.

(2). “G7 Nations Pledge Debt Relief for Haiti.” BBC News. February 7, 2010.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PaP to PA

1.Sisters Dalanda and Alanda with their grandmother Letilia in a shelter made of bedsheets.
2.The dark, windowless waiting room that we shared with a group of 15 Taiwanese volunteers for 2 hours on our way out of Port-Au-Prince.
3.Catching the Tortug' Air flight to Santo Domingo (which makes the flight arrangements sound much easier than they actually were. Here's hoping that commercial airlines are flying into Port again before the 24th!).
4.Akron PA where we are being soothed by watching the snow fall, meeting the MCC staff that have been tirelessly supporting us in Haiti for the past month and starting to let our minds rest.
5.(Not pictured) I slip on ice, break camera lens and spill my coffee (imagine expletives here).

Sunday, February 7, 2010


You are what you eat

(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.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Clean Water, sweet

Medjina Morise drinks a cup of water from a filter given by MCC to provide her Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp with drinking water. Morise is living with her family and 60 other people who are taking refuge in a half-built church that survived the earthquake in Petionville.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Time of Mourning

Most of us here haven't had time to mourn since the earthquake. We've been too busy trying to deal with the effects of the earthquake and most Haitians have been too busy surviving. I came across this poem yesterday as I was writing reflection questions for the volunteer engineers and nurses that MCC is hosting right now. Reading it forced me to pause, reflect on everything that's been lost and make a little bit of space to mourn.

A moment of silence please,

A time of reflection on

The casual destruction

And near immolation

Of much that we love.

Whenever the reason please,

Cease from absconding with

The mutual horror

And engorging on murder

Of much that we love.

I planted a tree please,

And watered the roots for

Many long months

Hoping for mangos

The kind that I love

It was gone in a moment please,

Flattened by debris from

Nearby explosions.

It died in the earthquake

Like much that we love.

So a moment of silence please,

A time of reflection on

The abs/presence of Deity

And responsibility

For much that we love.

- Will Fitzgerald


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