Destruction in God’s Country

Tuesday, October 4, 2016: The New York Times.

“Hurricane Matthew assaulted Haiti’s southern coast with deadly fury today, destroying homes and crops, sweeping away livestock, and cutting off transportation as a large part of the Caribbean was pummeled by the storm’s 145-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain.”

One of the first newspaper articles attempted to paint Americans a picture of the horror Hurricane Matthew left in the southern peninsula of Haiti. These words don’t even come close. I would know, I saw it. The amalgamation of wind and rain destroyed homes, crops, and families. Plantain and banana trees cocked at odd angles like a broken leg, snapped in two. Power lines lay exposed on the concrete, engulfed by puddles of water. The oceanfront continually creeping its way closer and closer to the community, mocking the mud brick homes and causing hillside communities to vanish – mudslides, rock falls, destruction. Once stabilized homes now lean-tos, as if the Almighty God’s toenail grazed it into the new positions. Pools of malaria-infested seawater cultivate mosquitos the size of sunflower seeds, desiring the blood of innocent victims. Palm leaves, mangoes, trash, and dirty laundry litter the streets, yards, rivers. Remnants of generational memories litter villages. The muted yellows and greens and lilacs of a baby’s patched quilt, its mother holding it in her arms in order to protect it from whatever else is to come. The befuddled braying of donkeys, clucking of roosters, barking of dogs, all unhomed and lost. The people left with the product of nothing times nothing. An even greater nothing.

Death comes like a thief in the night. You never know when. You never know why. You simply never know…until it’s too late. The ocean dragging you out to sea. Your mango tree crashing through your roof, crushing you in your own home. Your food running out.

I watched the death count rise: first 40, then 216, then 842, to over 2,000. Ninety-seven dead in Chantal. Ninety dead in Ducis. One thousand dead in Baie du Mesle. Over two thousand people, not warned by their government. An entire nation unaware of the severity of the mighty storm. In my mind, these numbers were adult men and women. It wasn’t until I was told a story that I realized my naïve error. I was in a riverside village. Houses crumbled. Trees uprooted. Families unhomed. The river’s banks had receded in the fourteen days since the storm. A Haitian man pointed to a flat surface and told us there had once been a school. This school by the shore educated many children from preschool up through college. One day, following Hurricane Matthew, the waters from up north rushed the river; it flooded, and washed the school away. That was when I realized the horrifying truth: Hurricane Matthew also claimed the lives of children.

Starvation is not accurately portrayed on TV, the weak people with ribcages visible, lying on the ground with helpless eyes. I have looked starvation in the face. My team was in a church, passing out bags of food to feed a family for about a week: rice, beans, mackerel, spaghetti noodles, oil. The wind stole the mud-and-stick church’s roof; the storm water had melted its walls. Angry Haitian women began to swarm the team of Blancs. Their names not called, their families depending on them. They needed the black sack of food, and they would stop at nothing until they held one in their scarred hands. I learned that hunger pains control the rash decisions of desperation. Simon men blocking United Nation semi-trucks, carrying rice and beans with a coconut tree log. The hungry mob slashed a front tire, beat the driver with fists, and forcefully broke the lock with a hammer. The door opened. Rash decisions controlled by hunger pains, but they worry no longer; their families will be fed tonight.

1.5 million Haitian people remain in grave danger. The food will run out. The funds will stop coming. The cholera will run rampant. Death is knocking.

My nostrils burned from smells of scorched trash and flesh. We passed too many funeral processions. The wooden curvatures of snake-like coconut trees hindered the “funeral coaches,” junkyard beaters. Haitian families trail after an ancient car carrying a coffin big enough for a small child–somebody’s son, sister, nephew, friend. Smiles that once illustrated happiness and joy spoiled by empty eyes, broken spirits, hurting souls. Haitian death is colorful. My senses stimulated by the whites and teals and pinks of prom dresses and wedding gowns worn. The turquoises, blues, and corals of mausoleums. Even in death, the Haitian culture is a vibrant one. Even Haitian death is boisterous. Families mourned the loss of loved ones the only way they know how: noise. The music of a big brass band played as men and women alike wailed and danced, letting the emphatic neighborhood and the voodoo gods know of their suffering. Men dressed in tuxes, women in pristinely white dresses, churches decorated for a wedding. But it is not the uniting of a man and woman; it’s the introduction to a person’s savior. The trunks of palm trees crushed ancient tombstones; however, they are not destroyed. Men dug holes for the bases of mausoleums: the homes for their dead more stable than those for their living. If only the people poured cement as strong for their houses…maybe there would have been more lives saved.

I have never attended a Haitian funeral, and I cannot say that I would want to if given a chance. The grieving process from death to funeral lasts about a week, which perfectly parallels the reason that I saw so many funerals upon my arrival, eight days after Hurricane Matthew struck. Instead of being cared for by their community members in their time of need, Haitian culture expects the family to tend to the wants of visitors. Depending on the religion of the family, Haitian rituals can include intense and highly dramatic interruptions: disrupting the casket, emotional wailing and screaming, the production of voodoo curses, ensuring the individual’s spiritual destination. Enough pain to cause even a Christian man to revert to his voodoo culture. To an outsider, unaware of the cultural traditions, this could quite possibly be one of the most horrific events to witness.

I have been asked the question, “How was your trip?” several times, and I don’t think people understand the harshness of the question. This trip was not normal. The sole reason was not going to Haiti to spread the love and joy and hope of Christ. I went on a relief team. Our mission was to help the dying, to feed the hungry, to be the Gospel in motion. My heart hurts. It hurts because of the destruction I witnessed. It hurts because so many families are now broken. But it hurts because America has seemingly forgotten about Haiti.

I have been home for nearly a month now, and I am nowhere close to understanding everything I saw. I can’t see Haitian death like the daughter of a funeral director. I can’t process as a white American. I do not understand why another natural disaster obliterated Haiti. I have never had my house destroyed. I have never ridden out a hurricane. My cultural background forces me to be an outsider, someone who can only sympathize. I know what it is like to lose someone suddenly. I know how painful grief is. And so, with the knowledge and resources I have, I can stand by the Haitian people. Cry with them. Rejoice with them. Mourn with them. Help them through what is yet to come.

Together, we can begin to rebuild.

14925764_1800077566948237_6929488230285166703_nA collapsed mudbrick and straw home. 14925480_1800079060281421_4894375856527115668_nA concrete home still standing but without its roof.14925313_1800077530281574_7996845618119578420_nDebris-stricken and water-filled streets of Ducis, Haiti.14611042_1800078686948125_3140284556141249872_nA roofless church at the hospital land.14910526_1800080060281321_1063506586545454042_n

Where my heart remains.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. {John 16:20}

 

 

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