Monday, November 15, 2010

Haiti, Part 2

When we last left our intrepid hero, he was pondering the magnitude of an overnight shift with incredible responsibility and, as a result, an incredible growth experience. Going from an M2 entrusted to occasionally take a history and physical while precepting to that, well, it's not an experience I'll soon forget. So we made it back to the mission in time for breakfast on Thursday morning, the several hours of overnight rain now reflecting the morning sun in the puddled streets. With pancakes on the table and the other crews around, we got to catch up a little on the goings on at the mission night shift. I wasn't the only person in the midst of a transformative experience. Without waxing saccharine on the nature of service in a place like Haiti, I will at least note that Newton's third law applies.

Rachel and I both had flights back to the States on Friday and due to the inexact (or: wildly unreliable) nature of Tortug Air, the intraisland carrier, we had planned on returning to PAP on Thursday. Before arriving in St. Louis du Nord, I would have been perfectly happy to come back a day before our flights. Rachel did take a flight back on Thursday, along with LP and a few others from the various teams, as she wanted to spend one more day at the TB clinic before returning to the States. Since I had no such appointment and with the rest of MMRC set to fly Friday morning, I stayed. Thursday morning got interesting quickly as I learned that two more bodies lay waiting for decontamination and preparation for last rites and their families. MMRC's Haitian jack-of-all-trades Billy, Wilson, a Medical Teams International volunteer from PAP, and I headed off to care for the bodies prior to the arrival of the pastor. Overcoming the initial shock of dealing with bodies brought peace to the task. There's nobility in allowing a family to pray and pay their last respects and I found that I was able to treat an otherwise dark task with a sense of duty. While we weren't dealing with anything like what BP and LP saw post-earthquake, it's still an important hurdle to clear for a kid that used to get nauseous during tense movies (circa Apollo 13 in theatres).

Continuing the theme of the week, I stayed awake through the middle of the afternoon, this time to give Les a hand with logistics while he attended to business elsewhere. The mission clinic running smoothly and medical supplies sorted, I had the chance to spend some time with a few of the crew not currently on shift. I've mentioned that the teams at the mission were composed entirely of bright and übercapable people. For anyone convinced that they are bordering on misanthropy, I dare you to spend time in a situation like that with that group of people and uphold your belief. There are people who do the occasional begrudging community service to improve their resumé and then there are the good people from MTI, Open Hands, Grass Roots, NWHCM, and MMRC: instant restoration of faith in humanity. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you have money lying around for donation to charity, I'd recommend sending it the way of Paul Sebring and Paul Waggoner. I was perhaps the worst elementary school salesman of chocolates and Entertainment Books in the history of Hutton Elementary; I have a hard time pushing people toward something I don't believe in. I believe in MMRC and can honestly guarantee that every cent they receive will be both needed and put entirely toward funding exactly this sort of work. This is about the only time you'll hear me advocate in this way. Go here to donate.

Some scant late afternoon sleep brought me to dinner, after which the remaining MMRC crew readied for our evening shift and morning flight. Also, Liz and I shaved BP's head down to a mohawk. That is the face of extreme humanitarianism. Since another group showed up with able bodies on Thursday, our Friday night shift mostly consisted of orienting and then turning over care. That freed us up to get a few hours of sleep before our UN chopper Friday morning back to Port-au-Prince. Correct. We got a lift from the UN. Waiting for the chopper at a soccer field meant drawing a crowd of locals, including a gaggle of kids. We played games with them, gave out hugs and emails, and laughed while Bridget arm-wrestled her newest boyfriend. There had better be a picture of that somewhere. There's nothing quite like the experience of climbing into a helicopter piloted by three Russian guys who don't speak a word of English. We unloaded the supplies they brought for St. Louis du Nord and then, through a series of gestures and grunts and spasibas (about the only word any of us knew in Russian), we hopped in and enjoyed a gorgeous ride back to PAP. Our exhausted team spent the flight taking pictures and giggling like children until touch down, where Junior met us outside of the UN base with a tap tap and we jostled our way back to the MMRC compound. Pondering the effects of a severe cholera outbreak in PAP as we swerved through packed streets, it was (and is) disheartening to realize how much coordinated effort it took to treat a small area like Port de Paix and what that means for Port-au-Prince.

A quick turn around at the compound to shower, pack, and grab Rachel left just enough time to say goodbyes before we headed back to to the airport. I can't remember a time when I've been so attached to people after just a week. Rachel and I had the same flight back to Miami and used the time to debrief and catch up as we so rarely see each other these days. She asked how I felt about the last week. My dad and I have an expression for all the times we've been stuck in driving rain on bike trips and the like, which is that we've just had "another great father/son experience." The implication is that as miserable as the situation might be in the present, we'll have a story to tell and something to look back upon and laugh. This wasn't such a situation. With the experience I had, the people I met and worked alongside, and the journey itself, I've just had the most incredible transformative week of my life. Thank you Rachel for continuing to prod me to make the trip even when we weren't sure what I'd be doing. Thank you to MTI, Grass Roots, Open Hands, and the Northwest Christian Haiti Mission for your collective diligence, enthusiasm, and drive. Finally, a special thanks to Big Paul, Little Paul, and the rest of the MMRC gang. You are all incredible. I'm hooked and I'll be back as soon as possible. In the mean time, keep bleaching your water supply and stay safe.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm in the process of looking into cutting short my trip home over winter break in order to return to PAP. Forgive me Mom and Dad, but Spokane doesn't need two weeks of me. However, LP had better punt Walter's rooster over the fence before that time so I can get sleep. Also, sorry for stealing a few pictures from MMRC people. At some point we'll have an album up for viewing.


  1. Sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing the story.

  2. Hurray for a great brother and sister experience!