A half-deflated soccerball is just about as precious as food. Boys are still boys and a game of soccer in a corner of tent city is almost a relief to watch. That something normal remains.As we drive past the airport and past the enormous UN presence, it's easy to understand why the people have such animosity towards them, the great towering fences and serious faces. Through the market area, amidst garbage piles and mud there are clothes, shoes and produce for sale, sometimes it's hard to tell where the garbage pile and the market line cross over. Driving past a building with a second storey pane of glass hanging by a corner over a busy street below, I think it's just like a raindrop at the end of a leaf. Hard to catch and hard to know when it will fall. In the ominous heat that signals the rain will arrive at some point today, the smell of decay and dust sits all the way back in my throat. The people grim-faced as we pass them in the markets. We drive through another massive tent city, raised up on about 4 feet of rubble. The limestone and cinderblock is broken into pieces, everything looks white and the tents are orderly and almost beautiful in the monochrome for a moment. Marcio is driving and explains that tent city sits on top of the mass gravesite. They buried more than 150,000 bodies in that grave, piling the rubble of their houses on top of them. Life continues on, one life on top of another. But the cars don't honk, the tent city is quiet and the people are somber beside the grave site. Approaching Marassa, my heart is in my throat, anxious to see what my friends saw, nervous in case it's worse than when they were here before. Initially what I see are rows of tents in orderly fashion. Beyond that I see more sticks and sheets. A school is being built between the two Marassa Camps which is hopeful because it will provide some education for the children, but full of despair because the permanency of the situation becomes clear. As we walk down the hill into the first city, Beethoven comes swooping past, taking Seth's hand and then climbing up into his arms. Beethoven was happy to sit with us for the entire time we were there some four hours. He's about 5 years old, with quiet and intense eyes. The committee leader explained, as he fell asleep on Seth's lap, he was falling asleep because he hadn't eaten anything. There is no food. And while his embrace and trust of Seth and us is sweet and endearing – the truth is it points to attachment issues and in likelihood some development issues. This is heartbreaking. Marassa #14 feels permanent and organized, reassuring that there is so much motivation despite the lack of food. But the internal politics become obvious between the two camps. So much work to be done here, in terms of relationship and development. Marassa #9 is chaotic, despairing, much worse off than Marassa #14. They don't have tents or the same organization to the village setup, the committee of leaders seems separatist from the rest of the people. The people themselves are aggressive, far less welcoming and expressive. The tents are much worse off – they are still stick construction with tarps where possible. The NGOs have the best of intentions but we saw one arrive with a medical supply handout, but apparently they are not working with the community leaders, the committee. The people were full of anxiety and mistrust. There were people almost to the point of riot, with lots of angry voices and escalating tone. So, one camp is better and the other is much worse off. Neither have food but after a long, long conversation it becomes apparent that the answer can't be simply providing food. There has to be the opportunity for development and education, some sort of economic development for long term benefit. On the way back, I jump into the back of the pickup/ute. It's the most freeing place I've been all week. All of a sudden I am in it. The smell, the heat, the conversation with people on the side of the street. The stares, the smiles and the connection with people as we went past. At times very slowly. The drive back took what felt like a couple of hours and through the devastation of the city. Feels like the whole place is hanging by a thread. The vendors and people are straight back out, underneath rubble and concrete hanging by reinforcing steel, or electrical wiring. The city is pancaked, rubbled, smoking with burning fires, mud, debris and all of a sudden there is something glorious is being in it, breathing it the same as everyone else.
Tonight we sat in a debriefing – separate to the sharing of stories, I think as well it's good to share some of the struggle and questions we're left with. Fellow team member david hayward has written beautifully on it – when it comes to trying to discern trustworthiness among the leaders here. Tonight we talked at length about how broken Haiti really is and how long it's been that way. Many people outside the Caribbean, Canada or the United States have probably never really heard more about Haiti than it's supposed pact with the Devil and it's poverty before the earthquake. But truth be told – walking and driving around the island today is watching much more than the devastation of just the earthquake.Somebody today said that the truth is, Haiti is the least cared about nation of the Western hemisphere. It reminds me a lot of my time in Fiji – where people build homes room by room, first with iron and beaten down oil drums, as they purchase concrete blocks one by one, however many a week they can afford. The shanty towns you see all over the island of Fiji are similar to the some of the tents set up, but you can see similar construction ideas in the homes left standing or partially destroyed by the quakes. They were never built to survive a quake like this one and as someone said today, one good shake more and the rest of the place would come down. But it could be paradise. The way the sunsets, the curve of the main bay, the magnificence of the mountains. The sway of palm trees, the glorious heat. In my heart, I think hope is a big factor. I think circumstance and luck have a lot to do with it. Care and concern makes a difference too. When someone has hope, care and concern for you, it changes the view you have on life. It changes the view you have of purpose. It changes the way you live. For a nation to live with such hopelessness for so long, with so little change affected – no wonder it's more like Hades than Paradis. They've been forgotten, used as an economic dumpground and been un-led for decades. Another team member bruce dawson blogged today "A lot of things happen in Haiti for lack of choices.." and I think it's true. Long-term corruption at government levels means that much monetary aid given over the last decades hasn't seen much go on in the way of development. The roads and infrastructure are generally pretty bad. The economy is decimated. No matter how far back you take it, the people here have been ground down into a dependency cycle, yet have a government that provides little to no security. In addition to that, it seems that aid organizations that have previously been on the ground have struggled with similar issues of networking, communication and trust. The people simply don't have many other choices. It changes the way you live. So the answer has to begin with relationships. Nothing outside of relationship can build trust, either between external parties and Haitians or amongst the Haitian people themselves. No one factor can make the difference – except that the earthquake is potentially a game-changer only if somehow it can be seen as such (as doug pagitt would say). I believe relationships can change that. People partnering with other people for the best possible outcome. I remember being in Fiji watching a game of tennis on one side of the treeline, where there was a village/shanty town built of corrugated iron on the other side. This kind of poverty exists in so many places. We have to do what we can in Haiti and learn what we can in Haiti, so that Haiti doesn't become a story we retell, when it comes to development, aid, mission work – you name it. I'm going to have to write more about that later. Also, you should check out the blogs of the other team members ed noble
mark oestreicher You can find us on twitter.com/churchtochurch and www.facebook.com/churchtochurch
No one can account for the hygiene situation but the presence of a longdrop type hole in the back of one of the tent cities we walked through seemed to make sense. Everyone is thinking the same thing though – with thunderstorms predicted for the next week, we are in the height of the rainy season. With all that water and debris in the streets, the rivers and causeways are likely to become rivers of disease and ongoing disaster. Mostly people simply took what they could from their homes and set up camp in the closest space of empty land. So a field becomes a village. Most seem to have their own committees leading them – looking after security and the like. Still, I wouldn't have liked to be walking their without our local guides, who seem to know many people and stop to shake hands frequently. I think it's interesting that back home in NZ, so few pastors would know everybody in their neighbourhood, but these guys are really connected, so it makes sense that so many people are looking to them for help. Enough for now. I'm looking out the window at a sunset that is beautiful. Which is enough reminder that there is still hope to be had for this city. I know that people are listening and want to help. We will make a way.