My Haitian Christmas Report

Dear friends and family,

I arrived home safely from my ten days in Haiti late last night (12.29). Even though I was exhausted from the long trip home and my time in Haiti, I succumbed to the temptation to turn on my computer and check my E-mail after more than a week of media blackout thanks to a lack of electricity where I was living. I only opened a few of the more than 150 e-mails sent to me while I was away. I responded to one friend and supporter of Pax et Bonum Communications with a very short description of my time in Haiti. This morning, I read her response to what I shared with her and was struck by this observation from her: “I can imagine that the realization that the people who live there all the time and do not have a place where they can go to recoup stays with you when you get back.”

The transition from the intense chaos of Port-au-Prince to the orderly calm of Burbank is a very difficult one to make. It will take me some time to process all that I saw and experienced during my Christmas time in Haiti and so for now I will only share a few random thoughts.

In addition to extensively filming the slum where I lived, on December 23rd I spent six hours touring Port-au-Prince on the back of a motorcycle, making frequent stops to film the misery before my eyes. It is virtually impossible to communicate the scope of the suffering in this devastated city, where more than a million people are still living in tents without electricity or running water nearly a year after the earthquake. You can feel the desperation in the air. The commonplace sight of so many people bathing and urinating in the streets is very unsettling. Outside of one crowded tent city a very small mobile medical clinic was parked at the curb and there had to be at least a hundred people lined up waiting for some kind of help. Fear of cholera, which has already killed more than 2,500 people, is palpable, yet I saw dreadfully thirsty people drinking untreated water. Almost every day I had to make the trip from the Girardo-ville slum to Pétionville, a twenty minute bumpy drive in a tap-tap, for food and supplies. Without refrigeration, it was not possible to safely store food for more than a day at a time. Even food that does not require refrigeration is not always safe; one night a rat got into my box of cereal.

It seems to me that during the past few months (and this was my third trip to Haiti since August) that the number of people and kids begging for food on the streets has dramatically increased. The outstretched hands and plaintive faces are everywhere. Christmas day in Port-au-Prince was just another day of struggling to survive, another day of searching for water and hauling it back to your tent or shack. The street vendors were still working, still trying to earn a few pennies selling everything from mops to matches. The joy of the child Jesus in a manger was mixed with the death of adult Jesus on the cross. The crib and the cross are one in Haiti.

I spent most of Christmas Eve caring for my artist friend Ecarlatte who bravely endured five grand mal epileptic seizures in a fifteen hour span. It was a true nightmare. I felt helpless to do anything but prevent her from hurting herself or chocking on her own vomit. Thanks to help from a Pax et Bonum Communications board member who works at UCLA medical center, I was able to get critically needed medical help for her. In fact, as I write this she is with a neurologist from America who is spending his Christmas helping the sick in Haiti.

As I finished typing the above sentence, my phone rang. It was my friend. I had arranged for someone to take her to the hospital near Cité Soleil on his motorcycle. When they arrived at the hospital the entrance to the hospital was so jammed with so many sick people the security guards were blocking the entrance. I could hear the chaos and confusion as they tried to tell me what was happening.

The New Year in Haiti I fear will only bring new misery.

I truly do not understand how we let this extreme level of suffering to continue. We can no longer look away…for to do so is to look away from Christ in a distressing disguise.

On the flight home I thought about the losses and suffering I personally experienced in 2010…but they pale in comparison to the losses and suffering the people in Haiti have endured since January 12, 2010. Haiti puts everything into sharper perspective for me. The backdrop of every life lies an impenetrable mystery which can never be fully solved. We can only bear the mystery of God, who both suffers in the world and experiences the blissful joy of the created world.

My friend just called again…somehow she managed to convince the security guard to let her into the hospital. More than likely she will spend many hours patiently waiting to see the neurologist.

The faith and resiliency of the people of Haiti continues to inspire me. It seems to me that it is easier for the chronically poor to grasp the true message of the gospel: it is in dying that we receive. Christ suggested that the truly impoverished have already died to all the things that were truly not real anyway and so they were, in effect, closer to the source of real Love. I pray that the New Year graces me with the strength to die to all the things that block me from growing closer to God. I pray this New Years helps me let go of everything that is not essential.

Pax et bonum,



1 Response to “My Haitian Christmas Report”

  1. 1 Joan Krebs Glenview, IL January 14, 2011 at 10:33 am

    This isn’t a reply to your blog; it’s a response to having just finished your HIDDEN IN THE RUBBLE. It’s very difficult to find words. I guess one way to put it is that I accompanied you on your pilgrimage and will continue to do so in my own way and I thank you for sharing. As a former Sr. of St. Joseph and present CSJ Associate our mission and charism revolves around the Gospels and Unity, which translates to solidarity in my personal lexicon. The preferred “official” prayer mode for CSJ’s is called Sharing of the Heart. You do that so well! Connectedness is everywhere including in Franciscan & CSJ spiritualities.

    Because my personal calling, as far as I can accomplish it, is to educationally challenge people to acquire new eyes for seeing the world we live in and do something about it. In one spot you said, “Through contemplation we learn to see. Through communion we learn to share. Through action we learn to love.” I’m in my 81st year and know there won’ be too many more of these. My goal is to use solidarity as focal point to have people understand (really understand) we are not human, but not only that – we are Earthlings (as the Anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake and the very recent mud- & landslides in Brazil eminently remind us as do all the wars in which we humans are engaged). I guess I’m leading up to a request, Gerry, that although you touch on that fact perhaps the interface between the earth and human misery/poverty could be more prominent in future filming and commentary. Thank you for kindness, patience in reading this reply. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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