Remembering Haiti…One Year Later…

My friend Kathy at Reinventing the Event Horizon, asked her blogging friends to post something for Haiti on the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake there.  Kathy and her partner, Sara, currently live in Haiti…Sara works for one of the aid organizations providing help to the survivors.

Back in 1967, my dad was a minister at a small Methodist church in Oregon, Ohio.  I was six at the time…I asked my father to write this post, but he felt that I hadn’t given him enough time to do a proper job of it…this comes from a short interview I conducted with him:

Some of Dad’s friends from seminary were making a trip to Haiti in order to experience the abject poverty they’d heard about there.  They invited he and my mom to go with them.

My younger brother and I were sent to stay with some family friends, and my parents set off (with 3 or 4 other people) in our 1965 Chevy for Miami.  They survived their first-ever plane ride, landing safely in Port-au-Prince at the tiny airport.  Before the trip, the travellers had contacted local doctors and dentists and solicited donations of their free samples, and collected cotton clothing from whoever they could hit up…the goods were loaded on to an Air Force plane for delivery to Haiti.

The 13-person delegation (mostly couples and one single) was met by its host, a man from Indiana who had been doing relief work in Haiti for a number of years.  While they were there, this man was summoned for a meeting with “Papa Doc” (the Haitian dictator) – this caused a fair amount of concern among the visitors, but it turned out all right.  Papa Doc’s secret police, known locally as the Tonton Macoutes (from a Creole term for bogeyman), patrolled the streets in their WWII army fatigues, their sidearms in prominent view.  Dad reports that there was no trouble with them while he was there. 

The group was taken to a hotel, which would be its home for the next week.  According to my dad, the hotel was “nothing fancy”…he grew up in rural Ohio without indoor plumbing…I would imagine it was fairly rudimentary if that’s how he described it!  He said that the electrical wiring was just attached to the walls of the hotel rooms (there were flush toilets, however!).  The group was warned not to drink the water, or eat local fruits and vegetables.  They ate all their meals at the hotel, and were surprised at the end of their stay to find that a young man who looked about eighteen had been their “chef” for the week!  Sleeping was challenging…the locals would carry on vodou (the Haitian national religion) rituals late at night…my parents would often hear the chanting and the drums, something they’d never been exposed to in Ohio!

Dad and Mom travelled with the others when leaving the hotel…it was the only safe way.  There were kids begging everywhere, and young people with pencils or chalk and paper who offered to draw a picture for money.  “You could get anything for a dollar,” says Dad.  There were open air markets where my parents purchased a large drum, two smaller ones, a small wooden statue, a large wooden mask, and wooden figurines of a Haitian man and woman to put on the wall (I still have those today).  These items were all handmade.  Most Haitians they encountered were very dark-skinned and very poor…they lived in “whatever they could scrabble together”.  The average income at the time was less than $200 annually.  The mulattoes (mixed black and white) are the privileged class in Haiti, and live in neighbourhoods with houses similar to what you would see in Miami.

One of the group’s excursions was touring the new Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince, which had been opened by International Child Care that year to treat children with tuberculosis.  My mom was shocked to see three babies sharing a bed.  My dad says the smell in the facility was unbelievable.  There were also a couple of scary trips to the rural areas around the city on a rickety bus.  Dad recounts that they visited a house where one woman cared for about 70 orphans.  “She had a couple of women there to help her.”  The group attended a church service conducted in a three-walled structure: “There was no fourth wall…it was so warm there, they didn’t need one,” says Dad.

While they were in Haiti, my parents took more than a hundred slides, and made tape recordings of some of the things they’d heard.  The experience was life-changing for both of them.  When they came back home to Ohio, they presented their “Haiti Programme” to local people, who were moved by the photos of children with pot bellies and insects crawling on their faces, to donate money to Haitian relief efforts (many children did not live until their fifth birthday because of malnutrition).

Fast forward to 2011…it doesn’t seem that much has changed in Haiti since my parents travelled there more than 40 years ago.  The people there are probably worse off now…they are still dealing with corrupt politicians, natural disasters, haphazard infrastructure, high unemployment, low literacy, malnutrition, and now AIDS and cholera epidemics. 

I don’t have the answers…I hope this post will move my readers to think about what they can do to help alleviate some of the suffering in Haiti.


Filed under blogging, memories

24 responses to “Remembering Haiti…One Year Later…

  1. Such a sad state of affairs is Haiti. Unfortunately, I truly don’t foresee any radical changes for the better occuring until corruption in the governing bodies is dealt with. How sad that across the border in the Dominican Republic, the shared lands of the island must seem like a million miles away. Sure there’s still poverty, hunger and devestation within the country, but it would appear to be a different world compared to the state of Haiti. That being said, it may also not be my place to comment on the goings on of the country…there are so many problems at home that I might be better suited to address instead.

  2. What a wonderful post, Wendy. Poignant and so relevant. It’s so sad to see how little has changed in 40 years, let alone the last year.
    Sunshine xx

  3. planejaner

    Really nice, Wendy–
    so much is still so heartbreaking…

    thank you for writing so beautifully!

  4. Thank you, Wendy, for this precious post! God bless you for your effort, and your father, as well. Please thank him for sharing his story with us!
    Hugs from Haiti,

  5. In those same forty years so many countries have begun making progress but sadly Haiti has never been on the right track. The natural disaster only made things worse. The stories of young women being attacked while trying to get clean water were the worst part for me. On the bright side, I think it’s great that you grew up with parents who saw a situation like that, traveled, and were able to share those unique experiences with you. Nice post.

    • Thanks, Clay…that was really the only travelling my parents ever did, except for driving hundreds of miles to visit family… I think it’s going to take a long time for Haiti to come back from this latest setback… Wendy

  6. duke1959

    Haiti in many ways is the greatest failure of this hemisphere. Its like that family member that gets invited to family functions although everyone prays they won’t show up.

    • I think the Haitian people have great resilience and strength, Duke…I know that I wouldn’t have been able to cope with living in the conditions they have for the past year… Wendy

  7. Thanks for this, Wendy. I have such gratitude for what your parents did, and, at the same time, I am so discouraged at how little has changed in all those years. Haiti can’t seem to get a break. As though the years of colonization weren’t bad enough, “Papa Doc” Duvalier raped the country repeatedly and the years since his reign have continued to give Haiti one of the lowest (if not the lowest) standards of living in the world. I had hope that out of the great tragedy that occured one year ago, a new possibility might emerge. Kathy and Sara are proof that people can make a difference. We need more of them and a government that is willing to walk the same path.

  8. Hippie Cahier

    Your dad’s story is an important one to share. Thank you for the reminder to be thankful and to pay it forward, for lack of a less trite phrase at the end of this long day.

  9. Thank you for this reminder, Wendy, and many thanks to Kathy and Sara for their efforts. It is such a sad situation, and so unnecessary. We have to hold onto hope that things will improve and be grateful for people like your parents and your friend and her partner who are working toward that goal.

  10. duke1959

    Anyone who has gone to help are saints in my eyes. Another sad thing about this story is the National Media will give in some focus today. Then they will go back to such wonderful topics like Lindsay Lohan or Parris Hilton.

  11. Very interesting story! Sad that not much has changed in the last 40 years.

  12. Coming from India, a developing country itself, I understand the problems that Haiti faces only too well. Luckily for me, I belong to the privileged class in India and have never had to experience any of the conditions you mention. And yet fortunately for India, we have progressed over the decades in the right direction. It seems like Haiti still exists in another time zone on an alien planet 😦 It breaks my heart to see what’s happening, more so because I don’t think any major change can occur without local involvement and education. Poverty is sadly a vicious cycle 😦

    It’s heartening to know that people care and are helping and are doing so in the face of tremendous odds! Kudos to them all and Kudos to you Wendy for such a sensitive piece!

    Hugs, H.

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