Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good and Bad

It is hard to describe Haiti in a few paragraphs. Indeed I think it is impossible to describe it. On one hand, Haiti is so poor that they do not have enough money to buy shoes or in many cases food, but at the same time, these are these same people will give you food or the shirts off their back to one in need.

It is a country of beautiful beaches and mountains that could rival Hawaii, but also of cities so dirty and grimey that they make the slums in many nations look like vacation get-aways.

We saw some of the worst and some of the best of Haiti today.

In the morning Lisa (a nurse from Iowa who is working at one of the many small hospitals that are trying to cope with the immense need for medical assistance that Haiti faces ), Carrie, and I ran out to the “beach” that is down some dirt “roads”. The beach was littered and dirty, the roads muddy, full of pot holes, motor cycles, wandering goats, pigs, and people busy fetching their daily water supply or headed into town. And yet the views from these roads would make into any travel magazine of fog at the bases of mountains after miles of green fields full of sugar cane.

The binary trend of good and bad continued during our workday. It was a new site and none of us, save for the team leader April, had any idea where it was. So when the tap-tap stopped in front of a huge pile that partially blocked the road we just assumed it was to let a motorcycle pass, but when the truck did not start moving again we were struck with the intimidating realization that we were in front of the job. “Uh, yikes” was the most proper response I can put on a family-rated blog.

The road was narrow and crowded with traffic of all manners of movement from animal carrying bananas to market, to gigantic UN dump trucks hauling away some of the massive debris piles that litter Haitian streets. In addition street vendors hawked their wares and long lines of school children walked to and from schools.

The building had been either two or three stories but it was flattened so completely that I am still not sure after spending all day working at it. Regardless of its number of stories, debris pile a thing of pure dread. From the front it sported a pointed roof that had previously adorned the front of the building. This peak held fallen and hung suspended over a three foot open sewer and jutted out at least a third of the way into the already tightly confined street. Under the pile were layers of thick concrete, cleeche, metal, remnants of its pre quake existence, and twisted metal with pointed edges to either cut or trip up the less than careful volunteer. Oh and to make matters worse there was no where that we could easily pile the debris. It was a nightmare job.

After taking stock of the enormity of the job and reminding each other of the dangers of the location (traffic and theft to say nothing of the fact that we would be swinging sledge hammers, pick forks, in close proximity and climbing over rubble with rebar),

But we jumped in. April correctly decided we had to clear the street before anything else could be done, so four of use took turns whacking away at the roof which proved much thicker and stronger than most. Others began to remove any loose rebar, some put plastic soda bottles over the exposed metal for safety, while others were on traffic detail.

So what was the good part? The family we were helping as well as neighbors, and sometimes just passers by often jumped into help. Robinson (a HODR volunteer from Haiti itself) arranged coconuts for us, we bought bananas, and many many people said hi and stood and watched for a time.

And slowly, inch by inch we began to make progress. It took much of the morning, but we eventually had the pile off the street and a new mountain of debris taking shape on a side street..

As the day wore on (and days of nearly constant sledge hammering and hauling do wear on), a glimmer of hope rose in all of the volunteers--”Maybe, just maybe, this can be surmounted”. “maybe we can do it.”

I hope the owners, neighbors, and passer-byes took home the same hope as they continued on their road of survival and recovery.

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