Saturday, May 22, 2010

These are the times that try one's soul

These are the times that try one's souls.

Thomas Paine wrote those words at the nadir of the American Revolution when hope was almost lost. I do not know who the Thomas Paine is of Haiti, but I do think he would write that “these are the days that tried our souls, and we passed that test.”

I can not explain how bad it is here. And please understand that nothing I write is meant to make light of the suffering that people in the Gulf Coast went through, but only to try to give some perspective how challenging life is here.

Try to imagine life after Katrina with hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, infrastructure demolished, and many businesses forever put out of business with accompanying job losses and financial hardships. Once you get a mental picture of how bad that was, raise it to the tenth power and you have post Earthquake Haiti.

After Katrina it was horrible that people had to live in FEMA trailers; here the lucky ones have tents. After Katrina there were debris piles in the streets; here almost everyone burns their garbage in front of their tents. After Katrina it was months before some areas had electric; here there is no central electric in most cities and almost no one has a generator. After Katrina people had to use port-o-potties, here many go in the streets. After Katrina it was hot and many people had no air conditioning; here it is even hotter and people do not have refrigerators, fans, or running water. Add to that an unemployment rate which by some estimates is as high as seventy percent, and you have conditions that really can not be all that much worse.

So the Haitian people have every reason to be down and miserable. But you know what? They are not. They are upbeat and resilient.

Today's best example is from when Wesley (whose family house is where we have been rubbling) took Carrie, Jerry, and I to his former school to donate some pencils, crayons, and soccer balls. The school building was destroyed and classes are being held in open sided tents with a board at one end.

In the midst of a rudimentary English class, math lessons , and repeated reminders on the importance of education, pure and utter pandemonium broke out during recess as we ran, chanted, and Carrie led them in the Chicken Dance. I doubt I have ever seen so many kids laughing and jumping and high-fiving (ok, really pretty low-fiving as most were pretty small). If you had seen them you never would have guessed that their country is in ruins, their families economically ruined, and that many of them lost family members.

Yes, these are the times that try people's souls, and yes Haitians have passed that test.

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