116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Christmas Eve morning, walking through the airport with the dark bags under my eyes, an old sweatshirt pulled over my body and hair strung into a messy bun, I was ready to face my adventure.
At least I thought I was.
Everyday leading up to this day, Michael would give me advice on what to expect and how to act when getting off the plane.
'There will be a crowd of men trying to take your bags so you give them money,” he said. 'Just let me deal with it.”
He was right.
Stepping off the small aircraft, a swarm of heat gobbled me up. We walked through a narrow hallway for about two long minutes and boom. We turned the corner and it looked as if a mob was coming right for me. I saw at least seven hands of Haitian men reach toward me, but my dad and Michael, my sister's fiance whose parents we are visiting, pushed them away, and we settled with just two helpers.
Walking out of the airport door felt like I was walking into another world. Being 17, I had an idea of the aspects of a Third World country, but had never seen it with my naked eye. The smell of burning garbage filled my nose.
We walked down a long bridge with hundreds of Haitian eyes staring at us. I felt as if I was walking down a runway to a place unknown. A place where I did not belong.
We made it to the Tap-Tap, our transportation, and to our next destination - Pignon, Haiti. Sitting in the bed of a truck half the size of a normal one with eight people and five suitcases, things got a little toasty. We were squeezed in together like sardines. As we drove into the crowded city of Port-au-Prince, I realized how different my life is than the people living here.
Every morning back home, I wake up and eat my yogurt and eggs, and head off to school. Everyday I drive in my own car to get to the places I need to go in a matter of minutes. Every night I go to bed in my personalized room all snuggled up in my cozy bed.
In Haiti, surviving each day is a lot more complicated.
As we drove over the unpaved paths they call 'roads,” going a little over 8 mph, at least 30 children came up to me begging for money. I just had to look away. My heart ached. I froze and I did not know what to do next.
Everyone on the streets needed money. They had no shoes with ripped clothes. Parents were sending their children, even some as young as 4, to scrounge up money. People would walk miles to get to where they needed to go.
I cannot forget about the lack of food. Starving. The Haitians are starving. After a long, three-hour church service Christmas morning, all being in Creole, we delivered buckets of rice and woven baskets of fresh bread to Haitian friends Michael's parents knew. The poor families could barely wait to get their hands on it. Hobbling up to me, Anosphere and his four children grabbed the food and immediately put the bread in their dry, hungry mouths. My guess was they had not eaten in at least two days.
Though I was already in shock, nothing could prepare me for the moment my life turned around. The moment where I felt guilty for living the way I live. The moment where my reality stopped.
It all started when we took a supposedly 'shortcut” in Cap Haitian to cut out traffic. This shortcut soon turned into a disaster.
There was mud everywhere. The Haitians in Cap Haitian live in mud and garbage. We were in a standstill in a seemingly popular market. There was no way to turn around and go back the other way. I was trapped in a place where I felt unsafe and foreign. Flies swarmed around me and around the fresh meat that was being cut on the ground, partly because it was covered in juicy red and brown blood with who knows what else.
Pickpockets were everywhere you turn. They saw us as 'blancs” and 'moneymakers.” I could not move. I was trapped in the bed of a truck with hundreds of Haitians walking just two inches from me. The sounds of french words and honking horns filled my ears along with the ruckus of the market, or what we would call their 'grocery store.”
I was the person in the bed of the truck nearest to the edge, which means I was the closest to all who walked near us. All of a sudden, I noticed something strange. I looked up at my family to see them all staring right behind me and whispering words I could not understand. I slowly turned my head to notice a young man in a green and blue, ripped, printed shirt standing no closer than one inch from me.
My heart started to race. I had no idea what my family was saying so, typical me, starts to think of danger. I thought he had a gun. I felt as if I could not breathe. I felt like I could not move, could not speak. I just froze.
The man had been standing there for five long minutes until my father pulled me up to him and sat me on his lap. The man did not have a gun. but even worse, he barely had an arm. This was his cry for help. He had a fresh and serious injury, which left his arm in pieces and his life in danger. A giant slash right above his elbow was open and easily visible. Bone, blood and other internal body parts for all to see, yet he felt no pain. He was in shock.
You must put your life in God's hands being an injured Haitian who cannot pay medical bills. We thought about giving him money to go to the hospital, but they would not have offered him help since he would not be able to pay his way out. He held his arm bent by his side, dark brown eyes staring into my soul. No other facial expressions but a look of helplessness, staring at me like I was his last hope.
I vividly remember watching him walk up and down mud piles on the road trying to get attention from those around him, yet nobody could help him when they cannot even help themselves. That is what blows my mind: Haiti is in so much need for help that this is just a typical site for them to see.
The truck engine turned on and started to roll away. I still could not bring myself to even move a muscle. We all prayed he would make it through the night.
There is no sanitation in Haiti, and infection would get the best of him in just hours. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that this innocent man who stood right in front of me may not have made it through the night.
Driving home, Christi, the owner of Many Hands for Haiti and Michael's mother, told us a prayer that has changed my emotions from that day on.
'Let me show you something that will help you cope with what you have just witnessed,” she said.
A Franciscan Benediction. She begins, and halfway through the prayer, I notice I start to make a connection. Two specific verses grab my heart and all of my attention. I notice warm, salty tears run down my face and onto my dirty pink sweatshirt when she reads, 'May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.”
My heart was clenching in my chest, ears drilled to her voice as she continued to the final verse, 'and may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can really make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.”
I broke down, along with everyone else in the vehicle.
Those words spoke out to me as if God planned for all of this to happen. That day and blessing has inspired me to become a different person today. They have inspired me to give back and be blessed with enough foolishness to try and make a difference.
I have set many goals for myself, leadership- and mission-wise. I am not yet done with Haiti, for each and every day that country is on my mind. To this day, A Franciscan Benediction sits near my bedside.