Haiti: Jim Brown’s Story – Reflections

I really learned quickly that things we consider “essential” here at home…. aren’t essential at all. People are essential, friends and family are essential, people that you can trust to keep you going when you want to collapse or cry are essential, but electricity and running water and a nice shower are not essential.

Initially I disliked Haiti. I was dismayed by the poverty, disgusted by the garbage, and thrown off by the lack of vegetation and trees like in the Dominican Republic. I couldn’t understand how such poverty could be tolerated, how such living conditions could even exist. I didn’t see how anyone could live like that, how that life could be fruitful or happy, or anything but a mere struggle to survive in the worst of conditions. Reflecting that night on that boys story, and on the people we had helped at the orphanage today, and the stories of their families, of the little boy that Anna treated that was trapped in rubble for days, of the man who had cancer that we couldn’t help, of the father who wanted me to take his daughter, and of all the poverty and sadness, I strangely began to love Haiti for the first time. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain what made me switch. But that night, for the first time in a really long time in my life, I felt like I was doing something right. I felt like I was part of something good, and important, and even though I was not important to the trip and I was not a doctor and not able to make the impact I wanted in Haiti, I felt like I belonged there and I was doing the right thing. That night, looking out over the mountain side in the darkness, I first -loved- Haiti, and the Haitian people. From then on I wasn’t as dismayed by the poverty and the situation. I stopped asking “why” and “how” in my mind. It became less about the situation as a whole, and more about the people I was with and the patients that we treated, and the particular moment that we were in.

There is great poverty, corruption, and sickness in Haiti, but there is great good there too. This is the injustice that the media does when portraying the city as one big pile of rubble and the people as totally helpless. I have even heard people describe the living conditions in Haiti as “only slightly above animals.” I suppose if your standard of comparison is life in the luxury of the US, then living on the ground and struggling for food and water and trying to feed your family every day is horrific. But I saw Haitians happy, and joyful, and who found meaning in their life and who were struggling not to just “get by” or “get the next donation,” but to make their world a better place and to do what they could. What they can do is not much, just like what I could do was not much. But the GCOM orphanage is still standing, and it has produced people like Bobby Winter who grew up there and is leading trips to Haiti to help people now. And it has blessed people like me, who went there to give to the Haitians, but ended up receiving instead. Sure, there was lots of sadness and PTSD and destruction, death, and senseless poverty. I even felt a sense of anger after that night about why certain aspects of the city life weren’t taken care of by the people that could have been taken care of, but I no longer let those fester in me and I no longer saw Haiti as one big heaping mess. I wrote on my facebook wall that night that I felt more alive in Haiti than I ever had before. Life IS more real there. The simplicity of it, the basic necessity of it, brings out the truly important things. Haitians don’t have to worry about the ridiculous things we worry about in our jobs and our fast-paced American lives, and because they have to worry about the more basic necessities, they are more constantly focused on and concerned about the most important things, the things we always miss: people. All the Haitians I met remembered my name from the first time I met them. They all took an interest in me, and they all knew each other and were genuinely focused on the people around them. There is great beauty in that, and something that I hope I can learn from.

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