The Smell of Destruction

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On February 14, 2010, yes, Valentine’s day, I returned from grief-stricken Haiti. A trip I will never forget for the rest of my life.

I was worried and excited when I left. I thought I would like to write a story about it when I got back. But after seeing the damage and devastation in real life, I could never bring myself to actually write about it till now.

When we landed and our supplies were loaded onto a truck, which took 2 days, we set off for one of the smaller remote villages. The roads to get there were awful and we had to cut away debris that was blocking them, just enough to get through. It took a long time, but we managed to reach our destination in about 2 days. The smell of death was overwhelming and on top of it, the smell of garbage and waste was almost more than a person could stomach. Thank god for Vick’s vapor rub. Yet now when I smell the rub, it reminds me of the horrid smell of dust, death, and human waste.

We found our safe zone and a perimeter was set up for us. The tents were set up and we were open for business in a day or so.

Kate was our lead (chargehand) she gave us our assignments and areas to work, then they allowed the villagers in. I was working with Danny and Mich, who were in the medical field, 3rd-year students. We were sent the children first and they were in such bad shape, not just from the earthquake.

Once Danny and Mich were done examinations, they were sent to me. I gave them bottled water, some high protein bars and biscuits and a small stuffed animal (which were donated by a toy store). They also were given a shoe box which contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, soda crackers, underwear, socks, etc. These were donated by two local schools – we were given 235 shoeboxes, 125 for adults and 110 for children. The hugs were just enormous, almost as if they did not want to let go of me after they received the teddy bears. It was as if they had never been given anything before.

The more seriously injured were loaded into the back of the truck and taken to a different location where there were real doctors that could do more for them then we could. The village where we were at, used to have 400-500 people in it. After the earthquake, there were only 205 adults and 22 children; 12 orphans that we could count.

The adults of the village were given the small boxes that contained the staple foods. Each box had 4 cans of  pork and beans, 4 cans of veggies, 2 cans of Spam, 1 can of canned ham, 2 cans of potatoes, a small bag of  long rice, and 6 cans of ready to eat soup (so they did not have to add water due to the contamination,) a 4 liter water jug and a small bag of powdered milk. I know It does not sound like a lot, but for them, it was a blessing. Even the men would tear up and just thank us.

Kate was a cook before she retired and Beth and Mark are all in culinary class, so they made big pots of stew for supper for us and the orphanage every night and we served everyone, oatmeal for breakfast. Wow, 235 people served and then us, lol. By the time we were done serving everyone, it was lunchtime when we ate. I definitely missed real coffee, the instant was not cutting it. Yet, it was great to spend time and help.

After our assignments were done, and clean up commenced, I did get to sit with some of the elders and they told me some of the problems they had before the quake. It brought tears to my eyes. I heard of some of the horror stories about the human traffickers. They often would come to the village and pick out the young girls or boys they wanted, then they would pay the family as little as 30 – 60 American dollars. Some of the families refused and they would just steal the children; others would feel rich and sell them to the traffickers. Children as young as 5 or 6 years old.

The law, was so shorthanded they did nothing about it and when they did check into complaints nothing would come about from it. They often would pray for protection from the rebels, (militias, sorry I forget what they called them.) The one fellow I chatted with the most, Trandy, said in a way the quake was a blessing, the village has not been terrorized since it happened and he hopes that most of the bad men are among the dead. He also was saying that now the world knows all about them, that just maybe they will all get the fresh start they need and the protection they have prayed so long for. I did not have the heart to say that it would take a lot more than an earthquake to bring what he seeks.

It was not long after my return that the evils started to pop up in the media about the militia starting trouble once again in this already poor and devastated country.

What I found interesting about being there were the positive attitudes that most I spoke with had. It is as if our charity gave them hope and their spirits were so high. I think if it were me, I could never continue on like they did. They survived on next to nothing and yet they greeted us with open arms and one person offered to share what little water he had with us. We refused, but just the gesture was overwhelming.

What we saw in Port-au-Prince and on the media is a far cry from those in the remote villages who received very little attention or aid. These villagers are the true heart of the Haitian people. They are some of the most generous and caring people you could ever have the pleasure to meet.

There is so much more, yet hard to explain. It is something you would have to experience to fully understand. Words would never do it justice. As I took my truck ride back to catch my plane, I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to have what I have and how great my children are. Yet at the same time, I will miss those I got to know over there and they are not far from my thoughts. Once I arrived at the plane, eight more volunteers arrived with more supplies. I was the only one who signed up for 2 weeks. The rest were there for three months. I did end up staying a little longer, because of the trouble to get the planes in and out, but I did manage to finally get home.

The trip will be nothing I will ever forget, but I have to admit, I do wake up from the odd nightmare since I have been back. And the smells are still vivid to me.

Now three months later, I have had an update on the villagers I got to know and care very deeply about. I am saddened to report that Trandy, one of the elders, is no longer with us. He was killed over some of the supplies he had that could catch a fair price on the black market.

Because of how remote the village is they have had little to no protection. Four children from the orphanage have been taken and sold. The volunteer group I was with were shipped out due to the danger that they could be in if they stayed.

What will happen to my other friends from the village now? Have they been forgotten while Port-au-Prince still receives aid?

Not only do I grieve for my friends, but I feel bad I could only be a band-aid to the problem and not a solution they so do need. My nightmares have now quieted, But I do wake up sobbing and wonder if I could have done more.

I will continue to send my box of rations to the village and hope they can use them not only to eat but to survive the militia/rebels one more day. But, it still saddens me to know those outside Port-au-Prince seem to have been forgotten and are forced to live with the terror they knew long before the quake.

K. Waters

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