Now the real dying starts. From the red cage we sit in, the ten of us can see there will be some real dying soon. Americans are not used to riding in the back of a caged truck. It is not safe. None of the benches on which we sit have seat belts and the luggage and supplies between our legs are not secured. One sudden stop, or, tilting the wrong way to avoid an earthquake crater and we could find ourselves in a tangled pile of bottled water and battered bodies.
On the positive side, the cage serves some good purposes. One is to keep us from falling out and another to keep people from reaching in and getting our goodies (clean water and snack food). On the downside, it interferes with getting good pictures of these same desperate people and it fails to keep out the dust. Welcome to Haiti. Take good pictures.
To define a good picture is easy. Good pictures will relate how heavy the death toll will be after the 230,000 dead have already been delivered by trucks and then buried by bulldozers in mass graves. That was the estimated death toll as of my arrival to Haiti in late January. I happened to be diverted by this disaster as I went home for a few speaking engagements. Kay strongly advised me that since I was going to cross the Atlantic, it made sense to be diverted from my previous itinerary and see this unfolding disaster. World Gospel Mission was in agreement with this diversion and encouraged me and Dr. Daniel Tolan to make a survey of possible interventions we could make. That is why I found myself caged in the back of this truck trying to take good pictures.
World Health Organization expects that once the rains start, the clean water runs out, the septic systems overflow and the tents, sheets and blankets that serve as housing fall down into the mud, the real dying will start. With people living under these conditions, the death toll will indeed rise so, take good pictures. Some of these people won’t be here. Malaria, meningitis, malnutrition are the order of the day when things are good. Keep your camera handy.
Who will die? The good pictures tell the story. Take a good shot of that line of people over there. Many of them will be those we see in that ‘one item only’ line. You know the kind of line we complain about when someone has the audacity to get in the express line with five items. Unfortunately, everyone is in the one item only line as it is the only kind of line in town.
This line wraps around the corners of the communities we pass. Only women and young children are in line. The men have been kept away by the soldiers. That is because many of the men will fight for the food and then sell it instead of feeding their families. One item only is what the women carry away. They will carry on their heads, a 40 pound bag of meal, or rice, or maybe beans. It is rationed out by uniformed troops, men and women from many nations and various complexions.
One item only is all they expect. They are not paying so there is no hurry to get to the cash register. There is a hurry to get into the next line of one item only. That one will have water. Let’s push on. We have enough pictures.
We arrived at our clinic site just about 3 hours after our departure from Port Au Prince. The crowds had gathered long before and the doctors and nurses who were just completing their 5 day stay were glad to see us arrive. They were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We gave them relief.
They were exhausted. Imagine how hard it is to talk to anyone about the pain in their chest from the piece of cement that hit them and acknowledge the pain in their heart from knowing their daughters were killed by those same slabs of cement. An average day was two hundred patients. A heavy day could be as many as 600. Many of them were very ill. Diarrhea, heat stroke, pneumonia and uncontrolled diabetes were the order of the day as the nearest hospital was nearly completely destroyed. All of them were affected physically or afflicted emotionally and spiritually.
Volunteers from a variety of disciplines in medicine, firefighters and first responders, from all around the globe provided services in tents, under trees, and tarpaulins. At night these volunteers slept in tents, under mosquito nets, hoping the dogs would scare the rats and the rats would scare the tarantulas. They shared toilets, took 3 minute cold water showers, and ate unfamiliar foods at inconvenient times, hoping that the next day the crowds would be thinner and with fewer sick people.
Even the Haitians volunteered support by nursing, translating, cooking, and cleaning. They showed evidence of the emotional strain of a seemingly endless march of people. To them, it was their own people. To us as visitors, it was a mass of strangers in need. Many just wanted to know what to do when the next aftershocks hit. They awakened many of us at night. We had the luxury of sleeping in tents. They slept outside to avoid another slab of concrete.
They asked questions. What do we do when the rains come, the water runs out, or even more importantly, when the one item lines disappear and the world turns their heads to the next disaster?
WGM wants to be there to help provide answers for people when the real dying starts. Will you go there with us?