We are staying with Sister Vivian in Port-au-Prince. She has graciously housed us in tents in her fenced- in yard. She feeds us and helps us in our efforts to reach out and to learn about and from the people of Haiti. She has lived in Haiti for eleven years. She is a part of the people.
The days move with the rhythm of the sun. We sleep and wake by it. This means 8:00 o’clock bedtime and 4:30-5:00 a.m. awakenings. We could not sleep in beyond that time because the city around us is alive and noisy by then. Yesterday Sr. Vivian gave us, what she calls the “Used-to-be” tour of the city blocks around her home. She pointed at heaps of cement rubble and told us what that building used to be. She pointed to houses, and told us of the names of those who used to be there, followed by, “I do not know where she/he is now. I do not know if she/he is still alive, if they left the country, or if they will ever be back.” She is haunted by what was and what happened every time she leaves her house.
The night before we arrived was the first night Sr. Vivian slept in her house. She and the two girls that live with her have slept in the tents outside their house long after the damage to their house was repaired. They slept there because they were too afraid to sleep inside of their house. She explained, “My heart pounds and my inside shake and tremor when I lay in my bed. I have to keep telling myself over and over that I am safe.”
The streets are difficult to pass through because they are blocked by piles of rubble and tents. People have set up tents and makeshift tarps everywhere in the streets, because the streets are the safest place to sleep. The buildings and houses that remain are unstable and still pose threat to anyone near them. There are also a number of tent communities. We will be visiting with the people in these communities over the next several days.
We visited the Church of the Sacred Heart. Pews, alters, and religious statues have been set up outside where the remainder of the church used to be. People continue to worship. A cross and the Virgin Mary remained undamaged while all crumbled around them. People approach these figures in reference as symbols of God’s presence in their lives. They bring pictures of loved ones lost before the symbols, praying that God will keep them safe. This brings them some comfort. We also visited a chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The children flocked to us, touching my pale skin and feeling the texture of my hair. Church attendance on Sundays has risen from 150 people to 250 since the earthquake. People draw strength from worship and from the fellowship of one another. It brings them comfort and a sense of hope for the future.
We have begun to hear stories. The stories are stories of devastation, tremendous loss, injury, and of faith. We have heard about how the screams of others who could not be rescued continues to ring in the ears and hearts of those who survived. We have heard of heroic effort to help during the quake and after.
One woman on the street told us that she was in a building that crumbled under the quake. She was there with her daughter and son-in-law and their two little children. She was in one room with the children while the daughter and her husband were in another. She says that she heard a voice tell her to leave quickly. She grabbed the two children and quickly left. Immediately after leaving, the building crumbled. She and the children survived, but the parents of the children did not. The woman lost her home, and is now left to raise the two little ones without their parents and without a home. Her faith that God will continue to help her gives her hope. Another survivor reaches out daily in small and big ways to those who suffered loss in the earthquake because she believes God wants her to help others since she was spared.
We will hear more stories--many more stories. We will then share these stories and learn from. Perhaps by learning we will find some ways to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti and those who suffer traumatic life events in other lands.