A lot of people ask will I return to Haiti. This morning, pangs of wanting to be there washed over me when Red Crosser Mat Morgan rang up while en route to Cite Soleil.
I miss Haiti. I miss the people. I miss feeling inspired, in awe, in the thick of it, alive amidst nearly a quarter of a million dead. I miss the sun beating down on my hair and the dust in my mouth. I miss holding the survivors’ hands, listening intensely to their words, the photos they pressed into my hand. I miss closing my eyes to voices singing into the night and awakening to sounds of the city coming back to life. I miss every minute meaning so much.
I bandaged wounds, knowing their open sores would heal long before their broken hearts or homes. I tossed boxes of life-saving supplies down the lines of people wearing the same red and white symbols of hope from Haiti, Colombia, Iran, Italy, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Israel, Spain, Korea, Croatia, Belgium, France, Japan, Turkey, Canada, China, the US and so many places. I led a fragile grandmother to a chair in the shade, gated away from the crowded lines of humanity waiting for supplies. Then I retrieved her relief supplies which a youthful Haitian Red Cross volunteer carried up the hill to the old woman’s makeshift living space. We drew on the strength and resilience apparent all around us in the tent cities to push and expand our relief machine around the clock.
Mat tells me he saw the numbers for the first time since he arrived two weeks ago and was floored. I remember not reading a single statistic while I was there, too consumed by the gritty life and death reality all around me. So, I held my breath, not knowing if the news was good or bad. “We have helped 1.3 million people to date, can you believe it?” I exhaled.
He told me about the boy he met in the German Red Cross field hospital, erected in the Carrefour soccer stadium just days before I left. The child lost his entire family– and his leg– in the earthquake. I can see Mat, a big kid himself, playing games at his bedside, no translation required.
“What’s it like to leave here?” he asks me. “I can’t imagine not being here.”
Expect the shudder from a truck driving by to feel like an aftershock. Your heart will pound until you ground yourself. Expect withdrawal from the lack of information juxtaposed with a barrage of news-that-happened-while-you-were-gone hitting you like a cement block. A broken cement block like the remnants of so many houses and suddenly your mind whisks you back to Haiti.
Expect spontaneous tears at inopportune moments. Remind yourself that it’s normal and just breathe and ride the wave. You will have to unpack all those little boxes you hid deep inside yourself– images, sounds, smells, feelings, inconsistencies and frustrations that you had to pack away in the moment so you could do your job.
Focus and be strong, you told yourself while in Haiti. It’s what you had to do during those weeks on that half-island that lies somewhere on the road between hell and hope.
When you are home, nothing will ever look the same. But that’s good, I tell Mat. It keeps Haiti on your mind.
[Photo credit: Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross]