2010 Haiti Earthquake Remembered

The mass graves where nameless bodies were dumped in a pit and covered with gravel. This grave site overlooks Port Au-Prince.

The mass graves where nameless bodies were dumped in a pit and covered with gravel. This grave site overlooks Port Au-Prince.

SPOILER ALERT: Misspellings, etc. ahead.

On January 12, 2010 (that was 6 years ago) there was an earthquake. It happened just a one hour plane flight away from my front door. The after shocks from this 7.0 earthquake were felt for the next 12 days.  These 50+ after shocks would measure up to 4.5 in their catastrophic magnitude.

Port Au-Prince, Haiti. One of the poorest cities in the world in the second poorest country in the world. A one hour plane flight away from me. I had been to Haiti a half dozen times before 2010. Back then I was part of an organization called Planting Peace. We did deworming initiatives for kids that had parasites. We had a few orphanages.

I found out about the earthquake at around 5am when I was opening up at a little cafe. Our grounds keeper saw our light on and ran up to the door. We could see each other through the huge glass door, and he knocked a million times until I jumped the counter to let him inside. I thought he was being chased. He was hyperventilating and crying and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

He’s Haitian.

He wasn’t able to get in touch with his wife or his children. You see, he was an immigrant. The kind that privileged people don’t mind having cleaning their windows. He worked incredibly hard in America so he could send money back to his family. He was saving his money to bring them here. He would later find out that he lost his son that night.

I can’t imagine what PAP looked like the day following the worst earthquake in recent history. I can’t imagine how overwhelmingly loud the weeping and wailing were. And I can’t imagine the smell as the sun cooked dead bodies beneath hundred pound rocks. Somewhere around 250,000 dead bodies would be searched for and lamented and missed. Disease outbreaks accelerated and survival was complicated by orders of magnitude.

Why Haiti? Well, why not? The existential question of suffering only matters when your hands aren’t digging through rubble.

One year later I was in PAP with two friends for the one year memorial of the 2010 earthquake. About a million people stood in front of the capitol building as leaders from around the world stood on a covered stage and offered their condolences. Haiti was in the middle of an incredibly divisive national election at the time. Some people were there for the memorial- others were there to flip over the vehicles of a corrupt and oppressive government which had done nothing to help them.

A fraction of the Haitians who gathered for the one year memorial.

A fraction of the Haitians who gathered for the one year memorial.

I could write a book about my experiences that day, but I only have one story I wish to share. 

The morning of the memorial I watched a man with a prosthetic leg fit a child for a prosthetic leg. The doctor was a white guy who had lost a leg while he was in the military. His assistant was a Haitian guy who had lost his leg in the earthquake. The child being fitted for the limb was one of the thousands and thousands of children of children on the waiting list to receive new legs a year after the earthquake. For a year (and for several years to follow) children and adults and former star athletes and widows and farmers were learning how to use crutches and coming to grips with the fact that in addition to having lost everything- homes, businesss, medication, life savings, families- they would now have to figure out how to rebuild a nation while on crutches.

I’m not going to sermonize here. I just want to make an observation. This prosthetic clinic would go on to train hundreds of prosthetic technicians over the next handful of years. Amputees treating amputees. Widows helping widows. Really hungry people sharing the few things they had. The broken hearted burying the dead.

Exodus 23:9 says something to the effect of “…you shouldn't oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you used to be a stranger…” It’s hard to look suffering in the eye because suffering is the toughest kid on the block and his brothers are Oppression and Defeat. And maybe it’s hard to look these things in the eye because we feel lucky to have just barely escaped their clutches ourselves. In just feeling lucky to be alive, we can find ourselves looking back at the rubble behind us and think about how lucky we were to have escaped disaster.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the rubble and uncover the menacing smells and look at the decaying bodies. Maybe it’s time to use the healing you’ve experienced to heal others. Maybe we’ve forgotten that suffering can be shared. You and I… we are a part of history in the making. Don’t let Donald Trump take your eye off the ball. Don’t let ISIS write all of the headlines. Humans are small and we are weak and we know relatively nothing, but the few things we DO know and the few things that we CAN do remind us that sometimes the worst thing we can do is look away.

All around you, every day. 

Think about that.