Eight years ago, as newlyweds, Mr. Frick and I traveled to Haiti. I went first, spending a couple of days in Port au Prince preparing for the arrival of the rest of our group- students and teachers from the school where I teach, which maintains a relationship with the rural mountain community of Buteau. My "hotel" was close to the airport and the massive slum called the Cite-Soleil. As there is hardly any regular trash removal and Port au Prince is built on a mountainside, everything washes down. I've also never seen such mosquitoes. I would jump in the shower with my 99.9% DEET, and as soon as the water went off, slap that stuff on like crazy. Those suckers were hovering there like hummingbirds, just outside of the spray.
This is a tap-tap. This one is actually pretty nice (a Daihatsu!). Tap-taps are the transport of choice in Haiti, as most folks don't have cars of their own. They're bright and loud and dangerous (apparently folks fall off of the tops of them all the time) and they have names and slogans painted on them like "Full Love, Full Life" and "Sexy Girl" and "Merci Eternel." To read these slogans, you wouldn't know that the people here were citizens of the most impoverished country in the Northern Hemisphere...but that's because our notion of what makes a hopeful life are very, very different from the Haitians'.
When Mr. Frick and the rest of our group arrived we headed into the mountains to Buteau. Mr. Frick, lover of languages, devoted himself to trying to learn Creole, much to the amusement of local kids who flocked to him to engage in "conversation." I told the story long ago here. The people in rural Haiti are subsistence farmers. They are not starving and they do not lack for clean water, which they gather in cisterns. Their homes are incredibly sparse and they live miles away from medical help. Women walk down the mountain to give birth in Leogane. The kids of Buteau kicked our kids' collective ass in soccer. They also led us on a totally terrifying tarantula hunt one night.
I spent a LOT of time putting Band-Aids on kids. As you can tell by the look of this kiddo's leg (and bare feet), living on a mountainside in a hut isn't easy on you. I never heard a single complaint, though. The boy whose eyesight I swear was saved by foaming disinfectant and daily application of Band-Aids had fallen while running after a ball. His big brother brought him to me twice a day- what I'd asked him to do in my halfassed French. When we first arrived, the kids flocked around us repeating "Give me my shoes, give me my shirt," tugging at everything we wore. After a time, it got irritating. I'm not apologizing for the fact that, before we left, I taught a bunch of them to say, "Please give me your shoes, please give me your shirt." I said, "The whites will give you anything if you say please." (We had an African-American student with us. No matter. We were all as white as Santa Claus there.)
Eight years ago we left everything we had-sleeping bags, mosquito nets, toiletries, shoes- except the clothes on our backs with this little girl and her family. They lived right below the church where we slept. It's gone now, as is the school we built desks for. I can't imagine her house stands.
But also...please...learn something about Haiti. Not just the statistics that become part of every disaster relief plea, every news article tied to this tragedy. Learn something about this neighbor of ours. Knowledge is power, but knowledge is also responsibility. We can be the people who care, who know, and who understand, but only if we read and educate ourselves. Giving is good. Giving is NECESSARY. But giving will not be enough in the long term. Haiti needs to become part of our national consciousness, not just because of its current heartrending circumstance, but because it is the only right way to go.