Haiti, Day 4: Trash and Tragedy Never End in Haitian Life

Day four.  Possibly the most challenging day yet.  For many reasons.

The day began with a hasty, early morning departure to the orphanage – to hand out donated clothes and survey some building projects.  Doug wants to build a new bathroom and shower area for the kids.  When we arrived, it was hard to see the current conditions.  Shoddy plywood structures and tarp make up the bathroom and the kids brush their teeth and bathe from hoses and buckets outside, while standing in piles and piles of trash.  There’s trash EVERYWHERE.  And the pungent stench makes it hard to ignore.  I used all my strength to hold back tears.  SOOOO much trash … from my past posts, maybe you recall – there is no waste management service.  We Americans totally take for granted these basic “luxuries” – so much that it’s hard to comprehend that in some countries, the concept of throwing away trash into receptacles to be collected later and dumped in a designated area, simply does not exist. In many developing countries, trash is just burned in yards.  Which of course leaves that burning stench constantly in the air.  Everywhere you go.

At the orphanage
At the orphanage - back toward the tree-lined areas, the piles of trash began. The children bathe outside of this building. (Photo by Greg Zahn)
Inside the boys room building
Inside the boys room building (Photo by Greg Zahn)

These poor children are surrounded by trash – they walk in it, they bathe in it, they get ready for school every morning standing in filth.  It’s heartbreaking.  Even covered in bug spray, I got about 30 mosquito bites just standing in the musty area for about 15 minutes.

We wanted to bring the kids back to the orphanage on this morning to swim – but, it was January, 12, 2012 – the 2-year anniversary of the earthquake.  And, Haitian president Martelly had asked the entire country to go to church.  All. Day.  We’d have to come back at 11 – and were invited to church as well.  Disappointed at yet another derailing of plans, we headed “home.”

Building kitchen shelves!
Building kitchen shelves!

At the center, we picked up with our “home improvement” projects – back to building furniture for me! We built another long table, kitchen shelves and a bathroom shelf.  A very productive morning! Nearing 11, we wrapped up and got ready for church.  On our way, we stopped at the “dump” – a.k.a. the river, backed the pickup down toward the water and chucked all our trash.  And, WOW – ravenous, wild, ferocious, huuuuge pigs came out of nowhere and began to DEVOUR the bags.  We were all taken aback and some horrified at how vicious they were.

Dumping trash in the river
Dumping trash in the river

Our next unexpected stop – we visited Fritzson’s old place.  His home – maybe a 20’x20′ cinderblock square room – had been molotov cocktailed and burned down.  They weren’t certain – but it was either related to this former orphanage head who had been arrested for child sex abuse … or, a jealous brother.  This was really hard to see.  Our friend’s home and all his family’s possessions charred – I could make out a few items half burned on the floor … the sight of a melted DVD of Lethal Weapon 4 brought tears to my eyes.  I ran off from the space before I started bawling in front of everyone.  Doug had given Fritzson DVDs and a projector with thoughts that he could start a business showing movies outside.  All of it – destroyed.

Our friend's home
Our friend's home

Next door, there was a building where you could see the second story still collapsed on top of the first. It was eerie peering in and thinking of all the people that must have been trapped when the quake hit.

Destroyed building
Destroyed building

As we somberly stood there, we heard someone cry out and hurried to the front yard.  Another difficult scene: Fritzson’s dog was out front, his back legs paralyzed, apparently hit by a car.  The Mission: Results team had brought “Puppy” (Doug kept calling him “Puppy” so the Haitians went with that as his name.) back to the center, but one night, he got out.  And, must have been hit by a car, but managed to crawl on his two front legs and found his way all the way back to Fritzson’s old home. He’d been there for maybe 2 weeks.  The poor thing was trembling … but, many of us dog lovers – Doug especially – would see to it later to take care of him …

With heavy hearts, we headed on to church at the orphanage.  We were running late but joined the congregation under the tarp tenting.  I was surprised at how similar it was to Korean church – very animated and passionate:

After church, of course the truck brokedown so we hitched a ride back to the center.  It had been a LONG day and it wasn’t even 1 p.m. yet.  There’s so much daily coordination chaos in Haiti – cars breaking down, running out of gas, constant miscommunications, people disappearing due to sudden emergencies … you never know what to expect next.  Like our friend Val showing up at the center with about 15 of his kids – we had no idea they were coming and were caught a little off guard as we were knee-deep in home improvement projects; we weren’t prepared or sure what to do as our lead coordinators were MIA and hadn’t empowered us with much direction for the day.  But, as we learned, in Haiti you have to be able to react to change quickly and spin situations into positives – we encouraged them to swim, set up ping pong and play.

Val headed an orphanage, home to about 30-40 children.  After we returned to the States, we found out devastating news that he had been killed in a car accident.  Tragedy is constant and never-ending in Haiti.  Please pray for his family and children …

Rest in peace, Val.
Rest in peace, Val.

The entire day had been complete chaos and exhausting. By 4pm, a group of us headed to teach English at an orphanage in our friend Mario’s neighborhood.  And what a saving grace of the day!  Teaching English was SO fun and uplifting!  There were anywhere from 8 year olds to 20/30/40somethings in the class of maybe 40+ people.  Everyone was so excited to be there!  It was refreshing and inspiring to see so much enthusiasm and to meet such happy, lovely adults and children.

Teaching English
Teaching English
Mario's neighborhood was one of the nicer areas we visited.
Mario's neighborhood was one of the nicer areas we visited ... and, a rather serene scene out the window at dusk.

We were all BEATEN. DOWN. by day’s end.  Mentally, physically, emotionally, everything.  Well, I definitely was.  The consensus was to bail on “fancy” dinner plans, stay in and get beer and PIZZA!  And, FRIES!!  After a week of rice, beans and a few unrecognized foodstuffs, the familiar American cuisine was VERY welcome.  Even for me, the veggie, organic, healthy, whole foodie.  Pizza makes it all better … YAY, PIZZA!


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