Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Last Few Days

Where do I begin? I guess I should start by saying that tonight I'm in the Dominican Republic with my brother-in-laws family. I guess before I talk about tonight I should go back a few days.



A few days ago Gareth and I were in South Africa, it was to be work for him and a vacation for me. Gareth took me to meet some wonderful children at a local orphanage. He took me to see the clinics and hospitals being built and where he works while in the country. We spent some time out in the wild of Africa where I saw many of the creatures I had only seen in a zoo or on television. We visited a Chimpanzee sanctuary and some of the historical places where events happened that helped shape South Africa into the country it is today.



Then word came of the disaster in Haiti. Gareth and several other doctors started working the phones and organizing supplies. We still had more time planned for South Africa, so at first I didn't think Gareth was planning on doing anything more than organizing some things. But it soon became apparent he wanted to go to Haiti. My first thoughts were selfish ones of not wanting him to go because it seemed very dangerous to this just ruined my vacation. But I knew I wouldn't be able to talk him out of going, so I started planning in my mind to either stay on in South Africa myself and finish the time out or head back home early. So it came as quite a shock to me when one of the doctors booked room for me on a flight with their group. Gareth looked at me and I looked at Gareth. When I didn't protest, Gareth winked at me and went back to talking on the phone while I was pulled to help grab and pack some supplies we could carry with us.



Gay marriage is legal in South Africa and earlier in the week I had mentioned how beautiful the landscape was in Africa and how it would be romantic to get married there. With a few hours before the plane was set to take off for Haiti, Gareth and I went and got married at a local office. Gareth wore a white dress shirt and black shorts and I wore a blue dress shirt and khaki shorts. We didn't have any rings, so we took some wire from some tags they used to label supplies and made them into two rings. It wasn't how we had planned the moment, but when I was able to look into his eyes and say our vows, I wouldn't change it for the world. Of course the marriage won't be recognized in Ireland or the US, but at least now there is one corner of the world where I can call him my husband.



We didn't tell anyone in the group what we did, choosing to keep it to ourselves. I only had time to call Hamish and let him know what we were doing and had done since he's watching our home and cats. Our honeymoon was spent on a plane to Haiti and the closest we came to consummating the wedding was when we held hands under the blanket on the flight.



I didn't have much time to think about what we getting into until we were on the plane. I was nervous about being in the way and not sure what I could contribute. He assured me that it will all be OK and how they'll be more ways for me to help than he could list for me. He said the big thing now is to get some sleep on the plane because we won't be getting much once our feet hit the ground. I sat there holding his hand under the blanket as he closed his eyes and went to sleep. I tried to close my eyes and rest, but all I could think of as I looked around the plane was that I didn't belong here.



Somehow though I managed to drift off and get some sleep until we were woke up as we arrived to the island. You could see some of the devastation from the air as we circled for landing. Everyone was leaning and looking out the windows trying to get a first glimpse. As we left the plane Gareth looked at me and told me to stay near him and do what he tells me, no questions and that's exactly what I did. We unloaded and piled into a big truck that took us to the city. The group were talking of all their plans and I started to feel confident and even though I was nervous inside, I managed to appear calm on the outside. But nothing will ever make me forget that first moment when we stepped off the truck and the sights and sounds really hit us. There was a smell of death like I had never smelled before hanging in the air. Bodies were lying everywhere, some alive, some dead. People wondered around lost, confused, shocked by it all. I remember hearing Gareth say in a hushed voice, "My God" and I knew at that moment that even with all his experience this was a sight even he wasn't prepared to see. To me it seems as though our whole group stood there taking it in for several minutes, but it was only a few seconds before they started to do what they do.


The next few days were filled with more despair, sorrow, death, hope, and joy than I could ever describe in words on a blog. I saw children shivering with fear and hunger sitting next to a dead mother or father and sometimes both. I saw hands reach out to us because we stand out as foreigners begging for food and some getting angry when we had none to give. I saw people gathered among ruined churches singing praise to God, while others cursed him. I've seen people holding the hands of a loved one buried in the ruble while they are rescued and others holding the hands of a loved one for the last time before they are buried. I felt shame being given food each evening knowing there were so many others who would lay awake all night from hunger pains. I shrugged with Gareth as we threw away the shirts we wore for our wedding after they became soaked with blood from the days work. I walked by a girl, about ten years old who sat in a hallway as she looked up at me with a single tear running down the side of her face. Gareth warned me not to get to close to anyone because the hurt would be too great if they could not be saved. But I couldn't walk away from this girl and sat down next to her and held her in my arms for over three hours. She didn't speak English and I didn't speak Creole, but words weren't needed, only a hug and some love. I left her sleeping for the night when Gareth came to get me. I snuck her some food the next morning, but when I got there her blanket was all that was left. She had died during the early morning and they had just taken away her body leaving the blanket for the next person. I sat down, held the blanket and cried like a baby. Gareth was right, the hurt is very great.



Needing some clothes and other supplies, I managed to get a call to my brother in law in the states who called his family in the Dominican Republic. A few of us were able to cross and we're spending the night at their home heading back tomorrow. We'll take some supplies back with us and then I'll be coming back here Tuesday to get a flight out and head back to Ireland. If anyone needs to reach me for anything important, leave a message, Hamish will be checking the blog, phone messages, and my email until I get home.


Let me close by saying don't take your life for granted. It was an ordinary day for Haiti when the earthquake hit. Children were at school, parents were at work, families were shopping, making dinner, lovers were kissing and planning their future. In a brief moment, ordinary life was gone. There are stories here of a man who wrote notes to his family under the rubble as he died so they would know how much he loved them because he didn't get to tell them before they left home that day. In the end, love is all we take with us and all that matters to those we leave behind.

28 comments:

Brian David Morley said...

Oh Stephen, first, I want to wish you both all the love and happiness in the world, I'm sure you were both beautiful grooms!Love makes you beautiful! I'm so blown away by your post...really amazing-you need to wright about all this,for real.I can't imagine what you've seen and done for these poor people and their country...Not being there myself, I guess I want to say thank you both, for your caring and love of those in need.Please get home safely and that goes for your HUSBAND as well! Love, B

Anonymous said...

I could relate to Haitian because the 2006 earthquake that struck my nation offshore Aceh and followed with the tsunami takes the toll of casualties,and my friend lost some of their relatives. my heart and love for those who loss.

and of course,
congratulations on the marriage.


cheers.

Anonymous said...

Stephen I just dont know what to say you describe your experience in Haiti so well I am in tears here in Dublin may that poor girl's soul and all who have died rest in peace her suffering is at least over.

At the same time you write you got married heartiest congratulations perhaps your marraige in Sth Africa will be reconized here when the Civil Patrnership Bill is passed in the Parliament over the next few weeks.

David said...

Congratulations on getting married.

Words just can't express what I think of this blog entry. It sounds incredible. I hope everything turns out ok. All my hope is with everyone in Haiti.

Brian David Morley said...

Hamish...what can I say...WOW. Please don't publish this, just love on him when he gets home, for all of us that read and care about Stephen and Gareth and their amazing journey-I SO wish I could toast them in person, and to have the earthquake thrown in to the matrix....I'm speechless(well not quite!) Thanks for being such a good friend to them! Brian Morley (kind of a honeymoon in hell....but a honeymoon none the less...:)

Aerelonian said...

Wow.

Steven Anthony said...

Im typing throught tears right now....you are a beautiful soul, God bless you!

speechless

Pedders said...

I'm speechless - that's how your life changes in 10 days...
Things like these make me think how lucky I am and how futile other things are in my life when compared to the big picture.

I'm really proud for you both - getting married! CONGRATS! One day, not far away, your marriage will be recognized all around the World =)
Thanks for the update.
Good luck mate and be strong!

Jay Simser said...

Thank you for this post. I am so proud of you both for going there to help. I see people around here going about their business as usual and wonder how they can ignore the plight of these people.

Also congratulations on your marriage. I cry at weddings and your post brought tears to my eyes. Tears of sorrow for the people of Haiti and joy for you. If you come to Iowa your marriage will be recognized.

Chuck said...

The tears are running down my cheeks after reading your amazing account.

You are both angels to do what you've done.

Oh ... congratulations, too!

an American reader

Anonymous said...

Great post. Your blog never let me down since the first time I read your posts. Its just not like any other blog.

Stephen said...

I am moved by this post, beyond all reason. My thoughts & white light are with you & your man.

You are mentioned in my post today:
http://nopoboho.blogspot.com/2010/01/when-i-get-up-each-day-i-have-no-idea.html

Blessing to you both...

WranglerMan said...

God bless you both! My sincerest best wishes for a life's worth of happiness and more for you and Gareth.

To put the well being of others before your own says a great deal about Gareth and about you!

I now have two guys whom I am happy to look up to. There is still such a thing as heroes in this world!

Frank B Smith said...

excellent advice there at the end, something we all need to keep in mind

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to you both on your wedding. Bless you both for reaching out and helping those devastated in Haiti.

Bill in California said...

Congrats on your marriage Stephen and Gareth!! As if that wasn't adventure enough in itself...what an interesting way to spend your honeymoon! Certainly you'll never forget it!! Times like those can only enrich your lives, and make you truly appreciate what you have. Take care, you two!!

FDeF said...

You and Gareth are very privileged to be in a position to help those suffering in Haiti. Blessings to both of you and your team of doctors. And congratulations on getting married.

molepunch said...

Broke my heart, Amerish. :( I am careful not to be emotionally affected by the Haiti tragedy still, and keeping distant. I think I will be a complete wreck if I were there, and no one needs any of that right now. I'm so weak! :(

Runaway said...

These days are not being easy in Haiti! It was really sad what happens there, God help them, 'cause sadly can't go there help them myself.
Unfortunately, you could not even enjoy your wedding so much, after all, there's no vibe for that in Haiti, what is sad, 'cause gay couples don't get married every day!
Hopeing the best for you! And for Haiti as well!

Samuel said...

so happy for you. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Gives poignant meaning to the old phrase "beggars description" You have of course done the equivalent course of twenty years of advanced spiritual meditation by your service in Haiti. May you and your husband have many happy safe years TOGETHER after this is all behind you.

Joseph said...

I have read your blog for quite a long time because, as I once wrote to you in an e-mail, I am also an American whose heart was stolen in Ireland. I was very deeply moved by this entry. Through one of the Catholic relief agencies for children in underprivileged nations, I supported a child in Haiti whose parents fell victim to AIDS, leaving the boy orphaned before the age of two. As in most of these programs, he and I exchanged letters, photographs, and tiny mementos of our lives, lives which intersected only in this way. When news of the earthquake in Haiti reached me, I was terrified, knowing that my young friend lived very near to Port-au-Prince. I received news five days after the temblor from the headquarters of the charity under whose auspices I sponsored him that my young friend, aged eight, was lost when the orphanage in which he lived was destroyed. My grief at the passing of this sweet child I never met is as great as if he had been a member of my own family.

I cannot thank you enough for your work in Haiti, and for your husband's. Money has the power to buy much-needed food, water, medicines, and supplies, but only contact with caring people such as you can truly ease the suffering of people who have lost everything. For the thousands of children just like my young friend, I am tremendously thankful that you are there to care about them -- and to show them that you care about them. There are tragic times at which making the journey more comfortably, physically and emotionally, is perhaps even more important than saving a life.

Heartfelt congratulations on your marriage. Go n-eírí an bóthar leat.

headbang8 said...

Congratulations on your marriage, and one of history's most memorable, and meaningful, honeymoons.

Hamish said...

I've updated the comments. Sorry, I've not heard from Steve or Gareth since this last post. No news for me to report. We keep them and Haiti in our thoughts.

Rachel said...

It is a special thing to share your experiences as you express them so well. Bless you both in your marriage and in your work to help those in need.

Jay said...

Congrats!

Ing said...

Holy smokes! Wow you have been busy! First off big huge congratulations. It sounded so romantic and beautiful.

Please let us know how you are doing in Haiti if your still there or wherever you are. Take care of yourself and Gareth.

Bryan s said...

Im in tears right now...so happy about you and Garretha nd that even makes me sad because I and A won't regonize it.

Then lost it with the little girl and how you sat with her for three hours. That is just AMAZING you were there for her. Truly touched.

Keep your head up and YOU are an inspiration to me.