Saturday, January 23, 2010
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.
Friday, January 15, 2010
We've been in the "bush" as I call it for a few days and news of the earthquake in Haiti slowly made it way out to us. Now back in Johannesburg, Gareth and several of the doctors are working the phones to see if they can get a spot on any flights going in to Haiti. The images we're seeing on the television of the devastation is hard to grasp.
It's been a week of adventure here and I have lots to talk about, but its kind of crazy here right now and I'll write more later.
Irish Aid For Haiti:
Concern Worldwide, which has been working in Haiti since 1994, has launched an emergency appeal following the earthquake. Donations will be accepted on 1850-410510 or through Concern.net.
People can donate to Oxfam by calling 1850-304055 (NI 0800-0304055), by visiting OxfamIreland.org, or at their local Oxfam Ireland shop.
GOAL has allocated €250,000 from its emergency fund as an immediate response and is accepting donations from the public. Call 01-2809779 or visit Goal.ie.
UNICEF Ireland has launched an emergency appeal for the children of Haiti. Donations can be made on Unicef.ie or by calling 01-8783000.
Médecins Sans Frontières can be contacted on 1800 905 509 and is also accepting donations on MSF.ie
Trócaire has also appealed for funds. To donate, visit Trocaire.org or call 1850-408408 (NI: 0800-9121200).
The Irish Red Cross launched an emergency appeal also, donations are being accepted online at Redcross.ie or by calling 1850-507070.
Haven is appealing for funds for its emergency earthquake relief. You can donate securely via www.havenpartnership.com or cheques can be sent to Haven, the Malthouse, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2.
World Vision Ireland has launched a Haiti Earthquake appeal and is accepting donations online at www.worldvision.ie or by calling 1850-366283.
Christian Aid has launched an appeal and released €100,000 to help local partner organisations in Haiti. To donate please call [Dublin] 01-6110801 or [Belfast] 028-90381204 or at ChristianAid.ie.