Wow. And just like that, I’m home. How did that happen so fast? Just a few days ago I was holding Haitian babies and handing out food at a mobile medical camp. Now, I’m sitting in my apartment, wearing a wool sweater and drinking coffee. It still seems a bit unreal.

Now, a lot of people have some pretty severe re-entry stories after trips like this. Collapsing and weeping in their closets when they see how many clothes they have, getting furious at their friends who just don’t understand, feeling nauseous in restaurants as platefuls of food go to waste, etc.

But that’s not really what’s happening to me. I’ve gone through reverse culture shock before. I understand the fact that some of my friends don’t get it. I’ve come and gone like this enough that I can get back to “normal” in just a day or two (instead of weeks, like it used to take!).

But there is something gnawing at my mind right now. A whisper of awareness that seems different somehow.

Unlike trips I’ve taken in the past, the crisis I just left is still going on in full force. Even if I get straight back to work and throw myself in head-first to life here in the “real world,” there will still be a disaster going on 750 miles off the coast of Florida.

Reality Check

New orphans like this little one must now be cared for by their extended family.

Let’s face the facts. Across the city of Port-au-Prince right now, tens of thousands of people are living in tents. Refugees inside their own country. Some are sleeping under rudimentary shelters made out of sticks and trash… others are crowded 8 or 10 deep in tents donated by organizations like the Red Cross.

There is very little food, very little electricity and very little sanitation. Some Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps with thousands of residents each have only three or four latrines. The situation is desperate, made even worse by the ongoing stress and fear many Haitians still feel because of the quake.

So as I catch up on The Office and 30 Rock, Haiti is still right there, in the back of my mind.  It won’t go away…

With that in mind, as we bring this chapter of our Haiti coverage to a close, let me share with you one last story from my time in Haiti that continues to pop up in my thoughts at unexpected times.

My interpreter, Jean.

A Night With IDPs

As my time in Haiti was coming to an end, I wanted to get a sense of what life is like for IDPs living in tents, so I asked my interpreter, Jean, if I could spend a night out where he stays.  He agreed, so as the sun set on Wednesday night, we drove downtown together.

Jean, along with around 300 other IDPs, is living in the compound of a church just down the street from his unstable home.  Although the streets in his neighborhood have been mostly cleared of debris, there are still countless collapsed buildings around every corner.

When our car pulled up to the church, I could see a trash fire burning on the opposite sidewalk.  Otherwise, it was dark.  There was no electricity.

As we walked through the church courtyard in the dark, I could see many tents, tarps and mattresses crowded into any available space.  Many people sat around talking and listening to battery powered radios.

For many Haitians, life is now an even bigger struggle...

After introducing me to his friends, Jean ran over to a pile of stuff covered in a plastic sheet and started digging through it with a flashlight to look for something.  I realized that the pile was a collection of his possessions… Things he had “rescued” from his dangerous house, which even now he fears will collapse.

When Jean returned, he had in his hand a portable DVD player.  A couple of other guys got to work hooking it up to a car battery.  Within minutes, I found myself watching a Jean Claude Van Damme movie under a tarp with a bunch of Haitian refugees.  It was surreal, to say the least.

Time to Sleep

After the movie was over, everyone set up their mattresses and lay down outside.  With so many people and so few tents, most prefer to simply sleep under the stars.  Although the mosquitoes were out in force, the breeze felt nice.  Before too long, I had drifted off to sleep.

Earlier that night, Jean had said something about how much he “fears” the rain.  I didn’t really understand what he meant until around 4am, when it started to pour.  Groggy, tired and quickly becoming soaking wet, I grabbed my mattress and followed Jean into his tent.

The tent was large, built for perhaps 5-6 people.  But inside, I found myself crammed into a corner with 9 other Haitians.  I curled up against the side of the tent and tried to fall back asleep, but as I looked around the tent I realized that I was the only one doing so.

These pregnant women must face an uncertain future with their babies.

Everyone else was sitting up, talking in hushed voices.  There simply wasn’t enough room for everyone to lay down, so nobody did.

Eventually, the rain stopped and dawn brought light to the courtyard.  I rolled up my mattress and stepped out of the soggy tent (apparently water had found a way inside).  As I followed Jean out of the church property, I took in sights that had been only shadows the night before.

Tent after tent.  Family after family.   One person had lost his job in the quake.  Another had lost her family.  These people lived every single day without knowing if their lives would ever get back to normal.

Jean and I got in the car and drove away.  But he would be back in the evening.  For now, at least, this was his home…

The “Real World”

Some friends I must not forget...

And now here I am.  Back in the United States.  Back in my comfortable apartment.  Back in the “real world.”

Of course, I say that a bit ironically.  I live in the land of endless entertainment, constant comfort and free refills.  I can go for days or weeks at a time without engaging with the outside world if I so choose.

What’s so “real” about that?

I am thankful that Haiti remains like a thorn in my mind.  I don’t want to move on.  Even tonight, as I lay down in my comfortable bed, Jean will be sleeping yet again on an old mattress under a tarp.  I don’t want to forget that.

Because only if I embrace the low grade fever of sadness will I be able to make a change…

Haiti, I won’t forget you.

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Next Steps
    • Nehemiah Vision Ministries is collecting 500 tents to distribute to IDPs in Port-au-Prince. Contact Aaron Sherrick (asherrick@nehemiahvisionministries.org) for more information on how to donate yours!
    • As always, NVM needs your help to bring relief to the Haitian people. Would you consider supporting their cause financially? Click here for more information.
    • Pray for the many IDPs living in tents right now. Pray that they would be encouraged in the midst of this dark season of their lives...
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    February 15th, 2010 at 11:32 am  

    I’m haunted by the first picture of people apparently praying while the one young boy bores a hole in my soul with his eyes. Wow. It’s as if he’s asking me the same question…will I forget?

    No, I won’t

  2. Aaron said... 

    Reply

    February 15th, 2010 at 11:07 pm  

    That is a powerful picture Dave. I am also struck by how white Barry looks in between those two Haitian. Pigment challenged are you?

    In all seriousness, thanks for going ahead of us Barry. I pray you continue to find ways to embrace the low grade fever, and it turns into fruitful expressions of the Kingdom.

  3. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    February 16th, 2010 at 8:05 am  

    There is much about this story that haunts me and there is a lot of HOPE seen here too. The faces of the Haitian people, the community in prayer, the community living through the literal and true storm in their life each day, the women depicted who will soon give birth to the next generation of Haitians, God’s unfailing love delivered through those trying to provide aid, as they trust in Him for all they have (Psalm 32:10). ALL these things show us HOPE in this story. We are reminded in Jeremiah, that we serve and worship the God who made it all by the power of His outstretched arm… nothing is too hard for Him. Barry, you are wise beyond your years my brother, welcome home, and thank you for putting us in the middle of the “real world”…its out there and you know it. May God give you peace for a few days.

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