Cite Soleil, “City of the Sun” or “Sun City”, has been described as one of the most dangerous and impoverished places in the world. It is the largest slum in the western hemisphere and is known for it’s unsanitary conditions, poverty and crime. Most people in Cite Soleil live on less than 2 U.S. dollars a day. The illiteracy rate is as high as 66%. Armed gangs patrol the streets and disease is rampant. Didier Revol, an ICRC press officer based in Geneva, describes Cite Soleil as being “a microcosm of all the ills in Haitian society: endemic unemployment, illiteracy, non-existent public services, insanitary conditions, rampant crime and armed violence.” (http://www.redcross.int/EN/mag/magazine2006_2/10-11.html)
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Under the blazing sun, we entered the shanty town. After driving through potholes and stagnant water laden streets, past shacks and people with skirting eyes, we finally arrived at the barred gate of Le Phare des Angeles orphanage, located off an alleyway where two Haitian men gazed at us with angry suspicion. Someone honked their horn and the gate was opened. We could barely squeeze the Mitsubishi in the narrow driveway alongside the shabby building that housed 28 or so orphans just inside Cite Soleil. We could hear the gate shut behind us as we exited the three SUV’s we took to transport our team into the slum. We joined a small gathering underneath a ramshackle tarp that in all it’s best efforts could not bear the heat of the day. Sweat dripping off their backs and seated on wooden benches, the congregation looked toward the Pastor who began reading from Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
and everpresent help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains shake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almghty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Shortly after the Pastor finished reading, the orphan children assembled at the front to sing a song. The song was “Count Your Many Blessings”.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall
and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine –
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations,
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
May 28, 2010, Port Au Prince, Haiti
Dust cluttered the air of the rubble consumed streets that had not seen rain. Scraggly livestock foraged the alleyways. Threadbare shoes carried their masters into the tent cities that now suffocated the capital. From my air conditioned vantage point inside the pickup that greeted me at the Port Au Prince airport, I peered through the glass expecting to see a third world country very similar to the many I had already become acquainted with. I expected the damaged buildings, the wreckage and the poverty. But nothing could have prepared me for the hollowness reflected in the eyes gazing into mine. There was no anguish, no sorrow. There was no emotion on the gaunt faces of those who had no hope.
Who Am I?
What could I possibly offer these people? Medicine? That hardly seemed enough. I love how Dr. Vanderpool, head of Mobile Medical Disaster Relief in Nashville, TN so succinctly put it: “We are here to leverage medicine as a means to spread the gospel.” And that became my prayer. That every patient I touched would be as though the Lord himself had touched them. That I would be the hem of his garment.
I prayed with my patients. Sometimes after I was done praying, I would look up to see them crying. Mothers, whose children were sick, young girls with venereal disease, old men who suffered from arthritis, people in chronic pain because their injuries from the earthquake had not properly healed. Nearly every patient we saw complained of heartburn. Heartburn is an indicator of stress.
The Little Bird
Two hours in the back of a flatbed truck with hardly anything between your bony bum and mammoth potholes can make for one cranky nurse. Not to mention 90 something degree weather with a hundred percent humidity. As I climbed my sweaty, disgruntled self over the back end of the truck and jumped down onto the dirt road with a less than graceful landing, I was greeted with a raspy high pitched voice rattling off in Creole. Her excitement was hard to miss. Neither was she. Not any taller than an eight year old and hardly larger than a bean pole, the little old lady with the hazy, droopy eyes couldn’t contain herself. She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the makeshift church nestled in a grove of trees. One of our translators came up beside me and laughed, “She’s surprised you are so white!” I chuckled and made a mental note not to wear my stethoscope around my neck for fear of being strangled by the death grip she now had on my hands. Who knew such a bird of a creature could be so strong? I eventually freed myself from her and she flitted away to carry her excitement elsewhere. I looked around and found myself in a beautiful grove of trees that much resembled bamboo but to my trained eye, knew they were some other species. I sat my stuff down and began seeing patients. There were old men, young women, children and babies to be seen. A little while later, I had just handed out some worm medication and felt something biting on my leg, so, for fear of mosquitos or scabies, I leaned over to inspect it. There was nothing there, as was usual, however I figured one can never be too careful. After a thorough investigation of my leg was performed, I sat back up and came face to face with the little bird! She leaned over and about two inches from my face, grabbed my hands and started back in with her chattering. I tried to smile and nod, oblivious to what in the world she was saying. I sent a desperate glance at my translator who was sitting there giggling. “Are you going to tell me what she’s saying?” I cried, desperate to have circulation back in the only two hands I’ve got. He began speaking and the little bird let go of me and sat back quietly, waiting. She had been praying for a doctor since her village has no access to medical care. The translator turned to me and said, “She says: the Lord told her in a dream last night that a doctor would come to her village today. She was not expecting a white doctor!” Giggling, I smiled and looked into her murky eyes, lit with a grin that was quickly encompassing her gaunt face. Her smile grew wider as tears filled my eyes. In that instance, humility rained down on me like the approaching clouds. Her excitement was because I was the Lord’s answer to her prayer. I was the one he had sent.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
The little bird
It was late, and we had gone straight from working at a mobile clinic site to the concrete church situated next to a roadside butcher shop, to teach an English class. We were hungry form a full days work, but knew our hunger was nothing compared to the starvation we were surrounded by daily. So we checked our attitudes, asked for the Lord’s grace, and went willingly.
After the class was over, I took my churning stomach and headed to our flatbed limousine, but before I could make it, a man with dark eyes and a shining smile touched my arm and stopped me. “Will you come back?” He asked me in English. His joy was infectious,
“I would really like that.” I smiled.
“Ok, When?” he said.
“Well I don’t know, soon, maybe in two weeks.”
He beamed, and putting his arm around me uttered softly,
“That gives me hope.”
As I watched the sun rise over Port Au Prince the last day I was there, I was struck by it’s all encompassing beauty. Four of us had gotten up early but because of where our compound was situated, we could not see the sun itself. What we could see were the glistening effects it had on the clouds and surrounding sky. High above the abandoned building we had climbed up on were brilliant rays of light that showered down, embracing the exposed rebar. That morning, we watched the light start as a tiny flame behind the rubble and expand slowly until the surrounding countryside basked in it’s warmth. A pure, unadulterated, redeeming light.