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Return to Haiti

January 24, 2013

Since Peter King of CBS News Radio saw fit to use the title of my blog for his excellent article on Haiti of a year ago, I have no qualms about appropriating his opening line.  “How often can one say it’s good to be back in a disaster zone?”  But like Peter, I see so much left to be part of, so many lives left to touch.

The weather in ‘Winterpeg’ was cold, but not severe.  I was surprised that I was not adversely affected to any degree.  In the Okanagan the temperatures were not as extreme, but there was a lot of snow during my stay.  I had a chance to participate in Canadian activities like shoveling snow and scraping windshields and winter driving.

I did not achieve many of my personal goals this trip.  The Christmas season is not a particularly good time to accomplish a great deal.  I did manage to do some unscheduled things like helping my sister in a small way to move to a new home and firing off a disgruntled letter to the editor about the recent decision of our federal government to suspend new aid to Haiti.  I doubt it will be published.  But as a friend posted on Facebook, “What screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.”

Standing with one foot in Haiti and one foot in Canada, I believe I have developed an uncommon perspective on life.  Quite frankly, I now struggle with some of what I see when I visit my “home and native land”.   From where I stand, Canadians are for the most part heedless of their good fortune.  Living with plenty naturally leads to expecting a lot.  Our affluence often relieves us of our dependence upon community, and in large part, dependence upon God.

Far more troubling to me is my awareness that the way we live our lives, collectively and often as individuals, clearly demonstrates that we consider our lives of more value than others’.  There is no real shortage of anything in this world; God provides enough for all.  However, due to greed and thoughtlessness, some of the world’s people go without.

I remember writing some time ago that my experience in Haiti has led to my seeing some things that everyone should see and some things that no one should see.  I have been witness to the pain of hunger.  I have seen people suffer, some ending up crippled and some dying for want of simple medical care.  Most traumatic for me was to stand helplessly and watch a newborn baby dying on a table in front of me because the medical equipment needed to save her was unavailable here.

On my return to Haiti I found a good friend had been very sick for more than two weeks.  He had been unable to seek medical attention since he had no money.  I took him into our local hospital and saw to it that he was cared for properly.  It cost me what I would consider pocket change, but for most Haitians it would not be within their means.

I have watched as people struggle to make a living in a country where at least 40% (probably many more) are unemployed and many more are underemployed.  But statistical comparisons to developed countries really don’t apply.  There is no social safety net in Haiti, no unemployment insurance, no welfare, no homeless shelters or soup kitchens.  The destitute must depend for their survival on the generosity of their neighbours who have little more than they do.

I have known people to go without food so that there would be money to send their children to school.  I remember someone telling me, “After three days it doesn’t hurt anymore.”  Most Canadians think they are starving if they haven’t eaten for a few hours.

I don’t want anyone to think I am being critical of him or her.  I understand in the world we have created, as Bruce Hornsby sang in a bit of social commentary, “That’s just the way it is.”  But perhaps you might think about the things I have mentioned for a minute or two.  Perhaps if you are quiet for a moment and listen carefully you may hear God speaking to you.

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