Port au Prince

Port au Prince
"He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." Psalm 40:2

Friday, July 19, 2013

A country of "contrasts"...

Haiti, like many other places in the world, is a country of "contrasts." When we landed on Saturday and passed through the new terminal, immigration checkpoint, and customs at the airport, I was utterly amazed at the progress that has been made in just one year. Since our last visit, the airport was transformed into a fairly modern building with a much smoother running arrival process. It was noticeably improved just since last year, but it is astonishingly improved from when I made my first trip to Haiti in 1998. Fifteen years ago, there was virtually no 'system' for arrival, no conveyor belt for luggage, and a huge warehouse building for a terminal. There is also progress this year on the streets of Haiti. For the first time, I've seen construction workers building sidewalks on the sides of the roads and two days ago I even saw a playground with some children playing on brightly colored swings and slides. Even that seemed hopeful to me- somehow just building a playground conveys a message that "kids matter" and a recognition that it is important to care for children because they are the future of this country.

But, then there days here when everywhere I look I see stark "contrasts" to the hopeful side of Haiti. Wednesday was that day for me - it was a tough, hard, and heartbreaking day. Any signs of hope and joy were simply overshadowed by the hardships of the day. In the morning, an unresponsive man was brought to the hospital  lying amidst gasoline containers in the flatbed of a truck. In the U.S. we use the flatbeds of trucks to carry debris and tires - here in Haiti is was an 'ambulance' carrying a man to the hospital. As I stood there with about 10 other people (including his brother and many doctors and nurses) staring at this roughly 35 year old man in the back of a truck, I was overcome with sadness and helplessness. Things move sllllllowly in Haiti - it is incredibly challenging and difficult to get things done because supplies are scarce, resources are few, and organization and efficiency is extremely hard to achieve for many reasons. So, I stood and watched and waited  with hopeful anticipation to see a man's life saved. And I waited...for things to happen quickly (because my only point of reference is the U.S. where within seconds of arriving at a hospital in an emergency you are swarmed by doctors, nurses, technology...but things didn't happen quickly and they couldn't...and the man lay lifeless in the back of the truck. I walked away because I couldn't stand to watch any longer and I felt like my heart was going to literally break in half watching. Eventually, one of our doctors was able to perform CPR on the man and tried to revive him but it was simply too late.

In Haiti, as in the rest of the countries of the world, there are many, MANY contrasts - in Sociology we refer to many of these as "signs of global inequality" - whatever you want to call them, they are obvious. And, no matter what you call them, the end results are often the same. I think with Haiti though the contrasts are a bit more obvious and stark than in some other places in the world. Here, the line between life and death is very, VERY thin as daily existence is difficult for some and help (getting to the hospital in time, having enough food to eat, etc.) is just not available for the vast majority of people. The line between rich and poor is very, VERY wide as thousands and THOUSANDS of people here do not have enough food to eat more than once or twice a day - and some, barely at all... yet others (a VERY small few) live in large houses and drive fancy cars. And, parts of Port-au-Prince are mind-bogglingly crowded and chaotic yet yesterday was drove for an hour and a half and saw a beautiful beach with palm trees and crashing waves - the difference is, the Haitians weren't at that beach, only foreigner because you have to pay to get in. Contrasts...so many contrasts that it makes my head spin. Despite this being my 8th trip to Haiti there is still so much to process each time I am here and I learn more and more each time I come.

I love this place - I love this country - I love these people- and I love this culture - and I love these orphanage children. Haiti has undoubtedly become "a part of me" over the past 15 years and I am forever changed and thankful because of it. Today will be a VERY hard day for me as well. A day of contrasts as we will hold a soccer tournament and play and laugh with the children for hours and then end the day with a "fete" (party) for them to say our good-byes. Good-byes here are never easy - there are tears, sadness, guilt feelings when we leave, but today is especially hard for me as I don't know when I will return to this place and people I love. I am recently married and our life is in transition and truly only God knows when and if my husband and I will return. The joy I feel to be here and being a part of the children's lives is overwhelming - but, the sadness I feel today about leaving is overwhelming as well. I hold on to a verse that has helped me through difficult times in my life - "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, to prosper you and not to harm you and to give you a hope and a future." I know that is true because it is a promise from God that he wants what is best for us. I hold on to that promise today and going forward knowing that God loves Haiti, He loves the people of Haiti, He loves the orphans of Haiti, and the poor of Haiti and He wants what is best for them. And today, I hold on and try to trust that He also wants what is best for me...and for you - whatever that may be...
Janese Free Newell


  1. This is a wonderful and moving recap, Prof. Free! Thank you for sharing! -Amy

  2. Ditto Amy. I could feel your mourning and began mourning with you with tears in my eyes.-
    TLB&KY, Bobbie

  3. Judy's Connecticut Cousin ClaudetteJuly 20, 2013 at 2:49 AM

    Be joyful and rejoice like the two roosters, calling out to all you meet at home in the USA to inspire others to perhaps join you in your one-on-one, hands-on (including the colorful and inhibition-removing, hands-on finger-painting-of-Judy), missionary work in Haiti. Perhaps your rejoicing will motivate some of the Haitian adults, who are healthy and capable of using their talents, to create stronger homes. Perhaps carpenters will join you next year to teach the older teens and young adults to build sturdy homes for the children. You all have made a difference in the lives of those you have met and touched through your selfless acts of kindness. Rejoice in this positive contribution to helping a fellow human being. The children have been blessed by your coming into their lives, if only for a short while. Through these tiny steps of human kindness, of sharing God through your actions, you have helped them in their own life journey. Let your tears be tears of joy. There is joy in your missionary outreach. Crow like the roosters when you leave. Crow like Peter Pan! Not out of cockiness, but out of joy for life and for the lives you have met. May Blessings be bountiful. May you enjoy a safe trip home tomorrow. Take time for quiet, inner reflection during the trip, but be prepared to share your experiences with others in your families and circles of friends, within your Church community and other communities of worshippers, with potential volunteers for the future, with potential donors, with news (both in print and online) media/etcetera. You will be a resounding inspiration to others, even one more volunteer for next year, or one more donor, or one more person to share your stories with other. Cock-a-doodle-doo! God is within you! Cock-a-doodle-doo! The Haitian children love you! Blessings, Judy's Connecticut Cousin