The other day I got connected to Emily Troutman, a reporter working for AOL News in Port-a-Prince, Haiti. She was looking for Americans who had travelled to Haiti since the earthquake and I fit that description. After a quick exchange of emails, she told me she was just looking for a couple of quotes about an article covering Sarah Palin’s visit last week. I was happy to comply.
I thought it would be interesting to share the final essay she published and also share my full responses to her questions.
First, her essay:
“Haiti has been a country that has suffered in the past and is going to continue to suffer until some fundamental changes are being made here,” said Palin, who was accompanying the Rev. Franklin Graham, director of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical charitable organization operating in Haiti.
If Sarah Palin wants change for Haiti, though, I hope she will first be changed by Haiti.
Tuesday night, a roving gang, setting fire to a car, aimed rocks at my head when I attempted to take a photo. I just threw my hands in the air, in surrender. By today, I was catching photos of Palin’s cheerful, determined grin. And again, I was tempted to throw my hands in the air. The country was catapulted further into crisis this past week, after many felt the presidential election, mired in fraud, failed to reflect the democratic vote of the people. For three days, Port-au-Prince was shuttered and innocent bystanders sprinted through the streets to find safety.
My name never really appears in the article. Which is fine… I knew that going in. If you read the whole essay though, you’ll see some themes that I brought up appearing scattered throughout. I thought it was pretty cool.
Here are my answers to her questions:
Happy to help. And I didn’t know Sarah was coming to PaP. Very cool of her. I hope her heart is changed the same way mine was.
Feel free to use my name or not. It’d be cool if you could send me back a link if you publish something. (Even if you don’t use my stuff.)
San Diego, CA
Why did you come to Haiti?
I came immediately following the January earthquake to minister to survivors in tent cities and evaluate what further opportunities there could be for American college students and young adults to serve those displaced.
Did you choose Haiti over another impoverished place? If so, why? Or was it always just Haiti that you wanted to visit? Why?
No, I responded to a specific invitation from an NGO to come to Haiti after the earthquake. Such a trip had never been on my mind before the invitation.
How did you feel when you were here?
I had a lot of fear in coming to Haiti. My whole adult life I’d only heard terrible things. I’d heard it was a place of violence. I’d heard horror stories of those who practiced the Voodoo religion. What shocked me was that my experience was the exact opposite. From my arrival (driving in from the Dominican Republic) until the time I left, I had never been to a place more friendly, and more hospitable. We were greeted everywhere with warm, generous smiles. Surely, when we encountered tent cities who had nothing to eat or drink there was desperation. But we never felt in danger, never saw expressions of anger, and were warmly received. (Whether we came just to help people process what they were going through, praying with them, participating in worship services, or coming to deliver aid, we were treated the same.) As I left in February I cried because my time had ended too quickly. I vowed that I’d be back to serve again. (And fulfilled that vow in July)
I expected Haiti to be a nation heavy with mourning and instead found it a place of hope!
Did anything surprise you?
Lots of things! I didn’t expect to enjoy the food so much. From fresh fruit bought on the street to amazing meals of rice, beans, and goat.
On my return trip in July, what surprised me was how little progress had been made. The tent cities were filled with the same people and the rubble was in the same place. Likewise, the people in the tent cities were frustrated by the big NGOs promises to help. They knew billions of dollars had been given in aid but only a few things had happened. (I wasn’t there with Oxfam, but in several of the camps we worked in we were impressed by the sanitation/water systems installed by Oxfam.)
How did you feel when you went home?
On both trips I was sad to leave Port-au-Prince. I feel strangely alive while I’m there. It’s hard to explain how amazing of a community it is, even amidst the great disaster. I had a hard time explaining to people what I’d experienced. Their minds were filled with the horror stories portrayed on the news while I wanted to share stories of the great hope for rebuilding the nation we felt as we met with people in tent cities, pastors, and various community leaders.
Did you feel different? Culture-shocked? Grateful? Tired? How long did it take for that feeling to subside, or did it?
Coming back, first there were the silly things. On both trips I was overcome with emotion in the airport upon coming back to the States. On my first trip, our team sat down for lunch and collectively felt guilty. We had each just spent $10 on lunch… enough money to feed a family for 10 days. On my second trip, it just didn’t make any sense to me that a short two-hour flight from Port-au-Prince took me a world away. It was trivial, but after going through customs and checking in to my homeward flight, I cried in the bathroom. It was just too clean and unused to make any sense. That was definitely reverse culture shock.
Did it subside? Of course. But I’ve been changed forever.
Will you come back? Why or why not?
I will come back. Why? There is too much work to be done. And for anything I’ve given it’s been returned to me ten times in blessing.
I originally had plans to return after Christmas but they’ve since fallen through. I’m currently looking for an opportunity to come back with an NGO to continue working in the tent cities. I would love to be a camp manager.
Are you glad you went to Haiti?
Absolutely. Haiti is a place that intrigues you with its paradox. It has a rich, proud history of being the first free black nation. It’s people speak a beautiful language and love to learn. But it’s also defined by a history of corruption and deep poverty. That paradox sets it apart and calls me back!
Here’s the deal: Haiti still needs help. It still needs people like you. If God is calling you there and you aren’t quite sure why. Let me know.