The misery caused by the January earthquake in Haiti invaded our eyes, our ears and our hearts. Millions around the world gave of their time and money to help.
Last month, I had the amazing privilege of entering the country to help build transitional houses with a team organized by R3International, a group that provides disaster relief worldwide.
Haiti, a mere eight months after the quake, was a surprise.
Arriving at the airport in Port-au-Prince, the city was abuzz with activity. People were selling wares, driving, going to market. Though there were whole neighborhoods created out of tents crammed together in unlikely spaces, much rebuilding has already been done.
My team members and I traveled out of the capital city high into the mountains to a village called Petit Harpon. There, we began our work of building one-room homes, carefully stepping around yards that had become plots full of corn, bean, sweet potato, and watermelon plants. Terrace gardens cut into the steep hills could be seen from the roads, and every possible inch of space was used. The unstoppable sprouts pushed themselves upwards around rocky, yet fertile, soil.
I felt I had stumbled into a hidden paradise. At one family’s home, we drank refreshing coconut milk straight from the fruit, which had been pulled just minutes earlier from the family’s own tree. Across the road stood a towering tree, heavy with what appeared to be mangoes or avocados. Lush foliage provided natural property boundaries and added to the startling beauty all around.
Spontaneous smiles filled the air as we worked on homes throughout the week. And as we had opportunity, we heard stories in which individuals acknowledged their losses with sadness and resignation, but without self-pity. Practically all had buried loved ones months earlier, and we were astonished to see the memorials built proudly in the middle of their gardens, often more beautiful and intricate than their own dwelling places.
Back in the urban areas, I rarely felt unsafe, except the time our truck stalled in the middle of the main thoroughfare and I turned to see an oncoming bus barreling toward us. I screamed before we finally lurched forward to safety.
Despite the unspeakable devastation and horror of early 2010, people somehow managed to offer jokes and warm laughter in efforts to connect. In the midst of hardship, I didn’t hear many complaints. I saw hard-working and communal people continuing their lives because there was nothing else to do but go forward. I witnessed those in intense worship, praising God with the whole of themselves, singing with abandon, dancing, even twirling in exultation, grateful for gifts small and large.
Tabi Upton is a therapist at CBI-Richmont Counseling Center.