A nurse describes her two weeks in Haiti
Haitians will teach others what it means to have joy in adversity, she says.by Anje Ackerman Cassel
Evening was falling on Haiti as our two vehicles, loaded high with our 12-member relief team from Virginia Mennonite Missions, attempted the steep rocky ascent of the crumbling road toward our next work site.
A Haitian boy with a head wound plays outside a tent city. Photo by Anje Ackerman Cassel.
This was week two of our mobile relief clinic and exactly two weeks since the first earthquake that toppled Port-Au-Prince and sent its citizens to the streets—the streets where most remain, with no more than a sheet and a stick for shelter.
We parked the truck and began the ascent past crumbled houses and street fires, stopping to hear an elderly woman weep and gesticulate to the skies, her cloudy eyes rich with pain as she reached out and proclaimed that she is "under the arm of the grand master."
A white dove led the way past twisted rubble as we "blancs" (whites) followed the pastor, who was leading us into his own devastated community. We crested the hill, and he reminded us to wear masks if we had brought any.
Two weeks since the quake, yet many bodies remained under hopelessly crushed structures, their scent a painful reminder to the families who mourned them.
No vehicles could pass through this area. Demolition will continue one neighborhood block at a time—one cinder block, one board, one red-and-blue high chair compressed to the floor with a small plush reindeer lying next to it. Beyond the crumbled homes and offices was another vast hillside, a slumping array of flattened dwellings and leaning structures, pockmarked with eroded sites of homes that slid to crush what lay below. Power lines drooped, waving their dark flags of black plastic bags, soot and other materials that clung to them like sea kelp.
The pastor wept as he showed us where his office once stood, across from the spot where his church once stood. A parishoner's wife lay buried beneath this ground. The woman's young daughter—eyes red from dust and sorrow—sat quietly by, her arm in a makeshift sling.
An odd thing happened as we stood together weeping. A rainbow cut through the haze and reached heavenward. Its arm curved to embrace the hillside, much like the "arm of the grand master" that covered the elderly woman who cried out to us in the street.
Joe prayed with the community's pastor. They prayed for each other loudly as we circled around to lay on hands. Fires burned in the street, fires that burn trash and cremate bodies. We kept praying.
The next day included mobile clinic work in tent cities. We saw more wounds, more fractures, more sick babies. We saw patients who still had not seen a doctor since the day of the quake.
We treated them if we could. Those too badly injured were transported to the Miami University tent hospital near the Port-Au-Prince airport. They will be treated there or flown to the USS Comfort for surgery.
We saw a young girl with a fractured femur, a grown woman with a crushed pelvis, a boy whose hand had to be operated on before gangrene dictated amputation. Meanwhile, as we returned to our truck in the dusk, a shy girl reached for my hand and flashed a bashful grin. I thought of my own young children back in America, and I nearly fell to my knees to mourn this girl's loss of innocence.
As we wove through the makeshift tents, I passed a hand-painted message, "God is good all the time." I pulled myself together and we continued. In the morning we returned to provide medical care—but my hope was to provide more than just that.
I prayed that we have the time to listen to a story as a patient waited in line, to give them a chance to tell their stories of loss and redemption in the midst of suffering. I knew already that these good, strong, suffering people would teach all of us what it means to have joy in adversity.—Anje Ackerman Cassel returned from Haiti on Feb. 5 after two weeks volunteering with a Virginia Mennonite Missions medical relief team in conjunction with MCC in Port-au-Prince. Anje is an ER nurse in Virginia.
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In collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee, Virginia Mennonite Missions organized and sent three emergency medical teams to Haiti.