Please read this and share it with your friends ASAP, as it contains time critical information. If you don’t have time, just skip down to the bottom and read the LARGE text…
By Corrigan Clay
5 days ago I was driving down Delmas (Port Au Prince’s equivalent of a “Main Street”) listening to the scratch of my crippled windshield wiper vainly fluttering its way through the rain that obscured my vision, when my mind began to wander. Now, normally a wandering mind and driving in Haiti are a deadly mix, but when it rains, nobody in Haiti drives, so the apocalyptic landscape void of humanity in front of me only lent itself to deeper mental meanderings. Something about rain on glass always reminds me of tears. Maybe the association was inevitable for me, having grown up in Oregon and Washington with many losses in my early life. In America, when people ask me normal questions about my family, I always hesitate to answer. Small talk inquiries like, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” inevitably thicken the air as I explain my only brother’s fast and unsuccessful battle with Leukemia, my parents’ subsequent divorce, and my father’s remarriage… and death 3 weeks later in a plane crash. Perhaps my dad’s greatest gift to me was a spark of humor, because I’d always need it to light up the gloom after telling our family’s story. Some poor innocent bystanders trying to make chit chat have looked as if they needed therapy after asking for my family trivia.
Here in Haiti, however, my story is not a unique sob story, but the norm, and I don’t have to couch my words as I talk to Haitian friends. I am in good company. Everybody has lost a mother, father, brother, or sister… and this was true before the earthquake… every tranquil smiling Haitian face obscures deep currents of grief within.
As I stare at my windshield I remember those moments of tragedy and loss in Haiti that I have witnessed first hand. Crying is often forbidden, even by messengers delivering the news of fresh loss. “Your mother is dead. Stop crying. Stop IT!” On the rare occasions that I’ve seen Haitians cast off the conventions of emotional suppression, it has been a spectacle: whooping, flopping, screaming, ripping, tearing, fainting, and throwing fists… pandemonium. As I watch each droplet find a companion with which to descend, I wonder what it would look like if Haiti had tears, and the thought is frightful. This unrelenting rain would surely not be sufficient. Only the drips that commingle and unify gain enough weight to leave my windshield.
The next few days are exciting. Donna Karan’s “Urban Zen” initiative for Haiti teams up with Hugh Jackman, a Ralph Lauren model/polo player named Nacho Figueras, and the Veueve Clicquot champagne company to host a benefit polo match on Governors’ island in New York, naming the Apparent Project along with big groups like Partners in Health and Yele’ Haiti as benefactors. We don’t know what this will mean for Apparent jewelry sales or charitable contributions, but Donna has asked us what we might need to expand into ceramic bead production and expansion of our training and employment initiatives. A friend casually comments about this announcement on our facebook status, “the flood is coming”. The phrase struck me as odd, because I didn’t know what she meant. I think she was speaking optimistically about sales and donations, as she had noticed that our jewelry was prominently displayed at the event, which broke records for numbers of people on Governors’ Island.
Our back yard began to flood, doves finding refuge with our mud-caked chickens inside of their coop. Soon the roof-top balcony flooded, almost 2 feet of standing water and mounting faster than the drainage pipes could accomodate. Our office and bedroom began to leak through long-forgotten earthquake cracks. We called artisans’ cell phones and heard that many had left their homes because the creek in Clerville had usurped its boundaries and flushed the neighborhood with a lake of mud. Shelley went to help and to see the damage. Many families lost all of their clothing, food, and cash to the flood. Animals that had been tied up had drowned, their owners busily butchering their carcasses to avoid a complete loss. One of the properties that we had considered purchasing to develop homes for those still in tents had washed away completely. When we asked our artisans what people needed, they said, “Tout bagay. Yo pa gen anyen anko.” They need everything… they don’t have anything anymore.
As the kids played on our balcony-turned-pool, oblivious to the traumatic sight down in the ravine below, Shelley carted off all of the clothes that we could part with to provide some warmth to families whose wardrobes now lay under the mud. Shelley walked through the community and took the pictures you see on the left of this post. Our artisans are in a mess.
We are unceasing advocates for development in Haiti, and we look at relief with caution. Most short term work, relief efforts, and handouts have just crippled the Haitian economy and stolen dignity, initiative, and autonomy from Haitians in poverty. But now, this week, is the time. For much of the community we serve, this is exactly the time for a brief, but vital gift of food, clothing and, shelter. That brings us to some exciting news…