If nothing else, this is a new experience for sure. I used to wonder what it was like, waiting for something to happen, when that something was a hurricane. Well, now I know. All day Friday we watched and waited with one or the other of us checking the internet every few minutes. The sky was a stone cold grey, the winds were howling, the rain just a quarter inch above us but not yet falling.
Preparations had begun days in advance. We had stocked up on drinking water and food, we were ready with tape and boards for every window on the compound (there are a million of them for sure!) and we had sledgehammers to break the security wall if the place flooded and the water was held in by a wall that was meant to keep us safe. Each house had a new walkie-talkie in case phone lines were cut and lots of candles lest we lost electrical power. Those who were sleeping in pre-fab houses, in containers or in tents were assigned to one of the more solid houses. At our place we received seven men! Not bad for one hurricane!
Evacuation of Saint Louis Orphanage and St. Luc Adult Hospital to the St. Germaine rehabilitation compound was planned and ready for execution at a moment’s notice. Now it was just a question of waiting and waiting and waiting. This morning, very early, everyone knew that this was going to be the day! The winds had picked up considerably during the night, the palm trees were swaying in all directions and the rain was falling in torrents. Evacuation began immediately – 67 children from St. Louis and 37 patients from St. Luc. They filled every room in the rehab center – classrooms, offices, dining room, halls – there wasn’t a spare inch of space. The children fared the best – looking on it as a great adventure to “sleep over” at someone else’s house! They have a way of always making the best of any given situation and their delight is in the smallest things! They spread their little mats on the floor and were all smiles!
Joanne, Assistant Director of St. Louis, laid out the ground rules in no uncertain terms and then said, “You’d better behave or else I’ll hand you over to ‘Sista’ as the children call me! What I’ll do if they do misbehave is a mystery even to me! In any case, so far so good. For the patients, it was a different story. Some looked so sick and I saw that two or three had high fevers … Malaria? Typhoid? Cholera? Their bodies were on fire and their faces full of pain. Still, trust and hope in their eyes.
For lunch today, the Italian army, whose base is across the street, sent over a wonderful meal of roast beef, sausages, rice, macaroni, and French fries. The patients thought they had died and gone to heaven! There was plenty for everyone – including staff. It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity, which reaffirms my belief in the basic goodness of people despite what the evening news brings into our living rooms each night! Later, we will make soup for all and turn in early.
It has been an exhausting day. As I sit here at my computer trying to put my feeling into words, I realize the storm is petering out. The sky is dark still, but the rain is intermittent and the wind is not howling at us from all directions. Actually there is a calm all around that I have not felt for days. Maybe we have lived through the worst. When I pray tonight, I know I will thank God for unusual things – gratitude that we were able to open our house to so many in need, happiness to have seen so many children who have nothing except the little mats they brought to sleep on and yet are so happy, admiration for the many volunteers who worked all day to make life better for others.
Earlier, when I visited the patients, I saw much poverty and suffering. But I saw, as well, a courage and endurance that is quite astounding. The life of the Haitian people has never been easy, but in their strong faith, they have found a way to be happy and grateful, no matter what. They walk a difficult path with dignity and steadfast hope. It shows in their bearing and all over their faces.
It rings in their joy and in their laughter. This is what I will remember the most when I think of the time I waited and waited and waited for Hurricane Tomas.
Addition note from Wynn Walent: Our team is trying to organize several helicopter relief trips during the next few days. One to Port au Paix, where we have been told that the general hospital is basically abandoned and people are being left to die in the hospital, and two, to Jeremie, which was had reports of severe flooding. There is also have a St. Luc school in that area.