January 18, 2010

What I Did on My Winter Vacation...Next Door to Haiti

We flew out of Boston on Saturday January 9th headed for a week's vacation at an eco resort in the Dominican Republic where the temps were in the 80's, the breezes soft and tropical and the ocean - in serious contrast to here, home in Maine - can actually tempt a person to swim.

Our first few days were absolutely perfect and we revelled in the sun. We chortled at the cold and snow back home. We relished the delicious food, admired the lush vegetation, appreciated the warm and friendly people. And then the earthquake at the other end of the island, in Haiti.

We didn't feel physical tremors where we were, but the shock waves that went through the community were stunning. Many in the Domican Republic are from - or have substantial family ties to - Haiti, often working in the DR to send money back home.

If you've been to that area you know how unimaginably poor its people are. There are a few good main roads, but they quickly become dirt tracks. While there are definitely wealthy people and very lovely homes, the average family is far more likely to be crowded into a small shack, one made of found materials, or even more often, very shoddily produced concrete. In some places these homes are crowded, jumbled, together very tightly. Safe drinkingwater and decent sanitation facilities can be iffy, and the resulting health problems are challenging on a daily basis.

We've all seen images of the vast destruction the two countries on the island of Hispaniola and their people face during each year's hurricane season, with winds that can scour the land completely clear. But with hurricanes, there is often warning and a predictable path and direction. BUT, to have the destruction come without warning from beneath the sandy, unstable land is truly horrifying. And then there are the aftershocks.

Hearing the news grow steadily worse, I really, really regretted giving up my Red Cross emergency team certification and wondered if my sister-in-law who's been very active in the Washington state RC might be on her way. I felt blessed, humbled, and yes, somewhat guilty, at the wonderful meals, comfy bed and insulated vacation we were having. What to do, what to do?

The resort where we were and the others in the area too, I'm sure, quickly sent literally tons of bottled water and food. We donated money which would most readily benefit the disaster area, only a few hours away by some still-passable roads. And, we left (almost) all our clothes and shoes for the immediate aid effort. We figured they were summer weight clothes, new or in really good condition, and the resort offered to launder anything needing to be. We hoped many others would do the same thing.

Back home in Maine Sunday morning, it was a normal day... a cup of coffee, eggs and toast, the Boston Sunday Globe, oh, and mustn't don't forget to take my mulit-vitamin.

In Port au Prince on Sunday morning, 50,000 people were huddled in one of the city's open-space parks. With only the clothes on their backs. No hot coffee. No eggs and toast. No safe water period. No food period. VERY rudimentary sanitation facilities...50,000 people. The elderly, the babies, the grieving families, the hoping families, the separated families. No medium for news or communication. Each with nothing, absolutely nothing, more than a small patch of bare ground. And they had so, so little before...

It will be one week tomorrow since the 'quake hit, and although relief aid, temporary hospitals, tents, and mobile kitchens have started to get through, be set up and operating, there is so far to go. If you have a roof over your head and food on your table, please give something, anything, whatever you can, to help these people. Giving money, of any amount, is probably the wisest way to help.

It's my aim to donate what we spent on our winter vacation. In some ways, these people do live in a paradise, but life right now is certainly hell.



alice Goldsmith said...

Mary WELCOME BACK! Missed you.
HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and your family. Alice

Herb Farm said...

We were close by in the BVI's and had heavy seas plus torrential down pours on and off for 2-3 days. Can not imagine what the people of Haiti are facing!

Herb Farm said...

We have signed up for a beekeeping class that starts this week!