Go with me to Haiti.

I just arrived last Tuesday with three friends.  We flew to the Dominican Republic and took an eight-hour bus ride the next morning to Port-au-Prince.  The date is now February 7, 2010, just over three weeks after the devastating earthquake of January 12.  We’ve been in Haiti for five days.

It’s been a long week so far.  The bus ride was tense, full of aid workers and family members trying to get to Haiti to find out if their relatives survived the ordeal.  If they did, are they hurt?  Where are they living?

Our small team sat on the bus entering Haiti, unsure what to expect.  We stayed with a family right outside the city that first night, but it was already dark, so it was hard to know what things really looked like.  Popping up the tents we brought in the front yard because no one in the country felt safe inside, we were painfully aware of continuing aftershocks.

We didn’t sleep much that night, partly due to anxiety and partly due to dogs barking, chickens pecking on our tents, and the smell of fear coming from every direction.  Oh well – we didn’t come for a vacation.

We ventured into the heart of the city the next day and saw the reality of what had occurred.  Families torn apart, homes shattered, a nation in ruins.  It was a devastating sight.

We spent our time visiting with people who had lost loved ones, playing with children, and meeting with contacts my friends had on the ground.  We listened to their stories.  We tried to offer any hope we could.

That first day was exhausting for all of us, trying to process what we were seeing.  It was eye opening in so many ways.  I don’t think we talked about it a lot that night, because we were trying to be there for the Haitians we came to spend time with.

We spent one more day in the heart of the city, meeting with people and helping out where we could.  Since then, we’ve been at the main airport in Port-au-Prince, which is the hub for all international aid efforts.  It hasn’t yet been reopened for commercial air traffic, but it’s bustling with activity, nonetheless.

We walked onto the base, still under U.S. military control, to survey the international response site from a distance.  We didn’t plan on getting involved, but things turned out differently.

It turns out there’s a large, two hundred plus bed hospital right here on the base, just a short distance from the runway, where supplies are being dropped at all hours of the day and night.  Run by the University of Miami, this hospital has treated hundreds of victims, and the queue doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter.

We walked toward the hospital tents to observe; we didn’t plan on getting any closer, as we didn’t want to be in the way.  Somehow or another, we were asked to help out, and Joel and I loaded a crate of supplies into a truck.

Help was needed in the supply tent, which looked like a huge jumbled mess at that point.  Boxes upon boxes were piled up in this massive tent; no one had any idea what was where, but only that an entire nation was desperately in need of their contents.  Shipments have been coming in from around the world, but few people have had time to try and organize them into usable sections.  We were thrilled to help.

Joel and I have spent a couple days working in the supply tent unpacking, organizing, identifying supplies, labeling, etc., and I think things are now in a more workable condition.  Laura and Nicole have spent time with some patients and have been able to listen to their stories.  We’re thankful to be here where we’re needed.

During the past couple days, we’ve talked with many people, visited a few communities in the city, and distributed some food.  We’ve been pushed to our emotional and physical limits.

Despite the chaotic nature of experiencing Haiti in this time of crisis, I’m beginning to question the perspective I’ve had toward development, toward humanitarian aid, toward serving the underserved.  Seeing what I’ve seen – the utter destruction, the looks of terror, and the poor state of Haiti’s infrastructure – weighs heavily on my mind.

Have I been wrong in my thinking all along?  I’ve been to many underserved nations before this, but maybe I need to rethink my approach.  Has my perspective toward the underserved world contributed in some way to the mindset I see here in Haiti?  Maybe what I thought I knew isn’t right.

Everything I’ve seen around the globe before this has led me here, to this place, to these questions.

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