By Rob Beckham
I want to somehow describe the last few days.
Sometimes in life you are given the opportunity to work with great people. Father Rick Frechette is one of those absolutely great individuals.
And sometimes you find yourself in places you don’t normally want to go.
Go to these sites to get a glimpse of Cite Soleil, Haiti:
Trailer for film: Ghosts Of Cite Soleil
If you watch the movie trailer above, you see only one part of the slum called Soleil. What you don’t see are the thousands of innocent children and children that have grown into adults. They live in a violent world without hope. Their life is, what it is, simply because Cite Soleil and Warf Jeremy is where they were born.
They were born there by chance and are doomed to poverty. You can see the blank desperation and anger in their eyes.
I am home now and I sit down to write in my favorite coffee shop. I have been posting my messages from Haiti on my iPhone. (Read Rob’s earlier writing here.)
Friday, our team of new demolition experts recruited from the gangs of Cite Soleil finished clearing the rubble from one of our schools. I was glad we were able to clear the site. It was dangerous. There were large sections of concrete that we feared would fall on someone. Now, we can put some kids back in school.
Friday evening, I returned to the hospital where I had been sleeping. We were happy because we had accomplished a goal. We were tired, dirty, but full of energy, because we felt some good in contrast to the sheer volumes of agony and desperation that we had been immersed in for the last week. I had a deep gash cut in my left leg from a hole I had stepped in while working. It was wrapped with a bandanna.
Father Rick saw me come in and grabbed my arm. He said, “Rob, the area where you were working today erupted in gun fire and people have been shot. One of the gangs grabbed someone and is holding them hostage."
Now you have to imagine this area we were working in. Helicopters flew over us constantly. Large cargo planes flew overhead as they lined up for landing at the airport. Our generator roared and our cutoff saw was grinding into rebar. It was loud. The backhoe loaded our dump truck and strong gusts of wind blew the dirt in our faces. It was surreal. Occasionally, a U.S. Hummer would drive by full of Marines. A mentally ill woman walks through screaming at us and a young boy begs me for a bite to eat.
I never heard gunfire, though I did see people fighting down the street. But, this was not unusual; each time we freed a metal rebar from the rubble, Haitians rushed in fighting with each other to steal it. The metal was like gold bars falling to the ground. I was in my mental zone trying to clear the school. Hoping no one would get hurt. Those around me spoke in Creole, which is a mutated version of French. In some sense, I was now one of the gang members smacking fists with other members.
Rick said, "You can’t go back. You need to wait a few days for it to cool down." It was kind of a bummer emotion mixed with adrenaline. I went to the emergency room where I saw Jean a nurse friend of mine. I told her I cut my leg. Then, I looked around and felt an emotional surge. I was thinking about a small gash on my leg.
In a daze, I heard Jean telling me, "Sit down, I can see the bone in your leg. Does it hurt? Rob, you need stitches, but we will have to do it later tonight." There were children crying all around me. The room was full of kids with their legs and arms removed. Near me, another doctor was removing a maggot from a child’s ear.
I put some gauze on my leg, wrapped my leg with my bandanna, and hopped out. There was no room or time for small wounds.
We decided if we could not work, we should leave and not burden the supplies. I was told I could go to the airport at 6 a.m. and catch a military transport to Florida, but we had Ruben with us. Ruben was our translator and he is French. He had been staying in the US. The military would only fly out US citizens. It’s good to be American. I could not leave Ruben alone in Haiti, so I talked to Mariavittoria Rava.
Now Toia, is another amazing person: Watch a video of her being interviewed here.
She is Italian, she is the director of NPH Italia and the Francesca Rava Foundation, she is a successful attorney, she speaks multiple languages and she helps fund the schools I was working on. She told me she was going to Santo Domingo by bus Saturday evening. This could be a 10-hour drive across the island. You can go to the airport there and fly out.
Hum? Ten hours across the mountains or call in the air force? Well, I can’t leave Ruben.
She told me I was welcome to leave with them and we did. Crammed in a van full of bags, the ten of us made the trip much faster than planned. On the previous trip, Pedro, our driver had made, the bus had three flats and took 10 hours. This was the same road Vern, another new friend, drove the body of an American friend across the border last week to fly her home to her family. (This is another story of it’s own!) We made the trip in seven hours only slowing for the occasional military roadblock and inspection.
I slept in the Santo Domingo airport Sunday morning. Ruben and Mike flew to Miami at 7 a.m. and I caught a flight to San Juan Puerto Rico about 10 a.m. From there I flew to DFW and on to Lubbock. So, by the time I got home I had been traveling for over 24 hours.
For other details on The Fuller Center’s recovery effort in Haiti and how to help, visit our Haiti page.