It's hard to get Haiti out of my mind.
I spent many an evening there, sitting on the hard concrete roof, staring directly into the whirling blades of a Super Stallion or Sea Dragon helicopter, hoping that gusts of wind would whisk away the acrid scent of fires burning throughout the city. After I returned home, I plunged into my goose-down featherbed, stared into the blades of my $250 remote-control, 5-speed custom fan, and tried to imagine it was a massive relief chopper bringing hope and supplies to a devastated, impoverished population. I was almost there . . . if it wasn't for the scent of the banana nut bread candle flickering next to me.
On my first day back, I pulled into the Long John Silver's parking lot to pick up a Treasure Chest family meal for folks who had gathered to help care for my ailing mother-in-law. I had to wait to back out of my space because ten cars hemmed me in as they lined up for the adjacent Starbuck's drive thru. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. Who wants coffee at four o'clock? I had to wait in my vehicle in Haiti also. There, people lined up alongside creaking water trucks that blocked the thin rocky roads. For those in line, the buckets of water were family treasure chests, holding drops of life worth more than gold doubloons. During one of those scenes, a HORT team member witnessed a guy lying on his back filling an empty water bottle from the spray coming from a leak under the truck. To him, the frothy water was more pleasing than any triple-shot venti latte, caramel macchiato, or frappuccino.
I took my son to a Denver Nuggets game a few days ago. I looked at the twin pickaxe logo emblazoned at center court that represented Colorado's rich mining history after the discovery of gold in 1859. But I didn't think of digging into hillsides for precious metals and gems. I thought of the crude pickaxes in Haiti smashing through mountains of rubble in search of recyclables and loved ones. The game also reminded me of the kids playing basketball at the orphanage we'd visited a few days earlier. Instead of multi-million dollar contracts, endorsements and the latest Nike shoes that surely make people run faster and jump higher, those orphans would be happy with rice, beans, flip flops, and a basketball with air in it. As I surveyed the boisterous crowd in the Pepsi Center, I tried to imagine how people would even have a chance to get out if the whole structure shook violently and crashed in upon itself. And how many people would be crushed in their $200 Nikes.
After I got back from the game, I threw the candy wrappers and Coke . . . er. . . Pepsi cups into my Viking commercial-grade trash compactor. I can't believe I spent so much money on something that crushes garbage. Maybe I should just burn it in the gutter instead, like they do in Haiti. Anyway, I flipped the switch and briefly listened to the gears wrenching down the plate, and to the sound of the items squishing and popping under its forced weight. I had previously compared pan-caked buildings in Port-au-Prince to huge trash compactors – an illustration for the massive levels of reinforced concrete that had instantaneously compressed down upon each other throughout the city. I listened to my compactor in a whole new way that night, imagining the overripe tomato screaming out for relief and the junk mail's messages falling forever silent.
The night wasn't finished with me, though, and still had a couple more reminders and reflections in store. Caleb has been sleeping in a tent at the foot of our bed. It's basically one of those tents that you put over a twin-sized mattress to transform it into a play house, battle tank or pirate ship. But on the night of the game, it simply looked like one of the thousands of tarps that people are now living under in Haiti. I kissed Caleb's forehead, put him in his tent and then dove again into my waiting featherbed. I have to tell you, it felt really strange to tuck my only son into a tent and then immerse myself into the luxury of the bed. Later in the night, the whole bed shook. Caleb, stirring in his tented abode, kicked the footboard a few successive times, sending tremors throughout the whole frame. He had twisted sideways and was trying to create room for his feet. But at 2:00 am, my groggy mind thought we were in the midst of an aftershock like the ones I experienced in Haiti.
Sure, it usually takes me a few days to readjust after any trip. And I take a lot of them. Too many of them. I go through the judgments and a fair amount of reverse culture shock after returning from every journey into the developing world. Each time, I struggle with the pettiness and materialism of our society as we complain about the silliest of things and search for the latest toy or indulgence that will supposedly make us happy. I struggle with my own level of luxury and all the amusements in my own toy chest.
But Haiti has affected me more deeply than normal and I seem to find the comparisons or contrasts at each turn of the corner and every turn of the blade. I keep seeing Haiti in the things of joy and the things of sorrow. I keep seeing Haiti in the things present and the things absent.
My neighbors aren't interred under the wreckage of their homes. My family isn't missing multiple members and still hoping for their return. There is no stink of death in my cul-de-sac. There are no bodies decomposing or burning in my street. The homeowner's association wouldn't put up with any of that anyway.
. . . And there's no talk of Haiti on anybody's lips anymore.
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT) can be found on Facebook.
Abandoned-Orphaned is the personal blog of Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans. Subscribe to the blog in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. Paul can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @paulmyhill.