I hope this letter finds you alive. I don’t know if I have ever started a letter with that phrase before, but then again, I have never written a letter to someone who lives in the hellish conditions that you do.
First off, you have to please know that I haven’t forgotten about you, or your family, or all the others. I know how hard it was for all of you back then, and I can only imagine now with the recent earthquake how hard it must even be now.
I remember the day we flew in, a bunch of strangers from all over the United States. We were hustled through the airport like rockstars, not that we were, but because they were worried about us being robbed. After being jammed into several vans, we made our way through the streets of Port au Prince to the hospital.
I grew up in a small town, in a part of the country that has seen its fair share of people down on their luck. I have seen the homeless in the streets and houses that are in shambles, and yet I was still surprised at the amount of poverty and dirtiness that surrounded me that first day. As much as I tried to study up on the conditions of Haiti before I arrived there, there really is something to the old saying “seeing is believing”, and I soon believed that Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world.
When we finally arrived at the hospital gates, we were greeted by several armed guards, guards we would soon get to know and trust, but never test. We were told they were there for our protection, that they not only made sure people were not getting on the grounds of the hospital, but that we weren’t allowed off them either. Basically, unless we leave in a vehicle for business, we were not stepping foot on the other side of that gate. There is a certain sense of realization when someone tells you that, tells you that if you think about sneaking out and exploring the city, that the punishment isn’t just your dismissal, but that you might actually be killed.
The hospital was not at all what I thought it would be either. I was imagining an old building, or some sort of structure. I didn’t expect it to basically be a compound of cinder block buildings spread out around a walled area. I was curious about the different hospitals in the country, and was soon told that this was one of the best ones, that we were at the level on trauma area, a fact I soon learned when a few days later, am bloodied man was brought to the gates in the back of a truck.
And then we met you. You were like a little stray cat wondering around the compound. There were only a small handful of you small kids that were like little elf that would instantly appear out of no where to say hello. You could only speak a few worlds of English and I was horrible at Haitian Creole, but somehow over the span of that week we managed to become pretty good friends.
You and the others would love to look at the pictures on my phone, and of course we can’t forget you guys dancing to the music. You loved Micheal Jackson, and I think that is why I started calling you Micheal, because I kept screwing up your real name. I don’t think you minded, you allows got a big smile when I called you Micheal, like you believed that you were like Michael Jackson yourself.
I think about how old you must be now. That you are a grown man, or at least should be. I would like to think that you grew up, had a chance to go to school, and maybe got a chance to get off the island. But I don’t know that for sure. My heart breaks at the thought that you grew up and are just barely surviving, if you are surviving at all.
I promise I didn’t forget about all of you, I really didn’t. I think about sitting on the rooftops at night overlooking the city and seeing the poverty. I remember the rats that would come near our feet as we tried to eat our dinners outside. I also remember the looks in the patients eyes when you tried to help them, that look of helplessness on their part as they simply moaned out words I couldn’t understand, and that heavy sense of helplessness I felt when I couldn’t tell them what I was trying to do.
Please know that you are there, in my prayers and my thoughts, and that you will always be there. I will never stop thinking of you and your family, the way we laughed at each other and the way would would dance. You truly showed me that joy and love can exist in the worst of places, and that the happiness of a child can come from the smallest things.
I know your country is hurting now, I know that things are bad there, more bad than they have ever been. Please stay strong Michael, please remember that hope you showed then, and please be the hope that your country needs now. Help is coming. A lot of people believe in the goodness in the people of Haiti, I am one of them, but I need you to be safe and be alive.
There is a sadness in visiting a place for only a week. You feel that you are simply a bandaid. I know the little I did there medically is not enough to change the culture of your home. I can only pray that our presence there gave you and the other children the hope that good people do exist, that you are one of those good people, and that you can be the one that helps change things in Haiti. I hope you believe me when I tell you that sweet Michael, that you are the one that will have to be brave, and strong, that you will have to be the one that grows up and makes a difference.
I believe in you, and I believe that your country is worth it too.