the complexity of haiti (haiti, day 3)

yesterday, our team spent most of the day in the two marassa tent cities our february team discovered. these two side-by-side communities are very dear to my heart, and were a significant part of what god did in me on that first trip. our first team mounted an all-out attempt to get anderson cooper to show up; but, when that didn’t happen, we found ourselves being used by god as the answers to our own prayers.

i had heard that some other NGOs had finally come to marassa in the weeks that followed (really, i’d like to think, as a result of our amazing god-experiences bumbling around the NGO community staging out of the airport). and i knew that AIM had delivered more than $10,000 of food and supplies (which sounds like a TON, but — seriously — is a drop in the bucket of what’s needed). so i was full of anticipation about returning, seeing people again, and finding out how things were going. to be honest, i was excited, and a little bit nervous, knowing it was more likely to be disheartening than heartening.


we entered marassa 14, the tent community closer to the main road. and i was immediately blown away and encouraged. there were dozens of big, beautiful new tents, in perfect rows, on newly flattened ground. of course, these were alongside the old tattered tents. but the impression was: PROGRESS! then my eyes fell on a collection of porta-potties. eh, better than a hole in the ground; still not great. but a second later, i noticed a row of nicely constructed sanitary units, built on a platform, with reaching-for-the-sky ventilation thingys, and i thought: SERIOUS PROGRESS!

but as the community leaders led us to a shell of a building that’s going to be a school, a new reality sunk in: this isn’t temporary anymore; this place is becoming permanent. and these people are going to be living here — long after their supercool tents donated by wycliffe jean and yeli haiti wear out and become scraps added to tin and lumber and sheets — for years, probably decades, maybe generations.

ugh. really, will the little children who moved here months ago raise their own children here? more likely than not. and that just kills me. because as much progress as they’ve made, this place is still three steps from hell.

moving two steps closer to hell (leaving you, if you do the math, one step from hell), all one needs to do is walk across a small muddy road and a small field filled with trash and a few pigs. you’ll arrive at marassa 9 (which, somehow, on our first trip, we understood to be ‘marassa 17’). the assistance that marassa 14 has received hasn’t quite made it the extra 100 yards to marassa 9. adding a taste of reality, it was lightly raining when we walked through marassa 14, but it started pouring when we walked into marassa 9.

humorous sidebar: i was wearing a red baseball cap, to keep the sun off my head. but as i walked through marassa 9 in the pouring rain, i noticed people staring at me. at one point, our interpreter said, “are you ok?” “sure, why?” i asked. “are you hurt?” he asked. “no.” just then, i noticed a bright red drop of water drop off the brim of my hat. sure enough: the dye in my hat was dripping bright red all over my face, neck and shoulders. it looked like i was bleeding all over the place.

to the point: marassa 9 is a mess. there are a couple little improvements (they have water, and a few outhouses, and a few tarps). but overall, i would say it looks worse than when we saw it in late february. the leaders are frustrated, but they also seem greedy and disorganized. my heart broke as i saw little kids in underwear, in the pouring rain. the mud was thick. the ground was uneven. there was a spirit of messiness and hopelessness in the place. we spoke with a couple of the committee members (village leaders), but couldn’t really get a straight story about their reality (one leader asked if we could provide a tv so they could watch the world cup).

so, we have marassa 14 on one side, which is getting some help; but they’re still in dire need. a little angel of a girl fell asleep on seth barnes’ lap as we were meeting with the leaders; and when we asked about how many days a week they go without food, they laughed, and said, “she’s not sleeping because she’s tired; she’s sleeping because she’s starving.” but they seem organized, and it feels like we could really help them.

on the other hand, there’s marassa 9, where the situation is so, so bleak. they’re not organized, and helping them would likely be pouring help into a very deep hole. but they’re still people. they’re still made in the image of god. and their suffering is so extreme.

as we left today, i was in a bit of a funk. i had felt deeply. but i was torn about how to respond to what i’d seen today. i’m still thinking on it, praying about it.

and just to throw a wrench in the works: there are hundreds of “marassas” in port-au-prince. how can we give up and allow our attention to fade so quickly? why does gary coleman’s death take so much precedence over these lives? why has our giving project only raised about $500 so far (of the $35,000 we’d hoped to raise)? how do we really help here? what can i really do?

these are the questions, matched with the faces of the people of marassa 9 and 14, that i took to bed with me.

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