Haitian Musings: Waiting For Hurricane Tomas
Sister Lorraine Malo sent this along from Port-au-Prince on Nov. 5, 2010.
All day yesterday we watched and waited for the upcoming hurricane with someone checking the Internet every few minutes. The sky was a stone cold grey, the winds were howling, the rain just a quarter inch above us but not yet falling.
Preparations had begun days in advance. We had stocked up on drinking water and food, we were ready with tape and boards for every window on the compound and we had sledgehammers to break the security wall if the place flooded and the water was held in by a wall that was meant to keep us safe. Each house had a new walkie-talkie in case phone lines were cut and lots of candles lest we lost electrical power.
Those who were sleeping in pre-fab houses, in containers/cum/houses or in tents were assigned to one of the more solid houses. At our place we received seven men! Evacuation of Saint Louis Orphanage and St. Luc Adult Hospital to our re-habilitation compound was planned and ready for execution at a moment’s notice. Now it was just a question of waiting.
This morning, very early, everyone knew: it was coming! The winds had picked up considerably during the night, the palm trees were swaying in all directions and the rain was falling in torrents. Evacuation began immediately – 67 children from St. Louis, see photo at left, and 37 patients from St. Luc. They filled every room in the rehab centre — classrooms, offices, dining room, halls — there wasn’t a spare inch of space.
The children fared the best — looking on it as a great adventure to "sleep over" at someone else’s house! They have a way of always making the best of any given situation and their delight is in the smallest things! For the patients, it was a different story. Some looked so sick and I saw that two or three had high fevers... Malaria? Typhoid? Cholera? Their bodies were on fire and their faces full of pain. Still, trust and hope in their eyes.
A gift arrives
For lunch today, the Italian army, whose base is across the street, sent over a wonderful meal of roast beef, sausages, rice, macaroni, and French fries. The patients thought they had died and gone to heaven! There was plenty for everyone – including staff. It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity, which reaffirms my belief in the basic goodness of people. Later, we will make soup for all and turn in early. It has been an exhausting day.
Reasons for gratitude
As I sit here at my computer, I realize the storm is petering out. The sky is dark still, but the rain is intermittent and the wind is not howling at us from all directions. Actually there is a calm all around that I have not felt for days. Maybe we have lived through the worst.
When I pray tonight, I know I will thank God for unusual things — gratitude that we were able to open our house to so many in need, happiness to have seen so many children who have nothing except the little mats they brought to sleep on and yet are so happy, admiration for the many volunteers who worked all day to make life better for others.
Earlier, when I visited the patients, I saw much poverty and suffering. But I saw, as well, a courage and endurance that is quite astounding. The life of the Haitian people has never been easy, but in their strong faith, they have found a way to be happy and grateful, no matter what. They walk a difficult path with dignity and steadfast hope. It shows in their bearing and all over their faces. It rings in their joy and in their laughter.
This is what I will remember the most when I think of the time I waited and waited and waited for Hurricane Tomas.
Lorraine Malo CSJ