"DEATH COMES TO GRAND GOAVE" DUE TO HURRICANE SANDY
Death comes to Haiti so arbitrary it shatters any illusion that we control
our destiny. Hurricane Sandy is on her third day of delivering heavy rain
to Grand Goave. Unlike Isaac, who quickly shuffled through his fierce
gales and heavy rains, Sandy lacks bluster yet drenches us with swirling
clouds that refuse to spin away. Perhaps she lingers to visit her little
black namesake at the bottom of our hill. Perhaps she wants us to
reconsider the wisdom of constructing a building so heavy it cannot move
when an arc might serve us better. Perhaps she wants to demonstrate the
destructive power of the slow moving tortoise over the quick fleeting
hare. Sandy has already rendered more damage than Isaac, though her skies
show no sign of clearing.
This morning five people in Grand Goave died from Hurricane Sandy; a
landslide down the mountain next to Be Like Brit smothered a tent where a
mother and her four children slept in one bed. They were buried alive.
When Francky and Gilbert ran to the scene I considered joining, but thought
better of it. Though I add value in areas of design, direction and
analysis, I am useless at tasks requiring brute strength, like digging
through muddy remains. The few corpses I have seen in my sheltered life
have all been neatly composed in coffins. Corpses here are much more
common, yet rarely so well preserved.
According to the World Bank, the average life expectancy for a baby born in
Haiti in 2012 is 60.6 years, but that statistic does not jive with anyone's
experience living here. Making it past sixty in Haiti is not the norm, it
is a rare achievement. People who are thriving and vigorous one day are
gone the next. Tragedy is the norm. People mourn untimely deaths with loud
flamboyance, then quickly return to their daily rhythms. If people lingered
in grief, their grief would be perpetual.
In a typical year in the United States I might hear of a few people who
have died; most all of them after a full life. In my regular visits to
Haiti I learn about someone who dies every month. Here is a
representative list from 2012; I imagine anyone else in this fragile
country could give a similar accounting.
Dieunison's mother died at the beginning of the year. She was reportedly a
voodoo priestess, like her mother before her. I have never heard anyone
mention her cause of death, though she could not have been very old.
In February an elderly woman was hit by a motorcycle near MoHI's gate.
Gama, who is a paramedic, rushed to the scene and collected her to the
hospital, but the woman did not survive.
In March Gama's cousin died, a thirty-three year old woman with a husband
and three children. She had a short, fatal illness though I never heard a
Marieve's cousin died in child birth in April. She is survived by a
husband, young son and twin daughters, one of whom was born blind.
In May Pepe's father-in-law died. He at least had a long life.
Three local youths died in a horrendous wreck when their small car was run
into a ditch by an out of control truck in June. The truck's chassis
ploughed right over the car, crushing and killing them on the spot.
In July Lex's sister-in-law died; age 42.
August was a month when horror visited children. A six year old Hands and
Feet orphan drowned in the Caribbean Sea. After searching for hours, the
matrons gave up when night fell. The girl?s body was discovered the next
day, her extremities gone. The same month Kylene, a MoHI Sunday singer,
lost her third baby in four pregnancies. The baby was full term, yet born
I hoped that September would break the pattern; but all kinds of odd
disease flourished. Toto had a wound on his arm that blistered and sent him
to the hospital; he missed three weeks of work. Ble, the painter, got a
cut on his leg that festered into an ugly infection. He limped around the
site for days with his pants leg rolled up so fresh air could scab over the
oozing pus, but with so much plaster dust in the air his leg healed
slowly. Fanes came down with a stomach bug, the front end version of what
plagued me, but in a more severe form. He could not keep any food down,
lost sixty pounds and moved to Les Cayes where his family could care for
him. Two days after I returned to the States Fanes died. Dysentery?
Worms? Whatever took this healthy man in his middle forties was likely
something that could have been diagnosed and treated in any industrial
When I return this month a banner in the crew's lunch tent honors Boss
Fanes, but in truth, I have not heard his name mentioned even once. Two
weeks after passing, life without Fanes is the new normal; everyone has
There is no time to grieve for Fanes, or the drowned girl, or Pepe's
father-in-law, or Dieunison's mother because today we have a new tragedy,
five bodies lying together wrapped in a USAID tarp. Lex prays over them
while a crowd of Haitians in ponchos and ripped garbage bags witness their
passing before Hurricane Sandy even departs our shores.
At least half these people who died this year could have been saved by
elementary public health measures - clean water, safe houses, vehicle
inspections, maternity care, life guards. We take these for granted in the
United States and other developed countries. But for nine million
Haitians, and a billion others around the planet, these simple safeguards
do not exist. So people continue to die from landslides and labor;
dysentery and drowning; and as long as we allow these conditions to prevail
for our fellow humans, our society is less developed than we pretend.