October 14, 2016
We were standing alongside the road, watching the progress of repairs. The mayor, and some others were there – including a man beloved by the community, whom we’ll call Shorty*. He’s so beloved that no one actually knows his real name. After being posted to Anse-Rouge by the government many years ago, Shorty realized that if he relied simply on his meager salary, he would never get very far. So he began saving and slowly purchasing salt holes (where sea water is collected and evaporated to make salt). For eleven years he has been stockpiling his salt. This is like his income, investments, bank account, savings account and retirement fund all rolled into one. He had multiple depots full of salt and 28 salt holes. In less than 24 hours he lost everything.
He had had dreams of building a house, having a nice bed, buying a car, and taking care of his mother. “I didn’t mind not living comfortably” he said, “Because I knew one day it would all pay off.” But all his dreams washed away with his salt when the sea rose and took it all. He estimates he lost nearly $40,000USD worth of goods and investments – a fortune for this area. “I’m not young anymore,” he said. “I don’t have the strength I had eleven years ago when I would work in the salt all night and at my job all day. I’ll never be anything in my life.” Not only did Shorty lose all his salt, his depots are damaged, and his salt holes have been completely filled in with mud. When he saw the damages and how much he’d lost he says, “I pointed my gun at God. But then I realized I was losing my mind, so I’ve been drinking to numb the pain.”
I wish I could say that Shorty’s story is an isolated case, but it’s not. While not many lost so much in monetary value, not many ever owned that much. Much of what they did own they have lost. Someone said to me today, “It would be better to have lost your house. If you lost your house, then your garden, your animals, or your micro-business would eventually give you the income to rebuild. But if you have lost all of those things, how do you rebuild your life?”
This is the kind of disaster the Anse-Rouge area is facing. By and large, it is not the kind of disaster that needs immediate intervention and relief. It is not the kind that one can “fix” by giving food or rebuilding a house. It is the devastation of dreams, of livelihoods, of hope. In brutal honesty, we cannot “fix” this at all. There is no way we can get everyone’s lives back to where they were on October 3. But as in the story, “The Star Thrower,” we cannot allow the fact that we cannot fix it all to discourage us from doing what we can – from making a difference for those we can reach. This means being in it for the long haul. It means helping people to slowly lift block upon block to rebuild their lives – blocks like repairing gardens and canals, reinvesting in micro-business, reestablishing livestock numbers, helping people build more hurricane resistant homes, and providing as much work as we possibly can to enable people to at least begin to get back on their feet.
As we write this, our hearts go out to those in the south of Haiti who are right now facing an urgent crisis and soon will be facing the same kind of deep, devastating loss that Shorty is facing – compounded by the loss of loved ones and of all infrastructure. As we continue to reach out to the community where God has placed us, our thoughts and prayers are with those reaching out similarly to those in the south.
*Nickname has been changed to protect privacy.