Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reflections from Team # 1 by Anje Ackerman Cassel

Evening was beginning to fall on Haiti as our two vehicles, loaded high with our 12-member relief team, attempted the steep rocky ascent of the crumbling road towards our next work site.  This was week two of our mobile relief clinic, and exactly two weeks since the first earthquake that toppled Port-Au-Prince and sent its citizens to the streets—the streets where most still remain, with no more than a sheet and a stick for shelter.

We parked the truck and began the ascent past crumbled homes and street fires, stopping to hear an elderly woman weep and gesticulate to the skies, her cloudy eyes rich with the baptism of pain as she reached out and proclaimed that she is “under the arm of the grand master”. 

A white dove led the way past twisted rubble as we “blancs” (whites) followed the pastor who was leading us into his own devastated community.  We crested the hill and he reminded us to wear masks if we had brought one…  Two weeks since the quake, yet many bodies of the victims remain under hopelessly crushed structures, their scent a painful reminder to the families who mourn them. 

No vehicles can pass through this area.  Demolition will continue one neighborhood block at a time—one cinder block, one board, one red and blue high chair compressed to the floor with a small plush reindeer lying dusty next to it.

Beyond the crumbled homes and offices was another vast hillside, a slumping array of flattened dwellings and leaning structures, pockmarked with eroded sites of homes that slid to crush what laid below.  Power lines drooped, waving their dark flags of black plastic bags, soot and other various materials that now cling to them like sea kelp.

The pastor wept as he showed us where his office once stood, across from the spot where his church once stood.  A parishoner’s wife lays buried beneath this ground.  The girl’s young daughter-- eyes red from dust and sorrow-- sits quietly by, her arm in a makeshift sling.

An odd thing happens as we stand together weeping.  A rainbow cuts through the haze and reaches heavenward.  Its arm curves to embrace the hillside, much like the “arm of the grand master” that covers the elderly woman who cried out to us in the street.

Joe has prayer with the community’s pastor.  They pray for each other loudly as we circle around to lay on hands.  Fires burn in the street, fires that burn trash and cremate bodies.  We keep praying.  We sing Amazing Grace in two languages and we weep some more.  We lay hands on Dr. Richard Alderfer and on each other, nurses, EMT’s, relief workers.  We feel God’s presence.

Tomorrow will begin another day of mobile clinic work in tent cities.  We will see more wounds, more fractures, more sick babies.  We will see patients who still have not seen a doctor since the day of the quake.  We will treat them if we can.  Those too badly injured we will transport to the Miami University tent hospital near the Port-Au-Prince airport.  They will be treated there or flown to the USS Comfort for surgery.  We will see a young girl with a fractured femur, a grown woman with a crushed pelvis, a boy whose hand must be operated on before gangrene dictates amputation.

Meanwhile, as we return to our truck in the dusk, a shy girl reaches for my hand and flashes a bashful grin.  I smile back and she loves this.  I think of my own young children back in America, and I nearly fall to my knees to mourn this girl’s loss of innocence.  It is more than a mother’s heart can bear.  As we weave through the makeshift tents, I pass a hand-painted message “God is good all the time”.  I pull myself together and we continue.  In the morning we will return to provide medical care—but my hope is to provide more than just that.  I pray that we will have the time to listen to a story as a patient waits in line, to give them a chance to tell their stories of loss, and of redemption in the midst of suffering.  I know already that these good, strong suffering people will teach all of us what it means to have joy in adversity.

Anje Ackerman Cassel, RN, BSN


  1. Very moving. Thank you for providing a glimpse into what team #1 experienced and for the care you gave to so many while there in Haiti.

    Kathy Alderfer