Category Archives: Haiti's Earthquake

The Airport: Our Darkest Moment

The next morning, before the sun had risen, we abandoned our luggage and piled ourselves into the back of a pick-up truck. Our flight would arrive some time around 8:30 AM.

We were uncomfortably crammed into the truck, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything. I was still miserably upset about leaving.

In the dark morning dawn we drove past piles and piles of bodies and rubble, the smell was potent. I buried my nose and mouth into my arm, but kept my vision out the back of the truck. My watery eyes continued to squeeze tears out onto the dusty, bloody roads. It felt like I was crying out little pieces of myself to stay with Haiti always.

The airport was calm for most of those wee hours, but around 7 AM the people came out. There was even less communication between airport officials, what little there were, and the stressed crowd of evacuation hopefuls. Emotions were escalating at an alarming pace.

The whole time we were receiving informational text messages from our point person back home; pilot’s name, tail number, ect. We were instructed to wait for the pilot to come out of the airport doors to call for us, and that’s how we were going to negotiate the human blockade at the airport entrance.

At 8:35 AM we received a text that they weren’t letting our pilot leave the plane, and that we needed to get to him quick or he would leave us. Then the pushing started. Our group moved like an amoeba in a river of blood cells, squeezing, pleading, always pushing forward. We were making people angry, you could hear it in their voices, see it in their eyes.

The men at the door, two college-age guys in t-shirts and jeans, stopped us flat. They didn’t speak English. That’s when our  group’s desperate mom began hysterically pleading and crying with the door man. Somehow 3 members of our group pushed their way through the men, which in turn made them very combative with those of us that remained outside the entrance. The crowd at our back was becoming more and more excited. I was dodging fists and body slams left and right, willing my feet to stay planted lest I be trampled.

My mom also pushed through somehow, and that’s when things went from strained to out-of-control. My mom became violent with the doorman that wasn’t letting me through, grabbing at his arm to try and free me. I was pleading “monsieur! c’est mon mere!” “Sir, that’s my mother!

I could see he wanted to let me through, but was calculating what the crowd behind me was going to do in reaction. My mother persisted and because they refused to get violent with a woman, my mom’s strong-arming pulled me through, but Vern, the pastor from Houston in our group, was still on the other side. “Mom, we have to get Vern!” I screamed. She had become completely crazed. She yanked me forward through the aiport. “Vern’s a grown man, you’re a child!” Really? I thought I was 23 and there’s no way in hell we were leaving anyone behind. None the less i was coerced out onto the tarmac.

We saw Vicki and Surpris, but Michelle had long since started running up to any small plane to see if it was our plane. Surpris was adamant that we go back for Vern, as we all were, accept for my now she-gorilla of a mother. That’s when we saw Vern walking towards us from inside the airport. We were so relieved. Vern explained to us that he had simply reasoned with the men, explained that he was a pastor searching for his group, and most likely the 6 ft. 5 in that Vern carries around with him didn’t hurt either. Amazing, here we had all thrashed our way through, and Godly Vern had reasoned his was through. I started to feel sick again.

Who knows what kind of mayhem we had left in our wake after tussling with the guards. Now, our group was wondering aimlessly throughout the tarmac, crossing paths with U.S. black hawks and air force carriers. I guess the U.S. presence had finally arrived, along with medical supplies that were sitting idle in the hangers. The supply bottleneck problem was visible to us at that point.

Finally we found a plane similar to the description in our bank of text messages. It was clear that some in our group didn’t care whether it was “our” plane or not, they were getting on that plane. My mom and I resisted, re-iterating that we were not going to take another person’s plane. Luckily, it was our plane, someone had given us the wrong tail number but we were on the manifest.

It was surreal. It was actually a gorgeous day and we were sitting on the green grass near the plane, waiting to board.

We said a quick prayer for all the people we may have incited outside the airport entrance, and just took in the scene around us while waiting to get on the small charter plane.

From there we boarded the plane, and began the long trek back to Austin via Santo Domingo, Miami and Houston.

U.S. carrier bringing soldier and aide into PAP airport.

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The Night I Disobeyed God

After our productive Thursday morning at the hospital, we had instructions from our loved ones back home to get to the airport fast because a plane from New Orleans would soon arrive and carry us out of the devastated country.

Somewhat begrudgingly my Mother and I went back to our rooms to gather our things. We all loaded our cumbersome luggage into the back of the hospital’s one and only marked vehicle.

Many many hours and tense conversations later, we forfeited our wait for the mythical plane at the airport and returned to the compound. Each member of the group had spoken their limits, and it was clear my mother and I intended to return to the hospital.

The aiport itself was mad, it seemed that nothing but media were exiting the doors. Where was the aide? Where was search and rescue? Where were the Americans? It was nearing more than two whole days after the quake.

Apparently everyone at the airport had our idea to go and wait for any plane that may be able to squeeze them on. We saw the upper crust of Haiti, families with businesses in the U.S. and U.S passports. The crowd was encroaching on the singular entrance to the airport, yelling questions in desperation for even just a little information. Ironically, it was the most chaos that threatened mob violence that I’d seen thus far in Haiti.

That night at dinner I interrogated Dr. Kris about how she had spent her day. She told me how she had divided the volunteers into groups based on who could handle blood and instructed accordingly until she had a very efficient splint-making team, a vitals-checking team and so on. My eyes widened with delight. I knew Kris was going to the hospital the next day, and visions of actually being able to correct maladies seduced me into unabashed excitement.

After dinner our group pow-wowed to determine the next course of action. The only member of our group with a young child at home was understandably desperate to get home. The rest of us were more resolved to stay. Limits were re-stated by our group. Some were financial, some were philosophical. My mother had said if there were no available flights out of the Dominican Republic to the U.S. on or before Tuesday, then we’d like to be included in the more immediate exit plans.

When all had seemingly been communicated, I excused myself to make use of the wireless internet that had been re-established. It was the first time I was able to let many of my friends know that I was OK. Thank goodness for Facebook.

Not 10 minutes later did my mom come over to me to inform me that we’d be leaving at dawn the next morning. She was obviously unhappy. My heart crashed into my stomach. What? Leave? Just when we’re getting started? Just when Kris is ready to show us how to really help people? “No,” I remember saying. Everything in my body was fighting this. I felt sick.

Apparently, there were no available flights after the weekend, so the desperate one in our group booked us all on the charter flight her husband had helped organize for her. Of course later we found out there were plenty of flights after the weekend, but she wasn’t going to leave without us.

“What if I just didn’t go with you tomorrow? I mean, you can’t physically force me to go.” I felt like I was treading dangerous water. Such defiance in the face of my mother just didn’t happen, not to mention I was suggesting that I stay in a crumbling country on my own, with nothing but prayer to get me home.

My mother’s face fell. Without being specific, she told me that it would be very bad if I left the group to stay in Haiti. Her expression was chilling to say the least. I had to get away. Here we were, safe, fed and cared for in the middle of tragedy, with the bodies and minds to help, and instead of embracing the opportunity we were pissing all over it.

I made my way over to the empty dining hall where I lay my head on some couches and let the sobs and the tears have their way with me. I knew I still had a choice. Yes my mother would be furious and sick with worry if I abandoned the evacuation, but time heals everything right? I prayed furiously. Was this the moment I was supposed to leave my family like Jesus had done and called his follower to do?

Moreover I was truly scared to stay on my own. There were the other missionaries of course, but what about school? Would I be here in Haiti indefinitely? Then a new round of sobs erupted as I reminded myself that it wasn’t my job to know the answers to such questions, just to trust God.

But it didn’t feel like we were trusting God, it felt like we were bucking the clearest evidence that we were right where we were supposed to be. We had been in the safest place in all of Haiti during the earthquake, preserved therefore called.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, so I just kept crying. It seemed like a lose lose situation. Eventually I came out of the dining hall to get a drink from the soda room and crossed paths with Kris. She knew why I was upset. “Maybe I should just stay,” I said. She looked at me behind her thick glasses. “You don’t want to do that to your mom. I’m a mom, and trust me, you don’t want to do that to her,” she said.

I pretty much knew at that moment that whether I wanted to or not, whether it was God’s will or not, I was fleeing Haiti the next morning.

Pictures from the drive from the airport back to the Villa Thursday evening.

Mother Daughter Dynamic Duo

Thursday morning after the quake I was totally energized and ready to work at the Hospital, and so was my mom.

When we arrived Emile, the hospital administrator, brought us out to the center of the lawn in front of the hospital where there was a small amount of supplies that we were to organize and distribute in an ‘orderly’ manner.

From that point we were touch and go. My mom and I started to sync up and focus.  Sanitation one pile, bandages another, pain medication yet another, and so it went.

Once all was categorized I started roaming the grounds. Just as with the night before, the Haitian patients approached me from right and left asking me to examine their family members. I went and examined, and offered the singular solution of retrieving painkillers from the supply pile or pharmacy. Patients walked right up to the few roaming doctors to request various things, at which point the medical personnel decided whether or not to write them a prescription, a.k.a scribble on scratch paper, and then the piece of paper was to be delivered to Emile, who may or may not have had what they wanted. Even a system as crude as this one seemed a vast improvement over the first night after the quake.

There was a hodge podge of Spanish, French, English and Creole inside my head. It was a true testament to the power of non-verbal communication. As I wound my way through the patients, a large UN truck arrived hauling water and many UN “peace-keepers” from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers deliver water and maintain "order" at the hospital

For whatever reason, the UN peacekeepers had their automatic weapons poised with barrel raised when they arrived. It was truly insulting. Here these poor, and decidedly peaceful people could barely move, let alone give reason for the use of guns, and these soldiers for peace were seemingly preparing for a riot.

My mother’s CEO modus operandi took over. She approached the guards and firmly explained that there was no need to have the guns raised, if they needed the weapons, at least they could lower them. They were not in any danger.

To their credit, they heeded my mother’s suggestion and relaxed their weapons. We found out they were also trying to assist Dr. Archer set up an outdoor operating area, where he could begin the endless necessary amputations. Everyone had to take into account which patients would need to be moved and where the prep area would be. Such a task called on a true manager.

So while Mom started directing UN guards without flinching, I stuck to the task of visiting with each of the injured and their families. My mom had the managerial skills, but I had the strong stomach. Together we were able to contribute to very different, but still necessary needs. The families needed to feel taken care of, and then they really needed to be taken care of.

My mom and I will always look back on that morning and remember how well we worked together. What had only been a feeling before became a strong conviction; I knew there was much more to be found in Haiti than death and destruction.

UN guards surveying the hospital grounds

UN guards and their truck filled with water

The Arrival of Dr. Kris

Upon arriving at the Villa, we retired to our room for some decompression and reflection before dinner. Around 5:30 pm a tall brunette woman who seemed to be in her early 30s walked into our room with a backpack and a huge duffle bag. Her name was Kris Thede, and she had just finished an 8 hour journey from Cap-Haitien to Port Au Prince to lend her medical expertise to the innumerable wounded.

We were thrilled to see her. Personally, I was hoping to get some wound care tips that I could implement at the Hospital the following day, but her story was so fascinating that I quickly forgot my original motivation for talking to her.

Kris and her husband Cory have been living in North Haiti for over nine years. Kris is a doctor that runs a medical clinic near her home in Capacian, and her husband is a horticulturist that focuses on nutritious and lucrative crops that fit in with local agriculture. I was knocked back with how modest yet powerful her commitment to Haiti was.

Kris was also a wealth of information. We learned only that evening that Haiti was the first Black Republic in the entire world, and suffered great international prejudice because of it, including non-recognition from the Catholic Church and the United States.

We learned that women in general don’t know how to appropriately use the birth control pill, and are afraid of other hormonal contraceptives that stop menstruation because they believe bleeding is healthy. This greatly contributes to the unhealthy birthrate in Haiti. Another contributing factor is of course the religious and cultural pressure to have many kids. Large families are insurance for parents, and many forms of contraception are deemed ‘wrong’ by the according religious institutions.

We learned that Haiti’s tribal worship colors their Christian beliefs. As the saying goes, Haiti is 50 percent Catholic, 50 percent Protestant and 100 percent Voodoo.

We learned that the fruit of the Moringa tree is one of the most nutritional foods one can consume that thrives in Haiti’s climate. Kris said she gives out a packet of seeds to every patient she treats.

And so the night went. We picked her brain until we were sure we had sucked the life out of her. But she seemed perfectly content to share her knowledge, which just increased our immediate affection for her.

I went to sleep that night exhilarated that someone had come who was so wise and knowledgeable and could potentially help me transform from a useless amateur to an efficient wound-dresser of sorts. I slept better that night than I had since we left Houston, TX.

My Favorite Part

On Wednesday afternoon, members of our group made the game-changing discovery that the radio station on the Seven Day Adventist campus had Internet access. Some of our team attached themselves to a computer and did not budge for hours, trying to communicate with colleagues, family members, the State Department, any and all avenues for a potential evacuation and then some. I, not being directly connected to anyone of influence, decided to make use of my new found free time.

In my exploration around the rest of the campus, I befriended the man who seemed to be in charge of the station, Enock Nere. His English was well understood and his patience with the desperation in our group was limitless. We walked together over to a spot shaded by some modest flora and fauna and with his help I was able to strike up a conversation with a family of four children and their mother. Another child joined the group, one who had been to the U.S. and could speak some English and French and was very proud of his education, as he should have been.

Haitian family waiting for relief near the radio station

The children of the family were all young, no one above nine years old. I found the easiest way to grease the wheels with children in that circumstance was to take their picture, and then show them the picture on my digital screen. The difference in their faces before and after seeing themselves on camera was priceless. They seemed delighted to be able to see their images captured in time. I began to wonder how much I took for granted the ability to see my own reflection.

I passed the time talking to Enock and the family, still using some pitiful excuse for French to communicate. The mother was young, between 22 and 25 years old, not an abnormal age for mature motherhood in Port au Prince. Enock wanted to know what I thought of his country. Besides the obvious feelings of regret for the tragic circumstances, the truth was I thought Haiti was a beautiful country. Lush and green, what you might expect of any tropical haven. He seemed pleased with this response, which pleased me a great deal.

This was always the part of journalism that I enjoyed the most. Just to talk without deadlines or angles and simply be interested in the circumstances and backgrounds of someone else. Sometimes a story worth writing surfaces, sometimes new friends are made, but every time something is learned. It’s always a win win in those situations, a major part of its appeal I imagine.

Time passed and we were called back to the Villa for dinner. When I thought the day couldn’t get any fuller, we received a new guest in our bunk, just the guest we’d been praying for.

Doctors Without Borders: to report or not to report

Wednesday morning was a world away from Tuesday night. We woke early, breakfast was served at 7:30. Yes, there was a dining hall in our wall-protected compound, and a fully staffed kitchen. We ate eggs, tomatoes, toast, sausage and fresh squeezed orange juice. Was this real?

sharing bright attitudes over breakfast at Adentist compound.

The other missionaries staying at the Villa were from various denominations and churches, but the most significant presence was the Wesleyan Church. Most had been there long before the earthquake.

Of the 40 or so people staying at the Villa, we organized ourselves into our respective groups in order to plan our relief strategy for the day.

Naturally the tug in my stomach from the hospital had not diminished, if anything my need to go back was morphing into something a little wild.

Surpris told us that our job for the day was to go by truck to the Doctors Without Borders office in downtown Port Au Prince, pick up some medical supplies, and drive them back to Diquini Hospital.

After breakfast, we rallied, doused ourselves with one last round of bug spray, and walked over to the hospital.

It was calmer than the night before, it was easier to make out individuals and their injuries in the hot, bright daylight. It was also easier to take a visual tally of the casualties.

Dead bodies were placed on the grass on either side and on the median of the hospital driveway, shreds of sheets placed over their faces and torsos, but you could always see most of the lifeless limbs stretching out from underneath the rags. Dignity in death, in the sense that Americans interpret it, did not exist in this place. Here, the dignity was solely spiritual.

We piled into a black pickup, some of us in the cab, most of us in the bed. On the jerky ride to the Doctors Without Borders office my mother asked “Why didn’t you take any pictures at the hospital?”

I opened my mouth to respond with something overly defensive, but no words came out. The truth was I didn’t really know why, I just felt guilty. I was still reeling from the night before. In a move to alleviate the remorse for not having taken pictures of the dead, I started to photograph more of the damage we saw on the drive.

post quake damage in the daylight

I also began to mentally coach myself, “Alright Suzanne, this is why you’re here, you’re a story teller, get it together.” I started visualizing myself taking pictures of gruesome things, not unlike an athlete that visualizes scoring the winning goal before the game starts. I so wanted to prove myself to be a journalist.

After arriving at the Doctors Without Borders office downtown, we waited while our escort went in to check things out. The streets were bustling yet bleak at the same time. Many injured had nowhere to go, and so sat on the street side, letting their newly severed limbs bake in the impossibly hot sun. I knew then the smell of freshly opened flesh would soon turn into something much more putrid.

We found out that a gas station had exploded the night before near the office, so burn victims were prevalent inside the office’s makeshift mash unit. One thing to hear it, another to see it, smell it, feel it.

We were driven around back, from where we would walk onto the premise, and carry out boxes of supplies to load in the truck.

Doctors Without Border makeshift burn treatment tent. Located in downtown PAP near a recently exploded gas station.

After passing a large beige tent with Medicines senz Frontiers written on the side, the first thing I saw was the worst. A dead women splayed over the concrete with a leg that had been ripped off, blood and fat spilling out everywhere beneath her. She had a cardboard slat lain over her, it was the only privacy anyone could afford her. While involuntarily stopping my breath, I then passed the entrance to the tent that housed the burn victims. Young people almost or completely naked with third-degree burns from toe to crown were lying in the dirt, howling in pain. Their smell was distinct from the other injuries we had encountered thus far. So many smells all threatening to nauseate. Oddly enough my stomach was my only steady feature.

I focused on the task, looking only at the doctors who were passing out medical supplies. I grabbed enough boxes to partially block my vision, a defense mechanism I guess. I did see one of my companions take out her camera just in time to have the French doctors yell at her “No pictures! No pictures!” It was the strongest protest I had heard yet. On one level I was glad it wasn’t me getting yelled at, but on the other hand shouldn’t it have been me getting yelled at?

We hurriedly packed up the supplies and hopped on top of them in the back of the truck for the return drive. My mother and I started talking about my dilemma. Of course a journalist is always a journalist, much like a doctor is always a doctor, even if their momentary presence isn’t of a professional nature. But the truth was I wasn’t here for a publication. I wasn’t getting paid to bring the story home. I didn’t have the huge Nikon camera around my neck, or the conspicuous press badge that would tell onlookers that I was just doing my job. I had my little Canon point and shoot, enough to make me look like a tourist merely interested in capturing a people at their weakest and most gruesome moments. I was horribly self-conscious when taking pictures. Self-conscious; why was I being so “self” centered? My ego was irrelevant right? If I came under threats and anger because I was trying to tell a story that could lead to assistance then so be it. When I realized this, I knew my focus was beginning to return.

We arrived at the hospital, delivered the supplies and set to work. A woman had just passed away moments before our arrival and was lying on the front porch of the hospital, here eyes affixed in death on the sky above her. There was a sheet tangled in her legs. I took a breath in, slid the sheet over her face, and took out my camera. I didn’t photograph her. Covering her seemed respectful, but I also took it in as a personal ritual, going from dismayed volunteer to green storyteller. I took pictures of the bodies I’d seen earlier. I photographed the view from the steps of the hospital, trying to capture the crudeness of the care these people were receiving for lack of supplies. It was hard with my digital camera, and I was still working out my nerves of being perceived as insensitive. But no one approached me or grimaced at me. I simply became a part of the environment, barely even noticed. As I worked out my anxiety with each photo, my respect for the photographers that heed no limits in their story-capturing grew exponentially.

The deceased were lain on the side and on the median of the Diquini Hosptial driveway

Where Hell met Heaven: Triage at Diquini Hospital the Night of the Quake

The first thing to hit us was the smell. Warm, fresh, bubbling blood. It came from everywhere; arms, legs, chests, faces, the very ground we walked on. Standing bewildered right outside our vehicle we watched as family after family trudged up the hospital driveway carrying injured loved ones. No waiting for an ambulance since there were no ambulances. No calling for help since there were no phones, or help for that matter. There were only Haitians carrying their kin towards one of the last standing hospitals in the city.

Our guide, Surpris Cherazard, born in Haiti now planted in Houston, TX, immediately scooped his hands under an unconscious man’s body and helped carry him up the driveway to the vast lawn in front of the hospital.

Shaken out of shock, we finally moved up the driveway with everyone else towards the hospital entrance, where Emille, the hospital administrator, stood waiting for us.

“God is good!” she exclaimed with a smile. I was perplexed. Was it the hundreds of injured sprawled before us that was evidence of God’s goodness? Our presence perhaps? Maybe she was just communicating in the only true common language between us: faith. The hospital had been evacuated for fear of collapse, but the lights from within cast a glow on to the grim scene outside. Suddenly the dark seemed like a blessing.

No sooner did I have latex gloves on than did a wave of requests for help wash over me.“Miss! Miss! Please, my sister, my brother!” And so it went. I went from person to person laying in the dark grass, trying not to step on the endless amount of broken ankles and legs on the ground.

Every time I had to explain with ridiculous hand motions and made up French words that I wasn’t a doctor, my heart ached. They saw an American with latex gloves on and thought doctor, how I wish I had been. I knelt over gashes, bones protruding from the skin, entire limbs that had been torn from the body, as if by looking over the problem I was helping to solve it. I felt sick, not from the gore, but from the utter helplessness. Even if I had been a doctor, there were no supplies, not even bandages. There was no disinfectant or water to rinse off wounds.

Eventually the medical director surfaced and said the only thing we could do was to go from family to family, lay our hands on them, sound reassuring and pray with them if they so desired.

Feeling moronic and disabled, I resumed my futile trek from one injury to the next. People were dying all around us. One man gently walked me over to his daughter who had a six-inch gash in her forehead, but more importantly, was gasping for air. I frantically searched for a deeper wound in her chest or her abdomen, whatever was causing her breathing problems. But there was nothing. I kept exclaiming desperately “Ou est il probleme?!” Another French concoction meant to ask, “Where is the problem?” Then I realized that she had an internal injury that was drowning her from the inside out. She was maybe 14 years old, pretty, terrified. Her gasping increased it’s pace as her eyes widened. She started choking out her last breaths, and passed away with my ignorant hands on her stomach.

There was no time to process. I went to wherever I felt a touch on my arm or leg, someone begging for help. At one point three different hands were urging me in three different directions, always gently. Everyone had a reason for hysteria and pushiness and yet there was none. Just soft touches that pulled at the heart more than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The moans of pain in the air were intermixed with spiritual songs to help usher those dying into Heaven. The idea of faith ceased to be some cerebral concept discussed in Sunday school, and had become a moving illustration in front of me. So this is what it meant to really trust God, so much so that you could still be kind and gentle to a useless foreigner when you know you may not make it through the night. I saw a family of five gathered around what looked like a mother figure. Her eyes were slowly rolling back into her head. Hugging each other they circled her, placed their hands on her shoulders and sang in Creole. She finally went to sleep.

I started to develop a strategy of focusing on the positives of those I examined. I use the word examine loosely as I’ve never even had first aide training. “See how the bump on the head is protruding instead of caving inward, that’s a good thing,” I could hear how stupid I sounded, but I didn’t know what else to say. “I know your broken leg hurts but you are going to survive this I promise, just concentrate on breathing.”  I would look into their eyes and demonstrate slow, deep breaths, as if we were in some kind of Lamaze class.

I had long lost my companions. I was ready to accept that I may not find them until morning. With a slight feeling of panic, fueled by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness in not being able to treat any of the wounds shown to me, I made my way to the hospital for a moment’s reprieve.

That’s when I saw a group of three in the driveway trying to carry a woman wrapped up in a blanket. They obviously needed another set of arms to carry her legs. I rushed over and scooped the bottom half of her body in my arms. The blanket was warm and soaked through. We gently laid her down near the steps leading up to the hospital door. I pulled my arms out from under her to see that blood had smeared all over my arms, from finger tips to elbows. The woman’s caretakers opened up the blanket for me to see a mangled leg that was practically stripped of all skin below the knee. I signaled with my hands, “just one minute,” and stumbled inside the deserted hospital.

I was running around looking for any water source with which I could rinse all the blood off me. I had long since abandoned my latex gloves. They seemed pointless. I finally found an abandoned bottle of water sitting on a non-functioning water fountain. I poured what I could on my arms to wash away the poor woman’s blood.

I suddenly remembered that I had come on this trip to document, and that perhaps I should film the scene outside, but my heart couldn’t get there. There was so little to offer the suffering, shoving a camera in the faces of the dying seemed like an addition to their already great deficit. So as a compromise I ducked into an empty room and made a quick video journal entry. If I couldn’t bring myself to grab the images outside, I could at least show the raw emotion of the moment in my face and in my voice. You can still hear the screams outside.

I took some deep breaths and steeled myself to exit the hospital. That’s when I saw my mother walking precariously in my direction. “I’m blacking out,” she said. She too had seen the now one-legged woman.

It was soon after that our guide demanded we go to where we would be sleeping. One of our group members had broken down into tears on the hospital steps, and the exhaustion had finally resurfaced in all of us, whether we wanted to admit it or not.

We climbed back into our car and made our way to a dorm-style compound known as Ormisseau, or ‘The Villa’ as locals call it. Famous for housing missionaries of every different religious persuasion, it stood within walking distance from the hospital. We later found out that the Villa, the hospital and other institutions near by were all part of a Seven Day Adventist campus.

We were safe and clean at the Villa. There were showers, comfortable beds, even a room with a soda machine. In missionary fashion the girls departed from the boys as we made our way to our rooms.

Sleep that night, and every other night, was troubled at best. Aftershocks continued to intermittently shake our room and threaten our safety. I knew the next day what I was going to do. A seed had been planted in me at the hospital that night, and the need to return and help would grow ever stronger as our journey progressed. Diquini Hospital to this day has never eased its hold on me, calling me back to the darkness and the dust.