Dear Friends and Family,
Saturday afternoon Fr Rick Frechette, Raphael, Gerald, Emile, Katil, Cesar and I made our attempt to go to Dame Marie and Apricot by land. Not knowing what we would find and if we would be able to even reach the place, it was important to try after seeing the devastation by air in order to bring food and water as soon as possible. Communications are still impossible, and we don’t really know when they will be re-established.
As you already know, the hurricane destroyed houses and thousands of acres of lush vegetation and crops. While normally the trip from Port-au-Prince to Dame Marie by land lasts 7 or 8 hours, this time it took 18! The reason is because the road is full of trees, mud, rocks and debris, and we literally had to open the road as we traveled through the middle of the night, assisted by the Protection Civil. Even the bridges were cut off, and we had to pass through rivers building a passage way with rocks with our bare hands to establish a way through them.
All this was done in the middle of the night, only with the lights of our cars and flashlights. How hard our men worked is just unbelievable. It is truly unbelievable what they did.
Even as dawn came we could still barely see anything because of the fog. As we looked around, it looked like a scene after a war or horror movie with barren trees and fields covered in the fog. It was scary. The only sound we could barely hear was every once in a while a rooster singing in the distance. The singing of the rooster reminded me of the Gospel of the Passion when Peter has his conscience awakened after his denial of Jesus, and how in a disaster like this our consciences cannot remain asleep. Read more
In front of such devastation, the question often is “Where is God?” Probably the same question haunted Peter when he saw Jesus arrested and sentenced to death. It’s easy in front of such tragedies to find refuge in the answer that God is not there. Meanwhile, the truth is that in these moments God is really facing us, looking us in our eyes and questioning, “Where are you?”
An Italian journalist I spoke with earlier today told me during her interview that she couldn’t hear any word of desperation in what I was saying. And my answer was, “How can I be desperate when people who have lost everything at the question “How are you” answer, “I’m okay thank God. I lost my house, but I’m alive, thank God.”
I think probably that the question of the absence of God, and the desperation that comes with it, belongs more to us who are spoiled than to those who have to fight every day to survive.
In fact during our journey, when we began to meet people wandering and walking through small towns on top of the mountain that looked like desert towns. It was amazing to see how they were trying to return to an ordinary live, recuperating the iron sheets blown away from their houses, straightening them out, and nailing them back on their roofs. A lady walking with a coconut shell holding some pieces of wood at the question, “How are you doing?” answered with such politeness and dignity, “I lost my house. I lost my husband. But I don’t have time to cry, because I have to go and cook for my child.”
As we journeyed on towards Dame Marie, we involved the locals that we would meet on the way, who helped with their machetes to cut away trees so there was space for our cars to pass through. Among them a sixty-six year old man who at my question, “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” said “I’ve seen many hurricanes, but nothing was ever like this since October 11, 1954.”
To arrive in Dame Marie we had one last river to cross, which was not easy at all because it was so wide. Raphael and Cesar walked barefoot in front of us in order to know the deepness of the river, and allow us to pass through safely behind them.
Once in Dame Marie we went again to visit the people, to check the St. Luke schools, and to monitor the distribution of the emergency kits that were made up with the donations that we had brought a few days prior by helicopter. They were being distributed as planned.
While walking in the streets we could hear the noise of iron sheets being dragged through the roads as people found and collected them. I thought of how the sound of the sheets dragging on the road was similar to how they must have sounded being blown away in the wind. But now it wasn’t the sound of destruction, but the sound of rebuilding as the people were collecting the sheets from wherever they had blown to reconstruct.
Before noon we wanted at all cost to reach the St. Luke School in Abricot, but to reach it by land from Dame Marie was impossible. So, as other times in the past, we decided to go boat. Only two boats in the whole town survived, and we paid for one of the boats to bring us. Despite a rough sea, we took our chance to go. I’ve been other times to this place, and always contemplated the beauty of the sea and the sun, with green shores filled with coconut trees and fishermen in sailboats made of tree trunks. Now in the sea it was only us and the shores were empty. The fishermen villages were totally washed away and there were no more beautiful palm trees on the shores. Everything was now barren, deserted and dry.
Once we arrived in La Serengue, Fr. Rick and the others went up the hill to see the school, while I stayed down with the people of the fisherman village. Talking with the people I noticed that they were surviving until now drinking coconut water and eating the meat of the coconut. They have lost all of their livestock and have even been surviving on the meat and carcass of the dead animals. When I told them, “You have the sea, why don’t you fish?” they said, “We have lost our boats and our nets, we can’t even fish.”
While talking with them to see what steps to take in the immediate future, a little boy came to me with two coconuts for me to eat and drink. I accepted one, and gave one to him. And then a woman came willing to offer me something eat, but she had nothing, so she offered me three rocks: one red, one black and one green that are usually used by the people there to make necklaces. There was such a solidarity and sharing among them, and with me.
The immediate relief need is certainly for food and water. As I was there talking in the hot sun, I was looking for some shade, which no longer exists. I realized that the people without roofs over their heads or trees for shade cannot survive, and are so at risk to die dehydrated. It is like all of the sudden they are left in the desert unprepared.
The next steps also include giving them the means to raise livestock, to crops and to fish. If these things won’t happen, the next wave of the humanitarian disaster will certainly include displacement and a criss of refugees.
Before leaving I heard again the rooster singing, probably the only rooster left that survived. And I thought: like that rooster, in our culture of death, I have to sing to wake you up to please help these poor brothers and sisters.
Fr. Enzo Del Brocco
St. Luke Foundation for Haiti and
Passionist Haiti Mission, Our Mother of Sorrows