Written by John Mortier (Melissa’s Dad)
You’ve heard the expression “a picture paints a thousand words”, in Haiti “a picture paints a million words”. Cathy and I have been in Haiti only three days and our eyes have witnessed events which will be engrained in our memories forever, observing lifestyles which no human being should have to endure. On Monday we saw young children searching through piles of muddy garbage hoping to find just one thing that they could sell to receive enough money to buy food for the day, usually consisting of rice and beans. Just beyond these young children we saw children outside of their houses, a shack consisting of four old, rusty, dented sections of sheet metal with a fifth piece used as a roof to shield the hot sun of the day. The ten by ten structure was built on an uneven, rocky mound of dirt that would eventually become a mudslide throughout the upcoming rainy season.
On Tuesday, Cathy and I received a tour of Port au Prince experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells that Haitians endure on a daily basis. We saw thousands of people along the streets selling every item imaginable attempting to make money that would allow them to buy food, water, and clothing for their families; from soliciting those who walked the sidewalks in front of their stand, to approaching vehicles hoping to gain a sale of their goods. We saw Haitians packed like sardines into the back of “tap taps”, which are small, brightly colored, pick-up trucks that serve as a taxi to transport people along the deteriorated, hilly roads of the city. Our day ended with a visit to the Heartline Guesthouse by one of Ryan and Melissa’s employees (the cook) who gave birth to a baby boy just two weeks prior. To commute to the guesthouse the couple traveled 45 minutes , crammed into a tap tap with their new born , and traveled along roads with potholes up to 18 inches deep. The couple appeared at our place with baby in hand, dressed in their Sunday best, wearing a smile that melted our hearts. Haitians are truly some of the strongest and toughest people in the world.
Yesterday, we traveled to the “tin market” where Haitians craft beautiful designs out of tin or sheet metal. They search throughout the city, combing thru garbage, finding any type of metal that they can redesign into an art piece that they can sell. They spend days working on just one item, sitting on the ground, using a hammer and several small hand tools to reshape the tin. They pound hundreds of indentations into the material, polishing it with rags until it is reformed into a piece of art to be sold at the tin market. Some items sell for as little as a dollar, others for over twenty, taking several days or a week to complete. The amount the item sells for is totally based on the negotiating skills of the buyer; a successful negotiation occurs if you can lower the initial price by 75% or more. It was amazing to watch Ryan and Melissa battle for the lowest possible price on each piece that was purchased. The Haitians use the money to buy essentials needed for their daily living. On the return trip we viewed large pots of rice being prepared on the sides of the street. We saw ten to fifteen Haitians lined up to receive a bowl of rice and return to their tin houses or dirty and torn small tents setting on rocky parking lots. These Haitians are strong and determined to survive all the challenges presented to them.
After viewing the events of these past several days, one can’t help but change their perspectives. As Cathy and I return back to the states on Friday, we can’t help but have changes in how we live our daily lives. We will further value everything that God has given to us, be it our family, health, home, friends, or overall very, very comfortable standard of living. After viewing this devastation and struggle, I myself, for example will have a hard time justifying spending one hundred dollars on lawn fertilizer next spring to have a deeper, greener, richer lawn when I’ve just spent five days in a city where there is no grass, just rocks, dirt, and mud.
These incredible people living in Port au Prince have so very little, yet value what they have, struggling desperately to survive every day, yet complain so very little. I challenge you to consider supporting any nonprofit organization such as Heartline Ministries providing finances to so many in need. We all should give up that “bag of fertilizer” to provide others rice, beans, water, and clothing for their families. We thank Ryan and Melissa for this incredible opportunity to experience the people and culture of Haitie; we hope to return to spend time with them and learn more about this fascinating country.