Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Return to Haiti

aBON REPOS, HAITI-- The sound of the drums and maracas threw me.

Hadn't I just gotten off the plane in Port-au-Prince?

Despite the beautiful mountains and teal waters surrounding this city, this was certainly not the island vacation the music made me think of.

But, sure enough, as I reached the first floor of the airport, there was a live band singing and playing instruments.

I thought that was a good omen that hope was returning to Haiti. My friend, Joe Hurston, the founder of Air Mobile ministries out of Titusville, FL, met me at the airport to fill me on on what he's seen in his weekly trips to Haiti.

He said, "Things here are worse...much worse." He told me about a tent city that is about to be evicted because on private property.

He talked about his fear about, "not if but when a storm hits Haiti," and the need to develop a plan to evacuate the thousands still living under tarps held up by sticks.

And they are. The tent cities are in the same place I saw them when I left here six months ago - only they're bigger.

In some ways they're more sophisticated. Many of the tents are really nice: the kind you might take on your family camping trip.

Many have access to food, water, and free medical care. But, then, there are still the massive heaps of trash and human waste just feet from those tents that have been set on fire.

There is still the nearly sophocating feeling of living in a tent on a day when the temperature is around 100 degrees and the humidity makes the air feel like soup. And, of course, there is the rain.

Although this rainy season has not been especially bad, according to locals, days like today in which the drizzle begins around 4pm and grows into a steady pitter patter of drops on the blue tarps that spot the city by 6 and continues for hours makes this dirty, dusty place into a mud pit.

Families whose tents are placed on top of the foundation that was once their home consider themselves lucky; their home may be gone, but at least that foundation keeps the floors from flooding into a muddy mess. Jean Prezilus and his 22-year-old girlfriend are one such family.

They're grateful for the concrete foundation below their 10ft by 10ft home that is just burlap bags held together with wooden sticks and zip ties.

Prezilus and his girlfriend share the home with their three daughters, his brother and his wife.

Seven people, two beds, a few chairs and tables - all crammed into a place that is smaller than my bedroom.

And six months ago - there was an eighth person: two and a half year old Mishna. She was born with clubbed feet and required expensive medical treatment.

Prezilus earns the equivalent of nine US dollars each week at his job at a lottery store: hardly enough to feed a family, let alone cover her medical needs. So, they brought the little girl, named Mishna, to an orphanage called Ruuska Village.

The founder, an American named Barbara Walker, found a doctor in the states who performed surgery to fix her clubbed feet.

She then returned to Haiti, and her parents, again, brought her to Ruuska Village, explaining they simply couldn't care for the girl who had since forgotten Creole and only spoke English. Then, the quake hit.

Mishna was scheduled for follow up treatment in the states.

When I arrived at Ruuska Village the day after the quake, Walker asked if the group I was traveling with would be willing to transport Mishna to the United States for that follow-up care.

So, we did. Mishna refused to leave my arms as we walked passed the military helicopters and aid planes to board our tiny Cessna to return to Florida.

After a few hours of peek-a-boo and napping, I carried Mishna into customs at Palm Beach International Airport.

That's when we learned there was a problem. A very big problem. Her passport was not marked for a return visit, making it "invalid."

I was held for 9 hours and questioned by investigators on suspiscion of kidnapping.

Despite their personal compassion for Mishna's plight, they had to put her into U.S. custody.

Mishna was screaming, and reaching her arms out to me, crying, "Momma NO!" as they put her in a van and drove towards Miami.

She's been held at a federal facility there ever since.

Two families want to adopt her: a doctor in Titusville and the family who cared for her during her surgery.

Both have filed paperwork to facilitate the adoption, but still, the process drags on.

The orphanage director claims no one can get a straight answer about why, despite form after form being filled out, nothing is being done to release Mishna.

Standing in their tiny tent home, Mishna's parents look at pictures of their little girl and wonder if she knows why this is happening to her.

They say they are happy she is away from this place, but worry about her not living with a family.

As they plead for the United States to move her case along, they plan to go into the city tomorrow to pick up more paperwork in hopes these forms might be the last needed to put their daughter in the loving arms of a family that can actually care for her.

The sun has now set, and the rain is pounding even harder.

And while Jean Prezilus has some hope, he and thousands of others are laying down to sleep tonight with those drops falling through the their tents onto their tired faces.

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