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Communiqué #053


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

September 11, 2008

Hurricane Gustav had already planted its ugly head in Haiti and moved on to other parts of the Caribbean when Léon and I left for the airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the end of our vacation. In order to locate the little girl who was ready to go back to Haiti following surgery in Illinois, we went to the airport eight hours early in hopes of catching a standby flight that would give us more time at the Chicago airport to meet up with her. As it turned out, we were able to fly on the first flight out, leaving us with lots of time to “people watch” in O’Hare. When our little gal arrived, I was given some after-care instructions and we were on our way to Miami. She was somber and/or quietly sobbing most of the flight as she was missing her host family who had so lovingly taken care of her before, during and after her multiple surgeries. It was at our hotel that we learned that Hurricane Hanna was on her way and we may just be stranded in Miami for an unknown number of days. Bright and early the next day we headed to the Miami airport where we learned that we would be flying after all, but needed to wait until the Port-au-Prince airport opened with an all clear. It was at the gate in Miami, that our little gal started to brighten. Suddenly we were surrounded by all black people, all of who were speaking Creole. Her eyes got big and a smile crossed her face. What familiar sights and sounds! She figured out that Mommy Nora was indeed taking her home to her mommy and daddy. Our flight left about two hours late and we arrived in Haiti to hot and humid temperatures. All of the flights to Les Cayes had been cancelled and we were told it would be impossible to catch a flight the rest of the week. We decided to stay at a guesthouse and then figure out when and how we would go to Les Cayes. I used the time in Port-au-Prince to visit one of our children who is staying at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince while his adoption is being finalized. As our visit concluded the rain clouds burst and we were in for an all night rain. The next morning, I needed to bring our little traveler to the American Embassy to prove that indeed she did return to Haiti as required by her medical visa. That being completed, we decided that we would travel to Les Cayes by land in hopes of getting there before Hurricane Hanna hit in full force. We had been told the road was clear and that it would be safe to travel. As we started the trip (that is usually about a five hour journey) we noticed all sorts of areas where the hurricane had left its devastation. Roads had been washed out. Homes had been flooded. Fields had been flattened. Water remained in many areas. After about 3 hours of travel, we came to a traffic back up. We learned that we had arrived at a bridge that crossed a lake near the city of Miragoane. As we inched nearer and nearer to the bridge, we had a swarm of men offering to help us across. Help us across?!?!? So there was a problem ahead?!?!? We waited until we got closer to access what exactly the problem was. It turned out that although the bridge was still standing, chest deep water was covering the bridge. The driver of our vehicle determined that his vehicle could not make it across. At that point, Léon went out on foot in search of someone who had a vehicle that could take us across. The first vehicle he came to had a friend in it and there was room for the three of us and our luggage. The crowd was pressing us closer and closer to the bridge. We had just seconds to switch vehicles and have our luggage thrown in the back of the truck. As we crossed, our vehicle began filling with water. I silently gasped, remembering those stories about how to break out your windshield if your car became submersed. Snapping back to reality, I looked down to my little traveling companion. Her eyes were as big as Oreos, as she saw the water lapping at my feet. I had to whisper to her that we would be OK and that Jesus loved us and then when I held her little body close to mine she seemed to relax. I could see people walking towards us, guiding our vehicle so that it stayed on the out-of-sight bridge. However, seeing boats crossing the same water, right next to our vehicle, was somewhat hard to wrap my mind around.


The water continued to rise as a tennis shoe floated on the surface right next to the handle that rolls the window up and down. I dared only to let out my breath once I saw that we had crossed the halfway point and the water was receding from our vehicle. Once on the other side, we opened our doors and let most of the remainder of the water out. We pulled out of the flow of traffic, only to have the vehicle not want to continue running. It was then that my mind jerked into gear. Oh no! The luggage that had my computer and important documents and cash in were in the back of the truck. What were the chances that that particular piece of luggage had stayed high and dry? Not a chance – I was to find out! We needed to transfer to yet another vehicle, as the one we were in was not traveling to Les Cayes. The newest vehicle was much more crowded. Once we were settled in like sardines, my soggy suitcase was placed on my lap. Water oozed out of it for the next several miles. I just knew my computer was doomed – my computer with all of my Haiti photos and documents and financial records! I hate to be so dependent on an electronic gadget, especially in light of all the harrowing experiences that just happened to so many of the Haitian people surrounding me, but I knew too that all the records of kids who needed tuition assistance was lost in that silly little machine! How could I function until that information could be retrieved? We traveled on. Light gave way to darkness and we finally arrived at our home in Les Cayes. It certainly was good to plant our feet on the ground, even though it was wet and soggy. It was good to have kids of the orphanage running out in the dark to welcome us home. Yes! Dark! The power had been cut off for days since the first storm had hit. Oh well! A cold shower actually felt good after our interesting day of travel! Another Haitian adventure had come to a close!

In the days that followed our return, I was to learn of the plights of so many of the people. Water had filled houses chest-deep, up to the second floor, or up to the roof. Belongings were washed away. Sheep, chickens, pigs and cows were lost in the flood. Crops were ruined. Food was destroyed. People were left stranded on rooftops with only the clothes on their backs and nothing to eat or drink. Needed medicine was gone! In some instances, even people were overtaken by the waters! Roads were washed out preventing help from arriving. Desperation and despair had taken over the country of Haiti where despair is usually pushed aside and where hope reigns even when there is no hope!

Hope slowly began to return when the sun peeked out and word spread of helicopters arriving with food and other assistance. It is a little, too late but at least some help has arrived! The resilient Haitian people are now planning the opening of schools in October and are starting to pick up the few remaining pieces of their lives! One can only wonder how the people of Haiti keep going! Disaster upon disaster comes their way, but yet they put one foot in front of the other and continue their life of struggles.

Please do not forget about Haiti and its people! Recovery from the latest storms will last for many years to come. They need your prayers and your outpouring of compassionate giving! Thank the Good Lord if you live in a county where help is only hours away from any disaster that may come your way. Most of the world is not that fortunate!

Nora Léon

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time ………….

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