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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 5: One Teacher's Earthquake Experience

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti.  Below you will find the writings of Ma-Luschka Colindres, a colleague and friend.  Ma-Luschka and I were part of a 6 person team of teachers that lived through the earthquake, and worked together for over 10 days to provide first-aid for the victims.  This is her story.  Day 5.

January 16th Day 5 

Should I be honest ?

I don’t think that I ever imagined that I could grow so much in such short period of time. But as I look at my state of mind from day 1 of Earthquake to day 5 I feel like a different me. Anger, despair, sadness, fear, helplessness, faith, courage, hope, joy, contentment, satisfaction, frustration, revulsion, disgust, horror are my current state of emotional rollercoaster.

I knew that I could handle gory sites to a certain limit, being a science teacher I dissect prepared specimens all the time. However never in my world did I imagine that I would ever have to see let alone care for human beings with petrified, rotten, broken, crushed, pierced, malodorous limbs. Thanks to having proactive apartment mates that are teachers just like me, fifteen minutes after the Earthquake happened we geared up and left the apartment to really never return. That first night we picked up supplies at the Red Cross (which luckily was our neighbor) and we headed out to assist. Well in the dark in open field through corridors, ravines, we treated hundreds of wounded without having time to bat an eye. We did not have any doctors with us and we did not stop until an entire soccer field was helped and we moved on to another disaster area on foot. 

I could not even start describing the cases nor the amount of people that were homeless and just sleeping on the ground. Gender, age made no difference all were wounded.

My anger began when I saw so many cars drive by and not offer any help to the wounded, even official government cars, police cars, UN cars, OI cars. Having lived through various earthquakes from California, I knew that this was above a 6.0 and that all of damage must have happened. I can’t even count on my fingers the amount of schools that collapsed with students inside. People were just running everywhere trying to save children, trying to save family members crushed inside. As I am writing you on day 5, I now recognize without a doubt the smell of rottening human flesh, which has become part of my daily breathing regimen that a face mask cannot annihilate.

Since I have not had internet access for 5 days, I am still asking myself how honest I should be because it is crude, it is inhumane, it is disgusting, it is revolting. 

I am barely getting any sleep as the AyiTeam what we call ourselves has not stopped giving first aid. We have now become expert at cleaning wounds, shaving head to prepare them for suture, deep cleaning wounds to prevent infections, we know longer shriek at the site children with cracked skulls, legs with tibias sticking out, feet with gangrene that obviously will not make it. Nakedness no longer phases us who cares about vanity, propriety when you are laying on the ground wondering if you are going to survive, flies all over your wounds and no doctors in site. In the AyiTeam composed of Steve English Teacher, Meaghan the 5th grade teacher, Bruno the Social Studies teacher, Michelle the 3rd grade teacher, Sabrina the Kinder Teacher and me the Science Teacher, we learned that when several people put their heads together you can make an organization open their doors to the wounded, you can take risks and doors will open for you, if you are proactive people will follow you. Everyone thinks that we are doctors, but the irony of it all, it that we wondered if the majority of the doctors crumbled under the rubble because it was not until day 4 that we started seeing a few more doctors despite the state of emergency. We did see many foreign reporters since day 2 but no foreign doctors. Our guess was that reporters can fly faster than doctors. But it was not until day 5 after Earthquake that we actually saw dozens of doctors. Some of you may not realize this but at the hospitals people are outside laying on the ground with no access to bathroom nor water. This is the case at the General Hospital and two other hospitals that I visited. When you drive across the city ( by the way I may have lost my car because it was sent for service at the AutoPlaza and it no longer exists) any open field contains hundreds of people under makeshift tents, sheets. For those of you that know Haiti, the National Palace, DGI, ONA, Caribbean Market, Sacre Coeur Church (where I had my first communion, confirmation and marriage), College Canape Vert, Palais de Justice, Canado, Nursing school, Haitian American Institute just to name a few are completely destroyed. The building that I just named are only a few that come to mind as I spend my entire days now giving first Aid at the General hospital. We had camped our station near a wall that had some shade only to discover that the dead bodies are brought in huge trucks to be picked up by a bulldozer and dumped into piles to be later burned. By the way it is a common occurrence now for people to just dump dead bodies in the street corners piled up on each other, with rigid blown up limbs. This a daily site and smell. I do need to remind you all that we are on day five. There has not been any food distribution yet. What does that mean, the people are sick, hungry, tired, body odor is infesting the entire city whether you are alive or dead. Riots and looting can break out at any time.

I think it is time for me to go to sleep as I am fortunate to have the stars as my cover. The AyiTeam has been sleeping outside on the grass or on the cement in a circular fashion with our heads connected. It really is no bother to us when we have had to resort to finding a bucket to collect water from our pool to bathe. We have no electricity and we are afraid to turn on the gas stove. We have been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. The AyiTeam has been eating together, working together, sharing basically everything. We thank God for being alive but we do hope that people don’t turn their backs on Haiti because the country needs to be reconstructed from ground zero up.

Every single Haitian has lost someone near or far. Things will not get better until we all work together. We are all affected, and I apologize if I ranted off but this is my first time communicating to the rest of the world and it is an odd feeling after five days of complete disconnect and living as though this were a war zone.

To be continued.

P.S. One of my best friends that lives in Petion Ville, lost her aunt, her uncle, her nephew of 11 years and her cousin. Thus far we lost one teacher at Union School.This is a common occurrence in many families. However my biggest concern now are for the orphans. There is no emergency plan until this date that I know of for the children that have no family members left. Please get involved and participate. The Red Cross has really been helping.

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