Growing frustrated with my infantile Creole, Donell searches for the words in English. Finally, voice cracking he says "I am just f--king tired. Something must change."
We are standing in City Soleil, the largest, densest slum in the western hemisphere and by far the most dangerous. I put my hand on his shoulder. There is nothing to say, not in any language. He pulls a worn New Testament out of his pocket. A picture of his best girl and his baby sister tucked safely into the gospel of John. On the page facing Jesus tells His disciples "don't let your hearts be troubled". I want to tell Donell the same but again language fails.
On our lunch break Donell takes me to his 'house'. It is no bigger than a closet, it is tarps and dirt and a cinder block platform covered in cardboard that is his bed. The water was six inches above the cardboard which is still wet. He doesn't ask me to take a picture. He is a singer. This place does not define him. He will make it out one day. He has to.
But Donell is the exception, everyone else it seems wants me to chronicle the flood, their squalor, the disintegrating tarps and canvas. The mud. 150+ tents, 1,500+ people, covered.
But soon they forget the camera. Soon they begin speaking to me as if I understand. The elderly especially, holding nothing back. Their eyes betray their fear, their hopelessness.
The couple above wave their arms wildly, both simultaneously telling their story. The man motions where the water from the downpour came in through the holes in their tent while his wife tells how the flood waters ruined all they had, went two feet up the tent walls. She seems like she is going to breakdown but then draws from some inner strength, perhaps the sobering responsibility of taking care of her blind husband.
But where the elderly are wrecked with worry, the children, as children do, remain carefree and defiantly joyful.
The reality is that April starts the rainy season and with it malaria and the dreadful horror of cholera. With no latrines or fresh water, feces mixes with mud and enters open sores especially on bare feet. Enters little mouths by way of sucked thumbs and soiled playthings. Cholera is easily treated if caught immediately but with little education and the incessant reality of diarrhea due to any number of dietary and health factors many times people wait too long for treatment.
What struck me with the deepest sense of awe, maybe even more than the indefatigable joy of the kids, was the dignity of these amazing people. Their resilience, their grace, their unconquered beauty. In a slum of half a million with rampant gang violence and a suffocating quality that is palpable even to outsiders, they soldier on. They love their children, they work so very hard, and they share with each other. Given the smallest chance I know they would thrive.
There is a Haitian proverb that goes: Deye mon, gen mon. Beyond the mountains, more mountains. It captures the fatalism and tragedy of the Haitian life so perfectly, that even if the Haitian people overcome one struggle there is another struggle waiting to sucker-punch them. And they have come to accept it. Several times this week Haitians have said without a hint of irony or self-pity, "Ain't nothing easy." But yet they don't give up. They hold on to something. Perhaps like Donell, a dream.
I ask him what kind of music he sings. It would have been quicker to ask him which kinds he doesn't sing. Donell's smile widens as the list goes on. He only smiles when he talks of singing. He reminds me President Martelly was a singer. As if to say, "See? Anything's possible." The Haitian leader smiles down in agreement from a billboard that marks the entrance to City Soleil.
Dreams are powerful because they tap into that invisible reservoir of hope. But dreams usually don't come true. Dreams disintegrate, are ground to grit by the daily grind and with them the heart too is crushed. So what then can sustain a desperate soul? What can resurrect a heart killed by sorrow and then heal it forever? From where comes everlasting hope?
I believe it is in Christ alone. That it is in Him we can have "the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before time began." It will not come from money, nor politicians. Neither will stem the tide of suffering and despair. It will not be found in the rote of religion or the prestige of power. Neither will break chains or unlock cages. Peter wrote "For it wasn't with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ....through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead, and so your faith and hope are in God."
This is my prayer tonight for City Soleil, for Donell. That the God of all hope floods them with all joy and all peace as they trust in Jesus, so that they may overflow with that precious hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh Lord please let it be so.