While news coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf may have taken some of the attention away from the earthquake in Haiti on the nation level, Islanders remain concerned and connected.
One of the many connections between Marco Island and Haiti is Hansley Mussotte, 26. Employed at First Baptist Family Church as a creative assistant, the Haitian is studying to become a minister.
Mussotte immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old. On May 14 he headed back to his homeland to spend a week to reconnect with family and friends and assess the rebuilding efforts.
Much has changed since his last visit to Haiti in July of 2009.
“I couldn’t help but to notice the amount of foreigners who were part of my flight, as well as those who where present at the airport,” said Mussotte in an email. “Never before have I seen such a balanced proportion between Haitians and foreigners during my travels. This testifies of the level of global awareness the earthquake created.”
The Port-au-Prince Airport is much changed. All arrivals are now processed through a warehouse like building.
The drive from the airport revealed much to him.
“It’s hard to believe that the amount of debris is just a remnant of what once filled the streets. Though the scenes spoke of the destruction, everything else seems to be normal. People filled the streets, running their daily errands. Businesses provided services. Merchants traded. Schools were in session.”
Although the earthquake affected many lives the level of normalcy he sensed as he observed the social interactions surprised him. He summed it up in one word: “resilience.”
However, there are still tremendous needs in Haiti. Thousands of buildings are in need of demolition. Thousands of families have been misplaced. Some roads are still not accessible due to debris or hazardous surroundings. The tents are not equipped to sustain a continuous downpour and certainly not hurricane force winds.
He noted a lack of necessary resources, such as heavy machinery. People used various gardening tools, or whatever they have available, in their efforts to manage the debris. He witnessed someone using a four-by-four piece of wood as a hammer.
He was relieved to be reunited with his family. His father’s area was severely affected. Few houses remain on his block.
“His survival is nothing short of a miracle,” said Mussotte. “They’ve been very blessed through this ordeal.”
He asked the locals about the dead, their bodies, their current locations, funeral arrangements, etc. Sadly, not all the bodies have been discovered. Some sites aren’t accessible due to the amount of debris. Numerous people are still unaccounted. Additionally, many of the people that were put in the mass graves were not identified. Many do not know whether or not their loved ones were misplaced, buried, or are still under rubble. Funerals were rare. There were no means to bury everyone. Many resorted to burying their loved ones in their back yards. At least the decaying corpses no longer pollute the air as it did before.
“It was once unbearable to breathe,” he said. With the exception of a few locations, he says he didn’t have any problems breathing this trip.
May 18 was National Haitian Flag Day. It is a major national holiday, the day when Haitian’s celebrate their freedom. There were many festivities throughout the land, the largest took at a place in Arcahaie, a town north of Port-au-Prince. The Congress of Arcahaie adopted the Haitian flag on that day in 1803. However, Mussotte was not able to attend the festivities because he spent the day in meetings and taking care of family business.
May 19 was an incredibly busy day for Mussotte. He revisited his childhood home in Port-au-Prince only to see that it and his entire block was in complete ruins, totally destroyed. He could not find the right words to describe the fluctuation of emotions he felt.
“For one thing, I felt like a kid again,” said Mussotte in an email. ”I was greeted by some of my childhood friends whom I haven’t seen since my initial departure in 1994. The area itself was a place I’ve not revisited ‘till now. I was overwhelmed with nostalgic excitement, to the point where I found myself, in a brief moment, completely oblivious to the destruction that surrounded me, only to be harshly reminded through a quick glance or some tragic news. With my friends, we would find ourselves reminiscing on the past and in the same breath I was being informed of their parent’s death.”
He also visited the school he attended and had not seen since 1994. The St. Jean L’Evangelist School was in complete ruins. Other than the gate, not a trace of the buildings remained. In an effort to try to salvage the school year, makeshift classrooms with tin-roofs were erected on the lot. He was encouraged to see the school in session. Someone had told him that another school from the area is conducting classes in the newly built area of the city. Memorials hung on the wall of one classroom, commemorating the many students and faculty members who died in the earthquake.
He also drove by the capitol, where the palace once stood. Tents and tarps surround the area and the streets were constantly filled with people.
“No words to describe this experience,” continued Mussotte. “An emotional roller coaster would be an understatement. Many aspects of this trip were encouraging. The resilience of the people is undeniable. Everyone has a unique story and the more I asked, the more I realized how incomprehensible this tragedy was. Not a single person I spoke with didn’t have a horror story. Not a single person didn’t know of a lost relative or close friend … everyone you come across lost someone they knew, no exception, due to one event.”
The trip has burdened Mussotte with a greater sense of responsibility.
“As a Christian and as a Haitian, I can’t passively regard this situation,” he said. “I am devoted to the rebuilding of Haiti. Practically, this begins with prayer. I must always remember the people of Haiti in my daily prayers, and I pray for guidance as I consider my role in this rebuilding process. This also involves the help of others. I know I can’t do it all on my own, and I also know I’m not the only one who has this burden. Moreover, I understand that Haiti is not a short-term fix, which is why I’m all the more committed to serving the youth. They are vital to every progress. As young minds are trained to think Biblically, globally, and circumspectly, they will in-turn have a positive impact on the situation ... while sustaining the efforts that are presently developing.
“Of most importance is my commitment to see others enter the Kingdom of God,” he continued.
His only regret was that he was not able to spend more time with his father, as he took advantage of the opportunity to spend time with other family members and close friends.
“Neverless, this trip reminded me of a very valuable lesson,” he continued. “Tomorrow is not promised. Therefore, I must make the most of every opportunity and no amount of discouragement should ever stop such progression. Even in dire circumstances, things can be done. Things must be done.”