Ten years ago this month I boarded a plane for an island country I knew little about and, frankly, had never really given much thought. I was 18, I didn't give a lot of thought to a lot of things.
A decade later, it's rare that a day goes by that I don't think about my time in Haiti.
When the tiny half-an-island nation was obliterated by the earthquake one year ago today, I found myself glued to my TV. Watching helplessly from the frozen north, I worried for my friends. I was taken back to the winter of 2001 that I spent in Port-Au-Prince.
I was sick. I had bronchitis and a nasty sinus infection. So a lot of what I remember is a little fuzzy.
There was political distress. Remnants of Colonialism. Carnivale. Broken infrastructure. Poverty. Orphans. Peanut Butter with Pimentos. Slums. Animals. Corruption. Black outs. Terrible Pizza. Suffering. Hunger.
It was hot. It was intense. It wrecked my world. I have scars to prove it.
I HATED IT.
I've been all over the world. I've seen a lot. But nothing has ever affected me quite like my time in Haiti.
For the first time in my life I came face to face with the reality that I am incapable of fixing things. BUT doing anything I can with unyielding commitment- that is my absolute reason for existence.
Haiti is where I met Alexandra. A ten year old orphan who changed my life. She made me realize that even in the midst of tragedy and injustice and poverty...
Her face was branded in my memory long ago. In fact, it was Alex that gave me my Haitian scars. The kid gave me ring worm. I have this scar on my left arm that always reminds me of her.
And of Haiti.
A decade later, as I watched this country sit in literal ruin, I was taken back. I watched the news of the relentless suffering on this little tiny island that has gripped my heart like no place I've ever been, and I think of little Alex.
Where is she?
Is she okay?
Is she alive?
Is she scared?
A year after the quake, it seems little has changed. Aid is slow. The economy has barely budged. Crime is rampant. Those who survived the earthquake are now threatened by cholera — a disease that until just a few months ago was never even documented in Haiti.
I still think about Alex. I see news reports every so often and I still find myself looking for her face in the b-roll shots of tent camps and rebuilding projects. She'd be about 20 now. She might have a family— babies of her own.
The situation has grown largely political. No one wants to take responsibility. Even with billions of dollars in aid raised it's impossible to rebuild a country that now finds itself plagued by disease and civil unrest. It's messy. It's going to take a long time to rebuild and the reality is, Haiti might never be the same.
It's the individuals like Alex that make it hard for me to see it as a political crisis. It's a human crisis. Last year's earthquake shattered the hopes of millions. It turned college students into refugees. It ripped apart families. It left children without parents and parents without homes.
Last summer, I covered a story about a Nisswa couple , Frank "Bud" and Jeanette McLaughlin, who have devoted their lives to serving the people in Haiti. I felt an instant connection to the McLauglins because of our shared passion for Haiti.
Plus, Jeanette makes awesome chocolate cookies...and anyone who feeds me cookies has earned themselves a permanent place in my heart.
I sat down with the McLaughlins again today to hear about the progress of the last 6 months. There hasn't been much.
But there has been some.
As a journalist, I do my best to stay out of the story...to just report the facts. But this story is personal.
People I love are involved. My Alex could walk in the doors of their medical clinic.
Bud and Jeanette head back in a few weeks to spend the rest of the winter months in Pignon where their Haiti Mercy Mission operates. They aren't trying to save the entire island. That's an impossible task. But they love without the condition the 50 orphans living at their mission. They treat dozens of cholera victims everyday. They provide life in a climate of imminent death.
People like the McLaughlins provide a glimmer of hope that someday Haiti will be okay again.
Haiti is strong.
Haiti will survive.