Thursday, August 18, 2011

Haiti Ruined My Life - by A.J. Zielstra. Jr.

The following entry was originally posted by A.J. Zielstra. Jr. on his personal blog.
A.J. is a recent graduate of Clemson University - he went to Haiti for the first time in May. It changed his life.

Because everything I see makes me think of something else.
Right now I’m sitting on the porch of my apartment, the rain kisses my feet and, like so many other things do, it reminds me of the most redemptive ten days of my life. Don’t ever go to Haiti if you don’t want your life to change.

My bike is locked to the fence in front of me, my laptop is on my legs, my ipod sings in my ears, and my blackberry buzzes in my pocket. Isn’t that disgusting? A cup of coffee steams by my side and the smoke from a clove is dancing it’s way up to the clouds that are emptying themselves of water and pent up electricity as fast as they can.

Last week in Haiti 23 people died in floods because they live in tent cities on the sides of hills. My girlfriend Kathryn told me that she showed grown men how slinkies and etch-a-sketches work. You and I live in a world that some people literally cannot imagine.
I’ve wanted to write about my trip ever since I got back, but I just can’t figure out where to begin. Maybe I can just tell you some stories.

Bouncing around in a large white truck, two dozen large white people watched as a city sprinted past our eyes, not giving us the time to process the things we were seeing. It seemed to me as though the people in Port au Prince had built a beautiful city and then one day woke up and forgot how to live in it. Buildings stood unused while people set up markets on the narrow sidewalks, keeping their backs to the buildings as though they were just returning the cold shoulder the crumbling buildings had given them. The Haitians looked up at us as we passed and greeted us with brilliant smiles, waving their welcome. Children shouted “blan!” as we passed, giving voice to the thought that if we are honest was below the surface for much of our time. “We are the only white people here.” The Haitians are blessed not to have the racial tensions that we still have to deal with here in the states, so in a country populated almost exclusively by blacks, whites are rarities, nothing more sinister.

We made our way away from the city and in the outskirts we found that there was an orphanage nearby, so we decided we’d stop by, the people at the orphanage receiving no heads up. Climbing down from our truck we started walking down a street that was flooded with stagnant water, a lime-green liquid highway. We picked our way from rock to rock as a dignified Haitian lady came from the other direction, kicked off her shoes, hiked up her dress and forded the standing river. I felt a little bit silly.

We made it to the orphanage and walked in through a gate made of sheet metal, and were greeted by sixteen beautiful children. These kids who had no idea who we were or why we were there rushed to us with open arms and puckered lips. They wanted to be held, to touch our hair and skin. It was large scale love at first sight. The man who started the orphanage welcomed us into their home, a look of profound gratitude on his face, before we even had the chance to tell him who we were.

You have to know that my keyboard is now misted with tears as I recall this scene for you. The founder told us that after the earthquake he, his wife, and son, saw that the only thing for them to do was to provide for the children living on the streets with no place to go. So this man, this hero, built a house with his own two hands so that the kids in his neighborhood could have a place to live. Meanwhile he lives in a tent in the front yard. The craziest thing about it is he would never consider himself a hero. People were in need, he had to do something. That to him is no great act, but simply part of what God calls all those who know him to do.

Now that I’ve gotten started I could write forever, so maybe I’ll have to pace myself.
I’ll end for now with this thought. Don’t feel guilty for the things that you have, I know that we work hard for them. Let’s just realize that it’s a bunch of bullshit compared to the things that God has prepared for us if we would just let go of the things that we are clinging to and open up our hands so that he can take them in his.

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