The earthquake had just hit the island of Hispaniola. This earthquake shook the island and the infrastructure of Puerto Price was shattered and crumbled. So many had died, and complete chaos has ensured as medical care and basic food and shelter was not gone for many who were already living on the edge of poverty, hunger and homelessness. Mary and I had just started to try to have a baby but felt we could help and committed to go. We decided to go to help in the massive tent cities that were being set up. We could get bags of clothes and medical supplies and then help in the camps.
Dominicans and Haitians have struggles with violence and disputes for many generations. Haiti controlled the Island of Hispaniola for almost 22 years and in many areas of the country the Dominicans think the Haitiansare trying to take over their country through massive immigration. The Dictator Rafael Trujillo who controlled the island for years actually tried to whiten the island through bringing in white immigrants and also killed thousands of Haitians and would even persecute Dominicans who harbored Haitians along the border. This tension still exists in many areas along the border where Haitians and Dominicans see each other and treat each other with disdain
We left Miami traveled to Santo Domingo and rented a large SUV. Because we were trying to have a child, we decided not to take the Malaria medicine that can stave off Malaria in tropical areas like D.R. or Haiti. We spoke to Dominicans in the town of Los Blancos and others in Santo Domingo. The Dominicans had seen the strife in Haiti and realized that they desperately needed help. The Dominicans got the best of what they had and loaded up in the trucks with us. Friends, Pica, Pa Chulo and others from my time in the Peace Corps came with us. They loaded up musical instruments and drums. I thought to myself “why the instruments”. This community is dying and struggling music is not a basic need. I went along with it as we loaded up and headed out. We passed through the border where throngs of Haitians were trying to get through to D.R. to escape. You could see the wild look in people’s eyes as they wondered what was next for them. We traveled to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince to a town walled Fonds-Parisien (An Orphanage area where they were taken in homeless Haitians). There had been amputations, broken legs, death and hunger. We worked our way through the tents and started to get to work. We gave the goods we had and started to set up temporary medical shelters and also tarps and tents for shelter. After working with the Dominicans in the hot sun and we sat down with our group and a few Haitians. We started to play music and sing. A small crowed started to gather around and then the Haitians started to join clap and dance and sing. One grabbed the drums and started to play. Then a young Haitian asked one of our Dominican friends for the guitar. He started to strum a song and you could see the Haitians turn their head and start to clap and beat the rhythm. Then the singing started, the Haitians starting to sing their anthem and other Haitian songs. They got loud and louder and then they were singing their hearts out. There were Americans, French, Dominicans and Haitians all started to sing together. Haitian Creole didn’t make it any less difficult for people to start humming along and singing. There were not many dry eyes and I could not help but shed a tear that despite all the death, despair and pain, music had brought us all together in hope on that day.
Family in the aftermath
We got in our trucks and started to head back. As I navigated the roads around Lago Enriquillo (Lake Enriquillo) en route back through Jimani the boarder city that connects the Dominican and Haiti in the south part of the Hispaniola I felt deep sadness for the families we had me but also felt hope in the hope they had shown us. The trip back is rocky and bumpy but my wife Mary was abnormally white in the face. I thought back to the decision not to take the malaria medicine and felt sure that she had either Dengue Fever or Malaria and it was my fault for putting her at risk. I felt terrible for her as she was suffering. We got back to the U.S. and Mary went into the Doctor. I went by the office to pick something up then went to meet here at the house. Mary grabbed me and looked me in the eye, she didn’t have malaria. We were having a baby, a little baby girl, Caroline!!
A few months ago I brought my 8 year old daughter, Caroline to the Dominican Republic with me. I will never forget the look on her eyes as she played with Dominican and Haitian children. I remembered back to years ago and the incredible experience of love, hope music and unity despite such devastation and despair.
For one day music united an island and gave hope that surpasses understanding and Mary and I would never be the same.