Diamond Notes: 4 Days in Haiti

By: Brent Walsh – February 7, 2010

College of Charleston coach rushes to aid Haiti Victims 

walshbrent-head10.jpgIn 2003, I went with a group of students from the University of South Carolina’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes for a week long trip to St. Marc, Haiti. This trip opened my eyes to a world far different from the comfortable life that I was used to in Columbia, South Carolina. I came back humbled and yet more appreciative of even the smallest luxuries we encounter on a daily basis here in the States. 

In 2004, I returned with my mother, sister and a few friends for ten days to help give of our time and resources to a full-time missionary living in Haiti serving the local people. In 2005, I again returned to Haiti, but this time stayed with a Haitian family in Port au Prince and remained there for almost 40 days.

I will tell you that these were certainly some of the hardest days of my life. 

I had no windows, and no AC in about 95 degree days and 85 degree nights. We were fortunate to have electricity every 2 or 3 days for about an hour. I washed in the backyard with a bucket and a basin used to collect rain water. I won’t begin to describe the absence of a toilet to spare you the details of that dreaded activity. Needless to say, I had a small glimpse into what it must be like to be a young man growing up in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Over 70% of all Haitians live off of less than $800 per year and over 60% are unemployed. Without getting into all of the statistics and all of the problems of Haiti, let me just say that life is extremely difficult for the majority of the 9 million or so that live there on a daily basis.

The main purpose for my trip in 2005 was to get a better glimpse into their culture, do some language study, speak at a few churches and also talk to a few government officials about bringing the game of baseball to Haiti. A little geographical lesson for you, just in case you don’t know. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island called Hispaniola in the Caribbean.

The game of baseball flourishes in the DR like no where else in the world. Ever since my first trip, I’ve had the desire to give the Haitian children something to take their minds off of the daily grind of life. I’ve always loved baseball and baseball has always been a major part of my life so I wondered why Haiti didn’t have it? I met with a few government officials who were extremely excited about the idea and even had armored guards take me and my translator out to a plot of land that they said would be the perfect spot for the very 1st baseball diamond in Haiti. I came back to the States, got back into the routine of life here and slowly the visions of Haiti faded from the forefront of my mind. I kept in touch with a few friends from there but that was about it…

walsh-haiti7.jpg…Until a few short weeks ago. On Tuesday, January 12th the country of Haiti was shaken by an earthquake that would devastate an already devastated land. My heart broke for the Haitian people as I watched the constant news feeds and the death tolls continue to rise. All of my memories of the trips to Haiti came pouring back and I couldn’t help recall the smiling faces of so many innocent children who laughed and played almost unaware of how bad life really was all around them. I felt bad that it took an earthquake to remind me of how fortunate I really am. I prayed for my friends still there and hoped that they were alright and could find their friends and loved ones amidst the crumbled city of Port au Prince.

A few days later, a minister from Columbia that had organized my initial trip back in ’03 called me and asked me if I was able to assist a team of doctors who were looking to go help in Port au Prince. I talked with our Head Coach Monte Lee, and told him that I had been asked to go. In this profession, as a college baseball coach at the level that we are on, it was an extremely difficult time to be leaving just two weeks before official spring practice began. Coach Lee might be one of a handful of Head Coaches in the country who understood this unique situation and allowed me to go. 

Early in the morning on January 20th, myself, my wife (a nurse), two doctors, two ministers, a pilot and a Haitian friend of mine found ourselves sitting in the tarmac loading over a thousand pounds of medical supplies onto a plane. Right before loading the plane, we received word of a 6.1 aftershock and they delayed our flight to make sure it was still safe to land. The realness of the situation ahead of us probably set in at that very moment. 

A few hours later we received word we were ready to leave. We actually flew out on NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports plane that was donated for a while to make trips back and forth to Haiti. We could see some of the devastation from the plane but things really didn’t seem that much different from the norm in Haiti from the air. 

walsh-haiti4.jpgWe setup our tents in a friends yard as this would be our home for the next four nights. No running water, no electricity. The first place our team went was to a tent city of 5,000 people who had received no medical attention and had all lost whatever they had in the earthquake. There was a nearby clinic that was usually used to treat people with AIDS and there was a school turned into a triage hospital attached to the clinic. The US 82nd Airborne had set up inside the school and were in charge of security for the surgeons inside. The main focus of the hospital was to airlift people in and out who were requiring life or death surgeries. 

We met with the director and she told us that as much as they wanted to help the people of the tent city, they simply couldn’t because they didn’t have enough security. We told her we would go in with our doctors and try to see as many patients as possible. She warned that it might not be safe and said that if anything were to happen, that they couldn’t provide security for us. 

walsh-haiti1.jpgI didn’t feel comfortable allowing my wife to go out into the tent city without knowing whether or not it would be safe. She stayed behind in the school turned hospital and assisted the doctors. I found out later in the day that she assisted in the successful birth of a new baby boy. I assisted the doctors by taking patients in need of surgery or x-rays into the make shift hospital. I also played pharmacist and pre-packaged antibiotics and other medications to send with the people after seeing the doctors. We saw hundreds of patients per day and worked safely amongst the people of the tent city from sun up until sun down. 

After the first day my wife joined us among the people and went up and down the lines sending the most urgent needs to the front of the lines. We saw broken bones, people needing stitches, severe dehydration, lots of infections, and the most frequent thing the doctors say they saw was heartache. The majority of patients, even those with broken bones were complaining of a ‘speeding heart’.  The people were living terrified of when the ground beneath them would begin to shake again. 

We experienced two tremors while there and at first its almost surreal but after you realize what the half second shake was you realize why its so scary for these people. They say the ‘big one’ lasted for 45 seconds which must have felt like an eternity while their impoverished world collapsed before their eyes. What is hard to tell from the news reports that you see on TV is that even the people with houses intact are all sleeping outside on the ground terrified to even go inside for a few seconds.

I’ll never forget the smells of the bodies decaying, mixed among the twisted steel and crushed concrete of the leveled buildings. Most everyone walking on the streets has a mask, a bandanna tied around their face, or has their nose and mouth covered with their hand. Hopefully you’ve never smelled a dead body, but now that I have, it’s a smell that I’ll never forget.

Another thing I’ll never forget is as soon as we left the airport upon arriving in Haiti, we had to stop and get gas. walsh-haiti5.jpgThe young man pumping gas and collecting money had a College of Charleston baseball hat on. When I saw him, I immediately got out of the car and went to talk to him and find out where he got the hat. I had forgotten that I didn’t speak Haitian Creole and all I could say is sak pase, which was Haitian for ‘what’s up’. I’ll probably never know how the kid got the hat but it sure was neat to see a bit of home all the way in Haiti. I have no idea the odds of someone having a CofC hat in Haiti, but the odds of me seeing the guy with the hat there have to be unbelievably small. Or maybe we have a big following down there that I was unaware of?

As sad as some of the sights, sounds and smells were, there is still hope in Haiti. I saw children, the future of Haiti, smiling and playing amidst the chaos of the world around them. I also saw a tough, battle-tested people making it through another tough day in Haiti. I only hope that I will remember the smiles of these battl- tested people and their daily struggle to survive when the comforts of my world become routine again.