The past few days, we’ve received emails and phone calls from friends recounting news reports from Haiti of solutions improvised in the most impossible of circumstances. A New York City search-and-rescue team used ceiling tiles to splint a broken leg. An Israeli surgeon used a ballpoint pen to perform a tracheotomy. A nurse at the airport treated a seriously injured man with what she scrounged: clothing to improvise a bandage; rum to cleanse the wound, a bystander’s Vicodin to quell his pain. Surgeons work by flashlight and camping headlamps, without running water; a team of seven performed 75 operations over three days…

It is all so valiant and amazing, but the horror of what is happening in Haiti seems at times too much to bear, as though no act of hope or courage could matter amidst the relentless darkness and despair. I heard some people say “That country has always been doomed. And now, perhaps we should just leave them to their lot…”

But, light keeps breaking through: evidence of a fierce and generous spirit in people so stripped bare. It’s there in the pictures of exhausted relief workers, and in the words of Mr. Dorsmond, a police officer who sleeps in his car and bathes by the curb, and who wonders if they should all somehow leave Haiti, but when asked if he is afraid says:

“I am not afraid because the foreigners are calm. My people are screaming. But the foreigners who are risking their lives to help us are not scared. I will be like them.”*

And there in the man who lost his wife and daughter, who mentions his loss nonchalantly and does not cry.

“The interpreter, who grew up nearby, said the calm was a kind of contract; if one cried, all would break down. ‘It is how they try to support each other, not to cry,’ the interpreter said.*

It’s there in the video of the woman who sang like crazy when they pulled her out of the rubble…

Even when there is nothing, there is something.


Video via Andrew Sullivan.
*The New York Times

Related post: Haiti: How to Help

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4 replies on “haiti: when there is nothing, there is something

  1. Dear Sally,

    This is just amazing. Thank you.

    This piece has the same well-written sensibility that you have put into writing about food all these years. Now you bring that voice to the world about the world.

  2. Going through the archives and stumbled upon this post. I am extremely moved by the film and the writing. Thank you so much for sharing it, Sally. The human spirit is inconceivably great and human strength deep by the same measure.

  3. So glad to hear you found the post and that it resonated. Thanks so much for writing.

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