On Friday, someone from my church posted a message on Facebook that more than 60 orphans from Haiti would be arriving at O’Hare International Airport and they needed places to stay.
My first reaction was, “My house would be way too small to help.”
I’ve been a little consumed lately with the idea we need a bigger house. When we moved here nine years ago, our three-bedroom home seemed perfect for my husband and I and our infant son. We both thought we would live here a few years and then move on.
Now that the housing market has crashed, the six of us living in a three-bedroom home makes it seem so much smaller. So, I’ve been daydreaming about a place with a big yard and a guest bedroom and a full-size basement. Oh, and a room for home-schooling and a three-car garage.
Then I started looking at some photos on the Internet of children sleeping together on a mat out in the open in Haiti. And I realized those kids probably wouldn’t think my house was too small. They probably would be happy to sleep on our sleeper sofa. And maybe we could put a few more on the queen-sized bed in the basement. And even the couch in the living room might seem comfortable enough.
Because, really, it’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Sometimes I want to smack myself in the head for having such an American perspective. We are so blessed in this country that we easily lose touch with the reality of the real hardships faced by people in so many other nations.
This weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about Haiti.
I was getting kind of grumbly because our 7-week-old goes through little spurts where she cries and cries when I put her in her crib to sleep. I eventually give in and put her beside me in bed and nurse her to sleep. Then I whine because I didn’t get enough sleep.
In my king-sized bed. With the big comforter and all of the pillows.
Because she wouldn’t sleep in her crib, which is in our room. Her very own crib with the nice soft blankets.
And sometimes when she needs those extra feedings every few hours all night long, I feel exhausted, and I get extra hungry myself. And poor me. I have to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and get a snack.
I have been thinking about the moms in Haiti. The ones who are sleeping outside in tent-like structures with their newborns. They don’t have a crib or even a clean place to lay their babies.
I think about how they probably give any morsel of food they can find to their children. And how they probably get so malnourished themselves that their milk runs dry.
I can’t even imagine that helpless feeling of devastation of trying to feed my baby and having no milk. And so much worse than starving to death, watching my baby cry because she’s hungry. These are harsh, difficult mental images, but they are absolutely true for another mom who doesn’t live that far from the United States.
This weekend, we cleaned out all of our cabinets and took stock of all of our food. I want to use up some of the things that have been sitting in our cabinets for a while. We had a big container of individual-sized pudding and applesauce cups that were left over from last year’s hot lunch program.
I put them in a bowl and told the kids to eat as many as they wanted, any time they wanted.
“So this is FREE food?!” they kept asking. They meant “free” as in, “we don’t have to ask first.”
A little later, I was reading a blog where they were asking for doctors and nurses to go to Haiti. They warned them that they should be prepared to eat only snack food for weeks on end. They would need to pack snacks in their luggage, and they might not eat a meal the whole time they were there.
Each time I looked at our bowl of “free food” I kept seeing it in such a different light. What if that was all we had to eat, instead of just our bonus bowl of food that I’m trying to get rid of because it’s taking up space in my cabinet?
The only first-hand experience I have with living in an impoverished nation was the 12 weeks I spent in Zambia, Africa, after college. I had seen so many pictures of Africa and had read a lot about it. But nothing could prepare me for the smell.
There is nothing like the smell of a nation that lacks running water. Here in America, we might think less of someone who doesn’t take a shower everyday or use deodorant.
But in a nation where people have to get up before dawn and walk for miles to a water source and then carry a huge bucket of water on their heads back to their compound, it seems ridiculous to take a bath. Why would you waste water that way? Add in the fact that it’s hot and dusty and people walk for miles just to do what they do in a day.
I don’t say this in a demeaning way at all or to be critical. But it’s just a smell that Americans aren’t used to. And I hope I never forget it. Because it’s such a reminder of the things we take for granted in America. Water and soap.
One day I was out walking to get some exercise. Now, this idea alone is so American because in Africa you don’t go for a walk for exercise. Each day is filled with so much walking just to get through the day that no one needs to walk for exercise.
Anyway, I was wearing my Nike tennis shoes and my Walkman (remember those?) and carrying my camera. I suddenly realized that the value of what I was wearing on my body was more than the average yearly wage of $300 in Zambia at that time.
I started to fear for my safety as I tried to get back home. But (from my experience), people in places like Zambia don’t commit crimes for the same reasons they do in America.
Here it seems that people commit crimes because they are filled with hatred. They are mentally ill. They want to hurt someone. Or they are greedy.
In Africa, when we heard of people committing crimes, it was because they were hungry. They were usually trying to get some food to feed their families. They don’t really need a Walkman because what would they do with it? Who would they sell it to?
I look at the photos of the men with guns guarding the caved-in grocery stores in Haiti. I see the pictures of men looting the stores and running away with canned good under their arms.
Then I think of my husband who runs to the store every other day to get a couple more gallons of milk. I can only imagine the feeling of desperation for those fathers who are going through the rubble to find something for their children to eat. We can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to fight for food. To do anything to feed our children.
I don’t know what I can do for Haiti. I have heard missionaries who are there simply begging us to pray for them. That’s something I can do.
It’s hard to think about Haiti. I would prefer to put it out of my mind. And yet, I don’t want to stop thinking about it either. I don’t want to be so consumed in my American way of thinking. I want to smack myself over the head and remember to be thankful for what I have.