Earthquake: Curtis' 2010 Experience


Today started out much like any other day.  I woke up early for devotion at 6:40 then ate and showered before the flag raising at school at 7:50.  Today I had class with the 5th, 9th, & 13th (college prep year in Haiti) graders.  Class went okay overall and I met with the Principal afterwards to start talking about a soccer program for the school & for the boys in Coupon.

At about 4 pm, Faude (my Haitian roommate), Job (another Haitian who would become one of my best friends there), and I walked over to the village of Roche Blanc for the village bible studies that take place every Tuesday.  At about 5 pm Faude, Job, another man I didn’t know, a mother with her 3 small children and I were sitting outside 3 houses in a courtyard-esque area waiting for the study to begin when we heard “thunder” in the distance.  It sounded like a storm was coming.

THEN the ground began to shake so violently everyone stood up in panic.  The thunder sounded more like a cattle stampede at this point.  I looked around at the people in my circle and we all didn’t know what to do.  The makeshift electrical wires Haitians use to power their homes were shaking violently right above our heads.  I couldn’t hear anything but the loudest rumbling I have ever heard.  Everything was in slow motion. I looked over at one of the houses by us and half of it had collapsed and the tin roof on top was now sagging at a sharp angle towards the ground.  The mother in our group was scream inaudible cries as she tried to hold onto her children.  It was the most chaotic, scary 45-60 seconds of my life.

After the shaking stopped, the mother in our group began screaming “MECI JEZI” which means thank you Jesus.  You see, her house had a couple collapsed walls, but her children were safe outside their home with her.  The rumbling noise stopped, but I’ll never forget the cries of thank you and terror than ensued afterwards as families looked for loved ones and saw some of their homes destroyed.  Job, Faude and I saw that noone in the surrounding houses were injured so we started to walk back to Double Harvest.  On our way back, we heard that two boys in Roche Blanc had died.  This was the first of many deaths that I would hear about and see with my own eyes over the next couple days.

Darkness began to fall shortly after we arrived back at DH.  There wasn’t really anything I could do without knowing the language so Becky, one of the missionaries I stayed with, told me to head back to my apartment and check out the damage there.

My apartment was down at the school above one of the classrooms.  I walked up the stairs and tried to open the door.  It went about 3 inches then stopped.  I continued to push on it and realized that the office desk beside the door had slid in front of it.  My apartment was shaken up but only had some superficial cracks.  I began cleaning up the kitchen (some of our cabinets fell over) and I picked up my bedroom and after about 2 hours had the apartment in decent shape again.  I went back down to Becky’s house to check in and talk to Bruce.  Arthur was still gone trying to get people to the hospital.  I hung out there for a couple hours then went back to my place around 10 pm to go to sleep.  I was exhausted and fell asleep fast not worried about the small trembles we were still getting.  At midnight we got a small tremble that wasn’t so small and I freaked out.  I made a run for it to get out of my apartment and down the stairs to the ground.  The tremble stopped and I decided “screw it” I’m not too tough to walk down to becky’s house and stay with them.  I went back in my apartment briefly to grab my backpack, shoes, and lantern then I would down to her house.  She was outside on the front porch weary of going back inside as well.  We talked outside for 30 minutes or so then decided we were tired enough to go back in and sleep.  Arthur still wasn’t home.

Arthur woke me up the day after the earthquake at 5:30 and asked me to go into Port-au-prince with him to look for a girl who worked at DH.  We drove silently through the countryside under the veil of darkness which was hiding the destruction that took place the day before.  As we neared the city the sun began to rise and unveil the devastation that was now the city.  Houses were completely flattened and 5 story buildings we reduced to the size of one story.  People abandoned their houses whether they were standing or not.  They used cinder blocks from broken fences and houses to block off sections of the road so they could sleep safely through the night.  Everybody was terrified.  Arthur and I eventually made it a few blocks from the girl’s house.  We parked his truck and began walking through the crowded street towards her house.  On the way, we bumped into her sister and Arthur spoke with her.  She told us her sister was at University when the earthquake took place and the 4-story building about half the size of a city block is now about 2 stories high.

We drove over to the university with the sister of the girl we were in search for.  More devastation barraged my eyes.  I saw people laying on the sidewalk with open wounds and no one to tend to them.  I saw dead bodies laying silently with family members crying over them.  It was awful.  When we arrived at the university we went over to the side of the building that our girls classroom was on.  The building was crumbled down to half its normal size, but the girl’s sister knew exactly which room her sister should have been in.  Arthur climbed up into the building while I waited on the ground with the sister trying not to look at the dead bodies caked in dust, frozen in time as they tried to escape.  About a minute after Arthur entered the room, he came back to the edge holding a purple sandal and speaking in Creole, which I couldn’t understand.  The sister started crying and I knew something was wrong as Arthur climbed down.

Arthur embraced the sister and they cried together as I stood by in silence.  Arthur explained the situation to me then asked me to climb into the building with him to see if we could pull the girl out.  Her body was pinched between the ceiling and the floor from the waist up.  We hopped up into the room and I very nervously stepped under the slanted ceiling.  The room was about 30 feet wide and I saw four other bodies that didn’t make it out in time.  I was pretty terrified to be in that room with death looking at me straight in the face and all I really wanted to do was get out.  Arthur reached the girl first and tried to pull her out but could not find success.  We climbed out of what was left of the classroom and Arthur tried desperately to find someone with heavy machinery to help him remove the body.  The need for machinery was too great though.  We gave up for the day and headed back towards Double Harvest.

Traffic going out of the city was incredible.  It seemed like everyone with a car was trying to flee the rubble strewn city.  More images of human suffering greeted our eyes and we couldn’t get away from them fast enough.  We passed a Red Cross station that had over 30 white sheeted bodies laying hopelessly on the sidewalk as aide workers rested under a shade tree from a long day and night of work.  I can’t begin to explain the feelings rushing through my heart and the thoughts pounding inside my head.  I began to question why I was in Haiti?  Why did God bring me here for such a time as this?  What can I do amidst the broken humanity that was rushing in from all angles?  I’m just a guy that loves soccer and spending time with kids.  What can I possible do in this situation to help anybody?

The first sign of hope was waiting for us when we returned to Double Harvest.  One of the boys from Coupon was waiting for Arthur and HAD to talk to him.  You see, this boy decided he needed a Savior and was ready to give his life to Christ.  God was moving in ways nobody can explain.

I woke up the next morning at 6 am and Arthur was already up waiting for me.  He told me he was going back into the city but wanted me to stay at DH and do “something fun” with the children of Coupon.  He told me the kids were really sad and just sitting around and I should plan something for them.  “Something fun” has been soccer for me since I was 4 years old so I knew exactly what to do.  I brought 20 soccer balls, pennies, & 4 pop-up goals down with me and it was time to put them to use.  Arthur told me to go to Coupon & find a guy named Job, “He can help you get the kids to come play.”

I walked into Coupon at about 9 am and found Job then did a lap around Coupon calling out to kids saying we were playing soccer at 10.  After our lap, Job stayed in Coupon & I went back into DH to set up the fields.  After I was done, I waited nervously as if I was in high school again waiting for the game to start.

At 10, 11 or 12 boys walked into DH ready to play and I thought, “not as many as I expected, but we’ll can get a good little game going!”  Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, another 30 boys walked in and things became chaotic fast!  Job did his best to help me divide the boys into 7 teams and we spent the next 2 hours playing 6 v 6, small-sided soccer!  It was awesome!  For those two hours, everyone forgot about everything going on in Haiti and simply escaped deep into playing the beautiful game (aka soccer…learn the term & get used to it!).  It was a beautiful way to spend 2 hours.  Boys laughing and chasing a ball around an overcrowded field is always a beautiful sight!

These two hours gave me a burst of life and renewed my hope.  Maybe I do have a role to play here.  I’m not a doctor or rubble remover, but I can speak love into the lives of these children through simply playing a game together.  A game that God used that morning to communicate the truth that the greatest form of communication is time.  Words only get you so far sometimes, but spending time with one another speaks so much louder than words.

This was the true beginning of my small story in Haiti.  All my plans were out the window at this point, BUT God is the master planner and grand storyteller.  God was inviting me to wake up and come alive in Him.  His plan not my own.