Brandy Campbell, a Compassion writer, is accompanied in Haiti by photographer Chuck Bigger and videographer Allan Spiers, who are there to gather information for the 1-year anniversary of the earthquake.
We got the call at 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon. “Get them back to the hotel. They’re announcing the election results tonight.”
We piled back into the van and made our way through deeply rutted paths that tried to pass for roads. We were in a tent city, visiting a family who had lost everything in the earthquake.
Our photographer and videographer sadly watched out the window as the “golden hour” of perfect sunlight passed and we drove farther away from that lonely gray tent. It was a bone-jarring ride back to the hotel. I noticed the streets were filling with people – but they looked like people simply arriving home from work. I checked my watch every few minutes. The results were supposed to be announced at 6 p.m.
Ahead of the car, I watched a brilliant sunset unfold as I gripped the seat in front of me, tension building in my shoulders. I felt like a rag doll flung around that back seat. But rag dolls don’t get migraines. When my watch finally read 6:00, I looked out the window of the van expectantly. I expected a magic switch to flip. But nothing seemed to change.
We finally arrived back at the hotel. Dinner, then back to the room. Still nothing. Maybe it blew over. At 10:00, I finally lay down. But in the quiet of my room, over the hum of the ceiling fan, I heard the night change.
I thought I was imagining it at first. I do have an overactive imagination, after all. But I couldn’t mistake the chanting. I crept to the window, and as icy cold water from the air conditioner dripped on my feet, I heard the city exploding. Nothing had blown over. It had blown up. I lay back in my bed. The voices outside grew louder, then quieter. I willed them to fade away. They didn’t.
You can also view the Haiti Riots video on Vimeo.
The gunshots. Those were what shook me. At first they were far away. But still close enough to hear. Pop pop pop. Each time, I would jump. I wouldn’t call it terror. But a healthy dose of fear. A shot every few minutes. Just enough for my shoulders to un-hunch before they jerked upward again.
But then there was a bang-bang. Too close. It sounded like it came from just outside the gate. I walked across the cold tile to the door. Cracked it open. Enough to hear the too-close voices. To smell the smoke. I shut it firmly, crawled back in bed, and prayed.
I prayed for peace. I prayed for safety. I prayed that the protesters would be quieted. I even prayed that they would just get tired.
My prayers were interrupted when I heard a knock. I couldn’t tell if it had come from my door. I threw a sweater on over my T-shirt and flung open the door – just as an armed guard patrolled past my room. I’m not sure which of us was more frightened.
I crawled in bed again. My hands were shaking, and I felt nauseous. I picked up my prayers. I prayed for rest. Then I fell asleep.
And then there was morning. Our plans for the day were canceled, and we were told to stay close to the hotel. Some members of our team checked the conditions and ventured out to get footage. I knew that, as a female, I would only attract unwanted attention. So I stayed. I listened to the helicopters.
I sent e-mails and chatted with friends, beyond thankful for contact with the outside world. I checked the web for news, almost laughing at the fact that I could smell the tires burning, but needed to go online to know what was going on with the riots.
And I sat in my room and let myself have a good cry. I had been fighting it. Telling myself that the Haitians have to deal with this kind of violence and crisis all of the time. That I shouldn’t let it affect me. I got the first part right.
Haitians do deal with situations like this constantly. I live in a world where presidential elections are filled with political ads, debates and, at worst, annoyance when my candidate doesn’t win.
They live in a world where presidential elections are filled with fires, protests, and at worst, death. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. I cried. This was all too real. Because I’m NOT used to gunshots in the middle of the night. I’m NOT used to barricades and garbage burning in the streets.
I hate that they have to deal with it all of the time. But I also needed to give myself the grace enough to hate to have to deal with it for a few days. That cry felt good.
Later I sat with the rest of my team and looked at their videos and photos. The protesters seemed to have calmed down somewhat from the long night before. But there were thousands of them. Filling the streets. Lighting garbage and tires and cars on fire. They were tired and confused and angry and frustrated.
All of that emotion is seething under the surface. Like a pot of hot water just before it boils. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I do know that tonight, things seem quieter. The chants are less frequent. I have heard no gunshots. So tonight, when I go to bed, I will pray again for peace. For the Haitians. And for my heart.