those children in the cribs.

{Sometimes a story needs to be told just so it can come up for air, just so it can get some exposure to the sun, just to let it out of its confines. Sometimes a story just needs to be written.}


The air is heavy, sweet almost. After waiting in the hallway for a long while, St. Teresa's nuns let us in. I try to hide my body's recoiling at the sights, the sounds, the smells.

Walk around and see where you'd like to help, they told us. Then just get started. I find myself drawn to the sounds of babies' cries and am suddenly in a room that is maybe the closest to hell I've ever imagined. I look back the way I came and see that my group is gone, already dispersed into other areas of the building. I am alone.

A rough-looking woman hands me a bowl of mush and says something to me in Kreyol that I can only assume means feed the babies. I hesitate, then take the bowl from her, about to ask which baby to feed before she spins around and is gone. I am alone.

My body can't take in all the violence to my senses fast enough. Mostly it's my heart, hurting. The room is filled with at least 20 cribs, crammed every which way. One, sometimes two babies to a crib, and at least half are crying. As I make my way around the room confronted with the arduous task of deciding which hungry baby gets the only food available at the moment, I finally notice the babies. The mattresses have no sheets, just plastic coverings that stick to their hot, sweaty, little bodies. And perhaps that's appropriate, since I spot a few babies that sit in their own urine. I have to look twice -- yes, they are sitting in puddles of their own urine.

At quieter moments I hear the flies, the room full of them. They land on the children's faces, arms, legs, bellies -- they do not even flinch. They are used to them.

I finally stop at a crib and begin spooning mush into a ravenous child's mouth.

But I realize the ones who cry are not nearly as heartbreaking as the ones who don't. They lie there, arms flung out the bars of the crib, limp. I didn't know much about life in 2007 but I quickly learned when to recognize that there is no life in a child's eyes......and I was sickened, feeling physically ill. I kept spooning the mush, sometimes taking turns between babies, feeling devastatingly helpless.

Going into that room was like slipping into a vortex, a messed up tear in the fabric of time that I sometimes question as real, looking back. It could have just been a bad dream. I don't know how long I was in there, but soon a member of my group was in the doorway, telling me we were leaving. I stood up, both relieved to be leaving this place and horrified at the thought of going.

That was it. A few minutes (or was it hours?) feeding some mush to a baby in a crib in a room in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. That was it.

We drove back to the mission house in the back of the van, tumbling over the jarring roads and trying to hold onto the ceiling. My group members laughed and chatted. I wasn't sure if we had came from the same orphanage. I sat at the back, afraid to look up and reveal my tears, unable to even move my lips to make a sound.

Almost exactly two years later the earthquake would devastate Haiti. The schools we had visited would close. The retreat house we stayed in would be flattened like a pancake. The cook would lose her legs.

And those children in the cribs, with the flies and the urine and the mush.....I'd never know about them.