Monday, January 12, 2015

Remembering the Haiti earthquake, Jan. 12, 2010

The Hotel Montana, before the earthquake

Last night, I dreamed of Haiti. I was in some kind of very lovely Haiti, like what Haiti would be like in Heaven. And I was with the four women from Lynn University who were on a mission trip and died when the Hotel Montana collapsed. Britney, Stephanie, Courtney and Christine and I were sitting at a table by a large glass window overlooking the country. It was very pretty, and not poor. The women were so happy. They wanted to stay.

I told them I had to leave. It was time for me to go. And then I took off, as if I had angel wings, and lifted higher and higher into the sky until the women and Haiti were a small pinpoint on the earth, and I flew back to my home. 

The Hotel Montana, after the earthquake
The dream left me sad, but peaceful. I'm not surprised I had a dream like that. I'm leaving for Haiti next week, and I've been to Haiti several times, and stayed at the Hotel Montana. 

I never met the four women who died along with their professors, when the Hotel Montana collapsed during a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck just outside Haiti's capital shortly before 5 p.m.

The earthquake happened five years ago today. I have traveled to Haiti for 21 years as a writer for a large international charity and I always stayed at the Hotel Montana while in Port-au-Prince. I was in Haiti shortly after the earthquake and saw the rescue mission at the hotel, as search crews grimly combed through the rubble in a desperate attempt to look for survivors. The hotel had pancaked and turned from a pretty, tropical and airy paradise into a deathtrap.

The week of the earthquake would have been the week I'd have been in Haiti, but for that mission trip. Because the students from Lynn University were going to Haiti at the same time, we'd decided to delay our trip by two weeks in order to give the Haiti office staff time to prepare for our visit.

A room where I stayed at the Hotel Montana
While in Haiti, I always had a routine when we got back to the Hotel Montana from the day's visits. The photographer and I would arrange to meet for drinks at the News Bar, where we would sit in one of the hand-carved wood chairs and discuss the day's visits, or current events. We'd sip rum punch as a cooling breeze drifted in through the doorway by the mahogany tree that stood in the courtyard as a proud old sentinel. Then we'd go downstairs to dinner.

Sometimes we'd arrive back at the hotel around 5, or maybe a little earlier. Had we stayed there that horrid, fateful Tuesday five years ago and we arrived back early, I would have gone to my room, showered and maybe worked on my notes from the trip. 

And I might have died.

But we didn't go that week, because the students from Lynn University were already scheduled to visit. I never met those four young women, only caught a glimpse of them in the lobby when they poised for the group photo before they left on their mission trip. From reading about what others have said about them, they all seemed like lovely young people with compassionate hearts.

I try not to think too much about the earthquake, and why some people died, like the four beautiful women who wanted to help people, and their professors, who were encouraging them to find their calling in life.  I try not to think about what might have happened had I been at the hotel that day. Instead, I go on, and try to be grateful for my life, and for every moment God gave me on this earth. 

Maybe Lester Burnham says it best in American Beauty, "And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."


Norah Wilson said...

Bonnie, that brought tears to my eyes. And reminds me how difficult and dangerous the work you do really is. I'm sure you don't hear it often enough, but thank you for what you do.

Alice Duncan said...

What Norah said, Bonnie. I don't know how you do what you do, but Haiti needs more like you. Hugs.

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks Norah, Alice.