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Haiti is horror, anguish, death, terror and a test of her faith.

Editor's note: Sarah Hansen was in Haiti for two weeks in October as part of the Pax Christi Cry for Justice Project. What follows is an edited version of some spiritual reflections she noted during her stay in that harsh and violent land.

Hansen, 23, is a Minnesota native now living at the Holy Family Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Mo.

Oct. 11: This call to Haiti was like a shout in the mountains, an echo rolling over and over in my mind, and now I am here. Your call was loud and clear, Lord, and you have given me the strength to accept all that it means, to trust you fully, even though you may be calling me home to you.

Oct. 12: You have given the Haitian family the strength of mountains, Lord, strength to bear and strength to overcome. But they are weary. How can people who have been oppressed for so long still be gentle and nonviolent? We can learn so much from them.

Thank you for calling me back to Haiti, for getting me in touch with what is real, in touch with life and death and the reality of living deliberately in the midst of it. I thank you for this because it puts me in touch with you and grounds me in my faith, as a Christian woman and a sister of the world.

Oct. 13: The attaches prevented any movement on the streets of Port-au-Prince today by wielding guns and grenades. Lord, I feel anxious, tense, tight. I feel unfocused, yet very focused. I stare off the balcony out over the city as if waiting for something to happen before my eyes. As if there's not enough happening already.

I want to go downtown, to Cite Soleil, to see my Haitian family, touch them, be with their reality that is also my reality as their sister. I feel as if being here isn't enough. I want to do more.

Oct. 14: Painful, anguish-filled day. Just that helpless, blameless, nameless feeling of dread and despair. The minister of justice was killed today, along with his companions. Then the picture of the child so violently slain by the police -- my heart, my stomach, my soul heaves with anguish.

I do not know the book definition of anguish, but this must be it. It is anguish that I see in the eyes of the Haitian people, that I feel in my stomach, my tense shoulders, my furrowed forehead -- in my heart -- anguish.

Oct. 15: Yesterday I was so discouraged I felt I could not do anything. My urge was to run, but I couldn't. Oh, the people who live here, with this reality, this cycle of-hope, anguish, hopelessness. They must go on feeding their families, selling their wares, portaging water. They cannot run either.

(Hansen's group left Port-au-Prince for Verettes, a village in the countryside.)

Oct. 17: I want to go into the village and live. I want to shed my white skin and break boundaries. The boundaries that exist because I am a white, American woman. Lord, I am aware of my skin color here. Why does it create such a barrier? I know that is a simple, childlike question with doctoral answers. Yet, why must our shades of brown, black, yellow, tan be a barrier the height of the Haitian mountains?

I am a blanc in a country where we are seen as those who occupy, those who enable, those who abandon. The barriers seem insurmountable, as I begin with only a smile.

Oct. 19: The power of prayer, that catchy little phrase the church uses, has come into a new light for me, a new reality, because prayer is all that we can do. Our presence as blancs, as Americans, is not a peaceful, pacifying presence, but a provocative, endangering, risky one.

We pray together at night, during the blackouts. In the midst of a chaotic Haiti wracked with oppression and unrest, we pray for peace.

You give me great strength, Lord. The strength to smile at the beautiful brown children, naked, bulging bellies and reddened hair telling the wordless story of malnutrition, to smile when I want to hold them and cry. I can only believe that my smile can be a blink of hope, of love, of compassion.

Oct. 22: Left village life. Back in Port-au-Prince again. This transition is difficult, but I've always had trouble with transition, as you know, Lord. I feel severed. I feel like I left you in Verettes and you are on the camion that has not yet arrived.

I feel distant from you today. My thoughts are many -- the deaths, the fear, worry for the people we were with in Verettes, worry that they are in danger now that we are gone.

Oct. 23: Murders, killings, threats, control, violent oppression -- I do not understand why this occurs. You've brought me to a place where I realize that my being, my life, is just a grain, a speck in this whole scheme.

But how tied we all are. How much the death of each baby, each person slain affects us all. The interwoven nature of the world mystifies me. It also shows me that being present transcends physical location. I can stand in solidarity not only here but everywhere I go, just by valuing life, by valuing relationships, by loving and being present.

Oct. 24: I am on my way. Instead of closure, I feel a gaping void, yet filled with questions that all begin with why.

I stood last night under your moon, your stars, and I witnessed murders, beatings, violations of lives all over Port-au-Prince. The power of standing, watching, hearing the screams and the cries. Our presence was that of prayer. "Have mercy, please let this stop," I felt my heart cry out to you. I know you heard my cry, but the shooting did not stop. Each shot thudded in the night and called me to be present to the people who were subjected to the shots, to feel their pain. Not because they are my friends or associates or biological family, but because they are my siblings of you.

I feel a jumble of emotions -- shock, anger, terror, horror, sadness, anxiety, helplessness. Help those who are dying, those who are killing and those who are left, crying, not understanding, and forced to go on.
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Title Annotation:American human rights observer narrative; Starting Point
Author:Hansen, Sarah
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 12, 1993
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