Finest hour

By James Addis, en route home from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti earthquake

James Addis interviewing residents of a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince. (Jon Warren/WV)

I’m writing this from a little eight-seater plane that has just flown out of Port-au-Prince airport.

Other communicators will be coming take my place. It’s an odd feeling. I’ve spent the last few days looking forward to returning to the comforts of home. Now that they are actually in sight, I feel slightly deflated. One feels a whiff of nostalgia for working long hours in difficult conditions, rubbing shoulders with people who have lost everything, including those dearest to them, possibly are now missing a limb, and yet are prepared to soldier on, regardless.

It’s odd how we spend most of our lives seeking some kind of security and comfort—financial security, a decent retirement, a comfortable home to live in with conveniences like dishwashers and microwave ovens, an air-conditioned office with every kind of phone and Internet connection, and things to entertain like Wii players, iPods, and big, flat-screen televisions.

But the real living, I imagine, is done when everything is haphazard, unreliable, uncomfortable, and dangerous. Out of your comfort zone, you are forced to rely on every scrap of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage that you can scrape together. And there’s a certain kind of joy in discovering you have those things when you did not know you had them. And when they are exhausted, you are forced to lean on God and simply ask that he take care of things. There’s a sense of release and peace in that.

Haiti earthquake

Gilbert Bailly, James' favorite person in Haiti. (Jon Warren/WV)

I think Gilbert Bailly will be feeling some of these emotions. He is my favorite person in Haiti right now. His three Muncheez pizza restaurants miraculously remained intact during the quake. But he realized he had not a chance of running a business in the current chaos. Nobody has money to eat out, and there’s no fuel or power to run his restaurants normally. Did he retire to a corner and sulk? Did he shoot himself? Did he anticipate financial ruin?

Haiti earthquake

Muncheez, serving Haiti's hungry for free. (Jon Warren/WV)

Actually, no. He calmly reopened one of his restaurants and now uses it as a base to provide cooked meals and distribute donated food for free to people who desperately need it and can’t afford to pay. Right now, much of this food is coming from World Vision. Other donors are providing the fuel he needs to keep the place running. His formerly paid staff have become volunteers. They know there is no money in this. I’m sure their satisfaction comes from seeing the hundreds of hungry come through the door to get free food.

Each day, Gilbert’s staff distribute about 1,000 plastic bracelets in a needy part of the city. They vary the location to spread the goodwill around. Late in the afternoon, the restaurant opens its doors to those who turn up wearing a bracelet.

Haiti earthquake

Gilbert's satisfied customers. (Jon Warren/WV)

Many years from now, when Gilbert reflects on his life and what he has accomplished in business and elsewhere, he will probably remember this as one of the toughest times and a commercial failure. I think he will also remember it as his finest hour.

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Filed under Haiti, Haiti Earthquake, On Assignment

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