Four years ago yesterday, I left Haiti for the United States, five days after the earthquake. I blogged back then about all the reasons we made the decision, and about my guilt over leaving Haiti when there was so much need for help. But that was what happened: my husband stayed and did relief work, and I left with the children.
A few weeks after arriving in the United States, I got a phone call from a doctor friend who had also left Haiti after the earthquake, after working around the clock for days and days with no rest. He was going back, but meanwhile he wanted to see how I was. He and his family were going through this for the second time; they had left Rwanda during the genocide, expecting to return to their home in a month. They never went back. He started talking about packing his bag to leave Rwanda, and how he had packed underwear and socks, and later wished so much he had packed things that mattered, instead.
Later, my own experience and that conversation turned into this poem.
How to Pack an Evacuation Bag
So you're going to be evacuated in eight hours
And you can just take one small bag.
Don't worry about a toothbrush -
You can buy one of those on the other side.
But you'll need the bracelets you like to wear
And your kids' baby pictures.
Don't pack underwear and socks -
They have those where you're going.
Instead, take the vaccination records
And the birth certificates and passports
And all the proof that you exist.
Because believe me, you're going to feel as though you don't.
And let me tell you what you're really going to need during the months of exile:
The smell of garlic
The way the sun feels on your back
The sounds of generators and roosters and kompa music
The taste of sos pwa
And your husband's kiss.
But I forgot;
You can just take one small bag.
Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
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