Jeanty reflects on Haiti two years later

Jeanty family by Bruce Stambaugh
The Jeanty family: Fritz, Mamie, Benjamin, Samuel and Glory

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the second time in two years, Fritz Jeanty and his family are back in Millersburg, Ohio. They are refugees from the devastating earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 12, 2010.

Fritz remembers the exact time the huge earthquake hit, 4:45 p.m. He was there among all the horror and destruction, desperately trying to return to his family. He eventually made it home all right, and his wife, Mamie, and two sons were badly shaken but otherwise fine. Other family members weren’t as fortunate.

Using his basic survival instincts and his canny astuteness to save phone numbers, Fritz was able to make connections to come to the United States. After a harrowing trip to Florida, Fritz and his family eventually ended up in Millersburg.

With the help of many people and local organizations, the Jeantys settled in to life here. Fritz, unable to legally work under the terms of his visa, spent his time volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg.

Fritz was antsy to return to his home country, however. After much planning, he and his family returned to the impoverished island country January 26, 2011. He was full of hope. Fritz wanted to rebuild their home, start a new business based on his Save and Serve experience, and rejoin friends and family.

What the Jeanty family found upon return was excruciatingly familiar. The devastation that Fritz saw initially was still there.

“Nothing had changed,” Fritz said, his brown eyes in deep reflection.

The rubble was everywhere. He said only the non-governmental organizations (NGO) were making any progress, and that there weren’t enough of them.

“People still live in tents,” Fritz said. In fact, the city was even more populated than after the earthquake that killed 300,000.

“People from the country heard there was food and housing in the city,” Fritz said. Neither was true, but the people remained, complicating an already problematic situation.

Fritz’ dream was to establish a used clothing store similar to Save and Serve. That proved unfeasible. He sold two loads of clothes he had obtained, but had little to show for his efforts.

“There were no jobs,” Fritz said. “People didn’t have money.”

The first three weeks Fritz and his family stayed with friends until they could get their heavily damaged home temporarily livable. The goal was to reconstruct their home adjacent to their destroyed one.

A retaining wall had been previously constructed. Fritz built one room in which the entire family lived. A few months later, he added a kitchen. Christian Aid Ministries, headquartered in Berlin, Ohio, helped with the cleanup of the house. Other Holmes County churches, organizations and individuals assisted the family financially.

They still didn’t have running water. Electrical power was erratic at best, being available only on an average of eight hours a day.

Besides the lack of jobs and housing, there were other social problems that permeated Haitian society, too, according to Fritz.

The crime was the worst. The Jeanty family fell victim to that like so many others had there. During the night, hoodlums locked the Jeanty family in their own house, and stole the battery out of Fritz’ vehicle, and vandalized it.

Their house was burglarized after they left for Millersburg in January, too. Fritz said robberies and murders had increased exponentially.

“There were about 100 murders every three months,” Fritz said forlornly.

Another problem in Haiti has been the ongoing cholera outbreak. With Mamie pregnant with their third child, and proper medical care scarce, Fritz realized he had to do something. With another visa, he returned his family to the familiar and much safer surroundings of Millersburg January 18.

Because Mamie had had difficulties in previous pregnancies, Fritz didn’t want to take any chances. Happily, their first daughter, Glory Jeanty, was born healthy and well March 23 at Aultman Orrville Hospital.

The Jeanty family is again being supported by donations from local groups and individuals. They live in a home owned by the church they attend, Millersburg Mennonite. Their six-month visa expires July 17 with their future uncertain after that date.

© 2012 Bruce Stambaugh
This story appears on http://www.holmesbargainhunter.com/.

A survival story for the season

By Bruce Stambaugh

The story didn’t get much play in the mainstream media of the United States. But I found it incredibly noteworthy if not uplifting, especially during this Advent season.

If you missed it, here’s what happened.

Sometime in late September, three teenage boys slipped into a 12-foot boat and headed to one small Pacific island from another. Unfortunately, their outboard motor ran out of fuel before they could reach their destination, the atoll island of Tokelau.

If you have never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. Curious though, I looked it up. It’s part of an archipelago many miles northwest of Samoa.

Samoa I had heard of. As a child, I perused the many shiny black and white photographs that my late father had taken when he had visited Samoa and surrounding islands during his stint on the U.S.S. San Diego during World War II. The water buffalo and the thatched roof huts of the Polynesian island natives fascinated me.

Maybe it was that bit of sentimentality that drew me to the story initially. Once I read the first few sentences, however, I had to know the full story.

With no oars and no fuel, the boys and their tiny boat drifted far away from any land. Soon they were deep in the expansive Pacific, adrift with only a handful of coconuts they had thrown into the “tinnie,” the colloquial tag for their vessel.

The blazing sun beat down on them, and they parceled out the coconuts, the only food they had. The boys floated aimlessly for days, parched without vital drinking water.

Day after day they sat helpless in the tropical sun searching the horizon for signs of land or other boats. A series of fierce storms cropped up at night, nearly capsizing the boat. The boys hit the boat’s bottom and clung to the sides to steady their small vessel.

The storms provided an upside, however. The boys lapped at puddles of the fresh rainwater left by the downpours. Once, at night, a ship passed close to them, but because they had no light of their own, the boys could only watched in despair as the big ship glided by.

Once the coconuts were gone, their only food came in the form of small, flying fish that happened to jump into their boat. Another time, a bird landed on their boat and one of the boys managed to grab it. They devoured it raw.

Again desperate for water, the boys began drinking small amounts of seawater. Near the end of November and some 50 days after they had left their little atoll, a deep sea fishing boat approached them. This time it was during the day, and they and their little boat were rescued 800 miles from where they had originally launched.

The boys spent a few days in the hospital to regain nourishment and strength, but it would be more than two weeks until a boat would take them back to their small country of 1,500 residents.

Fascinated by this amazing story, I typed in Tokelau into Google Earth. I wanted to get a visual on their tropical homeland in the middle of the Pacific.

Sure enough, the program took me right to it. I zoomed in to see the series of small islands, all formed from volcanoes. The residents lived on the rims of the inactive craters. Amazingly, picture icons were posted. I clicked on them, and shots of a tropical paradise emerged. Swaying palm trees, pristine beaches, and deep blue bays beckoned.

I mentally kept connecting this joyous, improbable survival story with the one on which the Advent season is based. Like the Bethlehem account from long ago, with its unlikely cast of characters, this miraculous tale had to be shared, too.