By 6:30 a.m. the next morning, Mary-Anne was in the office working on a food aid proposal for the World Food Programme. It had to go out today. Although the massive influx of relief funding meant that the competition for resources wasn’t as high as in other countries, the terrible plight of the Haitian people meant that every organization was out there trying to move as quickly as possible. The high level of media interest meant that the situation of the Haitian people–and of those trying to help them–was televised into living rooms around the planet. This simply added to the pressure. Mary-Anne’s lovely brow furrowed in concentration as she typed rapidly.
“Hey sweetness,” said a voice behind her.
Smiling instinctively, Mary-Anne raised her head and looked in the dark eyes of her colleague, Randy. He was a tall Californian with broad shoulders, curly blond hair and an infectious smile. Randy was a Samaritan’s Purse disaster handyman–he did some logistics, distributions, security and even did mechanical work on some of their vehicles. They had taken to each other almost instantly when they’d first met back in headquarters. Randy flirted outrageously but it was always lighthearted and made her laugh.
He smiled down at her but then, noting the dark circles that marred the delicate skin under her eyes, frowned with concern. “You OK, Mally?” he asked, using her nickname. ”Yeah, just tired,” she responded with a wry smile.
The lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll. Mary-Anne hadn’t slept well since her arrival in Haiti six weeks ago. The team house was noisy and she was sharing a room with three other girls, two of whom snored. The toilet was blocked again–it hadn’t been designed to cope with toilet paper–and the stench pressed down on their room like an invisible weight.
The dark nights outside were also noisy. In addition to the howling of the dogs and screech of the cats just outside the team house, the voodoo drums started around midnight, followed by the Pentecostal church singing around 3:00 a.m. By 4:30 people were already beginnig to be up, vehicles were being started, and team breakfast was but a short hour and a half away.
Last night one of her roommates had suddenly shouted, “Would everyone shut the hell up and go to sleep!!” before starting to sob into her pillow. Outbreaks of cursing were against the rules, but no one said anything.
Mary-Anne was more reserved. She never told anyone that she woke up every night, heart racing with fear, convinced the walls were shaking with another earthquake. She had arrived in Haiti in time for a big aftershock. It was her first experience of an earthquake and she would never forget the unnaturalness of the ground shaking beneath her feet, the rattle of her flashlight as it moved across the desk, the screams of people crying out in terror and the frantic yelping of dogs. If Haiti had taught her anything, it was that one was never truly safe: Earthquakes, kidnappings, car accidents, food poisoning, gunshots, rape, death, disease–these were the daily threats she had to face.
Novice though she was at humanitarian work, Mary-Anne had decided that she would never appear a coward or “soft” in front of others. She kept the fear buried deep in her heart and had come to terms with the fact that until she went home, she would not experience that deep, natural sleep of those who live without fear.
Randy’s voice brought her back to the present.
“You need a day off, Mally,” he said softly, “glad your R&R is coming up. Where are you heading?”
“I’m too tired to go anywhere far,” said Mary-Anne, “I think I’ll just go to the Dominican Republic for a week. I’ll hang out on the beach and just sleep, eat and swim.” Then without meaning to, she cried, “Oh Randy! I’m so tired!”
“I know, sweetie. You’ve been working flat out.” He gazed at her, started to speak, but then paused and said, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, Mally,” and touched her shoulder lightly, “you know I’ll do anything for you.” His tone was light but the look in his dark eyes was serious.
Mary-Anne smiled but remained silent. As Randy walked away she found herself thinking about his kindness to her and the touch of his hand on her shoulder. Her mind moved, against her will, to the feel of Jean-Philippe’s rough, warm hand holding hers. Unconsciously, her soft lips parted thinking of his firm mouth as he held a cigarette between his teeth, cupping his hand around the lighter. Would his kiss be as warm as his hands?
“No!” she muttered out loud and then flushed scarlet. The back of her neck suddenly felt hot.
What was wrong with her? Why was she thinking of Jean-Philippe? He was just another womanizing, liberal French humanitarian aid worker. She saw his face as clearly as if he was in front of her, those hard green eyes penetrating into hers, those long lips moving into a slow, mocking smile. In her mind’s eye she saw him bending his head to kiss a woman, a local woman. And then she imagined him murmuring things in French to another woman. Mary-Anne felt a wave of heat and then anger go through her. Who did he think he was?
She had to focus. She tore her mind back to finishing the food aid proposal. One hour later, she phoned WFP to inform them that the proposal had been sent by email. All thoughts of Jean-Philippe had been banished ruthlessly from her mind.
Or so she thought…