Hernz works for Danita’s Children. That’s him on the left. He is a remarkable man.
Until a few years ago, Hernz was a criminal and a drug addict. He was one of many shady characters who hang around the D.R. border post, and he made his living by stealing from Dominicans. No doubt he would steal from Haitians as well, if he should find a Haitian with anything to steal.
During the Haitian civil war in 2004, Hernz was captured by the rebels, who, probably for sport, severely broke his legs. The missionaries at Danita’s found Hernz, with a compound fracture in one of his legs. The bone was protuding through the skin, and if left in that condition Hernz would have died. Even though they knew him to be a drug-addicted thief, the missionaries had pity on him. Using their influence at the border they were able to get Hernz into the D.R. to have his fracture set.
Now one of Hernz’ legs is shorter than the other and he walks with a pronounced limp. And he is a drug-free devoted employee of Danita’s Children.
Hernz knows he owes his life to those women, and he repays them with his dedicated service. The missionaries told me that because the folks in Ouanaminthe remember the Hernz of the past, they are afraid of him, which is sometimes a good thing for Danita’s Children.
Many Haitians, because of their superstitions, do not want their pictures taken. It is inappropriate to take a photo without asking permission first. But near the end of our visit, having been refused permission repeatedly, I snuck off some shots of the deplorable conditions outside the orphanage. I respected the wishes of those people, but I knew I needed those photos to help raise money to improve their lives. On our last day in Haiti some folks realized I had surreptitiously taken their photo–and they were not happy. As they approached me angrily, Hernz, who fortunately was nearby, intervened. He walked beside me as I returned to the orphanage, answering all their shouts with strong words of his own. It was all in Creole, so I didn’t understand it. But I was glad to have him with me. When we got inside the gate, he looked at me and said (in the only English I can remember him speaking), “No photo.” I’m sure he understood as I tried to stumble through an apology.
Hernz is a blessing to those women. They asked us to pray for him, as he’s constantly under pressure to return to his old life. I’ve tried to remember to do that, and need to try harder.
Shortly after returning from Haiti, I read Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians. It is set in Haiti in the mid-1960s, and the country it describes is strikingly similar to the Haiti of 40 years later.
The protaganist is a British hotel owner named Brown. Brown’s most faithful and trusted employee is a Haitian named Joseph, who walks with a pronounced limp as a result of having his leg broken by Papa Doc’s Tontons Macoute. As I read about Joseph, I had to smile. I feel like I’ve met that man.
God bless Hernz.