On Bleeding Daylight this week, the story that changed the lives of all those involved.
We hear about Az Hamilton’s escape from a very dangerous situation in a country overtaken by rioting. What Az describes is a shared experience. Az and I lived this dangerous escape together. So this is also my story.
The events we describe happened in April 2008 when Az and I were part of a media trip traveling to Haiti to see the work of Compassion. It was on this trip that both of us decided to do what we could to see more children released from poverty. Both of us ended up working for Compassion as a direct result of the events that unfolded.
Our time in Haiti was not the normal kind of Compassion trip. We faced very real danger at different times but obviously lived to tell the tale, and what a tale it is.
You can listen wherever you find podcasts by searching for Bleeding Daylight or just click play on the player below.
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This time a decade ago I was unsure if I would see Australia or those I love the most ever again.
It was April 2008. I was meant to be in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for just over a week. Around 48 hours after arriving, I was back at the airport praying for the arrival of a plane to get us out of a city in chaos. Violent rioting and looting had taken over the streets.
The Global Financial Crisis of the time had created a Global Food Crisis. People in some of the world’s poorest countries could no longer afford even the most basic of foods.
I was in Haiti as part of my work for 98five Sonshine FM. I was one of four radio announcers invited by Compassion Australia to see their work first-hand. What we saw was the kind of desperation that grips people when they can’t put food on the family table.
A news report at the time described the scenes in Port-au-Prince.
The Haitian capital was paralysed by food riots yesterday as the United Nations gave warning that soaring food prices were spurring unrest around the world.
Rioters returned to the streets in Port-au-Prince a day after UN peacekeepers had to fire rubber bullets to prevent hungry Haitians from storming the presidential palace. Columns of smoke rose over the city as demonstrators, demanding that the Government take action over the rising price of foodstuffs such as rice, beans and oil, set fire to barricades made from tyres.
At least five people have been killed and more than 20 injured. Protesters compared the burning hunger in their stomachs to bleach or battery acid. –The Times Online
The BBC reported the riots in a story titled, ‘Hungry mob attacks Haiti palace’.
Crowds of demonstrators in Haiti have tried to storm the presidential palace in the capital Port-au-Prince as protests continue over food prices.
Witnesses say the protesters used metal bins to try to smash down the palace gates before UN troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.
Several people are reported to have been injured in the clashes.
At least five people have been killed in Haiti since the unrest began last week in the southern city of Les Cayes.
The demonstrators outside the presidential palace said the rising cost of living in Haiti meant they were struggling to feed themselves.
“We are hungry,” they shouted before attempting to smash open the palace gates.
In recent months, it has become common among Haiti’s poor to use the expression “grangou klowox” or “eating bleach”, to describe the daily hunger pains people face, because of the burning feeling in their stomachs. – BBC
After seeing just one Compassion project in action our team had to retreat to the relative safety of the local Compassion office. While watching panicked crowds running down the main road outside the office, the room we were in was showered with glass. A rock thrown from the streets below had smashed through the second story window where we had stood just moments before.
When the situation eventually reached a temporary calm we climbed into a couple of four-wheel drives and retreated to our hotel. The bustling streets we had travelled that morning now looked like a war zone. Businesses up and down the road had been attacked and looted. I remember noticing a service station that morning which was operating normally. Cars were filling up with petrol, people were going in and out of the attached shop. On the way back to the hotel that evening the same service station looked derelict. Not one piece of glass remained in place and every shelf in the shop had been completely stripped.
We were glad and relieved when we drove through the gates of the hotel. From there plans were made to fly us out the next day.
The Airport Journey
When the morning arrived we packed our luggage into the four-wheel drives to head towards the airport. We had no idea of the dramatic journey ahead.
As we began the drive we found that more and more roads had been barricaded and blocked. We had to take smaller and smaller side roads. Most seemed to be rocky, narrow, dirt tracks.
The further we went the more people seemed to be surrounding us. It was hard to tell if the crowds were just people wanting to go about their day to day business or if they were likely to attack our vehicles seeking food or money to purchase food. To make sense of what was happening we could only rely on those in our vehicles who spoke Haitian Creole and even then we only got some of the story. They were more than a little occupied with trying to navigate our way out and in keeping us all safe.
At one point an angry man with a steel bar seemed to be trying to incite the crowds against us. Just as the mood was heating up someone in the crowd pointed to the Compassion logo on the side of our vehicle and said something along the lines of, “They’re from Compassion. They help our children. Let them go.”
There was another incident when a man with a machete jumped onto the back of our vehicle. Thankfully, he jumped off almost as quickly.
We eventually passed that area but the ever-growing crowds made the trip very slow and we had to stop many times as people swarmed in front of our vehicles.
At one stage we came to a complete standstill. Edouard Lassegue, Compassion’s Vice President of the Latin America and Caribbean Regions was travelling with us. Originally from Haiti, Edouard got out of our vehicle to speak to people around about us to see if there was a way forward. He stayed in contact with the local Compassion staff in our vehicle via mobile phone as he wandered through the crowd. At one stage one of the men with us who had been speaking with Edouard just shook his head and said, “There’s no way out. There’s no way out.”
Thankfully Edouard did find someone willing to show us a way through. At that point, we didn’t know if the young man who had offered help could truly get us out or whether he had friends waiting for us and we were being led into a trap, but we couldn’t stay where we were.
Weapons of Mass Distraction
We moved very slowly down the narrow laneways. It seemed that if we’d opened the windows of our vehicles we could have reached out and touched the buildings on either side.
Eventually, we turned a corner to see a crew-cab ute or ‘pickup’ parked in the middle of the street ahead of us. There were several people standing on the rear tray of the vehicle, all heavily armed with automatic weapons. Thankfully, they were also wearing police vests.
Edouard once again stepped out of our vehicle and moved slowly toward the police with his arms high in the air to show he wasn’t armed. After hearing about our situation, the police gave us an armed escort the rest of the way to the airport.
Our troubles weren’t over at that point but we were safe. We then had to wait many hours for a flight out of Haiti.
Finally, we boarded the plane which would take us back to Miami before a flight the next day to visit Compassion’s work in the Dominican Republic.
As we gathered speed along the runway I remember seeing smoke rising across Port-au-Prince.
I felt relieved that we were leaving, that we were safe, but at the same time, I knew that for millions of Haitians, there was no option to leave. They were still in the streets facing the reality of the daily battle to find food. They didn’t know when they might next be able to feed their families. Life in one of the world’s poorest nations was just getting tougher.
I knew at that point that I needed to tell and retell their story. We had been in danger for a short time. The people we had just left behind were still in danger without any way of escaping.
The children that were sponsored through Compassion would continue to receive care, and I was so thankful for that, but so many more needed help. I knew that I needed to tell more people about the opportunity to make a difference for those children and their families.
Those events of a decade ago convinced me that I would do whatever I could to partner with Compassion to see more children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. For a few years after that incident, I used my position working in radio to speak of Compassion’s work. Then late in 2013, I had the opportunity to work for Compassion, which is where I’ve now been for over four years.
There’s much more to be done in places like Haiti and the other countries where Compassion works.
Later this year I’ll be cycling 4,300 kilometres from one side of Australia to the other to raise money for Compassion’s Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund. If you’d like to donate towards that fund just follow this link. Maybe you’d like to make an ongoing contribution by sponsoring a child. You can do that right now by following this link.
Ten years ago I escaped a dangerous situation but for millions of children around the world, the danger goes on. Please consider what you might do to change their world.
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Let’s get the conversation going. I want to know about some of the things you’ve experienced that most others haven’t. What are the unique moments of your life?
I thought I’d try to spark things by listing a few things I’ve done that you probably haven’t.
While you may find one or two things on the list that you’ve done I sincerely doubt that you’ve done all twelve. 🙂
I’m hoping that you’ll come up with a few of your own in the comments section of this post. If you’ve done any of the things on my list let me know.
I’ll just list the twelve things and leave it to you. If you have questions about any of the items in the list, feel free to ask.
12 Things You’ve ‘Probably’ Never Done
1. Spent six weeks in court.
It was some years ago and it was quite a high profile case. I had been called on for jury duty for a case that was set down for two to three weeks. Within the first week the judge suggested that things were going really well and we’d probably be all wrapped up in less than two weeks. Then things got complicated.
Six weeks later we finally returned our verdict and our lives could return to normal.
2. Cycled across Australia five times.
It’s been way too long since my last Nullarbor crossing in 2003 when I rode from Perth to Hobart. It seems almost a lifetime away from my first of five crossings back in 1987.
I’ve cycled across Australia in my twenties, my thirties and my forties. I’m now in my fifties and while nothing’s in concrete, I’m making plans for another crossing. Probably in 2018.
1987 – Perth to Canberra
1988 – Perth to Canberra
1990 – Perth to Adelaide
2000 – Perth to Sydney
2003 – Perth to Hobart
3. Escaped a country when rioting and looting in the capital became widespread.
I was introduced to the work of Compassion when I was invited to travel to Haiti back in April 2008. We were meant to be there for a little over a week but it was the time of the global financial crisis and subsequently the global food crisis. Families couldn’t afford even the most basic food so after their criesd for help to the government fell on deaf ears, they began to demonstrate in the streets.
Roads were barricaded, shops were looted and there were fires across the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Several people died in the riots.
Our small team managed to get out of Haiti under some extremely trying circumstances. It was very difficult getting to the airport and at times we were in very real danger. We finally hooked up with some armed police who escorted us to the airport so that we could leave the country.
4. Hand fed an orangutan.
I also got fairly close to a lion, patted a penguin, fed a rhinoceros, had a 1.5 metre snake draped across my shoulders and much more as part of a behind the scenes Zoo experience back in late 2008.
When I say ‘shared a stage’ what I really mean is that we were both on the same stage at the same time. Gorbachev was speaking to an audience and I was carrying his cup of tea.
It was May 1999 and the World Masters of Business was at the Burswood Dome in Perth. Some friends were staging the event and so I not only recorded all the voice overs to introduce the guests, I got to be stage manager on the day.
One of the things Mr Gorbachev requested was that he would have a very hot cup of tea placed on a table off to the side of his lectern. To ensure it was as hot as possible I carried it on just after he had made his way onto the stage.
6. Had my travel documents confiscated in a foreign country.
It was 1992 and I was traveling to Canada to cycle through The Rockies for a week or so. Our flights had been overbooked so instead of going a fairly direct route we had to visit a few extra airports.
It was back in the day that Australians required a visa to enter the US. When we flew into San Francisco and had to clear US Customs, my passport and other travel documents were confiscated. I didn’t have a visa.
I explained the situation and so it wasn’t really a big deal but I did get a big red ‘TWOV’ stamped in the passport. (Transit Without Visa).
All my documents were finally returned a couple of flights later when I stepped off the plane in Canada.
7. Cycled from Agra to Delhi in India.
On my first of three trips to India I traveled to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, by van before starting the ride back to Delhi.
Cycling in India is an amazing experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with a heart condition but if you’re interested in adventure, start pedaling.
Stormin Norman was another of the speakers at World Masters of Business at the Burswood Dome in Perth. Unlike the other speakers, Norman was back stage well before time. He wanted to hang out with the crew and made sure he introduced himself to everyone. For someone who played such a significant part in the history of our world he was amazingly ‘normal’. He was extremely friendly and seemed to be a genuinely nice guy.
When it was finally time for him to speak, he focused a lot on leading alongside others and having real care for those you lead. From my interactions with him earlier in the day it was obvious that he practiced what he preached.
9. Interviewed 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
I had the honour of interviewing hundreds of people during my years working in radio. I spoke to the famous through to the not so famous and lots in between but some interviews will always be highlights for me. Like the day in 2009 when I had twenty minutes with a cycling hero.
Cadel had just published his biography, Cadel Evans: Close To Flying, and was traveling around Australia on a promotional tour. As soon as I heard he was coming I contacted his publisher and was thrilled when I was told he would be coming to the studio for an interview.
He was quietly spoken and it was obvious that media interviews weren’t his favourite part of the job, but he was gracious and interesting and I got to hang out with a hero.
During my first trip to India I found that a number of engagements had been arranged for me. One of those engagements was preaching on the Sunday morning at the Cathedral. I was so glad that I’d packed my suit.
The cathedral is impressive, inside and out, and is known as among the most beautiful and magnificent churches in India. It’s a part of the Church of North India which is a province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
11. Been mentioned in Australia’s Federal Parliament.
It was September 2007 when Stephen Smith delivered a speech regarding the Millennium Development Goals. I was part of a small group representing the Make Poverty History campaign which visited Mr Smith’s office some time beforehand to raise concerns with him.
Our group, gathered from several local churches in Mr Smith’s electorate, were all mentioned by name. Mr Smith finished his short speech to the parliament with this paragraph.
We had a very fruitful conversation, and it was so pleasing to see so many people in the local community in my electorate committed to wanting to see Australia act as a good international citizen, committed from a personal point of view to always trying to ensure that someone who is not as well off as you are gets a helping hand up, and as far as Australia being a good international citizen is concerned, ensuring that Australia is committed to overseas development aid, is committed to the Millennium Development Goals and committed in an international sense to making poverty history for so many developing nations around the globe at the moment.
12. Cycled up and down an aisle at K-Mart in Miami, Florida.
In 2008, on the way to visiting Compassion’s work in Haiti, we stopped in Miami for a night. On the way to the airport we stopped at the local K-Mart so that one of the group could buy some extra shirts.
As we wandered around I noticed the bikes at the very back of the store. I figured that I wouldn’t get another chance like this so I handed my camera to one of the team and then started riding around. I wanted to say that I have cycled in the US. I got the photographic proof and so it’s official.
So there you are. Now it’s over to you.
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I was getting my Saturday off to a good start, waiting for the coffee to kick in, and scrolling through Facebook when I saw a headline.
Anger consumes iPhone 7 queues at Apple stores as phones sell out around the world.
I must admit it made me feel a little bit angry myself. I wondered if the anger of those missing out on their preferred model of iPhone 7 was anything like the anger I saw first hand in Haiti in April 2008, when horrendous price increases put basic food items beyond the reach of most people, forcing them to eat dirt. It was the time of the global financial crisis which resulted in the global food crisis.
After begging the government to help them put food on their families’ tables and getting an indifferent response, people began rioting. Their anger resulted from the frustration of seeing those they loved starve. At least five people were killed in the riots and many were injured.
Haitians were comparing their hunger pains to “eating bleach” because of the burning feeling in their stomachs.
In March, people began complaining of a hunger so torturous that it felt like their stomachs were being eaten away by bleach or battery acid.
In a matter of days, “Clorox hunger”, named after a brand of bleach, was being talked about in slums and villages across the country. – Aljazeera
I’ve seen plenty of other situations over the years where anger is a justified response but I thought of Haiti today because that was a turning point in my life. Being caught up in the riots and facing very real danger as we were evacuated from the country at that time is one of the milestone events that have shaped me into the person I am today. I was there with Compassion Australia and it was that trip in 2008 that started my journey towards beginning full time work with Compassion in 2013.
Yes, I know that we can all get angry about a range of things that don’t really matter but getting angry about not being able to spend over $1000 is probably just wasted energy.
Anger can be a powerful motivator to bring about positive change. So why would we waste it on simply not getting our own way?
When I get angry in traffic I have to remind myself that I’m just being childish and that I should just get over myself. While others’ driving habits may be annoying from time to time I’m not achieving anything by wasting my emotional energy over their misdemeanors.
I want to save my anger for the injustices I see around the world. Poverty, racism, abuses of various kinds, exploitation of the vulnerable, these are the things that should be making us angry and causing us to act. We need to choose our anger. We need to stop stomping our feet like a two year old who doesn’t get their own way and look outside ourselves.
Maybe I’m just overthinking a simple headline about a phone but hearing about people getting angry over not being able to spend what would be more than three years wages for many people on this planet makes me …. angry.
If you want a few more details on my time in Haiti with some other Australian broadcasters, check out this video. It contains clips showing just a glimpse of the situation outside the Port-au-Prince Compassion office just before a rock came through the window we were standing near. The video, while still fairly rough, shows a little of the scene before the rock attack.
You can see the beginnings of the crowd heading down the street, some armed with crude weapons.
The next thing you see is the shattered glass in the room where it all happened and then a bit of a debrief between members of the team. Several of us, including me, had a chance to talk over the situation. This was really only the beginning of the danger we faced. Things got a lot more intense later that day and the following morning.
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This year is almost at an end and as with most years it’s had it’s ups and downs. One of the big ‘ups’ is that I had my first ever overseas holiday. Together with my family I visited Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
I’ve been overseas a number of times in the past but it’s always been for work or for some other cause. This time it was all about enjoyment. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed all my other trips but there’s something different about travelling purely for enjoyment and especially travelling with people you love.
Including my home country of Australia, I’ve actually been in 17 countries so far. I’ve been able to spend significant time in some countries with others only visited while in transit or for a very short time. The places I’ve been include Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Canada, India, Haiti, Dominican Republic, PNG, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Thailand, Myanmar and Hong Kong. You can see them all plotted out on the map below.