Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Et la vie continue...

   We are somewhere between Delmas 25 and Delmas 27, stuck in the neverending traffic. All around me, buildings are intact. The camionette in front of me picks some people up, though there is barely enough room for those who are already sitting on the benches inside. The marchande on my right sits and waits for someone to buy a shirt from her.

    No, this is not a scene from 'before the earthquake.'

     Like Mr. Alberto told me on our way from the border, life must go on. And it's going on all around me here. Stores still standing are opening up. Restaurants that have not been destroyed welcome those who can afford to go. Businessmen and women are going back to work; some starting where they left off, some starting from scratch.

   Life even goes on in this makeshift tent city that 12,000 people now call home. A man with speakers offers free international phone calls. Suprisingly enough, the line is not long. On the other side of the 'city', a red cross truck gives out mosquito nets, rugs, and a few other supplies to those who were lucky enough to get a card. Some people gather around a UNICEF water cistern. They stand together talking and I ask if they are family. They don't know each other. A few chairs are put out in front of some tents: a makeshift living room. Women sit and discuss, waving and calling out to people they know. Kites are flying, and a tiny Haitian flag can be seen in the distance, as people come back from work and make their way into the tiny streets of their newly founded city.

Monday, January 25, 2010


       I'm sure we will rarely have to answer the question "Haiti? What's that?". Instead we might get "Haiti? I'm sorry," but that's besides the point. These days, everyone knows Haiti, everyone cares about Haiti, everyone wants to help Haiti. It's touching to see the world's efforts to help a tiny island nation that once meant nothing to them.
   But even as I stand amazed at the world's response, I can't help wondering, with much anxiety, how long it's going to last. How long will you 'stand by our side', before you need to be at someone else's side? How long will you be 'hand to hand' with us, before you realize it is too big of a burden? How long until 'ensemble ensemble ensemble' becomes 'tout seul tout seul tout seul', and we are left here, Stranded?
   I hope it never comes to this. But inevitably, the hype will die down, people will lose interest, donations will decrease. All I ask is that the international community, those who have vowed to be "arm to arm with us til we get strong again" understand that it will be months, years, before we are able to stand on our own two feet. So please, follow through on your promises.

Friday, January 22, 2010


   It’s 10:56 PM and we’re all sitting outside on every couch and chair we could find. James is sleeping on a table. Others are sleeping on the ground. We’ve moved all the cars to a corner of the yard, in order to clear the area for mattresses and bigger couches. Boris is smoking, Kathleen is drinking, I’m singing church songs. Why? A message from Dina: “Huge aftershock warning tonight…They r saying not sleep inside. Please be careful! Huge aftershock warning tonight…They r saying not sleep inside. Please be careful!” Where she got this information, I don’t know. But it was enough to send people into panic mode, and have us all sleeping outside.
  On a more serious note, they’re saying that aftershocks are likely to go on for months, even years, and that there is the possibility of another big earthquake.  What. The. Hell.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Congratulations, You Survived" - A Note on Humor

   My first reaction when I see anyone here is to hug them,  ask them 'are you ok?', and hope with all my might that they will say yes I'm ok, my family's ok, my house is ok. Which has rarely been the case, but you can always hope. So it really caught me by surprise when my uncle (who recently flew in from the States) walked up to a friend of ours, shook his hand, and said (with a big smile on his face): "Congratulations, You Survived."

      I couldn't help but laugh, however cynical it might be. And I can't help but laugh now as we sit discussing the very real possibility of another earthquake. It's not funny, I know. But the reality is too hard to handle and people need to distance themselves from it. Some people choose to do so through humor. I thank God for those people.

Wasted Help

   A cousin of mine, working with international organizations trying to 'help Haiti', received frantic emails from his superiors about getting aid to St. Marc, a city about an hour and a half north of Port-au-Prince. Apparently, many people were leaving the capital to seek help there. The only hospital, already serving about 200,000 people, was completely overwhelmed. They were short on staff. They were short on supplies. They were short of breath. So he packed up supplies ranging from fresh apples to bottles of Pedialyte and a team of 15 Haitian paramedics, and we made our way to St. Marc (not an easy task considering the traffic and the state of the roads).
     When we got there, it was clear that bagay la ('the thing'), as Haitians now refer to the earthquake, had not hit the city very hard. Most, if not all, buildings were intact. As we drove into the hospital, we were all shocked to see that there weren't hundreds of people waiting and that the doctors actually had time to talk to us. They had been really busy earlier, they said, but now things were under control. The Haitian Red Cross had arrived, bringing with them staff and supplies. So they sat there, our 15 paramedics who had come with ideas of being heroes, for two hours, unoccupied. They could've been helping out in other hospitals, in other places, in other camps.
    Time wasted. Skills wasted. Help wasted. Because one cry for help led to too many responses, some cries went unheard. And unfortunately, this is happening in a lot of places.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


     "PAPI! PAPI! PAPI!" I wake up to the sound of windows banging and my sister screaming for my dad. "Allons y! Allons y!", she tells me. Let's go! I follow her; after living through the biggest earthquake in Haitian history and at least 20 aftershocks, she knows what to do. By the time I make it out of the room (she is already downstairs), it's all over. I'm already getting alerts from the Washington Post: "6.0 magnitude quake hits Haiti, shaking buildings and sending people into streets."

   If the major quake was twenty two times worse than this, I can only begin to imagine how absolutely terrifying it must've been.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti, January 19th, Pictures and Thoughts

   It's sometime near five and I can't help but notice that everyone in the living room has gone quiet. All fallen asleep? I walk in and, seeing the questioning look on my face, my aunt fills me in: "we were observing a minute of silence, in memory of those we lost." It's 4:53 PM on Tuesday January 19th, exactly one week since the earthquake hit and changed these people's lives forever.
    There is an odd sense of calm around town, as people are feeling a little less terrified. Those who are lucky enough to have a place off the streets are choosing to sleep inside.   "Bon dye pap kite kay tombe sou tet nou enko," (God will not let houses fall on our heads again), says Lizanne (whose house was destroyed but is now living with someone else).
    But with this sense of calm comes a sense of desperation, as people are still homeless and without food and water. They are leaving for the provinces: some have family there and some are just hoping to find a place to stay once they get there. Port-au-Prince has failed them.

Some pictures from today: (I apologize for the poor quality)

Buses taking people to provinces

New homes in front of old homes

Saving what you can

Haiti Monday January 18th, Pictures and Thoughts

   Today, a few dead bodies put out on the road for the truck to pick up. Apparently the government has done a good job of cleaning the streets (at least the main ones). I haven't seen any US Marines yet, nor have I seen many Red Cross cars. The UN compound is packed with aid workers and journalists, all trying  to get as much information as possible about the situation. People have set up camps everywhere; I can not even imagine what is going to be done for the thousands now left homeless.

   I've also noticed that people are banding together within their communities. All along the Delmas road, you see signs "We need food, water, and lamps. Aidez nous SVP. HELP. Commune Delmas X" Sometimes there is even a number to call, most likely the chosen representative of the section.

   Banks are now opening up, as are some supermarkets, though I don't know how fast supplies will run out or how we will be able to bring more in.

    The airport road was completely blocked today, one UN supply truck after another along the road. There was some chaos when they tried to give out gasoline; it was a sight seeing the UN try to keep the men away, shouting in languages only they can understand.

Eglise de Sacre Coeur

Le Palais de Plus Pres

Lycee Francais, Homeless Family

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tell me your earthquake story...

    One thing I've noticed is that people like to tell their story, they need to tell their story. So, in light of this,  I'm creating the "Tell me your earthquake story" section of this blog, to document different people's stories. Some will be horrifying. Some not so much. Some might even be a little funny. But they all have something in common: they all stem from a need to share what you've been through in order to make it a little easier to handle.

Individual Catastrophes

     As I made my way into Port-au-Prince today, I kept waiting to see it. Waiting to see what was going to shock and horrify me, traumatize me forever. I saw a few collapsed buildings, houses leaning against each other, and some "We need food and water" signs. It was bad, but not nearly as horrible as I had expected. It really came as a shock to me, the fact that it was not the end of the world. Or at least it didn't seem like it.
     It's partly because I didn't see the immediate aftermath, the sky covered with dust, the dead bodies on the street. But I realize now, after speaking to people on the street and off, that the horror lies in the individual stories. The terror they felt. The consequences they are dealing with. The lives that they've lost. And the fact that it will take months, years, for them to recover from this.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Partons pour la frontie-re!

   I'm in a car with a dominicano who speaks creole and has been living in Haiti for the past 23 years. He works for the Instituto Interamericano de Cooperacion para la Agricultura, a sister organization of the Pan American Development Foundation, with whom I was supposed to go in.  I landed in Santo at 12:30 AM and spent an hour at the hotel with James, then met with Cesareo (PADF's dominican man) so he could take me to Mr. Alberto and the rest of the IICA team.

   It's currently about 3 AM and Mr. Alberto is telling me about the three nights he spent sleeping under a pie boi wi! after the earthquake hit, before being able to leave for the DR. And now he's on his way back again to deliver supplies. Mr. Alberto and I discover that we have some friends in common, and that he speaks French in a funny way, and that my Spanish needs a lot of trabajo. Mr. Alberto also feels the need to do everything while he's driving including, but not limited to, putting more minutes on his phone,
changing the tape on his personal recorder, and putting on his face mask (all of which require the use of both hands).

  I wake up and it's 9 AM. We are at the frontie-re! Passport check for Mr. Alberto, but I am ok with my last minute made PADF badge. The border is packed, as can be expected: aid workers going in (most likely the ones who filled the Miami-DR flight) and wealthier Haitians going out. We stop and Mr. Alberto gets me some cassava, which would be good if my estomago wasn't exploding. Mr. Alberto also stops to chat with every car passing by.

Vamos, Mr. Alberto. Pasamos la frontera!

Thank you Mr. Alberto for taking me home safe and sound, though your driving forced my life to flash before my eyes many times.


     After at least thirty phone calls to people from the Miami Herald, the Pan American Development Foundation, random hotels in the dominican republic, countless American Airlines represenatives, I'm on the plane to the DR, where I will be taken to Port-au-Prince by a non-profit organization. I had no idea this would actually be happening when I got on the plane from DC to Ft Lauderdale, and at somepoints it all felt extremely stupid and insane. But now nervousness is taking over.

    They've all been telling me I will be traumatized; 'prepare yourself emotionally' for the destruction you will see. They are really concerned with dead bodies, images of dead bodies on the street. But for some reason, it doesn't scare me. I've seen dead bodies before (I did, after all, grow up in Haiti). What I am scared of is seeing what this has done to everyone alive, and especially to the family. Stress. Trauma. Depression. I'm afraid to see what has become of them. Have they lost hope? Are they completely depressed? Angry? Terrified? Changed forever?

The truth is, I'm not scared of seeing the dead; I'm scared of seeing what has become of those that are still living.


      My cab driver heard me speaking French to my mom and we got to talking about Haiti and the devastation. For a ride that usually costs me 16 dollars, he charged me 10 dollars, then decided to take 5 and let me keep 5 to donate to a child in need.

Let's all do the same!

Text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross.

High Hopes

      On January 12th, I wrote “I have high hopes for 2010.” At the time, my only concern was making DC better this time around. Little did I know, DC would be the least of my concerns in a few hours. I mentioned this to my mom as we were driving around later that week, thinking about everyone that had survived or passed away, and those that still couldn’t be found. Her response surprised me: “I still have high hopes for 2010. I have high hopes for Haiti.” It’s a feeling that people have lost their lives, but things will be better. Haiti is back on the map. Everybody wants to help. Money is pouring in from everywhere.    
    I listened to her, all the while thinking of Marlene’s voice on the phone (“It’s hopeless”). Thinking of the people still terrified, Dad’s distant and sad voice, the rising death toll, the buildings collapsing.  I thought about the picture of Autoplaza, Mimi still stuck in the rubbles, Houda’s broken leg and inability to find a hospital. And I thought about the fact that the hype will die down soon and the aid might lessen.
     In light of this, I’m not sure which statement wins. Is it really hopeless? Or is it a time for renewed hope? In the name of positivity, for the sake of staying sane and calm for those who need it, and perhaps because I have not really seen or lived the horrors, I still have high hopes for 2010. I have hopes that this will bring the country together in a way never before seen and that with the support that it is getting now, it’ll reach levels it has never before reached.