Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Need to Know Situation

February 19, 2010

It quickly becomes evident that getting our bearings here in Haiti requires more than a map and a sense of direction. The sensory overload that had overtaken us upon first arrival has somewhat subsided and in its wake has left us with the monumental task of figuring out how to get anything done in this country. How do two girls, trying to help a small non-profit, navigate through this massive disaster?

Our initial focus is to help individuals and families that have been displaced and living in tent cities surrounding the NGO’s facility. First task was to figure out who was not receiving aid already.

My biggest fear is to have our good intentions result in repercussions or unrealistic expectations that could lead to misunderstandings, distrust, and eventually bitterness. Many of these people had been promised help, but it had never arrived.

We needed to acquire information—fast.

Our driver, translator, and overall go-to guy is Cajuste, a local Haitian who has been working for the People In Need Partnership since its inception as the on-site Program Director. His home was located on a hillside, a neighborhood called Morne Lazare, which was decimated during the earthquake. He was lucky, he and his family survived, but his wife and 1 ½ year old daughter were among those who fled Port-au-Prince and are seeking shelter in the countryside some 200km away. After the earthquake they wanted to be as far away from buildings as possible and even though they are away from the immediate chaos, they are still living in a makeshift tent.
Cajuste takes us on a tour of the various tent cities nearby. He slams on the breaks as we pass a large group of tents and points.

“50,000 people live here,” he says soberly. We peer into the tent city and can barely comprehend that figure. The next one we come to is significantly smaller, but still not small enough. We only have enough resources for maybe 200 people and we still have to figure out how to give out food without being mobbed. Every time we near a tent city people approach us and tell us they’re hungry.

On our way back to the office we pass a small lot with tents. Cajuste slows and looks at us and asks us if we want to stop. We nod.

As we approach the tent city people come to greet us—a young mother, an older man, kids flock around us. They tell us almost immediately that they do not have food. We wonder how this can be, from the camps we have seen; some of these have obviously received aid. The largest even have huge tanks of water, which are routinely refilled by large water trucks. But the people in this tent city tell us that the aid goes to the larger camps that are just down the road, completely bypassing them.

A quick count reveals that there are approximately 75-80 individuals living in this small lot, many are single mothers or single women. Holli and I look at each other, both thinking the same thing: we’ve found a tent city that we can actually help.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

35 Seconds that Changed Haiti Forever

February 18, 2010

From our first moments here we realize the devastation has not been exaggerated and only mildly documented. Everyday we take a new road and see different parts of the city that have crumbled. Pieces of everyday life have fallen together haphazardly and resemble the rubble that litters the street. In the 35 seconds that Haiti shook, many experienced catastrophic losses.

People are everywhere. Make-shift living quarters are everywhere. Everyone is on the move. Some are fleeing the city, some are salvaging their belongings, most are scrounging for food and shelter and others are selling whatever they can on the street.

It’s as if the entire city is homeless. In fact, with current homeless estimates coming in at 1.9 million, an entire city IS homeless. Take, for instance, Paris—inside the Peripherique (the highway that encircles the city limits) holds a population of roughly 2 million lives. Imagine the entire population of Paris suddenly living outside.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After the Earthquake

February 17, 2010
Port-au-Prince, Delmas, Haiti

I was awoken again in the middle of the night, this time not by the rooster that doesn’t seem to know that it’s NOT morning, but by the silence that ensues when the electricity goes off and the fan, which was circulating air on and around me, suddenly quits. My eyes are open—I think. I can’t quite tell as the darkness here is absolute. I strain my eyes seeking an outline in the dark of the fan or the barred window suggesting a hint of the night sky—but nothing. It’s pitch black. I ponder this strange feeling of being suspended in darkness for a moment. It’s something you never think about. In much of the modern world people are surrounded by light. So much so that it’s impossible to shut it off. Street lights, a neighbor’s house, cars, shops…these are ever-present in our lives. Even shutting these out doesn’t prevent a stray clock display, a charging cell phone, or a computer from giving one’s night surroundings a gentle glow. But, here in Haiti, everything seems to be unplugged.

Without the circulating air courtesy of the fan, I am unprotected from the various bloodsucking insects that thrive in this tropical climate. Though I can’t see or even hear them, I can feel them touching down on my exposed skin for a snack. I cover up and suffer through the stifling heat and the sweat that begins to soak through the sheets. I’m barely able to go back to sleep, but there’s no other choice. When you have no electricity laying in the dark is preferable to sitting in the dark.

I long for morning. I toss and turn. I awake every hour to see if the veil of darkness over Haiti has been lifted. It has not.