As vital as international NGOs can be, they’re not first on my mind when thinking of what works in Haiti. In truth I’d rather brainstorm, innovate and build long-term programs that strengthen the country, i.e. job creation, investing in entrepreneurs, strategic economic development, public-private partnerships, bolstering public sector capacity. But INGOs operating on a charity or short-term aid model dominate Haiti’s landscape so (shrug) unfortunately they dominate The Haiti Conversation, too.
I didn’t realize I’d need a period of readjustment after returning to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince for the first time. Makes sense. In the time it takes to drive from New York City to Baltimore I went from six weeks of 24/7 fight-or-flight response (normal in a place where if you get sick or hurt, ain’t no ambulance or cops coming) to the All-American sense that all is right in the world.
I’m home, I thought, when I saw the pink-tiled roofs of the Miami city grid. Ambulances drive around down there. Cops patrol the streets down there. And when those two mess up there’re a couple buildings down there–City Hall, local news, law offices–that’ll welcome my complaints. Even if the founding fathers didn’t intend it, this society was built to have my back. In Haiti, for Haitians, it’s the opposite. That realization however–the difference between Haiti and the United States–is the least that I think about now that I’ve been home for nearly a month. I’m more taken by the disparities between Haitians (this includes foreigners with residences there).
Coming up on the end of my 6-week reporting trip to Haiti, I’m trying to figure out how to come back and how to keep this site alive. It can’t work if I’m out gathering information, even worse if I have infrequent Internet access. That was to be the topic of this post but then, last night, it rained. Rain should be the most blessed thing in a land where sweat beads three minutes after stepping out of the shower. It ain’t.
One morning after a hard rain a couple of weeks ago, I emailed one of my sources in Tapis Rouge (not the same camp shown in these pictures) asking her to explain what it’s like to live in a tent while it rains. And I don’t mean the lazy dazy kind. When I’d asked for her email address the day before, she said that she checked it once a week at a cyber cafe more than an hour’s walk away from the camp. I wasn’t sure I’d get a response but I did:
lapli a te vreman panike nou.nou te pase you bon pati nan nwit la debou .epi nou te tann dlo a bese pou ranje tapi pou n donmi .mwen ak fanmy m nap viv ak anpil espwa nan ke nou paske nou kwe nan Bondye . … mpanse diw tout mesi paske w panse avem.msalye ak fanmy w m espere nou kenbe kontak…..olivia.
This past Friday, one of nine remaining tents in one of Port-au-Prince’s better camps went to a 33-year-old mother of five whose 10-year-old daughter had been raped and molested by at least three different men on three separate occasions in another camp. I happened to be there reporting another story so after, I went to find this woman. I’ll call her Marie.
My translator’s face froze at a few points during the interview, which lasted about 45 minutes. Marie’s daughter was bright and cheery, giggling while taking pictures of her younger brothers and sisters with my digicam (it was upside down most of the time) while us four adults sat cross-legged on the ground. After a bit of chit-chat I asked the fourth adult, a male member of the camp committee who showed us to the tent, to leave. No fuss displayed but I’d basically come into someone’s house, his camp, and asked him to scram. My translator went outside to smooth that over. On his return, alone, Marie sat up and started talking like I’d flipped a switch.
In my mind, her story is a stand-in for those of the mothers of another camp, Tapis Rouge, where a woman leader said in reply to my direct question, “There’s no rape but a lot of our teen girls are pregnant.”
When I nearly fainted in the second camp we visited in Tabarre this Monday, some of the women leaders who live there brought me a Tampico juice right quick. It was sweating, ice cold. How do they get ice? And where do they keep it? Then I thought, Great. They’re running to bring me juice while the 250 families that live here get by on 500 gallons of water a day. That’s the same amount of water in a luxe hotel’s fish tank.
Sitting on one of the wooden benches in a makeshift classroom, I sipped enough of the juice to get my sugar up and gave the rest to a little boy who’d been eying it. Who can blame him. Cloudless sky, big naked sun, scrub grass, one tree, cooking inside plastic tents: it’s white hot out here for Haitians everyday.
Why should the foreigner get camp juice?
An inevitable traveler’s illness sidelined me for the past few days so I’m posting snapshots of some of what I’ve seen, heard and thought about over the last two weeks.
Helping Haiti is over-rated “Are you going down there to help?” — Back home, that’s the main and often, very excited, response I received when I said I was going to Haiti. And I’d think, Why would I do that? What on earth could I do that Haitians can’t? But I’d reply, “No, I’m going to report.” Then I’d change the conversation because, how to explain that I’m more interested in covering whether and how Americans (including Haitian-Americans) are helping Haiti to develop, less so, which Haitian lived a particularly miserable life this week.
A day after arriving in Haiti I went to Cité Soleil, a shanty city that is, by many accounts, the worse slum in the western hemisphere. I hadn’t planned on going but my roommate volunteers with the Haitian-run Sunday Project and the organizers made room for me in their car.
In the distance a small dark child, all limbs, jumps up and down, pointing. Another joins him, and another and another—all jumping and pointing at our approaching caravan and scampering over each other like kid goats. Some break formation and run back to the dull gray and rusted metal shacks. I thought they were going to bring other children. Turns out, they ran to be first on the bread line.