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Coeur de Haïti – After The Earthquake

January 24, 2014

May 5, 2010

Arrival

Ruin and rubble as far as the eye can see, and dust everywhere, and on everything. Three-story buildings are now slanted and collapsed in the middle, or now just big masses of levelled cement chunks. Garbage fills the ditches and borders the roads. Every road is torn up and uneven, huge heaps of rock, brick, garbage and glass along the sides. This is Port-au-Prince, eleven weeks after a 7.0 earthquake.

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Roadside Haïti

According to the Disaster Emergency  Committee (DEC), 220,000 people were killed, and 3.5 million, more than one third of Haïti’s population, were affected. According to Jo, a Dutch anesthetic nurse, “There are many dead still unfound. After the earthquake, the people were waiting for help. Help didn’t come, not soon, and people lined up the dead bodies along the roads.” When Jo arrived, three weeks after the earthquake, “There was a bad smell. They have cleaned up a lot.” To me, the ruin is beyond anything that I have seen. The DEC claims “there were 19 million cubic metres of rubble and debris” after the earthquake. I question if God smiles as he brings the walls down, or if God has much to do with it. But God is here, whether I believe in him or not, for people here believe.

George and kids

In between the Disney clothing factory and the army camp, and sidling a soccer field and a Land Rover dealership, tent camps are scattered. UNICEF tents, USAID tents, blue Japanese aid tents – so many countries providing aid here now, and many United Nations (UN) trucks driving around, usually with five or six armed men in the back, and some with ULCC (UN Convention against Corruption/Lutte Contra la Corruption) signs.

Not only did the earthquake destroy city buildings, but also over 100,000 homes, and damaged 200,000 more (www.dec.ork.uk). Most people moved into canvas and nylon tents and many continue to sleep in tents, despite cement housing sometimes ten feet away. From a distant viewpoint looking down at the capital, you can see thousands of white and blue spots (tents) dotting the hillsides. There is a sense of safety in tents for many. Everyday, people pack everything up and go to their shack or tent at night. I imagine it takes time to regain confidence in once solid and protective structures after witnessing their demolition.

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Cité Soleil

“I think they are more poor here, even more than in Zimbabwe,” Jo infers. Jo has put in time in both countries. Coeur De Haïti (CDH) is a Dutch-sponsored organization and Robert, the administrator, takes us for a drive. We pass the tent camps, army base and Disney factory again. We drive for nearly two hours, and along the road that passes through Cité Soleil. “It used to be too dangerous to go through here,” Robert says “but now not so much.” Whatever thin walls stood between Cité Soleil and the port’s oil drums before had crumbled in the earthquake. You can see the ocean afar, but every cement channel pointing to it is unmoving, crammed and overflowing with plastic empties. There is no recycling here; everything is garbage, and there are heaps strewn everywhere, for kilometres on end. Individual stalls sell everything from mangoes and bananas to jeans and plastic things, collecting dirt and dust from the thousands of trucks and SUVs that pass by. There are piles of dirt, brick, stone, and curled and twisted iron rods. And people everywhere, sitting on garbage and mud, selling fruit and clothes (locals regularly buy big bags of “used clothing from America” for $300 USD) from their mud pile perches and covered in flies.

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Robert says that Cité Soleil, with aluminum sheds as shelter, was not really affected by the séisme. Almost all the hefty stonewalls surrounding the bigger, fancier houses up the hill have fallen in the earthquake. “Earthquake-proof walls,” laughs Robert. I sense perhaps an irony or poetic justice at work, for those with more to lose, seemingly indeed, lost more.

We continued on to Port-au-Prince. Many cathedrals have toppled, most government buildings, including the Ministry of Finance and Economy, are gone.  “The Prime Minister is a good man,” Robert tells us, “he was not in his office at the time. There are some good people in the government. Other people died.” Robert had been in the post office the morning of the earthquake; now there is no post office. Near the bottom of the mountain, we past now-toppled and exposed illegal houses. “Things are not unfinished here,” remarks Jo, “they are continually being rebuilt, repaired. Things that were on the left of the main gate are now on the right, and so on.” It does seem as though people are carrying on – working, walking, talking, and sitting next to the road on crashed in roofs and busted up floors, with no walls or supports behind them to prevent a backward tumble down the hill. And so many people with cell phones in hand – cell phones are cheap here, around $12 US – that to boot, frequently match their owner’s shoes. We ascend slowly up the hill, and as we do, the air noticeably cools and houses turn into huge, palatial estates. The economic and geopolitical disparity is unavoidably visible.

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The Clinic

At Coeur de Haïti, there is a school, a clinic and several housing units. There are 110 children under the age of twelve here and another eighty under thirty. Jo, an anesthetic nurse, often does the work of a doctor here at the clinic. There is a hospital not far away for emergencies, but people wait for hours there; for all non-emergencies, people come see Jo. Jo starts at 7am. We live upstairs from the clinic and wake at 5:30am to the sounds of laughter, chatter, roosters and babies. This is what time people line up for the clinic, as only the first forty people are given a numbered card and will be seen that day; one card is regularly used for 3-5 family members though.

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In the clinic, manuals are almost all in English, everything is handwritten, there is no computer, and there is a surplus of supplies. Worms, abscesses and sexually transmitted diseases are most common. “It is dirty here,” Jo states, making infection and reinfection easy, and “People don’t tell everything,” which makes it harder to treat people. Jo relies on two interpreters – one is the pastor, George. I ask if there is not a conflict of interest for clients – having to disclose sexual activity and other private matters with their pastor. “I always ask,” Jo said, “but they all have sex here.” There appears to be an unquestioned belief in the white coat or white blonde’s authority; they call Jo “Blanc,” and at the least, everyone here trusts and loves her. She is compassionate and warm, skilled and knowledgeable, capable and fearless, and the most selfless person I know.  “Now [after the earthquake], we are a focus,” George says to me. And truly, I was hard pressed to find books on Haïti at my local library except one book of photos and one guidebook. But “relief work is over now here;” Haïti is no longer in emergency status. Even Jo leaves in a few weeks.

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From → Haïti

One Comment
  1. So proud of the people with outstanding good hearts helping people when they needede help!..

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