Haiti Update #2-Saturday 30 January 2010

Not sure where to begin or where I left off. Internet access comes and goes, but we are lucky to have it at all. There is no electricity that we found in PauP, but there are generators and some internet access. All bathing is cold bucket showers. Safe food for us nonHaitians is scarce, so are glad we brought probars (and Susie’s trail mix!). But I still got pretty sick a couple nights ago eating at a good place (I won’t name names), but I’m ok now. We also haven’t seen any TV news since we came here so have no idea what the world out there is seeing.

Port-au-Prince is no longer the same. Champs Mars is now a tent city and you can smell the bad sanitation when you go by. We have been able to see much more of the rest of the city and the more we see the worse it is. We met a friend who is a policeman and his entire station collapsed with many police in it, and along with the prison break and taking care of families he has much stress. The sound of helicopters has become a normal thing. All sorts of military and NGOs have organized tent cities-you can tell those from the organic ones by the kind of tents being used. Coleman tents are everywhere. Some of the areas are strewn with blankets, sheets, corrugated metal all used as shelters held up with skinny wood or metal poles. I can’t tell you how utterly sad it is to see how so many people have to live, but I guess most of you have seen photos from the news. One other note-all over the city you see signs made of cardboard, some spray painted, and some elaborate that say “We need help” or “SOS” or “Mort” or some form of need that they are not getting. These signs are everywhere.

We visited an area in upper Paco thanks to a doctor that lives at Jacques compound. From the street you can see all of the big houses and schools that have collapsed, but when you walk back behind those houses, there are people living in tents and rebuilding shacks to live in. Along the ravines, the little houses have all collapsed. These people in the neighborhood are organizing themselves and have received no help. We came upon a young boy looking at the damage through a pair of old binoculars. His name was Andy. He told us he was alive because he stayed home sick from St. Gerard school the day of the earthquake, it had collapsed and all his friends were dead. A doctor living on that street has opened a clinic in a tent and we gave him bags of medical supplies. We also met some folks at SOIL and between them and Jean Ristil they are facilitating the delivery of water trucks and we hope to have one delivered in upper Paco. We will visit the clinic again when we return to PauP.

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We went to Lafanmi Selavi twice. The only part still standing is the original house in front, and that was already completely looted in 2004 and had no roof. The rest of the buildings have completely collapsed including the multi story concrete structure that was to be a hospital (before the coup of 04). Both Fritz and Reginald lost their girlfriends in the earthquake, but all other kids seem to be fine…although traumatized like everyone else here. We delivered Care Bags, candles, solar/windup radio flashlights, some toys for the younger kids, and funds for food and will deliver more food when we get back to PauP. Some of the older boys are now working in the rubble breaking up the big stones to help clean up. At least they have water so clothes are being washed and everyone can bathe. There is a pipe that comes out at one end of the yard flowing with water…that is something.

A note to the people sponsoring children in our Education Fund-all of the children are okay, but none are attending school right now because most of the schools are gone. There will be more children to sponsor in the future as we have already received requests for help.

We visited Jean Ristil in Cite Soleil two days ago. He was driving his moto with a friend on the back holding his crutches. He was in good spirits but tired. His cyber café had closed because of cracks in the building so he set up his generator and cables across the street on a sidewalk and was letting anyone use phones and internet and power up for any donation going to generator fuel. He said others were charging a lot of money for the same service. Many streets in Cite Soleil are blocked and strewn with sheets and blankets with small walkways on either side. They are in desperate need of clean water as always-difficult to see how they are washing, drinking, bathing in the water they have. Children are everywhere because there is no school and Jean was anxious to have something for them to do. We made plans for a project and have all of their photos from last June ready on the computer for a little show as well.

On our way out of town yesterday (Friday), we stopped by the Cite Soleil hospital where our friend Dr. Max is working to drop off bags of medical supplies. MSF is now helping to run that hospital and there was much activity when we were there. The second story of Max’s house collapsed, and because he is working at the hospital and running another clinic he sent his wife and three kids to the countryside. We also gave him a much needed laptop (that was donated to us and fixed up by Guy) making a weary doctor very happy.

We drove through the Bel-Air neighborhood and it is completely devastated. Last year we visited a Catholic school there and now it is gone. The view down to the waterfront is littered with fallen rubble and the sea is filled with ships. We then drove along Grand Rue, the Iron Market, many streets that were shown in the first days after the quake on CNN and most of the buildings are just gone. Not sure if anyone has heard of the ‘zones’ from the news, but many neighborhoods are considered Red Zones and no help has gotten to them because of so called violence. In these areas, Haitians can be seen with picks and shovels and very few big machinery trying to chop up rubble and clearing the streets. The damage is colossal. Much tears as we made our way along these streets.

Through Carrefour you can see the damage if you look up into the streets that connect to the main road. There were many trucks and Taptaps and Ti Machan along the way though. We had to take the access road which was never finished so it is bumpy and dusty. Gas stations are open, and we filled up our tank for $80 U.S….just glad to have gas. After Carrefour we came upon some craziness as groups of German guys were running along the road jumping in and out of white vans, cars and trucks began to turn around, and everything was chaos. We learned that a group of men had stopped a truck and were looting it. Then a UN truck filled with soldiers and guns drove up and seemed to quell the mayhem. We then saw two Haitians try to jump into the UN truck freaking out the soldiers who screamed at the surprise and pushed them out-comical but scary.

Next was Leogane. It is difficult to explain the complete devastation in this town-the hometown of RARA. It is very flat, and on a good day full of bicycles and bustling. House after house after house completely collapsed. I am not ashamed to say I had tears running down my face the entire way. There were areas of the road with huge cracks, and we even saw soldiers taking photos of the shifts in the concrete. On the outside of town, soldiers had landed and set up tents, and we can only hope that help was on the way for this city.

This side of the mountain road heading to Jacmel was the worst. The retaining walls held, but the land and rockslides made the road just one lane in many places. Very nice Canadian soldiers were on the mountainside helping move boulders and directing the traffic of motos, cars, and trucks. The road will need much work-in more than a couple of spots the cracks and shifting made driving a bit dodgy, but in the worst spot a group of Haitians were hanging out warning cars and made us feel pretty safe. We even saw some huge semis in the road, and water trucks, along with Taptaps full of fresh produce grown in the mountains so people are getting through and commerce is moving.

Down in Jacmel, most of the artists we know have lost their houses and studios. Walls are gone and masks are crushed and streets are filled with rubble although much has been cleaned. Some streets are blocked because of people sleeping in tents. There is a system of symbols and they are spray painted on the structures-a black check or circle with a dot in the middle means okay, a red check or circle with a dot means you can’t go in and the building is destroyed, and a yellow or gold symbol means you can go in to get your stuff.

The highlight of today was seeing the over 60 children at ACFFC, the amazing organization we collaborate with in Jacmel. We were smothered in hugs and the children were asking us when we were going to begin a Photo Workshop. Everyone is afraid to go into the building for long, but food was being cooked, children were making art, playing soccer, using the computers all outside, and just being together. With the schools closed, it was good to see that these kids, along with the directors, teachers,  and local artist mentors were working on making good use of their time and keeping busy. We will begin a program with them tomorrow encompassing photos, video, interviews, and their art as a way for them to work through their trauma and produce a stand alone project integrating the community. They are very anxious to get going and we worked through dinner tonight with staff on the details. We will of course be bringing much of their art home with us.

Thanks to everyone for all the messages and the love and the support. Honestly I’m not sure I’m cut out for disaster relief, but we are so glad we are here and are rejuvenated by how we are received by the people and knowing that all of you are there for us. We are so jazzed by the ideas and projects being presented by all of you to help Haiti in the future…there is much to do.