Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back to Terrain Acra

(Photos: Top - Jimmytri and his cousins; Middle - Michellet and his big sister; Bottom - Alies and his sons)

Today was my last full day in Haiti and tomorrow I head back to the frozen tundra known as Minnesota. What an amazing day it was! I went back to Terrain Acra hoping to meet face to face with people and really have the opportunity to sit down with them. I wanted to know in their own words, what it is like to live in Terrain Acra?

I spent the morning interviewing a number of young men who want nothing more than a job. They have so many skills to contribute: teaching, carpentry… one was in law school, but they have no opportunity to get their foot in the door. In fact, there is no door. I asked them to share their thoughts, experiences, stories and hopes on video and they thanked me profusely for the opportunity. All I had to do was hold the camera… but it meant someone was listening.

After the interviews I sequestered Jimmytri, an ARC interpreter, to walk through the camp with me. I had walked through before early last week, but this time it seemed to be a whole different world. The exhaustive heat, the endless trash, and the smells all faded into the background and what I saw was homes filled with smiling families: mothers doing wash, kids playing with makeshift toys, fathers running small businesses... I met Alies and his son Makenson who sell fried meats and dough, Mimose who sells all kinds of soaps, treats, charcoal and more, Madame Dunn who invited me into her home to meet her five grandkids, and so many others! Jimmytri was even willing to show me his home and introduce me to his family. He has been working with ARC since the earthquake and lives in the camp with his identical twin brother, Jimmy-a, aunt and cousins. Jimmytri and Jimmy-a are quite the dynamic duo!

As we were walking around I couldn’t help but notice the mud and was reminded of the impending rainy season. It pains me to think of the tropical rains and what they will do to these peoples’ homes and lives. Imagine never keeping up with the leaks in your roof, or the rains blowing in through the thin sheet that doubles as your door. Think of stepping out your front door in your only set of shoes and into a foot of mud. There was a brief storm last night and still this afternoon the mud was thick and deep. That was after a light shower… These people need proper homes, walkways, and canals to survive the rain and preserve their hope. Countless people shared that they find and make what little they can to sell for food and water to get through each day. Their perseverance is so incredible, but their reality so fragile.

To end the blog and my stay in Haiti I’ll share a little miracle I happened upon this afternoon as we came back through the camp. His name is Michellet. Jimmytri and I were walking back through the camp and nearing the end of our journey when we heard “Photo! Photo!” being called out. I strolled over to offer a photo of the two adorable toddlers when the mother saw and bolted inside. She came back with the tiniest bundle in her arms! She introduced him as Michellet and informed me he was just 8 days old! I asked if he was born right here in her shelter and she said “yes” and that a midwife had been there to help her. There are so many things about that story that leave me, as another woman, both terrified and amazed, but the miracle goes on.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Camp Corail

(Photos: Top - Kids at Corail Camp. Middle - A boy at Corail Camp constructs a kite from whatever he can find; Middle - A woman sells goods at her small stall at Corail; Bottom - a wide shot of Corail.)

This morning I caught a ride with Richard, our new camp manager at Corail Camp. Corail is a brand new camp that we’ve been asked to take over management of.

The morning commute through Port au Prince is always an experience to behold. First, pray that there are handle bars because you’ll need to hold on. The word pothole doesn’t begin to describe the gaping craters, treacherous ‘speed bumps’ and other obstacles you’ll encounter. But it’s the sights you pass that complicate and deepen an otherwise adventurous ride to work.

Sights of vendors with various goods, people carrying water and other baskets and bags on their heads, children hoping to wash your windshield for change, everything buzzing around you, trash… the trash seems to be everywhere, but it’s the buildings that lay crumbled that call out as reminders.

As we were driving we passed through an area that had more destruction than I had seen. Three story buildings lie pancaked on the ground, rebar twisted and contorted in concrete, unrecognizable. As we drove past a familiar song began to drift through the truck “… We shall overcome someday…someday…” The next neighborhood revealed a new school being painted teal blue and lemon yellow, while just a second further men struck rubble in unison with their sledgehammers, clearing the old for the new... Around the next turn “We need help” is scrawled on the wall. It was about this time when Richard, our camp manager, asked me very simply “If it was a family member who was trapped in the rubble, when would you stop digging?... When would you stop?” All I could think was “never.”

Camp Corail…
I was told that Corail was different. I knew going in that it was a “planned camp,” the result of a coordinated effort between the United Nations, the U.S. Military and aid agencies. Local staff informed me that it is situated on a vast stretch of parched land that’s surrounded by deforestation. One of its primary purposes is to act as a decongestion camp for Terrain de Golf, which goes by many names, but one that rings a bell is “Sean Penn’s Camp.” In real terms, this means that Terrain de Golf is overcrowded and at risk for flooding, fires and more, so they move people to a safer area, i.e. Camp Corail. Currently there are 4,912 people living there in 1,290 tents. 15 have been left open and are being held for people with disabilities. (It’s amazing what a camp manager knows!)

As we drove up I had the feeling we were entering Area 51. The chalky desert dust goes on forever with neatly lined rows of white tents, each containing their own world. Everything is clean & tidy – words you wouldn’t normally associate with a displaced persons camp. Once settled and walking around I found two little boys constructing kites out of plastic bags and twine. This was the perfect kite flying environment! Up into the sky they went sailing. A couple tents down I found a woman running a small business with candies, sodas and other goods. A little bit further I heard a woman calling to me from in her tent. I stopped and doubled back. She invited me in and we introduced ourselves, despite the fact that we spoke no common language. She seemed to be about the same age and was cooking a small meal for herself and her friend. I couldn’t help but notice how sparse her tent was, but once inside you realize it’s someone’s world all the same. I was thankful she had invited me in.