Posted by Ted on Apr 5, 2010 in Causes
Last night I discovered that Google Maps updated its satellite data of Haiti after the earthquake, including Jacmel where I worked for two weeks, clearing rubble from two schools. This map will serve to complete the travelogue, along with the posts here and the photo gallery. Clicking on the map should take you to the interactive map which will allow you to zoom in for more detail.
A map of Jacmel, showing some of the places I visited
It is my hope that it will not only give geographical context to my writings and images, but that it may help future relief workers bound for Jacmel get their bearings. If you are in or recently returned from Jacmel, and would like to add data to this map, please let me know.
Posted by Ted on Mar 18, 2010 in Causes
The last two days have been about saying goodbye – to Jacmel, to SIDR, to Haiti.
Instead of working onsite yesterday, I walked around Jacmel. I went to the market with Bill, bustling with activity which had been utterly quiet on Sunday. The cobbled streets were lined with vendors, and between them people, moto-taxis, and trucks jostled for position. Then I set off on my own, catching a ride with ‘Black’, a gentleman who I kept running into for a week, who took me to an artist gallery that he represents. I saw a painting I liked, but not for $80. I then walked through Zone 2, the hardest hit of the city. I saw more destruction than I’d seen anywhere else, but was heartened by the number of crews I saw who were working to clear rubble. I met an artist named Isidor whose workshop collapsed, his art still under the collapsed roof. I met four sisters who are living in tents in the street, looking for work. I took their names and numbers to give to SIDR. I ended up at the river, and walked along it to the bay. Along the way I passed a backhoe ambling along like some big yellow giraffe, both out of place and yet joining the dogs, goats, and cattle also roaming the shoreline. I took my sandals off when I got to the beach and walked through the surf. Turning inland again, I passed the grade school that we’d worked on when I first arrived. Feeling I had said goodbye to Jacmel, I hopped on a moto-taxi back to camp.
A few of the guys decided that a trip to the beach would be a proper send-off, so we took a tap-tap up to the party beach. It was much less crowded than Sunday which was kind of nice. I frolicked in the waves and then watched the guys play in a soccer match. An orange sun set behind palm trees, and then I joined the guys in the water again before we left the beach in darkness, a crescent moon replacing the sun.
This morning started earlier than usual so that I could pack up. For the first time ever, I leave with less than I arrived with – my tent, sleeping pad, and sandals being further donations to SIDR. As it rains tonight, I am comforted to know that Cherilus, my friend and camp cook, now has his own home away from home. Both items cost about $100, and would have gone right into storage when I got home. Now I now that they will be used every night, providing a home to someone who busts his ass cooking in the morning, and shoveling rubble in the afternoon.
Then my ride arrived – a white SUV, marked U.N. Police. I caught a lift with Laura who was heading back to Canada to see a friend who had a stroke and is in a coma. Our driver was a Columbian officer, and we listened to Tito Puente as we twisted thru the lush hills between Jacmel and Leogane. When we finally arrived at the Minustah base in P-au-P, I felt like an interloper, surrounded by military personnel from Chile, Uruguay, Japan, Yemen, and India. I finally took my leave of Laura and the U.N., and hopped on a moto-taxi to my hotel, Auberge du Quebec in Carrefour, a district farther away from the airport than I’d like. The trip was interesting tho, as we wound through traffic for half an hour, a motorcycle being the perfect vehicle for negotiating past trucks and over rough roads.
Finally at the hotel, my culture shock continued as I was surrounded by more blancas than I’d seen in two weeks. Suddenly I felt very removed from the Haiti that I’d come to know. It was too clean, the bar has color-cycling LED lights, and the security guards have shotguns. I took a shower, a dip in the pool, and enjoyed the quiet luxury of reading a book while sipping Barbancourt and Coke. I had an early dinner of tender Lamby, and then decided to leave my comfortable hotel and walk the streets. Ostensibly I was scoping out where to try to catch my morning transport, but really it was to get back to something more familiar. I didn’t have far to walk until I was once again among street vendors, colorful tap-taps, and streets overrun with trash and overflowing water.
An old grey-haired man approached me who spoke very good English and asked me where I was from. We struck up a conversation, and Mathieu told me he was an artist who also used to be a boxer and a timeshare salesman. His sister died in the earthquake. He took me to see some of his family, and I got to meet his albino neice, as well as a cousin living next door, living under a tarp anchored to a wall. We walked back down the street towards my hotel, and when he asked for money, I gave him a couple of American dollars. Whether it had all been a beggars ploy I don’t know, but it was a small sum in life’s grand scheme, and worth the experience.
Now back at the poolside cabana bar, I listen to a pouring rain. Soon I will go to bed on a real mattress, underneath a celing fan, and I won’t need earplugs to block the sound of dogs, goats, and roosters. I look forward to continuing my long trip home tomorrow, ever closer to the waiting arms of my one true love.
Posted by Ted on Mar 13, 2010 in Causes
I had the chance to help someone directly affected by the earthquake today. A friend of a friend’s mother lives here in Jacmel, and I was asked if I could check in on her to see if she was alright. With the help of one of our Haitian volunteers, we tracked her down. We had been heading into town to go to the market, and stopped at one of a few street vendors who simply have a wireless landline phone, which one can make a local call for 15 gourdes. I was told that the woman speaks no English, so Jamson made the call. We got directions, and walked the half hour towards her home. This was a new part of town, being up on a ridge with a view towards downtown and the bay beyond. We passed the old Minustah building, the front half unscathed, the back half gone completely. Shortly after, there was the most striking vista – a ray of sun shining down from a hole in the overcast sky onto the bay, making it sparkle. In the foreground was a line of white tents. After stopping a few times to confirm directions, we ended up at the end of a dead-end street. We knocked on the gate, and a young woman confirmed we were in the right place and invited us in. Her daughter was delighted to have a visitor, and was enamoured by my camera, and I obliged her with a picture of her smiling little face. The woman’s mother whom I’d come to see, Marimathe, finally came out, and apologized for making us wait. Through Jamson’s translating, she told us that she and her family had all been home when the house shook. Her arms flailing in recreation of her reactions to the event, she thanked Jesus for saving her and her family. She also thanked him for delivering me to carry the concerns of her son and friend. She showed us the crumbling walls of the house, and told us that she’d been living on the street for two months, only just recently getting one of the ‘Shelterbox’ tents that have been deployed around the city. While still a tent, these are more sturdy than most and may survive the coming rainy season. As we parted, I held her hand and palmed her a 1000 gourdes note. The equivalent of about $25, that would cover a cheap dinner out for two back home, but here it would help feed her family of five for a week. It felt wonderful to be able to give directly to someone who lost their home in the earthquake, and to brighten their day.
It was certainly the high point of my day, having spent most of it at camp, listening to the constant coming and going of planes and helicopters at the airport during the last day of the Canadian handoff, lying down and trying to get over the cold that set upon me yesterday. It was a shame because it would have been a perfect beach day. We hopped moto-taxis back to camp, and around 7p I hopped another one back into town to enjoy a dinner that was a break from rice or pasta. At Au Petit Coin, I ordered the fish and was treated to a wonderfully cooked whole fish, served with fries and plantains. I’ve seen people be able to eat fish, leaving all the bones intact, but I am not one of them. I messily picked at the fish, building a pile of bones on my plate, but savoring every morsel.
Yesterday, I resisted the oncoming cold as much as I could, given the need to work hard. We had enough rubble to create a pathway to the street, and pushing wheelbarrows full of cement uphill was no easy task. I did some shoveling and pickaxing to break up the body stress. We’ve now mostly cleared the section we started working on Tuesday. I really wish I’d gotten a before shot to compare with what it should look like on Monday. We’ve moved somewhere near 1000 cubic feet of cement in 4 days. After coming home, I crashed for a bit before dinner.
Then a bunch of us went to see the ‘Speakerman’. Not a specific person, but a title associated with various establishments which have speakers aimed at the street. The other day it was a small general store, with chairs right on the sidewalk, playing salsa. Last night it was a Caribbean style restaurant playing Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Haitian rap. We shared rounds of Barbancourt & Coke, and cemented the friendships with a few of the volunteers. While I do not know if or when I will return to Haiti, I am comforted to know that my world family will be a little bigger now.
Posted by Ted on Mar 11, 2010 in Causes
I am lying on a bench in a field next to the U.N. compound, and a dog has been barking for at least an hour. The Canadians just pulled out today, having declared that the emergency is over. It’s far from.
Not only have there continued to be tremors on the island, but the rainy and hurricane seasons start soon and there are still a lot of people in tents. The ones that I’d seen in the streets earlier was simply overflow. Last night I was taken by one of the local Haitian volunteers to one of the larger evacuation camps. Imagine a walled football field turned into a tent city, with security only at the two gates. Hundreds of displaced families spilled out of olive-drab temporary homes, and I was the only ‘blanca’ in sight. It was truly sobering, but the moment that I remember most was the simple act of a young boy wanting a high-five. I was also taken to a bordello, where I politefully declined saying that I loved my wife very much. At camp, the volunteer was chastised for endangering me. While nothing happened, a fight could have broken out at either place, and the camp had a riot with arrests the day before. Everyone was right of course, even I knew that, but I’m thankful for the experience to have seen the camp at night.
We finished the grade school on Tuesday, to the point that another group may take over reconstruction. The last two days have been at L’Ecole Trinite, a college where there were a lot of deaths. We don’t know how many, and there may still be more. We’re scared of the ground floor which is under the rubble. The work has been relentless. We have spent 14 hours clearing just one section of crumbled cement and rocks, about 20′x20′ and 4′ high. It’s Thursday, and the only way I can see myself through tomorrow is that it’s Friday. I will need the two weekend days just to heal from the onslaught that by back and hands have taken.
Posted by Ted on Mar 5, 2010 in Causes
The first day is always the longest. Starting in SFO at 8p on Thursday, I arrived in Port-au-Prince just before noon on Friday. As I traveled across the country through LAX and Fort Lauderdale, I saw increasing numbers of people carrying tents and sleeping bags just as I was. The first person I met was a man in the jetway in LA, who remarked upon my REI bundle of tent and sleeping bag. He was traveling with his two young daughters to volunteer in Leogane. On the plane to Haiti I sat next to a Spirit Airlines stewardess named Marie, and we talked about the beaches in Jacmel, which used to be the best resort town in the country.
Flying into P-au-P, I saw several blue-tarped tent cities and many buildings with standing walls and no roofs, looking like D&D maps I drew as a kid. After landing and getting thru immigration, I started walking toward town, and hopped on a moto-taxi, one of hundreds of motorcycles that zip around every town. Holding my pack in my lap behind the driver, my thighs ached during the ride to the tap-tap “station”. Wildly decorated covered pickups, they get their name from what one does to signal the desire to get off. I took one heading west towards Leogane, the biggest town closest to the epicenter of the quake. The devastation was indescribable – very few buildings were standing, the smells and smoke of bonfires filled the air.
A kind young man named Junior helped me find a ride to Jacmel, through the mountainous region between the coasts. The road twisted through wrinkled hills, dirt and debris piled high on both sides, and we passed by a truck that had taken a turn too quickly and fell over blocking part of the road. We came through the pass as night fell, and could see the lights of Jacmel in the distance. Once in town, we stopped to ask directions to ‘minustah’, the local encampment of the military division of the U.N., next to where Shelters International has their ragtag camp, conveniently under the watchful gunsight of a manned guard tower. I set up my tent that would be my home for the next two weeks.
Today I got a tour of the market, bustling with people selling everything from meat and vegetables to toiletries and shoes. Then we walked around town, as Laura and Bill pointed out sites that their team had removed rubble from. The most recent was the collapsed second story of a two-room school. The ground floor was not much better, with cracks in the walls and the foundation, recently painted over. They want to reopen the school, but it really should be demolished because it’s not safe. This is unfortunately the case throughout the town as cracks are covered up and called ‘good as new’. These buildings will be the first to crumble in the next quake or aftershock.
Tonight I’m sitting by a roaring bonfire in camp, with broken desks burning away, sending embers up into the night sky.