Thursday, May 13, 2010 – Port-au-Prince

A church is being built at Acra camp, using a wooden frame and tarps.

A tent from ORE for Johnnykel

Johnnykel informs me his platform is now ready so we’re going to make another try at getting his tent set up today.

Walking up the path in the Acra camp with him, I see people building a church. Perched in a tree, a man helps spread huge tarps on a wooden frame. I have a feeling people think they’re going to be here for a long time to come!

The tent takes all available platform surface

Two workers Johnnykel had to hire to level the surface are still at work with their pics when we arrive. “I thought the ground was soil” Johnnykel explains, “when it’s in fact rock, and hard rock. I could not do it myself.” Several friends of his have come to help and we start deploying the tent. It takes all the available space. It’s not an easy tent to erect but through trial and error, they manage.

Setting up this tent is not so easy but after trial and error, they manage.

Evelyn who is to give me a ride back in town, arrives at the site. It’s her first time up here and I await her reaction after she has caught her breath  “It’s like climbing Everest here!” she exclaims. We all laugh. I’m glad I’m not the only one finding it a steep climb!

The tent is up.

I think of the hardship of living in this camp, carrying water, food and other supplies on one’s head, up the hill, on slippery terrain, day after day after day…
“Is that what you’re going to have to do?” I ask Johnnykel. “Yes…” He has my respect, and so do all the residents of the camp.

Johnnykel finally in his tent.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 – Port-au-Prince

Not feeling too well, Rodenson barely touches his meal. It's the first time I see him so down.

I go to the Champs de Mars camps this morning, to visit with the families I know.
Carline greets me with joy and takes me inside her new tent to see her son Rodenson. The little boy does not feel well and barely touches the meal she brought him. I can see by his eyes and slow reaction he’s under the weather. He doesn’t have a fever though. It may be just the blues. I try to cheer him up by giving him a set of watercolors, notebooks and color pencils. It’s the first time I see him so down.

A very smart deal

I inquire about the new tent – a disaster relief frame tent, donated by the Chinese, that I had seen before but it was occupied by another family. “That family left to go to the province” explains Carline, “and they could not take the tent with them because it’s too big and cumbersome, so we made a deal: I gave her the smaller tent you gave me and I got to have this one.” Very smart. I’m happy for Carline and her family.

Carline's new shelter. Her 10-year old son Rodson (Rodenson's brother) rolls up the door flap.

From living in a broken down pickup truck to sleeping in an 8×8 tent to living in a well ventilated and large disaster relief tent, this single mother of four does all she can to improve the life of her family, given the circumstances.

Jealousy strikes again

While at Carline’s tent, I get a call from Josette. She lost her cell phone and calls me from a neighbor’s phone. “Carole chérie, you know what they did to me?” she says all excited. “What happened Josette?”. “- Someone slashed my tarps with a razor blade! Now it rains inside again.” This is the second time someone destroys her makeshift shelter. The first time, she had her poles stolen (see blog entry 03/05/10) . I agree with her that she and her two little children can’t stay in that camp any longer . She found someone on Delmas blvd who will let her stay inside a gated property. “Can you help me move there?” she asks, “do you have a tent for me?”. Yes, I have a tent. “I’ll see what I can do to help you move, Josette.”  “Oh thank you, mamie cherie, thank you. God bless you!”

Not so easy to put children in school

Adeline combs the hair of her neighbor's daughter to get her ready for school.

I take leave of Carline and Rodenson, and continue my round. Around the corner, on the sidewalk I see Adeline who received a PATCH tent last week. She stuck some religious images of Jesus between the no-see-um screen and the window flap. She’s combing a little girl’s hair and smiles as I approach. “Is this your daughter?” I ask her. “No, it’s my neighbor’s daughter. I’m combing her hair because she has to go to school and her mother is busy.” Adeline, poor Adeline, she has the time. She scratches a meager living from selling individual candies and cookies from a flat wicker basket. I’m sure she must not make much profit or many sales as everybody sells the same thing.

Religious images are displayed on Adeline's tent.

She used to live near the Cathedral before the earthquake and had no place to stay afterward so she and her 14-year old daughter Judeline ended up on the pavement, sleeping under the stars with a torn-up tarp, before receiving the tent. She has two other children who went to Les Cayes in the southern province  to stay with relatives. She’s trying to put Judeline in school but her daughter’s school diploma got lost in the tradedy. “I sent a copy of her birth certificate to the Education ministry to try and get a copy of her diploma” she tells me. But she also has no money to let her daughter continue her studies.

Moving Josette to another location

Josette and her children sit in front of the tent received from PATCH-Haiti. But 4-year Magdali moans "I'm hungry... I'm hungry..." Painful cries to a mother's ear.

I get to Josette’s shelter located in the camp across for the destroyed National Palace and she shows me what happened. The big grey tarp covering her shelter is now lacerated with razor cuts. With her responsibility for two young children, it is indeed unsafe for Josette to remain there. I tell her where to meet me, away from the camp, and when my ride comes to get me, I take Josette and her children on board and we drive her to her new location across town.

It is in the courtyard of a big house that is deemed unsafe for occupancy. But the courtyard is OK and the owner has allowed three families to camp there. It has a gate that is closed at night. I meet the families welcoming Josette and we set up her tent.

Little 4-year old Magdali clings to her mother and moans “I’m hungry… I’m hungry…” Josette finds a cookie and gives it to her. I can just imagine the pain of a mother who has no food to give to her children. Fortunately Josette is on ORE’s food list but a month is a long time for stretching the rations. Plus you have the neighbors to share with. Josette would like to start a little commerce and sell things but she has no money to invest and no references to get a loan.  Her two young kids prevent her from seeking work outside the home.  16-month old Rebecca is not even hers – she rescued her after the earthquake killed her father. The toddler’s mother died in childbirth. “Rebecca, she’s the Lord’s child” says Josette, “she’s dependent on God. She needs to be baptized. The priest told me she needs to be baptized, but I have no money.” So Josette worries about that too.

Homeless in Port-au-Prince, across from the National Palace.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 – Port-au-Prince

Delivery of ORE’s tents

Bringing ORE's tent and cots to Dahomé camp.

Today Evelyn and I will deliver some of the tents purchased by the ORE team in Florida for a few families they identified on the last trip to Haiti. These are family tents and the recipients are very happy at the prospect of getting some kind of temporary but decent shelter. They’ve been living since the earthquake either with friends or under tarps.

A view of another camp from Dahomé camp.

We first go to Dahomé camp on Delmas 6 – tarp-covered shacks as far as the eye can see greet the visitor. We explain to Timogene how to set up the tent. Friends will help him as we have to go on.
Our next stop is in Tabarre, past the airport,  and with bumper to bumper traffic it takes us 90 mn to get to our next recipient. He has his own field and will set up there.

Timogene and a friend spread out the tent he received from ORE.

On the way back to Port-au-Prince we stop at a Home Depot-like store, just past the American Embassy, where many foreigners buy imported construction materials and other home improvement supplies. It looks just like a Home Depot. I need to buy tarps to give with the dome tents I distribute as well as one for Makil’s tent for added protection against the rains. When it rains in Haiti, it pours and of course tents are still not the best shelters in tropical storms. It is so frustrating to see hundreds of thousands of people withstanding the elements with nothing more than a plastic roof. We do what we can.

It is so hot that in spite of our air-conditioned vehicle, we get back to the capital exhausted.

Tarp camp on the airport road.

Delivery of a tent at Acra camp

A view of the anarchic constructions built on the hills surrounding Petionville. These were spared by the earthquake, but it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Later in the afternoon I meet with Evelyn again in Petionville, at the Acra camp to deliver another one of ORE’s donated tents to Johnnykel. He’s to meet us at the camp after work (he’s found a job with an NGO but has to take two tap-taps -public transportation pickups – all the way from Martissant in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince where traffic is the worst). When she arrives at our meeting point, Evelyn has problems getting her car off the street and onto the dirt path leading to the camp as a sedan, all doors opened, blocks the way. Blaring music coming from inside prevents a man leaning half way into the car on the passenger side to hear the horn.

One side of Acra camp viewed from the street.

I go to the car and leaning toward the driver’s side I say “Hello?”…Hello?” No answer. “Could you please move your car?” I scream on top of the racket. At that the man looks up, and with a hard look on his face, barks at me “What for???” I explain the problem, pointing to our vehicle, while Evelyn through the windshield window grins as wide as she can and gives him the thumb’s up. The guy softens up a bit and agrees to move his car out of the way. As I turn around, I catch a glimpse of a pistol in his pants pocket. I do a double-take – yep, a pistol. OMG.

Carrying the tent package Johnnykel leads the way up the hill at Acra camp.

Johnnykel arrives shortly thereafter and Evelyn hands the tent and cots to him and a helping friend. She has to go back home but I stay as I want to photograph the setting of the tent. And so I follow the two guys along the narrow slippery uphill dirt path lined by rows of tarp-covered shacks. The whole camp is made up mostly of shacks erected on the hillside. We climb and climb. I puff and sweat under the heat.

A family smiles at our passage as we go up the hill to Johnnykel's platform

I have to stop to catch my breath, forcing Johnnykel and his friend to slow down. Eh, I’m not twenty anymore! They’re used to it and climb with the agility of goats in spite of the weight of their loads. A good thing if he’s to live here. Finally we arrive almost on top of the hill at the platform he’s prepared for the tent.

A pinch of Liberty at Acra camp.

I can see right away this is way too small and the tent won’t fit. Space is at a premium in this camp and he does not have much. Sorry, Johnnykel, but you’ll have to enlarge this platform before the tent can be erected. Plus the skies have turned grey and rain is on the way. Time to go. I take a minute to appreciate the view he will have from his site – all the way to the Bay of Port-au-Prince. You have to find the silver lining wherever you can.

Johnnykel accompanies me back down. A friend will pick me up on the street at the entrance of the camp. On the way down the path I feel it would be wise to warn Johnnykel of what I saw earlier “Johnnykel, are you aware there are people here that are armed?” I ask him in a whisper. He looks at me shocked “What? Are you sure?” I tell him about the pistol sighting. He pauses and gives me a description of the car and the man. “Yes, that’s him” I reply. He relaxes and laughs “Oh, I know him. Not to worry. He’s a civilian policeman!”. I’m relieved.

View of the bay of Port-au-Prince from the heights of Acra camp.

Monday, May 10, 2010 – Port-au-Prince

Traveling back to Port-au-Prince

I am returning to Port-au-Prince today with an ORE vehicle and driver. Taking advantage of the “roue libre” (free ride) are some members of the Dossous family: Paola (going back to school in Port-au-Prince), Natacha (going back to her agronomy classes in Leogane), Ricardo (going back to Port-au-Prince where he makes a living by reselling water and other beverages) and a friend of theirs. They had come to Camp Perrin over the weekend to give a song recital to celebrate Mousson’s birthday.

With Jesus as their Pilot, passengers load bulky items on the top of a truck.

Feeling slightly car-sick during the 4-hour journey, I remain silent in the front seat, but hear them talk in the back. Their conversations revolve around whom they lost and who survived the earthquake, about a friend who remained stuck and was unable to be freed and died in the rubble, about someone who was given water for several days before being pulled out. Four months after the catastrophe, their memories of it are vivid, detailed and unforgettable. They don’t talk of the properties they all lost, but of the victims. There are no tears or crying, just feelings of gratefulness to have known the people who passed away and of joy at recalling their lives.
After a period of silence, I hear Paola say with spiritual insight  “I am in the world, but I am not of the world”.

An incident in the capital

Chased by his angry victim, a thief with his pants slipping down runs past us in a rubble-obstructed street

When we get to the capital, our line of vehicles gets rerouted by U.N. officers as an anti-Preval demonstration is taking place on the Champs de Mars, near the destroyed National Palace. We take smaller side streets, obstructed by rubble which delays traffic. As we are held up by a traffic jam, a man holding a bag runs straight towards us, chased by others screaming “Thief! Thief!”. Someone tries to tackle him, he shuns falling, runs past our car but is caught by other neighbors who start punching him  against our back door. In the vehicle, we feel the punches. Ouch! The thief manages to escape again. Looking through the back window, we see him running for his life. We are still standing in place when people come back, saying they let him go after recovering the stolen goods. He was lucky. Much of the time these altercations end up with the crowd putting the thief to death.

Port-au-Prince street scene.

Makil’s new shelter

We stop at ORE’s former office site to see Makil, the messenger. He is one of the recipients of the big tents received by ORE from generous donors in the U.S. and we want to make sure he’s OK. Makil is one of those people who can’t keep anything for himself. He had already been given a tent by a friend but he sent it to his family in Jacmel while he slept in the street under the stars.

Makil invites us in his new shelter, a tent donated by U.S. donors to ORE.

He oversees ORE’s food kits distribution but forgets to keep the one allotted to him. Always finding others in more need than him, he gives away what is meant for him.

With the rains coming early this year, we are now satisfied that Makil will have dry nights. His tent has been erected in the courtyard of the damaged house where the office was located. He was told the tent is a loan – so he cannot give it away!

Makil will be dry on rainy nights in his new tent.

Sunday, May 9, 2010 CAMP PERRIN

Torrential rain at ORE's

The day is overcast and in the afternoon torrential rains pour down on Camp Perrin. My last day at ORE’s.

Saturday, May 8, 2010 CAMP PERRIN

Flailing of the beans

Dry black beans are being threshed to separate them from their pods.

This morning I go and witness the flailing of a harvest of dry beans at a farmer’s traditional home. One worker uses a stick while a boy uses a palm frond and both energetically thresh the dried pods to release the black beans.

The black beans

Black beans being winnowed

Once all beans have fallen off, they will be swept up and then winnowed in a flat basket to get rid of straw, pods and other dirt particules.
The Davezac Canal

Along the Davezac canal

In the afternoon I walk along the Davezac canal that traverses the whole town and fields. This canal was built in 1759 (finished in 1770) by a French colonist, Pierre Valentin Davezac de Castera, born in Tarbes in the Hautes Pyrennees in France.

The canal

Its main purpose was to irrigate the fields. At the time Haiti was one of the richest colonies of France. Elie Davezac, his descendant, lives in France and was invited to come to Camp Perrin last year for the 250th anniversary of the creation of the canal but was not able to make it.

Young girls playing and bathing in the canal

The Camp Perrinois were very excited at the idea of meeting the descendant of the creator of a canal they thoroughly appreciate in their daily lives.

Cloud reflections at sunset

Besides irrigating the land, the canal provides running water all year round in which locals bathe, wash clothes, play and cool off from the summer heat.

A couple of ducks enjoy the canal too.

It is a very pleasant walk in late afternoon.

Friday, May 7, 2010 – CAMP PERRIN

Food kits final preparation steps

ORE's opened food kits fill the storage area

The food kits are completed today. The storage room is filled with all the open bags. A few more steps are required.

Maurice does the work with pride

Plastic bags filled with black beans are all closed with a knot and

Opened food kits showing their contents

the overall bags containing rice, beans, corn, sugar and tomato paste cans are sewn shut with a portable electric sewing apparatus.

Kits are sewn shut.

Then all bags are reloaded into the truck together with gallons of cooking oil, boxes of leeks and crates of sweet potatoes that will be distributed individually. They will be transported to Port-au-Prince during the night to arrive for distribution at 7:00 AM. The trip from Camp Perrin will take the truck about five hours.

The truck is loaded with food kits

The whole food distribution program is labor intensive and extra people, among them some displaced from the capital, are hired especially for this.

The Dossous Family Among the displaced from the capital who were evacuated to Camp Perrin after the earthquake is the Dossous family we mentioned earlier during our first post-earthquake trip to Haiti. The whole family adapted well to their new life in the countryside. It is a very large family with two groups of four sisters, their children and their in-laws who lost their houses in the earthquake.

Sisters Nancy and Marceline with Marceline's son Michael

Jo Anne's son, 5-year old Jonathan, could be modeling for children clothes!

I’m still trying to figure out the genealogical relationships of the family! Not easy, but they don’t mind my questioning and repeating names and relationships.

At first the family was lodged at the EFACAP school. Last month ORE was able to find an empty house for them, and with free rent for a year (paid by ORE) to help them fall back on their feet, they gladly moved into their new home. Besides, the nearby irrigation canal flowing outside their courtyard was an incentive they could not resist.

Jo Anne irons on the floor of their new house

I go and pay them a surprise visit in the late morning. They greet me with excitement. Jo Anne is ironing on the floor – furniture is still very sparse in the house, besides beds and mattresses. But they have a TV set and right now, Michael Jackson’s “This is It” is captivating young Jonathan, Jo Anne’s 5-year old son.

Natacha enjoys cooking

I go through the house, All the way to the back, outside, is the open kitchen area where a big pot of rice and one of black bean sauce are cooking on two charcoal stoves. Natacha, whom we had met on the way to Camp Perrin and who is an agronomy student in Leogane, came to Camp Perrin today to spend the weekend with her sisters at the house.

Natacha grinds spices for the beans

“I love cooking” she tells me as she stirs the bean sauce. “We need spices for the beans” she adds. She gets some cloves and pound them with a small wooden pestle and mortar. Paola, Jo Anne’s sister, arrives from the canal with some wet clothes she just washed and hangs them on the line to dry.

Paola gets a kiss from one of the children

The younger generation of children comes back from school in their uniforms and a round of kisses ensues. One can feel excitement in the air. Indeed, the whole family gathered together this weekend for a very special event: Mousson’s birthday.

The younger generation: Front l. to r.: Naika, Michael, Jamesley, Samantha. Back: Erika, Laurie.

So Natacha, Paola, Ricardo (Sherline’s husband) came from Leogane and Port-au-Prince respectively, to celebrate later this afternoon, with the rest of the family, the happy day of the birth of their benefactor.

Mousson’s Birthday A particularity of the Dossous family is that it is a singing group from Port-au-Prince that has already put out their first CD. Normally the birthday of ORE’s director is not celebrated, but since the family had expressed the wish to give a recital to thank Mousson for all the help they got from her and ORE after the earthquake, it was decided they would do it on Mousson’s birthday.

The gathering of guests with the singers seating in front row to the right.

By 4:30 PM, guests are gathered on the chairs set out for them outside and the singers – several Dossous sisters – arrive, all dressed up.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate a day that is very dear to us, the birthday of Dr. Mousson” Paola tells the audience.

The children sing Happy Birthday to you!

After a prayer sung by the Dossous sisters to open the celebration, the young children play a skit. “What is a birthday?” one ask. Another responds “A birthday is the best time to celebrate the day someone is born and to thank God.” “How are we going to celebrate Dr Mousson?” “We, the displaced of Port-au-Prince whom she considers like her children, are going to sing for her, to narrate for her, to acclaim her. Happy Birthday Dr. Mousson!“. A gift-wrapped package the size of a very large frame is brought to the birthday girl. It is a reproduction of an Indian painting of Krishna and Radha under glass that Ricardo brought by bus with great precaution all the way from Port-au-Prince.

The Dossous family singing for Mousson's birthday

The Dossous sisters then entertain Dr Mousson and the audience with religious songs celebrating the Creator and their faith. The choir sings beautifully and their love for the Lord and their terrestrial benefactor shines in their eyes. Other members of the family, young and old, also take the stage to give riddles and jokes – a favorite of any Haitian audience who bursts into laughter.

Mousson seated between Jo Anne (l.) and Paola and Natacha (r.)

I later asks Paola the name of their group. “It’s called Boussole (compass)” she tells me. “Why that name?” I inquire. “To help people find their bearings” she explains. The choir, comprised of many more people when they perform in Port-au-Prince (“Today we’re just a representation of each voice, alto, soprano, etc” Paola says), sings mainly religious songs and is preparing their second CD.

Thursday, May 6, 2010 – CAMP PERRIN

Putting food kits together

Today various types of food are being gathered by ORE’s Relief Efforts teams for their food distribution scheduled for Saturday in Port-au-Prince.

Bags of imported rice are stored at ORE. The rice will be distributed in food kits

ORE buys staples available from local producers such as beans, corn, thus stimulating the local economy. Local rice being too expensive, the organization buys 55-lb bags of rice imported from the US. I hear that locally produced rice is three times the cost of imported rice, but since Haitians prefer it because it tastes better, when they do buy it, it is reserved for Sundays or special occasions.

For this distribution 260 victim families in Port-au-Prince are on the list to receive each a food kit. Among them are a few families from the Champs de Mars camps that I was able to have included in the list. Makil, ORE’s assistant in the capital, is very conscientious and has organized a system of distribution cards that each beneficiary receives. The distribution is still done at a gated school ground. ORE also distributes at two other sites in Petion-Ville and on Delmas boulevard.

To show the various steps necessary to prepare a food kit and to give an idea of the work involved, I join ORE’s team as they go to producers’ homes.


Florence Bien-Aime prepares bunches of leeks.

Fresh vegetables are always included with the kits so we first stop at a farmer’s compound to check on leeks. I was hoping to see the actual operation of pulling them out in the field, but the task was already done. Since the leeks were ready for harvesting, the farmer did not want to wait and have thieves do it for him. When we arrive the leafy greens are being cleaned and bunched up. Each family will receive one bunch with their kit.

Black beans

Our next stop is at the home of a black bean farmer.

Harvested bean pods are drying in front of the farmer's traditional home.

Black beans are a complementary staple that is eaten with rice or corn. Haitians either make a black bean sauce or cook the beans with rice. This is bean harvest season and a harvest is drying on a tarpaulin in front of the farmer’s traditional home. It will later be flailed in order to separate the beans from the dried pods.

ORE will buy all three bags of black bean from this farmer.

This farmer has three bags of beans to sell which are measured by ORE’s worker with a standard size can (called “marmite” in Creole). When all necessary quantities of beans are gathered, a total of 1.4 ton is distributed in the kits.

Beans are measured with a standard size can called marmite

Sweet potatoes

After the beans are brought back to ORE’s, we are to pick up sweet potatoes from a couple of producers in nearby Saut Mathurine, 45 minutes away. On the way we see dark grey clouds on the horizon.

The lucky ones have an umbrella for the rain.

Sure enough we are caught by a downpour before we reach the town. Small clusters of children returning from school hurry up, a leaf of breadfruit tree covering their heads. The lucky ones have an umbrella. By the time we reach the producer, the rain has turned into a fine drizzle.

Washed by hand one by one, the

Crates of sweet potatoes are carried to ORE's pick-up truck.

purple and white tubers are packed into crates that are then carried to our pick-up truck and unloaded into the bed. Because of the rain, not all tubers were harvested in time so we leave with 915 lbs filling up the whole bed. They are meant as a supplement for this forthcoming distribution.

White and purple sweet potatoes will be added to the next food distribution.

During avocado season, avocados were added to the kits. It’s obvious that someone (in this case ORE’s director) knows Haitians’ tastes in food and manages the diversity and availability of local produce to give the earthquake survivors some indirect tender loving care as an added bonus.

Sweet potatoes fill the truck bed.

Mousson was hoping to add onions to the kits also, however there was none left on the market to buy.


I’m back at ORE’s in time to witness the unloading of the bags of imported rice, bought locally.

Back at OREs, sweet potatoes and rice bags are unloaded.

With each kit containing 36 lbs of rice, a total of 4.25 tons of the cereal will be sent to Port-au-Prince. Sweet potatoes are unloaded from the pick-up truck. Workers are already packaging the beans into individual bags.

Unloading rice into ORE's storage building

In the fruit drying building, prepared bags of sugar and of ground corn are waiting to be added to the kits. Canned tomato paste and a gallon of cooking oil will complete the kits.

Packing beans in individual bags

Because of transportation cost, the food distribution schedule has changed from bi-monthly to monthly, people receiving the equivalent of two bi-monthly rations at once.

6-lb bags of ground corn for food kits

Due to budgetary constraints however, this may be the last food distribution.

6-lb bags of brown sugar for food kits

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 – CAMP PERRIN

Pathway leading to ORE's office. Hanging mangoes are of the Coeur d'Or variety (Golden Heart).

I spend the day at ORE’s, the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment run by Mousson Pierre in Camp Perrin.

Flowers seen on the path to ORE's office

Flowers on ORE's property

ORE's office in Camp Perrin

ORE’s mission is to improve environmental, agricultural and economic conditions in rural Haiti. Its development projects involve high revenue tree crops, improved seeds, cash crops and marketing programs – designed to increase yields and income, produce nutritionally rich foods, and to protect the environment.

Watering of banana plants on ORE's property

As Haiti emerges from its current disaster, these programs will play an important role in long-term recovery.

Watering banana plants - Fruit trees such as banana have been proven key for the prevention of soil erosion due to rain or hurricanes.

Reinforcing the environment with commercial fruit and spice trees, and bamboo

“Since 1985, ORE has produced over a million grafted fruit trees in Haiti.

Grafted mangoes of the Zilate variety seen at ORE's.

By promoting fruits and other commercial tree crops, experience shows that in time communities start to protect their trees because of the attractive revenue they generate. By providing improved seeds, soil conservation measures, and offering production and marketing assistance, we are able to help the farmers replace subsistence farming with commercially successful agriculture.

Mango flowers - A drought has brought a second flowering of the trees which will produce a bonus harvest in August.

Increased income from fruit trees producing annual commercial crops helps to remove the economic pressure on local ecosystems. In regions where the program has been able to create concentrated regional fruit production, farmers are beginning to look on orchards of mangos, avocados and citrus as investment opportunities.

Young bambou plants - in background is one of the multi-purpose shade areas.

The ecological impact is clearly visible, the tree cover is increased and soil erosion are reduced. Fruit trees, spices, high value bamboo, suitable for construction and handicrafts, soil conservation measures and leguminous trees such as Calliandra (used as pole for yam production) all add up to a powerful environmental protection package – offering farmers cost-effective solutions that will help preserve the ecology for future generations.” Excerpt from ORE’s website www.oreworld.org

Monday, May 3, 2010 – PORT-AU-PRINCE

Violette unfolds the tarp that will cover her shack and that of her neighbor Marline.

This morning red T-shirts and standing sun umbrellas marked Digicel can be seen all over the Champs de Mars. Following the heavy rains, the cell phone company distributed them at dawn to the camp residents. Violette and Marline had rain pouring through their roof tops. Barely touching the flimsy tarp brings pockets of water dripping. “But we kept dry ourselves with your ponchos” they tell me. I give them a very long tarp that was just donated to me and which can cover both their small shacks. Right away, other women come and submit their grievances. Tarps are badly needed. I can’t promise anything. “Write my name down… and my telephone number” requests Carline Louis I just met. To appease her, I do so. “Now, write down “tarp” next to it” she adds. I do as she looks down my notepad. “Write down IMPORTANT!”. I write the word down and undeline it twice. “Very good!” she approves, gives me a kiss and goes on her way, reassured.

Members of the committee Tet Ansanm (Women's Action for the Children), with their newly acquired Digicel Tshirts.

The Committee Tet Ansamn (Women’s Action for the Children) gives me a list of their 20 most needy families. I had called them earlier to give them the good news that OREworld will be able to add a food kit for each of these families at their next food distribution on Saturday. The list is typed on letterhead paper and the committee thanks me profusely.

Rosemarie Cherisme with a tent donated by PATCH-Haiti

The Earth shakes again!

2:21 PM – I’m checking the internet at a friend’s office in the building of Valerio Canez when a strong tremor of three seconds shakes my chair. Surprised, my friend and I look at each other and suddenly scream “Earthquake!” and rush out of the building. All employees run outside and we all laugh. Later we learn it was a 4.4 magnitude earthquake. There had been another one of 4.2 magnitude at 12:40 AM this morning, but I slept through it.

A collapsed building on Delmas, result of the January 12th earthquake.

Leaving for Camp Perrin

Mousson (OREworld) has come to Port-au-Prince for the day on business and in the afternoon we go back together to Camp Perrin where I’ll spend a week. Near Leogane we stop along the road to quickly say hello to Natacha Dossous who’s been awaiting our arrival with excitement. She is one of the displaced rescued by OREworld. An agronomy student she is now continuing her studies in Leogane but misses Camp Perrin.

We arrive in Camp Perrin well after night fall.

Sunday, May 2, 2010 – PORT-AU-PRINCE

In late afternoon a heavy thunderstorm breaks out in Port-au-Prince and all along the Haitian coast all the way to Carries to the North,

Trees are whipped by torrential rains, thunder resonates through the valley, the mountain has disappeared under a grey watery wall. Downpours beat down on the capital. What of the campers all over the metropolitan area?

Stormy skies over Port-au-Prince

Thursday, April 29, 2010 – PORT-AU-PRINCE

Distribution of a few tents

This morning I meet Ismane, my former house helper, who comes to help me distribute and set up a few tents to some families on the Champs de Mars. It’s unbelievable that after more than 3 months, earthquake victims are still in need of the most basic necessity – a roof over their heads.

Poor sanitation and diseases put young children at high risk in the camps.

Rains have started early and downpours are frequent. Again and again I hear the same comment “The government doesn’t do anything for us”. I cannot stay doing nothing, even though my modest means may provide only a patch on the wounds of destitution and distress. Through PATCH-Haiti (Photography in Aid To Children of Haiti), a program I started long ago, and with the proceeds of a photo sale fund raiser I organized in Albuquerque, I was able to buy and bring eight dome tents to provide emergency shelters to the most needy I meet on my visits.

Lavilia Mertilus receives a dome tent from PATCH-Haiti to replace her tomb-like shelter.

Lavilia, the woman who sleeps in the tomb-like shelter, is overjoyed – I came back with a tent for her! She throws her arms to the sky and thanks the Lord. “BonDie, merci, merci, oui!”. (Good Lord, thank you, thank you!) she screams. “We call on the Lord” says an on-looker “and we await Jesus”. The tent size is 8×8 feet and we look for space. The only space available in the maze of shelters would be right on the pathway and some neighbors say she can’t set it up there. She argues there is plenty of space for people to make a detour. After a while, they soften up and say OK. Since nobody knows how to set up the tent, Ismane and I take the time to do it for her. People are excited and another woman asks me to come and see where she lives “It’s as bad as her” she says, talking about Lavilia. I go and look. Indeed, a small and flimsy tarp is attached on poles no higher than three feet. “When it rains I sleep on the small table with my daughter, underneath the tarp. Otherwise I sleep right there on the pavement.” she explains to me. She sells some small items such as candies and cookies, displayed in a flat basket on an bucket.

Adeline Gaspard and her daughter Judeline show where they live - under the small blue tarp.

Wanting to make sure her story is true and that it’s not just the place where she holds a small commerce (it’s so incredible that she would still live this way), I call Guerda, the spokeswoman for the area with whom I spoke yesterday. She comes and confirms this is where Adeline Gaspard and her teenage daughter Judeline spend the nights. I promise to bring her a tent tomorrow. On my way out, I realize I still have a tent I left with Rodenson’s mother that was meant for someone else who improved her lot and does not need it anymore. I could give it right away to Adeline. As I said before, it takes time to give anything to anybody and one has to be discreet so I don’t walk with all the tents but leave them in a secure place and distribute them one by one.

Adeline is now all smile after we erected a dome tent for her. She will put the blue tarp on the tent as an added protection against rain.

I return to Adeline’s site with the tent and tell her we’re going to set it up for her. She can’t believe it. A large smile replaces her frown. “You see” Guerda tells her, “when Carole promises something, it happens. It’s not like organizations that come and talk to us and we don’t hear anything more from them.” I never saw anyone clearing all her clutter to make space as fast as Adeline does. Then again, Ismane and I set up the tent. By then it’s high noon and the heat is stifling. Sweat is dripping from my face and body. Without eating, I feel light-headed. After the tent is up I’m ready to call it a day.

Wigs – the new forced trend

Marline's rooftop definitely needs improvement.

Of course, in spite of Guerda explaining that I’m not an organization and can only do so much, women come to me asking me to visit their shelters and to write down their names. Marline Jean’s roof shows big holes and she definitely needs a tarp. “With each rain, I get wet and everything in here is soaked” she complains. The same goes with her next door neighbor, Violette. I give them rain ponchos to wear when it rains until they get a tarp. I notice a woman combing a wig, then putting it on her head. “Why do you wear a wig?” I ask, suddenly realizing several women wear wigs. “The stress made our hair fall off” the women explain, showing me their heads with very little hair left.

Distress written on her face, Marline wears a wig to hide her balding head. Many women explain stress from the earthquake made their hair fall off.

Aren’t you hot with a wig on?” I ask Marline. “Yes, but I have such an ugly head, I resign myself!” She adds they need psychologists also.

For more details about PATCH-Haiti, please see: www.adventurephotoexpeditions.com/PATCH.htm

Traffic conditions in Port-au-Prince

A friend of mine calls me to tell me she’s in the neighborhood and ready to pick me up. I bid farewell to the camp residents and five minutes later I rush into the life-saving air-conditioned vehicle with Ismane. It will take me ten minutes of cold air to feel revived.

Because of torn up roads, potholes, narrow ways, rubble spread half way across the streets and an incredible number of cars for the size of the capital, traffic in Port-au-Prince is unbearable, bumper to bumper at all times of day. It is exhausting and takes hours to get anywhere. Most of the time is spent in traffic, so one cannot do much in a day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 – PORT-AU-PRINCE

Reuniting with families on the Champs de Mars camp

Today I’ll make my rounds of the Champs de Mars camp. My first stop is for Rodenson, the little amputee. I look for the pick-up truck in which they live but can’t find it. It’s gone! But his mother Carline sees me looking for them and calls me. They now have the tent I had sent to them through Ray from ORE-Miami so the owner of the truck got his vehicle back, fixed it and it’s now running. “We think of you so often” Carline and Rodenson tell me. “Me too – I just arrived in Haiti and you’re the first ones I come to see”. They’re overjoyed by my visit. Miriam, the grand-mother, has gone to church, and Anne the little sister is in school. Rodenson has a clean bill of health, his foot having healed properly, and will soon be fitted with a prosthesis. If I’m available the day of the fitting, I will go with him to Handicap International. They tell me they have been receiving ORE’s food regularly. The owner of a very large tent well ventilated with several openings, donated by China, lets them use this area to do their cooking. It’s set under a tree, which provides some shade.

"Ti-Tremblement", born a few hours before the earthquake, with mother and other relative

I continue through the Champs de Mars and get called in by a family group, sitting outside their shack. In the midst of them, is a baby boy – 3 1/2-month old Mackenley, born on January 12th at 2:00 AM, a few hours before the earthquake. “His nickname is Ti-Tremblement (Little earthquake)” the baby’s father says with pride as the mother nurses him. It’s their first child. A big Haitian flag is draped on one of the walls of their small shack just large enough to spread a thick blanket for mattress.

As I leave them and get back on the street, a young girl surprises me “Carole!” and gives me a hug. It’s 8-year old Angie, whom I had met last time. “I had gone to the portable toilets, when I saw you stopping to talk to this family, so I waited for you.” She explains, excited. “I was just on my way to see you, Angie!” I tell her. Together we go to where she lives, across from the National Palace. Clearing up has started at the Palace and the collapsed middle part with the staircase entrance is gone. Angie’s mother went to the town of St Marc to visit a sick relative and Angie is staying with her adult female cousin. Her little friend Love has left, her family having moved to another area. “But I still see her, she was here last night” Angie informs me. I ask her if she ever went to the recreation center Plas Timoun. She does not know what I’m talking about. So I explain “It’s a place nearby for children your age to do artistic activities and I told your mother about it so that you could go.” I’m disappointed that Angie missed this opportunity. “Maybe she forgot…” she says sweetly of her mother. Anyway, Angie is now back in school which she attends every afternoon. Her former school building was destroyed so the school relocated on Lalue street and classes resumed.

A few shelters down the way, Josette spots me and excitedly covers me with hugs and kisses, shouting my name. We laugh, and all her neighbors around us laugh too. They’re so happy I’m back and did not forget them.

"Ti-Tremblement" with his father in a shelter made of USAID tarpaulins. A Haitian flag covers one side.

The mere presence of someone paying attention to them gives the people joy, some emotional respite from their plight. And yet so few outsiders bother to come and see how they live – it could be out of fear or out of indifference. These people have so much to teach us on faith and resilience, I feel enriched at their contact. Trying to survive in an environment not fit for human beings, they are not begging. Josette has a fantastic story to tell me (which had already been related to me by the other party):

It’s a small world

Last week a Haitian woman passing through Port-au-Prince on business, stopped in front of the National Palace and talked to the people there to see if they had received any help. The camp received no help, but Josette told her how only two journalists had helped her so far: Julie and Carole. Carole??? Could it be…? After investigating the identity of “Carole”, who Josette said was this French photographer living in the USA (which confirmed the woman’s intuition), the visitor learned that Josette had been put on a food distribution list and was receiving food at the Marie Esther’s School (where ORE distributes the food kits). Through an extraordinary coincidence – of all the people in the camp – Josette, an ORE’s food receiver, had just met Mousson Pierre, the ORE director and food donor. “It was your friend I met!” concludes Josette. As we say, it’s a small world!

Women’s Action for the Children Committee

Josette wants me to meet the committee “Tet Ansanm” ( Heads Together) – “Women’s Action for the Children” , located a few shelters down.

A group of camp children line up to receive candies on the Champs de Mars.

Someone from some organization distributes candies to camp children. Josette and I go to where a small desk with chairs have been installed on the sidewalk. The assistant coordinator, Irma Samuel, and two other members explain to me they are a a group of women who got together for the sake of the 400 children in the camp and their parents. They are women who have lost their husbands and other relatives, whose houses have been destroyed, and they have received no help. “We don’t want to prostitute ourselves, but we have no means and don’t know what to do” she says. The women are asking for any aid with food, clothes, school for the children, medical care. It’s too costly for them to enroll a child in school and children are getting skin problems due to the poor sanitary conditions of the camp. They say no official has come to the camp to inquire about their well-being. Irma then shows me a typed list of all the children’s names.

An older child bathes her siblings on the sidewalk on the Champs de Mars.

I say I can’t promise anything but I’ll spread the word. If not all can be helped she suggests that at least twenty families who are in desperate and urgent need of aid be helped. I think OREworld may be able to help.

Lavilia and two other relatives have been sleeping in this tomb-like shelter since the earthquake.

An extreme case of human abuse

I’m amazed to see that almost four months after the earthquake and after billions of dollars have been donated, people are still living in such precarious conditions, some without shelter. I meet the spokeswoman of another group, Guerda Anier, who wants to show me an extreme case of human abuse (there is no other word). Leaning against the pedestal of the statue of the shackle-free Unknown Escaped Slave, a tomb-like pile of trash starts moving: an old woman emerges from a small opening. Actually she is only 51 years old. Lavilia Mertilus has been sleeping there at night with her adult son who has mental problems and another relative since January 12th, the day of the event. She only has the rags on her back. I promise I’ll be back tomorrow with a tent for her. I know tents are not the solution but until something is done to provide these victims with decent and permanent shelters, it’s better than nothing.

Greeted with smiles and kisses

What strikes me the most as I wander through the maze of make-shift shelters are the smiles and kindness of the people, adults and children alike. They greet me with smiles and kisses in the midst of a deplorable environment. The resilience of the children so vulnerable is astonishing. How could we not want to do all we can to help them? That’s why I call what I do humanitarian journalism vs. objective or neutral journalism.

My next visit is for the two sisters Dodo and Sifina, who live nearby. Dodo has just come back from the Ste Catherine hospital (in the slums of Cite Soleil, quite far from the Champs de Mars) where her 19-year old son is being treated for malaria and yellow fever (so she says – I tend to think this yellow fever which does not exist in Haiti is associated with hepatitis or typhoid). She brings him liquid food every day on doctor’s order. Her daughter who had gone to Les Cayes and could not enroll her children there has returned and is now with her during the week. She’s as sweet as her mother, looks like her and has the same voice. For the weekends, she goes back to Mariani (outskirts of Port-au-Prince) where she lives with her husband.

I ask around for a certain Emile Joseph. He’s an 18-year old teen whom I met last time and who was living with two other boys his age in a shack so small that once inside I could not back up enough to photograph the whole room. The young men had told me they spent their nights sitting down as indeed there was no room for them to lie down. I wanted to bring them a tent. I ask, I ask, nobody knows that name. I can’t find the shack. Finally someone tells me he moved out and is now in a tent camp by the destroyed cathedral.

The Haitian artistic sensibility

TiZo sits on his bed in the shack he construted and decorated, turning an ugly site into a work of art.

It is so hot, I almost feel faint. The sun is getting to me. The stuffy heat in the shacks I visit is getting to me. How can people live like that? It’s noon, there’s barely any shade. I’m ready to leave and I’ve been here only three hours. As I prepare to leave the square saying goodbye to Dodo and her family, I hear someone shout “Haitian!” I don’t pay much attention. Again the same shout “Haitian!”. I turn around to see who’s shouting like that, and whom do I see? Emile Joseph! “Emile Joseph, I’ve been asking for you! Is it you shouting like that?” I ask, surprised and happy to have found him. “Yes, I’m calling you. To me you’re Haitian”. He tells me people know him by his nickname “TiZo”. His two friends who lived with him have gone elsewhere and he’s not at the cathedral camp but still here and he’s built himself a bigger shack that he takes me to see. When he opens the door, I can’t believe my eyes: the four walls are covered with beautiful advertising posters by Rum Barbancourt, representing colorful market scenes of the primitive painting style. “I got those posters for 50 gourdes ($1.25)” he says with a wink. The Haitian artistic sensibility is present in the most miserable living conditions. Here’s a young man who’s got only two years of primary school behind him, who turns an ugly shack into a work of art.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 – PORT-AU-PRINCE

Arrival in Port-au-Prince

From the plane flying over the bay of Port-au-Prince, one sees patches of blue and white everywhere on land: tent camps. On the ground, all along the airport road, tents, tarps, tents – all turning black from the cars exhaust fumes. Three months have passed, nothing has changed. Feels like people are settling in the transitory – seemingly here for a long, long time. Ominous grey skies on the mountain top.

I’m so looking forward to seeing tomorrow the families I met on my last trip.




 Saturday, March 6, 2010

 My friend’s chauffeur is driving me to the airport as she will have to go there herself two hours later to welcome two friends helping with ORE’s relief efforts. The weather is sullen after the night’s rain and a drizzle continues to dampen the capital. I’m sad to go, I’d like to stay. I got attached to those people in the camps, full of resilience and faith, and smiling in spite of it all. As we go down Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Nazon), the chauffeur brings my attention to a destroyed house on top of a tall stone wall crumbing down. “It is still there” he says. “What is?” I ask. “The dead body. You did not see? The skin is now peeling off the bones. It’s stuck under cement blocks and can’t be recovered.” I did not see the gruesome sight and we already passed it. People living here know where the deads are and how many there are under which house, crushed and entombed forever in the rubble.

A mother plays with her baby in the camp on the Champs de Mars.

Solange sews clothes at the entrance of her shelter.

An accident on the airport road slows down the traffic considerably and we go bumper to bumper. Finally we reach the U.N. vehicles directing the flow. At the airport, a thick and long line of passengers await outside to enter the building, all airlines merged together. Furthermore, after a certain point, porters are not allowed and you’re on your own. I have three suitcases  but only two hands, which poses a problem to advance in the line. However passengers are considerate and help me with my suitcases.

 Right at the airport entrance, luggage has to go through x-ray security, one x-ray machine for large luggage, one for small carry-ons. After my bigger suitcases have gone through, I turn around to get my carry-on suitcase containing all my camera equipment which went through the smaller machine, but it has disappeared from the conveyor belt! I figure someone has taken it by error. I shout “someone has taken my luggage instead of theirs”, but security officers don’t bother. Looking around anxiously I don’t see it – the passenger must have already passed through immigration. So, screaming, I run past immigration who calls me back but I don’t stop, and suddenly I see my luggage being lugged by a passenger!  I get it back and open it to show it’s mine. A security officer asks “That’s your luggage?” – “Yes!” The older man who had got it did not realize it was the wrong suitcase. What a scare!

 Humanitarian aid workers are returning to the USA, distinguishable by their t-shirts and baseball caps printed with the names of their organizations or projects. A few doctors too, still wearing their green hospital garb.

 Several of the doctors are on my flight from Miami to Dallas. I will learn later they’re from Colorado. As we reach Dallas, a flight attendant thanks them on the loudspeaker for their services rendered to the Haitian people and all passengers clap their hands at the announcement.

A female doctor and I exchange thoughts at the airport – we both feel strange to be suddenly walking through the airport concourse lined up with shops of luxurious and seemingly superfluous items, when three hours ago we were with a people in distress that does not even have the basic necessities of life. From one world to another.

A smile from Haiti!

 10:00 PM: I’m back home, already preparing my next trip to Haiti – end of April I hope. 

The courage of the Haitian people toward pain and suffering is extraordinary, so much so, that doctors operating on the island have a new expression for people inclined to self-pity: “Haitian up!”. The whole world is set on providing the necessary aid to Haiti. In that respect OREworld is doing a wonderful job with its relief efforts, well appreciated by victims at the receiving end. The needs are tremendous and it will never be enough. Local grassroots organizations are of major importance to alleviate the suffering as they have direct contacts with the victims and know the country. Your continued donations to support OREworld will directly benefit the people of Haiti. Please be generous!


 Friday, March 5, 2010

“Plas Timoun” activities center

 Today is my last day in Port-au-Prince. A friend, reknown Haitian painter Philippe Dodard, very involved in helping children victims of the earthquake through art as a therapy, told me about a project the First Lady, Mrs Preval, put together: Plas Timoun (The children’s place), an activities center. Two locations are operating, one in Petion-Ville and one in the courtyard of the Museum of Haitian Art near the Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince. I go and visit the latter one. 300 children from the nearby camps are enrolled in three sections according to age, for a couple of hours a day. Classes are held in six buses, all painted green, and each bus is allocated a particular activity with an animator – reading, painting, singing, pottery, theater, games. Sports activities take place in the yard.

Children in line in the courtyard of Plas Timoun recreation center in Port-au-Prince.

A guitarist provides animation in one of the buses at Plas Timoun

 It gives the children a place where they can forget for a while their anxieties and the misery of their living conditions and where they meet other kids their age. Thousands of schools were destroyed by the earthquake and since then there has been no school.

Children eat a hot lunch every day at Plas Timoun.

 When I arrive, around noon, the children in one bus are eating a hot lunch distributed to them. I hear raucous singing coming from a bus next door shaking violently. I step in and am overwhelmed by the animation taking place – a dozen children lead by a guitarist sing a refrain at the top of their voice, clapping and stomping their feet. They are the expression of happiness. They also seem to be releasing pent-up feelings. Elsewhere, in a tent, a group of young girls call me to get my attention, then blow kisses at me.

A young girl blows a kiss to the visitor

 I learn from Jenny Seneque, the director, that any child aged 6 to 10 years is welcome so long as a parent brings him/her in and comes get him/her at the end of the session. “When here, the children forget what happened, and don’t face much danger from being in buses should an earthquake happen again” she says.The center is open from Monday to Friday and each age group has specific hours. Of course I think of Angie, Love, Rodenson and others I know in the camps, who spend their time idly. When I tell their parents about the center, they’re very interested in taking the children there. “Next Monday” I say “don’t forget!”

 The sky is overcast. “It’s good today” says Angie looking at the clouds “we’re not as hot”. True, but I don’t want to remind her that dark clouds may mean rain later on. Not a good prospect for these campers.

 Tough life in the camps

Josette is fuming against the person who stole a wooden pole that holds her tarp cover and messed up her shelter.

When I reach Josette’s small shelter, I find her fuming. “They’re so selfish, so selfish!” she screams, holding 16-month old Rebecca in her arms. What happened?  A guy came and took for his own use a pole holding the tarps covering her shelter. The place looks like it was torn apart, cans of food, medicine, all are scattered on the ground. She puts down the sleepy baby on a bedsheet on the ground. “They’re jealous” she continues while re-attaching the orange and blue tarps any way she can. An older neighbor tells her there’s no use fuming, to get on with her life. Things can be tough in the camps.

Baby Rebecca sleeps on the ground amidst Josette's scattered possessions after someone went stealing in her shelter.

And this is not the worst of it. At least this camp is located in front of the National Palace and the presence of regular night patrols provides some kind of security. In many camps violence and rape of women and young girls are common.

 An eye sore for the whole world to see

 At Dodo’s shack I meet her son-in-law who is visiting. A man in his forties, he is helping Sifina, Dodo’s sister, to clean roasted peanuts which they will grind into peanut butter to sell.

Fast food - cooking in the camp across from the National Palace

Proud of his country’s history, he lets me know what he thinks of the post-quake situation. “We are left to ourselves” he says. “The government doesn’t do anything for us. It’s only the international community that gives us some aid but how long is this going to last? Both our state and civilian society are non-existent. Look at Chile – they’re very active [after their earthquake], they do what is necessary for their people. For the state to be strong, you need a strong civilian society.” As we talk about their living conditions which they estimate worse than the slums of Cite Soleil, he goes on about the Champs de Mars, a square commemorating Haiti’s independence heroes with their statues on pedestals, and now turned into a mini slum, right across the destroyed National Palace. “Look at this Champs de Mars! It’s an eyesore for the whole world to see.

People fetch water at the water bladder installed for them at the camp of the Champs de Mars.

But there is no authority to say, look, this Champs de Mars is the country’s image, we can’t let it go to waste like that. What is this country we live in? This is no country.”

 As I walk back home, I pass by three women vendors of fruit and vegetables, sitting on the ground in the street, their baskets in front of them. I stop to ask them how life is for them. “I sleep on an old piece of cardboard, under the stars” says one. “We don’t have a card to receive food, we don’t even have a piece of carpet to sleep on!” argues another. “People put aside a lot of the donated goods such as tarps and tents and then sell them to the needy. It’s too expensive and I can’t buy them” declares the third one “Even of bottle of water I did not get!”.

 The overcast skies have gone darker.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Throwing starfish back into the ocean

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…”I made a difference for that one.”
(Story by Loren Eisley).

The statue of Petion, first president of Haiti, is surrounded by a sea of tents and makeshift shelters, in Port-au-Prince

When I’m overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of victims needing help and by my own limitations, I get inspired and comforted by that story. We may not be able to save all, but even if it’s just one, it will make a difference for that one. That’s the way we have to look at it. And each one of us has the power to make a difference in someone’s life. It does not take much, and one person helped is better than none. The world is changed one person at a time.

Today, with the help of Ismane, my former house helper, we’re going to throw starfish back into the ocean of life!  A friend has provided me with a chauffeured vehicle as I can’t possibly carry the heavy backpacks filled with food supplies to last several days. I’m sorry I only have food for Carline’s family and Josette’s, but I tell myself that will make a difference for them.

I take Ismane to meet my protégés. She has a compassionate heart and enjoys helping me help people. She herself lives in the slums of Cité des Rapatriés on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and so she is used to miserable conditions. However when she follows me to Josette’s abode and bends down to enter the small shelter, she’s horrified. “I could not live in such conditions” she admits later on. I tell Josette the good news that she is now on ORE’s food distribution list. I had mentioned to Mousson I had more starfish to save and asked if she could stretch her list. I know the list has already reached its maximum and food is expensive. However she’s open to desperate cases, particularly when it touches women and children who can’t fight in lines to get food. I’ll take this opportunity to call on your good hearts for more donations in order to keep the food distributions going and expanding (www.oreworld.org).  Join us in throwing starfish back into the sea!

The gift of a lollipop from a little boy who has nothing

Rodenson and his little sister Anne

When Rodenson sees me coming, he greets me with a smile and gives me a lollipop out of the two he holds in his hand. I’m touched. Here’s a child with nothing, who thinks of giving me what little he has. His little sister Anne, 4-years old, is present and gives me a kiss. I give their mother the food and soothing lotion, and spend time with them. This is going to be my last visit as I’m leaving Saturday. Hearing this, Rodenson gives me two small photos,

Rodenson gives me this photo of himself to take back with me.

one of him, (I realize, when he had both feet) and one of his mother and grand-mother. To take with me. “I hope to be back in April”, I say.

A maze of erected shacks

Then, walking through the maze of erected shacks, I go with Ismane to see Sifina and her sister Dodo, whom I had met before my trip to Camp Perrin. “How can you possibly remember where all these people live?” Ismane asks, amazed. “It’s not easy, but I have my landmarks!” I reply. Not easy indeed because shacks keep sprouting up. Whatever empty space was left in the Square of the Marron Inconnu (the Unknown Escaped Slave) is now completely covered, and so I have to constantly revise my bearings and find new landmarks. But thanks to cell phones, I can also keep in touch with my contacts as everyone has one in Haiti.

Sifina and Dodo can’t believe their eyes when they see me. “You did not forget us!” they say.“- Nope, plus I have good news – you’re now on a food distribution list!”. ORE to the rescue!
The two sisters are managing by doing a small commerce out of their shack. Dodo brews the very sweet and delicious Haitian coffee and gives out bread to hungry customers. While we’re there, a man comes in and downs a cup of coffee with a piece of bread, but he has no cash and puts his bill on credit. I wonder how profitable this business will be.

Sifina winnows roasted peanuts outside of her shelter.

Sifina has got a basket of unpeeled roasted peanuts which she cleans and winnows outside. She will make small packets and sell them in the street.
Dodo tells me her daughter and her three children were displaced to Les Cayes after the earthquake. However since there is no possibility to enroll the children in overcrowded schools, they are planning to come back to Port-au-Prince. Tens of thousands went to provinces that are unprepared to absorb such a massive flow of people. Her two teenage sons, André and Jacky, are currently with her, and sleep at night on cardboards on the pavement of their shack. I have one more donated comforter which will go to them.

The Cafe Claudja enterprise

A friend of mine, Joelle, whose parents Claude and Janine are the founders in 1952 of the first ground coffee industry in the country, the Cafe Claudja enterprise, takes me to see what is left of this coffee business, in the Canape Vert neighborhood.

The Cafe Claudja building before the earthquake

This neighborhood was hard hit by the quake and practically nothing is left of the building. It’s unbelievable when you compare the photos before and after. Nevertheless Janine, who is now 80 years old, is not discouraged but determined to bring the coffee Claudja back in business and meet the needs of her numerous clients for a product that no longer needs advertising. Claudja currently operates from small premises in Petionville until the means are found to serve a larger clientele in Haiti as well as abroad.

The Cafe Claudja building after the earthquake


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Donations to go to a few families in Port-au-Prince

I came back from Camp-Perrin with a few donated items that ORE had received, to give to some of the people in need in Port-au-Prince – people in camps and in the streets that I talked to and befriended. I’m having a hard time being a neutral photojournalist and recording what I see and hear without being involved in the solution. But then I realize this is a self-assigned mission and I can do what I want and make my own terms. I came to document but also to help as I can. I know other journalists have had the same problem this time with Haiti – we can’t help wanting to help the people we meet in the course of our work. They’re in such a dreadful plight and their resiliency is so inspiring.

Downtown Port-au-Prince

So last night I put together small hygiene kits with toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, towels and other toiletries. I also have a few comforters (domi-dous as they are called in creole) and bedsheets, some clothes, and I will distribute all  this today.

I meet Makil, ORE’s messenger in Port-au-Prince, at the destroyed ORE office in Turgeau, where yesterday we stored the supplies boxes in a locked storage outside of the damaged building. First thing to do is try and find our two sisters teachers from the St Trinity School. I kept in touch with them by phone while I was in Camp Perrin and they told me they finally found refuge at the Nouvelle Lune (New Moon) School, after they had to move out of Esther’s camp. Makil and I walk to the school which is just a couple blocks down the street.

The New Moon School is also seriously damaged – and workers are busy salvaging what they can, as we enter the yard after giving justification for our coming.  The school has a big empty yard where the director allowed only a handful of refugees to settle in, for security reasons.

Yolande shows us her makeshift shelter made of planks and table clothes.

Yolande and her sister and two grand daughters are very happy to see us and show us their new “home”: a makeshift shack made of discarded planks but covered with heavy-duty tarps. “Those are actually  table clothes” Yolande explains, “but they seem sturdier than regular tarpaulins so we covered our roof with them.” We peek inside: a double mattress stands on cement blocks to protect it from the ground, and belongings are stored in buckets. “When it rains, the ground gets soaked and muddy” she says. “That’s a big problem, the water flows and we have nowhere to keep our stuff dry”.

The family walks back with us to ORE’s office to pick up our donations. We did not bring the supplies ourselves so as not to create jealousy or envy from other refugees. It’s not easy to help the needy in these post-earthquake conditions. So many are still with nothing, fights ensue on public distributions of anything, people who receive are the envy of those who don’t and can get hurt in the process. Yolande knows this and after receiving our two boxes of donations, they decide to take a taxi back to their camp rather than walk down the street (ORE’s pickup truck is at the mechanic’s). As it is a one-way street going up and they’re going down, it means a big detour by taxi. “Everyone on the street will see us carrying the boxes. It’s not worth taking risks, we’ll take a taxi” she firmly decides.

Later in the day, with the help of Makil and ORE’s driver Frenel and the repaired pick-up, I continue my distributions. Our strategy is to have the vehicle parked near the location where the people are camped and have them come and get the donations as discreetly as they can (if that’s possible in Haiti where eyes are everywhere!). It works pretty well and the people are delighted.

A little boy’s anxiety about food

Among other things a big thick domi-dous (comforter) went to Rodenson’s family who lives in a pick-up truck. It should give a little comfort to the grand-mother and the 8-year old amputee Rodenson. I spend some time with them and learn how they ended up in the pickup: after their house fell on Rodenson (who had his right foot amputated afterward), the family had nowhere to go. On the Champs-de-Mars square, they found this broken-down pick-up and squatted it. When the owner came back (he had gone to bury a dead relative), he did not have the heart to evict them and let them stay in his pickup while he found another place to stay for himself.

Rodenson with his mother Carline (l.) and his grand-mother Miriam (r.) in their pick-up truck.

I notice the vehicle is now covered with a gray tarp which prevents rain from falling inside through the sides and gives some privacy too. “We had to buy it for 400 gourdes! (the equivalent of $10)” Carline, Rodenson’s mother, explains, very unhappy. I recognize the tarp as one of those donated by an NGO. Many are now sold back to needy earthquake victims. Tents are also sold to victims.

I give Rodenson a little stuffed animal – a small lion. I was afraid it might be too babyish for him, but he takes it with a smile, hugs it and start petting it, with eyes closed. It’s so moving to see this young boy’s reaction. We should not underestimate what can bring comfort in these drastic times. I see a simple toy can do wonders.

I ask him what he eats these days. “Whatever I can find” he replies. Carline tells me they’re not on any food distribution list and the extended family counts 13 persons. I write down all the names and call Mousson, ORE’s director in Camp Perrin, on my cell phone. I had already talked to her about Rodenson but I want confirmation that the family can be added to ORE’s food distribution list before I promise anything.

Yes, they can receive two kits and are put on the list! I then explain to Carline how and when to get to the distribution point (the next one being Saturday March 13th). Suddenly Rodenson turns toward me and says, with a sob in his voice “But I won’t be able to go and get the food!”. The concern of this 8-year old amputee is heart-wrenching. “Rodenson, it’s not you who need to get the food, your mother will pick it up” I tell him. I have to repeat this several times for him to calm down. I recall seeing dozens of rambunctious kids in line for a cooked meal at a distribution center, something Rodenson could not do with his crutches and he’s probably thinking of that.

A toddler gets a bath in the street opposite the National Palace.

Carline complains of the hygienic conditions of the camp. She tells me the portable toilets are not clean and people have many skin problems and worms. She says Rodenson’s skin itches. I promise to bring some soothing lotion. While we talk, Rodenson, seated next to me, interrupts, and taking my head in his hands so that I look at him, says anxiously “I forgot… on Saturday I’m supposed to go on an outing… I won’t be able to go and get the food!” His mother explains to me that Handicap International, the organization helping amputees and where he goes for therapy, organizes outings for them and Rodenson’s turn will be on the day of the food distribution. Again I try and reassure the little boy that he does not have to be present for the food, that his parents will get it for him. “Will they give enough for everyone?” he still asks with worry. The food issue gives him a lot of anxiety. I then realize that it’s going to be another ten days before the next ORE distribution. What are they going to do in the meantime? I promise to bring food tomorrow.

Angie and her friend Love (in back of her). They live and met in the camp across from the National Palace. "We are sisters now" Angie declares joyfully.

A semblance of home for some refugees

Continuing my camp visit I go toward the Toussaint Louverture camp, erected opposite of the National Palace. It is not long before a lively little girl comes and talks to me. She’s Angie, 8-years old. I’m impressed at how she replies to me in French which she learned at the Mothers’ School, a Catholic school. She seems smart and resourceful. When I meet her family, her mother laughs that Angie is the one who brings the foreigners to their makeshift tent.  Smart: the more people know of their plight, the more potential aid for them.


Angie also introduces me to 9 year-old Love, her new friend, more reserved but smiling. Love is Angie’s neighbor in the camp where they met . “We are sisters now” Angie declares proudly with Love’s arm around her.

Love in the "living room" of their multi-families shelter. Carpets are spread on the ground, however it all gets wet and soggy when it rains. If it rains at night, nobody can sleep as a result.

Their makeshift shelter is made of various tarps, protecting several families. They managed to give it a semblance of  living room with a couch and carpets covering the ground. But that’s just pretend. Angie explains how they all get wet when it rains at night. “We can’t lie down, we have to remain standing up, we can’t sleep. What can we do? We  resign ourselves” she concludes with a sigh.

A commotion takes us all outside. An organization is distributing packaged cookies from a truck with the protection of UN peacekeepers from India. I go and check it out. “Namaste!” I say to a peacekeeper. Startled, he replies “Namaste” before resuming his watch. People have flocked around, trying to get some food.

Single mother Josette and her two children are not on a distribution list and are turned away empty-handed.

A mother  with a kid on her arm and another one in tow, passes in front of me with a frown on her face. “I have these two children but I’m not on their list, so they won’t give me anything” she grumbles. She enjoins me to follow her back to her shelter, which I do. From the corner of my eye I see Angie returning to her shelter with two big bags full of cookies.

We go within the Louverture camp and Josette Derilus bends down to go through the opening of her small shelter made of tarps hung on wooden poles. I do the same. She lives there, sleeping on a mattress with two small children – her 4-year old daughter and a 16 month-old orphan toddler – and two hens huddled in a corner. She had a few more chickens but these two are the only ones that survived the earthquake.

Josette with her 4-year old daughter and 16-month old orphan she is taking care of.

Josette is not receiving food from anyone. “The only person who has helped me so far is another journalist like you” she tells me. “Look, this is what he bought for me, milk for the children and some food.” On a small table I see a few cans of baby formula. I think I just found another candidate for ORE’s food! She explains that the baby is an orphan from her neighborhood who lost both parents and has no one else to take care of her. So Josette took her under her wing. “Do you know someone who can adopt her?” she asks.

The Boulangerie St Marc (Bakery) did not escape the earthquake

Friends from the Boulangerie St Marc, going downtown to evaluate the damages to their business, pick me up in front of the National Palace on their way down. We go down to Grand Rue (Dessalines Boulevard) which I haven’t seen yet. I visit the badly damaged bakery with the owner Marc Claude Etienne.

Inside the St Marc Bakery in Port-au-Prince

The bakery was founded in 1929, over 80 years ago and expanded over the years to include a restaurant,  fast food, a dairy, a supermarket, a bar, reaching the status of a national institution in Haiti. It will take a lot to get it back on its feet but Etienne who manages it,  undefeated and still very active in spite of the years, is not giving up and this is what he intends to do, starting first with the bakery and cake factory for the next few months.

Downtown Port-au-Prince

While we’re on Grand Rue, large plumes of gray smoke attract our attention.

Plumes of grey smoke in downtown Port-au-Prince.

We go on the trail to find out what’s on fire, walking through the rubble of the demolished streets of downtown Port-au-Prince, looking like a war zone. A business is burning and arson is suspected. This has been the fate of many businesses spared by the earthquake, but not by the envy and resentment of the spiteful.

A business is on fire in downtown Port-au-Prince. Arson is suspected.

I walk back up to the Palace and destroyed ministries still impregnated with the stench of death. I go up Lalue, a street where many houses and businesses have been toppled. Tents have sprung up in side streets, many now closed to traffic. It’s overcast and the whole atmosphere is gloomy.

A ministry building in the capital.

I finish my walk at a local supermarket where I buy corn, rice, beans, oil, spaghetti, tomato paste, peanut butter, bread and cookies. It’s for my distributions tomorrow. Food is expensive. How could the people I met be able to buy it?

Seen in downtown Port-au-Prince

Dusk falls on a street in Port-au-Prince


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

7:30 am: We leave Camp Perrin via the Mersan road going through a very pastoral and quiet countryside, back-lit by the morning sun as we travel east.

Plowing the field with a pair of oxen in Camp Perrin

Several cultivators plow their fields with a pair of oxen, encouraging the animals with rhythmic mouth sounds.

At one point, the road is so badly damaged by the rains of the previous days, Frenel the driver remarks in his colorful creole language that “the rain has totally eaten out the road”. Huge puddles make us slow down so as not to splash muddy water on people walking on the sides.

Thozin: another bed-sheet city where people live with practically nothing, having received no aid in almost two months.

Before arriving Grand Goave, another bed-sheet city catches my eye. We stop and learn from the coordinators who come and greet us that the area is called Thozin and the camp of about 300 people, “Tet Ensanb” (Heads together). They have no tarps, no tents, just sheets or even clothes draped on flimsy wooden structures and have been there since the beginning of the disaster. Yesterday only has an organization come to set up some outhouses made of blue tarps.

Clothes propped on sticks provide the only shelter for this family.

Apart from that, they have seen no one. A sign at the entrance calls for help, giving the names and phone numbers of the coordinators. The latter take us around camp. The situation is catastrophic, worth it seems than in Cassagne near Leogane.

Evacuees in Thozin camp, forgotten and left to fend for themselves.

I peek through some small shelters – some have a mattress set up on cement blocks, others nothing at all – they’re directly on the ground. How can people be still living in those conditions? Two dirty little boys, 2 year-old Davidson, and 6 year-old Sonson, sit on the ground and eat some white rice out of a metal bowl. The mother has nothing else to give them. While Sonson uses his hand to stuff himself,

Little Davidson and brother Sonson (behind him) eat white rice, a poorly balanced meal that's not going to help with his malnutrition.

little Davidson uses a big spoon correctly but looks pitiful and scared. His hair has a reddish tinge – a sign of malnutrition.

On the road, we pass vehicles with Canadians, Americans, Save the Children, and other non-governmental organizations.

Thozin: an older woman crumbles manioc to make cassava flat cakes

2:00 pm: The putrid smell of trash and maybe dead people fills our noses – we’re back in Port-au-Prince. It’s hot and dusty and the traffic is very busy.

The road to the south shows deep cracks caused by the earthquake.

Many colorfully painted buses and tap-taps (pick-up trucks used for public transportation)  bully their way through to arrive faster. I spot one named Barack Obama with a portrait of the American president and the US flag painted on the back of the vehicle.

Barack Obama and the American flag are displayed on the back of a colorfully painted bus.

Obama and his wife Michelle are very popular here.

3:00 pm: I can finally use the internet at a friend’s house. It was so frustrating not to have the internet in Camp Perrin. It finally returned at 11:00 pm last night, too late for me.


Monday, March 01, 2010

I accompany Eliassaint Magloire, an agronomist and ORE’s technical director, to the fields where corn is being planted on ORE’s land.

ORE's plantations: workers sow corn seeds. Corn is one of the staples included in the food kits distributed by ORE.

Smith Neuvieme, an evacuee from Port-au-Prince but of Camp Perrin origin, is one of the men sowing the corn seeds. He tells me he was a primary school teacher in the capital, but he now prefers to work in the fields. His father was an cultivator. He wants to stay in Camp Perrin, learn agronomy and cultivate. “I see what ORE is doing, what Dr Mousson is doing” he explains “and that is such a big help, to make so much food available. The big harvest of corn has helped lots of displaced people so I want to integrate myself and work with cultivators, and grow corn, millet and beans.”

Workers dig holes while others drop corn seeds into the holes.

Smith is referring to the ton of corn ORE made available to the Port-au-Prince victims right after the earthquake. Vehemently he adds “Hunger will be banned!”. It’s so refreshing and encouraging to see young men with such determination and enthusiasm for agriculture.

Workers plant in unison. While some drop seeds in the holes, another covers them with dirt with his foot. Smith Neuvieme is in front with green shirt.

The men are working the field in unison. Two men dig holes in the ground with a stick, while several others follow them dropping two seeds in each hole which is then covered with dirt by another worker using his foot. I notice lots of rocks in the field. Eliassaint tells me this used to be a river bed and rocks come to the surface regularly. In some fields they are picked up, but in this one, workers sow the seeds in the holes among the rocks. Apparently that won’t affect the results.

Beancrops planted by ORE extend to the horizon.

Bright green fields extend to the horizon – they are bean crops already growing. A lot more crops have to be planted by all this year as some 8,660 people displaced by the earthquake have come to Camp Perrin from Port-au-Prince. Many are from the region, who had left years ago to seek a better life in the capital and are now returning to their families. Others are new and are sheltered by friends they followed out of the devastated capital, not knowing where to go after the disaster. And so, it is now the norm to see a family of five in a two-room house accommodating two dozen persons or more. Food is going to be a problem.

Natacha Dossous (displaced from Port-au-Prince) grafts in ORE's tree nursery.

Back at ORE, I see Natacha busy grafting lemon bud woods onto bitter orange wood stock with three other workers in the nursery. She is one of those evacuees who have no link whatsoever with the region, but she enjoys Camp Perrin. “I have fun here and I love the work” she says.

Winnowing corn

In the fruit drying facilities the corn that was ground on Saturday is being winnowed the traditional way and then packaged.

Measuring corn grits in a "marmite", a 1kg tin can.

They’re part of the food kits which will be distributed next week. Several hundred kits are distributed every two weeks. Yet, it’s not enough considering the masses in Port-au-Prince and in other destroyed towns who have yet to receive any aid. Since ORE is committed to aid the families already identified and on their receiving list until at least June, and since they cannot be sure of the amount of funds they will receive, it is difficult for them to accept new demands.

Packaging corn grits for the food kits.

A good way to enlarge the list of recipients would be if contributors would pledge a certain amount for a certain time – that way, ORE could undertake a bigger feeding program with some financial certainty. I take this opportunity to personally call upon our readership to continue being generous as more funds need to be generated to help more people. What we see and hear is really heart-breaking and food is desperately needed.

ORE grows corn and beans but needs to buy the other staples provided in the food kits. Recipients' response has been very complimentary - the food donated by ORE is very good and well balanced. ORE's food kits have now become a model to follow.

ORE buys the food locally to stimulate the economy, however food cost has much increased since the earthquake.

Orphans sheltered by ORE play with small toys brought to them.

Later in the morning I go to the EFACAP center with Mousson. The evacuated children are enrolled in the EFACAP school, however we find a 12-year old girl kept out by the teacher because she did not have a school uniform. Things like that are so frustrating as they don’t make sense considering the situation.

Children have fun with the stuffed animals given to them. They were evacuated from Port-au-Prince with very few belongings, all lost in the rubble of their homes.

A protestant pastor from Port-au-Prince and 30 orphans under his care are also sheltered by ORE at EFACAP and we gather them all in the entrance hall of the center. I distribute small stuffed animals I had brought with me to the younger children who start playing with them right away, placing them on their shoulders, on their heads, laughing and teasing one another.

In Port-au-Prince the pastor was responsible for an orphanage, a print shop, a dispensary and a church. All the buildings having been damaged by the earthquake, he moved to Camp Perrin with the children, while his wife, a nurse, remained behind working with Doctors without Borders. He intends to stay in Camp Perrin and restart same businesses and charity.

ORE’s intent is not to keep the evacuees dependent on aid, but to help them walk on their own two feet once the transition period is over. This is such a big opportunity for Haiti to start anew, to develop the provinces, to reforest the country and to build roads with all this manpower that is currently idle and the enormous amount of funds donated by the international community, providing much needed jobs. Haitians are also very resourceful when it comes to being small entrepreneurs, having had to fight for themselves for centuries. To facilitate the process, ORE is ready to help those evacuees sheltered at EFACAP interested in starting a small business, with their first investment.

Donated clothes received by ORE are organized by size and some chosen for themselves by Santana and Natacha.

In the afternoon, Natacha, Marceline, Santana and Jo-Anne come to help with the piles of used clothes that were shipped to ORE, donations from the American people. While organizing the clothes by sizes and genres, they are allowed to keep a few of their favorites for themselves. Before going back to EFACAP, they want a photo of them together and pose, goofing off, declaring laughing “Don’t we look like African women with our hair breaded? We look African, don’t we?”

When I tell the four women this is my last day in Camp Perrin, they all rush to kiss me good-bye, giving me the nickname of Ti-Ca and asking me to come back soon. It’s so easy to get attached to them.

Santana, Natacha, Marceline and Joanne are goofing off at the end of the day by ORE's nursery. "Don't we look African?" they ask, laughing.

In the evening, a sudden unexpected downpour brings my thoughts back to the refugees under their flimsy shelters. Rains have started early this year. The evacuees who were sheltered in tents on the soccer field in Les Cayes had to be transferred to a church when it became flooded on Saturday.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

The weather is overcast but rain has stopped. Internet still down.

I call the two teachers from the Holy Trinity School who have to leave the Marie Esther’s camp by tonight. They tell me they have found a site at another school where they can stay, but have no tents, just a tarp for ceiling. They’re waiting for someone to help them carry the cement blocks on which they will put their mattresses. I’m hoping to get tents for them via two friends arriving Port-au-Prince next Saturday.

Yvelise and her children. To save them from her crumbling house in Port-au-Prince, she found the courage to throw them out from the second floor to a friend in the street. All were safe.

In the afternoon, Mousson (ORE’s Director) and I go to visit a family of evacuees from Port-au-Prince, originally from Camp Perrin, who have returned to the province and are put up by relatives. Yvelise, a mother of three young children, 6, 4 and 1 years of age, explains how she had to throw her children one by one from the second floor to a friend in the street, when her house started to crumble under her during the earthquake. All were safe.

ORE is sheltering more than 60 evacuees at the EFACAP center. Their gratitude knows no end.

We then go to EFACAP, the school with a training center for teachers, in Mersan, 10 minutes away from Camp Perrin, where 63 evacuees from Port-au-Prince who have no family in the region, are sheltered and fed by ORE. Several women are breading one another’s hair, an occupation that takes several hours. They are delighted by our visit and talk to us of their earthquake experiences, the horrific event they can’t erase from their minds.

Joanne breads Natacha's hair at the EFACAP center where they are sheltered.

Joanne, who has three years of nursing school, reminds Dr Mousson that she would like to get a job at the Camp Perrin hospital while Marceline wants to start a second-hand clothes/shoes business.

A group of men and a group of young boys both play an energetic game of soccer. Soccer is a passion and the national sport in Haiti.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

I’m awakened by the rain, early in the morning. I think of those people in the bed-sheets camps near Leogane, who must be wet and shivering. Their plight breaks my heart. They’re in such need of tents.  How can people be treated that way, less than humans. What are international organizations waiting for? Is it so difficult to bring at least tarpaulins? How can I bring tents? I’m determined to do more fund raisers when I get back to New Mexico and send a call for tents to everyone I know.

Tropical rain hits the iron sheet roof of my lodging. I think with sadness of the thousands who have no shelter and must withstand the harshness of the elements with just bed-sheets and stoicism.

We’re going through a tropical depression. As rain pounds the roof, the tears I repressed these past few days are suddenly surging too – of sadness for all this suffering and of frustration to be so limited in alleviating it. Of anger too, thinking of the millions of dollars raised, telethons and benefit concerts done, not only in the US but throughout the world. So why do the quake victims still have to endure the harshness of the elements under a flimsy cotton sheet so many weeks after the tragedy?

ORE's corn is ground at a local mill in Camp Perrin.

I accompany ORE’s staff to the flour mill. Having corn ground is another step in the food process that benefits small local enterprises such as the mill. We bring seven bags of a hundred pounds. During our visit, several people, among them children, bring small quantities of grains and cereals to be ground for their families.

ORE's workers are bagging the corn just ground at the mill.

It rains all day. The weather is gloomy. We hear the city of Les Cayes, 13 miles away, is flooded – people wade in water up to their knees in their houses. A camp of evacuees set up on the soccer field is also flooded. A vehicule from ORE on their way to the city could not reach it and had to turn around. Another one, coming back from Port-au-Prince has to wait for road works to clear the road blocked by fallen rocks due to the heavy rain. In the meantime we learn a major earthquake of 8.8 has hit Chile and tsunami warnings are given for the whole Pacific region. The Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, who was in Haiti a few days ago, is back to her country and addressing her people. Chile is well prepared for earthquakes and does not request international assistance. They say they can manage for now. In fact Chileans responded to the Haitian earthquake with rescuers and I hear they are building 10,000 wooden houses in Port-au-Prince.

Since I’ve arrived in Camp Perrin, we’ve been without internet connection. That’s why the blog is delayed.

DAY 7 – CAMP PERRIN (South Department)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gaelle, displaced from Port-au-Prince, now works at ORE.

At ORE’s office, I’m greeted by Natacha, the evacuee from Port-au-Prince whom I had met in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday when she showed me her toppled house. She’s happy to be in Camp Perrin and is doing some grafting for ORE in the tree nursery. She was in her third year of agronomy in Leogane when the earthquake hit and therefore has found the perfect place to practice what she learned. I see two other young women, Gaëlle who was going to sign up at a computer school in Petionville and Marjorie who worked in a cyber cafe in Port-au-Prince. Their skills of data processing are now put to use at ORE, giving them the opportunity to earn wages.

Marjorie worked in a cybercafe in Port-au-Prince, now uses her skills in ORE's office.

ORE has started a list of ressources from the displaced and is trying to find work for them according to their skills. Seeds are also provided to those who have returned home to Camp Perrin after the quake and are interested in starting plantations in family plots of land. It is free of charge, to get them started. To give back a meaning to their lives is extremely important and urgent for the victims. After the horrors they have witnessed or gone through and after losing everything, some people are so depressed they are contemplating suicide as a way out.


Thursday, February 25, 2010



ORE's staffer Makil helps unloading food kits and oil from the truck. 119 recipients will receive the goods at this location.


ORE’s truck is coming to deliver food at a religious school, Marie Esther’s. A destroyed building has been cleared and tents and tarps erected on the site to shelter a few families from the neighborhood who lost their homes. Two big school buildings in the back, just one year old, show big cracks crisscrossing each other, so they are not used. 119 families are listed to receive ORE’s food kit – corn, corn flour, rice, dry beans, sugar, tomato paste, oil, and a bunch of fresh leeks. Everything is unloaded from the truck and counted, then people file in a line when called. It is very orderly.

Loading food kits on their heads.

I hear comments that ORE’s food is very good, and much appreciated for the variety of staples given. Many people leave the site, their loads on their heads, saying “Thank you, thank you…” The kit is to last them for two weeks until ORE comes back with a new load.

Two women who were teachers at the destroyed Holy Trinity School and are now sheltered under a tarp at Marie Esther’s, let me know that everyone has to be gone by next Sunday because school is going to resume and school tents will be erected on the site. They have nowhere to go, no tents and are worried. They are two sisters with two young girls, planning on getting a visa to go to Canada where they have a relative, however going to the Dominican Republic to catch a flight to Canada is a big expense and a hardship for them.

Two sisters, teachers at destroyed Holy Trinity School, Yolande and Flore, and their two grand-daughters, will have to relocate by Sunday and have nowhere to go.

In the meantime, they need a place to stay in Port-au-Prince. On Sunday they’ll be out in the street. I promise I’ll try and see what I can do for them. “It’s God who sent you” says Yolande, the older sister. “We count on God and on you” says Flore, the younger sister.

Most families don’t have any other choice than to go back to the rubble of their destroyed homes. ORE will continue distributing food at Marie Esther’s (now on Saturday when there is no school) where people will come to receive their kits.

This destroyed street is where many of the people listed for food at Marie Esther's used to live.

We then go to Petionville and Delmas to deliver more kits to two smaller sites identified by ORE. On Delmas boulevard, dozens and dozens of people stand in line outside the Canadian Embassy, waiting to apply for visas.

11:30 am: we’re on our way to Camp Perrin. In Carrefour, in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, refugees have erected shelters all along the narrow road divider.



We pass by the city of Leogane – the epicenter of the earthquake, the forgotten city in the news, 80% destroyed. The devastation is ubiquitous, rubble is everywhere.


Further along on the national road of the South, next to sugarcane fields, we see camps made of tarpaulins only.

Habitation des Vallons - bed-sheet camp near Leogane

In the locality of Cassagne I notice a camp of small shelters made of bed-sheets, no plastic, no tarps. We stop to see for ourselves. Bed-sheets are spread over frames made of wooden sticks tied together. No ground covers. When rain comes, everybody gets wet and wades in mud. Why aren’t there any decent temporary shelters with all the aid received by Haiti? People are left to themselves. A female coordinator comes to meet us and I interview her. She’s Lalouse Martial, one of seven coordinators helping the evacuees and this is the “Habitation des Vallons” (small valleys’ habitat), a cluster of 300 families that keeps getting bigger by the day.

A cluster of children at bed-sheet camp Habitation des Vallons. 200 of them live in the camp in precarious conditions.

Rows of bed-sheet shacks constitute Habitation des Vallons.

They have received nothing so far – no food, no tarps, no tents. She’s very concerned about the older people, the 200 children and 15 pregant women in the camp. Two big tents provided by Doctors without Borders are used for children activities.

In spite of everything, children keep smiling.

The camp has received many promises, but still nothing has been done for the victims. I’m outraged that six weeks after the earthquake people have to live in such conditions.

Grand-Goave… Ti-Goave… We pass these towns also hit by the earthquake and rarely mentioned by the press.

Another bed-sheet camp on the other side of the road, after Leogane.

When we drive through Aquin, I’m struck by the fact that houses are intact. After seeing so much destruction, so many homes destroyed one after the other, it feels almost strange to see normalcy, children in school uniforms walking home, individual tombs erected on people’s land. A wooden coffin standing by the side of the road makes our driver comment that he used to be scared of seeing them but now he’s no longer afraid of dead people – he’s seen too many in Port-au-Prince. Death has lost its mystery and scariness for him. He remarks that even the tradition of mourning has been forgotten in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake as people are too busy trying to escape or to survive. And indeed when we pass a country church conducting a funeral with mourners dressed in black, all of us are very surprised for a few seconds by the scene until we realize that’s the way it should be.

Camp Perrin

5:30 pm: The bucolic landscape of Camp Perrin greets us, painted with golden hues by the afternoon light. Cows and sheep grazing in the green fields, coconut trees silhouetted against the sky, white egrets seeking insects. It’s another world.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No tremors during the night. Today I walk through my former neighborhood – Pacot, Turgeau. Side streets completely destroyed.

The Twins Market in Turgeau neighborhood collapsed.

The Twins supermarket I used to go to has collapsed. Schools St John the Evangelist, Canado, churches like St Louis King of France – already gone, the areas cleared by bulldozers. Lots of dust, people clearing out metal rods from the concrete. I peek through an entrance filled with rubble “- This is what’s left of my house” says a man on top, salvaging whatever he can. His car is destroyed by concrete blocks.

The Sacred Heart Church.

I walk past the Church of the Sacred Heart. Jesus on the cross is the only thing still standing outside the destroyed church.

As I try to cross the street, waiting for a break in the traffic, a young man with rolled canvasses approaches me. He’s a painter and wants to sell his art. When I tell him I’m not interested and have no money, he insists on showing me his paintings. “It’s free” he says “it does not cost anything to look”. He unrolls his big canvasses in the midst of klaxons and car exhaust fumes. “Only $50”. Nice work – I compliment him and wish him luck. His name is Metellus Joel. He’s not bitter that I’m not buying, on the contrary – “thank you” he says, sincerely, “thank you for looking at my work”, and rolling back his canvasses, off he goes.

The damaged military barracks

By the damaged military barracks, I pass a young man who stops me to talk. He’s a 26 year-old musician and used to play at funerals. He’s looking for work. It’s kind of ironic considering the number of dead from the earthquake that he’s out of work, but those who are now buried went without funerals. Anonymous mass graves don’t call for music. Evens, that’s his name, explains he was home when the earthquake happened. All he could do was to fall to his knees and pray. He was saved. He says Jesus changed everything in Haiti on January 12th and he’s now hopeful for a new development of Haiti.

People are queuing to be listed to have rubble cleared from their home sites.

I reach the Champs de Mars, the parks and main square in front of the National Palace, site of many a political demonstration I covered for Reuters in the 90’s.

Tent city on the Champs de Mars.

Every inch has been filled with tents and small shacks. Rows and rows of port-a-potties border the park. A big hose going from one of them to a suction pump truck clears the waste. A couple hundred people stand in line nearby, holding their noses. They are queuing to register with a government agency to have their destroyed homes cleared up.

Officials at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.

At the collapsed National Palace, the Haitian flag is flying high. Within the precincts, government dignitaries are being photographed by the press while music is resounding. I watch through the outer green fence while small vendors who have set up shop right there could not care less about what’s going on at the palace – they’re busy trying to make a sale.

From his pedestal, Toussaint Louverture, one of the Haitian independence heroes, overlooks a sea of tarpaulins and tents, red, yellow, blue, gray. I go to the area where stood the statue of the Unknown Escaped Slave. I have a hard time finding it and have to ask my way to it – it’s surrounded by small shacks, firmly erected on the ground with cement and heavy-duty nails.

Building a new shack.

The place has already turned into a mini slum. Two young men are setting up a new shack with a wooden structure, nailing irregular pieces of plywood to it.

Young boys play dominoes in the shack city by the Unknown Escaped Slave statue.

Children play dominoes on a piece of plywood on their lap.

Sifina and her sister Dodo are among those who are forgotten in food distribution because they can't fight for it. They managed to have a shelter erected in the Unknown Escaped Slave square.

A woman invites me into her shack. She introduces me to her 59-year old sister who looks much older (she isn’t sure of her age). They tell me they’re not into fighting for food, so they receive none. “We are Christian” says Sifina, “if someone gives us, we say thank you, but we can’t stand in line and fight.” Their house was burned down as well as their little commerce of cosmetics and coffee. They have nothing left.

Dirty soapy water and trash run along the Champs de Mars street curbs. Half-naked men, bare-breasted women and naked little kids wash at the water outlet, having had to shed all privacy. It’s survival mode.

Rodenson (8 yr) had his right foot amputated and sleeps in this tap-tap truck with his grand-mother (in back), his little sister and his parents. Sides are open and not protected against rain.

A little further in the street, I notice a small boy with an amputated foot. When he sees me, he rushes to hide behind cars, pretty fast on his crutches. I shout “Wait, I want to talk to you!” Other adults make him come out. He’s 8 years old and very shy or seems embarrassed. (In Haiti, a handicapped – kokobe as they call it – is viewed as a degenerate and is ignored). His uncle tells me his foot was amputated at the Israeli hospital. They take me to where they “live” – it’s in the bed of a tap-tap with a roof top and open sides (a tap-tap is a pick-up truck transformed for public transportation with two side benches). Five people sleep there at night, among them the grand-mother, both parents, the boy and his little sister. It’s unbelievable… so sad. I fight the tears I feel coming. We talk, exchange names and phone numbers (already I know I’ll do all I can to get them out of there). I try to reassure the little boy “don’t worry, life is going to get better” – he manages a smile and pulls me in and says softly “My name is Rodenson” so that I don’t forget.

Carl Franzy plays cards with a friend in the camp erected in the Unknown Escaped Slave square.

I continue, with a heavy heart, along the makeshift homes lining the square. Two children play cards on a chair and smile when I talk to them. There is no schooling, so they play all day. They giggle at the attention I give them. When I leave, 8-year old Carl Franzy runs after me. “What’s the matter?” I ask. Softly, he replies “I want to go to school.” It’s heart-wrenching. Another little boy who saw me taking names asks  “And me, you don’t want to take my name?” So I write his name down, to appease him.

Only this mural is left of the Saint Trinity Church.

I go down Rue Pavée. The Holy Trinity Church is down. Of all the beautiful primitive murals that decorated the inside of the church, painted by famous Haitian painters now deceased, only two are left.  Everything else has crumbled.

Across the street, seated on a small chair in the middle of the sidewalk, a grandmother is giving her 2-month old grandson a milk bottle. She is dressed with care, wears a hat and the baby rests on an immaculate white pillow on her lap.

Seated on a small stool in Rue Pavée, Grandma Sainte Rose feeds her 2-month old grandson, while another grandchild looks at her. They have no tent and use a tarp for shelter in a courtyard.

She stands out amidst the ubiquitous rubble in the almost deserted street. She offers me a small stool to sit on. A few people walk by, looking at us. Her name is Sainte Rose and she is from Anse d’Hainault, at the tip of the southern peninsula. I happen to have spent  time in that small town in the 80’s, as the guest of a Catholic priest whom she also knew. Nowadays, to reach Anse d’Hainault, one has to take a boat from Tiburon, the road being so bad, so she does not want to go back there. She shows me where she stays – in a courtyard, under a tarp, in the open, with the baby and her daughter, the baby’s mother. Like thousands of others, they need a tent.

Finally my last stop of the day is the National Cathedral. Half of the front facade is still standing. I walk towards what was the inside, carefully climbing on the rubble between broken columns. I recall having photographed Pope John Paul II inside this huge cathedral during his trip to Haiti in 1983.

The destruction of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral.

The afternoon sun shines through the stained glass window left on the facade. I go and sit for a while on a park bench in front of the church. Nearby, I hear a soft voice singing “Oh Jesus, listen to my prayer…”.

Rodenson on his crutches. His right foot was crushed when his house fell on him and was amputated by Israeli doctors. He also suffered big cuts on his head.

All evening I have in my head the images of those young children from the Champs de Mars tent city, so vulnerable and yet so resilient.

I’m scheduled to go to Camp Perrin tomorrow and stay with ORE for a few days. I look forward to being in the province and breathing fresh air.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1:25 am: I’m shaken out of my dreams and out of bed by a strong shock. I run out of my room and grope in the dark, trying to find the exit of a house I don’t know. I bump into my friend in the corridor. “Are you OK?” she asks. Yes, but I realize my whole body is shaking. Wow, that was a strong one and longer one than yesterday! All the dogs in the city are barking. After a while we go back to bed. I listen to the noise of roosters and crickets and other insects alive in the night. The dogs quiet down.

1:45 am: Another big shake sends me out of my bed again. Children in the neighborhood are screaming, dogs are barking. It’s as if an invisible King Kong is shaking us, having fun with us. What a strange sensation to feel your bed shaking, as if someone is grabbing you. Not pleasant at all! Can’t go back to sleep for a long time.

Today, a few persons sheltered by ORE in Camp Perrin are coming to the capital to show me where they lived before the earthquake and their destroyed houses. I’ll spend the day with them and they will return to Camp Perrin afterward.

Excited children at Ti-Savann camp, one playing with a home-made kite.

10:00 am: We first go to an area called Ti-Savann built on the hillsides to visit Frisnel’s and Makil’s damaged houses. There are many shacks made of tarpaulins, latrines built with tarps with the word Canada on them. There are mothers nursing their newborns – beautiful little babies unaware of the hardship suffered by everyone there. And lots of little kids, 5 to 7 years old, one playing with a home-made kite.

When I ask the children if they felt the after-shocks during the night, they say "Yes, two of them". And what did you do? "We screamed Jesus! Jesus!" They laugh.

I ask them if they felt the aftershocks during the night – yes, 2 of them! “And what did you do?” – “We screamed Jesus! Jesus!”. They laugh. At another time I hear Makil tell someone “It’s impossible to sleep at all – so we spend the whole night praying”.

Two young guys from ASSOGACF (Organizers Association of Carrefour-Feuilles) are doing an evaluation on latrines, food and drinkable water for this camp.

The Ti-Savann camp with shacks made of iron sheets and tarps.

We talk and I tell them how ORE had come once to distribute food but had to stop because of the aggressiveness of some people during the distribution. Now this camp doesn’t receive food. The coordinator says they can organize it in such a way that this does not happen. They’re very interested in pursuing the matter with ORE.

A view of the devastation in the Ti-Savann area.

Further along, some young people are setting up a large tent. I learn it’s a tent that will be used to do activities with the children of the camp, starting Saturday. I’m welcome to come back and take photos, they say.

Going to the bank to change money, I notice a line of people waiting outside. I’m told they let in only as many people as there are cashiers at one time, so that if there’s a shock, there won’t be fifty people panicking trying to get out. Everything is done now with earthquakes in mind – not parking a car near a wall because it could fall down on it, walking in the middle of a street and not near houses in case they topple, and practically everyone sleeps outside, in a tent if they have one or on a mattress.

Destruction in the Canapé Vert neighborhood, on the road to Villa Rosa.

In Canapé Vert, I go and see where I used to live when I was based in Port-au-Prince – Villa Rosa, built on top of a hill and overlooking the bay. It had been the house of an American ambassador in the 40’s. For eight years I rented the ground floor of this beautiful three-floor house. In the past ten years it became the presidential residence and I heard it had been toppled by the earthquake. The curved road leading to the house is bordered by small Coleman tents and big houses completely destroyed. At the gate I meet Pressoir and his wife who were the guardians when I lived there. They are still there, now sleeping in a tent outdoors as their small house has been damaged. They lost their ten year-old son. They’re surprised and happy to see me – it’s been over ten years.

Destruction in Canapé Vert neighborhood

I ring the bell and a guard goes and fetch the responsible person to see if they will let me in. I happen to know the person so there is no problem. Upon entering the compound I can’t believe my eyes – Villa Rosa is down. The ground floor terrace where I spent many enjoyable moments is covered by the first floor disappearing under the second floor.

2:00 pm: in the Nazon neighborhood, James Amaray and his wife Joanne Joseph (she’s one of ORE’s evacuees) show me their damaged house.

James Amaray and his wife Joanne Joseph (both ORE's evacuees) show me their damaged house.

He and I walk through it, but she’s afraid and won’t follow us. She barely escaped that day. Many houses around theirs are completely down. Everywhere we go there’s devastation. Natacha Dossous who was studying agronomy in Leogane (the earthquake epicenter) had a big home in Canape Vert – it’s completely pancaked.

Natacha Dossous, an evacuee sheltered by ORE in Camp-Perrin, views the destruction of her house in Canapé Vert.

Marceline Joseph, a secretary who lived in Delmas 30 also lost her house. She takes us to the tarpaulin home-made shelter nearby where friends and family who remained in Port-au-Prince now live. A handful of men are watching a soccer game on television – a small TV set up on buckets and powered by a generator. It takes their minds away for a couple of hours.

A handful of men are watching a soccer game on television – a small TV set up on buckets and powered by a generator. It takes their minds away for a couple of hours

A few women and children rest on mattresses. Blue tarps provide flimsy walls and ceiling. It’s hot and stuffy inside, but people are friendly. There is a cute kitten with them and a Dutch Shepherd puppy whose owner is very proud of him. A precocious little 4-year old girl named Berline tells me she does not like the shocks and cries and screams when they happen. I can’t help thinking how well people react to the consequences of this earthquake. Life was already a hardship in Haiti, so that may help.

Marceline and Rosemary Dossous, who has a daughter sheltered by ORE in Camp Perrin take me to their toppled houses.

Then Marceline and Rosemary Dossous who has a daughter sheltered by ORE in Camp Perrin and is planning to join her soon, take me through the destroyed neighborhood to their toppled houses. We walk on rubble, climb small broken walls to get through, follow the narrow corridors between houses… Rosemary explains with much gestures how the earth shook. I take the smell of cadavers still entombed under the rubble. There are 4 dead people here, 5 there, she says – families who did not have time to escape. A lot of bodies were burned further down the street.

I ask Natacha and Marceline how they ended up in Camp Perrin. They explain that a few days after the quake, people started to evacuate Port-au-Prince. They did not want to leave but when they were almost the only ones left of their neighborhood, they took a bus going to Les Cayes, not knowing anyone there. There they heard of a truck taking people to Camp Perrin where ORE was offering shelter and food, so they went. They are now living in Mersan, sheltered at EFACAP by OREworld. Other relatives may follow.

9:00 pm: phone lines are still unreliable. Impossible to call some friends nearby. Songs from religious groups rise up from below. This is what keep Haitians going – their strong faith and resilience. We hope there won’t be tremors during the night.


Monday, February 22, 2010

4:35 am: my shaking bed awakens me. I hear windows vibrating. 2-3 seconds of a strong tremor. I feel like I’m on top of a live being. It makes us realize, if we have forgotten, that this is a living planet. Could it be revolting? I would not be surprised, the way we treat it. Still, I’m not rushing out. What does it take to understand that all could be falling down? Friends tell me that they had these tremors every ten or fifteen minutes for days after the earthquake – a very stressful time.

I hear later it was a 4.7 or 5.0 aftershock lasting 3 seconds. Everyone I meet talks about it, as this is a stronger one than in the past few days. There was another one around 10:00 am.

I go to ORE’s office in Port-au-Prince in the morning and take photos of its destruction. Makil, ORE’s guard and assistant, shows me around.

Makil surveys damage at the ORE office in Port-au-Prince. Despite the damage, it has not adversely affected ORE's ability to operate efficiently in Port-au-Prince. The main office and facilities in Camp Perrin were unaffected.

The ceiling is untouched, but the walls have crashed down (photos). A 3-floored tall house still in construction on the left side was completely destroyed and the house on the right was flattened, killing an older lady who was napping. My former house helper, Ismane, meets me at this address which I gave her as our meeting point. When I go inside the destroyed office to take photos, she’s afraid to come in and have a look. We talk outside.

Another view of ORE's damaged office in Port-au-Prince

I brought two dome tents for her and her family and I do a demonstration on how to set it up. She lives in a slum and her house being damaged, they sleep outside. She is very grateful for the tents and thanks me for remembering her. A neighbor with a sad face sits idly in his SUV. Ismane asks Makil why the sad face. Makil points to a house nearby, destroyed by the quake and explains the man lost his house. “Did he lose any relatives?” Ismane asks. No, just his house. “Well then, he should be thanking God” she continues in a matter-of-fact way. She is one of those resilient and faithful Haitians for whom life is more important than material belongings.

Ismane and her family (photo taken in Saut d'Eau)

I haven’t had much time yet to see the whole devastation and take photos as I’ve been going in Evelyn’s car, each of us doing our own errands, calling and visiting friends and colleagues. Difficult to take photos from the car but I identify places I want to go back to, on foot, to talk to people – lots of tent cities where life seems to go on with small commerce, artisans, children jumping rope. Haitians adapt very fast to any situation. In Haiti, temporary soon becomes permanent and that is worrisome if we don’t want Port-au-Prince to turn into a giant slum. Moving people out for reconstruction of the capital will be extremely difficult, unless planning is done quickly to provide better basic housing in identified areas.

We stop at the Villa Creole hotel to use the internet. The kitchen and the dining area were destroyed.

The destroyed kitchen and dining area at Villa Creole hotel

Reconstruction will start next month, meanwhile they are still open for business after engineers certified the rest of the hotel is safe, and they have a few clients.

At a supermarket that was untouched by the earthquake, I talk to a clerk bagging my purchases.
“What’s going to happen if there’s another earthquake while you’re working, you will run outside?” I ask him.
“- If we have time” he says laughing.  A reminder that many buildings pancaked within seconds of the earthquake, crushing and killing people instantly.
“- You don’t mind working inside a building?” I continue.
“-  I need the work so I resign myself.” he replies with a sigh.
“- Did the management tell you what to do in case of earthquake?”
“- No, nothing.” he says, handing me my bag.

One of the many fruit and vegetables street vendors.

The fact that ORE buys food locally is viewed very favorably by some business people I know. When we start talking about international food aid, there is a lot of frustration about what is donated and how. But they get very enthusiastic when they learn of ORE’s efforts to stimulate the economy by buying from farmers and country markets. This is a modus operandi that should be developed country-wide, they say.

9:00 pm: I receive a call from a former student in Saut d’Eau in the Center Department. He says there were houses damaged by the earthquake and his house is one of them and he asks me for help. He is one of the first students enrolled in the school I helped build there in 1989. The school was not damaged fortunately. The press did not report much outside of Port-au-Prince so it’s hard to know the extent of all damages throughout the country.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Miami airport – 5:15 am: The hotel shuttle drops me at the especially indicated American Airlines-Port-au-Prince entrance. Never seen that before. A bunch of talkative Texans in the van are also going to Haiti, but they’re flying Air France and will be dropped at another entrance. Looking at the departure board, there are three airlines flying back to Port-au-Prince within two hours of each other. Commercial flights have resumed.

Arriving at the gate, I look around where dozens Haitians are already waiting to board the flight for Port-au-Prince. Anyone I know? Someone catches my eye at the same time and says “Carole?”. I recognize a colleague, someone I haven’t seen in almost twenty years! Now living abroad she is returning to her home country for the first time since the earthquake. We talk about old times, Pestel – a small port on the southern coast – and its Sea Festival organized by Shell, the company she worked for. Those were the days. What future for Haiti? Should the capital be moved? Is Brasilia an example to be followed? Questions that remain debates for now. At the gate several foreigners await boarding time.

Another thing I haven’t seen before: Haitians and foreigners alike carry small dome tents and rolled foam or inflatable mattresses on board.  “Don’t leave home without it!” – the old Barbancourt Rum slogan comes to mind, this time applied to outdoors camping equipment for a country shattered by a devastating earthquake and stressed by dozens aftershocks.

In-flight – 8:30 am: As we fly over the bay of Port-au-Prince on our final approach, everyone is glued to the windows. A passenger points to a white speck against the blue Antillean Sea – the hospital ship USS Comfort, a godsend for hundreds of wounded. It’s so hazy, it’s hard to tell what happened five weeks ago to the capital flanked by Morne L’hopital, a mountain turned slums by thousands of tiny shacks hanging onto the mountain sides.

Port-au-Prince airport – 8:35 am: I notice some cracks on the Toussaint Louverture International Airport walls. I prepare to lift my heavy roll-aboard suitcase to come down the stairs from the plane to the tarmac as is usual for Port-au-Prince. To my surprise, a jet bridge awaits us and takes us to a built-in airport glass corridor. Wow, this is progress!  When we get to the terminal, the local Caribbean music band, a feature at the airport, still greets us with lively tunes. Efforts have been made to make us feel welcome and return things to normal. But the terminal is not yet fit to accommodate passengers so we’re taken by a small bus to a big hangar east of the airport. The bus doors are a little slow to open, very slow to open –  staff and passengers alike are very calm and patient with it – open, open not, open … Finally we get off. Immigration goes smoothly.

In the baggage area, luggage is unloaded from the containers and brought by hand one by one by airport porters. There are no conveyor belts. Going through customs is equally smooth. About to exit the airport, I spot the friend who came to pick me up waving at me. The exit area is gated and guarded so there’s no rush of eager porters competing for your luggage – a nightmarish prospect a few years back. Again everything goes smoothly with two porters handling my cart loaded with four suitcases all the way to the parked car.

Petionville – Port-au-Prince

First sight on the road from the airport

9:30 am: my first ride via route de Freres to Petionville where we’re going to meet friends. 80 F, humid and slightly overcast. Today being Sunday there is less traffic on the road, but still it’s busy. Right by the road side, lines and lines of tents and tarpaulin shacks erected on every inch of space. Lots of vegetable/fruit vendors selling their goods directly on the sidewalk, trash piling up – nothing unusual there. And then I see my first toppled buildings – totally pancaked, unbelievable. Thick walls in pieces, concrete blasted all over. Piles and piles of rubble where buildings once stood. Things have started to get cleaned up, so I don’t see the horrific scenes of the first few days after the quake.  I’m told this area is not the worse – that, I’ll see in the next few days when I go to downtown Port-au-Prince. Two men hammer at a window opening to salvage iron works.

In the afternoon I go with a friend of mine, Evelyn, to the Hospital of the Haitian Community in Freres. There we meet an American (probably in his late 30’s) from Tempe, AZ, Paul Sebring. He’s an attendant making sure to always provide the surgical staff with what they need. He agrees to show us around after getting clearance from his supervisor – for the ORE group he explains. He shows us the triage area where new patients are brought in – not any today – the orthopedic area and the maternity. Lots of babies have been born in the last days but they’re all gone. Sebring explains there is a Swedish team of 2 nurses and 1 anesthesiologist who have an ambulance, and the hospital has come to rely heavily on them as they can be there in 20 mn, being very mobile, and take injured and seriously wounded people to where they can be treated better, such as the USS Comfort.

I inquire about amputees. He’s seen lots of them – arms, legs, hands gone, of patients of all ages. The hospital has a plastic surgeon that does skin grafts to help amputees heal better, with less complication from infection. Doctors see patients every day to change their dressings. Prosthetic units are the next step to get set up. Sebring has been at the hospital for 13 days and will be there another 5 days. He came as a volunteer, on his own, because he wanted to help. I ask him what the hospital is in need of. He says they’re running low on liquid Tylenol for children – that’s what’s needed most right now, in pediatric care.

9:00 pm:  Evelyn assured me her house is safe and will withstand any shock. She had it checked out by an engineer. So I’ll forgo the tent tonight. Way on the horizon we can see the yellow lights of the USS Comfort surrounded by darkness, out in the bay. I hear voodoo songs in the night – coming from down below.. Sounds like a band is going around, chanting.

9:45 pm: rain has started falling. The songs have stopped. Rain is pouring down. I think of the thousands of people squatting the streets of Port-au-Prince with flimsy tents  or just sheets over their heads. Someone told Evelyn, when this happens they can’t sleep as they get soaked when lying down. This is another night in struggling Haiti. Viej Mirak (Virgin of Miracles), where are you?


Saturday February 20, 2010
Dallas airport – 3:00 pm – three hours to kill

Leaving Albuquerque NM today on my way to Haiti. From out West it’s going to take me two days to get there with an overnight in Miami. In and out of Haiti – I may have done this hundreds times. But this time, it will be different. I was in Haiti last in Sep/Oct 2009 when I participated in a caving expedition that left us hopeful for the tourism potential of Haiti’s magnificent underground treasures (talking caves here, not actual treasures!) and the future of a new sport for Haiti – speleology or caving. Things seemed to finally get better for Haiti, there was like a renewal in the air – and we felt it would not be too long before tourists got attracted again to the island’s unique and powerful culture and beauty. Everything changed January 12th – the day the unimaginable happened.

That day, Sean Finnigan (one of ORE’s founders) called me from St Marteen in early afternoon and we talked “shop” – cameras, photography, what do you use, how do you do that? etc… Two hours later I receive an email from him: Earthquake in Haiti! What??? Quick, TV’s on, the news – it’s bad… very bad… worse than thought… the worst ever. Other email: Mousson is OK, Camp Perrin not affected or very little  (Mousson Pierre is ORE’s  director). Then the anxious calls to friends… lines are dead. Who survived, who did not, who’s missing… for days we await, with hope in our hearts. It feels bad to be so far away.

I recall having felt some light tremors during my two decades in Haiti, but it was more of an exciting thing to have experienced than anything else: the “Did you feel it? Oh no, I slept through it…” sort of thing. I was always amazed at how the Sans Souci Palace of King Christophe has been toppled by an earthquake in 1842 – an earthquake in Haiti? I thought the island was only prone to the devastation of hurricanes. I admit to my ignorance there.

More than a month has passed and the problems Haiti will be facing for decades defy imagination. Every time you think you have made the rounds of what has to be addressed, more problems surface. Deye monn, gen monn – Beyond mountains, more mountains – says a Haitian proverb. One difficult situation that comes to mind and that Haiti is not prepared to deal with is that of the thousands of amputees. When I think of the babies and children who are now amputated, it breaks my heart. I’ve often thought of what misery it would be for me not to have legs to travel or hands to hold a camera and photograph. There is so much that will need to be done, so much suffering to be alleviated. Financial limitations are so frustrating when you want to help and are not able to do more than you can do. Sometimes I think I’d like to be a millionaire to help out – but then I would not be a millionaire for long!

I’m writing down all that goes through my mind, waiting for my connecting flight. Since January 12th, the only thing that’s been on my mind has been Haiti. Although some of us have not been victims of this calamity, our lives were forever changed also by this event. The rest of our lives has to be dedicated to Haiti, to helping out. Haiti needs all its children and children of the heart are just as needed as blood children. My family in France was not keen at all at my going to Haiti right now and tried to find all kinds of reasons for my postponing the trip, but in the end, before I left, my mother called me to say : “After all this time you have spent in Haiti and what you’ve done there, I understand that you need to be there now.”


Midnight: I’m finally in my hotel room . At 5 am the shuttle will take me to the airport for the final leg of my journey: Haiti.