Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chasm - Port-au-Prince



We woke up at Jimani again and took a truck along the water into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. The drive only lasted about an hour or two on a tiny road that reminded me of India, where the center line is like a sort of humorous consideration more than a rule. We met up with woman named Rebecca Maesato at the airport and split from the helicopter fellows to accompany her. We loaded mattresses, boxes of crackers and tarps into a pickup until the mound reached a foot or two above the cab roof. Up until this point I hadn't gotten into the streets of Port-au-Prince much. Most of what we were doing was from the air, quick drops in and out. I was seeing the city and the people for the first time. I was perched on the mound and it felt nice to let the wind whip at and around me, a feeling short lived as the mounds of rubble and shambles began and never ended. We paid a quick visit to a small clinic that was trucking in quake victims from far away rural areas where medical care was non existent. A small boy with severe burns was loaded onto a cold metal table and examined. I thought about how each night since the earthquake. It had been almost a week and a half and this was probably the first medical attention he'd seen. We took the goods to a tent city downtown where some of Rebecca's street kids were living. Michla, Jimmy-Pierre, Besno, Patrick and Junior. All kids who Rebecca has been checking up on for years. She often hires them for fixer jobs on her frequent trips to assist and fund raise for orphanages and other non-profit services in Haiti.

The chasm between ourselves and another's reality can be dramatically shortened when either age, interest or some other unification is present. Years earlier I climbed into the back of a vehicle that had just been involved in a fatal car accident and saw the crumpled legs of the driver pressed against the dash. He was wearing skateboarding shoes and at that moment I realized how this could have been me. With these 5 Haitian young men, who were the same age as myself; the reality of what had really happened to the country started to permeate through the veil of the surreal misconception that it was all just some sort of movie happening in front of me. We took the mattresses and tarps through the streets to a giant square where one of hundreds of tent cities had surfaced following the earthquake. The boys hand out handfuls of crackers to children at the tent camp and we drive and drive through the city. Jimmy-Pierre, at 19 and single, (stripes) is caring for 7 now orphaned children in his tent. The following is taken from a short column type essay for the paper in a follow up story in February.

"With a surgical mask around his neck, Michla doesn't look away as we drive through, up, over and around the most devastated neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.
The group anxiously awaits Rebecca's several yearly visits and affectionately call her "Mom." They make necklaces out of telephone wire, and she sells them in the U.S. for them, bringing the proceeds and other supplies on her following visit. Michla watches over her during her visits and bashfully smiles when she hugs him. The 22-year-old sighs heavily and rolls the sound into something I will never forget. "There is no more Haiti," Michla states, almost as if it were meant only for him to hear. We're seated in the back of the truck, and I think of the injured pride he has for his city. "Street kids" is the term used instead of orphan, because you might know your parents but haven't had much to do with them. The small group of Michla and friends was working as our security and translators for the day. It had been two weeks since the earthquake, but those who claim the streets as home are still mourning.

We pass an old lady sitting on a street corner with her knees to her chin and her face buried. Instinctually, a friend of Michla's who is riding with us dives in his pocket and throws three coins from the truck to the curb. She struggles to rise as two passers-by pick the money up and deliver it to her. This beautiful episode of compassion shrinks and disappears as we continue driving through the broken city.

The unrelenting damage started to feel like a giant movie, playing only for me. It didn't even seem real and I could not wrap my head around what it would feel like if this was my city. Michla and the other street kids were probably seeing most of the damage for the first time, as three-hour tours through the city aren't a regular occurrence. Breaking me from my confused gaze, another friend asks me with a thick Creole accent, "Will the U.S. come and take over here, rebuild everything?" I tell him I don't know. I start to realize that Michla and his friends are witnessing the task of their generation slide in and out of view with every pile of rubble we pass. Inescapably, this earthquake and what they do next will define them one way or another. Michla is for me a symbol of Haiti for who he is now, and who he will become as his generation emerges as the problem solvers, the innovators and the compassionate caretakers who reclaim Haiti."

We end up sleeping indoors for the first time that night. We slept on mattresses on the floor of some American missionaries who ran the clinic we had visited earlier in the day. I sent my photos out, had a chat with some of the other randoms staying at the home and then fell asleep. I only woke up twice during the night. Once when a small aftershock made my heart jiggle, and again when the Bull Mastiff owned by the missionaries was licking my sideburns while I slept.

7 comments:

Meg said...

I like these pictures, mostly because they remind me that Haiti hasn't disappeared just because it's not in the news as often. Thanks!

-Meg

406IraidaMathew0 said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical.........................................

the.kim.peterson said...

These pictures are the closest I've been to understanding what's gone down in Haiti. Thank you sir. I think maybe you're more amazing everyday my friend.

Trevor said...

Really Great Shots.

Little Lott said...

I love these group of pics... they show the emotion and feelins that are there. I love it!! Well not what happened there but that you could catch and document it.. People need to know and SEE.

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