Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Day Stretched / Port-au-Prince



Woke up at the baseball diamond in Jimani with the sun. Dan, one from the Utah group and the Dominican security boss decided to wrestle for a small cash prize. Cause that is what people do for breakfast I guess.
Quickly picking up camp we stopped by an orphanage then a hospital and picked up a doctor who wanted to show Jeremy (one of the Utah guys who funded the helos and aid) a small fishing village near the border of the DR and Haiti.
We met everyone and walked around the tiny village, met with a mixture of mistrusting glares and soft brief smiles. We returned about an hour later with bags of beans and the craziness began. One of the problems with food drops is that the strongest and fastest get the most, sometimes bulk of what is dropped. Dan Gardner, who is a DJ and ultimate fighter back in Utah, and Mike Fleming who is from Mesa, Arizona seemed to find their calling in Haiti on these drops. Holding a giant bag of beans Dan would be immediately swarmed by Haitians carrying brightly colored plastic buckets. I secretly think he like the challenge of getting beans into the buckets belonging to women, older folks and kids. For the most part it was just a chaotic churn of bodies as I stood in the center with him. Emotions would reach an apex and a man grabbed a small thin sword from his hip and it got a little dicey so Dan would spin his way around like the bag was a defensive rebound and reposition himself a few yards away and start over again. This lasted for about 30 minutes. I would shoot from inside, then get pushed out to the fringe to see kids smiling as they picked up every bean from the dirt, clutching their shirt bottoms that were sagging with dusty black beans, then head back in.
The rest of the day followed this and similar techniques. After awhile they would find a spot, jump out, slice the bags open and make a trail of beans so that no one could just grab the bag. They repeated this over and over, in a dusty river bottom, on a pier into the bay and at a tent camp in the city.
As exciting as this was, you start to wonder...is this really making a difference? What is a handful of beans delivered from white people from the sky really going to do? The more time I spent with them I realized that the group was under no illusions that their aid was a systemic fix to the food shortages. One of them even said "it's just getting food to peoples mouths." Often the chopper couldn't even carry enough, the faces of those late to the scene who would come to the side of the chopper while the beans and cans were descended upon stick in my mind. More than smiles for what they had brought were hands outstretched with confused looks as if to say, "Where's the rest?"
CNN ended up picking up the stills and video I shot and interviewed the guys, here is there piece on The Situation Room.



We flew out to another orphanage towards the end of the day and were showed around, beautiful kids everywhere in this country. We made our way back to the airport, and tried to hitch a ride in one of the Robinson 44 helicopters back to the DR with a new pilot and nearly crashed a few seconds after taking off. It was one of those, "wow the scariest moment of my life just got replaced with the last 20 seconds." Shortly after taking off we started spinning in the small doorless helicopter as the low rpm horn squawked. I looked out to see how high we were and saw a group of about 40+ marines watching us starting to jog towards where it looked like we were going to go down, which was on a large pile of pallettes being stacked by a big green army back hoe tractor. Somehow the pilot got us to stop spinning and set us down pretty hard, I felt like my heart fell through the floor into the ground.
We walked across the field back to the group, (decided to get a different ride) and one of the volunteers named Trevor came running over to hug me and said he thought we were gone. It turned into one of those situations were after the fact, when people tell you how freaked they were watching you, (people who know helicopters) it started to make that knot in your stomach grow. We made it back to the baseball diamond after picking up two mothers and their babies who were hurt and delivering them to the hospital in Jimani.
One of the doctors let me in to transmit and for the first time I watched my photos transmit like the wind back to Utah and I fell asleep for a few minutes on the couch near where the doctors were staying. The capacity of a day's experiences were slightly stretched.

8 comments:

Fly on the Wall said...

more goodness! thanks for sharing.

Djamila Grossman said...

situation room...ha! awesome ;)

The Real Jim Heywood said...

Well done. Thanks.

Ariyanti said...

I like your pic! ^^

上宜俊宇芳心 said...

金銀愈加磨鍊,愈加光亮,人生愈加考驗,生命愈加光輝。......................................................

photo said...

very nice!

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Dustin Hawkes said...

Hey Mike, what program do you use to create the flash slideshow in? Thanks, Dustin Hawkes