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General News    H4'ed 5/12/10

Fear, Confusion, and Misery in Haiti Four Months Post Earthquake

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Mac disappeared into the bowels of the tent city, and the writer found herself alone as the thought flickered, "Should I be afraid?" " Is it foolhardy to be in this situation?" The answer was no. These people welcomed anyone who was interested in them and what they were experiencing. I don't know if it is true, but residents told us that no journalist had come into the tents at night and in the rain. The questions and affirmations flowed. "Why is Preval doing nothing?" "We need tents that don't let the water in." "My baby is sick, do you know what is wrong with her?" "My breasts can't make milk, can you find some baby food?" "Look at where my children are sleeping. They are cold at night and in the day it is too hot to stay in here." What will happen to us?" "Do you know Mrs. Obama?"

All the writer knew about Mrs. Obama was that her helicopter had landed on the grounds of the Presidential Palace (White House) a few weeks earlier and that it was likely her motorcade drove past this place, because every car that leaves the ruined government buildings must pass beneath the imposing statue of Henri Christophe, the man who led Haiti to independence from France in 1804 and became her president in 1811. Henri Christophe now watches over the 50-60 thousand residents of Champ de Mars.

The passageways were compelling. The writer pressed forward and wondered what would be in the next tent. How bad could this get? There had to be a limit. Then, a hand. A Grandma literally grabbed the writer's hand as she passed by the opening to the woman's tent.

Andre the translator said that the Creole words meant that Grandma wanted me to visit her home. It was like an invitation to a tea. The old woman was on her hands and knees trying to smooth a brown woolen blanket that she had positioned to cover the mud and water-soaked floor. Pots and pans lined the wall of the tent, collecting water she said she would use for drinking. Drops of water clung to every surface of the ceiling like stalactites in a cave. The woman was making her home presentable in the best way she could for the graying blond visitor with the camera.

As she knelt with her back to the writer, the Grandmother stopped the smoothing, stopped the straightening, and grew very quiet. Her shoulders began to heave and it was obvious she was wracked with sobs. The task was hopeless and the Creole cries were soft at first and then became a wail. Not knowing what else to do, the writer sat down in the water and touched the back of the elegant Grandmother. The damp wet wool chaffed at hands and exposed arms. Venice, for that is her ironic name, turned and began to laugh a kind of hysterical laugh at the woman who was now as wet as she was. It was literally tears turned to laughter at the confused writer's plight. A hug was offered and then the writer and Grandma collapsed into a heap on the wet floor as Grandma rested her head in the writer's lap and began her story.

At first both were both jabbering in languages incomprehensible to one another until the translator Andre stepped in and explained that Venice had lost two children in the quake and was watching her grandchild who was "always hungry." All she really wanted was a dry tent. That would be bearable. Did we know how long she would have to live here?"

Andre snapped a photo of two women lying in a puddle, telling stories in languages that each did not understand, but said everything.

It was getting very late and time to leave. Venice wanted to know if she would see the writer again. It was arranged. So the writer went back to a dry bed in guarded compound while volunteers crowded the bar into the wee hours of the morning. The writer did not feel guilty about having a dry bed or guards at the gate, but fear began to creep around the edges of consciousness.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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