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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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This is my second trip to Haiti after the January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people and left 1.2 million homeless, although neither of those cold statistics will ever be verified. Boarding the American Airlines 757 at Miami International, the writer was confident that continuing the story would be much easier than the first time, After all, she knew her way around and had an agenda of people and IDP camps to visit, suggestions regarding places she had not visited, and a general sense of nuance about the challenges facing Haiti. The writer may have been confident, but she was wrong.

Something profound happened in the ten weeks since the writer left Haiti in March. Compassion entered the picture and became the lens that focused the dispassionate journalist's eye. You see, compassion can be a frightening and somewhat debilitating emotion if one is trying to be neutral and stick to the facts. Compassion is the earthquake of the soul that rocks the comfort of perception and shifts what once were solid foundations of reason. The writer thought that the words would pour forth with little effort, yet hour after hour went by and no words were formed. Two eighteen hour days passed, and still no sentences had formed into paragraphs when the writer stumbled into the lobby of the Plaza Hotel an hour ago. She had seen sights that no one should see, but two stuck in the mind. One was the sight of the withered, festering hand of an infant in a blistering hot tent serving as the critical care ward for Haiti's General Hospital, and the other was of a dignified grandmother who had lost three of her children in the quake and who now lay in a sobbing heap on the floor of her flooded tent, tears mingling with the incessant rain that poured down upon the Champ de Mars tent city, located not a football field's length from the ruined White House of Haiti in Port-au-Prince.

Those would seem to be easy accounts to write. But the writer had a block. It was not the burned out loss of thought, but it was an impenetrable barrier of fear. Fear that the words would not flow fast enough as memory and senses dulled and sights and sounds became overwhelming. Fear that it was so important to express how and why so many of the Haitian people are still suffering, and fear that it may be the writer's last opportunity to get this message across. Fear that there was no analysis that could solve the overwhelming problems of housing, food, a failed economy, too much foreign aid, too much corruption, and NGO's that were continuing to destroy Haiti's ability to move forward.

So we begin with the memory that is the easiest to access. Mac McKinney, my colleague from OpEdNews, and I had been discussing fear for most of the day on Monday. He has a nice photo essay about our night here. We wondered about external fear--the fear that Americans have of Haitians. There had been a brief demonstration at the Presidential Palace (White House) that we had decided not to report upon because we had not witnessed it. Rumors had it that the demonstration was in response to Haitians' dissatisfaction with the Preval government and that several demonstrators had been beaten, shot and gassed. Evidently a Reuter's reporter happened to be nearby and witnessed the event that was picked up by the wire services.

Fear was everywhere and especially in the ranks of volunteer workers who were either afraid to go out on the streets at night or were under contract with their umbrella organizations to not leave the hotel compounds. They were bussed to work and bussed back. A reasonable precaution that will discuss in future articles, but the volunteers were frustrated that they could not see conditions on the streets and in the camps. They were working out of context and they knew it.

On Monday evening there was a deluge of rain that lasted for hours. After spending the day revisiting Camp Canaan at the junction of Highways 1 and 9, looking at tattered blue tarps riddled with holes and the dirt floors that provided the beds for babies, we wanted to see what it was like to be out there in the rain with our own eyes and the dispassionate lens of the camera. Champs de Mars was within walking distance, but we took a car and parked along the curb in the refuse littered roundabout where floodlights illuminated the entrance to a rabbits' warren of passageways between tents that were really "homes" to the 52,000 people "living" there. Water was pouring from every horizontal surface and we did not find one dry tent. The smell of overflowing latrines lingered in the nose.

Mud was everywhere and so was despair and frustration. There was also resilience in the faces of the residents, determination, and a growing anger that no one was documenting this travesty. Mommas, Dads and Grandmas readily invited us into their homes to see the water collecting in pots and pans--saturating bedding and everything else. Children and babies were sleeping on sopping wet mattresses.

The only lighting came from the floodlights outside the perimeter and the overall effect was that the deeper you went into the tent city, the darker it became. Candles illuminated some passageways and the only thing alleviating the medieval feeling was the occasional sight of a light bulb hot-wired to an old car battery.

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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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