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Photo-Essay: Haiti After the Earthquake, Part 2: Camp Canaan

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Veve for Ayizan, whose name comes from the Fon people of Benin. To them, Ayi means the earth, while zan means sacred. Thus Ayizan means "The sacred Earth or the sacred Land, Mother Earth or the Generous Provider."

*****

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Camp Canaan rising at the foot of Mon Cabrit


(Click here for Part 1)


As the three of us (Georgianne Nienaber, Andre Paultre our "Fixer/driver" and myself) sped east along Highway One we suddenly began to see white and blue dots blanketing the lower reaches of a low-lying mountain in the distance. This was Mon Cabrit (Goat Mountain in English), and the dots we were gazing at eventually grew in size and shape into the contours of colored tents and shelters that had begun to aggregate several months ago as thousands of now homeless Haitian earthquake victims searched for viable places to live beyond catastrophically damaged Port-au-Prince. One such locale soon grew into what was now looming larger and larger before us, Camp Canaan, named after, of course, that Land of Canaan in the Bible that now comprises Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Originally the name "Camp Obama" had been applied in a bid for attention, but somehow that choice drew flak from forces beyond the camp.

This was a "tent city" of some 3000 families and 8000 people up until recently, before the now growing rainy season began to erode the ranks somewhat, because when it rains in camps like this, it is not a pleasant experience.

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The senior leader is a priest, Father Joseph Michel, an elderly, white-haired fellow of pleasant demeanor and disarming smile, who was dressed casually in sky-blue slacks and a white pin-striped short-sleeve shirt:


He is aided by a capable staff of other camp leaders, many of them seen below in this group photo I took with Georgianne, who was well-remembered and greeted by all when she returned today:


This was another largely "blue tarp" camp, meaning that the most prevalent kind of "tent" was a blue tarp stretched and secured across wooden poles. Since this is often enough not a really adequate shelter in and of itself, other pieces of tarp, plastic, sheets, cardboard, or whatever else one can find, will be added until often the end result is a rather jury-rigged patchwork such as:


The majority of blue tarps, if not all, were 1) either made by the Chinese and distributed by American NGOs or 2) donated by the global Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, a generous gesture indeed. However, the sad truth is that the former, Chinese models are fairly thin-gauged, and tend to rip or crack easily in Haiti's rugged environment, while the Buddhist version has held up better. Sturdier, light gray tarps have also been provided by USAID, although they too will take a beating from the elements:


Intense sunlight beats down on the camp during the day, coupled, usually, with high humidity, which literally turns most shelters into the equivalent of microwave ovens during the hottest hours, while high winds often kick in or heavy rain deluges come cascading down the mountainside, or simply begin to saturate the ground, all this taking a toll on plastic materials, not to mention humans.

Camp Canaan offers only a rugged struggle for survival to its inhabitants, lacking in most necessities such as food, money and medicine, leaving it to each family or group of friends to fend for itself. NGOs have only been providing the barest of needs, such as potable water and latrines. But Haitians, I have learned, are a strong-willed and resilient lot, so let us now go on a general tour of the camp and the people within it:


A few tents and their inhabitants on the periphery of the camp.

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Closeup of two curious kids


A few of the shelters are made from palm fronds woven together, and they are perhaps the sturdiest and most comfortable under the hot sun, since they allow breezes to penetrate them. Mangoes, one of Haiti's most luxurious fruits, lay at the entranceway.


Man, woman, child, baby standing in the hot sun. Note the grayish tents to the left, likely USAID tarps.

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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)
 

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