Initial scene: American Airlines flight 822 & 1382
Current scene: An airconditioned (!) room in the Suri residence, Khel Gaon, Delhi
I learned more about the way the world works and doesn’t during my one week in Haiti than all year and then some. (No offense, Kennedy School.) What I witnessed and the people I met simultaneously broke my heart and uplifted it.
For starters, I would like to introduce you to a few Haitians.
Enchanté, Pierre, my driver. I’ve never had one before, but I needed a car to crisscross the rubble-laden city to get from meeting to meeting. Pierre knew every backstreet to escape traffic. He also indulged my curiosity: What’s that graffiti mean? Typically support for or opposition to a political candidate. What was that pancaked building? Sometimes a house but often a school, a hospital, or a Ministry.
When debris suddenly began caving in the top of his car on the afternoon of January 12th, Pierre survived by swiftly reclining his seat to a horizontal position. Over four months later, he and seven of his family members are living under a tarp – not even a tent. It poured every night of my visit.
This is one small informal camp of "shelter boxes." Tents are absolutely everywhere.
Enchanté, Johnny, an inspiring and aspiring student. Some of you might remember Johnny from an article written by Aarti Shahani, an HKS classmate, friend, and mentor in all things right. Johnny, 25, wants to finish up his degree, but the State University and many others are now in ruins. According to a member of the President’s Commission on Education, only .2% of Haitians are university students, “a catastrophic situation for a country.” Of the approximately 4,000 students who graduate each year, about half of them move abroad.
Johnny and his family live in Cite Soleil, the biggest slum in the hemisphere. Despite his difficult circumstances, he started a program for research and reflection with a few of his friends to bring people together around education. He also represents his block in Cite Soleil’s Community Forum, a network of local leaders and organizations that started a few years ago. The Forum aims to harness their neighborhood’s own resources and to hold the local government and international community more accountable to the needs of residents. Johnny wants to be a journalist.
Enchanté, Annick, mother of two. She works in finance for a bank and is on the Board of INURED. Last Sunday, Annick invited me and a UC-Berkeley PhD student (also staying at INURED) to her beautiful home at the very, very top of the mountain. We installed Skype on her computer so that she can see her 13-year old son in Boston and six-year old daughter in Miami. Still traumatized, they’ve been living with relatives since the quake.
The back of Annick's home
Annick's mother-in-law, who lost a son in the earthquake and whose home was badly damaged, looking out at a view of Port-au-Prince from Annick's balcony
After dinner, her husband peer pressured us into drinking a glass of Barbancourt Rhum . He then took us to Petionville’s Golf Club, now the Sean Penn-managed home of 60,000 displaced persons. We were picking up some water filters for the Community Forum from a professional surfer-turned-humanitarian. It is not possible to make sense of these two worlds.
While watching Invictus on my plane ride back to the States, I recalled feeling a similar sense of hopelessness and hopefulness when I left South Africa in 2004 – the country’s 10-year anniversary of democracy. I had been studying in Cape Town, a starkly divided city surrounded by mountains and the sea still trying to overcome centuries of oppression -- much like Port-au-Prince. I wonder how Pierre, Johnny, and Annick and their families will be faring on the earthquake’s 10-year anniversary.
PS. I didn't feel comfortable snapping photos in Port-au-Prince, so I'm sorry this isn't more visually engaging.
6 years ago