A local reporter sifts through the rubble.
It’s here, on the heliport that I meet Michael, who tells me he works for the Peace Corps—but not really—and won’t give a last name. “It’s complicated,” he says. Nevertheless, he agrees to find me a ride to Port-au-Prince with the group of volunteers in yellow vests and orange hats. The group turns out to be pastors with the evangelical Christian Church of God in Santo Domingo. Most are middle-aged men, but Jessie, who speaks English and grew up on Long Island, is a young woman in her thirties. Another teenage girl from Indiana is also on the bus. She says her stepfather is starting a Church of God mission in another Dominican town. They’re traveling with a truckload of supplies for their seminary in Port-au-Prince where the grounds have been converted into a refugee camp. I decide to go along with them. They have no intel, and unlike the doctors, seem unconcerned with security. The bus chugs along a single dirt road toward the border, one of many aid trucks stuck in a traffic jam inching through the gates without any attempt on the part of border guards to check I.D’s. On the other side, desperate Haitians press against the gate.
Soon, steep white cliffs appear. A single man with a pickaxe slowly mines the substance, which looks to be some sort of construction material. Small villages of thatched huts with tin roofs dot the landscape. The shores of a lake come right up to the road, sometimes causing large pools to form. The driver says no one knows why the lake is rising. A few boys fish with a bird impaled on the end of an unwound hanger. Residents sit and watch the cavalcade of trucks go by. They wear secondhand T-shirts sent from the United States, bearing the slogans of American rock bands, prep schools and golf classics. There seem to be none of the security threats along the road that were feared by the doctors. Once in Port-au-Prince we stop for a bathroom break. Soon a group of men flashing their driver’s licenses surround another reporter and me, begging for work. One comes up very close, points to his bloodshot eye and asks if I have eye ointment.
Port-au-Prince looks as if a massive bombing raid just took place. Buildings, lacking the rebar so common at construction sites just across the border in the Dominican Republic, lie flattened. Thousands of people walk down the streets, stepping over the rubble or sorting through it. The pastors have suddenly turned into disaster tourists, snapping pictures of suffering Haitians from inside the bus. In return, the Haitians implore them for help. The bus drives on. Signs along the streets read, in English and Spanish, “S.O.S. help us we need food and water,” and include telephone numbers and directions to nearby encampments. The need feels overwhelming to me and to the pastors. But no one threatens to hijack the bus and take the cases of soda and cans of hotdogs, part of the pastor’s private stash.
Finally, up a long rugged road at the top of a hill, we find the camp. About 800 people, mostly children, sleep under trees where clothes hang to dry on the branches. Some have created makeshift cooking stoves, a few have tarps to shade them from the sun. Pastor Valentine seems to be the guy in charge. He speaks Creole through a bullhorn, trying to keep order as the first truckload arrives with water and supplies since the earthquake struck 10 days ago. A man with dark sunglasses and a shotgun walks around the camp with a menacing look. Two policemen walk by. A human supply chain is formed to unload the truck, where men toss cartons of water bottles to each other and small boys scramble to grab anything that falls by the wayside.
Small children dominate this camp. They smile for the camera, but their mothers are less exhuberant; they sit and wait. They’re angry that they have nothing to feed their children. No one has come to help them. Others appear to be in shock. A man in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt tells me he lost his mother, his wife and two small children. He sits forlorn, with his only surviving son, who appears malnourished. Off in a corner, one woman holds her niece on her lap, braiding her hair and singing.
Haitians in Port-au-Prince refer to the earthquake as “the thing.” This “thing” took the lives of more than 100,000 people. But for the survivors, it took their homes, their jobs, their schools, their legs, their arms, their children, their parents.
Back on the bus the pastors are quiet as they make their way back toward the Dominican Republic. Once they get close, they break out in prayer. I’m not sure if it’s for those they left behind, or if it’s because the gates of Jimaní are in their sights. ■
Susan Phillps is a reporter at WHYY.
Above is the poster for the Philly Rocks for Haiti benefit show we told you about yesterday — feel free to pass it around, tell your friends, get people out for a very important cause (and some really kickass music, too).
WXPN, the Philadelphia Folksong Society, and the Troc are teaming up for the Philly Rocks for Haiti benefit concert at the Troc on Thursday, February 4th starting at 7 p.m. Some pretty big-time Philly acts on the bill: Dance-rockers Free Energy, soul-rockers Black Landlord, the West Philadelphia Orchestra, Get the Led Out (who will do a [...]
ESPN reports that 76ers' center Samuel Dalembert was devastated by the destruction he saw his native Haiti: "He cries talking about what he found there. For instance children without parents, wandering in desperation. 'I saw somebody's leg amputated in front of me. Surgeries performed on a kitchen table ... I'm talking about a folding kitchen table ... I have some disturbing pictures. And it hurts. ... There was no surgery room ... You heard him screaming. ... Not enough alcohol. Things we take for granted, you know. They try to make one bottle of alcohol last.. 'As for the people he met in Haiti, Dalembert says: "I salute all of them. ... All I see is they're still trying to find all the bodies. You still see people holding strong. They're still finding bodies after the first earthquake and people are still holding strong, man. That tells you a lot about us, man. We're out there holding strong.'
So far, HPP’s call for aid has attracted a surge of eager donors, volunteers and NBC 10 cameras. However, local activists fear that public complacency will set in once the enthusiasm wears off.
The New York Times notes that the Haiti quake seems to be leaving the U.S. in the position as the only power — internal or external to Haiti — that can possibly impose some kind of rough order there. But what happens in the long term? My friend and nemesis Jim Lakely offered a suggestion [...]
The Daily News reports that 13 Haitian-American Philly cops are leading city efforts to raise help for victims of the Haiti quake: "The 13 officers 'all have families over there. For them, this is a labor of love,' said Chief Inspector James Tiano. Tiano said that the doors of the city's 22 police precincts will be opened today to accept donations for the starving, injured and dying Haitians, after another aftershock rocked the island yesterday. ... Sgt. Rodney Poliard, who heads the police Haitian relief squad, said that a preliminary list of needed items include: baby food, baby formula, diapers, baby wipes - for children and adults - nonperishable food that does not require a can opener, first-aid supplies, tents, tarps, new sheets and blankets, solar-powered flashlights, shoes, sandals and cases of water. No clothing will be accepted, and cash donations should be made to the American Red Cross, said Tiano."
We have secured a private jumbo jet to transport supplies to Haiti which is leaving in the next 24 - 48hours. We are in need of DOCTORS, NURSES and DONATIONS to go to Haiti in order to provide medical care. Vivant & HPP is currently coordinating with The Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia, the Haitian Clergy of Philadelphia, Beyond Boarders, the Mayor's Office, Temple Haitian Student Association, University of Pennsylvania Haitian Student Association, Congressman Brady's office, Philadelphia Young Democrats, political officials and other Haitian organizations in the surrounding area to devise a plan to provide assistance to Haiti.
Yahoo! Sports reports that 76ers center Samuel Dalembert is a native of Haiti who still has relatives in that quake-stricken nation. "This had been the most tortured, cruelest day of Dalembert’s life. He wanted to charter a flight to Port-au-Prince, but it wasn’t possible. His family has mostly moved to the United States through the years, but there are still so many relatives, so many friends. He used his platform to tell the story of Haiti, and he did an endless run of interviews and pleaded for support. In something of a daze, Dalembert played in the Sixers’ 93-92 loss to the New York Knicks and delivered 12 points and 21 rebounds. The game had been over an hour now, and Dalembert had slipped on an “NBA Cares” gold shirt to tape a public service announcement in a side room of the Wachovia Center. When tragedy hits, the NBA is good this way. It had Yao Ming(notes) tape a message when an earthquake hit China, and now the league wanted Dalembert to do it for Haiti. Within hours, the PSA will play everywhere. It will reach the corners of the globe, and in a lot of places, for a lot of people, Sam Dalembert will be the face, the voice, of his anguished, suffering people. Hundreds of thousands could be dead in Haiti, and millions more will need help for sheer survival."
When wild pigs and dogs eat a human corpse, they leave the feet. The photo is too gruesome to print here. The torso and head are missing. The pelvic bone, thighs and legs have been licked clean of all skin and muscle, leaving just bones that, without size perspective, could easily be mistaken for well-devoured chicken wings. Except for the left foot, still intact, and the right foot, still wearing a sock. Local immigration lawyer Tom Griffin took the photograph of the dismembered corpse in 2004 on the road leading out of Cit� Soleil, the Haitian neighborhood sometimes called the "Calcutta of the Caribbean." New victims appeared on that road and many others in the Port-au-Prince slum almost every morning. You can't blame anyone for not wanting to go back there. But the very notion of helping someone avoid returning was enough for Canada to want to imprison a local 65-year-old grandmother for the rest of her life....
Just 12 when she moved with her family from Haiti to Brooklyn, Edwidge Danticat, now 35, can't seem to shake the island's ghosts. She comes to town this week to read from her new book, The Dew Breake...
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor