Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Streets of Rubble

This afternoon we drove down roads where we saw collapsed buildings in every block. The rubble on the main streets of Port-au-Prince has now been pushed to the sidewalks, though some of the smaller laneways are still impassable. Telephone poles teeter at ninety-degree angles toward the ground, and live wires hang loosely above our heads.

Throughout Port-au-Prince there are many such streets. Our co-worker Rodney shares how just days after the earthquake he visited this particular one. The difference then was that the last time he was there, corpses lay on the sidewalks covered by sheets. He says, “People were everywhere up and down the street, looking under the sheets, trying to find their families.”

As we drive around Port-au-Prince, windows are down to let in the breeze and the air is filled with the smell of diesel. But then, as we pass what used to be a cell phone business, the smell changes. A strong whiff of what I assume to be sewerage fills my nostrils and then leaves as quickly as it came. When we’ve passed the house Rodney asks, “Did you smell that?” I answered, ‘Yes, what was it?” He said, “That smell was everywhere at the beginning, it’s death, there may be bodies still under that building.” I wonder to myself how many will never be recovered.

The medical team today split into different areas. Some went to the University of Miami field hospital at the Port-au-Prince airport and other took mobile clinics out to tent cities. The team members return at night saying how intense it is to work within their roles in this situation. The mentality at a hospital here is different to the US, queuing is not necessarily part of the Haitian persona. The Emergency Room (ER) is situated outside the building in a tent, surrounded by the noise of helicopters and jets. Volunteer Dr Luzanne Grundling from South Africa says, “You just tune it out after a while.”

Another group of team members go to a tent city to put tents up for people who haven’t a home anymore. When they return, they say people are desperate for shelter and this causes a chaotic situation.

The rain is becoming an increasing problem, especially as the wet season has officially begun. It rained heavily last night for about three hours and my tent was flooded, I may as well have been floating around a swimming pool on my airbed.

But then I stop and think about all the people in the tent cities. As I said in my previous article, their homes are made from thin wooden poles and plastic sheets. When the rains hit, these homes turned in leaking mud pools. This morning after the rain we heard that the tent crew wouldn’t be going out today because it was impossible to reach the tent city. What sort of conditions must those people be enduring? And it will only get worse as the wet season is just beginning. Torrential rains will come and because of this the risk of disease will increase one hundred fold. The after shocks from the earthquake may have subsided, but the on-going risks of sickness and death could be disastrous.

Today I will go into Port-au-Prince again, to some of the hardest hit areas. People here have noted that the atmosphere in the city is even more aggressive than normal. It is understandable that the accumulation of tension from the past weeks would cause this outcome. Haiti has a population of 10,000,000 and of those people, 70% were unemployed before the earthquake, that percentage will be much higher now.

Though the obstacles could seem insurmountable, the medical situation in Port-au-Prince is progressing. The initial emergency response directly following the earthquake is now transitioning to ongoing care and need. However, now Haiti and her people need our support for a rebuilding initiative.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dusty roads of Haiti - My first dispatch

The wind made the roads so dusty we found it hard to see. Looking out the window the ocean bordered us on one side and towering white cliffs on the other. The cliffs looked like sandstone and a driver told a team member that after the earthquake these same roads had been covered in rubble and debris. It was then that we realized we were in Haiti. There hadn’t been any signal of a border crossing, at least not to my knowledge. We crossed from the Dominican Republic to Haiti without a customs officer checking a single passport.

The cliffs beside the road gave way to simple stone houses, some extremely unstable. A multitude of other homes are made from wood poles and plastic roofs. Cindy, the lady beside me in the bus says, “Oh that’s a new tent city, that wasn’t there before.” She and her husband have made six monthly visits to Haiti since 2005, where they help run an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. This was her first trip back since the earthquake hit on January 12th and I could tell she was disturbed by the change in scenery.

We got closer to Port-au-Prince and the number of tilting or collapsed buildings grew, and we weren’t even in the worst hit areas. After another hour, while stuck in some typical city traffic, I noticed yet more piles of rubble and tires by the side of the road. I said to Cindy, “Are these from the earthquake?” She said, “Yes, it’s all since then.” We navigated several Haitian traffic jams and drove up what is called “hi-jack alley,” from a time when men with guns would block cars on the road and rob them, or worse. This nation definitely has its share of problems.

When we reached the place where we would stay, we found it in direct contrast to the chaos we had witnessed outside. The orphanage caters to children with special needs and I could tell they were loved. The green grass and trees appear foreign to the rubble lined streets and tent-cities outside, though our own version of a tent city dots the field.

The facilities are basic, a lack of water means each person is allotted three cups of water to shower with, bucket style. The humidity sticks to you like a glove and keeps you just as warm. Two Haitian ladies make our food. They may have both lost their homes in the earthquake. The language barrier has so far stopped us from communicating too closely. The previous team members still here tell us, “Just hug them everyday.”

Tonight I will go to bed after having over 38 hours with little to no sleep. At the orphanage, which is next to Port-au-Prince airport, we will apparently hear planes take off about five times a night. This is an improvement on the first weeks though, when planes were flying aid in approximately every ten minutes. The team spirits are high with the anticipation of what will happen tomorrow. Some team members will serve at the hospital on the airfield, while others will take a mobile clinic out to those who may not have been reached yet.

What will tomorrow bring? No one can be sure of that, but we know we’re in a place where new and great things can happen. This is an opportunity to see a new future begin in Haiti.