Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back in Haiti

We arrived in PaP after an exhausting journey involving a layover of almost 12 hours in Salt Lake City and an overnight flight to JFK. This is my first trip to Haiti since the earthquake, and Garlise’s first in several years. Garlise came home to us from Haiti at age 14, and at age 18 he is still very much a Haitian man. On this trip, he’ll serve as interpreter and security.
I think what is hardest to understand is the complete randomness of the destruction here. Some buildings are untouched, yet surrounded by the rubble of their neighbors which have collapse completely. The airport is ruined, though still standing. We left the plane via a jetway, rather than the familiar stairs, and were herded into a structure obviously donated by an organization from somewhere else. It was a self-contained building, complete with heaters(!). Thank goodness they still had the Digicel band, or I wouldn’t have known where I was. Immigrations and customs are being conducted in an old metal warehouse, which seemed undamaged.

My first encounter with the new reality occurred the moment we left the warehouse, where I was immediately met by my regular luggage guy. He is my luggage guy because he is deaf and mute. Unlike the rest of the porters, he has never heard me insisting in Kreyol, “I have no money, I don’t need any more friends, and I’m not going to pay any of you anything!” which has always made the mob of eager baggage handlers laugh and back off. But my guy can’t hear me, which makes them all laugh much harder. I’ve been through the airport enough times by now (27!) that I am recognized and pointed out to my man. But this time, while we waited for the van, he showed me blurry photos of three children and was able to explain via gestures that all three of his children are dead. All I could to was tell him I was sorry. They were all very small.

Street markets continue as always, and if you didn’t know which piles of rubble had been there before, you would hardly know that Haiti has changed. This land looked like an earthquake or hurricane had stuck long before January 12th. Where I can see the difference is when I talk to the people I know. Who lost whom. Whose house is not safe to enter, collapsed, or burned down. Who is living in a tent. Who still hasn’t heard from her sister and is beginning to lose hope that she is still alive.

Lucy tells me that when she was here, right after the earthquake, the smell of death and decay was in the air. I can’t smell it now, but a film of concrete dust clings to everything still, and there are tents everywhere. Inside the walled yards of many houses are tents and tarps. The inhabitants are too traumatized to enter their own homes. I can’t blame them.

We are staying at the BRESMA guest house. I’ve visited here a lot, but never to stay. I always preferred ‘my house’, BRESMA II. I had my own room there, which was mine when I visited and used for others while I was in the States. I miss it, despite how luxurious the guest house is. This is a beautiful house. My bed is very comfortable, and Garlise and I have a room as large as our living room back home with two full-size beds. We even have air conditioning. I’d rather stay at my second home, but we cannot enter the building.

Tomorrow we will continue our quest to get an appointment with IBESR. Margarette has already been there as well as calling, trying to get an appointment for us. They asked for a letter on letterhead formally requesting a visit, but today they would not allow her to give it to them. So some things in Haiti have not changed at all.

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