Rebuilding Haiti

Much of the news I’ve seen from Haiti gives an impression of a cauldron about to boil over. From what I witnessed, that’s far from the truth. Things are very bad, but they are calm. I never felt in the least bit in danger, and people were going about their business calmly and purposefully. The government wasn’t functioning, and no much else was either, but people carried their terrible dilemmas with dignity, for the most part. A good question to ask, when you see these TV reports about chaotic food distributions, is “How many people died or were injured?” If people are jumping around and yelling while soldiers with guns who don’t speak their language are lining them up to get food, that’s not really terror, that’s just human nature.

Here’s a camp that was set up spontaneously after the earthquake. Actually, “set up” makes it sound organized, while in realty when people’s homes are destroyed they had to sleep somewhere and any park or patch of ground that was available got covered with sheets and blankets. The vast majority of Port-au-Prince’s three million people are living out of doors. What happens when it starts to rain I don’t know. It could be difficult.

One of many spontaneous camps all over Port-au-Princet could be difficult.

Despite the chaotic circustances, most of these camps are pretty well organized. The residents have set up an informal committee to run things, and they are the ones who figure out sanitation, who often register camp residents and help organize the distribution of food. Do the people in the photos look like helpless victims?

When I got to Haiti ten days after the quake people were already selling all kinds of things on the street, and that increased every day I was there. This scene shows a man carrying electronic gear and mobile phones on his head, while people are shoveling garbage in the background. Notice what used to be a building. That’s typical.

Back to a semblance of normal: selling, digging out

I haven’t seen this in the news, but there is plenty of food for sale in the streets–meat, beans, rice, vegetables, all kinds of fruit. If you have money, you won’t go hungry. The dilemma is, people don’t have money. A lot of them didn’t have money to start with. Until recently those who had money in banks couldn’t get at it. Jobs disappeared the night of the quake. The need for food relief isn’t about any real shortage of food, it’s a shortage of a functioning economy. That says a lot about the problems of rebuilding that face the country.

Earthquakes don't respect people, or statuesface the country.

I don’t know how I feel about the prospects for rebuilding. It’s hard enough to do in a country that has a functioning government and infrustructure. Think New Orleans. Maybe, just maybe, this earthquake will provide a new beginning. It’s possible.

At another level, though, I’m pretty sure that communities will be rebuilt. Haitians are resilient people. I heard that repeatedly and after being there I believe it. They survive. They cope. If they lack a good government, they do have their churches, which are a reasonably honest and trusted network, among other things.

People I met were sometimes struggling to cope with the inhuman demands placed on them. They were grieving many deaths–not just one or two, but dozens. They had to figure out how to eat and sleep every day. And whatever their responsibilities were, they had to figure out how they were going to rebuild. But they were going about it pretty well, I thought.

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One Response to “Rebuilding Haiti”

  1. nancy Says:

    it is good to receive word on what
    you have actually seen and heard.

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