Monthly Archives: April 2010

Favorite journalism movie quote ever

Jennifer Connelly, Blood Diamond:

“Do you think I’m exploiting his grief? You’re right. It’s shit. It’s like one of those infomercials. Little black babies with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes. I’ve got in here dead mothers, I’ve got severed limbs, but it’s nothing new. It might be enough make someone cry if they read it, maybe even write a check. But its not going to be enough to make it stop. I’m sick of writing about victims, but it’s all I can fucking do. Because I need facts, I need names, I need dates, I need pictures, I need bank accounts. People back home wouldn’t buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand. I can’t write that story until I get facts that can be verified, which is to say, until I find someone who will go on record. So if that is not you, and you’re not really going to help me and we’re not really going to screw, then why don’t you get the fuck out of my face and let me do my work?”

h/t: honesttoblog

Back in the U.S.

Flying in over Miami from Haiti was an odd experience. I had a window seat and entertained myself for the beginning of the flight by studying the terrain of Haiti: the dense, chaotic communities of Port-au-Prince with houses practically built on top of each other, and the rugged deforested mountains sprinkled ever-so-sparsely with houses and farming plots. I could just make out some areas where whole neighborhoods had collapsed down mountainsides like fallen dominoes.

When the pilot instructed us over the PA system to prepare for landing, I pulled up the window cover and was taken aback by the sights below: Perfectly straight rows of McMansions with aquamarine pools, massive hotels, order, wealth, functionality. All things that are rarely, if ever, present in Haiti. The contrast was alarming; the perfection, disturbing.  I looked up at the two Haitian men sitting in the row in front of me, staring out the window as well. I wondered what their lives had been like, and what a person would think experiencing the United States after living their entire lives in Haiti. I imagined that person was me, even though I’d only spent two weeks there, and that I was seeing things in perspective for the first time looking down at Miami,  realizing how bad things actually were in Haiti. There are so many problems there, problems of so large a scope they seem impossible to fix. But when you live there, it’s just life. It’s just the way things are.

Impossible though they may seem for fix or even help, I’m still going to try, through my little humanitarian project.

Looking back on my time in Haiti, it all feels like a dream now. A very strange dream. And you were there and you were there and you…

Foreign aid presence in Haiti

Yesterday I tweeted something that people seemed to find very interesting:

23:36: Orgs I have seen all over Haiti: Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, USAID. Orgs I have seen none of: Red Cross, Yele Haiti

23:37: And I have been looking. And I have been *around* — walking, driving, in tap taps, on motorbikes, etc..

With the capacious amount of donations directed towards Haiti relief and rebuilding efforts in the immediate aftermath of the quake, lots of which was made possible by technologies that enabled individuals to donate via text message, everyone seems to be wondering: Is my money going where it was intended? Is it making tangible differences in the quality of life of Haitians who were injured or displaced by the earthquake?

So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for organizational efforts over the past 10 days that I’ve been in Haiti.

Of the donated tarps I’ve seen that people are using as walls and roofs on the make-shift shelters they’ve built on the sidewalk and streets outside their crumbled homes, many bear the USAID logo. All over Haiti, every day, you see teams of people wearing bright yellow shirts, rolling wheelbarrows full of rubble away from buildings, picking up trash, and laying the foundations for new buildings. These people are part of the “Cash for Work” program, which is a part of OTI (Organization of Transitional Incentives) and DAI (Development Alternatives Inc.), orgs that were hired by USAID to clean up government properties like schools and community centers. These people make between $8 and $9 a day, depending on the exchange rate.

I’ve seen lots of tents and outposts that are clearly marked as UNICEF areas, especially in the downtown areas where the population is the most dense. I passed one location where two huge UNICEF tents were pitched outside a partially-collapsed building, and Alain and I stopped to ask one of the UNICEF personal (clearly designated by the t-shirt he was wearing), what they were doing there. He said the building was a primary school, and the tents were serving as temporary classrooms:

Walking through the middle of the tent city that formed on the grass of the central park in PetionVille where the sidewalks are lined with vendors selling Haitian paintings, the flaps on the latrines — which somebody had to dig out— bear the red Medicales Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) logo. I have also seen several MSF stations, as well as stations for Partners in Health, set back from the roads and the chaos, where people can go to receive medical treatment.

Last Wednesday, Alain and I decided to hike up a steep hill in Port-au-Prince, through a residential area where people were living in floor-less huts with walls of sheet metal, to the ruins of Hotel Castel. On the way back down, we ran into people from Doctors Without Borders delivering three 1,000 gallon containers: Two full of water and one empty one to be used as a waste receptacle.

They literally are doctors without borders. Nothing gets in their way. We spoke with those two employees for a while about what they were doing and they said they faced a number of technological obstacles, but they found creative solutions around them because they can only work with what they have.

On the converse side, organizations that I have not detected anywhere throughout my journies are the Red Cross and Yele Haiti, Wyclef Jean’s organization. These were perhaps the organizations that I heard the most about in the U.S. before I came here, and they have collected quite a substantial amount of donations. I didn’t really think about it until I read the blog post, “Where’s the American Red Cross in Haiti?” shared with me by Emma Jacobs, my counterpart at Haiti Rewired. (Note: I would be especially critical of/disregard complete the anti-vax scare stuff at the bottom…)

This is not to say that those organizations are not present here and are not contributing. Perhaps they don’t focus as much on branding on the resources that they are providing or the uniforms their employees wear, or perhaps I have simply been in different areas than where their efforts are focused. But I know who I have seen here contributing to the relief and rebuilding efforts, and who I will be donating to in the future.

Transportaion in Haiti

I’ve been talking about riding in tap taps lately, but I realize this might be an abstract concept for those who have never been to Haiti. Allow me to illustrate:

A tap tap is the primary mode of public transportation in Haiti. They are essentially pick-up trucks that have been made safe (ish) for transporting passengers in the back by installing an open-backed top and benches along each side. It costs about 5 gourdes (approximately 12 cents) to ride about a half a mile. Sometimes you can just jump in one that passes by if you wave the driver down and there’s room. Other times There are locations throughout Haiti where you can catch the tap taps en masse.

They are not very comfortable, but they get you where you need to go! When you get in and sit down, the driver will accelerate, and then slam on the breaks to pack everyone in towards the cab. They will also tend to depart before everyone is seated. The first time I rode one, a 65 year old woman was in the process of boarding when the tap tap lurched forward. Everyone riding, myself included, reached out to grab her so she wouldn’t tumble out the back. Last night we had to ride tap taps back from the beach because our truck broke down, and a dude literally fell off the back of one because it was too crowded. If the seats are at capacity, people will jump on and just hold onto the top of it.

Nearing the end of the trip, the driver will come to the back with a basket and collect the money from all the passengers.

“What’s to stop people from just jumping out and running when they get there?” I asked my traveling buddy Alain yesterday.

“Getting their asses kicked.”

That’s the Haitian transportation system. Somebody would make a killing starting a cab business here.

For more on tap taps, check out this post by Alain Armand: Economics of  Tap Tap driver.

Schadenfreude

There is a fungus eating away the flesh on the bottom of where my toes connect to my feet. Every time I take a step, the skin splits. All day at the beach today, sand has been getting in the cuts, followed by salt water. On the way home, our truck blew a tire. Then we got it fixed, then the tire blew again. So we walked, me in flip flops, down the highway until an overcrowded tap tap picked us up. We transferred to another tap tap, then a bus, then another tap tap, in the rain. The final ride wouldn’t drop us off in front of the house, so we got out to walk. And let me tell you, one place you do not want to walk when you have open fungal cuts on your feet and are wearing flip flops, is in the rain-flooded streets of Haiti. I have never missed New York City cabs so much.

Luckily (and crazily, considering how many people there are in Haiti), we didn’t get far at all before we rain into Alain Armand, my journalism buddy who I’ve been adventuring with this whole time, and he gave us a lift in his Jeep the rest of the way home.
Coincidentally, today was the day my dad decided to force me to learn French via immersion because listening to my English exhausts him and “Americans think that they only have to learn English because they think they are the best country in the world.”
“Dad, I wrote you a list of anti-microbial medications. Can you see if you have any of these in the house? If not can we get one first thing in the morning?”
“Que cherchez-vous à me dire? Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites, vous devez parler en français.”
After an hour of asking him to find it for me, he came back with a spray can of expired jock itch spray. When I pressed down on the nozzle, nothing but a puff of solidified aerosol gas came out.
The stupid thing is, I consulted the Walgreen’s pharmacist before I left, told him I was going to Haiti and asked him if there was anything I should get. “I don’t know, maybe an anti-fungal or something.” Yeah whatever, like I’ll need that.