Baby steps

The day I arrived here, I saw some places the earthquake had destroyed on the route back from the airport, and was in awe. Today, on day 7 of my trip, it is all just Haiti — the scenery, the usual.

The next day, I asked my dad to drive me around PetionVille, the area about 10 miles to the east of Port-au-Prince proper, to see more. I took a bunch of pictures out the window of my dad’s Ford F250, getting slightly frustrated when my shots didn’t turn out because the car was moving too fast and the shutter speed on my Nikon point-and-shoot was too slow. When my dad stopped at one of the properties he manages, I told my sister I wanted to get out and walk around to get better pictures.

“You wanna walk around… out there?”

“Yeah, I can’t see anything from the car.”

“Sis, this is Haiti.”

“Other people walk around.” And it was true. Thousands of people lined the streets every time we drove anywhere, walking from point A to point B, selling things, hanging out.

“Yeah, but not people with your skin color, and blonde hair, and your economic status.”

Oh the way home I pointed out the window at a guy and said to my sister: “Look, that guy’s white and he’s walking around.” She just gave me a smug look of “ah huh,”
like OK American. But in a loving way.

The next day, Wednesday, my dad took me to downtown Port-au-Prince to check in at the Oloffson Hotel. My mom thought it would be a good idea to stay there, as it’s a common destination for journalists and other foreigners. When we arrived, Alain Armand was waiting for me. I came accross him one day on Twitter, when he sent out a message that said something like “Going to Haiti, need recording equipment to get the untold stories.” So I checked him out and found his YouTube video of a segment about him on MSNBC, decided he was legit, and emailed my editors at Wired. “Hey, just stumbled accross this Tweet. Can we get this guy a flip cam or something?” And Wired they are. They hooked it up.

Alain and I chatted for a while and he said, “OK, it’s going to get dark soon, do you wanna go get some footage?”

“You mean… walk around? Out there?”

He laughed at me. I was scared but excited at the prospect. I didn’t think it would be so bad but my family never walked around. My sister will barely even cross the street to go to the convenience store, and there’s an armed guard sitting outside it 24/7.

So we walked around the block, taking pictures and talking. We peeked in at a place where a bunch of computers were set up outside. Old school PCs like the one I used for my very first computer when I was 8. I thought this was amazing. “Will you ask them what they’re doing?” I asked Alain, who speaks fluent Creole. So we went in the gate, past the tent they had set up to sleep in, and found out that they were conducting computing classes.

They were really nice, happy to talk with us. Haitians have smiles that can light up entire buildings. Too bad we rarely see pictures of them smiling in the American media, only pictures of them suffering.

Alain and I continued walking, me gawking at the collapsed residential buildings all around, but not gawking too hard. I saw a woman pissing on the sidewalk, and was mildly shocked but immediately turned away like I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, continuing the conversation. The roads we were walking down were literally lined with tents, where people slept at night in front of their crumbled properties. Suddenly, the picture became clear of why rain was such a terrible problem for displaced Haitians, both with respect to public health and just because people have to sleep in wet tents, which sounds pretty miserable.

When we got to the last leg of our journey, about to turn the corner to complete the circuit back to the Oloffson, he said “let’s walk up one more block over that way.”

“Listen,” I said. “This is the first time I’ve ever walked around the block here. Baby steps.” He accepted this and went home, and I spent the rest of the night wrestling with the hotel’s shitty Internet connection and battling mosquitoes in my sleep.

The next day we went hiking up mountains and through the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince. And the next day we hitch-hiked from my dad’s house in PetionVille to the tent city that’s set up where PVC, a formerly fancy pants country club, used to operate. Its golf course now serves as the home to over 50,000 refugees.

Consider this To Be Continued… I have to get ready because my family is taking me to the beach today!

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