Observations, 5 February 2010
Working, living and breathing the aftermath of a devastating earthquake gets to you sooner or later. My story is personal, as I have lived and worked in this beautiful island of Haiti for years. I came to Haiti for the first time in 1997, a recent MA graduate in Human Rights from the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. My master thesis spoke so eloquently, although purely theoretically, about the questions of impunity in Haiti. I remember being exited about the result of my final exams, and believed I knew what was going on…oh youth!
Today I walked around my old neighbourhood where I had spent the last year with Edwin and our three sons. I worked for the UN in 2009 and we had just moved back to Norway when the earthquake struck. The UN headquarters has been very damaged, and although I have not been able to enter the UN compound where my office was I have been told how there are still UN personell missing underneath the destroyed buildings. Hundreds are confirmed dead.
The house we rented for the family has been severely damaged, the kitchen walls are down, the staircase broken in two pieces, the bedroom furniture broken. I cannot help thinking what if we had stayed in Haiti longer, which was the initial plan. Normally on a weekday between 4 and 5 pm my three sons would have been home, maybe having dinner in the kitchen waiting for me and Edwin to come home usually at around 6 pm. I thank God every day that we were not in Haiti on the 12th of January.
Walking down the streets from my old house today was so hard, the neighbourhood looks like a ghost town and we know there are thousands of people dead underneath the sement blocks. The smell is still present after three weeks. Groups of dogs are running around, Haitians talk about the new sight of fat dogs feeding on dead bodies. Normally the street dogs of Port au Prince are the skinniest things you have ever seen. Our house is close by Hotel Montana, a famous and wellknown hotel frequented by international staff and diplomats. There is nothing left of the hotel, hundreds died during the earthquake. Edwin’s friend was responsible for the security at the hotel, he is still missing. A women in the street told us how her 6 children and husband had all died in their house, she was the only one they were able to rescue after 48 hours. How do you continue life after such an ordeal? The energy of this neighbourhood smells of death and destruction.
At the camp we have many malnourished children, and with that, low immune system and risk of infections. One girl in particular is 15 months old and weighs 5 kilos. She has been sick for a while. We decided to take her to the hospital, but with overworked local health personell there was no time for special treatment. We are now monitoring the girl ourselves and making sure that the mother gets help and advice on how to take care of her daughter.
This week we had our first ‘camp baby’. We spent the night watching over the woman in labor. Thank God for Mariah who is an experienced midwife and who put us all at ease with the situation. She was in control! Siv Mika, who was in Petit Troll at the time of the earthquake herself, now back again to continue helping, was of great comfort to our mother as well. After a long night we drove the mother to a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders where a couple of hours later the baby was born, and mother and child are back in the camp.
Trying to understand the food distribution programme run by the UN is not necessarily easy. The rules change from week to week. The new rule is this, the city is divided into zones, with designated NGOs as focal points and in charge of distributing food tickets to the population. We went to the UN log base to register our organization and to ask for food tickets and other supplies for the people in our camp. We were given the phone number to the Word Vision organization who are in charge in our area. We got hold of the person in charge and he came to visit our camp and assess the needs. He came by a couple of hours later on a surprise visit with tickets to the women that happened to be present in their tents. Their strategy is that they never announce when to come to avoid big crowds and fighting. Touch luck for those that happened to be elsewhere at the time.
The next morning the lucky recievers of food tickets (the only food they get is one bag of rice) went to the pick-up point to get their bags. They then decided that they would give the rice to our base at Petit Troll and we would all share. I was so proud and happy to see how the women showed solidarity with the other families in the camp!
However, in some of the bags we found bugs and stones. The word on the street is that these bags of rice are from the emergency aid from 2008 and have in fact expired. Also there are rumors about the price of tickets being set by local politicians who sell them for 40 $.
Haitians are extremely unhappy with the International community’s slow way of getting the help out to the people in need. Large groups of people all over the city are complaining that they have not recieved any help whatsoever. Some are calling for the return of Aristide, some are calling for the return of Baby Doc, others are positioning themselves into the power circles, the government and President Preval has hardly spoken a word of comfort to its citizens, much less presented a plan to solve the enormous challenges in the aftermath of the earthquake. While the diplomats, the development experts, Bill Clinton and his entourage and what is left of the Government meet and decide on the country’s future, the same old scenario plays out; the poor majority has no voice….
On behalf of Nanna, Rose, Marie Danielle, Jean Max, Bernadette, Aloude, Nancude, Mamouse, Mediane, Erncia, Ricot, Maxito, and many many more I say this:
WHAT ABOUT US! WHAT ABOUT US! WHAT ABOUT US?