Tuesday, August 10, 2010
5pm - I’m in my tent putting on an episode of the Wire, I crack a prestige, light a cigarette and sit back in my chair I have an hour before dinner and I’m filthy and tired. My only free moment in a crazy week. 5 minutes into it three frazzled Italian nurses burst into my tent trying to catch their breaths. “There is a boy named Emmanuelle whose intestines have ruptured we don’t have a surgeon here, Father Rick said you might know of someone who can do it.” Fuck. I get on the phone and start making calls to every NGO hospital I know. I run over to Father Rick and the boy and tell them we can rush to Medishare but they don’t have an anesthesiologist so we have to provide one. Father Rick tells me he can send the boy to Margaret Digons beautiful hospital in Pettionville. The boy is loaded into a truck and we head off to dinner, another disaster averted.
6pm - Our first dinner out in weeks and I try to relax but am still uneasy. Father Rick’s phone goes off when the food hits the table. The boy needs blood. We all pull our phones out to go on the terrible but familiar Port au Prince blood hunt. I call the UN, WHO, Medishare, WFP, UNICEF all of them tell me they have no blood and the only place is the Red Cross office at the General Hospital. Father Rick and Wynn speed off in the truck and head downtown while Conan and I rush to our hospital to get whatever blood we can scrounge. A light rain begins to fall and the boy is bleeding out and dying.
8pm - It looks like it’s going to be a long night. Father Rick arrives at the hospital and is met with a long line of mothers and fathers holding buckets of melting ice waiting for blood. Emmanuelle’s young mother shows up out of breath on the back of a motorcycle with a sample of his blood to test for match. Conan and I wait for the call about the type so we can send blood his way. Father Rick calls to say the generator has broke and there is no power at the hospital, they can’t test his blood. We are fucked. “You can try the Saints Hospital downtown.” The Red Cross guy tells him. Father Rick sighs heavy he knows that the hospital collapsed and is in ruins. “Don’t worry,” they tell him. “They still have blood” Emmanuelle mothers eyes light up with hope and they drive off in the night to the Saints Hospital.
9pm - Conan and I collect all the blood we can find and send it up to Pettionville. Two of our trucks rush down to the Red Cross to try to fix the generator. Three of our motorcycles race up the hill to Pettionville with swinging coolers of blood dodging potholes and mad dogs.
9:30pm - I get a text inviting me to a fancy pool party at the mansion where the foreign staff of the Red Cross live. I curse under my breath and am tempted to show up and kick down the door with Emmanuelle in my arms asking them where the fucking blood is just to watch them hide behind their crystal glasses of champagne.
10pm - No blood at Saints and its back to the Red Cross at General Hospital. Father Rick prays a special prayer reserved for miracles. Back at the Hospital the Generator fires up and the test on the boys blood begins. Halfway through the generator breaks again. “I should have asked for a specific timeline with that prayer.” Father Rick says while shaking his head. The Red Cross office is a disaster. It starts raining hard; the roof leaks on crying mothers. Nearly $500 million raised just for Haiti and this is what the result is. A pitch black, broken, leaky office with no blood and full of parents worried as their children lie on operating tables somewhere waiting and waiting. The guy behind the counter is an asshole, his Red Cross badge flickers gold in the candlelight.
11:25pm - The Red Cross asks Father if he can take the battery out of his truck and attach it to the generator to get it working again. The hood is popped, cell phones come out to light the way and the battery is removed and connected to the generator. It works.
11:30pm - It’s dark and raining hard. From Pettionville Dr. Margaret keeps calling, franticly asking what the blood type is so she can begin to operate. Emmanuelle is by her side his intestines exploded from Typhoid, he’s skinny and breathing hard he’s in tremendous pain. Downtown his mother fights on for blood, she’s told he has Typhoid that’s a result of drinking dirty water; she feels shame. The generator coughs and chugs running off a car battery. Emmanuelle’s blood gets examined for type. Somewhere three motorcycles are racing from Pettionville to the General Hospital carrying the rest of the blood to barter with the Red Cross. At the Red Cross party in the hills someone falls in the pool. I’m at the UN screaming at their doctors and asking them what the fuck they are doing in Haiti without blood. My friend from World Health Organization calls to tell me he has exhausted his search for blood and is empty handed. I drive off and run over a tarantula the size of my foot.
12am - Father Rick gets 1 pint of blood: he needs two. He asks them for two but is told he can’t have it tonight since there are others waiting. He tells them he will wait till all have blood. The Red Cross asshole tells the waiting parents if they don’t have fresh ice they will not get blood; by now all ice has melted, the people rush out in the rain to buy more. When they return the man tells them if the don’t have a ride out of the hospital they can’t get blood, all taxis have stopped running; a mother cries. Father Rick raises his hand. “I’ll take them all home” he says.
2am - Father Rick gets the other pint of blood and drives the people to different hospitals all over the city.
4:30am - Emmanuel’s surgery finishes it was a success, now we all wait and watch his recovery nervously.
All that money promised to Haiti and this is the reality. 1/3 of all donations given went to the Red Cross and there’s not a drop of blood here; it’s a crime. I hope they enjoyed their party because the fun part is definitely over.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
As I reflect on 6 months later it is in the individual stories that I keep the hope for the future and get the strength to continue to work tirelessly amid the darkness and destruction to find the light and love all around. These are a few of their stories.
Located an hour outside of Port au Prince sits a small sleepy village on the edge of Haiti’s largest lake. APJ brings a mobile clinic to the village twice a week to care for newborns and the sick. Each visit we bring food, water, clothes, TOMs shoes and medicine and music for the entire village. When we arrived the children in the village were without exaggeration stark naked and dirty. Now they have clothes medicine and a renewed sense of community and hope. Next month we will rebuild the roof of every house in the village. Although these acts may seem temporary the gift of love and compassion by just showing up will last and resonate a long time.
My friend and PA Nicole called me and told me a 13-year-old girl she became friends with in a tent city in Pettionville had been abandoned and was homeless begging on the street. She asked for help. I met Nanoue and immediately fell in love with her spirit sense of humor and intelligence. She told me her father had died and her mother ran off, she had been severely beaten and sexually assaulted in the camp numerous times. I asked Alfonso who runs our orphanage if we could help, without flinching he said yes, we sent social workers to her and the next day brought her to our new orphanage where she attends school, takes care of abandoned babies and is thriving. She is safe today and has a future tomorrow because of our deep commitment to turn no child away.
My best friend in Haiti, Raphael works at the hospital. He lives outside of Croix De Bouquet in a crumbling house. He told me the whole village had to walk an hour for clean water and asked if I could help. The next day with the generous help of Operation Blessing we repaired an old well and set up a large water filter that gives 10,000 gallons of clean water a day. Raphael runs a pipe outside his gate and gives clean fresh water to the whole village for free everyday.
Miguel and Nadia are both schoolteachers who live in a tent city behind the US Embassy. Miguel has become one of my closest friends and my Creole teacher, he is a great singer and guitar player he is also the community leader of the tent city. His wife Nadia teaches in a little one-room schoolhouse made of rusted corrugate steel walls. Through our friendship, we have brought 20 tons of food, new tents, and clothes for all the children many of whom were naked before and TOMs shoes for the whole village. Nadia is now pregnant and we are providing prenatal care for her although Miguel told me the greatest contribution to his life was my guitar I gave him so he can sing lullaby’s to his wife to teach his unborn child a love of music in the womb. I begin work this week on rebuilding Nadia’s school into a place she can be proud of and can match her skills as an incredible teacher.
Maurice came to the hospital three months ago and we became fast friends. Long suffering from Hepatitis he is mischievous, funny as hell and loves little cars. Maurice lives with his grandmother in a tent on the outskirts of town. Through our generous donations his grandmother and him have moved into an apartment and out of a tent. He received top-notch medical care and attention at St Damien’s hospital and I visit him regularly at his new home. Maurice also greatly benefits from the love and prayers of his adopted sister Olivia Wilde.
Buried for three days in the rubble, Davidson lost all family members and three fingers when his house collapsed. Alone at the hospital for the last six months he has gained a new family of a staff that cares for him as their own. I put him to sleep every night by reading to him take him to our rehab center for rehabilitation; he calls me Papa. Through tedious paperwork and endless negotiations including bribes Davidson is now a week away from getting a passport and heading off to the States where his hand will be reconstructed in the best hand hospital in the US. He will move into a loving home in St. Louis and will be a part of APJ the rest of his life.
Augustnel at the hospital and help runs the St Luc program. He grew up in the orphanage and has a special place in his heart for giving kids a second chance. Augustnel started a program called “Hot Plate” which brings 300 abandoned street kids from Pettionville together for lunch time to eat a hot meal and learn a small lesson everyday about health, social issues and basic reading and writing. Augustnel asked if we could help the school, we brought another water filter to the school and for the last three months have provided the hot food for all the children in the program and now in the school next door as well.
Two street kids Wilson and Jason have been out of school for 2 years due to lack of money for clothes, books and without parents to support them. They beg outside the gate of the hospital and have become fixtures in my day. One day Wilson said to me in perfect English “If you don’t go to school you can’t get a job, and I want to go to school, can you help?” We have given generously to these bright young boys gifts of clothes, new shoes, school supplies and money and have enrolled them in the Angels of Light school behind the hospital where they and doing well and thank me everyday when I visit them. We have put them on the right path and I’m proud of their schoolwork.
APJ has made it possible for all the St Luc schools to feed 8000 kids a hot meal and snack every day, we have brought 40,000 gallons of clean water everyday to the people and provided dozens of large tents to teach school under and with our partnership with TOMs shoes have given out thousands of shoes to kids in need. We bring our medical clinic out every other day and bring music, dancing and movies to countless tent cities and communities otherwise forgotten. It may be dramatic to say we have saved lives but it is accurate to say that because of our work in Haiti, we have made many lives brighter and fuller. As Artists we have brought our unique light, love, laughter, music, art, dance, joy and compassion to our brothers and sisters in Haiti and will continue to do so for a long, long time.
Artists for Peace and Justice
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Junior Jean was 22 years old when he accidentally killed himself from drinking a potion to protect from the werewolves that were coming after him. A bright kid with a lazy eye and an uneasy smile, he grew up in the orphanage in Kenscoff and was my friend. Kenscoff is high in the mountains above Port au Prince; it’s a sprawling compound of six-story buildings that house 400 orphans. Its cold there, so cold you can see your breath it’s a place of gray Soviet block apartments where it rains everyday and dense fog hovers stubbornly. The surrounding town of Kenscoff is the seat of Voodoo in Haiti and its presence is heavy. Juniors death sent a chill down the spine of all of us working in the orphanage and at his funeral Father Rick reads from his journals. In his last days he wrote obsessively many times a day, he was terrified and convinced that a curse had been put on him and his time was coming to an end. At night, he wrote, owls sat outside his windows and he saw werewolves dart hungrily between the shadows of the tall evergreen trees that surround the orphanage. We carried his coffin to the cemetery and buried him last Friday. Father Rick was shaken, in town we stopped to sit with the local Voodoo priest who told us that in the coming fortnight nine other children will die and there is no way to stop it. He told us that the curse was put on the kids because there has been a lot of aid money coming to Haiti but none has reached the people, the kids death will change it and the money will flow. I went back down the hill to Port au Prince troubled, sleeping uneasy with dreams of people who shift shapes and become monsters.
The news was reporting a hurricane sitting off the shore-threatening landfall. In the morning as I sat in the little chapel, rain slammed hard against the stained glass windows, Father Rick sighed and told us a tornado hit Kenscoff the night before and three children died “There is a lot of good out there but there is also darkness and there is also evil so be vigilant.”
I tried to put the whole thing out of my head; there was more work than I knew how to handle. I spent the week unloading endless containers, and fighting for my land deal to be finished. On Wednesday I got a call that a cow had fell in a hole on my land left open from soil testing. I rushed over and ran up to my friend Salomon who was standing on the lip of a 20-foot deep hole peering down. I nervously looked in and saw a small calf crying at the bottom, her mother pacing angrily around us. “We need to get the cow out before Jaco comes back.” I trembled and he took the words out of my mouth. Jaco is the cow herder, a wild-eyed old man built like a fortress, always shirtless, funny as hell but heavy into Voodoo. We have become close in the last 6 months but I don’t want to take any chances: he carries a sharp machete. I climbed down into the hole and began to tie a rope around the kicking calf. A large tarantula ran over my shoe, I yelped then squished it; I was sweating and filthy. After a few hours we finally pulled it out shaken but unharmed. When I finally climbed out of the hole Jaco stood above me blocking out the sun. He was shaking his head; we took a walk. He could see I was sorry that the hole was left dangerously open, he calmed me down and I asked him if I could make it better. Jaco shrugged his huge shoulders, I reached in my pocket and handed him a wrinkled 20-dollar bill. Jaco lit up and became excited and happy he danced a little jig and patted me on the back, thanked me then headed off to the closest bar: curse averted thanks Andrew Jackson.
The next morning more bad news from Kenscoff two more children had mysteriously died bringing the total to 6; we were halfway through the prophecy and had 5 days to go. Father Rick and I went to the morgue again and as we filled coffins with babies bodies, he reminded me of a prophecy my dad had said to him. Someone had told my dad that Haiti was 50 years in the past and my dad had disagreed and said that "This is not the past this is the future, if we are not careful this is where we are all heading. Oil spills, greed, exploitation and intolerance we are on the wrong track." Father Rick had thought about it a lot and knew it was true, he also gave me hope. “A prophecy is a warning but it’s not too late right now to change the outcome.”
That night I went drinking to my friend Anna’s bar in Pettionville. Anna is a drop dead gorgeous girl from Kosovo, she’s a badass who doesn’t even pretend to speak French or Creole; her bar Café Des Arts is my local. Filled with UN, NGOs and young Haitian elite, Copa bands play cover songs and everyone’s lips are tinted red from the fresh Raspberry Rum cocktails. I have a stool at the bar that everyone knows is mine. I like it there; it’s a band of misfits and lost souls. Mercenaries trade stories of Lebanon, Somalia and prostitutes, NGO’s trade stories of orgies at UN camps in Sudan and in the end we all get bleary eyed and Rummy and talk about beautiful women we’ve loved and lost. In the morning I wake up next to Anna who makes me pancakes and ginger tea, she wears only a T-shirt, which reads, “This was supposed to be the future.”
In the morning Father Rick is loading up the truck to go back to the orphanage another orphan has died, we have a funeral for him, 2 in one week is too much. At the mass in Kenscoff the kids are scared, none of them participate in the service. Father Rick tries to use the tragedy as a learning lesson about fear and light and love but the words drift unheard into the valley below. That night as we move huge containers around a field which is to become a new orphanage lightning hits the ground next to Father Rick, all the hair on his arm is singed off, the guys stop laughing and tremble.
Four Americans are killed at the airport, I’m glad my family made it out of here safe. The embassy has placed a travel warning on Haiti; people are hungry and angry. 3 billion dollars donated and 10 billion pledged yet only 2% spent so far. I’m incredibly frustrated with all the NGO fancy cars and big rented houses and boards of directors back home and money being wasted or not spent while people starve. I can’t sleep at night. I’ve been so hungry recently since there is little food that I’ve gone back to my Peace Corps habit of keeping a bottle of vinegar by my cot in my tent to drink from to quell the hunger pangs.
I travel to a lake outside of the city and organize a mobile clinic and food distribution. The villagers are grateful and kind. All of the kids in the village are stark naked and dusty; we bring clothes and water. The people there have to walk 2 hours for fresh water and school; they have nothing. We do our best there, treat some wounds and I give a dental clinic about brushing teeth, we laugh with them as we pass out tooth brushes and mouthwash. On the ride home I’m silent thinking about fancy parties in LA and fundraisers in Rome and nice cars and private jets and oil spills and wasted food and iPads and politicians. I look out the window and see devastation, hunger, thirst, dirty clinics and tarps for homes next to broken schools and I’m sick.
“This was supposed to be the future.” Sigh.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
First imagine Port au Prince all twisted and dirty, her sewers overflowing on trash streets, then imagine the heart of downtown, where the regal Palace and Cathedral still lie in rubble surrounded by tent cities, then imagine the General Hospital at the heart of it all. The General Hospital is huge, filthy, chaotic and putrid now imagine the morgue there. Hundreds of bodies thrown together mostly naked, strewn ten high in two walk-in coolers. The air conditioners leak water creating a pool of water on the entire floor that’s a mixture of dirty water and human fluids. It’s not a nice place. Father Rick and the guys go every Thursday to collect the unidentified bodies, wrap them in burial cloths and give them a proper burial on a pretty hillside outside the city overlooking the ocean. I have been trying to pin down Father Rick to have a talk about the school and the only way I could do it was to join him on the burial. I have been scared to go in the past but decided I had to see for myself what happens to the very poor when they die in the City of Dust.
We piled in the back of two big St Luc trucks and headed downtown. 20 of our guys sat in the back passing around a bottle of rum and having lively discussions about who was a better team Brazil or Argentina. We sang songs and danced as the rum took root. When we turned into the hospital an expectant hush came over the guys; we pulled into the morgue. We put on rubber gloves and headed inside. Father Rick and the guys all lit menthol cigarettes to mask the smell. I lit mine, slugged some rum and walked into the cooler. I have seen plenty of dead bodies since I have been here and I was expecting something terrible but was not prepared for the sight and smell of hundreds of bodies piled high and rotting. There was a woman inside digging through the bodies looking for her father: she didn’t cry. Father Rick blessed the bodies and we got to work. We wrapped each body and gave them a rosary and carried them to the back of the truck, my jeans became covered in viscous splatter, I lit more cigarettes and swore under my breath; the sun was hot. The guys began to sing loudly, beat the morgue walls like drums and dance as they worked “I’ll fly away lord, I’ll fly away, take me away.”
We finished and headed out into the country. I asked Raphael why we collected the bodies. He drank a little rum and said “When you dead, you not garbage.” If not for our guys and Father Rick these people would be thrown into the landfill where the city waste goes, a place where pigs and rats devour anything left behind. Father Rick pulled me aside and said, “Can you imagine if that was your mother there, you see, we must do what we can.” We drove our trucks to a beautiful empty hillside perched above the blue green Caribbean waters. A few skinny gravediggers leaned on their shovels at the mouth of forty graves. A 10 piece brass band in suits played marches “We call this band the Grateful Dead” Father said with a chuckle. We placed each body in the graves, lit incense and sang songs; the wind blew cool on my forehead. This was finally the dignity these unnamed people deserved and it was beautiful.
On the way home Father and I got to have our talk. He told me about a fat woman at the hospital who is volunteering at the hospital and driving him crazy, every morning she corners Father Rick and complains that some doctors are tying tubes and giving out condoms, a big no-no in a Catholic institution. She threatens to report him to the church. Father explains to her that he will look into these but that these doctors are hard workers and saving lives all day long and she should not judge them. The fat lady tells Father that it is people like him that are corrupting the church and that she used to be like him until she was hit in the head by a 2x4 and God came to her and set her straight. Father Rick angrily told her that it is not for her to hit his people and friends with a 2x4 and if God wants to hit them then leave it for him to do.
My friend has a mobile clinic and Raphael, Conan and I went to get it and bust it out. He's not using it and we could be everyday. My friend is out of the camp but the guy running his clinics is there. He’s a nice young kid but really green and keeps saying “Cool Beans!” as Conan and I roll our eyes. We steamroll him and get him to agree to let us run the clinic our way. We need to replace the three clinics in Cite Solie that crashed. Raphael hops in the driver seat and fires it up; its huge and unruly. Its like a scene from Christmas Vacation I feel like we are Cousin Eddie, uninvited, unwashed and wild eyed.
Raphael drives like a maniac with Conan and I following behind laughing and cringing as he smashes every tree and a few cars on the way down the hill. We bring it into the hospital like prize from a far off war. Father Rick loves it.
Did a tent distribution in Cite Solie in the morning there was an amazing guitar player there; he played a song for me.
After I went to friend’s mansion on the beach for the weekend. All the rich kids; childhood friends and now inherited owners of every industry in Haiti. We ate heartily, smoked grass and danced as 2 Dj’s played music until the sun rose over the perfectly still green water.
It was excessive and strange but fascinating. I was racked with guilt about leaving the hospital for the weekend; was my first weekend off since coming. There was an NFL player there who came to Haiti to give money and support Non Profit work, by the end of the weekend he was planning with all the guys how to make money here and talking about Haiti as an untapped goldmine. Good luck asshole.
Taught a class in my friend Nadia’s one room corrugate school in a tent city, wish all teachers could be like her. That night got drunk and laughed with Nigerian soldiers on a UN camp somewhere.
I have been waiting for an Anesthesia machine that had been donated to the hospital to show up for months. It arrived yesterday and was 20 years old and a piece of shit, really disappointing. That night Nebez had his birthday party at his house in Delmas, we danced till 3am to a Copa band, wish I had brought my sax. Father Rick and I talked under the night sky, he told me about Eco Theology. A radical idea that laments our cultures separation from nature. Father has been studying all the worlds’ ancient religions and is upset that the church has made the world about the individual person rather than a part of nature. How sad he felt watching the oil spill, he wondered if we could ever be a part of nature again. Big thoughts for a priest.
I’m down in the dumps on Thursday, frustrated by the slow progress on the land and the bullshit. Raphael sees me and tells me we are going to the Ollofson for drinks and dancing. We drive through downtown streets, firelit and alive; I tell him I want to quit. He pulls the car over next to a tent city, grabs two beers, opens them and cranks up the music. “Wavin Flag” comes on; he pulls me close and says, “You know what Lucky Dube says?” “What” I say. He smiles, slams his beer and says, “Nobody can stop Reggae!” Then he begins to dance right in the middle of the street, some young kids from the tent city join in and start dancing too. I am at once back to my center, I know its true and I begin to dance as well. “Nobody can stop Reggae!” I yell and I yell it loud enough to wake up the world.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Food distributions to our schools in Cite Soleil. I ride on the back of our truck sitting high up on teetering sacks of rice and beans all marked with American flags from the WFP. I’ve got Rolling Stones blasting in my ears and coffee burning in my head; it’s a good morning. Cite Soleil is like nowhere else on earth. Half a million people live in the Western Hemispheres biggest slum, it’s a place where there are fewer than 1,000 toilets and even the UN soldiers fear to tread. Shacks on top of shacks and people on top of people, by air it’s only an hour from Florida but may as well be the moon. Our truck rounds the corner to the St Vincent School and enters the gates. In the courtyard 300 school kids gather in sparkling clean uniforms and sit under a big UNICEF tent I had donated and built the week before. I hop off the truck and stretch, throw some greetings and some handshakes to the kids. I’ve worked hard for this moment, months of paperwork have lead to this; actual food for my actual kids. I feel great. We unload some sacks of rice and beans leaving half still in the truck for the next school.
Suddenly there is commotion at the gate. I turn to see three guys pop their heads over the wall then disappear, when I turn back the school committee and the headmaster are shaken. All the teachers freeze and Fredo the driver shakes his head and swears under his breath. “Gangsters…” he says in Creole, “with guns.” he adds. Fuck. They want our rice and our truck I’m told. I shimmy up the wall to see the once busy market now empty and 10 thugs pacing with conspicuous guns in their belts. I’m a prisoner in our school courtyard. For an hour we stay put while Fredo negotiates a deal in front of the school. Money exchanges hands and we get cleared to leave. I sit in the front of the truck and try to figure out where I should put my wallet and phone, I stash them in the glove compartment figuring they’ll take them from my pocket but then change my mind and put them in my pocket thinking that they’ll steal the truck and I can try to run away with my phone and wallet still. The gates open; the market’s eerily empty; it’s quiet. Two thugs hop on the back of the truck and escort us out of Cite Soleil unharmed, food intact.
Discouraged and shaken we finish the distribution without incident.
Back to Cite Soleil to the St Andrew School to set up a large water filter. Thought about not going today but fought through the urge. Was met at St Andrew by Voodoo the gang leader of the section of Cite Soleil called Boston. Although Voodoo might better be described as a community leader he is 6’4” and built like a UN tank, he’s got an easy smile and a warm way about him. He puts his arm around me and squeezes me hard. “Heard about yesterday,” he says. “Won’t happen again, you are forever protected in Cite Soleil.” Voodoo has always has always been really happy with St. Luc and my work there, since after the earthquake the area has been nearly abandoned by the Aid organizations citing safety issues. We set up a huge water filter with Operation Blessing that can now give out 10,000 gallons of fresh free drinking water everyday. Voodoo is thrilled and so are the kids. Voodoo takes me for a walk to see his compound, I stroll with his gang through the dirty broken streets. It would have made quite a picture; me and 20 gang members walking proudly through Sun City. Voodoo offers me a beer and we talk about his dream of setting up a Karate camp for kids, Conan and him spar, Conan takes him out easily a surprise to all.
After Cite Soleil we drive to Croix de Bouquet an hour out of town to Raphael’s house to set up the other system. Maria calls me, she’s in Haiti I ask her where she is, she tells me Croix De Bouquet only about five minutes away. This world is too small.
That night Raphael and I drink a bottle of five star rum and sit in the rain under an umbrella, he tells me about all of his friends and family who died in the earthquake; he cries.
These are uneasy times in Haiti big riots all week called manifestations. Spray-painted tags have popped up that read “Aba Ong!” “Kill the NGO’s” not a good sign.
I get food poisoning, luckily I’m at the Hotel Ollofson with Maria when it happens so I’m in good hands, I throw up a lot, it’s the first time in 20 years I’ve puked; I’m not happy.
In Pettionville Augustine and I go to set up another filter. We set it up at the new St. Luc program that gives a hot meal and school to the homeless street kids of Pettionville. Everyday 250 of them show up and learn and eat. We set up the filter which along with the other three can give out 30,000 gallons of clean water a day. I also gave them a stove that burns only trash, they never have to buy charcoal again and WFP has pledged food. All in all it is a good day. On the way home we drink beers and then have to make a stop at the police station. One of our vehicles has been impounded for not having valid plates. Augustine knows everyone and assures me this will be a cinch. We walk up to the dirty police station and he greets everyone with jokes and hugs. Things are looking good, we need this truck to distribute food and with a $100 bill we can free her. The last man we need to see turns out to be the only honest cop in Haiti. We beg and plead in his filthy office; he polishes his gun. Then he just shakes his head no. We leave the truck where she is and curse under our breath. A fucking honest cop ruined it all.
Later that night I’m eating dinner with a pretty French girl from the WFP named France, I tell her how pissed I am that the cop was so honest and it messed up my day, she is un-amused and tells me I should be happy that there was an uncorrupt police officer: she doesn’t get it. Her sincerity and optimism are a big turn off.
I go to the store for some milk, on the way back I hear kids playing and change my route. I stumble upon a tent city with about 300 people living in squalor. I stop my motorcycle and silently watch the kids playing soccer and flying kites. I walk into the city, kids swamp me, many of them without clothes they want to touch and hug me; none of them begging. I’m told the tent city is called Seville. I ask for the leader and am introduced to Miguel, a quick man with brave eyes and flawless English; an English he refuse to speak to me because he finds my Creole funny. I ask him what they need. He tells me food and tents, maybe toys for the kids. I’m moved by this place and promise to come back. “When?” he asks..... “Soon.” I tell him.
There are 1.5 million people living in tents in Haiti; these are not the nice North Face tents, these are ripped tarps stretched over tired sticks. I can’t imagine having to watch my family live like this.
I head back to the hospital and load up 2.5 tons of rice, a handful of soccer balls and 50 tents in the back of our truck. I go back to Seville and give Miguel tickets to distribute for the ones most in need. I tell him I’ll be back in one hour.
When I return, the quaint Seville has grown into a pulsing city; people are everywhere and wanting for food. Immediately chaos erupts. People fight and shout. The angry ones are those that live in houses in the surrounding town. Many of them lived in Seville before but moved back home recently, they want food too.
It hits me for the first time; I am in the middle of the problem of distribution.
There are now people that think it is better to live in the tents because sometimes White people show up with trucks full of rice. I’m now worried these people will move back. It’s just not sustainable.
Then again what am I supposed to do? These people live a half mile from my own tent and literally in the shadow of the third largest US embassy in the world and they have nothing. I have extra rice and soccer balls and tents so what do I do? I don’t know what the right solution is but what I do know is that I can’t sleep thinking about the people living like this right behind me.
The sun is setting and the food has been distributed, I take a long walk with Miguel, he is happy but speaks gravely of the problems facing his people, we talk deeply as our shadows grow long, he is tired; so am I.
I’m not sure how to process it all. I’m not sure what the answer is and I’m not sure what is right. What I do know is I will fight and struggle, and although I am tired, I am far from ready to rest.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Sean calls in a panic on Monday morning. “I’ve got a boy dying with a case of Diphtheria can you admit him in the hospital?” I hang up the phone, down my coffee and go search for Sister Judy, the hospital director. Sister Judy is a short little hobbit of a woman, old and pissed off at everything, she’s been here for ten years and doesn’t have one friend but she almost died in the earthquake so she kind of gets a pass. Sister Judy tells me in a screechy voice that we can’t see the boy since we are not set up for Diphtheria and don’t have the antidote.
I rush to Conan, a reformed misfit who grew up and is best friends with Father Rick; Conan built this hospital and has become my closest friend here. He is tough and quick to anger but he has a golden heart, loves Haiti and understands this world. Conan says we don’t turn any child away we will help him. The boy shows up at the hospital, in the back of the ambulance he’s dying: needs oxygen. The nurse is a young blonde from Canada; its her first day in Haiti, she’s a wreak. Conan and her butt heads, we can’t help the boy, no Immunoglobin, Sean’s pissed; they rush out of the hospital toward Margaret’s hospital in Pettionville.
I’m pissed too; wish we could have done more. I’m convinced we could have done more but Sister Judy just wanted to say no. Power trips run rampant in Haiti. Waste.
The boy can’t be seen at Margaret’s needs to go to General Hospital, ambulance breaks down on the way finally the boy is admitted. General Hospital is the largest hospital in PaP and it ain’t a pretty place. That night Conan and I ride motorcycles up to see Sean and make a plan in case there is an outbreak of Diphtheria, which would be catastrophic. Sean has a RV mobile clinic that I want. We talk, drink and then head back down the hill.
Pettionville at night on the back of a motorcycle is one of the greatest things I’ve known in the world. I suppose it might be the rum but I always get inspired riding at night through the torn up hillside city. I have this funny reaction to rum; it makes me nostalgic for the moment I’m in, I don’t know if there is a word for this. I call it “Rummy.” Half a bottle and I become a lover of everything, everyone and especially of here: my beautiful and fucked-up Haiti.
At night, Pettionville is the Wild West. Pitch dark crowded streets lit only by fires and a few lanterns. Roasted goat smoke stings your eyes, trash burns, whores gyrate, gangs roam, guns flash, the motorcycle swerves to avoid potholes, you use all of your Creole proverbs in the first ten minutes laughing with the driver then you ride lost deep in the Rummy. You shift your position to get at the bottle of rum in your back pocket.
You cry; might be the stinging smoke, might not. Everyone is out on the streets, drinking, fighting and telling stories. There is a party every night and everywhere here as if to celebrate making it through another day. We pass black-lit clubs blasting Copa and Hip-Hop; dogs dodge out of the way as we speed through. At night no one sees I’m a Blanc; it is as it is. Every other building and house has fallen and become a twisted pile of rubble, these are the dark places. In the morning when the numbing of the rum has worn off it is a hard hangover waking up in a broken tent, in a broken city to a broken life. But night will come again and so will the rum.
I arrive in back at the hospital; an Italian nurse grabs me to translate something to a brand new mother. I head into the intensive care unit and find a weeping woman holding a baby no bigger than my hand. The nurse tells me to tell the mother that the baby has a fever and not to worry, it will be all right and the doctor will come soon. I do and calm the woman down and put my hand on the little boy’s warm heart and say a prayer then head to sleep.
In the morning I wake up to find the baby has died and so has the boy with Diphtheria. Fuck, what a hangover.
Conan writes me an email, helps me get through it.
On Wednesday I go to Tetionia for a distribution of clothing. Two men fight each other over a bag of shoes more join in, punches are thrown we need to get out quick. As we drive off our truck falls into a ditch and is stuck. I panic thinking the mob will attack us. The mob has watched the whole thing. They stop fighting and lift the truck out of the ditch and back on the road. As we drive off I watch the two fighting men shake hands and walk off together laughing. Beautiful Haiti.
World Food Program pulls through with food for the street schools. They deliver 50 tons of food and will do so every month. It took a lot of paperwork and charm to pull this one off and unloading the food was a really proud moment for me. This food will feed a hot meal to 8030 kids every day.
Yesterday there was a big party at the GOAL house, a huge mansion high in the Pettionville hills. We dance until dawn. 200 young NGO and Non-Profit workers from all over the world who work non-stop really know how to party. I sleep on the floor then eat brunch with my UN friends in the Latin Quarter: eggs benedict and a Bloody Mary. Mood amongst the aid workers is high, things are settling in and curfews are lifting. I fight with a girl from USAID who works in the embassy about the absence of the Red Cross; she says they are doing great work here. Then she tells me she gets Netflix at the embassy and her mail comes everyday on American Airlines. Grotesque.
It’s night now and raining. I’m dry in my tent listening to Dylan and writing this. Others are not so lucky they are wet and huddling with their broken families in broken tents. In the morning when the clouds break they will dress in the only dry clothes they have; somehow perfectly clean and ironed and head to work, some are my friends who work with me here. In the morning we will exchange greetings in the hallway and tell some little jokes and begin our day. I will never know what their life is really like, it must be brutal: yet they survive and laugh and stand up and fight proudly day after day.
It is extraordinary. It is the power of the human spirit. It is the power of love. It is my beautiful Haiti