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.