Haiti-Fresh From The Field Report by Anna Marie Parrott


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Haiti-Fresh From The Field Report by Anna Marie Parrott

 by Anna Marie Parrott

Haiti is still a country very much ravaged by the earthquake that occurred on Jan 12th. You cannot go anywhere without seeing the results: roads full of rubble and debris, almost to the point of impassability; buildings falling down, actually hanging over sidewalks where people are still running back and forth below; and everywhere tents and makeshift housing because many are afraid to sleep indoors or have no home to return to. At night I witnessed people sleeping under temporary shelters, which sometimes consisted of little more than a piece of plywood leaning against a wall, or a tattered piece of cloth tucked over a fence. It looked like many street vendors simply slept in their booths at night. One booth I saw was a bundle of branches that had been leaned up against a building with just enough room for a person to crawl inside.

Those left homeless, who are fortunate enough to have received a tent, cover every available field and open area. Some tents are quite large and house many people; others are small, but they are all pitched close together. In the morning you see people trying to bath in gutters and brush their teeth with cups of water before heading out to catch a 'tap tap' to work, if they still have a job. The 'tap tap's are usually old pickup trucks with an elevated cap on the back and benches that allow many people to ride around the city. Most are dragging on the ground from the weight of so many. I expected to see better conditions in the country, and there certainly was not damage to the extent that there was in the city, but people in the country did not receive the aid people in the city did, so there were no real tents, just rags of cloth thrown over a frame of branches, which is no shelter at all for rain, and barely shelter from the sun.

In the city, cleanup is a very slow process. We started to see garbage bins being put out and an attempt to clean some of the streets, but with so much rubble still in the way, it is hard to restore things back to normal. Besides, in many parts of the city, people are used to throwing trash on the streets. Pastor Vincent cleaned up his back yard, only to have his neighbor throw his trash over the back fence on the area that had just been cleaned. Skinny dogs forage in the garbage of the gutters. We were concerned for the many men all over the city still trying to take cracked buildings down by hand. On one building which looked like it could continue its' decent to the pavement at any moment, we saw a half a dozen men way up on top trying to break it apart with sledge hammers. Nowhere did we see a wrecking crane to do such work.  It was a dirty dangerous job. I am sure there are still bodies under some of the buildings, but anything visible has been removed at this point.

The majority of people have no job and no home. You can almost taste the hopelessness around you. People are so desperate. You cannot stop to buy anything from a vendor on the street if you are a foreigner, without getting mobbed by those willing to do anything to receive money. Young men stand around the airport hoping for a chance to carry someone's bag. They are a persistent people, given to being hard workers when there is something to work hard at. Without the job, their persistence becomes overbearing to the point of being a nuisance, and it quickly dissolves into anger when they realize they will come away with nothing. This was especially obvious in Cite Soleil, where many young people have no hope of ever having a job, due to the total lack of any kind of education.

Many people survive by being street vendors. Some have actual new merchandise or artwork to hawk. But what one person throws away, another sees as an opportunity to profit, and the item is cleaned up and resold. We saw all kinds of goods being displayed on the streets. People cook with charcoal, so there are many women carrying pots of charcoal on their heads, while simultaneously carrying a huge bag of it under their arm, as they go about selling on the streets. Their limbs are black from the soot. Others have coolers of ice with drinks on top, carefully protected from the heat with plastic and cloth till the next refill. Vendors frequently are sitting in mud, even those selling food items, and their wares sit on top of a scrap of cloth over the mud. In some poorer areas of the city, women make cookies out of mud with a little flavoring mixed in and sell them. It fills the stomach with no nutrition. It is not uncommon for people to become ill from the bacteria contained in the soil, but for many it has become a 'comfort food'.

One of the things that amazed me in all this devastation was the lack of actual thievery in the tents cities. Our Pastor Vincent says there really isn't a whole lot of violence or crime in the tents cities. Pastor Willy Severe told us that in his section of town, Pettionville, the chief of police gave orders to shoot people committing crimes, so they have had no crime there. Port au Prince has had heightened warnings by the UN for kidnapping and murder, mainly directed at foreigners, or those who appear to have the means to pay a kidnapper. It is important to remain in groups when visiting, at all times, and to be very aware of your surroundings.

I love the Haitian people. They are beautiful, hardworking, and intelligent. Many are beaten down only because they are not given the opportunity to use the gifts they so obviously possess. It is written that 'hope deferred makes the heart sick', and this is the main ailment of Haiti that I saw. One of the many tragic stories I heard was from Pastor Victor of the Dominican Republic. He says businessmen near the DR border hire Haitians crossing over to do a week's work. The Haitians work very hard thinking they will receive a week's wages,
I often look to the art work of an area or nation to see what spirits might be operating in a locale, and there were three pieces of art that particularly drew my attention while I was in Haiti. I don't mention these because they represent who the Haitian people are, but what spirits may be trying to operate through them. One was the bust of a young girl, seductive and very sly, almost calculating looking, and you often feel as if you are being sized up in terms of what that person might be able to receive from you and how you can be manipulated to provide it. The second was a massive driftwood carving of all kinds of plants, animals and people, which the international airport saw fit to put in their front ticket area. It is a very artistic, imaginative, though chaotic work, but when you look at it for a while, it appears that every creature on it is reaching out to bite and devour anyone that comes near. There are many self- destructive aspects to the culture, not the least of which is outright voodoo.

The third piece of art was so beautiful, because of the hope it contained. It was of a Haitian mother and her child reading together, and they wore the most colorful native garb. The embrace was full of love. The mother was obviously teaching the child, who was receiving with gladness, both the love and instruction. The vice-mayor of Cite Soleil's first concern was not housing, though there was hardly any houses left standing in his district. It was education, a chance for his people to be trained in a vocation. He said that this is where their greatest need exists and this is what will bring about the greatest healing for those who are without hope now.

Jorge and I spoke to a number of native born Haitians concerning the subjects of voodoo and governmental corruption. They all had stories to tell about how they saw the evidence of voodoo being practiced on a governmental level. Some were required to commit their country to voodoo spirits in school; some saw its influence in local politics. In some cases the local church actually incorporated elements of voodoo. A friend of ours heard from people who work in the palace, that a human sacrifice was performed in the palace the day before the earthquake. Another told us that the basement of the palace contains the bones of people who were buried alive by previous governmental leaders. Once again, we heard how desperate people can become, when they are subjected to inhuman treatment, and conquering nations were cruel to the Haitians. Since they were originally slaves from Africa, they turned to their previous native gods for relief from the oppression, thus developing the reliance on voodoo. There are signs, however, that people are dissatisfied with that dependence. A group of voodoo priests was recently stoned, chased away and all their paraphernalia burned by their neighbors who had had enough. Three days of fasting and prayer replaced the
According to two Haitian lawyers we met, Haiti has never had Christians in any governmental positions that they know of. We met one Christian lawyer who is running for a position in the congress, and he knows of one other Christian who will be running for public office. It is his desire to see a new level of integrity, transparency, and caring for the general populace. According to these lawyers, most Haitian politicians are in office for relatively short terms and so their concern has been establishing themselves financially before their term is up, rather than caring for their constituency. Another man we met, who has done ministry in Haiti for over 20 years says you have to never allow yourself to be pushed, but to do things methodically and require accountability from all involved. He says 'trust no one' and 'get the receipts from your mom'. This includes individuals and governmental officials.

Recently, the previous import laws were reenacted, putting a stop to easy and free of customs charges of humanitarian aid imports. This is the catch 22 of foreign aid coming into a country: people are in need, but when you fill that need, you can end up crippling the local economy because people can now get similar merchandise for free. As much as possible, it helps to employ local tradesmen to do work, rather than bring Americans there to do the work. The same with shipping goods: often times it is more cost effective to buy goods there and boost the local economy than to pay shipping costs for even donated goods, provided the goods are available. The other business issue now is the location of some of the tent cities: they are preventing the land owners from doing business on their own land.

While the city has hotels, restaurants and services gradually recovering, the countryside is lush with vegetation and farms. People in the country can barter or trade things that they have grown or made.  Some of the crops we were told are easily grown in Haiti are: tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, plantains, sugar cane, corn, mangos, papaya, sweet potatoes, rice, avocados, coconuts, almonds and a fruit called guanabana, which is reported to have cancer destroying properties. All kinds of herbs and teas can also be grown there. In addition, the countryside has many wild game animals, including wild hens & pigeons. In parts of the country we could clearly see rich dark soil. One of the things I saw being shipped from the airport was rum, which is, of course, made from fermented sugar cane. There is a peace in the outlaying areas that you just don't feel in the cities. There appears to be plenty of water, streams from the many mountains and beautiful lakes. According to our tour guides, a spring water bottling plant would be a possibility. There is the potential there for communities that would be self-sustaining.  Port au Prince officials are reportedly planning to move the city to the area we visited in a planned and measured way, in an effort to give people a fresh start.

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