Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feb. 4 2010

We started out the day today a bit late because our driver, Andre, got caught in a huge demonstration. A huge crowd of people was demonstrating and screaming about the fact that not everyone is getting aid. I have no idea if this was reported in the US news, and I'm guessing if it was, it was blown out of proportion. According to Andre, people were really angry but there was no violence and no destruction of any kind. They just wanted to have their voices heard and that essentially what they did. By the time we hit the streets it was over.

We drove around the city to see different sites for a bit. Every time you think you've become numb to the destruction, something else comes up around the corner and smacks you down. I was shooting on one street and an elderly man took us down an alleyway to see why was left of his house, which was essentially nothing. It's heartbreaking to see. His family was using buckets to try to clear away debris in an attempt - I'm assuming - to reclaim anything they can. Imagine losing everything in an instant.

We then met up with Joia the medical director for PIH and sat in on a meeting with the Minister of Public Health. Most of it was in Creole but essentially he was talking about how happy they were to have PIH involved and how once they were part of things stuff gets done. Joia reminded him that their hope is to help them get to the point where they aren't even part of he picture anymore.

After the meeting I made a phone call to Shalhevet the school I work at in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it was short as we had to run but they played it over the loudspeaker at an assembly and it was nice to hear all the folks there clapping when I was done. Sorry I couldn’t talk longer!

We then headed to one of the mobile clinics that has been set up that was absolutely mobbed. One of the PIH workers wanted to show Joia another tent city they were going to be setting up in and so they started to walk with me hand holding a camera in front of them walking backwards like I'm used to. Sadly for me, the walk was about a mile and a half! But just when I was starting to feel sorry for myself, I swing around and saw where we were going. It's one of the larger tent cities and based on the birth rate they are seeing, they estimate the population to be between 15 and 20 thousand. Imagine 20 thousand people living cramped together with no sewage, no electricity, nothing except a few possessions and the wood and sheets that form the walls. It's really more like a sheet city.

We followed Joia for a while and then when she was done, we went off on our own to shoot video of the city. Now consider what you have heard and seen on the news about these cities and then listen to the truth. Scott and I walked through these tents that are cramped together by the thousands with about 6 inches in between and not once felt on danger for the 45 minutes or so we wondered around. We had no interpreter and were constantly welcomed and were even invited into a few peoples homes which we took advantage of. It's amazing how people are proud to show what they have done and yet at the same time you can see the trauma on many of their faces at the same time. I know that seems odd but it's all there.
We rounded one corner to find this elderly gentleman working away on an old foot operated sewing machine. He was a tailor and was fixing shirts on the dirt floor in front of his tent surrounded by everyone and working away.

The thing I will never forget though are the kids. They are everywhere and constantly say "hey you" and then want you to take their picture. They also want to high five and knock knuckles all the time. Scott and I spent a lot of time surrounded by hoards of kids, and we even flew kites with them for a bit. They are all so happy and with the exception of occasionally asking for water and food. Even though they were wonderful and so nice, it's heartbreaking because these kids will be living there when my kids graduate day school. They'll be there when my kids graduate high school and they'll probably be there for a while after that. And that's if they make it that long. These camps are essentially permanent and that’s the horrible part of it all. That, and the randomness. My kids are safe at home and these kids are here, and when it comes right down to it, it’s not much more than a coin toss. Crazy.

There was a large group of people gathering in one area with a guy with a bullhorn getting them riled up, I'm guessing over food issues. Even then, though, with hundreds of people chanting, there wasn't any concern of problems. It's incredible and I only hope they get the relief they need.

The one thing I can say with certainty though is that God was in that city. I don't even know quite what I mean when I say that, but it was a profoundly spiritual place that oddly at face level seems like the last place you'd think would be spiritual. I can't really explain it but there was true goodness there and true… I'm not sure.

We heard today that one of the mass graves has 50 thousand people in it. The death toll is now expected to be 200 thousand.

Senegal has offered free land to anyone from Haiti interested in settling there.

I miss my wife and kids more than I can say.

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