|Day one, Seattle, WA, USA to Leogane, Haiti
||[Mar. 16th, 2010|07:56 pm]
Frankly, I'm shocked by what I'm seeing in Haiti, and I thought I'd prepared for it. The dive from Port-au-Prince to Leogane, about two hours to cover twenty miles. It is heartbreaking. An informal estimate is that 90% of the buildings in Leogane were destroyed or damaged in the quake, although engineers from the US are staying with my group, conducting more formal surveys. Rubble, half-fallen buildings, tent cities--some clean and official from UNICEF, Save the Children, or other aid groups, but most just corrugated tin, tarps, and salvaged scraps leaning together--are everywhere. A small one is right next to our base. I can tell that this was a terrifically poor country before the quake. There are few paved roads in town. Most public businesses are run out of homes. Trash is burned in the street. Open, fetid drainage ditches are everywhere. Stray animals roam. The destruction since the quake and its aftershocks, however, beggars description. |
My series of flights was pretty tame, by the standards of international travel. Seattle to JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which I've always been curious about, but I used my seven hour layover to try to sleep on the terminal floor, to Port-au-Prince via Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Notable events: The ticket agent in New York, when he saw that I was going to spend four months in Haiti, was very friendly, and got me an exit row seat and a free drink. From San Juan to Port-au-Prince, I was evidently flying with a general. Why he was flying commercial, I have no idea. He got to walk right past customs and immigration, but they weren't especially onerous in Haiti.
The immigration lines were in a warehouse in the process of being converted to an international terminal. Outside was a pretty familiar crowd of taxi drivers hustling for a ride that I've seen in a few developing countries. It was on the shuttle ride from the airport to here that I realized that what I was seeing was every negative, difficult, or repulsive thing I've ever seen in the third world in one place. I'm still processing it, as I only landed about eleven hours ago.
Still, holy crap the Haitians I've met have been friendly, happy, and welcoming. They sing while they work. They smile a lot, more at each other than at me, but still. Some people show signs of bad health--bad teeth, bad skin, badly healed wounds, but they don't seem to mind these, or even notice them. I'm dubious that international aid will be enough to even partially rebuild the destruction I've seen in one day (hey, can you spare a couple hundred excavators, backhoes, dump trucks, and bulldozers?) but my impression is that Haitians will, very, very slowly, rebuild. I know nothing though. I've only been here one day. I'll know very slightly more than nothing in four months.