HODR Haiti. This is a new challenge

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Haiti  ,
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blue helmets provided the backdrop for the light tank, an Argentine soldier manned the M-16, finger on the trigger. Tank, food truck, food truck, food truck, Tank. One million dollars worth of UN food aid rolled through the systemically poor town of Cabaret.

We were only 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince and still somehow there is a lack of food in a church turned relief shelter. Marc and I stood amongst the pews crowded by a group of 20 children and a few very vocal women. Food was only available at the "relief" shelter once a day, a simple plate of rice and beans. The shelter lacked any semblance of basic sanitation and the residents left at this humble shelter are slowly being forced out on to the streets. Church must continue. Those sheltered in a school are experiencing the same thing, school has already been delayed until October 6, but those in the business of providing some sort of education to students are reclaiming their buildings. Generosity and good will do dry up at some point. But not the homes, they were inundated with water as recently as Tuesday.

Public schools? There are almost none.

The regular economy is essentially defunct. How can a 1.5 liter bottle of water in the poorest country in the western hemisphere be 4 dollars? Or how can a simple plate of rice and beans on the street be 2 dollars? Haiti's inequality index ranks in the top five in the world, this is truly a land of the haves and the have nots. Over 90 percent of Haitians are forced to operate in a black market economy and as a foreigner I am finding it harder to operate in the street economy. It is usually very easy to tap into that. The country's street market economy is essentially subsisting with the support of a network of foreign influences. Large professional NGOs, a UN peacekeeping mission, and large economic incentives from donors like the EU may be keeping the country from plummeting into complete anarchy, but those forces also help to maintain the current status quo to some degree.

I arrived in Haiti apprehensive because of the well known security concerns, lack of infrastructure or fully functioning government. I have found some of those concerns to be silly but, I also find that many of these concerns are real. I have felt safe at all times, but I am also aware that I am staying in a well established, hotel, I travel in an elevated SUV with a Haitian driver, I eat at a well stocked buffet.

That will all change. I cant wait.

In the "relief shelter tension mounted as the residents did not understand what we were doing there. With our white skin, we should be arriving with food. Why were we asking so many questions? They are hungry, why were we asking about their plans for going home? Why did we want to know about how many trees were destroyed? Why did we want to know about the damaged school? We were admonished by an elderly man for not bringing food.

One woman, despite her child's hunger seemed to understand that we could help, just not with food. She escorted us to her small community 1km from Cabaret. Most people are afraid to be in their homes after dark, and a single drop of rain makes the situation worse. In Cabaret, the water came through at 2am, taking people away in their sleep.

Rumor has it that a very small bridge is responsible for the severity of the disaster in Cabaret.

This experience continues to be very new for me. I have not spent any time in the Caribbean since 2006, and never in a country that lacks so many of the things that even developing nations have.

HODR presses on, things are looking up for a potential successful deployment in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
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ddriscoll225 on

Thanks, John
Good to have your commentary. Kep it coming.

- Dave D.

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