Friday, October 01, 2004

Haiti recap

Back from Haiti. I wrote entries on the Alpha Smart and downloaded. Posting them here. I'm still a little dazed. Soooo glad revisions are done and mailed. Thank God for author friends like Jennifer Ashley, who pitched in during the hurricane last Saturday when I frantically emailed her COBRA during the middle of Jeanne. I asked her to print COBRA and mail it to my editor if my power went out. (I would still have the laptop battery and a phone line). Hopefully, please, NO MORE HURRICANES. Want to have fun this weekend, something relaxing. I need relaxing. Boy, do I need it!

Haiti, Sept 28, 5:25 a.m.

In the lobby of the hotel Montana, waiting for Ben and Catherine to show up. Hotel is playing zesty muzac. Very bizarre to listen to at this hour and considering where we are going. The Montana with its polished marble floors, gleaming wood furniture, greenery in large clay pots and mirrored pillars is such a stark contrast the suffering and misery I know we’ll see. Dawn is just starting to break, a kind of grayish hue. Must remember duct tape to patch bullet hole in Montero so the water doesn’t come through.

6 am: On the road. Yesterday afternoon was, um, interesting. Found out Wyclef Jean from the Fugees is staying at the Montana. We were at the bar, having a drink and hanging out with a photographer. He gave us a lot of good information about what’s going on. He told us the name of the guide he hired. There are guides standing at the entrance of the “lake” the flooded road just outside Gonaives. If you don’t drive in the right place, you fall off the road. He told us there are about 200-300 people living at the bishop’s house, which is where we are headed first.

Ben brought electrical tape and taped up the bullet hole in the Montero b/c this photographer told us that the water is up to the headlights. It will surely gush in if we don’t tape up the hole. Couldn’t get duct tape at the hotel, no one around at 5:30. The road to St. Marc is fairly good. Gets bad after that. National Road Number One. Dusty. Dry. As you drive along, I remember the old saying’ the road is their living room. People built their homes close to the road and some of them sit and watch the traffic go by. Entertainment. Instead of the Disney channel, they have National Road Number One channel.

They have these speed bumps on this national road in the oddest places. I can understand them in congested areas, but you’ll be hurling along, going 60-70 mph to try to make up time, and suddenly come upon a speed bump. Go figure.

The tap taps and buses are fascinating both in their human cargo and appearance. Blue, red, yellow, some with American flags painted on them, with sayings in Creole like “God is good” or “You woz.” You woz what? Some tap taps are crammed so full they become low riders and the back nearly hits the road. They’re called tap taps because you pound on the roof when you want to get off.

The photographer told us that the UN compound, which is the only real medical facility open, will not let patients remain for the night. They are doing amputations and letting the people go. Many are getting gangrene from washing their injuries in the water contaminated from decaying corpses of people and animals and sewage. Imagine having your foot cut off and then having to immediately leave. The mass burials are also facing problems. Dump trucks of bodies turned away by people tossing rocks b/c they believe if you don’t properly bury a person, their spirit will roam free. The photographer told us they saw a mass grave, a pit the size of house. Also problems with looters hijacking trucks of food.

Tuesday Sept 28 2004

11:00 p.m.

Thinking about our fall into the drink. Sitting on the wet seat for the 5 hour ride back to the hotel that turned into a 6 hour ride because it got dark. The Montero stunk. I joked that we could bottle the smell and sell it to armchair field workers. The NEW Essence of Disaster. When you want to be in the thick of it, and can’t, live the experience through Essence of Disaster.

It’s dangerous to drive in Haiti at night because you can’t see…but hell after driving through that water, I’ll take the dark. I wasn’t even worried, just concerned when it was Catherine’s turn to drive because she got shot at night and surely it must be a little harrowing for her.

My feet are swollen. They were standing in icky water for nearly an hour. I think I’m going to read a little and hope I don’t have nightmares. Every time I close my eyes, I see the Montero tipping, and imagine it falling all the way over, the brown funky water gushing in, flooding us as we sit there, trapped.

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004

6:55 a.m. I was very lucky. No nightmares. I slept very deeply. And woke up a couple of times during the night but it wasn’t too bad.

Yesterday we met a woman who lost both her kids. She’s staying at the bishop’s house. Actually, there were three women who lost their children. They were all staying together. Rosemarie’s five-month-old and four-year-old, and two other children under the age of six. The women struggled to make it outside with the kids and these tall men helped them. Rosemarie swallowed water, as it was nearly over her head. They got to the kids to safety, a high wall where they put them so they’d be safe, the poor kids crying and so scared the whole time. And the men helped the women onto the roof. Then they returned for the children. The wall collapsed and the children were swept away.

The last words her four-year-old said to Rosemarie were, “Mommy, are you going to let me die? Are you going to save me?” Rosemarie is still in shock. Her eyes are glazed over, dull and blank.

God, I can’t even write about this. It’s too horrid. I have to dredge it up later when I write the story. I can’t think about this now. Just can’t.

7 p.m.

Oh man! That Montero stunk today, oh it smells soooo bad. Stink of death and sewage. It was horrible and then when we got to the office, we took the pick-up while they did a deep cleaning of the Montero. We returned from the orphanage we visited and had to wait wait wait for them to fetch the Montero. Finally got it back and climbed in and I wanted to retch. They did a “deep cleaning,” which did nothing to rid the truck of the smell and then amor all-ed it. So they sealed in the stink. I gagged.

Went to a great orphanage with lovely kids and a nice pastor and his wife, who is also a pastor and a doctor. Our tip into the drink was nothing compared to the pastor’s story of horror. He drove from flooded Port au Paix to Gonaives, through flood waters, got stuck twice and trapped in the water in Gonaives from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning. They were driving under water, water sloshing over the hood, couldn’t see and praying the whole time. They were one of the first ones to make it out of Gonaives.

The kids are clean and well kept but poor. Saw two little ones whose parents died in the earlier flooding on the border. They were brought in naked. A lot of children were saved, as in Gonaives because it was easier for adults to pluck the children out of the water. The one-year-old made me melt. I held him on my lap and his little fingers curled around my index finger. He has these huge, sad brown eyes. They have to dress him in girls’ clothing because they have no boys’ clothing. His sister is three and has aged eyes. Did she watch her parents drown? Who knows? But she does not smile. I tried to coax a smile from her. Nothing. And then she curled against me on the bench, rested her head against me. I had to choke back a sob. These kids, they’ve endured so much. They need so much love.

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