Thursday, October 28, 2010

Haiti Report II: The Center of PAP Tour

I exited the immigrations/customs building through the double doors onto a small portico crowded with dozens of Haitian taxi cab drivers and their agents.  To the immediate front of the covered little porch was a long waist high cement wall that ran parallel to the airport property in both directions as far as I could see.  The intense light shined gray from a completely cloud covered sky onto the faces and bodies of the people behind the long fifteen foot tall metal fence directly on the other side of the wall.  There were several hundred citizens up against the fence, some holding on to the wires with their hands exclaiming phrases in Creole that I did not understand, while others just stood silently staring amidst the chaos.  A few in the front actually seemed pushed from behind towards the wire barrier. Heads were turned to the side and their contorted faces pressed up against the steel braids. Lips, cheeks and hats askew. Pain. Directly behind that human condition ran left to right the Airport exit road and on the other side of the road was a row of buildings showing me the first sign that a major earth shift had happened just nine months ago.  Some stronger structures stood seemingly unaffected, while huge cracks, fallen in roofs, and missing walls were apparent in others.  A few were simply piles of rubble.  The desperate verbal messages coming from just on the other side of the fence seemed to intensify as I made eye contact with them.  Heat, I wasn't sure where to go or what to do at that point so I found a seat on a cement wall next to some men waiting, for what I wasn't sure.  Bonsoir, Bonsoir.

I pulled out my bottle and took a drink, the water was still cold, much colder than the air around me and it felt good going down my dry throat.  Just as I put the bottle back in my bag a giant bald fellow wearing a maillot jaune bent down to my face and somewhat whispered, "My name is Charles, can I help you, what do you need?"  "No, I'm okay, thank you.  Wait, yes, I could use your help please", I replied.  At that point a very intent Charles listened while I explained that I would like to take a tour of the downtown Port Au Prince area. Perhaps starting with the Plaza at the National Palace, then moving on to the PAP version of Time Square(which is now completely taken over in the center and on the fringes by a tent camp where thousands dwell) and then I am open to suggestions.  I also added that when our tour was over I would like his help in finding safe lodging for the week.  We negotiated a fair trade for both of us and with a smile and a handshake we stepped off along that fence line to the calls and cries of despair from the other side.  Pink palms holding the wire, eyes completely wide open.  At the end of the fence there was a lot surrounded by a taller fence and armed security.  A large white UN Amtrac with mounted soldiers was parked at the entrance/exit, they were from Brazil. 

Charles took me left along the fence line into the big lot and introduced me to our driver Bob, who was wearing a maillot jaune as well.  Bob spoke no English so Charles translated my words to Creole for him so we could communicate.  Charles' English was slow but way better than my non-existent Creole and weak French.  As we talked about the chances that the day would bring, I could feel mutual trust developing.  Charles had me take the center back seat in the little red 4 x 4 and out the airport road we went.

 Here are Bob(left) and Charles as we exited the lot onto the airport road.  
Just as the airport road ends and merges into a large crowded avenue I saw the first densely populated UN 'controlled' tent camp of the trip.  In just a few days I would enter two camps, one under the protection of the UN and one not.  This one we just sped passed while I asked my questions to Charles. 
Here is the Nation Palace of Haiti.  On the drive here the destruction of civilian infrastructure was apparent and there seemed to be no efforts made for the past nine months to clear or fix any of the damage.  When we arrived at this Plaza and I saw the Palace, I realized that it too has been left untouched since the quake.  It looks exactly like I remember seeing it on the Cover of the New York Times back in January. 
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.  I took this picture from Wikipedia, photographer not identified.  The image was made around 1924, roughly 40 years after the Cathedral was built. 
Here is the Cathedral's side wall now. 
The corrugated metal wall around the Cathedral Property has been providing shelter to some of those whose homes were destroyed in the quake. Charles told me that many of the people living along the wall and just on the inside of it are faithful Catholics who spent their entire lives attending mass at Our Lady of the Assumption.
A major crack in the front wall seems to separate the face from the body. 
The once beautiful front wall of this piece of architecture stands without its towers and roof against the sky. 
Directly behind my back was what used to be a public park.  Now, thousands more former Cathedral Parishioners fill the space with their flimsy tents and tarps.  They too lost their homes when the ground shook from below and are living without much direct support from any agency.  This area was completely destroyed and to live there must feel like living on an apocalyptic stage.  We did not stay long at the Cathedral before moving on. 

No comments: