I am leaving Alaska next Sunday (June 27th) night in order to go to Haiti for a week long missions trip. So this post has taken a long time to come together, so what was supposed to be a pre-trip report and then post trip report is just one report on Haiti as a whole. Going into Haiti with what I knew, the experiences down there, and then the afterwards.
In case you can’t read the image posted above, I have listed the time line points:
- 1697 Created as a French Colony, quickly becomes a slave colony where the slaves produce crops for the French
- 1804 in a slave revolt Haiti declares its freedom from France. The first and only successful slave revolt in the world
- 1825 France recognizes Haiti’s freedom
- 1862 US finally recognizes Haiti’s freedom. Many people believe the sole reason is due to US civil war and racism, Haiti can be a spot to unload now illegal slaves or for them to escape to
- 1915-1934 US forces occupy Haiti in a strategical ploy against Germany and France. Also claimed to be there for aiding Haitian government, but they (the US military) ran the country for the next 20 years
- 1956 Francois Duvalier becomes self proclaimed President for life of Haiti, till his death in 1971
- 1971-1986 Jean-Claude Duvalier takes over for his father, removed by a popular uprising
- 1986-1991 Haiti is run by military dictatorships and coups and changes in leadership are constantly happening
- December 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected president of Haiti by a popular vote winning more than 2/3 of the vote. A president who finally cares about the poor of Haiti, he quickly upsets the upper classes and the upper classes with the backing of the military remove him from office in a coup in October 1991 because he was hurting the rich and aiding the poor. Planners and leaders of the Coup are CIA paid.
- 1994 US and UN restore Aristide to power where he stays till 2004 where the US under the Bush administration removes him from office again. Since 2001 the US had been secretly training an anti-Aristide army in the Dominican Republic. 2004 US begins stabilization occupation in Haiti
- Rene Preval becomes President of Haiti in 2006 and remains in power until his term runs out. A constant UN presence remains in Haiti since 2004 to present.
- January 12, 2010 a 7 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti. The earthquake killed over 300,000 people and left over 1.6 million people homeless. Cholera epidemics followed, a dangerous atmosphere in tent cities and a coming election in November brings riots by opposing groups.
- Jean Claude Duvalier returns to Haiti around election time to heighten the tensions. Jean Bertrand Aristride also returns later to Haiti bringing hope back along with more tension.
- Elections are a mess and pushed back to January. A runoff election is done to choose between the top two candidates: Michael Martelly (Haition pop singer) wins over Mirlande Manigat (former first lady of Haiti)-too early to tell how this will play out, but Martelly’s campaign incited a lot of rioting and could lead to more trouble.
So clearly there shouldn’t be much of an explanation needed for why I am going down to Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a country that has been controlled and seen disaster after disaster, most of them not being natural. The U.S. and other countries have controlled the destiny of Haiti for far too long, and our country owes them a lot. The 7.3 magnitude Earthquake that they suffered in January of this year is just another tragedy in a long life of tragedies. While other countries have had a substantial influence on Haiti, the leaders of Haiti are just as much to blame. They have continued the business as usual for a long time and will continue to.
Flying into Haiti was amazing. There was a lot to take in, especially for someone like me. Looking at the mountains covering Haiti I think about my love of hiking mountains. Something the people here never think of doing, certainly not as fun. People that are found in the mountains of Haiti are often driven there in fear or to scrape a living off of the mountains. There is also the environmental aspect. Looking at the streams running into the ocean you can see a cloud at the mouth of the river, where soil has been washing out of Haiti into the ocean. Haiti has been deforested and regrowth is hard with soil that infertile, and with that many nutrients running out into the ocean. After noticing these two things we start the descent into Port-Au-Prince and then you see the reality that is Haiti, especially after the earthquake. Instead of seeing roofs of buildings or parks you see cities of tents. A country with large portions of its population residing in tents, wherever they can place their tents. Landing in the airport we quickly figured out what the reality is down there. The airport with US helicopters and some soldiers at the airport and UN forces pass by outside shortly after we arrive. Several hum-vs and a few tanks here to protect the peace. The airport is like a gutted out air hanger, there is nothing to it and security is very slim. You do not feel like you are at an airport at all.
Our first day in Haiti we went to take a tour of downtown Port-Au-Prince. It was unreal. Beyond words, but I will do my best to explain the situation. With all the people in the group we were in, no one had ever seen anything like this. This is a group that has had several people go on multiple missions trips before and thus have seen a lot of really bad places, from Africa to Central and South America, and the Caribbean. No one could fathom the situation in Haiti. Driving down the streets you notice tons of people standing out on the streets, trying to sell things or just standing there. All the sellers have little carts selling basic food items, and maybe a few other necessities but nothing to make a living on, even if people were buying. Streets crowded, the roads themselves (if they could be called that) are filled with huge potholes and almost none are paved and its amazing how some vehicles can travel on these roads. The buildings alongside the roads are very basic. Cement blocks and mortar tossed together with a little rebar to be “structurally sound”. Passing down the street looking out the back of the tap tap you count, one building up, one building down, two up, one down, two up, two down, one up, one down. Almost 6 months after the quake and the buildings are still just the way I imagined them to be when the quake hit. Rubble from the collapsed buildings remains where the structure once was or has now started to encroach onto the road, making the roads even less usable. We make it past all of this destruction and then make it to the news story.
In all of the damage that was done in Haiti, the image I think I saw most was the National Palace. Where the government of Haiti is supposed to be working. The palace, destroyed by the earthquake, has the entire middle caved in with the roof falling down onto it. Completely destroyed and certainly not structurally safe anymore. Talking with some of the people, or finding out through some contacts we find out that the government is M.I.A. President Preval and the rest of the government who was certainly shaken and damaged badly by the earthquake is no where to be found. The people of Haiti feel abandon and certainly don’t see any work being done by their government. All of the relief money being sent to Haiti? If it was going through the Haitian government… your guess is as good as mine. Following the history of Haitian politics, a lot of money in the government is stolen, abused, or general corruption just gets at it and widdles it down. That’s why at the end of this post I have listed the website for Partners in Health (PIH). An organization started by Dr. Paul Farmer (read the book Mountains Beyond Mountains) who set up a clinic (Zanmi Lasante) in rural Haiti that is run, employed, and operated by Haitians. This organization provides affordable or free health care for the people of Haiti who are unable to afford it. The program Dr. Farmer sets up has significant aid to the people and greatly increases the health of the people. Even the Word Health Organization (WHO) has taken pages from Dr. Farmers book in order to provide affordable and humane health care for poor people throughout the world. His programs for fighting diseases like TB have the real potential for successfully fighting and eradicating these horrible diseases. Anyways, this organization is great and a safe place to give money that will certainly make a huge and lasting difference. Having worked in Haiti since 1985 Farmer also understands Haiti, and with the Haitian people at Zanmi Lasante a 3 year $120 million plan is under way to build back Haiti, and build it back better.
How do you explain the mind blowing and heart crushing scene in Haiti? No picture, words, song, writings. No literary legend nor baby could express the raw emotion felt on this day.
I’ve been to the Dominican Republic twice and I feel like I know a lot about Haiti due to my reading about Haiti and specifically Uses of Haiti by Dr. Paul Farmer. I thought I could prepare for this experience. Knowing Haiti’s history and knowing how the Dominican looks I thought I would be fine. Nothing has proved more wrong.
Driving around Haiti in the tap tap I was constantly biting down on my lower lip in anger and deeper sorrow, trying to prevent myself from bursting into tears. The pure devastation is beyond words. Row upon row of tents. Tarps wrapped together, above tents, and with tents. Housing hundreds of thousands of people in what I enjoy spending time in the outdoors in, but for only brief periods of time. How can people live in conditions like this? More importantly how can others be so self-centered that they can let people live like this?
The earthquake that hit in January may be a primary cause for the damage now but in reality its a secondary or tertiary cause of the present conditions in Haiti. The Haitian government has been riddled with corruption since its origin. Unable to cater to the needs of the people. Worse yet though is how our government has “helped”. Capitalism and Imperialism of the U.S. have driven politics since we began as a country. Our goal of teaching democracy has been a farce in many situations. Like Greg Mortenson’s strategy in Afghanistan/Pakistan that only books and not bombs will help the situation. Giving financial “aid” to the wrong people, all to save a buck on the homefront. Caring all about our dollar and not about others. That is what strikes as one of the first reasons why I’m here. Being poor is one thing, but being this poor is a completely different animal. The feeling that there blood is stained on my hands due, in part, to our countries workings is unbearable. How can we? I? let this happen to the people of Haiti?
How do you return from Haiti back into normal life? This has been hard. Unlike from when I returned from the Dominican Republic, Haiti has been hard to comprehend. It was a lot harder
to get back from Haiti (flying to Florida, getting stuck there for a night, flying to Boston, Minneapolis, Anchorage, and then finally Fairbanks) and I think this contributed to making a hard and weird transition. It didn’t hit me until a full week after being back. Something just wouldn’t sit right, it was hard to sleep or concentrate at times. After seeing Haiti, I can’t comprehend continuing living life the way I have been setting up things. How can I live a privileged and perfect American life when I realize what it’s like down there? The reunion from the trip was just last week and after getting back from that my mom told me that 3 people from the trip have changed majors in college or are considering going back to school because they need something more now. Am I one of those? I was positive I wanted to go to grad school before going to Haiti, and I still think I will but I spent the whole month of July freaking out about this aspect of whether I should go to grad school or something more meaningful, like the Peace Corps. I don’t want to go to grad school for the same things I wanted to before hand, looking at forest dynamics or peatlands isn’t the same without a different angle on it now. I still want to do environmental science, but it needs to be more meaningful. Global warming and climate change is all fine and dandy, but how would me researching it really help anyone? Unless I look at certain areas and collaborating projects. Carbon and the biogeochemistery in Africa and its influences on the people, or rainforest change in the Amazon (clearly a global warming topic) but also the opportunity to help the people in the Amazon utilize the rainforest without destroying it and thus help fight global warming but also help improve their lives. So that’s my goal; I am trying to find a better way to contribute and still do what I love. I can’t ignore what I saw in Haiti but I also need to continue doing what I’m best at and want a “normal” life to some extent. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because I have no clue what I am doing or want to do right now.