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reed magazine logoMarch 2010

Adventures in the First Person Continued


Left: This Toyota survived the quake—despite the damage it was still operational! Right: Patients recover under makeshift shelters at general hospital.

photos courtesy leah nevada page

Yesterday Sasha and I brought Don and Lynn, an intrepid doctor and nurse from Tennessee, up into a steep ravine just below the Hotel Montana, a poor and isolated area where many buildings have collapsed. We drove the SOIL pickup truck through the shallow river and hiked up the side of the ravine. We announced our presence and about two seconds later, the first patient arrived—a girl carried in on a stretcher made out of a door. Don and Lynn determined that her leg was broken. We moved her to the shade so that we could take her to a hospital later. Other patients had ugly gashes from chunks of masonry that fell in the earthquake. I translated for the patients as best I could (crash course in medical vocab), and Don enlisted me to give shots of antibiotics to patients with deep infections and to stabilize a gaping foot wound so that he could tack it together (it was too late for stitches). I always thought I’d get nervous about blood and needles, but in the moment this all seemed reasonable.

Update on the man on the dining-room table. It turns out he’s an escaped prisoner. But I guess he’s not going anywhere fast.

water distribution

Leah treats a bucket of water at a distribution point in Port-au-Prince.

photos courtesy leah nevada page

I’ve had reservations about small NGOs before, but all my reservations have disappeared in the past few days. The UN has been unable to respond quickly to the disaster, even though they’ve been here for years, because they have no contact with actual Haitians (a result of them speaking French rather than Creole and of “security concerns” that limit them to armored compounds). But small NGOs like SOIL and AIDG (Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group) have no red zones or restricted areas and we can go everywhere. On top of that we have contact with community groups that collaborate to bring in aid. When we told a couple of community leaders that we were anxious about security during distributions, they laughed. They basically told us, “We need food and water. If you bring us that, we will make sure it gets out. It’s the guys with guns who block us from the food and water that cause problems.” And it’s true. All of the distributions we have assisted with have gone very smoothly. I still hold out hope that the Red Cross and USAID and the UN and other acronym groups will start getting food and water to the camps that have been set up in every square inch of open space in the city, but until they can get there, it’s up to the small NGOs.

Some of you have asked if your donations are going to be used right away (it can take 45 days for a text message donation to show up in the Red Cross bank account) so I will tell you a funny story. Most of the banks here are closed. The few that opened today in Port-au-Prince imposed a limit on withdrawals and you have to wait in line for hours. In order to get donations transformed into food, water, and medicine, Sasha Kramer’s mom has been sending them as cashier checks to Ft. Lauderdale and the owner of a small airline has been cashing them and flying them to Cap Haitian [city on the north coast of Haiti] in his airplane. On my first day back in Haiti, Sasha asked me to go to the airport on a motorcycle taxi to pick up $10,000 in cash. That $10,000 was then immediately used for the relief effort.

As I go through my day, I keep making mental notes of unbelievable situations that I want to share with you all, but there are too many to fit here and this email is strange enough already. There have been many difficult moments, a lot of tears and a lot of desperation, but I realized last night as I was falling asleep that I have no worries any more. The small things I used to fret about in the States and in Europe are gone. I can only remember that I used to sometimes experience the feeling of worry but I can’t remember the content. I’m incredibly happy: so joyful to be around close friends, so grateful that my friends are okay, and so honored to have the opportunity to take all of your good will and run around Port-au-Prince with it bringing water to people who need water.

Editor’s Note: Leah and Michael flew back to Haiti on January 17, just five days after the catastrophic earthquake struck Port-au-Prince. She sent this email to her family and friends, including economics professor Noelwah Netusil, on January 23; it subsequently appeared in the Quest. Leah is the development director of SOIL, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental justice and ecologically sound development in Haiti. Michael is director of Cultural Capital Haiti, a nonprofit that connects travelers to the nation’s cultural resources. Sasha is the co-founder of SOIL.

Other Reedies with Haitian connections include Donald Steinberg ’74, who served as special Haiti coordinator for the US Department of State; Trenton Daniel ’97, who has written about the earthquake for the Miami Herald; and Edna Bonhomme ’06, who wrote a critique of mainstream media coverage in the Socialist Worker.

Further Reading

reed magazine logoMarch 2010