If you were going to pick a spot for an earthquake, you would be hard pressed to select one worse than the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port Au Prince. This is, perhaps, the poorest urban neighborhood, in the poorest city, in the poorest state in our hemisphere. It’s effectively a settlement built on the trash dump southwest of the capital. Society’s castoffs – material and human – all in a substantial pile on a hill just outside of town.
I’ve never actually been there. The closest I got was in 2006, when our driver decided to take a short-cut on the way out of town that would have cut across a corner of Cite Soleil. The other Haitians in the van started yelling at him and slapping him on the back of the head. “Les Blancs!” they were saying. I got the point that a van full of white folks was likely to be seen as a potentially lucrative target. We drove an extra half hour or so rather than cut that corner.
Other people with whom I’ve traveled described providing a medical clinic behind locked doors, and waiting at the end of the day for a quiet spell before boarding the van and hauling ass back to the safer parts of town. I’ve heard stories of people eating clay to fill the aching in their bellies.
cariaso tells me that this sounds typical of the third world slums he’s seen, and he’s been around the block a few times.
I had heard that things were a bit more stable lately. That the UN had succeeded in keeping the armed gangs in check for a couple of years. The last time I was in country, in 2008, I saw uniformed Haitian police openly patrolling the streets.
I know that we had helped to sponsor a clinic and a school that are (according to early reports), irreparable.
I’m guessing that we’ll never know how many people died in trash-slides last night. I will not be getting on a plane today. There’s no point. I have no skills that would be useful there today – and while the airport is apparently functional, the road from the airport into the city is “impassable.”
Paul Farmer might mention at this point that even if you don’t care about the human aspect – there is a real risk to the supply chain for cheaply made goods. However, I’m guessing that K-Mart and JC Penny will find other people to do their sewing for $0.12 per hour.
Anyway, here’s a picture I took of the national palace in 2007:
And here’s what it looked like this morning: