Port au Prince, Haiti Day 12, Trip 3

This seems like a much busier trip, its difficult to find time to write. Things in Haiti are very accelerated. Similar to Aceh after the tsunami, the second wave has arrived—here they are referred to as the second earthquake, or the invasion of the “extra terrestrials.” There are so many ekstranje (foreigners), or blan (“white”) as we are called. As someone who is not Haitian, but is considered local, I am privy to the sometimes humorous and sometimes distressed musings and rantings of my Haitian brothers and sisters. We all hoped that the inpouring of aid would somehow be tailored to the Haitian people, and context. This does not appear to be happening.

Its actually mostly the NGO’s that people both appreciate and express concern about. There are many, many new NGO’s operating here, without any prior history, and apparently, without much interest in taking the time to listen. As the initial groups of emergency responders, military etc begin to withdraw, there is talk of a transition to the transition phase–transition between emergency and some return to a development focus. This seems both necessary and premature–premature because there is still so much destruction, post earthquake. Necessary because no-one seems to be thinking long-term, global, inclusive, strategic. As tragic and horrible as this earthquake has been, as is always true when things are torn apart–there is an opportunity for change, renewal, new beginnings, rebirth, transformation. The transition phase must take this into consideration, or Haiti may not benefit from the world’s generosity.

We spent time with a few members of my Haitian family last evening. The wisdom re: how to move forward is in the minds and hearts of the local community. Many of them work at a grass roots level. They have their ears, hands, hearts to the ground. Yo gen konesans..they have the knowledge. I wish we could have a conference–required for all ngo’s, especially the newly arrived– with these dedicated, community-level brilliant people who know–KNOW—Haiti.

Sunday we took a day to visit the beach. A most interesting apropos scenario occurred. At the end of the day as I was looking at some beautiful paintings sold by local artists. They were arranged around a lovely garden of trees and stones. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a helicopter preparing to fly. Moments later, a UN helicopter transporting some of the many UN workers to a well-deserved beach break lifted into the air, and the intense gust of wind generated by the lift off knocked all the paintings down. I helped the artists restore their paintings to their display–then, again. A helicopter landing and all the paintings fell down. The artists laughed and shook their heads in frustration at the same time. “This happens a lot—we know they come to help us, but they always leave something behind we have to clean up.”

Today I had a session with a woman who describes herself as middle class. She told me about a dilemma the working class is experiencing that I had not heard about before. Much of the aid coming in is going to the poor–most appropriately. The wealthy have access to resources (i.e bank loans, credit, etc.) others do not. The middle or working class is caught, well–in the middle. Because they have jobs, many assume they have the capacity to get the same credit the wealthy do (which they do not) or to take care of their kids. Many of them are struggling to sustain their household economies because they are suddenly paying extraordinary fees to send their children to schools in the US. They cannot get loans, or credit. They are maintaining professional level positions and are still sleeping in tents, on the streets, bathing in public places, eating food cooked over a fire, spending sleepless nights listening to mosquitoes or trucks roaring by or the sound of someone crying, snoring, shouting. They are the group of people Haiti will depend on to mache devan–move forward—-and, many of them question remaining here with so much insecurity, challenge, and such drastic changes to their individual, familial and collective homes.

Who can blame them?

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