Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.
Following is the log of Beverly Bell during the first ten days after the earthquake in Haiti.
January 12, 2010
4:12 p.m. 7.0 EARTHQUAKE ROCKS HAITI. I read this email subject line several times. My brain can’t make sense of it.
I blast a note in Creole out to dozens of Haitian friends: May as many as possible - including all of your people - be spared from death and further suffering. Sharing anguish and love, Bev
11:05 a.m. Looking for mindless little tasks to do today since I can't manage anything big... Can't stop shaking or crying, barely slept last night, can’t eat. Been fighting the urge to vomit since yesterday afternoon.
1:26 p.m. My friend Julia emails, “What causes such monumental tragedy to be heaped on those so undeserving of it?” Of course there are good political theories to explain most of why Haiti is so miserable. But: four hurricanes in three weeks in 2008, and one of the eleven deadliest earthquakes on record?
Maybe to test our capacity to continue loving fiercely?
Pat Robertson has a better explanation, and he loses no time telling us about it. "They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."
2:30 p.m. The disaster was natural. The resulting suffering is not. Peter Hallward’s got it right in “Our Role in Haiti's Plight,” from The Guardian: “[P]overty and powerlessness account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more ‘natural’ or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.”
4:12 p.m. (email to many) Friends, thank you to all who have written to send love and support and ask how you can help. The solidarity is greatly appreciated by all of us, in Haiti and elsewhere, whose lives have been destroyed or whose hearts have been broken.
There are ways that your donation, no matter how small, can have a big impact. They are not via the huge bureaucracies, but via the foundations which have long histories of accompanying, trusting, and strengthening the grassroots groups which, in Haiti, are the only ones who have ever made a sustained difference. These are small foundations that know that the only thing that ever works in Haiti is for people to have control over their own rebuilding, over their own needs and destinies, over their government’s policies. These are the small foundations who understand that the best that they can do is strengthen those groups' capacities and strength with funding, infrastructure, and technical support.
The need today is of course enormous and overwhelming. Past the urgency of everyone now getting food and water (which will not happen in the grand) and the wounded getting care (neither), what will be needed is what the Lambi Fund called today "second responders." That involves rebuilding the efforts that were under way to move Haiti "from misery to poverty with dignity," as it is known there. That is the slow, careful work of helping grassroots movements get back on their feet, reclaim what they lost, and move forward - both individually, and as organized movements working for change and justice. The two groups listed below bring respect, trust, and integrity to that process:
7:43 p.m. The quake’s epicenter was the town of Leogane. Leogane was my old stomping grounds. More precisely, its hospital was. When I was nineteen and running a grammar school and literacy program in a village, I made frequent forays to that hospital with people with diseases that our little village clinic could not treat, like tetanus, typhoid, meningitis. I also ferried many babies and young children in the final stages of starvation. A lot of my trips were to collect the corpses of those little ones - wrapped in a sheet when we had one, folded into a cardboard box when we didn’t - to bring back to their mothers.
Those trips to the hospital should never have happened. They were a consequence of centuries of plunder by colonial and post-colonial power. The were a consequence of systematic policies by foreign states, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which undermined the possibility of the Haitian state to provide basic public services. And they were a consequence of a historic disregard of the Haitian state and elite for the people.
A half hour down the road in a tap tap, those crazy-painted jitneys, and then a twenty minute walk down the path was my home in Mon Pitimi, Millet Mountain. The hamlet and its environs contained hundreds of people whom I love profoundly. I am sick with worry over their fate now. They never had access to cell phone or email back in what we never thought would be the good old days.
Then I realize that my friends in the villages are safer than most. Their sad little houses of sticks and mud never kept the rain off of them and didn’t last very long. But the structures were so minimal, they most likely didn’t crush people when they collapsed. This may be the only instance when being poorer is better.
6:28 a.m. It is not possible for the mind to wrap around this volume of destruction and suffering. We have so few antecedents. The tsunami in Asia in 2004 was comparable, though the death toll will probably be higher in Haiti. Someone mentions that the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 might be similar, but about 80,000 died there.
We all struggle in our conversations and emails with words to capture the level of horror, but have to fall back on the trite. Inconceivable. Unimaginable.
However. I awaken today with the firm orders, “Deploy yourself, Bev.” There is too much to do.
9:10 a.m. David Brooks, “The Underlying Tragedy,” New York Times (excerpted): Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them. [I]t’s time to promote locally led paternalism… It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.
9:27 a.m. Obama appoints Bush to co-head the Haiti relief fund. This would be funny, if it didn’t evidence such total disrespect for the people of Haiti.
12:28 p.m. (tweet from Richard Moore, owner of the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince): Bodies.Bodies.Bodies.Bodies.Bodies.Bodies.I don’t know how else to say it.
1:50 p.m. (email to Camille) Camille! There are no words to express my joy that you and Yolette are alive. I want to dance, jump, shout, cry. It doesn’t diminish the overarching horror, or the death of your mother-in-law, but at least we have not lost two magnificent people.
A thousand hugs and kisses, and still more kisses, and all my love – more than you can imagine – to you and Yolette.
3:03 p.m. Hearts are cracking open everywhere. Friends and colleagues in Haiti circles are employing the word ‘love’ for each other. Everyone wants to know what they can do. A waitress at the diner where I went this morning for the comfort food of eggs, grits, buttermilk biscuit – the first meal I’ve been able to eat since getting the news – tells me she’s been crying and crying and gives me a big hug. My acupuncturist called to find out where she should direct people to give funds on her email blast and to offer me a free treatment.
Friends I haven’t spoken to in years are calling and writing to offer love, support, condolences. Former boyfriends are suddenly back in my life. Even my ex. I have heard from him only one other time since we split: after Hurricane Katrina.
I write him back a grateful note and close it with: Given that your notes come only after an apocalyptic crisis in an area where I have a primordial connection, I hope not to hear from you for many more years.
4:56 p.m. Grant writes to say, “Hard to know what to believe is going on from the press. It is all so reminiscent of the way Katrina was covered and we all know the incredible inaccuracies (to say the least) of what I now call the ‘Anderson Cooperization’ of the facts: the posing as experts by absolute ignoramuses and the subsequent gospel-like acceptance of misinformation that does nothing but impede recovery.
I write him back: Here's the only news that's true: The relief efforts are grossly inadequate and ineffectual. The hospitals of Port-au-Prince are largely destroyed. There is no medical aid except for a few tiny efforts. There are thousands trapped in rubble, wounded and bleeding. There are corpses everywhere and nowhere to put them. I hear that one in two houses is destroyed. People pass the nights awake, lying like sardines in the streets in the pouring rain without covering. No one has food or water. No one has any idea how many people are dead or trapped in buildings.
6:17 p.m. Found one more alive! The network is cranking with all of us sharing delighted news of our findings with each other, and inquiring about hundreds more from whom no one has heard.
9:11 p.m. Camille Chalmers, coordinator or the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti, emails to outline the priorities: “(1) Drinking water, food, clothing, temporary shelter, basic medical supplies. Treat the wounded in make-shift hospitals that would hopefully be established in all the neighborhoods. Get people out from underneath the remains of buildings. Fight epidemics and the risk of epidemics and disease due to the presence of piles of corpses; (2) Credible mechanisms for coordination, a crisis committee for scientific assessment and monitoring of the situation. Be in permanent communication with the population about instructions as to what to do; (3) Rehabilitation: recover and repair communications and all infra-structure, especially transportation within and between cities; (4) Structural solidarity: activities and investments that will allow people to rebuild their lives in better conditions, making it possible to: (a) Overcome illiteracy; (b) Build an effective public school system that is free and that respects the history, culture, and ecosystem of our country; (c) Overcome the environmental crisis and rebuild Haiti’s 30 watersheds; (d) Construct a new public health system; (e) Reconstruct a new city based on different logic: humane and balanced urbanization, respect for workers and the real wealth creators, privileging public transportation, etc.; (f) Construct food sovereignty based on comprehensive agrarian reform; (g) Destroy the dependency ties with Washington, the European Union, and other forms of imperialism. Cut ties with the international financial institutions; (h) Expel MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti] and build solidarity people-to- people brigades.
12:41 p.m. Everything has gone weird. Can’t remember if a conversation transpired a day or a week ago. The message/response function of my brain is malfunctioning, such that I open my mouth to speak and instead start crying. Thus I avoid professional phone calls as much as possible. A neighbor calls to speak about some random matter and it took my brain a moment to clear out the cognitive dissonance that the topic didn’t relate to Haiti.
I am very grateful to have ways to be helpful. They are all small contributions, but the hours and concentration involved are keeping me soldiering forward. Most of my energy is spent trying to direct aid. The work is in equal measure trying to ensure that the aid does good and to stop it from doing harm. Partisan politics are already emerging in shameful ways. Scoundrels and conmen are slipping out of every alleyway. So many people are looking to make a buck off of this.
Am connecting offers up with need, speaking to journalists, responding to hundreds and hundreds of email and phone requests. Am spending lots of time with friends on the phone giving support, getting support.
Am also deep in a project I never envisioned: trying to coordinate a list of survivors. Of my own people, I am up to about ten. Hundreds and hundreds of others I love deeply and have worked with for decades are still unaccounted for, notably peasants and folks from the slums.
People keep contacting me to ask if I am going. I have skills that are useful here. I have none that are useful there.
1:16 p.m. Pay back a post-quake $100 million to the IMF, with interest?
Most government buildings have been destroyed. The presidential palace, as Amy Wilentz said, is “three fat pillows that have lost their stuffing.” The president is walking around the streets with his cell phone in his hand. Before this earthquake Haiti’s destitution was a marvel on the planet. The poet Jean-Claude Martineau said, “Haiti is the only country to have a last name. It’s ‘the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.’”
From where will Haiti generate an extra $100 million to pay back the bankers in Washington? The only resources the country seems to have right now are cadavers, homeless people, and cement rubble. It’s not obvious how revenue can be made off of any of those.
2:07 p.m. (email to Alejandro) Yes, it has been more horrifying than even the most sadistic imagination could create. One can almost understand those who believe that Haiti is cursed, except that we know the role of greed and politics in having created the conditions of vulnerability which have so aggravated the impact of the earthquake. I work like an automaton in the middle of tears, trembling, and insomnia, trying to shape responses to support communities and movements, giving them more possibility to determine their own future while meeting their immediate, basic needs.
I find strength in the occasional news of another friend who is alive.
I take strength, too, in the fact that this crisis, like all, opens a space in which the masses realized that all strangers are their sisters and brothers. What can we do so that tenderness and commitment towards humanity continues long past the disasters?
2:31 p.m. (email blast) Partners in Health (www.partnersinhealth.org) is now on the scene, and is a fantastic place for people who want to fund emergency relief. They do extraordinary health work with a deep sensitivity to Haiti's culture and politics and to the delicacy of this moment. Below is a message (excerpted) from PIH's director.
“Dear All, We have already begun to implement a two-part strategy to address the immediate need for emergency medical care in Port-au-Prince. First, we are organizing the logistics to get the medical staff and supplies needed for setting up field hospital sites in Port-au-Prince where we can triage patients, provide emergency care, and send those who need surgery or more complex treatment to our functioning hospitals and surgical facilities. To do this, we are creating a supply chain through the Dominican Republic. Second, we are ensuring that our facilities in the Central Plateau are ready to serve the flow of patients from Port-au-Prince. Operating and procedure rooms are staffed, supplied, and equipped for surgeries and we have converted a church in Cange into a large triage area. Already our sites in Cange and Hinche are reporting a steady flow of people coming with medical needs from the capital city. In the days that come we will need to make sure our pharmacies and supplies stay stocked and our staff continue to be able to respond.
“Currently, our greatest need is financial support. We need cash on-hand to quickly procure emergency medical supplies, basic living necessities, as well as transportation and logistics support for the tens of thousands of people that will be seeking care at mobile field hospitals in the capital city. Any and all support that will help us respond to the immediate needs and continue our mission of strengthening the public health system in Haiti is greatly appreciated.”
5:16 p.m. Good news. Thanks to lots of grassroots and Congressional pressure, the Obama administration grants temporary protective status to undocumented Haitians who arrive in the country by January 12.
As for those who failed to plan ahead, they can forget about a trip to the U.S. The New York Times reports that a U.S. Air Force plane flies over Haiti for five hours each day, broadcasting this message from Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S. “Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country… If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
Just to play it safe, the U.S. is also preparing its operations to interdict Haitians on the seas and send them to Guantánamo. They have also denied all but 23 visa requests by critically injured people to get to Miami for surgery and medical treatment. Dr. William O’Neill, the dean of the medical school at the University of Miami, said in the Times, “It’s beyond insane. It’s bureaucracy at its worse.”
11:49 p.m. I recorded funding requests from something like a dozen different institutions today, some of which have no experience in disaster relief, or structure or history in Haiti. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee? The Clinton Foundation?
The poor are such excellent business.
But there are also the compassionate ones, who are everywhere wishing the best for that poor beloved country. They are more numerous, but less powerful.
10:35 a.m. Saturday. I determine to take the day ‘off.’ Drying off from the shower, I experience this unusual and momentary thought: “Whew, that was a crappy week. Thank God that’s over.”
11:47 p.m. All day – at the internet café, on the street – I kept overhearing the word “Haiti.” Try to let down, fleetingly, tonight by going to a Cuban art opening at Tulane and a blues show at Tipitina’s. Over the course of the evening I hear of four local benefits for earthquake survivors. Someone says, “One thing about New Orleanians: we understand about crisis.”
8:13 a.m. Sunday. Despite myself, I connect to the Internet. I want to go back to the list of survivors I had been so excited to find, searching for additional names.
The last entry was made more than 24 hours ago, and it was mine.
Many of the names of dead we’ll never learn because they were shoved into holes with bulldozers and covered with dirt. Who could imagine such a thing happening in New York after September 11? After the tsunami, corpses were photographed before they were buried. How much time or cost could that involve?
Most of our losses we’ll just slowly come to discover through process of elimination. Our survivors’ names will appear on a list or we’ll get a text message from them. A friend will relay the name of a lost colleague in a teary phone call. And the rest we’ll just figure out on our own. Someone will be sitting in a bathtub a couple of months out and suddenly remember Mimose. She will fill with grief and think, “Oh my God, Mimose. She must be gone, too.”
11:14 a.m. Talking on a street corner, a woman says, “All we’re seeing on TV from Haiti is the same thing we saw after Katrina: people looting, doing violence. Is there anything else going on?”
I tell her about people collaborating to get survivors out, digging with their bare fingers, teaming up to carry strangers to medical care. About the streets full of people singing together, praying together. About folks organizing to get food to the hungriest. Of the strength I am seeing among Haitians and the hope I have heard, even in this most hopeless of moments. I quote to her Haiti’s minister of tourism Patrick Delatour, who said, “This is bad today, but one must remember that we have the historical memory of slavery here. What can be worse than that?”
Haiti has such a strong tradition of people fighting against the bleakest conditions to create just social and economic alternatives. It’s not yet clear how they’ll get out of this, but I have no doubt they’ll somehow emerge through their resilience and resourcefulness.
For them to get on the path to where reconstruction serves all, though, the government needs to be allowed to take charge of its own country. And the people need to have participation in the process. We’ll all have to throw ourselves into stopping the elite decisions made in secret, especially by outside forces, especially by the U.S. government.
2:38 p.m. “Elderly and abandoned, 85 Haitians await death,” Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press: The old lady crawls in the dirt, wailing for her pills. The elderly man lies motionless as rats pick at his overflowing diaper. There is no food, water or medicine for the 85 surviving residents of the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home, barely a mile (1 1/2 kilometers) from the airport where a massive international aid effort is taking shape. “Help us, help us,” 69-year-old Mari-Ange Levee begged Sunday, lying on the ground with a broken leg and ribs. A cluster of flies swarmed the open fracture in her skull... [A] rotting body lies on a mattress, nearly indistinguishable from the living around him, so skinny and tired they seemed to be simply waiting for death.”
9:11 p.m. I spend the afternoon listening to the old protest music of Haitian foklorik, folk - Manno Charlemagne, Martha Jean-Claude, Choeur Simidor - and contemporary rasin, roots, angry and culturally proud - Boukan Ginen, RAM and Boukman Eksperyans.
Nothing will ever be the same.
I have cancelled most of the social plans on my calendar, but decide to still have dinner with several friends tonight. I am telling them about David Brooks’ New York Times column, exercised. “Progress-averse! Can you imagine being so nakedly racist?”
A woman turns to me. “Actually, New Orleans is progress-averse.”
8:53 a.m. (email to Tom) Just learned five minutes ago that a sister, Magalie Marcelin, perished. She was a fierce defender of the rights of women, notably poor women. She was utterly selfless, slept on a thin foam mattress in a back room of Kay Fanm, Women’s House, the haven and advocacy center she’d created. Walked barefoot.
We worked together to fight the violation of women during the 91-94 coup d’état, traveled together to South Africa on an anti-neoliberal exchange. She’d been urging me to translate Walking on Fire and offered to coordinate the project. I had turned over to her hundreds of tapes of women’s interviews that I had collected for the book so that she could make them part’s of Haiti’s patrimony. Surely those tapes are gone, along with Magalie.
Another close sister - a former child slave, an illiterate poet, now a powerful anti-slavery activist - is lost despite an intensive search by her colleagues. I fear the worst.
Everyone is writing in saying they have lost their mothers, husbands, children, homes.
8:58 a.m. Alatraka. Two other powerful feminist leaders gone. Along with Magalie and some others, they pioneered the women’s movement in Haiti. Anne-Marie Coriolon was the founder of Solidarity among Haitian Women (SOFA) and. At one point she was Minister of Women. I was one of her advisers.
Myriam Merlet was the third of the dead troika of leaders. I last saw her on the stage of the New Orleans Arena on the tenth anniversary of V-Day; she was the Haiti liaison for the Vagina Monologues’ work against sexual violence. Now – or rather, last week – she was Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Women. Her narrative is in Walking on Fire.
How can our little human hearts handle so much grief, all 7.0 Richter degrees of it?
10:18 a.m. Doctors are amputating broken arms. They are amputating broken arms?
In today’s theatre of the absurd, doctors are even re-amputating limbs. Turns out that, in the absence of the requisite antibiotics, the original amputations are turning gangrenous, so they are cutting again higher up.
Six days later, there is still no food or water reaching most of the two million people estimated to be in need in Port-au-Prince, even the most central parts. What the hell? There is tons of it at the airport, as there are lots of doctors and medical supplies waiting, not yet dispatched.
People are reportedly putting toothpaste on their upper lip in an attempt to block the smell. It’s coming from bodies rotting inside the buildings. You see the pictures of the buildings’ stories now compacted into tidy layers of cement, and you know that inside them are tens, hundreds of bodies flattened like balloons after the air has gone out.
One journalist describes those buildings pancaked all over the cities and towns as mausoleums.
2:53 p.m. Eramithe Delva sends this text message from the center of Port-au-Prince. She coordinates the Commission of Women Victim-to-Victim (KOFAVIV by its Creole acronym), the anti-child slavery and anti-women’s violence organization made up of former child slaves. “Dear Bev, we are happy to get your message from which we can feel that you are thinking of us and the women of KOFAVIV. The majority of women of KOFAVIV are victims to the catastrophe that has just happened to Haiti. Their houses are destroyed and they've lost all they had. Right now many of the women are sleeping in Champs de Mars [a downtown boulevard] in terrible conditions, with the sun beating down on them, with rain wetting them. Many of them have lost their families. They were already people who had nothing, now hunger is ready to kill them. If you take me and Malya, we are left on Champs de Mars with 13 children in our hands staying under an awning, without anything else. Our houses are destroyed with everything that was in them, and we have lost many of our family members. KOFAVIV's office was destroyed along with everything we had in it. We have people who died in the office. According to our research, we have about 300 victims, but there are still certain areas we haven't been able to go in to see how the situation is there. If there is not some intervention soon for those who are still alive, the situation will get a lot worse. The women must urgently get medical care, food, clothing, sandals. There are some who want to go back to the regions they're from but they can't find transportation. To conclude we'll tell you that even the school was hit, we have many dead children.”
4:14 p.m. (email report from Amber Munger, working with KONPAY in Haiti) Never have I seen such motivation, determination, compassion, and solidarity among people. When we entered Port-au-Prince after the quake struck, the city had fallen and was continuing to fall as a result of continuous aftershocks. The streets were full of people sitting together. Everyone was sitting in the middle of the roads for fear that the houses would continue to fall on them. They were singing. The whole city was singing. They were singing songs of solidarity. They were singing songs of thanks and praise that they were still able to sing and to be together. These people have lost everything. The city is now a city of refugees. But they are putting their voices together to be thankful.
8:15 p.m. Such strength. It’s one of the things about Haitians that has always impressed me most. The text messages I am getting from women now in Jacmel and Port-au-Prince keep ending with messages about holding strong. I watch my friend Yolette Etienne, director of Oxfam Haiti, on TV. She is so beautiful and courageous, standing there telling about the work they have before them, not even mentioning that her house was destroyed and her mother killed until the journalist asks. Yes, she says, we buried my mother in the garden in the morning before I had to go to the staff meeting.
She concludes the interview by saying, “We only can have hope and we are sharing hope.”
On that same broadcast, the journalist interviews deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince Guery Mouscardy. He’s like all the other government officials: totally overwhelmed, no resources with which to work, no training to manage one of the greatest disaster in the history of the planet. He says, “We don’t have any money but we have the will.”
6:45 a.m. (tweet from Richard Morse) AOL says corpses are everywhere.Thats last weeks news.The only bodies we smelled yesterday were under rubble.
9:44 a.m. (text message from KOFAVIV coordinator to me) Good morning, Bev. We are happy for so many messages from you, and for all the effort you're making for the women of KOFAVIV after the earthquake the just hit Haiti. We don't know how many women have been hurt, and now they're victims once again. They are abandoned in the street without anywhere to stay. They have to sleep in public spaces. They can't buy water. They spend the whole day in the sun, without so much as a cloth to put up to block out the sun or the rain. At present, young girls who are sleeping in the streets and the parks are being raped by youth. A cement block fell on Tibebe's back, and she has a child who was gravely injured in Cap-Haitien. Someone had to go with her to take care of him. Since it's so hard for money transfers to happen or for money to come into the country, it will be fine if you give [name deleted] the money you have. We'll see how we can get the money bit by bit to the women to help them through this difficult period. - Eramithe
2:18 p.m. (dispatch from Sasha Kramer, solidarity worker in Port-au-Prince) A large yellow truck was parked in front of the gate and rapidly unloading hundreds of bags of food over our fence, the hungry crowd had already begun to gather and in the dark it was hard to decide how to best distribute the food… Our friend Amber (who is experienced in food distribution) snapped into action and began to get everyone in the crowd into a line that stretched down the road. We braced ourselves for the fighting that we had heard would come but in a miraculous display of restraint and compassion people lined up to get the food and one by one the bags were handed out without a single serious incident…
By the time we got back into the house the food had all been distributed and the patient Anderson was waking up... At one point one of the Haitian men working at the hospital came in and leaned over Anderson and said to him in Creole, “listen man even if your family could not be here tonight we want you to know that everyone here loves you, we are all your brothers and sisters.”
Cat and I have barely shed a tear through all of this, the sky could fall and we would not bat an eye, but when I told her this story this morning the tears just began rolling down her face, as they are mine as I am writing this. Sometimes it is the kindness and not the horror that can break the numbness that we are all lost in right now.
So, don’t believe Anderson Cooper when he says that Haiti is a hotbed for violence and riots, it is just not the case. In the darkest of times, Haiti has proven to be a country of brave, resilient and kind people and it is that behavior that is far more prevalent than the isolated incidents of violence.
4:08 p.m. A couple of hours ago I reach Aepoch Fund. They will release $3,000 for KOFAVIV immediately. We’re coordinating with two women from Boston and Lagos who are going to Haiti in the next few days, who have agreed to carry the first part of the money down and find a safe street corner where they can transfer it from hand to hand. We can’t send more for the women are sleeping in the streets and are prey to thieves. It’s all very complicated, figuring out the logistics of getting the money across four points to the final hand-off in Port-au-Prince.
One of our two courier friends says she hopes the sum we want to send isn’t too high. She admits she’s nervous, since – as a white woman - she already looks as though she is carrying lots of cash. I respond: “If it makes you feel better, I once carried $9,000 in cash in my bra and underwear to PauP - the very first allotment of money the Lambi Fund ever got.”
She replies, “AWESOME...that's the first smile I've had all day! I've already got too much [money to carry for people] so it's just a matter of not attracting any attention...and wearing big underwear.”
The second woman writes, “of course i can take that amount. i remember underwear sneaking cash mama. the things we lugged to haiti... i once brought shock absorbers, and a drive shaft. and wore cute underwear.”
Also today: (Doctors Without Borders press release) A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there. This 12-ton cargo was part of the contents of an earlier plane carrying a total of 40 tons of supplies that was blocked from landing on Sunday morning. Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies. Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil, [said], “I have never seen anything like this... We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”
7:14 p.m. Just Foreign Policy has more to say on the matter. “In part because of restrictions imposed by the U.S. military… (e)stablished aid groups who have a long history of working in Haiti have suddenly found themselves unable to deliver urgently needed medical, water, and food supplies because the U.S. military will not grant them access to ports and airports... Groups ready to deliver aid to Jacmel – the fourth-largest city in Haiti – were told they would receive no clearance to land there from the U.S. military… This aid is only just now beginning to be delivered – thanks to assistance from the Dominican Republic, not the U.S.
“In Port-au-Prince, huge stockpiles of aid sit in warehouses while people wait for supplies that mean the difference between life and death.
“The US has finally begun airdrops of water and food, but the program needs to be expanded. Please write your Representative and Senators and ask them to press the Obama Administration to lift military restrictions preventing aid groups from bringing aid into Haiti and to expand airdrops of water, water purification tablets, and food.” http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1439/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=2065
7:18 p.m. “US Mercenaries Set Sights on Haiti” by Jeremy Scahill, The Nation: We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans, and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about ‘looters’. The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association didn't waste much time in offering the ‘services’ of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old-fashioned ‘humanitarian assistance’ in the form of disaster profiteering. [Some others] are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater's massive State Department contract in Iraq.
9:16 p.m. Philippe reports that small groups of Haitians have organized themselves to do their own triage and through mutual respect decide who should get treated first. They have signs asking the foreign aid workers to leave them alone except to give them supplies, rather than taking over and running things.
12:14 a.m. Learn of no new deaths of my peeps and that Tibebe is alive. By current standards, that makes it a good day.
8:36 a.m. (Text message from Eramithe to a mutual friend) Here in Port-au-Prince we don't have words to tell you how we are. Many thanks because in this difficult moment you are thinking of us. We are still on [the central boulevard of] Champs de Mars. No one has brought us so much as a little sack of water. Thank you because it is through the phone card you sent us that we can communicate with the other women of KOFAVIV so we can know how many among us are hurt, how many have lost their homes, how many died, and how many live.
9:03 p.m. U.S. Agency for International Development announced that international search and rescue teams have saved exactly 70 people. Where are these people? Just what are they doing?
9:56 a.m. From Washington, Marie Racine tells me the number of family and close friends she has learned to be dead reached 75 several days ago. Then she stopped reading email.
2:21 p.m. Just in: The IMF has just announced that its $100 million loan is interest-free, and that it is working to convert it to a grant. The loan sharks have already done so much to under-develop Haiti for investment and profit opportunities, thank God that they’ve passed up this latest opportunity.
4:07 p.m. The Haitian grassroots is starting to organize itself. Receive notices from a workers’ rights organization, a peasants’ association, an alternative development group. They are shaking the cement dust from themselves already to announce that they are making plans to resume their organizing for grassroots voice and power in determining the direction of the country. They are denouncing Haiti’s militarization by the U.S. and calling for all international debt to be cancelled, a debt they’ve already repaid many times over.
5:44 p.m. Gas is up to $25 or $50, depending on where you are. Other costs are, too. A disaster is always good for a buck. But here comes this dispatch from Haiti: “While stores have raised their prices, the street vendors have not raised their prices in solidarity.”
6:53 p.m. Armed guards in tanks are keeping the hordes of injured out the General Hospital. I have to read that sentence in the New York Times twice. More than 1,000 people are waiting for surgery at the hospital, said a spokesman for Partners in Health. PIH further stated that 20,000 people might be dying every day from infections such as gangrene and sepsis.
Another risk from the earthquake’s injury is "crush syndrome," in which damaged muscle tissue releases toxins into the blood, causing possible kidney failure and death. To treat it, you need dialysis machines. Doctors Without Borders is trying to get these machines in. Two of them were on planes that the U.S. military blocked from landing three times on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a little girl’s hand is amputated with an insufficient amount of anesthesia. An elderly woman’s badly broken ankle is set in a cardboard splint.
7:17 p.m. Philippe emails: “I seem to have gone numb - can't laugh or cry.”
Struggling to find a way to encourage him, I write: Be strong. Hang in there. Someday it will get better. Someday the survivors will sit around a cookfire on hot nights and recount the sad stories for their grandchildren, who may hear them in the same way that I as a child hear stories from the Bible - ancient, epic, apocryphal. Someday some of the babies born this week may be strong leaders for a new and just country. Someday, just maybe, it will be inconceivable that one country could come in and force an airport to be officially turned over to it. Someday Haiti may signify something beside 'failed state' or 'progress-averse' to the world.
10:07 p.m. Everyone is doing everything they can. In Haiti, people are organizing distribution of available food (yes, from abandoned stores, for starving people, what journalists love to call ‘looting’). Folks are stepping up to make their own lists of the living and the dead in the camps.
Here in the U.S., too. A check arrives in the mail from a friend in Taos whom I know not to have much money; it’s for $1,500. A medical anthropologist/women’s health advocate friend is flying into Haiti in a couple of days to explore, and develop international advocacy plans around, violence against women, child abuse, and trauma. The examples are countless.
Unable to sit in my office – where I’ve worked almost every night until 10:00 or 11:00 since the earthquake – one more second, I take my computer to a lost little café on Tchoupitoulas St. A man comes over, introduces himself as the owner, and inquires what I’m working on. I tell him. He wants me to know that there are thousands of out-of-date MREs in the Municipal Auditorium left over from Katrina days, and that if I call someone in a certain department maybe we can get them sent them to Haiti. “They’re still good, I assure you.”
This is something new under the sun: Katrina victims’ trash becoming earthquake victims’ treasure.
When I prepare to pay, he takes half off the price of my beer.
Compassion beer. It’s the way he knows to help, with whatever he has to give.
The U.S. government, turning away medical aid planes because it is more important to get in soldiers than doctors, should learn something from this bartender.
9:29 a.m. The Haitian minister of communications encourages citizens to take photos of bodies on their cell phones. That’s the identification system.
They’re burying people in Titanyen. They’re just dropping the dead in shallow ground, bulldozing right over their bodies, and then digging more pits. Body parts are protruding everywhere, heads lie around under the flies.
This horror requires no explication. What is not obvious is the way that this is the most perverse insult on top of injury. The mere name of Titanyen strikes terror in the heart of most any Haitian. It is the potters’ field outside Port-au-Prince favored by the Duvaliers for their victims. During their reign from 1957 to 1986 (that reign heavily supported by the U.S. government), bodies were regularly dropped off in the night to rot in the next day’s sun.
This dumping was a criminal action then. It is a criminal action now.
11:26 a.m. Air Force General Doug Fraser reported today that the U.S. now has 2,676 U.S. ground troops in Haiti, and expects to have 4,600 more and an additional 2,000 Marines on the ground by Sunday. In the water are 10,445 U.S. military personnel on 20 ships, while in the air are 63 U.S. military helicopters.
Just over 9,000 UN troops occupied Haiti prior to the earthquake. The UN Security Council has just approved 3,500 more.
Conservatively estimating four personnel per helicopter, this puts U.S. forces in Haiti at almost 20,000, and U.N. forces at 12,500.
That’s just about the right number of health care workers who should be flying in. But they can’t, because most of the 120 to 140 flights per day that the airport can handle are filled with military personnel and their equipment. In fact, according to Fraser, more than 1,400 flights of aid and relief workers have been blocked from getting in.
Aside from the medical care being denied, can you imagine how much food and water is being diverted from a starving population to feed strapping U.S. and U.N. soldiers? You know those guys aren’t eating uncooked wheat and gutter water, like a whole lot of Haitians.
Furthermore, just what are they doing there? People are lying on the ground with crushed bones and their response of choice is guns?
The U.S. has just invaded Haiti. And no one has noticed.
1:39 p.m. Ben Ehrenreich, “Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti Rather Than Helping Haitians?” Slate: “Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a ‘scuffle’ with a U.S. commander in the airport's control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries…
“Haitians watched American helicopters fly over the capital, commanding and controlling, but no aid at all was being distributed in most of the city. On Tuesday, a doctor at a field hospital within site of the runways complained that five to 10 patients were dying each day for lack of the most basic medical necessities. ‘We can look at the supplies sitting there,” Alphonse Edward told Britain's Channel 4 News.’”
Philippe emails me an addendum: “The commander of the Vinson (the first US ship to arrive) lamented that his ship's 59 or so beds were nearly empty, he said he doesn't care who gets treated, as long as the beds aren't empty. Amy Goodman [on Democracy Now] had a shot of all the aid on the tarmac still shrink-wrapped and glistening, with the lone truck lazily loading a few bottles off in the distance. When she asked the Haitians loading the truck where the aid was going, they said ‘to the [U.S.] Embassy.”
3:00 p.m. Georges Anglade, too. Oh no. Oh no.
6:47 p.m. The disaster-beat journalist for a major newspaper has called a few times for my impressions of similarities between the catastrophes in New Orleans and Haiti. I tell him: They share the ways the disasters have been covered, with savage Black people looting and doing violence. They are both the recipients of a huge outpouring of concern and good will, which had an early expiration date in New Orleans and will in Haiti. New Orleans got, and Haiti will get, some good and some very bad aid.
New Orleans offers other important object lessons for Haiti. Developers here had a field day; rents and sales prices tripled, for example. Hundreds of thousands could not return home for lack of housing and schools and jobs. There was a pathetic dearth of programs to aid people in rebuilding their lives after they returned. The majority – especially African-Americans and low-income people – were neither decision-makers in, nor beneficiaries of, the process.
Milton Friedman, the father of Chicago School free-market capitalism, came out of retirement at the age of 93 to write an op.ed. in the Wall Street Journal saying that “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.” The Heritage Foundation posted this in the earthquake’s aftermath: "[T]he U.S. response… offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region."
It’s been said by many since last week that this earthquake might represent a wonderful opportunity to construct a different kind of nation. But constructed by whom? For whose benefit?
One man’s disaster can be another man’s profit.
9: 53 a.m. CNN has created a list for anyone looking for her husband, his mother, their sons. Of the 100 names on the front page, only 13 have been found.
10:36 a.m. I tell Bob that the next wave of deaths will be from suicides. “No,” he counters, “it will be from disease. Unless we can force the U.S. government to get more clean water and medical aid in fast.”
11:02 a.m. In the midst of the hell realm of human suffering, in the midst of concern over how ‘redevelopment’ might further expropriate and exclude the vast majority of citizens, the earthquake reveals the heights to which humanity can rise. It's the acts of kindness and solidarity that are keeping us going. Here it is at its best:
This morning I was trying to find out how to get more cash to wire to couriers who are going to Haiti. There is some complication with Western Union; we can only send by cash, but our bank is in New Mexico. I called friends all over town but could only find one person who could withdraw a big bunch of money. I’ve tried everything, but can’t nearly as much as we need.
Now I am rushing out the door to get the cash from my buddy to take to Western Union so it can hit our friend’s account in Lagos in time, so she can put in the KOFAVIV women’s hands before they starve to death. As I hustle toward my car, a man approaches me. "Excuse me; you're probably in a hurry. Are you connected with Haiti?"
My eyes go big. “How did you know that?”
Someone told him, "I think there's a woman on your block working with Haiti." He says he's spent the whole week trying to find me.
I apologize that I can’t stay to talk but explain that I am indeed in a hurry, and tell him why. He responds, "I'm a silversmith. I sold some jewelry at a trade show in south Florida last week and told everyone I'd give 10% of the sales to Haiti. I saw so much money being wasted after Katrina that I wanted to wait to be sure I had the right place. I’ve just been holding the money meanwhile." With that, he opens a little bag and hands me $250 in cash.
I tell him I have nothing on me to show that I am legit. I don’t have any receipt I can give him just now.
He says, “I trust you.” We exchange a big, tight hug. He is already ambling down the street as I thank him once more, tell him again I can’t believe his gesture.
He calls back over his shoulder, “It all flows according to the divine.”
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