On Monday, Mom and I went on a spur-of-the-moment overnight trip to Jacmel, a little beach town over the mountain. This trip exemplified a reality I have already felt strongly in my week here: Haiti is a place of extremes.
Driving in Haiti is something of an adventure; there is a reason most vehicles are 4x4 (and why they are in the shop more than out of it). But this wasn't what exhausted me. Rather, as I gazed out of the window, I felt like I was being pounded repeatedly over the head with a heavy board. To get to the beach, we drove through downtown Port-au-Prince, passing millions of tents, including some set up in the median of the highway; past a huge, smoking rubbish heap; by Cite Soleil, one of the largest slums in the Northern Hemisphere (even before the quake); and through the town of Leogane, which is located at the epicenter of the quake and was 90% destroyed by it.Even though I had been in Haiti for a week already, this 2-hour tour of devastation and poverty struck me like a cinder block. After this scenic tour, I decided that visiting Haiti could either break my heart or turn it to rock; I was somewhere in the middle, teetering on the brink of one of these two options.
In general, I have been shockingly unemotional, even when I see things that are probably supposed to shock me. When I saw my first tent village, I was actually impressed by its relative cleanliness and order. Our media prepares us for these things. What has boggled my mind is the scope of the poverty.
Then we finally reached the end of the cities and started to climb the mountain. As the cities dropped away, I saw the other Haiti: a land of exquisite beauty and vast resources, a jewel that various countries lusted and fought over during colonial times. Of course, there was plenty to pull at my heartstrings in the countryside too; if Haiti's countryside is gorgeous now, it is nothing to what it must have been before colonization. Deforestation and its effects are obvious. Yet I was still surprised by the beauty I saw.
Why was I surprised? As John, the man we were traveling with, said, "Everyone focuses on Haiti's devastation. People take pictures of the the trash heaps, not the mountains."
And it's true. Even though the view of poverty hit me hard that day, I was not unprepared for it. And, like the good journalist I was trying to be, I snapped as many pictures as I could of collapsed buildings, smoking heaps of rubbish, literal rivers of trash. I suppose that this is what we think the world needs to know about Haiti--its great needs. But the view from the other side made me think that this other Haiti is one that needs to be shared too. And maybe more importantly, the connection between the two, the fact that it was literally Haiti's abundance that led--through a series of events of human greed and corruption--to its apparent lack.Things are often so much more complicated than we like to think.
Well, the beach was lovely. I slept better that night than I have since we arrived here. I was woken from my amazing slumber at 6 am by Mom, who was so eager to go swimming that she, in contrast to me, could not sleep that night! I complained a lot, but the ocean really was worth it.
On the way back, we stopped to buy some fruit at a roadside stand. I had assumed that buying fruit from a roadside stand would entail getting out of the car and walking the five feet to the piles of fruit, but I was quite mistaken! The car had barely stopped rolling when it was swarmed by over a dozen fruit sellers, each shoving a platter adorned with a pyramid of fruit through a window and repeating her price over and over. A overwhelming cultural experience--I was glad I wasn't the one making the transaction!
It is apparent that Haiti as a whole is entering a time of transition of focus; while the immediate needs are still great, it is necessary to think about the future. While many aid organizations remain, many others have started to pull out of the country or to shift into more of a maintenance mode. This relief work was invaluable immediately following the quake, but is not sustainable in the long run.
Like I said before, the scope of the need is mind-boggling; the complexity is astounding; and for those in charge, the decisions must be painful.