Crazy Town, Crazy Island – A livelihood tumbled away

We passed through the centre of Port Au Prince on the way back; in amongst the still standing buildings much of the quake ruined ones had been cleared.  But the spaces had been taken up with tented villages.  Every piece of possible material had been used to make shelter, whether it be plywood or corrugated iron, or parts of tents donated by the UN agencies, USAID, DFID and others; the names of the donors still visible on the side.  As we crawled through the late afternoon traffic, we had time to see down narrow alleys where people jostled to get past each other, children sat with their feet out of their tents watching the world and the weather.  We passed from the hustle and bustle of the shopping district into the more ceremonial parts of the capital.  In most cities this is where you go from vibrancy to solemnity, from hustle and bustle to relative oases of calm.  But with so many displaced people in Haiti even two years after the earthquake, every patch of square or parkland not securely fenced in was taken up with not just tented villages, they were tented towns and cities, maybe housing up to 10,000 people in a block.  Beneath the fading blues of the tents donated by the humanitarian community, the multicoloured Creole culture shone through, from the patterns of the women’s dresses to the gaudy plastic hardware for cooking and cleaning.  In amongst the tented houses were tented shops, tented businesses and tented bars.  People may have had got over the fear of living in buildings, but there was the inevitability that they could not afford to go back to their old plots of land, however small, and reconstruct.

When I was back in Haiti on the second visit, one of the waiters in our new hotel was a kind, gentle guy, probably in his late 50s.  He had on thick lensed glasses to combat his severe short sightedness but they never seemed good enough as he had to peer at bills and menus held close to the end of his nose.  We spent so much time in the hotel he served us several times a day with meals or drinks, and we chatted to him.  Jean Luc discovered that he lost his house at the earthquake.  He had a wife and two daughters and they had been living in one of these tents ever since.  They had salvaged a few essentials from the building, but not much, and he had lost his business that was underneath the house.  He was forced to take whatever work he could , and he ended up waiting table at tis hotel in Petionville.  The government compensation scheme was woefully underfunded and bureaucratic, and he had no insurance.  He did not have enough savings to rebuild his home.  It seemed desperate that someone who had spent so many years building a respectable life had not only had it swept away almost instantly, but had been given little hope to even reclaim a small portion of that life.

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