Report from Scott Weinstein, a Canadian nurse in Haiti
February 1, 2010
A paramedic & I walked
around for an hour today in crowded Pietonville which has the rich and lots of
poor, and 4 hours in crowded downtown which is mostly poor in homes, tents,
lean-to's, and 'shanties'. We went by the port, inside homeless camps, and by
Cite de Soleil. The worst thing that happened to me was a sunburn (I want to
blame the doxycyline, but I also didn't wear a hat or sunscreen). Downtown which
is flat, is really pummelled by the earthquake, a lot of buildings and homes
down. Shanties and buildings on steep hills collapsed too.
But everyone was nice to us, if not curious. People practised their English with us, got a lot of "Good mornings" at 3 pm! Sure, it helps to be white guys. Very busy, but safe is what we felt. No fights, no yelling. Very little hustling even - less than a WDC or NYC street.
My point is, this was so unlike the fear propaganda that is drummed into our heads about Haiti, which is why we didn't see any other white people on foot the whole time, except one guy with his young Haitian girlfriend. We didn't see much in the way of soldiers or police either.
I am not saying there is no violence in Haiti or that it's a walk in the park, but we need to put the actual threats to foreigners in perspective. For women, it is more difficult, but a blond friend has been here for 2 weeks and says it is not too bad for her compared to other places.
There appears to be a lot of food for sale by street vendors, but most is non caloric, non protein. Most is fruit. I saw very little rice, no corn, some potatoes, sugar cane, a little wheat, some beans & oil. I saw no one actually eating, except kids eating cookies, and not a lot of people buying. We saw no food aid at all, on the streets or in the camps.
In a shanty town, a orange wholesaler gave us free oranges, because it was too complicated to sell individual ones. There are three denominations here: the US dollar; the Haitian gourde (about 35-37/US$); and the unofficial "Haitian dollar" which is equivalent to 5 gourdes. The Haitian dollar is a price, but not an actual dollar bill or coin.
In the two camps we visited, there is a variety of makeshift 'tents' and real Red Cross tents. Of the half dozen camps we saw, they now have huge water bladders that feed faucets for washing. Most were swept 'clean', although there is a lack of garbage bags in Haiti. (A lot of garbage is burnt - which is now the predominate smell. There is still a lot of concrete dust in the air from both the broken buildings and the cars stirring concrete dust). There are some latrines and the occational private bathing areas. But a lot of people have to wash in public.
We put a sling around a young girl's arm with a possible fracture and gave her some acetaminophen and instructions to go the hospital across the street. Fortunately, there is always a crowd of people and some understand French or English well, so our verbal and written instructions are always translated. She was afraid to go to the hospital because she thought it would cost, and they would amputate... we had to dispel those myths. But people should realize that the early preponderance of amputations is possibly now a fear among people with less critical wounds who might be afraid of seeking medical treatment.
Yesterday, I met Marian, one of our DC nurses, and she has been busy with general care, sanitation and advocacy for people first in a large camp, and now in and around a church.
At the hospital, we saw 4 US soldiers armed with M16s guarding a cart of patient's food being distributed! I think they were looking for something to do, because it is very chill and boring for them. Later on, the food cart was being passed unguarded, so they might have decided it looked silly.
Certainly, the Haitians are resilient, and also self sufficient. I imagine they don't expect people to help them either...
Source: The above message with subject " Two Haitis" was posted to the Canada Haiti Action Network listserve on February 1, 2010, by Darren Ell <firstname.lastname@example.org>. He introduced the message from Scott Weinstein by saying:
"There would appear to be two Haitis, or at least two Port-au-Princes. There is the one that the mainstream, at least in Montreal, is doing their best to describe. This is a city where people desperately fight for food, where danger is lurking around the corner, and where the infamous «gangs of cité soleil» are back stalking the streets. The cover of La Presse did it again today: «A starving Port-au-Prince recovers badly, and dangerously.» I have seen this throughout in La Presse, as though they are licking their chops waiting for violence and hunger to rip through the city.
Then there is this Port-au-Prince, an update from nurse and solidarity activist Scott Weinstein, now on the ground in Haiti. A veteran of Katrina, this is his first time in Haiti."