The Devil on the loose in Haiti

February 23, 2010

The incessant drone of the motorcycle under me becomes distant as my mind creates images from the words of an elderly woman in the camp I just visited. “The Devil is on the loose in Haiti. He turns into a dog, a pig or a hen, to move unnoticed in the camps and devour life. Last night he appeared as a dog and took the life of a child.” In the camp everyone knows and speaks of the death, and the strange disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Every form that I have ever imagined devilish beings to take are banished from my mind when this Devil appears. He has become a 7-day diarrhea that “devoured” the life of the child. Is it easier to explain death in the hands of a demon instead of looking around and thinking that it might have been the lack of water, hygiene and food that snatched the life?

A Haitian man takes a bath on a destroyed street at Port-au-Prince February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The destitution of the Haitian people hits me everywhere I turn. In none of the camps I visited is there a face that doesn’t show the mark of poverty. “The city looks like it was bombed,” says the security expert who accompanies me daily. There is no building, house or street that doesn’t show the effects of nature’s strength. They really were bombed – bombarded by political violence, illiteracy, unemployment, AIDS and extreme poverty. The quake did nothing more than expose to the world the indigence of an entire nation.

Survivors of Haiti's earthquake walk along a dump near downtown Port-au-Prince February 9, 2010. The 7.0 magnitude quake which struck Haiti on Jan. 12 is estimated to have killed up to 200,000 people. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The three-day-long Mass held to remember the earthquake’s first month moves me in every way. Without realizing it I find myself swaying to the rhythm of the music sung by the throng of mourners dressed in white. The innocent faces of children contrast brutally with the cold stares of looters on Route National #1, the scene of the most dramatic images of the disaster.

Earthquake survivors raise their arms as they pray in commemoration of the January 12 earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince February 12, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

In front of the ruins of the Government Palace the plastic sheeting and cloth are slowly being replaced by brick and wood. Probably in a matter of months these camps will become shanty towns built from quake debris turned back into walls and roofs. The debris already has a recognized value.

Earthquake survivors carry bricks from a destroyed building in downtown Port-au-Prince February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

“We don’t want more rice. The world has raised millions of dollars and all we get is rice,” screams a man as he tries to get others to follow his lead in blocking the route to the airport with sticks and stones. In just minutes riot police arrive to clear the road. The demonstrators disperse but the yells of people in the camps all along the route continue in unison, “No more rice!”

An earthquake survivor yells slogans against riot policemen as they block the main road to the airport during a rally to demand for food, shelter and other aid in Port-au-Prince February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A Haitian riot policeman kicks a demonstrator demanding for food, shelter and other aid at a rally in Port-au-Prince February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The food distribution tickets are by coincidence red, “the Devil’s color,” one man says to me echoing fears that the Devil is present. “Today we pray to God. Anyone caught practicing voodoo in these ceremonies will be executed by the people.” The feeling is unanimous. Voodoo is prohibited for now. The looks of fear and the insecurity of my motorbike are the best reasons to continue on without inquiring.

A Haitian woman covers her face with a food ticket during a food distribution at the Cite Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

I come across a fight over four wooden posts. A blow to the head is the raw sign that the fight will be savage. My reaction isn’t as fast as my camera shutter, that in an instant captures the desperation in the face of someone who, having nothing, fights for something. The posts seem enough reason to kill a neighbor. They mean the difference between living exposed to the elements, or in precarious privacy.

A survivor of Haiti's earthquake (L) is helped after being injured during a street fight near the main square in downtown Port-au-Prince February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

News of a birth in a garbage dump affects me deeply. I’m convinced that it will be the mission of this child and thousands like him to bring change to Haiti. It will take more than one generation to change its course and start over from scratch.

I leave for the border with the Dominican Republic with a strange feeling, one in which I had the chance to give or do something but wasn’t able to do either. My photographs are the best way I know to give, in my capacity as witness to the misery that the Haitians are suffering.

An earthquake survivor cries as she prays while a crowd gathers downtown in commemoration of the January 12 earthquake at Port-au-Prince February 12, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

I take with me many questions and no answers. At night I hear the screams of the people in the obscure camps. I can only think that these are days in which we all fear the Devil.


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Superb pix and words.

Posted by YokoYoko | Report as abusive

Well done. Wish you had time to see other parts of Haiti the “devil” avoids. There is hope here! But Port au Prince looks very bad, I agree, and I fear the rainy season.

Thank you.

Posted by leeinhaiti | Report as abusive

The quake and your photographs actually make many things clearer. Foremost: that this is more or less what happens to all countries that have been bled dry for decades by the IMF and World Bank. In that sense, this is indeed the devils’ work. The quake was just the icing…

Question is, after aid has been provided by sincere and unconditional sources rather than the usual corporate suspects – are we going to beat the devil, or let our two-faced national representatives keep on lying down with him?

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

Great words and great photos – we understand how the photographer gets haunted by the Devil or whatever it is…
My news photos of China:

Posted by Photoluc | Report as abusive

Well written,bring tears to my eyes. Most of the world has forgotten about Haiti and move on to other news headline

Posted by skyinhobart | Report as abusive