The Devil on the loose in Haiti
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.