Haiti – shutting out the cries

January 15, 2010

QUAKE-HAITI/Last night, I slept on the floor with the cries of the wounded searing through the night air across the hills of Port-au-Prince. Every so often, there was an outbreak of wailing and shrieking, when someone died. Sometimes, prayers were sung and chanted. We are all becoming inured to the pain – I found myself longing for earplugs.

At 5 a.m. in the morning, there was an after-shock from the earthquake, one of the strongest yet. The ground shook, sending more rubble falling off the half-destroyed Hotel Villa Creole, waking up dozens of exhausted journalists, and causing more pain to the many wounded and homeless Haitians sleeping on the street outside the hotel. The few waiters still working here served us coffee, while volunteers at the impromptu hospital on our porch tried to close gashes and keep people alive.
 
By midday, I had visited a dozen makeshift refugee camps where no one had received a drop of water or a bite to eat from authorities or aid agencies. I found nine mass graves outside the capital, the putrid smell of piled up corpses still hanging on my T-shirt. I saw chaos at the airport where Haitians are clamoring to get out, and the world is clamoring to get aid in.
 
Now, after grilled chicken at the hotel (where does it keep coming from?) it is time to step over the bodies on the porch again to go and check reports of rioting downtown and burning bodies in a nearby refugee settlement. Then, it will be back to the Villa Creole to see if the water is back on for a shower in the room I share with about a dozen colleagues. Despite the large comfortable bed, no one dares sleep there because of the after-shocks. But until the water went off, it was worth the risk for a few minutes to shower and get clean.
 
Yesterday, the wine and beer flowed for some during dinner, though conversation was interrupted by chilling groans from over the wall. Don’t take any of that flippantly  — it is most certainly not written that way. After nearly two decades covering the trouble-spots of Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, this correspondent and most of the multitude of veteran colleagues here still find the surreal juxtapositions deeply disturbing. Everyone reacts in their own way — some stop to help, others walk on by. But nobody is sleeping soundly, believe me.

 

QUAKE-HAITI/

Reuters photos by Carlos Barria and Jorge Silva

Click here for more stories on the Haiti earthquake disaster.

One comment

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I find your description – longing for earplugs to shut out the wailing, being served coffee, your smelly tee shirt, having grilled chicken, wine, beer and a shower to be not just flippant but damn revolting. I spent 40 hours at the Villa Creole, from the moment of the earthquake until being evaced with a broken ankle, setting up the triage, caring for patients, and teaching others to do so. None of the volunteers who worked so hard – and EARNED their smelly tee shirts – got the amenities that you so flippantly describe, nor did the hundreds of wounded that we cared for. I’m really sorry that you didn’t sleep soundly. What I wonder is just what you did to help the situation rather than consume precious resources that could have been used to help people. Do Haiti a favor and go home, now that you’ve blogged your moments of glory.
JH Bahn

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