Haiti: The 2010 earthquake
Going into Haiti two weeks after it had been rocked by a magnitude 7 earthquake, I knew my job would be different from that of the first-responder journalists.
I wanted to see how people were coping, how they were living, what they were feeling at this point.
On day one I photographed a missionary clinic in the hills outside of Port-au-Prince. Wards consisted of large rooms of 15-to-20 beds. Family members in charge of cleaning their loved ones and cooking for them crowded the narrow spaces between patients. Moaning was a continuous background sound, sometimes overlapped by chaplains reading psalms and praying. Newly admitted patients lay on thin mattresses placed on the floor in a corridor. A doctor sat on the floor next to one patient looking at his X-rays with the help of window light. As I prepared to walk into the clinic, a woman was leaving after recovering from femur surgery. I watched as she draped her arms over the shoulders of her brother and a friend, each held her waist to support her as she slowly walked down a ramp to a waiting vehicle. Sweat dripped down her face and the pain was evident in her features. A small crowd gathered to watch, no one stepping in to lift and carry her, but a few did lift her into the back of the truck once she reached it. As she prepared to leave what had been her home since the earthquake to stay with a friend, a missionary reached into the truck to take her hand and say goodbye. That human touch, and the look of affection and gratitude exchanged by the women, moved me emotionally, and set the tone for my own experience in Haiti.
Throughout the following four days, I photographed in tent cities, churches and people’s homes. I visited a community built into the side of a mountain and slept on the roof of an orphanage under a full moon. I rode through downtown Port-au-Prince and allowed the extent of the destruction, the piles of rubble and the smell of death to wash over me. I photographed the distribution of 1,000 family relief kits under the watchful eyes of U.S. Marines in the Cite` Soleil neighborhood. The voices of those 1,000 people singing in their church, before receiving their kits, brought tears to my eyes.
What affected me most during my stay was the sense of a loss of dignity by many of Port-au-Prince’s residents. As humanity milled around them, women, old and young, washed on street corners. Men approached me in one of the tent cities to ask for a job as our group’s interpreter or guide, saying that the core of a man is to work and they could not find work or provide for their families. When we stopped at traffic lights children hung on to our truck and begged for water, even half empty bottles of water. Women fought over an insufficient amount of sanitary pads donated by an aid group to one of the tent cities. And an unidentifiable and decomposing body still lay in the middle of a main downtown street, fourteen days after the earthquake. The smell of death wasn’t the most impressive smell, but each tent city seemed to be soaked in urine and the smell of human waste.
In some ways my trip seemed to me to be a study in contrasts. I have had difficulty processing the idea of life going on around buildings that still trapped bodies in their rubble. My team’s escape from the hot sun and the dust of downtown Port-au-Prince was a shaded restaurant owned by a Swiss woman where we could indulge in gelato. The restaurant was located a block from the squalor of a tent city. I heard stories of piles and piles of aid sitting on the tarmac at the airport, but saw little to no aid reaching the people. And spirituality and religion seemed to be ever-present themes in a place and people that had just lost everything to a natural disaster.
I spent my last night in Haiti at an orphanage run by a couple from Mechanicsville, Va. As we drove into the orphanage compound, 22 children greeted me politely. These children aren’t up for adoption, but are being raised there because their families cannot provide for them. The mission of the orphanage is to give them a safe and good place to grow, to educate them, and give them role models and opportunity. It is their hope that these children will be a new future for Haiti.
Following are the slideshows I produced from the trip.