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Live From Jacmel, Haiti (Part 3)

1/15/2010

I hear a plane overhead just now. We have heard that they cleared the airstrip and moved the people to a nearby park. Gerard was out until after midnight digging a latrine at the new site, to try to keep the health risks down. He is one of the many international aide workers who has been part of our lives these last few days. Part of the core crew, and now when he is not here, we wait for his return. We have our regulars who come and go. Last night, a group from UNICEF came and ate with us and stayed the night. We were treated to fresh salad and Camembert by a French woman who lives here and runs the Aliance Francaise. I'm not sure a cucumber has ever tasted so good. The building of the AF is still standing but is not inhabitable. It will need to be razed and rebuilt. I have spent the morning speaking with Danielle, discussing her organization Femmes en Democratie and their work here, empowering women, working with them to run their own businesses, be self sufficient and to be a part of the political process. Their work will continue. As well as the work of Kompay, which does sustainable agricultural programs.

Rumors of who is coming in and who is going out abound. My family thinks that they have found a plane or a helicopter to come in to get me. But then we learn that the airspace is closed to private transportation. They are working on a boat. They are pulling out every contact they can find. I have never felt so loved in my life. The tireless work of my sister and so many friends is incredible to follow on FaceBook. And thank goodness for FaceBook! It is amazing that I am still in touch with people. Just watching the ideas and connections flying is unbelievable! The people who don't even know me—friends of friends of friends—who are giving their all, making phone calls, sending emails, making introductions. I don't know how I will ever thank them all for their efforts.

We still feel (and are) very safe here. There is no sign of unrest. Yesterday we went to town and there was a traffic jam at the gas station. People were still calm, however. Just crowding around the tanks, hoping for gas. We went into town because we are both restless, and feeling useless. How can we sit here at Hotel Cyvadier while people in town have no homes, limited food and water, and are trying to dig out their family members and friends by hand. We stick out our thumb for a ride, and a truck stops immediately. The driver, a Haitian, has a Brooklyn accent. It is Joe, who runs Kompay. He used to live in New York. He had actually been emailing with Karen, a filmmaker from New York who is also at Cyvadier, and who is accompanying me into town. Karen has a deep affection for Haiti and the people here, and has made several films. She was here to do some research, as well as do a film screening at Cine Institute in Jacmel. CI's building seems to be standing still, but may not be structurally sound. They do not know how their equipment inside has fared. They would like to get their students into the building so that they can get their equipment and start filming the impact of the earthquake on their community. The lovely buildings, reminiscent of New Orleans seem, on first glance, fine. Then we drive further and see that many are just facades standing. If that. Some buildings have completely crumbled. Roads are blocked by rubble. People are standing outside their homes. They are still surveying the scene before them and them and wondering how they will rebuild. Again.

We drive by the road where the Hotel Florita stood just the day before. Where I had slept just two nights before. Luck, and the input of friends of friends, is what took me from Florita and up to Cyvadier. I had enjoyed a couple of days down in the town, and moved to Cyvadier both because I was going to have to move out of my lovely breezy room at Florita (for an incoming group of Americans), and because both MJ and Gage told me Cyvadier was a delightful place to stay. Is it luck? Fate? I can't say. But sitting here at Camp Cyvadier, I am feeling incredibly lucky, and that I now have a very different view of Haiti than I would otherwise have had.

My trip to Haiti was part of a bigger trip to Virgin Gorda for the wedding of some dear friends. The original plan to spend a week on a Catamaran with friends, docking at the Bitter End Yacht Club for the days of the wedding festivities, fell through. Logistics. Well, I know a lot about logistics now! Since I was heading all the way to the BVI's, I figured I ought to spend a few days somewhere on my way to the wedding. I had options. All those islands with lovely beaches and swaying palm trees. But that is not my normal vacation style. I like to explore new countries and cultures. To go places where there are not hoardes of tourists. So I chose Haiti.

The country has a rich history that has been overshadowed by political turmoil as well as natural disasters. I wanted to learn more. Not that my four days here would make me an expert, but they would give me a taste; a teaser to entice me back for more exploration. And I will be back (family and friends permitting, of course!), because there is still much to explore, and after this experience I will want to see how the country bounces back. The Haitians are resilient people. They have faced so many challenges, and they are still welcoming and open. I am hoping to get to the wedding. Really, I am. I want to be there to celebrate with my friends. We'll see what news comes our way today.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Ruth's first-person accounts in Haiti.

Guest blogger Ruth Bender is based in San Francisco and works for the Tides Foundation.

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