Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Downtown

“The irreducible facts about each brother or sister are that Christ died for them and that the Spirit wants to give something through them. To cling to unity is to cling to those convictions, especially when everything in us cries out for separation. Or, in plain words, unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard/ Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion; when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful and those we think are stupid.” -Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

"But pacifism is so impractical!" As if Christian ethics were utilitarian, as if there were a calculus for shalom! -Kim Fabricius

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Our long-time Haiti missionary friend John, who runs a rural clinic outside PAP, has been very gracious in letting us accompany him on various adventures around Haiti. This weekend we headed downtown, much nearer to the epicenter of the 7.0 quake. Just after the quake, most of the international reporters were in that area, so some of these images may be familiar. I can tell you, however, that no TV report can ever quite capture the magnitude, the sounds, or, especially in this case, the smells.
A very Soviet-looking monument created by Aristide. It was supposed to be an "eternal flame", but was never lit, according to Tour Guide John.
The Port-au-Prince version of Central Park (loose comparison) is a giant park called Champs d'Mars across from the National Palace. It is now the largest tent city in the country. It's ironic to see dozens of flags and several elaborate statues on tall pedestals sprouting up between such devastation. This tent city is also the most well-outfitted one I've seen, even having rows of port-a-potties.
Imagine if this was your National Palace. Imagine if it was the White House. Even if you have never been to Washington, you identify with that building. I remember on the day of the quake, a lot of the kids only started freaking out when the news trickled in that the National Palace and National Cathedral were down.
National Palace
This building, directly next door to the National Palace, is famous for its green roof and green paint. It's also the Ministry of Finance. THE MINISTRY OF FINANCE IS A PILE OF RUBBLE. Imagine the psychological effect of that on a people, a nation.
US soldiers outside the back end of the green Ministry of Finance building. The back end of the building came down completely in an aftershock a day or two ago. There had been people inside, scavenging useful materials like wood, when it fell completely, so the soldiers were keeping people out of the building (for further scavenging/looting) while a Search & Rescue team tried to find any survivors.
Seal of Haiti on the Ministry of Finance building.
All around the National Palace/Downtown area are the giant tent cities of Champs de Mars. There was a big crowd gathered, probably a hundred of so, watching the US soldiers guard the Ministry of Finance building while the Search & Rescue team worked. I stood directly across the street, behind the crowd, and noticed that all the people were standing in a stream of open sewage. Some of them were barefoot, and all who had shoes wore dusty sandals like this little girl.
Outside the tent city, gathering corrugated material that will be used for roofing.
The dust was heavy in the air. It was blazing hot. This man was just chillin on some sort of homemade cart, probably for moving scavenged useful items out of the rubble. I'm using the word "scavenging" instaed of looting because, frankly, I don't think what they're doing is wrong. What's wrong with looking through a pile of unattended trash for something useful? It'll just be carted off in a few days and dumped in the countryside, so if you're homeless, why not pick up a little wood to make a new shack? It's utilitarian.
A street vendor. All the books were in French.
US soldier with a Haitian policeman, I think. They were guarding a street where a bulldozer was clearing rubble in order to keep people out of the way to let the trucks work faster. This soldier was from Texas, so we struck up a conversation. Turns out he went to Prestonwood Christian Academy, a private Christian high school about ten minutes from where I grew up. I asked when he graduated to see if we might play the "name game" since I had several friends from PCA in college. His answer? 2009. A baby with a giant gun!
Just like the pin-up girls of WWII, right?!? Haha, no. Big giant humvee helping to block the road to keep people out while the bulldozers cleared rubble.
This was one of the crumbled buildings on the street where the bulldozers were clearing. John told us this building used to be the only school for disabled children in the entire country. Now? Flat.
Imagine if this was your house? Your hallway?
A beautiful Methodist church downtown. The sanctuary was relatively spared, but the education building next door and offices are deeply cracked and will have to come down. John had sung Christmas Carols there once or twice before and knew the pastor, who was sitting in the courtyard.
Across the street from the Methodist church was a wooden structure. Port-au-Prince had, many decades ago, these gorgeous "Gingerbread" houses, made of beautiful painted wood, in a kind of New Orleans-ian style (or perhaps the New Orleans style is actually from Haiti?). Almost none were surviving, even before the quake, due to termites I believe, but I did see a few wooden structures downtown, albeit leaning perilously.
This damaged photo studio had its windows blown out, but you can still see the green screen. "1 Heure" photo.
Police car. Typical.
Louisiana Shop Electronic!
The National Cathedral.
Used to be something beautiful. Now, graffiti, broken.
 John antagonizes begging ladies:) I say this with all love and respect- John has been in this country 25 years, and I will take his advice on how to do things here, include what to do when people ask "give me one dolla" 24/7. He is the second person I've met in Haiti (the other has been in the country 17 years) who think the best way to respond to begging is to communicate with the beggar, and, if possible, make a joke. For example, when kids beg my other friend, he tries to strike up a conversation. Where do you live? he'll say. He's trying to be relational. John makes jokes. If a kid comes up and says "Blan (meaning "white person"), give me one dollar", John will say "I'm not white, I'm pink!" in Kreyol. John has a lady come up with a newborn and say she had no food for the baby. He, as a nurse who does an extensive amount of prenatal care, responded in Kreyol, "yes you do, right there- breastfeed your baby!" She laughed and walked away. 

I'm undecided. For now I mostly just get awkward. Some missionaries here carry little baggies of rice to give, which they feel more comfortable with than money. Maybe I'll get organized enough to do that.
 
 National Cathedral damage
 
Markets totally fill the streets downtown as you get within a few blocks of the Caribbean Sea (the blue in the background is the ocean). 
Little shacks line the streets in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The bells of this destroyed church read "John Taylor & Co, Founders, Loughborough, England".
 
Next we left downtown, drove straight through the valley that is Port-au-Prince, and went straight up the mountain.
There's a place, high above Haiti, where the cell phone towers crowd together like a little digital forest. It's called Boutillea (misspelling likely), and John calls it his favorite place in Port-au-Prince. He took us up there to end our day-long trip. 
 Katie

4 comments:

  1. Do you actually see any progress? Are people back to working (whatever they were doing before the quake)? Compared to the level of support you were seeing in the weeks after the quake, how would you compare that now?

    I live in Pacific NW, where panhandling is an art. I always wonder: with the unemployment rate at 10% here, what is the remaining 9.99% unemployed doing instead of panhandling? I imagine living in an area where unemployment and misery is so prevalent, it is difficult to know. John has seen it all, so I'd try following his lead. Tough act to follow. God bless.

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  2. I would say there is progress downtown, in that there were US military groups with bulldozers clearing rubble. I haven't seen heavy machinery up in our neighborhood, although the rubble is at least pushed out of the roads for the most part up here. Obviously the area around the palace will be a priority for relief work, and the tent city there is the largest one in the city.

    Compared with directly after the quake, the level of support has gone down in that we now have only a trickle of medical teams coming to QCS, and the US military is drawing down dramatically. They're now mainly just in the area around the Embassy and airport, we hear.

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  3. Louisiana! Haha.
    Great pics friend.
    My heart is with you!

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  4. I saw in your blog John Ackerman. When my daughter and son-in-law were in Haiti, I had the privilege to go with john to the Prospere clinic. I have been following him on his website. I remember a man coming up to the car window begging, John told him to eat rocks in Kreyol. The man had a shocked look on his face, but every else standing on the street broke in laughter. He truly is one of my heroes, but don't tell him I said that, it would do permanent damage to his humility. God bless you for the work you're doing. I could not suggest a better mentor than John Ackerman.

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