My sister Taylor visited us for the Thanksgiving holiday. I love being with someone who is in Haiti for the first time. You canget desensitized to things here. I think by spending quality time with new people you can stay sensitive to the poverty and desperation.I wanted to show my sister the city. I asked my most trusted adventure companion, John (of blog fame here) to drive us around. We weaved through the trash-strewn streets while I pointed out landmarks and former landmarks.
We pulled up next to the National Cathedral while I was telling the following story about John. Last year visited the same spot with one of his friends from the States. Three middle-aged women were sitting on the roadside and started asking us for money and food. John, a murse who has been in Haiti as long as I have been alive, did not bite. He sized one of the women up in a quick glance and told her in flawless Kreyol that she did not need to eat. He said she was overweight (she was) and probably had high blood pressure. Her two friends burst into loud cackles and nodded in agreement, shouting, "It is true! Her doctor tells her so!" This was the last time I was at the cathedral.
The roof of the cathedral collapsed in the earthquake. I distinctly remember a Haitian friend telling me she could not fathom what it looked like, and did not want to see because it would be too painful. This was the place where the president was inaugurated, and where people regularly worshiped. It is a shell of structure now.
A year ago, there was a sheet metal wall around the National Cathedral that kept us out. Now that was gone and anyone could walk in. Three other blan were at what used to be the alter with their nice camera equipment, no doubt getting some nice stock footage for some ubiquitous 2 year anniversary special. As I wondered around, I was struck by how tragically beautiful the clear blue sky and pure white clouds looked.
I thought a picture from the balcony would create an interesting perspective. I noticed there were two spiral staircases on either side of the front entrance and decided to go for it.
I was aware that the structural integrity of the building was questionable at best. I told my sister to hang back. It smelled funny. As I ascended I quickly noticed the concrete spiral was more cracked and fissured than I previously thought. I also noticed the previous smell was only getting stronger- human waste. As I climbed the stairs hoping for a killer picture, I noticed that the staircase was apparently doubling as a bathroom. All around my feet were little landmines of human turds.
Eventually I reached an impasse. The upper parts of the building had collapsed; I could not go further. I pirouetted 360 degrees on my tip-toes and tried to walk back down. I then realized that if I lost my footing on any of the loose cement or poo-slicked steps, I would fall and slide down the staircase, covered in other people's excrement. Much more scary to me was the idea of a minor earthquake, because of the structural insecurity. I had a brief vision of a tremor, the walls collapsing, and then being pinned under the cement with the poo.
When I reached the open air of the main cathedral hall I took deep breaths of relatively clean, poo-free air. I looked at my sister sideways and told her...
that was a crappy idea.