Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts of Haiti

I was lucky enough to visit Haiti three years ago on a shoot for USAID.   I’ve been to war-torn Angola, the Malian desert, the barren hills of Ethiopia.  The toughest place I’ve seen, by far, is Haiti.

Arriving at the airport brought a crush of beggars, most of them small boys, innocence in tact, thinking this is how life works.  On the way to the posh Hotel Montana, we passed the teaming shantytown of Saline, where every six-foot wide tin hovel had mangoes for sale.

Trash, and pools of foul water filled every gutter and open lot.  And, of course, chock-a-block cinder and tar paper homes built on top of each other in every direction.


Further up the hill – the wealthy in Port-au-Prince, as everywhere, seek elevation – I saw a tire shop that had exactly three tires for sale.   Earnest attempts at fanciful English signage provided comic relief.  My favorite: the You You Desinger Baber Shop.  Short back and sides, please!

We finally made it up the hill, and inside heavily guarded gates, to the renowned Hotel Montana, favored by journalists, diplomats and the few visiting corporate types.  I could see why.  It was a rambling, colonial hillside estate, with views of the entire city twinkling below as if not a single beggar was going home hungry.  The restaurant at the hotel had steaks and veal and seafood, with plenty of beer and wine to chase it down.  And ultimately chase the sadness of Haiti away.  It almost worked.

I read today that there were some 300 people in the hotel when the earthquake came, and only 100 are accounted for.  The hotel collapsed completely. 

Earthquakes, like all natural disasters, are indiscriminate.  From the young beggars to the pregnant mothers in Saline to the foreign aid workers at the Hotel Montana, few were spared death, injury or loss, and now a living hell.

Give Haiti your thoughts and prayers, and a little money if you can.

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