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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Life Goes On in Haiti, but at What Price?

Asma Yousef, media relations representative for Islamic Relief USA, is in Haiti for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the island nation. She will be blogging and tweeting about her trip and IR USA’s work in Haiti.

As I arrived in Haiti, the airport was teeming with staff from the NGO community in preparation for the one-year anniversary of a devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck the island nation in January 2010.

As my Islamic Relief USA colleague and I headed to our hotel, we drove through the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince. One of the first things that struck me was the abundance of tents and makeshift temporary shelters all over town. The vast quantity of them is so overwhelming. Haiti’s poor don’t just live in isolated urban or rural areas. Poverty is everywhere here.

Life is hectic in Haiti. Everywhere you go there are posters for candidates running for public offices, remnants of the now-postponed national elections. The walls of buildings are covered with graffiti of campaign slogans supporting one candidate or denouncing another. The hustle and bustle of pedestrians going about their business is never ending; street vendors are selling everything imaginable, soliciting customers to their tables or arguing with neighboring vendors.

It is an undeniable lesson that life goes on. Despite the chaos and destruction, Haitians are trying to make the best of their lives today. They are constantly on the move. Workers are waiting for, riding, or disembarking from the local transport called the “tap tap.” Sometimes there are more passengers than this modest mode of transportation can handle, but apparently, nobody seemed to be bothered. My local guide pointed to big white buses in the downtown area and said, “These are called the Obama buses because they were sent to us from America after Obama became president.”

I was also struck by the sight of homes that collapsed during the earthquake but were never rebuilt. They stood suspended in time as a reminder of what happened here a year ago. Some of these were either completely abandoned or inhabited by displaced families who have claimed the ruins as their makeshift shelter.

After driving around for an hour, I finally saw a traffic light. On streets designed to fit two cars, often four cars were seen trying to squeeze by. Sometimes, drivers had to take turns passing because half of the road had either collapsed or was blocked by rubble.

Later, we went to a medical camp run by Doctors Without Borders to get some medicine for a Haiti-based staff member. An emergency appendectomy had to be performed on him at this makeshift hospital on New Year’s Day because no doctor was on call at the main hospital.

With the passing of my first day in Haiti, I’ve come to realize that this is sadly part of everyday life for the majority of Haitians.

— Asma Yousef

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