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Posts Tagged ‘Champs de Mars’

Tent-City-From-Above

You all have seen about a million pictures of the tent cities that blanket any swatch of open land available in PAP, but not often do you see (at least on this blog) the insides of these tents.  Below is a small panoramic picture of the inside of a tent located on Champs de Mars, the tent city just across the street from the Presidential Palace.

It’s pretty no frills, a small 9′-by-9′ (which is actually pretty big) room covered with a combination of tarps, blankets and rugs.  Interestingly enough, one thing that you will notice with almost every tent-like structure that you find here is that they are almost always impeccably clean.  Haitians have an intense sense of personal hygiene: their houses are swept and clean, and they can get their whites brighter than any “Super Wash” cycle on your washing machine in the States.  It’s something that is theirs, something to be proud of, and even if everything around them is in chaos, that part of their life is kept in order.  What’s also interesting is how this doesn’t translate to outside their dwelling, where trash piles up at almost every street-corner.

But it doesn’t matter how clean they keep it, because nothing will stop this from being a miserable way to live.  I mentioned on the previous post that these tents are like ovens, and it’s no joke.  During the middle of the day the temperature inside these tents reaches higher than 140 degrees, it’s stifling hot.  I’ve been doing interviews with different news organizations in tents for the past couple months and every time they finish they run out like their shoes are on fire.  “Damn, it’s hot in there,” they say.  “Yeah, and they do this everyday,” I respond.  “No thank you…” they quickly say before moving to the next interview.  Unfortunately, I’m sure that’s exactly what each and every one of these people is thinking as well: “No thank you.”

Inside-a-Tent-Panorama

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We were walking through the tent city in Champs de Mars last week when this woman popped out of this makeshift window they created for their shanty-home.  She smiled for a picture, and then started to ask us what we were here to give her.  This has been a major issue for journalists covering stories, as our interest in them, in their eyes, means that we are there to give them help.

Asking questions such as, “Do you wish the conditions in the camps changed?” or “Do you have enough food to live?” translate to, “How can we help the conditions in the camps?” and “I can give you food.”  It’s tough, because you want to help, but that would make us part of the story, and not just documenters of it.  At least that’s what we tell ourselves to make us feel better about what we do…

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An NBC team just left PAP after a quick, 5-day jaunt covering the World Cup craziness here in Haiti, and it was a great time.  We watched the World Cup on a huge 30 foot screen at the national soccer stadium, checked out some tent cities that are still really struggling, and were spectators for a good old Haitian soccer game played by teenagers on an old tennis court.  But the coolest thing we did, by far, was something that we hadn’t planned to do at all.

The picture above is the eternal flame built in 2003 by then-President Aristide to celebrate Haiti’s bicentennial, which was in 2004.  The tower is located only a stones throw from the Presidential Palace, and has exactly 200 steps to represent each year the country had been independent from France.

But the thing is, the torch has never been lit.  In fact, the tower has been unfinished ever since Aristide was ousted in 2004.  Aristide left the country, construction halted, and now downtown PAP is left with this enormous, ugly, monolith which makes you think they had the Olympics here, until you think about it again and realize how that would never (EVER) happen.

So we were driving around Champs de Mars looking for interesting things to shoot when I asked our fixer, Handy, if he thought we could get to the top.  It would make for some amazing shots, and I had my camera with me which means I could get an updated picture of the Presidential Palace to put on here.  We drove through the gates, Handy talked to the guard, I flashed my press credentials, and we started the climb up the 200 rickety, dilapidated metal stairs.

Once on top the view was breathtaking.  You could see the Palace, the tent cities surrounding it, the port, the mountains, it was incredible.  I started feverishly taking pictures, worried I would never get this chance again.  I snapped the Palace, the people in the tent cities, people getting water from a water truck (OMG, more people getting water from a water truck! *SNAP*)  I went around and around about half-a-dozen times before I realized what I could potentially do.

I turned to the cameraman shooting video of the city from above and asked him, “How hard is it to make a panoramic picture out of a bunch of shots you took?” “Easy,” he responded, “if you have Photoshop it’s really simple.”  Well, I have Photoshop (YES!), so I took one more trip around the tower’s top level taking as many level shots as possible, and making sure to avoid the rail-less edges of the platform.  I brought the photos home, ingested them into my computer, and 10 minutes later this popped out:


(Click on the photo for a larger view)

The panoramic photo is a 360˚ view of Port-au-Prince from Champs de Mars, and it turned out pretty awesome.  The 360˚ part of it kinda throws off your sense of direction, so as a point of reference the large mountain in the middle is south, and the left and right edges connect to make north.  If you look closely at the horizon there are some places where it just doesn’t connect, but it’s still a pretty awesome view of the city in a way that I’ve never seen it before.  As you can see, there aren’t really any buildings taller than the tower, so this panoramic pretty much encapsulates the entire place.

To end this on a slight side note, I apologize for the lack of posts recently.  Obviously with work, and other issues (Olie), taking over it’s been a little hectic so posts have been sparse.  They’ll be back soon, as there’s a ton of stuff going on around here.  Cheers!

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It’s been almost 5 months since the earthquake, and tensions are rising in Port-au-Prince.  In a recent trip to Champs de Mars, which is the tent city located in front of the Presidential Palace, these tensions were abundantly clear.  Because of almost constant protests against President Preval’s actions (or lack thereof) after the earthquake, both local and UN police have become more vigilant in stopping violent gatherings before they begin.

For instance, on the day that I took these pictures I had driven Pinotage downtown to take an updated picture of the crumbling Palace, but found the street adjacent to it (which is the epicenter for many of the protests) barricaded by UN forces.  The night before there had been gun shots in the tent city there, and the international aid community is becoming increasingly worried about the safety of their workers.

This all comes on the heals of new reports that the anger, which was usually directed toward the government, is now being turned towards the organizations providing aid.  During separate instances around the city, one aid organization’s car was stoned, and an aid worker was pulled from a car at knife-point.  Both got away unharmed.  There are also unconfirmed reports of more aid workers getting kidnapped, but details on those incidences aren’t typically released.

In response to reports like these, and the fact that all the dangerous criminals were released from the PAP prison when it collapsed on January 12th, the UN has decided to increase the number of UN police officers by almost 700. According to the UN, they will come to make a “sustainable and visible” presence here in the capital, which may sound like a good idea for security, but you can be pretty sure it’s going to piss off a bunch of Haitians who aren’t really cool with the idea of being treated like criminals.

The U.S. Military has also drawn down their forces to just 500, which some officials at the embassy are slightly nervous about.  When talking to locals here, there is a slight air of disinterest in the UN presence.  While it bothers them, it’s almost a given that you’ll drive by the light blue hats on your way to the bank, or wherever you’re going.

But when the U.S. troops were here, there was a sense of respect among the people that you didn’t see before.  The U.S. troops seemed less like occupiers, and more like armed assistance, as the government had asked for their help after the earthquake.  The UN never asked for the government’s permission, and they have been here for years.  U.S. troops weren’t always respectful of the local population, and they also cost the U.S. over $500 million after just 3 months of their work, but there was some comfort in knowing that they were keeping a relative calm over the city.

So it’s a culmination of these events, and the fact that Haitians are getting sick of hearing that help is on the way while the rains flood their tents every night, that are slowly spiraling the security situation out of control.  Elections are scheduled for August, which could potentially mark a breaking point.

But the people living in the tent city at Champs de Mars face these security issues everyday.  While kidnappings are a problem with the international aid community, it’s typically Haitians that are taken hostage instead of foreigners.  Crime and assaults (especially against women) are rampant in the tent cities as well, as there will never be enough police to constantly snake through the practically endless rows of tents.  And while sitting in the shadow of the Presidential Palace seems like the best place to get assistance after the earthquake, aid here is sparse, if not non-existent.

So as I left the barricaded Palace, I ventured into the tent city just across the street to see if the conditions had changed.  While many people sat staring stoically into space, I passed by a group of kids that had found a piece of rope and had decided to have some fun.  I got off Pinotage and asked if I could take some photos.  They said “No”, but I did it anyways…just kidding.

So in this city square that seemed to be such a symbol of lingering problems and unhappiness, these kids had found something to smile about.  They had filled the void created by angry-looking UN troops on one side, and terrible living conditions on the other, and just had a good time.  You couldn’t help but just watch and smile, as joy in the eyes of the people here is, at times, hard to come by.

And as I sat there and took about a million pictures, a HUGE Haitian man wearing a bright yellow sleeveless shirt and carrying a gallon of gasoline came up behind me and started yelling, “Hey Blanc, Blanc!”  I turned around to see him staring at me, smiling ear-to-ear, and giving me the middle finger.  I was confused.  I asked him if he wanted me to take his picture, he said “No”, and after about another 30 seconds of me getting acquainted to him flipping me off, he decided he had made his point and walked away.  I took my cue, and decided to leave as well.

So before I end this, I want to assure you that Jillian and I are making sure we are being safe and secure.  We don’t typically drive at night, and we walk Olie around our complex which has a security guard at the gate at all times.  While I’m a big believer in not letting the terrorists win by changing your lifestyle, I’ve made sure that I only go to places where I know exactly where I am, and how to get out quickly, if needed.  Jillian has a driver when she is working, but when she goes to work she’s driven by ME!  In my opinion you can’t be much safer than that.

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