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Posts Tagged ‘Leogane’

Car-Driving-in-Flood-Waters

Well, Hurricane Tomas came and went, and just like an overhyped sequel, it was a relative dud in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  While it did rain for about 24 hours straight here, Hurricane Tomas did most of its damage in the western coastal towns of Les Cayes, Jeremie, and Leogane.  In Les Cayes, they were forced to evacuate the prison and hospital as flood waters covered the city.  In Jeremie one person was swept away in rushing flood waters when he tried to drive through a gushing river (not too smart, but you still have to feel bad for the guy).  In Leogane, where I went on Saturday, the downtown streets had turned into a constant flow of muddy, brown water that was at times almost 4 feet high.

Cold-Woman

The patients on the first floor of the hospital in Leogane were forced to be moved onto the upper floors of the building after the first floor became covered in inches of running water.  And while some tent camps were completely flooded, others were stranded after bridges went out.  The only way to know if those camps were OK was by calling their cell phones, but luckily many of those camps were just fine.

Umbrellas-in-the-rain

But the bottom line is that, in the end, only 6 people died.  A hurricane that many people (me included) were saying could be the next major disaster in Haiti turned out to a relatively normal storm that caused some major flooding in towns that are used to it.  Leogane floods all the time, it sits in a flood plain.  Jacmel, Les Cayes and Jeremie are all coastal towns that have been hit by hurricanes and tropical storms dozens of times in the past.  While it’s a terrible, terrible situation, Haiti really dodge a bullet.

Haitians-Standing-in-Flood-Water

For Jillian and I, we will now take down the tarps that we used to cover the open holes in our kitchen that our landlady calls windows.  It was a little scary when we thought the storm could smash into PAP, as it would obviously bring the potential of making the 1.3 million people living in tents homeless again, but like I’ve said before, this storm has just given NGOs another reason to go into tent camps, reminding them that life always sucks when you live in a tent, but it especially sucks when you live in a wet tent.

So you can all breathe easy now knowing that our roof is still safely attached to the top of our house.  Jillian, Olie, Beatrice, and I are all safe, and Mom, you can stop calling me now…we’re going to be just fine.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a story I submitted to MSNBC.com, but I’m not sure if they will use it.  Enjoy.

In Search of a Future

(LEOGANE, HAITI) For Ducarmel Similian, the past five months have been unbearable.  “It’s really difficult to find work now, no one is hiring,” he explains while sitting in the back seat of a car on his way from Leogane to Port-au-Prince.  His mission today is to find a job, but in a country where over 60% of workers have no formal employment, the earthquake has posed an unexpected roadblock in the 41-year-old carpenter’s job search.  “When your house has collapsed, you don’t need a carpenter to make you furniture,” he says.

In the past, Ducarmel could make as much as 5,000 Haitian Dollars a month ($625 US) building handmade tables and china cabinets, but since the earthquake, his income has all but dried up.  He still lives in a small tent with his wife and three children on property owned by his mother-in-law, and with the torrential downpours that accompany the rainy season soaking his makeshift house almost daily, his hope is quickly fading. “The rains are getting worse, and I’m scared of living in a tent when flooding could happen at any moment.”

But he has found solace in a small plot of land adjacent to the property owned by his mother-in-law.  The swatch of land is barely 30 feet by 25 feet, and lies between a crumbling wall and a patch of mango trees.  “I could build a three-room house here, this could be the future for my family,” he explains while inspecting the muddy earth below him.

But the land comes at a price.  For Haitians, owning the land you live on is a dream that few achieve, and at $1,500, the purchase is almost completely out of reach for the unemployed father of three.  If he were to purchase the land, the next step is even more daunting: finding the money to actually build on it.

He estimates that it would take another $5,000 to construct the house he envisions for his family.  It would have running water and a bathroom, a luxury for many in Haiti who often live in just one or two small rooms.  But this house would be different than most: it would have no concrete ceiling.  “It would be corrugated steel instead.  We’re afraid to sleep under the concrete roof after what happened to Schneily,” he explains.

Ducarmel’s 4-year-old son, Schneily, lost his leg when the second floor of his mother-in-law’s house collapsed during the earthquake.  Their fear of concrete ceilings is made abundantly clear when inspecting the first floor, which is still standing.  While small cracks are visible from room-to-room, the vacant home appears stable compared to many of those damaged by the earthquake.  Not even his mother-in-law lives in the house, which is now used as a storage shed for the family’s possessions.

But while day-to-day life for Ducarmel has proven tough, for his three children normal life outside of their tent-home has slowly resumed.  At La Maison des Enfants school in downtown Leogane, Schneily has rejoined his class of over 30 children in learning letters and building puzzles.  “He’s happy here, he’s a very bright boy,” a teacher says while watching him piece together a puzzle of Dora the Explorer.  “He has trouble concentrating, so we try to let him work by himself so that he can focus,” she explains.  But while he may have trouble focusing, Schneily has acclimated well to the prosthetic leg he was fitted with just two months before.  Traversing the hallway next to the schoolroom, he joyfully walks, and even jumps, without the aid of crutches.

But this joyfulness may be short-lived, as Ducarmel is having trouble paying the tuition for all three of his children.  “We’re three months behind on Schneily’s school fees, I’m just hoping they don’t force him to leave,” he says.  He explains that tuition for Schneily is 300 Haitian Dollars per month, or just under $40 US, and that doesn’t include the motorcycle taxi-fare they pay every day to get him to and from the school.  Loans from friends will only take him so far, and soon he will need to pay them back.  For Ducarmel, one thing is clear: he needs a job, and he needs it fast.

So as the car approaches Ducarmel’s stop in Port-au-Prince, he quickly goes over his game-plan: “I’m going to meet with my friend who does work in the city, he may be able to find me something.”  This is a process he has repeated over and over again after the earthquake, without results.  The car stops and just before he jumps out he explains why he must continue the search, “It’s all for my children, they need to go to school, I want to give them that,” he says before conceding, “because I can’t kill myself, and this hurts everyday.”  He smiles and then opens the door, stepping out into the throngs of Haitians searching for the same thing as him, hoping that this day will be different than all the others.

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In Leogane, which was the epicenter of the earthquake, almost 90% of the buildings were damaged in some way.  I went on a trip there today to follow up on a story that MSNBC.com was following a couple months ago, and a few different story lines collided when I wasn’t really expecting it.  For instance, the two children above are the grandchildren of the woman who lives on this property.

They lost their house in the earthquake, so they are staying there until their mother finds something else.  But the grandmother has a business of selling chairs to people holding funerals, weddings, and even voodoo festivals, probably one of the only businesses in Haiti that is not floundering.  And they all sit there in an empty formation, and piled in heaps under tarps, as if waiting for a procession that will never start.

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