Jon Reznick’s First Report from Port Au Prince

Jon Reznick, MYD’s Deputy New Media Director, has spent the past few days on the ground in Port Au Prince, Haiti.  He has been documenting the work of an organization called Lend a Hand and Foot, which is establishing a volunteer compound and housing an EMT training school.  Jon has allowed us to repost this essay in which he shares his personal impressions of the experience so far.

Copyright 2011 by Jon Reznick

I do not believe I am better or cooler than anyone else by being here in Haiti.  Though disaster relief work, even as an embed journalist is sort of a little badass.  I am not comparing myself to you, but to myself when I say that living is harder here, and I will think twice about the sorts of things I let bother me about my quality of life when I get home.

We have no refrigeration because municipal power is usually out all day, and only comes on at night.  Trash is disposed of in a massive trench outside the compound walls, tossed out from one of our terraces.  There are two kinds of water, potable and non.  We fetch our potable water in the sorts of 5 gallon jugs you see on water coolers.  We have a plastic pump to extract water from our jugs.  We return the empties.  We keep the perishable food items in a cooler with ice.  Scale up and you realize there’s practically no government here, no agriculture, no industry, and pretty much only a minimal concept of an orderly society.  The people here barely have jobs, and barely consume anything.

This is a nation of people who have been meddled with and interfered with so much, going back to the days of the French colonial days, but also, much more recently by such shady characters as the US of A.  The people here think it is particularly rich when the United States, which toppled their democratically elected government 17 years ago, suggests anything for Haiti.  The ominous and iminent return of that particular leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide, may result in a very serious anti-American backlash.

And well it should.

Tonight, an announcement is due on which candidates will stand in the runoff election to be Haiti’s next president.  The results could result in rioting.  We have had contested elections, headed politics, and even inflamed rhetoric.  But try to imagine a scenario like either Egypt or Haiti occurring in America and you realize it fundamentally cannot happen, because of the underlying robustness of our institutions.  There are basically no institutions here.  We are actually struggling to set one up for them.  EMT School is occurring three floors down, under a tent outside.  You saw a few of my pictures of it two days ago.

Whereas many of you back home probably got a little extra milk and eggs so you could stay in through the blizzard, we had to get food, water, and two forms of fuel, and carry them all back here.  

Where at home we have sidewalks, in Haiti there is just ruined concrete terrain with exposed rebar and rubble, often slick with water flooded from who knows where.  Sometimes it is the same surface used by the cars.  Litter, garbage, leaks, exposed engineering and construction materials, graffiti about politics and several other features of chaos mar pretty much every view.  

The chaos and rubble can be spotted everywhere, and you can see it looking at a square meter of Port Au Prince, a square block, a square mile, or an overlay of the entire country.  The first feature of Haiti that I noticed while we descended into our landing approach was the sea of tents.  This was no Rainbow Gathering either.

Whereas at home, we have banks with dozens of unobtrusive security cameras and off-duty cops carrying service weapons, often in city uniform, and where we have high tech bulletproof polymers to separate tellers from customers, and several alarm systems, at the first bank we visited here, a woman checks your guns at the door.

I’m going to leave it there for this report.  That’s your view from the ground in Delmas, Port Au Prince, Haiti.

You can see more of Jon’s photos and follow his journey here.