The Tap Tap and the Tent City

I’m lying in “bed” thanking to universe for the science behind wet+wind= cooling. I am thankful for a room to myself, indoors. I am thankful that we are not in the tent city tonight. Thankful for FaceTime…oh my God, I am thankful for FaceTime.

Today I worked for seven hours or so in the office. It felt good to be here working on stuff in my competency. Something calming about putting plans together and rounding up information. Felt routine almost, and routine is an amazing thing when you are this far outside of your element. And I am so far outside of my element that it feels fictional.

Late in the afternoon, Beth I was asked if I wanted to go tour the “camp” and if I had rain boots. We walked there down steep hills with gravely rocky roadways, and by structures that had various spray painted markings on them that I learned today indicates what state of disrepair they are in. It is sobering to walk by so many buildings with red spray paint markings, indicating that they are compromised even by Haiti building code standards, which, by all accounts, are woefully inadequate. We were soon to enter the tent city, and this would make those buildings look like bed and breakfast establishments.

The gate at the camp is flanked by men who look like they are casually guarding it. Like everyone here, they are friendly and gentle. We first pass by a tent that has been converted into a bar. We later get a beer here, will get to that. This is the first in a series of shops and restaurants set up to serve the people in the community. There appear to be more shops than actually homes, but I imagine they break down the shops and the tents are also their homes. The streets between the tents are so muddy that I am constantly sinking into it and then having to stop to pull my boot from the muck. I am so grateful for my boots. So grateful.

People and kids all around me are shoeless and the kids sometimes are unclothed in the rain…bathing. The tents are not tents in the way we think of them. Tarps mostly, supplemented with corrugated metal in places, burlap sacks in places and wood that has clearly been scavenged from somewhere. As we walk by, the kids shout out “Hey There!” the only thing they know in english, taught to them by the American military I am told. I respond with bonswa, and they giggle.

The Kreyol language is a bit of an adventure for me. As I hear things, I try and stop to see if I can connect it to something I know in French. Often I can…but not always. Bonswa, for instance, sounds just like bon soir in  French, but they take great pride in the spelling differentiation and having their own language. I am committed to learning.

I am stunned by how truly beautiful the people are. There are kids who could easily model in the United States. They are that beautiful and they are everywhere here.

On our way to the medical facility, we stop at the shop of an artist in the camp. She is a lovely woman, and her work is beautiful. The paintings are $25 dollars a piece, and are on canvas, but not mounted. I want to get some to bring home with me, of course. 

Through a heavily guarded gate is the climb up to the hospital. And it is quite the climb. I wonder how people who are truly ill can make it up this hill, but quickly check myself. This climb is hard from my perspective. From theirs, it is surely the least of their concerns. The hospital was formerly a relief hospital operated by the American military, at least I think that is what we were told. In any case, it did not work very well and was abandoned and donated to (organizaton). The reason it is so high on a hill was that it was next to the helicopter landing pad, which was in great use after the earthquake.

There is a canopy for triage, but this is not the first triage location. The first is before you even go through the gates to determine if you really need medical attention. This triage is to determine if you will be sent to the pharmacy, the hospital, the birthing dome or directly into the isolation tents if you are infectious. Only the birthing dome is fully contained without dirt floors.

We meet two very young boys there. One of them is chatty and clearly brilliant. He is curious, speaks English, French, creole and Portuguese and, while we are standing there, asks the woman with us from Pakistan for an urdu dictionary because he wants to learn this language as well. I am told later that he is indeed brilliant and quite adept at getting the other kids to do things for him. A bit of a scam artist apparently. This does not surprise me. He is quite charming. But it does make me a bit sad. I want to pluck him out of the mud and deliver him into some kind of apprenticeship. He is so incredible curious and resourceful.

The trees up here are native and wild, overhanging everything. 

As we turn to leave, a tap tap pulls up in front of the hospital and we can hear ferocious screaming coming from it. The midwife is emerging from the dome as our guide asks her “besoin d’aide?” and she apparently does need the help. She rushes over to help her…no scrub up, no gloves, there is no time. The woman has endured an arduous ride up an impossibly bumpy hill in the throes of extremely active labor, and the baby has crowned. As the woman screamed in agony, it occurred to me how removed we are from the birthing process in the states. I have never heard this. I was not even screaming during my births. Women give birth in my network all the time, and I have never heard this.
In any case, moments later, a very small, newly born girl, in a blanket, is carried to the birthing dome to be washed. The baby is screaming her beautiful head off, and I feel instant compassion for her to be born as she has been in such a dire environment. I know babies all scream, but this moment feels particularly poignant to me. This moment firms my resolve to do what I can to help this country build a different reality for her. I want her to have access to a different life. Her specifically. I want this for everyone…the two brilliant beautiful boys who are still standing just outside the emergency tent, the woman selling mangos in front of her tent in the camp, the little girl, wearing only a long shirt, walking through the muck of the roads after the rains. But this newly born baby fills me with a sense of urgency and hope at the same time. For her, life is not yet something to endure. Right now, nothing is defined. So, for her, things must be different.

On the way back to the house, we stop for a round of beers. Three citizens of the tent city are already in there and greet us warmly and are so friendly that I want to talk to them, despite the fact that I will have to crank out my rusty French. Fortunately, our guide knows one of them well and we begin chatting with him, in English. We are handed ice cold beers, colder than any I have been served in the states, and we pull three iron chairs around from the theater set up on the side of the tent (this bar also acts as a makeshift cinema on weekends at times, showing movies on a television screen that is about the same size as my laptop computer screen).
We talk with a man about the challenge in translating (he has done translating for the organization before), and that you must factor in the cultural relevance or much of the meaning can get lost. It is a truth one can only know if you speak more than one language and have spoken it in different areas, and this observation startles me here in the middle of this tent city, drowning in its own debris and muck. And this is what we need to know in the United States and everywhere where there is money. We need to know that there is a brilliance here that defies our “you must have gone through university educating in order to be valuable” mentality. Here in this primitive tent, with electricity stolen from the wires run above our heads, sits a man who has just communicated a concept that I have struggled to explain to college educated clients in high ranking corporate positions. He is not even aware that he has made this much of an impression on me. I carry that into my evening, however, and into my thinking. I later ask if anyone in the organization has ever seen anything written by this man, and she says she might have something.

I get back to the house and am just in time to get in on an impromptu trip to the grocery store. When we get into the store, I make a mental note that the volunteer materials need to be revamped. There is so much available here that I could have avoided packing into giant bags and bringing with me. I am thrilled to buy some rice and beans for the days when we are on our own for food. I meet a couple of the other volunteers who invite me to go hiking the next day…something I will not end up doing after all. Maybe another time.


Love,
Kim

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2 thoughts on “The Tap Tap and the Tent City

    • The stories I lived there will be coming out now that I am home. I was heavily encouraged to not blog while I was in Haiti, though I did a little.

      Thanks for letting me know you are reading, Keith.

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