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Special Reports Last Updated: May 20th, 2010 - 00:29:28

Glimpses of a week in Haiti
By Paul O�Sullivan
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 20, 2010, 00:19

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Between April 25 and May 2, I slept in a six-man tent on a building site in Haiti. There were 49 others like it. During that time a crew of 300 finished 65 houses, housing two families each, a community centre and a playground.

On April 27, one of the six Dominican Republic yellow tour buses brought some of us to a coastal district of Haiti�s second largest city, Gonaives, the city of Independence. Robeatu is 200 metres from a sea too polluted to support edible fish. Salt panning is the prominent industry. The rough ground between shacks is strewn with litter that contributes to the omnipresent smell. The children run barefoot with their bloated bellies exposed to the sun. Women barely passed adolescence hold a baby in each arm.

As I reboarded our bus, the children gathered at the door pointed to the windshield dashboard. �L�eau, l�eau,� they whispered. Two bottles of purified water sat there, bottles we on the site might perhaps drink three quarters of and leave the remainder; water our interpreter was cross with me for giving them. Unequal, unsustainable distribution to the needy causes problems. Helping isn�t necessarily helping.

On the 28th, an ugly story relayed around the site. A Haitian worker caught stealing a camera was let go by security. On his three kilometre journey to the city he was set upon by other Haitians for denting their reputation, dying from his injuries. It was a sobering edge to a week full of hope. Whether it was entirely true I cannot say for sure.

On May 2, I had to stay 10 hours in Port-au-Prince for a Miami flight. A security team drove me through the city, Haitians earning relatively good money to protect Westerners. At a traffic light, a boy tapped the window glass. His eyes were dull and unfocused. Gingerly, he lifted his hand to his mouth. One of the Haitians waved him away, and I suppose it�s hard for us in the first world to imagine what dismissing a starving, actually starving, fellow countryman is like. National pride doesn�t even feature.

On the descent toward the runway of Miami International, a mobile phone rang. An American passenger, justifiably as the captain had asked all electronic equipment be shut down, demanded that the passenger �turn that God damn thing off.� What he received in return was an intelligent rebuke from a Haitian woman speaking excellent English on the subjects of education, respect, manners and opportunity. I had seen education in action all week; carpenters who had read Hemingway, amateur actors performing a powerful five minute sketch on the realities of water shortage, 16-year olds with fluent English.

From Miami, I hit Charleston and New York and umpteen places in between courtesy of Greyhound. Much of that will probably be forgotten. What will remain is that smell of a place without running water, where the sun beats relentlessly down and temperatures break 40C from one week to another until the hurricane season arrives. It was an odour from the world�s anus.

Paul O'Sullivan, a native of Ireland, is an aspiring journalist.

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