This is another update from our board member Ruth Bender who was in Haiti when the earthquake occurred:

1/14/2010
I awake to another blue sky, and two UN vehicles in our drive. Is there news? No, nothing. No updates on aid coming in, or anyone going out. Pistare Pistare is a phrase that keeps going through my mind . If you have trekked in Nepal will know what I am talking about. Slowly Slowly. Everything happens slowly here, and it will continue to move that way. It is both a cultural norm and the current physical reality. Life works differently here. And infrastructure, or lack thereof, predicates the slow pace of building, rebuilding, responding.

I have taken to keeping a bottle of water nearby. But not for drinking. Every time I think the ground is shaking, my eyes jump to the bottle to see if the water is sloshing. Each time, it seems, it is in my imagination. There have been some ongoing aftershocks. A few big ones during the night, but I slept through them. A couple during the day as well, but not nearly as many as there are in my imagination.

We get more and more news. None of it good. An American who got safely out of their hotel, only to run back in after a computer, and not return. A family member of one of our crew, buried in rubble in PaP. They are trying to dig her out, using cars and ropes to pull the concrete blocks off of her. Without the proper rescue equipment they are now risking their own lives. A couple arrives from PaP. Their building collapsed around them as they stood in their fourth floor flat. The husband had just come home from work. His niece and son were both buried. He was able to dig them both out. They ran with what they had on their backs. Able to find a truck to get them out of the city, they got as far as the were able, then hired a motorbike to get them over the mountain to Jacmel. A long and very treacherous ride on a motorbike, with rock slide debris covering the road. At times they had to get off the motorbike and walk single file. They kept their eyes on the road ahead, rather than looking down the steep ravine where one false step could send them. The rock slide debris made it all the more treacherous, and an aftershock at the wrong moment could send more rocks down the hillside towards them. But they got here in one piece. They paid $50 for a gallon of gas. They brought us more horror stories from PaP. About the piles of bodies in the street, which everybody has by now seen on the news. They tell of people fighting over a pot of rice, seemingly oblivious to the bodies around them. What can they do about the bodies? Nothing. But they can do something about preserving a few morsels of food for themselves and their families. There seems to be a mass exodus, via foot, from PaP. People don’t know what to do with the bodies. They have no home, no food, no water. The aid is arriving, but each step of their work takes time; and it will take time to reach all of the people of PaP.

1/15/2010

I hear a plane overhead just now. We have heard that they cleared the airstrip and moved the people to a nearby park. Gerard was out until after midnight digging a latrine at the new site, to try to keep the health risks down. He is one of the many international aide workers who has been part of our lives these last few days. Part of the core crew, and now when he is not here, we wait for his return. We have our regulars who come and go. Last night, a group from UNICEF came and ate with us and stayed the night. We were treated to fresh salad and Camembert by a French woman who lives here and runs the Aliance Francaise. I’m not sure a cucumber has ever tasted so good. The building of the AF is still standing but is not inhabitable. It will need to be razed and rebuilt. I have spent the morning speaking with Danielle, discussing her organization Femmes en Democratie and their work here, empowering women, working with them to run their own businesses, be self sufficient and to be a part of the political process. Their work will continue. As well as the work of Kompay, which does sustainable agricultural programs.

Rumors of who is coming in and who is going out abound. My family thinks that they have found a plane or a helicopter to come in to get me. But then we learn that the airspace is closed to private transportation. They are working on a boat. They are pulling out every contact they can find. I have never felt so loved in my life. The tireless work of my sister and so many friends is incredible to follow on FaceBook. And thank goodness for FaceBook! It is amazing that I am still in touch with people. Just watching the ideas and connections flying is unbelievable! The people who don’t even know me – friends of friends of friends – who are giving their all, making phone calls, sending emails, making introductions. I don’t know how I will ever thank them all for their efforts.

We still feel (and are) very safe here. There is no sign of unrest. Yesterday we went to town and there was a traffic jam at the gas station. People were still calm, however. Just crowding around the tanks, hoping for gas. We went into town because we are both restless, and feeling useless. How can we sit here at Hotel Cyvadier while people in town have no homes, limited food and water, and are trying to dig out their family members and friends by hand. We stick out our thumb for a ride, and a truck stops immediately. The driver, a Haitian, has a Brooklyn accent. It is Joe, who runs Kompay. He used to live in New York. He had actually been emailing with Karen, a filmmaker from New York who is also at Cyvadier, and who is accompanying me into town. Karen has a deep affection for Haiti and the people here, and has made several films. She was here to do some research, as well as do a film screening at Cine Institute in Jacmel. CI’s building seems to be standing still, but may not be structurally sound. They do not know how their equipment inside has fared. They would like to get their students into the building so that they can get their equipment and start filming the impact of the earthquake on their community. The lovely buildings, reminiscent of New Orleans seem, on first glance, fine. Then we drive further and see that many are just facades standing. If that. Some buildings have completely crumbled. Roads are blocked by rubble. People are standing outside their homes. They are still surveying the scene before them and them and wondering how they will rebuild. Again. We drive by the road where the Hotel Florita stood just the day before. Where I had slept just two nights before. Luck, and the input of friends of friends, is what took me from Florita and up to Cyvadier. I had enjoyed a couple of days down in the town, and moved to Cyvadier both because I was going to have to move out of my lovely breezy room at Florita (for an incoming group of Americans), and because friends told me Cyvadier was a delightful place to stay. Is it luck? Fate? I can’t say. But sitting here at Camp Cyvadier, I am feeling incredibly lucky, and that I now have a very different view of Haiti than I would otherwise have had.

My trip to Haiti was part of a bigger trip to Virgin Gorda for the wedding of some dear friends. The original plan to spend a week on a Catamaran with friends, docking at the Bitter End Yacht Club for the days of the wedding festivities, fell through. Logistics. Well, I know a lot about logistics now! Since I was heading all the way to the BVI’s, I figured I ought to spend a few days somewhere on my way to the wedding. I had options. All those islands with lovely beaches and swaying palm trees. But that is not my normal vacation style. I like to explore new countries and cultures. To go places where there are not hoardes of tourists. So I chose Haiti. The country has a rich history that has been overshadowed by political turmoil as well as natural disasters. I wanted to learn more. Not that my four days here would make me an expert, but they would give me a taste; a teaser to entice me back for more exploration. And I will be back (family and friends permitting, of course!), because there is still much to explore, and after this experience I will want to see how the country bounces back. The Haitians are resilient people. They have faced so many challenges, and they are still welcoming and open. I am hoping to get to the wedding. Really, I am. I want to be there to celebrate with my friends. We’ll see what news comes our way today.

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