by Jeb Sharp
People are grieving, they’re traumatized, they’re tired, they’re frustrated, they’re angry at the lack of visible progress reconstructing Haiti, whether it’s moving people out of tents and back into homes, fixing roads, rebuilding public buildings, or tackling the country’s enormous infrastructure deficit. A woman in a camp yesterday said, “We keep hearing about all these billions of dollars in aid but we don’t see a penny of it”. She blamed the government for not doing more but until the country’s electoral crisis is resolved, the government is unlikely to move forward on urgently-needed reconstruction projects.
But even with all the anger and frustration and grief, life goes on, and it’s not as if nothing is being accomplished. You can hear the sounds of building around the city, non-governmental organizations are working hard to tackle the cholera crisis, parts of the economy are humming with dollars from outside that accompany the huge influx of aid workers and others who are here to help Haiti recover. And there are people who see a silver lining or two. In the days after the earthquake there was a sense of Haitians coming together, even across the stark divisions of class that mark this society. People slept in the open without fear of strangers because everyone was facing what felt like an apocalyptic moment together. Several people have described the earthquake as a moment when the world seemed to be coming to an end. That togetherness has receded, but having glimpsed it, some Haitians want to reach for it again, to try to harness it for a greater good.
And I’ve met young educated Haitians here who are thrilled by some of the opportunities presented by the influx of outside money and the chance to learn and practice English and other languages. There’s a sobering side to that influx though. One young woman in Leogane told me aid workers there are turning young girls into prostitutes. She has had the means and the presence to fight off unwanted advances but not so some of her friends. And there’s resentment, too, that NGO workers make good money, much of which is cycled back into foreign economies, not the Haitian one.
I’m halfway through my time here, with a head swirling with stories from two dozen interviews with a wide range of Haitians. I’m struck by their suffering but also by their grace, dignity, tenacity, courage and hope. Listen for their voices in the radio stories I’ll be filing over the course of the next week or so.