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Port-au-Prince Returns to “Normal” Life

It is as if all things concerning the earthquake, the catastrophe, the dead and so on have been forgotten. As if nothing ever occurred, as if it were false news, a dream that vanished.
 

Nothing has changed among Haitians. Nothing is better, nothing is worse, nobody cares, everything continues unchanged, it has to be unchanged, it needs to continue unchanged. That is my perception of the situation three months after the quake.

 

I looked over the main commercial street in Port-au-Prince. I observed the quantity of people, the quantity of informal commerce, the quantity of people buying and selling, the quantity of movement. As it was before the earthquake, so it has become again.

 

As I pondered the situation through the window of my slow-moving car, I asked myself: Is it true that there was an earthquake here? Do these people remember all the things that happened? Worse, do these people care about all the things that happened here just three months ago?

 

I have no way to catalogue what I saw and felt on my last trip to Haiti. I can only say that I was depressed and saddened by what I saw and felt.

 

On one side, it might look satisfactory to observe a population that almost does not sleep trying to survive each day, to witness a high volume of movement from the early hours of the morning to the wee hours of the night.

 

It is amazing to watch all kinds of informal stores, people running from one side to another, men pulling carts, women with big canisters on their heads. It is remarkable to see the streets full of products for sale, as many as anyone can imagine, from a stick to a bunch of cherries. That is indeed marvelous and encouraging.

 

In the midst of that economic movement, however, there is a hopeless scene of people who work without being able to stop, of people who are trying to reach a better something, a something that is not there, a something that cannot be seen, which is not near.

 

Besides these peoples, as faithful witnesses, the rubble that the quake left is still standing. The smell of death, the garbage, the disorder, the lack of cleanliness, the destroyed houses, the crooked buildings, the fractured constructions that are still on the verge of falling – all of them still stand there as mute storytellers.

 

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At their side, walking over them, or passing below their broken columns, sitting on the fractured buildings, there are people: buying, selling, without the time to look around or understand the dangerous situation, no time for reconstruction, no time to clean, no time to dream, no time to wait, no time to believe, no time to hope, no time for proposals, no time for a promise.

 

The only available time is the time to survive, the time to fight for life, the time to not to allow death to reach them that day, the time to reduce the pain while waiting for the night without knowing where to sleep, while waiting for a piece of bread or something to eat, while trying to live just another day.

 

It is not worse now than it was before, except that now the condition is exacerbated. There is a stronger competition for survival at the same time that there are better opportunities for an improved existence. In spite of all the efforts of the local and international organisms that are trying to alleviate the condition of Haitians, the situation now is not better than the one before the quake.

 

In the midst of crooked buildings and almost falling structures, in the midst of water in the streets and disease and filth everywhere you look, nothing gets better. Everything seems to stand still. The main goal of the actions of international organizations and the few local governmental structures seems to be slowness.

 

Organizations, foundations, secular and religious agencies – the evangelical ones are not the exception – all of them are drunk on plans, strategies, papers, news, meetings and so on. It is quite obvious that a sense of emergency never existed for them, and whatever moved them in the beginning is now gone. There is no sense of effective action. Believing that people “will eventually adapt” to this new reality sooner or later is perhaps the only sense that has been left among them.

 

In the meantime, the people of Haiti remain there, on the ground. There they sleep, there they buy and sell, there they live, there they die.

 

As Baptists we strive to answer with another sense: with a sense of grief and a sense of compassion, with a sense of love, with a sense of urgency.

 

To our people and to the needy people of Haiti, we promise that we will do for you as much as we are able – and more. Perhaps we would lack strategies, plans, bureaucracies and meetings. But we will love you in action, in deed and toil, at least showing our very presence in the field.

 

Francisco Martínez Sarita is executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of the Dominican Republic. Translated by Daniel Carro, professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies and a board member for EthicsDaily.com.