After surveying many churches associated with the work of World Relief yesterday, we decided to cap off the day with another visit to downtown Port-au-Prince. We pulled over at Rue Dessalines, a central artery that cuts through the littered shambles that was once a proud historical district. To the south, the street was roped off by 82nd Airborne troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who were overseeing demolition efforts and the clearing of rubble with Army bulldozers and UN debris trucks. To the north an army of Haitian citizenry picked and clawed at ruins to release recyclables with pickaxes, handcarts and wheelbarrows.
One of the US troops invited the HORT team under the barricade to walk the dusty deserted side of the street. With camo-clad personnel carrying automatic rifles as our chaperones, we entered into a ghost town of wreckage and walked towards the heavy earth-moving equipment. We came upon the site of the telephone company where, just a few days before, "many bodies were sticking out" of a huge multi-layered pile of contorted concreted and twisted metal. Now, it's a cleared field, devoid of any reminder of the hundreds of lives taken there, much like the scraped lot we saw earlier in the week that was once the site of a school where over 200 children perished.
In the midst of the comparative state of anarchy surrounding us, this roped off section offered an oasis, a sense of calm. Without the thousands of people retrieving, haggling and bickering over things ripped from deceased buildings, it felt as though we were on an empty movie set. The crushed shops and bars became elaborate backdrops for an apocalyptic film. The special effects folks even went to the trouble of piping in the smell of decay.
Totally comfortable with our presence, a US soldier handed Aaron his sidearm to inspect – not something you'd expect under normal circumstances in the thick of the masses. We've bumped into the 82nd Airborne guys in quite a few places on this trip as they map out community care points, including churches and orphanages. One army liaison officer even offered to give us all their data upon completion of the project.
From the calm, we crossed back into the chaos. Our truck immediately drove over a storm drain cover that collapsed in, sending our front wheel below ground level in a hole measuring 1 ½ feet by 3 feet. After being extricated from a rather tenuous situation by Haitians who demanded money for the help, we headed north up Rue Dessalines, though the mad activity of hammers and chisels pounding at reinforced concrete to release valuable rebar.
New types of storefronts have popped up in front of the fallen ones behind. Rows of tables have become a veritable Home Depot of offerings. The plumbing fixture table, the door hardware table, the electrical box table – all carved out of fallen buildings by the sweat and toil of resilient resourceful Haitians.
As we came to the end of the road, traffic on both sides of the narrow street was swerving around a dusty mound. We'd seen our fair share of decomposing remains, but this was a fresh one – the body of a man with head covered by a blanket and feet immersed into a trash pile of bags and metal. Our interpreter said that he was probably "a thief." Even with no official shops and no official security guards, shoplifters are summarily dealt with.
We were back on the movie set again, in a Mad Max sort of way.
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT) can be found on Facebook.
Abandoned-Orphaned is the personal blog of Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans. Subscribe to the blog in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. Paul can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @paulmyhill.
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