|October 20, 2013 – Day 1 – From Fear to HopeThere is a scene in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love where she and her friends are giving names to cities – words that define the city itself. Two-weeks as well as five months after the earthquake in Haiti the word I would have given Port-Au-Prince was “fear.” The city was consumed by it – fear that buildings would once again fall; fear that friends, family and neighbors would once again be lost to a catastrophe; fear that great violence would breakout; fear that there would not be (and at times there wasn’t) enough food and water to nourish everyone. The entire city had PTSD and there was a primordial instinct that had kicked in with nearly everyone. Two weeks after the quake, water was so scarce that you couldn’t have a bottle of water in public because people would rob you for it. As we made rounds at orphanages and hospitals, we’d duck down – only while the car was moving, never while it was stopped – and carefully attempt to pour water into our half turned bodies as the car shook down the bumpy dirt road. I have never felt such terror in a city from the time I got up until I went to bed. Who am I kidding? Fear was there as we slept as well – dreams and dreams of aftershocks.
Today, I’d give the city an entirely different word –“ hope.” The air seems to be filled with an intoxicating promise. Everything from the warm welcome, complete with an island band, as you enter the brand new and modern airport (a far cry from the weeks after the quake when we literally got off the plane and walked out an outdoor gate to the city, no building, no passport or customs control) to the smile and “Bonswa’s” you receive as you walk down the street. Yes, that’s right, a walk down the street. While safety is still an issue, it’s nothing like it was before. A colleague and I (both short white American women…also known as easy targets) left the comfort of our hotel and walked down the streets of Port-Au-Prince alone in relative comfort – something that was never even considered on my two trips here in 2010, where we were more or less escorted by Haitians if we walked more than 10 feet in public (note, if you are planning on traveling to Haiti any time soon, I still wouldn’t recommend you do this.). My colleague has been back and forth between her home in the U.S. and Port-au-Prince for the last 10 years – at dinner tonight she commented that the city is safer now than it has been in the 10 years she has come here. Today, I have been reminded of the power of time, healing, attention and financial infusions that come after a catastrophe (some of which certainly isn’t being spent as it should be, but a portion of which is clearly improving living conditions and the spirits of many Haitians). Today I too am hopeful for the future of Haiti.