Haiti is a dismal place; it was drab back in 2010 when CAI was involved in humanitarian efforts for the victims of the colossal earthquake that claimed 230,000 plus lives; it remains dingy now. Read about my experience then, here. It’s depressing after six years, made more so by Hurricane Matthew’s fury about a month ago, which killed about 3,000 and left behind untold destruction and misery, as Sohail Abdullah and I witnessed firsthand on our trip to this badbakth country between October 27 and 29.
Port Au Prince is largely saved from the hurricane this time, but remains grimy, with undisciplined traffic and extreme poverty and illiteracy. Arguments here are often settled with a bullet in the head rather than dialogue. It is thus prudent for both of us to be here than by myself. Ibraheem Shako and Father Weber Coppée meet us at the airport and drive us to our hotel nearby; it is a dump. We are given an entire two-story apartment that resembles an upgraded dungeon. I revolt rather vehemently, so we are offered better quarters after an hour’s wait; we recite zohr and have grilled snapper in that time. Seafood is the only halal option in almost all of Haiti since most other meats are non-halal and pig / pig product are widely consumed.
We meet the Trustees of FADEMO after Magreeb, the local NGO that CAI will be working through. FADEMO is a Catholic NGO but serves humanity at large so has Ibraheem as a Trustee as well. They agree to take us to the affected areas the next day. Looking for a reliable vehicle at that time of the day proves to be a challenge until a FADEMO senior Trustee offers his for free; we are all set.
We are ready by seven the next morning, after a mediocre breakfast where we are traumatized by frenzy flies and mosquitoes. Sohail had asked me earlier if I knew why Allah created mosquitoes and flies. We had the answer that morning – to teach us how insignificant we humans are, when even a tiny seemingly innocuous insect can make our lives miserable. Although we are ready, the rest of the Trustees from FADEMO aren’t; Port Au Prince is not very accommodating to coordinated meetings, however well planned. We eventually depart at about 9:30, heading southwest towards the hurricane affected areas. We are eight adults in a mid-size SUV, not very comfortable the entire twelve hours it takes us to complete the inspection tour.
The city is not unlike many in poor Africa, haphazard construction, rowdy traffic made raucous by dala-dalas and overall grime overwhelm. Although I cannot see diseases, I can feel it as clearly as the squalor in front of me; human filth is everywhere. I thank Allah the vehicle has air; we’d be breathing germs by the zillions. It is tough not to stare, for women here apparently thrive in wearing as little as possible and whatever semblance of modesty there is, the transparent clothes they attire into making a joke of it. Due to the lack of public toilets, it is not uncommon to see women defecate in public. I state this not disparagingly, only because women, in my third-world travel experiences, generally seem to have better control over their bladders and bowels than men.
The first couple of hours are benign enough; the landscape resembles that of rural Africa, India or other agricultural-based economies. It is only when we pass by Cavaillon, Cayes, Torbeck and Arnique that the devastation becomes apparent. 99% of the power poles are downed and blown off roofs are everywhere; it is a pretty miserable vista. Unfortunately, we cannot visit Jeromy, the far southwest area of Haiti that has been worst hit, with the most deaths, as it is still not accessible. We stop by two severely damaged roofless schools where CAI hopes to supply potable water purifying systems.
It is getting late in the day, and we’re tired, hungry and have not prayed zohr / asr. So we stop at a dilapidating line of seafood restaurants that Father Coppée seem to know very well and pray while grilled snapper is made edible for us; it is excellent. Tired and depressed, we drive back to Port Au Price in pitch dark and have two heart thumping close calls with oncoming traffic. It is suicidal driving after dark in Haiti, for sure. The restaurant at the hotel is closed when we finally get back, so we settle for locally made ice cream for dinner.
I depart Haiti for Sanford via Miami early next day while Sohail flies to New York later in the morning. I am glad I get the opportunity to come but am disappointed I could not partake in knapps, the delicious juicy fruit of Haiti so abundant in the summer, even though Ibrahim and the others make an attempt. Port Au Prince is so dicey, our hosts caution us from taking a cab to the airport, a short distance away; they come and give us a ride instead. My flight is delayed by ninety minutes. I meet a chubby-cheeked medical doctor waiting for the same flight, Chuck, from Tallahassee, who has come to help victims, accompanied by a bunch of other physicians. But they have to return after one day without helping a single person since the roads to Jeremy are not passable. We chat a while, and he listens to me talk about CAI.
Bless you, Sir, he says, giving me a friendly nod. Don’t know how you do it. This one day is plenty for me. I look forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight, with air, no humidity, no flies, no mosquitoes. Phew, I can’t fathom how people live in this hell.
CAI will, insha’Allah, install several portable water purifying units at various schools in the affected areas, all in the name of Imam Hussein (a), so the local people are educated about Karbala and the Ahlebeyt (a). The units will produce 8,000 to 10,000 daily gallons of pure potable water; each family will receive five gallons per day. CAI will double the water units once the first installed units are suitably functional and transparent. CAI donors will also fund the replacement of a roof at one school in Arnique. Insha’Allah.