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PART II: IN THE CAMP

On the ride to the deaf community camp, the group has its first glimpse of Haitian life. The short trip from the Toussiant L’Ouverture International Airport to the Delmas 2 section of Port-au-Prince reveals both the devastation and resilience of the Haitian capital.

Signs of some of the many relief efforts–vans and pickup trucks marked “UN” and “Medecins Sans Frontiers” [Doctors without Borders]–can be seen. On either side of the thoroughfare are reminders of the earthquake’s destruction: damaged buildings and piles of rubble. The group passes tent cities with plywood stalls housing toilets and showers. Printed on the sides of the structures are the names of yet more humanitarian organizations: Oxfam, Red Cross, USAID.

Seven months after the disaster, a large majority of the estimated 1.5 million people left homeless find refuge in tents and under tarps.

Yet the travelers also see signs of recovery. Handmade wooden storefronts painted in lively colors dot the roadside. Vendors sell fruit, vegetables, soap, phone cards, and other necessities. An impromptu art gallery leans against a cement partition. Even a few Internet cafes nestle among the ruined structures. People walk between the small businesses to browse, buy, and chat.
In a few minutes, the ride comes to an end.

New friends and familiar faces

“Here we are,” says Juan Reinbold, the alumnus who picked up the group at the airport. He turns out of traffic that only a native Haitian like him can navigate and pulls up at a fence surrounding the camp.
The Land Cruiser rolls through the gate and past a security tent. It passes plywood stalls marked “Homme/Man” and “Femme/Woman.” Straight ahead stretches the tent community.

Reinbold has come to Haiti roughly every two months since February. He has watched as contributions from the Gallaudet community and relief groups add comfort and convenience to the camp. “New showers! Finally!” he exclaims. Then he spots a sturdy gray canopy tent that has been erected since his last visit, where camp residents have set up a table and chairs.

When the Friends of Deaf Haiti contingent emerges from the vehicle, everything happens at once. Residents approach to greet the visitors. Yolette Cohen waves to people she met during her previous visit. Hands fly with American Sign Language and the similar but distinct words of Haitian Sign Language. Any hands left idle soon find themselves held by children rushing to say hello to their new friends.

Two leaders of the camp also greet the group. MacKenson St. Louis breaks off from making his rounds of the camp. Widler Fils-Aime leaves his post beneath a set of water tanks where he has been watching two men fix a broken-down truck. A third leader, Jimmy Marcillon, will meet the visitors when he finishes work in another part of the city.

Soon, a crowd has gathered under the shelter tent where a group of men play dominoes. Cohen and fellow travelers Sylvie Marc-Charles-Weir and Eve Mitton strike up an impromptu meeting with members of the community, asking their concerns. Then they try to find people residing within the tent city who can solve them. “Who is good with carpentry?” Cohen asks. One hand points to a middle-aged man in a baseball cap at the game table. Then a few more gesture toward him. The man looks up and grins–an expert has been identified.

Marc-Charles-Weir’s sister, Sandra Osse, arrives from New York City. By 3 p.m., everyone is ready to head toward family members’ homes to settle in.

The trip out of the camp takes the group to points northeast of the city, and their respective vehicles abruptly begin a steep climb up tree-lined and limestone hillsides. Now they have a chance to see how Haiti got its name–“mountainous land” in the indigenous language.

Water? Medicine? Where to begin?

The group convenes later that night at the home of Marc-Charles-Weir’s aunt along the Chaine de la Selle mountain range. They sit in a circle so all can see each other on a lighted patio. Marcillon attends to share his observations and concerns. He has been corresponding via email with the American contingent for months. This is the first time they will all meet face to face.

Topics of discussion include water purification, procuring professional medical care for the camp residents, and how to handle donations that the group hopes to distribute the next day. A soft rain falls, and the circle becomes tighter, moving completely under the patio roof, but the conversation never stops.
With both immediate and long-term points to hash out, the meeting continues into the night. At about 1:30 a.m., the group disperses with an agreement to meet the next day at the Reinbold family home to organize the first round of distribution: children’s shoes and clothing.
The arrival day has been an eventful one, filled with first impressions, information gathering, settling in, and plans for moving forward. There is still another week to go.

–Rhea Yablon Kennedy

Stay tuned to On the Green for the continuation of this series. Subscribe to the RSS feed here. Read the first article in the series here. Watch a video about the trip below.

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