A new start in Haiti

Tanya Cetoute plays with a fan that she made at one of the Caritas 'child friendly spaces' in the Pétionville Club in Port-au-Prince. The centre brings together children affected by the earthquake together for education, music and play to help them deal with the trauma of January's earthquake. Credit: Conor O'Loughlin/Trocaire

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland)

This is a new Haiti.

The differences between the country I arrived in this weekend and the zombie nation I left five months ago are startling, and incredible to behold.

For a start, and the simplest of things, the airport is open. No more flying to the Dominican Republic and tramping cross country for eight hours just to get here. And when we got off the plane a creole band – a band! – played Caribbean tunes to welcome us. Immediately the heavy atmosphere on the plane, imagined by me or otherwise, was lifted.

Even outside the airport where before I remember nothing but sad, expectant eyes and forlorn limps, loud-mouthed taxi drivers and cigarette sellers hustle for business. This is a country whose people have dusted themselves down and are ready for another day.

I immediately notice flags everywhere. Two flags in particular: those of Argentina and Brazil. It seems that during the world cup Haitians aligned themselves with two of the favourites in the competition. For the short few weeks until both teams got knocked out at the weekend, every Haitian was either a Brazilian or an Argentinian.

Haitians like winners. Most I have spoken to have switched their allegiance to Germany. There is no historical or geographical reason for this but you couldn’t blame them for wanting to be on the winning team for once.

This Haiti may not be like the one that existed pre-earthquake. That Haiti is gone forever. But Haiti is no longer, at least, the place of empty eyes, of the yellow stench of death, of dusty hopelessness and nowhere to go. That is the Haiti I left in February.

I’ve heard it said that Haitians laugh in the face of disaster and that’s not down to callousness, or audacity, or a particular bravery. It’s just because they are used to disaster and hey; life goes on.

The response of the international community has really borne fruit here, too. Camps that shuddered with pain and loss have been organised and people dispersed to where there was more space for them. The streets and drains don’t trickle with sewage. And the kids! The kids who, just a few months ago, hid and shook with pain and grief and confusion, now play and laugh and, because this is what kids manage best, just make do.

Of course, things are far from rosy. The fact that camps exist at all six months later is an enormous tragedy for those forced to live in them. There is still rubble on the streets and I’m told that, at current rates of clearance, they’ll be at it for another nine years. The economy will take years to recover from the disaster and the trauma of millions who lost a loved one will not be erased will all the best international intentions in the world.

Being in Haiti now, and seeing something closer to the country that existed before, makes me glad to be back. I can see what’s special about this place. The constant heave of people and the soundtrack of docks and cockerels and traffic and music.

This new old Haiti with its many contradictions and its simple desire to, if not win, then at least be given a chance to compete.

This article first appeared on the Trócaire blog

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Filed under Aid Success Story, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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