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Haiti: a place that’s starting to move

However hard I try, I can’t imagine that the vast swathe of rubble in front of me was ever a cinema. It is head-high and reduced to thousands of fist-sized rocks packed tightly together. A few hundred metres along the road a four-story building has become a concrete landslide. Huge slabs of stone are embedded at 140 degree angles and the section of the building that still stands is ripped open, showing the remnants of rooms inside. Before the Haiti earthquake, this was Port au Prince’s biggest supermarket.

We are in the morning shuttle from Save the Children’s guest house in Haiti to the office – a ten minute journey that now takes up to an hour because of heavy traffic. But it provides good people watching time and a chance to take in Port au Prince three months after the catastrophic earthquake that killed around 230,000 people, the majority in them in the capital itself.

Thankfully when the earthquake struck, there were no screenings on at the cinema we just passed. The supermarket was another matter. Around 100 people were inside, many of them immediately crushed. Others were trapped for days, surviving on food from the shelves before finally being rescued up to ten days later. We pass the supermarket wreck twice a day on the way to and from the office. Each time it shocks me.

This is my first time in Haiti and it’s hard to know how different the country feels compared to a month or so ago. The destruction is evident everywhere, but my first impressions are of a place that’s starting to move.

French pedicures amid the smog

Some schools reopened a couple of weeks ago — most of them expensive private ones — and as we drive to the office in the morning there are children in smart uniforms clambering over piles of debris on the way to class. One woman sits at a stall on the side of a busy street, giving French pedicures amid the smog of Port au Prince’s traffic jams.

Alain, who is driving the morning shuttle, says that there is a bit more hope here now. There are many aid agencies, including Save the Children, offering cash for work for essential jobs like rubble clearance, which means families have a way of earning money. For those whose businesses were not destroyed, shoppers are returning. But, he says, everybody still feels the overwhelming sadness inside.

I have yet to speak to any of the thousands of families who don’t have the buffer of a business, to the children who have lost parents who should be providing for them. As we drive, Alain points out piles of rubble where he says corpses are still buried. We pass a small driveway and through it I see the tarpaulin walls of a tent village, where thousands are now living packed together, their houses gone forever.

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