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Haiti: Quiet days in a city of unrest

8 December 2010

Our office is officially closed today because of the election. Even if we wanted to go to Port-au-Prince, we couldn’t. Angry protesters have blocked the road leading up to our house with burning car tires. No cars can reach us here, so we’re isolated. We have enough water, coffee and food to manage fine for days and were not allowed to leave the premises anyway, so to me it really does not make much of a difference.

For my Italian roommate the situation is worse. She was supposed to fly home this morning, but now all planes in and out of Port-au-Prince are cancelled for the day.  And as the demonstrations make it impossible for anybody to reach their offices in Port-au-Prince today, she can’t get through to anybody on the phone to change her tickets either. Local staff placed in the city centre tells us that the protesters throw stones at the few cars that dare enter the roads. They have seen large groups of angry youths with sticks in their hands walking down the hills to congregate in the centre. And roads are blocked everywhere.

However, from our house Haiti’s capital seems very quiet and calm. We can see black smoke several places in the city centre. I assume that is the burning blockades. But no sounds of the unrest reach us.  All I can hear is my house mates typing on their computers, dogs barking and frequent cock-a-doodle-doos.

However, yesterday evening we could hear shooting in the distance from our balcony. According to local media, two people were shot dead and seven people were wounded in the unrest following the announcement of the election results. I hope the situation has calmed down sufficiently tomorrow so that we can leave the house and start working more properly.

7 December 2010 – Arriving in Haiti

It’s a long flight from Norway to Port-au-Prince.  My first glimpse of Haiti out of the plane window is of a surprisingly beautiful island. Very green, lush and tropical. The only thing that spoils the impression of descending to a paradise island in the Caribbean is all the tent camps. Even from up in the air you can see small white tents huddled together on what were once open spaces and parks in Port-au-Prince.

As we drive from the airport, I get my first up-close glimpse of Haiti’s capital. My first impression is of bright colours. Of the houses still standing, many of them are painted in bright colours as big ads to tempt people to buy a particular soda or use the right mobile operator. And there are people everywhere.

School is just over for the day, and lots of smiling children in bright uniforms are walking the streets. And everywhere on the side of the roads, where the pavements would have been at home, people have put up small, impromptu shops selling oranges and other brightly coloured fruits, clothes, spare parts to electrical equipment and whatever else they can do without. Some places, where the earthquake has caused a house to collapse, people are using shovels and picks to clear away the rubble.  Houses that have only partly been damaged in the natural disaster are repaired with tarpaulins in blue, green or grey.

The main roads are cleared of most of the rubble, but some piles of ruined bricks are still lining the streets. However, the smaller roads are full of pot holes which can feel the size of craters as our car navigates them.

Every now and then, we pass one of the tented camps where around one million people still live. While driving past, I get a snapshot of their lives. In one of the camps some boys are showering under a water can. One of them is laughing and splashing some water on his friends. Nearby a lady is washing some clothes while a young girl watches her.  An older woman is sitting at the entrance of her tent; she stares out in the air with an empty look on her face. Some young boys are playing with a ball. The older boys are hanging out in a corner smoking and looking cool.

Today is a special day for Haiti. Tonight the results of the election will be announced. And unrest is expected. No matter what the result will be, someone is going to feel disappointed. That’s why the Save the Children’s office will be closed tomorrow. Just as a precaution. That means my first 24 hours in the country will be spent at our house high up in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The view is beautiful. We are surrounded by al shades of green. And the busy city seems far away.

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