Le goudou goudou.
That's what they call it in Haiti. It's the sound of Mother Earth rending her garments; the sound of the rupture of her body down to the depths of her very soul. It's the sound a 7.3 magnitude earthquake makes over a period of 35 seconds.
It's the sound of terror and destruction and death and apocalypse.
It's the sound of the world's end.
At 4:53 PM EST today, Haiti will mark two years since the earth opened and swallowed her children. Two years since life stopped. Two years since the world's end. And two years in which the rest of the world has, once again, breached faith with Haiti and her people.
Diarist's Note: This was intended to be a well-researched piece on the state of Haiti's survival and reconstruction after le goudou goudou. I had planned to provide links to organizations that are doing important work, with recommendations that you drop a few bucks in their respective kitties as you're able.
This will not be that piece.
I find today that I'm exhausted, physically and mentally. My hands and wrists have been giving me increasingly greater trouble for weeks now, and typing has become much more of a chore than it used to be. And what I've been reading about help for Haiti in 2012 has been so discouraging that I don't feel remotely qualified to make such recommendations anymore. All I feel right now is sorrow, spiced liberally with anger, and I don't have any advice for anyone.
All I want to do today, really, is to ensure that Haiti does not go unremarked, unremembered.
Herewith, then, a meditation simply on what was and what still is and what should be but is not.
Imagine, for a moment, that a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit a major U.S. city. Yes, one would undoubtedly still find rubble in places, a few hollowed-out shells of buildings might remain. Some of the people whose lives were devastated might even still be living in shelters. But does anyone really believe that between half and three-quarters of a million would still be living under tents and tarps, sleeping in mud, without running (or even potable) water or toilet facilities, with women and children getting raped on a daily basis for daring to venture out from under their precious pieces of plastic to find a latrine?
Of course not.
So why is it still happening in Haiti?
WHERE'S THE AID?
Two years after the fact, it seems that no one can even agree on the amount of aid that has been pledged for Haiti's reconstruction. Some sources put the figure in the range of $12 billion-plus; others, half that amount, But there is one point on which everyone seems to agree: Fewer than half of the pledged aid dollars have actually been spent. Two years. That's seven hundred and thirty days. And not even half of the aid has been disbursed on behalf of the people it was pledged to help.
Where's the damn money?
"Removal" is an ugly word. For me, it conjures images of my ancestors being ripped from their lands, accompanied by assault, rape, and wholesale slaughter, with the survivors penned up in concentration camps. Or of my other ancestors, ripped from their lands half a world away and penned up in slave ships, so that those who survived the murderous crossing could be sold into bondage to people who saw them as not-human pieces of property, fit to be brutalized in unspeakable ways.
So when any governmental body or NGO starts using the term "removal" to apply to human beings, the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stand up.
And "removal" is now the official policy of Haiti with regard to its population of internally displaced person (IDPs) and the makeshift camps that have been their only "home" for two years now.
There are reportedly still 758 separate IDP camps - tent cities - set up across Haiti. Those camps house the hundreds of thousands of IDPs - a term created with the intent . The estimated number of IDPs that remain varies widely, depending upon the source: More conservative estimates put it at some 520,000, while others gauge the number at more than 650,000. Given the logistical difficulty of getting an accurate head count at any given point - and given the understandable mistrust many Haitians feel for anyone asking questions - I would not be surprised to learn that the actual number is much higher yet.
Some sources are now reporting that two-thirds of the total number of persons internally displaced by the quake have been moved out of the camps and resettled elsewhere. With housing still at a premium, though, one wonders exactly where "elsewhere" is. Over the last two years, various governmental entities, often with UN assistance, have evicted hundreds of thousands of people from specific camps, only to leave them homeless and bereft of what few belongings they'd salvaged from the quake, at the mercy of the elements and the cholera epidemic, huddled together in a muddy open roadway as the rains poured down. Too often, the evictions were staged at the behest of Haiti's wealthy landed elite, who did not want to be troubled by the sight, smell, and squalor of thousands of the poorest of their countrymen and -women packed inhumanely into tiny spaces within the sightlines of palaces, estates, golf courses, and other havens for the rich.
Here's an example of how such "evictions" are conducted:
One recent forced eviction violently cleared nearly 1,000 residents from a camp in Place Jérémie, a square in Port-au-Prince, overnight between 20 and 21 December 2011.
According to eyewitnesses, around 10 people brandishing knives, machetes and sticks descended on the camp at around 4am on 21 December and began destroying tents. The camp was reportedly home to some 945 people – 79 families that included pregnant women, elderly people and 225 children.
One woman who lived in Place Jérémie described the eviction: “I was sleeping, along with my 15-day-old baby. They tore down the tent down on top of me, without any warning. I had no time to take anything. I could only save the baby. All the baby clothes are lost. I spend the night [outdoors] and I have nothing to cover the child. "
Several hours earlier, two men from a local movement, the Association des Jeunes Progressistes du Bas-Peu-de-Choses, had visited the camp, going tent-to-tent to conduct an improvised “census” of residents.
Reportedly, those displaced were subsequently given payoffs (in Haitian currency) - ranging from a high of US$250 to a low of US$25. The "authorities," predictably, denied both knowledge of the assault and any responsibility for it.
Two years ago, when I volunteered to help the Haiti relief diary team with a series of diaries to raise both funds and awareness, I railed against the choice of Bill Clinton to head up the IHCR and lead the international community's "reconstruction" efforts. It was his agribusiness policy, in large part, that destroyed Haiti's rice production and impoverished Haitian farmers - so that U.S. rice farmers in general, and those from Arkansas in particular, could dump their massive rice crops on Haiti's market. They're still dumping it, by the way - at a rate of tons of rice daily.
If you go through the Haiti relief diary team's series from 2010, particularly, you'll find more than ample documentation of an international "effort" that turned out to be less "reconstruction" than "exploitation." "Efforts" that offered countless non-Haitian celebrity types (and Bill Clinton stands at the head of that line) ample opportunity for collective public back-patting sessions (privately, my term for that is much less complimentary), while people died in the streets of crush injuries, cholera, and violent attacks.
And while, as I've noted repeatedly in previous diaries, there are indeed NGOs that do very important, life-saving work, and do so on an ethical, culturally-appropriate basis, they are far too many that see places like Haiti as fertile grounds for exploitation - of donor funds, of media and publicity, of fame and power and yes, even money. Even those that begin honestly often find themselves seduced by the siren call of the foreign-aid racket. You want an example? How about the fact that NGOs collectively spent $15 million a month on brand-new, $61K+ Toyota Land Rovers for use in a country with a land mass the size of Maryland and a refugee center confined mostly to Port-au-Prince and its environs?
NO END IN SIGHT
Oh, there's more. So much more. But I don't have the heart to write any more. The few links herein will take you to articles and investigative reports that outline the collective atrocity in damning detail. Read them as you have time and the psychic wherewithal. And maybe this year is the year to make Haiti your project: to badger the U.S. government, the U.N., the network of relief agencies and NGOs t, at long last, buckle down and do their jobs, not for themselves but for the people they're supposedly pledged to serve. In this case, for Haiti.
Here, I'm going to reproduce a segment from my diary on this date last year:
OneTwo years on, when thousands of unnecessary deaths and more than a million still homeless are seen as a glass "half full," remembrance is not enough.
HOPE FOR HAITI
Today, as we remember Haiti's tragic and ongoing loss, we must also acknowledge that hope does exist. Ephemeral, perhaps - adrift on the Caribbean breeze, bestowing a faint touch here and there. It is our task to nurture these wisps of hope, to give form and shape to them, to bring them to earth to take root in Haiti's soil, to grow and thrive and nurture her people.
Some are already doing that: Kossack parryander's diary from yesterday is a love song from the heart. Read it, and you'll feel a bit of the same wondrous sense of hope and love that she describes.
In addition to parryander, numerous other Kossacks have given of themselves to help the people of Haiti. Immediately following the quake, Dallasdoc launched a diary series, "Helping the Victims of the Haiti Earthquake," providing daily updates on conditions on the ground and giving Kossacks ways to make a difference. Kossacks too numerous to name aided in the diary series of various ways. Eventually, allie123 and swampus undertook the challenge of continuing the series, aided by RunawayRose, Avila, and maggiejean, and allie123 has since launched two new Haiti-related series, "Justice, Not Charity," and a Haiti book diary. TexMex and carolina stargazer coordinated six figures' worth of fundraising for ShelterBox, to provide weatherproof 10-person tents, food, water, and other necessities to the people of Haiti. Deoliver47 gave us a deep historical perspective on Haiti, and she and Ojibwa educated the community on Vodou and traditional Haitian spiritual practices. Together, these Kossacks have refused to let us forget Haiti and its people.
They all know that remembrance is not enough. They care enough to do more.