Last one

23 March 2010 Comments

At least they are no longer made of bedsheets in the wind. That's the upside.

I walked through a refugee camp yesterday. (Technically, not refugees, but internally-displaced people, or IDP's.) This one is of modest size: estimates of its population vary from 8,000 to 15,000 people. MSF has been working on the water and sanitation situation there. There is also a busy outpatient clinic. And soon, we will start a children's hospital on the premises, too.

This is the only camp I have had the opportunity to visit. We have flown past others by the side of the road, with no way to know how conditions are for those who live there.

In this one, at least, it seems that most people have acquired some plastic sheeting, and so made their homes a bit more waterproof. They are no less cramped, though. Nor do the residents show any signs of being about to move elsewhere. Where would they go?

The tents, then, are crammed in, side-by-side. Some are like pup-tents, many are now plastic-covered cubes. It is crowded.

But life does not stop. The camp is a community, bursting with everyday living. There are alleyways and boulevards. Children pull juice-bottle trucks on a string. Girls sit patiently for their braids to be woven in complicated patterns. Young men listen to music and cruise at a corner. There are street vendors for biscuits and candies and chips. People fry street food. I see a couple of restaurants, and a movie "theatre" advertising the next Champions League soccer game on TV. Little boys harass visitors with repeated, repetitive calls of "Hey, you!" as they follow one around the camp.

"Hey, you!"

"Hey, YOU!"

(It's only cute the first time.)

There are women doing mounds of laundry by hand, the clothes drying on the ledges of the wall that surround the camp. A church service is taking place inside the semi-ruined hall. Some children chase a ball, squealing.

The camp is enclosed on private land, with gates at either end. Apparently, the community has organized themselves so that the gates close in the evening at a given hour, a self-imposed curfew. Security has been alright. I don't feel at all uncomfortable to be walking around.

I buy some cookies — can't find the local peanuts that I like, but can, I realize, ask for them in Creole. "Ou pas gen pistaches?" Wave at some kids. Groove to Haitian rap. Apparently I'm the only one in my group who thinks it's cool.

Life has always been difficult for most Haitians, I think. But they are not sitting morosely in camps, waiting for help. They are living, exuberantly.