30 August 2012

Where Few 'Blan' Have Passed

Traversing the mountaintops
I could hear their voices in front of me before I could see their faces, as I marched down the small hilltop path:

'Kouman ou ye?'
'Pa pi mal!'

Greeting each other in the common way. My Haitian team continued walking, and the group returned to their normal chit-chat. 

I emerged from the tall grass alongside their front garden, only to be greeted with a large hoot and holler and laughter from the family members. 

Apparently, blans (white people) don't pass here often. 

I greeted them, as one should to be polite in Haiti, smiling to myself, while they joked down the path to my colleagues about the blan traipsing down the mountain. 

Yesterday, I went back out to the mountains to conduct another assessment on the situation left by TS Isaac, this time on the damage sustained to houses in the rural, mountainous villages my organisation works in. 

I ended up going on a 5-6 hour hike down the mountain. 
We were headed to that little peak on the left side of the photo.
and then just continued.
Sometimes its easier to just keep going forward.
We were dropped off at the top of the mountain, just where it crests and begins its descent down to the south coast of Haiti. We had every intention to take the car as far as it could go, which as it turned out, was maybe 2 minutes down the road leading to our targeted community. 

In previous days, we had been hearing lots of information from our governmental partners, from various team members, from key community partners about the amount of damage in the rural mountains and hillsides. We had heard of houses destroyed, crops damaged beyond repair, loss of livelihoods, animals killed, rivers flooded. The damage sounded massive and like it needed a dramatic, quick response. 

But, for a multitude of reasons, we didn't trust it - not that we don't trust our staff, but that we don't trust that we share the same definitions of what a word means. And in order to plan and implement a response, we first need to know exactly what the needs are. 

Assessment team - in action.
And, to be honest, part of that involves an unbiased, undramatic point-of-view, supplied by myself, and 2 other colleagues.  

Ok. We also wanted to just get out of the office and see for ourselves - our adventuresome streaks were kicking in. 

But really, it was just to make sure we understood what the situation was. 

So, when I found myself dragging along behind my team, huffing and puffing, stopping every few yards to observe (aka, catch my breath), as my self-assigned job was (non-Creole speaker here...), I did actually take the time to take in the full situation. 

We had heard that many homes were destroyed, many families were now homeless, some again. 

But I found this was not so. I had set the mandate that we were only to conduct our assessment at houses that were completely destroyed (to perchance end up targeting the person for emergency shelter), but after 5 hours of walking, we ended up with 3 questionnaires filled out. Only one was completely destroyed, in the terms of having to tear down the house and rebuild. The rest were missing roofing sheets, or their tin roofs had bent back. Terrible & damaged, yes. Destroyed, no. 

That is a pleasant thing to find, actually - that the storm was not too bad. 

We also found that people were living their lives as best they could to recover. To the man whose house was completely destroyed, I asked, what will he do to repair the house. He responded that he will just buy wood somewhere and rebuild. Matter-of-fact. That's just what you do. 

Back to work on the fields
Another family were so thankful to have a white person stop by their house, that one of the women kept hitting me and saying thank you for coming, and that they are so blessed by it, and that of course I will do something for them (non-Creole speaker, yes. Creole-understander, yes). 

We are so thankful that the damage to houses was not as bad as expected. The damage to crops, however, was. 

Damage to banana plantations, squash and bean plants
In the free moments I have, when not hiking over the mountains and fording through rivers, I am now sending our staff out to get their cars stuck in rivers, walking for hours upon end to conduct another more detailed assessment to look at what types of livelihoods were affected and the potential increase in food insecurity. 

Aren't I nice?

But based on this, we will now know what the true damage was, and how we can best respond. 

And that is just the beginning ...

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