HAITI- Surviving against all odds
PORT SALUT, Haiti, CMC – Port Salut in the south of Haiti once bustled with life. Hotels, beach bars, discos and picnic spots brought tourist from all over the world to the small town where the weekend nightlife begins on Thursday and ends on Sunday.
Today, the town is desolate except for a few community members determined to rebuild their lives and their town. And as you drive along looking at the ruin left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that tore through the French-speaking Caribbean country last week, the situation looked bleak.
The roofs of the bars are gone; the chairs on which locals and tourists once sat, now stacked one on the other amidst the fallen coconut trees that once lined the white sand beach.
Death and destruction stood everywhere, even in the life of Jassainte Gegoire, who lost both parents and two children when the Category 4 cyclone, said to be one of the worst storms in the last decade, plundered through her coastal town last Wednesday evening.
The unemployed woman, standing with both hands on her head, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) “I have three children, two died and one survived. Mother dead, father dead and my home is destroyed.
“Those sandals on my feet, I borrowed them,” she said in Creole. “I have no money, I have no food.”
Pointing to an area behind a concrete structure still standing, she said “tete la allay” which means “my roof is gone.”
I met Jassainte at high noon. She told us she was going to find food, which she said was being distributed somewhere down the road. She gladly accepted the offer of a ride..
And after driving for close to a mile, I came upon people returning with supplies like blue tarpaulins and buckets. But by the time Jassainte arrived at the distribution point, it was all over. Another day goes by and Jassainte remains without even a tarpaulin to shield her from the elements of nature.
But despite all of this she remained positive and even agreed to stay give me a tour of the town she calls home.
Our first stop was at the newly built hotel Sommaire de Port Salut, perched on a steep hill, overlooking the coast. Jassainte said she helped carry stones to build the foundation. Now all that’s left of the six story hotel is the metal frame, with a scattering of furniture and exercise equipment that Hurricane Matthew chose to leave intact.
But there is a glimmer of hope, at least for one employee who despite no assurances of payment for his services, has chosen to report to work daily since the passage of the Hurricane.
Macaes Fietznal is a mason who worked to build the hotel which was due to open soon. He says since the passage of the hurricane he along with a few other employees have been diligently showing up for work, trying to clean and salvage what little furniture they can find, and store them in a room downstairs that remained untouched by Matthew.
“When I came on the compound after the hurricane and I saw the nice building which was recently completed, in that state, I almost cried,” Macaes said.
“Right now, I’m living in a small tent because my home was destroyed but I’m alive and I’m here cleaning up,” the young mason added.
Macaes like many others was glad to see us and appealed for help to restore the town to some sense of normalcy.
Cherinal Jonas a young and upcoming agriculturalist wants to complete his degree but says his parents cannot afford to keep him in the University.
He describes almost in vivid detail, “when Matthew was approaching we were there watching the winds. It was very strong and we were helpless against it. Roofs were flying away nobody knew what to do.”
“There are people whose homes were destroyed; and galvanize from a roof cut off the head of one person,” Cherinal recounted.
But Cherinal says there were only two deaths in his small village of Castambi.
“It is very difficult, very difficult here,” Cherinal said. “What we bought to eat, we lost everything.”
“We have a problem; we have a problem with where to sleep, we have a problem with food…I don’t know what to do some times,” Cherinal said smacking his hands, an expression of emptiness.
“Look at this! Look at this,” he cried, waving his hand at the expanse of now barren land which once was covered with corn, papaya, plaintains, cassava, coconuts and vegetables.
Haitians are no strangers to death and disaster having faced massive hurricanes and earthquakes as far back as the 1800s.
As recent as 2008, the country faced one tropical storm and three hurricanes, including one at category four. But they are known for their resilience and a determination to live.
Such determination was seen in the low-lying town of Arniquet, just outside Les Cayes, the rice paddies were spared and some families have already begun harvesting, for the local market.