Traveling into Haiti, as Haitians look for ways out
Reporter's Notebook: Early in my travels, I met a young man plotting his course into the country with the sole purpose of getting his Haitian father out.
By E.B. SOLOMONT, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN PORT-AU-PI leftNew York not knowing exactly how I would get to Haiti to cover themajor earthquake that rocked the Caribbean nation on January 12,leaving thousands dead and the infrastructure in tatters.Withthe airport closed to non-military flights, relief groups were in thesame predicament, so an alternative for anyone looking to get inquickly emerged: Fly to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, driveover the border into Haiti, and continue on to Port-au-Prince. Rumorsflew about how long it would take. At least eight hours, often more.Evenas journalists and NGO staffers fought to get in, Haitians were tryingto get out. Early in my travels, I met a young man plotting his courseinto the country with the sole purpose of getting his Haitian fatherout.My own trip started with an overnight flight to theDominican Republic and then an early-morning departure by car - withsome local journalists - for the Haitian capital. At 5 a.m., we leftSanto Domingo, traveling on a narrow road through the country. Twistingand turning, it cut through impoverished towns, with low-slung buildings, shacks, huts. Stray dogs. Children with bare feet.Westopped in Jimani, a town just before the border with Haiti. A streamof cold mountain water runs through this town, which is also home to ahospital that received wounded refugees from Port-au-Prince.Wailingpatients sat on dirty mattresses inside, and I fought the urge to gagat a sickening stench of infection, sweat and blood. Garbage cansoverflowed with medical waste. A stack of dirty scrubs lay crumpled ina corner. People held their own IV fluid bags. Grown men screamed asnurses poured medicine on bloody knees and babies wailed.Later in the day, I learned that a Haitian woman gave birth at the hospital in the morning.LeavingJimani in mid-morning, we drove through what's known as the "fronterra"- a territory between the Dominican Republic and Haiti that both soundsand looks like no-man's land. Cars jammed a dusty dirt road from bothdirections, as the military controlled the checkpoint.In thefronterra, poor men and women sat amid their wares - bulbs of garlic,drinks, fruit. The heat was oppressive, even as water from Lake Azuei -Haiti's largest - made huge puddles in the road.As we crossed, I saw a foursome rowing furiously toward the Dominican Republic.AmongHaitians, everyone was looking for a ride to the border. Some climbedaboard flatbed trucks and others pressed their bodies into local buses.But by far, most people werewalking. Carrying parcels on their heads, children in their arms, anddragging suitcases behind them, Haitians crept toward the border, asgroups waited to be let through to the other side. Driving intoPort-au-Prince, I saw throngs of people filling the sidewalks.Aroundmidday, I noticed that even those who are not fleeing were headedsomewhere. Many covered their faces with cloth or masks to protectagainst an acrid smell of burning that still lingered. Left homeless,some congregated in parks under makeshift tents in search of relieffrom the sun.Near the Palace Nationale, a truck drove by andtossed packets with clean water into the street. A bunch of teenagersdove toward the ground, with one lucky kid emerging with several inhand. In 30 seconds the scene was over.Two women loaded theirinjured father into a wheelbarrow padded with blankets. He wascomfortable, and of course, now they could keep moving.
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