Haiti still discovering human skulls

Survivor with no arms on memorial day. (AP Photo)


Two years after catastrophic earthquake, Israeli working in international aid organizations writes about atmosphere on island, residents who have turned to religion to communicate with loved ones, and fresh memories from ‘the end of the world’

Eyal Reinich

I have been living in the capital of Port-au-Prince since January, working in international aid organizations. The goal is to help survivors deal with the immense needs in terms of housing, crime and fighting cholera and other diseases.

חג מולד עצוב. ציור קיר בפורט או-פראנס (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Sad Christmas. Graffiti in Port-au-Prince (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

We find a lot of mental disorders and diseases related to the earthquake: Heart attacks and strokes, respiratory infections because of the dust and asbestos. Cholera abated – thanks to the drought.

People cry easily, suffer from mood swings, and there is great need for social welfare and psychiatric care.

תהלוכת אבל לציון שנתיים לאסון. האדם המכוסה מסמל את המתים (צילום: AP)

March of grief marking disaster’s second anniversary. Hooded man symbolizes the dead (Photo: AP)

Only few of the public places have been “cleared” of the homeless. So many people live in the mud, surrounded by rats, exposed to the wind, landslides, rape and robbery, land theft.

האתרים הציבוריים "נוקו" מחסרי בית (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Public sites ‘cleared’ of homeless (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

In the first 18 months after the disaster, only 7% of the wreckage was cleared. In the past six months efforts have increased significantly, and one-third of the waste has already been evacuated, or alternatively – covered with buildings set to collapse in the next quake. Several buildings have already collapsed in the aftershocks.

שוק ליד מרכז העיר שלא קיים יותר (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Market next to city center which no longer exists (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

Good: All buildings have been marked neatly – blue (the building is okay), yellow (requires repair), red (must be demolished).

Bad: The poor construction continues. Owners of homes marked in red or yellow perform minor repairs to make the building look okay.

האמנות ותרבות הוודו התאימו עצמן. פסל מגולגולת אדם (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Art and voodoo culture adjusted to reality. Statue from human skull (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

In many of the sites, especially the churches and national cathedral, people are still digging. They are searching for expensive metals – rings, for example, or just a simple metal to sell to contractors. Several meters away, mourners stand and pray above the wreckage.

מתפללת בכנסייה ביום הזיכרון. רבים פנו לדת והפכו אדוקים (צילום: רויטרס)

Praying in church on memorial day. Many have turned to religion (Photo: Reuters)

The most beautiful and touching monument, in my opinion, was built by the Montana Hotel, which used to be the city’s castle. The five-story building was an inseparable part of the capital’s horizon. It collapsed, burying underneath tourists, diplomats, journalists, politicians, workers and guests of an arts conference.

Ninety people were killed on the spot. Another 30 were killed near the gate as the ruins collapsed on them. The government isn’t dealing with monuments; it’s busy finding housing solutions.

האנדרטה במלון "מונטנה". הבניין שהיה חלק מקו האופק קרס, 120 נהרגו (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Monument at Montana Hotel. Building collapsed, leaving 120 dead (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

האנדרטה של מלון מונטנה. הממשלה לא מתעסקת (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Montana Hotel’s monument. Government busy dealing with housing (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

Even the art and voodoo culture have been accommodated to the new reality – outside the temples one can see lanterns made of victims’ skulls. People feel they have been hit by nature and man again and again, and religion helps them stay alive despite the terrible tragedies.

Although some have become atheists, most are now more religious. Many turn to voodoo in order to communicate with their loves ones who have disappeared or died.

מקדש וודו. רבים פונים לוודו כדי לתקשר עם הקרובים (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Voodo temple. Many turn to voodoo to communicate with relatives (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

They all share the same stories: The racket of the collapsing buildings, the altered horizon, the people whose limbs were cut off with a machete or cleaver in order to rescue them from the rubble and put them on the wheelbarrows. The smell of trucks loaded with bodies. The moving earth, the feeling that it’s the end of the world.

ציור קיר בפורט או-פראנס. זוכרים את ריח המשאיות עמוסות הגופות (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Graffiti in Port-au-Prince. Remembering smell of trucks packed with bodies (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

After the quake there was a feeling that it was the end of the world, especially in light of the wave of limbless people flooding the clinics, screaming. On the first night, basic commodities were handed out for free, including alcohol to drown one’s sorrows.

It wasn’t necessarily out of generosity. People really thought the end of the world had arrived, that they would no longer need money and that on the upcoming Judgment Day they would be paid back for their generosity.

חג מולד עצוב ליתומי האיטי (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Sad Christmas for Haiti orphans (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

During the aftershocks the hysteria was so great that people jumped off balconies, ran out of showers and bathrooms and couldn’t stop talking about it for days.

שוק מאולתר במחנה חסרי הבית (צילום: אייל רייניך )

Improvised market in homeless camp (Photo: Eyal Reinich)

There are places people no longer visit. For some of the residents, certain sites have turned into cemeteries, the place where they lost their loves ones forever.

Other places have been linked to different kinds of horror stories. For example, a supermarket owner, a wealthy Lebanese man, who hired a private rescue company from abroad to remove his son from the rubble. He forgot the customers who were also there at the same moment. He even closed down the area so that others won’t be able to help, for fear of looting. I don’t shop there.

The government, organizations of the victims’ families and local aid organizations have posted huge photos of the victims across the city. Black-and-white photos from the happiest moments of their lives, of course.


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