ports, containers, shipping

*Elizabeth Chin is an anthropologist who has studied Haitian Folklore dance for over 20 years, both in the US and in Haiti. Currently a professor at Occidental College, she has been spending time in Haiti since 1993, sometimes doing fieldwork and sometimes not. She will return to Haiti in May to assist with the relief effort.*

My friend Sharon in D.C. Called me to tell me that in Miragoane, the people from Port au Prince have already started showing up. As people have been saying since the quake hit, “everybody has someone in Port au Prince.” The reverse of that is that everyone in Port au Prince has someone outside of Port au Prince. Most people in the now ruined capital are recent immigrants, or within one or two generations of living in the countryside. Now they’re going back to their home villages, towns, and cities, in huge numbers, arriving pretty much with whatever they had on when their lives fell to pieces about ten days ago. So now the impact of the crisis spreads. Our friend Garry, a Miragoane man-about-town, former mayor, community organizer, and vodou priest, is now attempting to feed at least 500 who are now camping out in their home villlage of Paillant. Sharon, for her part, has found out that there’s a boat leaving Miami for Miragoane in a few days and has found someone who will buy 100-lb sacks of rice if she sends him the money, and get them on the boat, so that Garry can try to feed those people.

Back here in LA, I’m watching stuff pile up in the Ti Georges restaurant in the hip-and-trendy neighborhood of Echo Park (where my dad has lived for 30 years so it’s a kind of ‘home’ to me), and wondering how I can get all that stuff to Miami so that it can get on one of those boats headed to Miragoane. (Well it turns out that the diplomatic corps from Central America showed up at the restaurant last night, and the Dominican Embassy, who also had a representative there, carted it away!)

Miragoane is the third-largest port in Haiti, and wasn’t damaged in the quake. So here’s what I’m envisioning: we can locate some shipper who will get the stuff to Miami free or cheap, magically get it on the ship with few complications, and get the stuff to Miragoane so that Garry and his associates can get it to all the people showing up from the devastated place that seems like the 7th circle of hell.

There’s my other friend Kate, who teaches at the University of Miami – she’s on tap to coordinate as much of this as possible, possibly collecting stuff locally which would be much more efficient. They need simply everything: food, tents, mattresses, clothes, teachers, doctors. I can’t even attempt a comprehensive list.

One of my former students answered one of the ‘hail mary’ emails I sent out to everyone I could think of, seeking connections to a freight shipper. “I know a shipper!” she wrote. It’s even more fitting that she went to Haiti with me once, years ago, on a study trip, and that in her life now as a fiction writer, she’s worked on a piece in which Haiti figures significantly. Well I haven’t talked to the shipper yet, but I have my fingers crossed that he’s going to make this thing happen.

And making it happen is rather an amazing thing. We’re not an organization – we’re just a bunch of people with phones, with a little money or credit we can tap, and with relationships. But wouldn’t it be amazing – what if, what if we really could round up so much of the stuff that has piled up in LA at churches and stores and homes where Haiti is on the radar screen, and get it to Miami, put it on the boat, and Garry will pick it up, and it will make a difference to all those people who miraculously survived the carnage in Port au Prince, and made it out, made it back to their families.

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