Texts from beneath the rubble

===In response to the terrible devastation in Haiti, Anthropology Now is offering special coverage of events in Haiti. For the next few weeks, Press Watch will be a dedicated Haiti Watch. Elizabeth Chin, a professor of anthropology at Occidental College who has worked for many years in Haiti joins us as a Featured Special Report guest blogger.For her previous posts, Click on ‘Read More’ in Press Watch. We will also be tracking news coverage of anthropologist Paul Farmer and his work on the relief efforts. And we encourage all concerned readers to donate generously to Partners in Health, the organization Paul Farmer co-founded that is working on the ground in Haiti. Please contact us with links and news on Haiti that we can share with our readers.===

*Special Report blogger 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.*

For many of us, Bob Corbett’s Haiti Mailing List is the go-to place for up-to-date information Haiti, informed discussion (much of it passionate), friendly updates, and for answers to nagging or arcane questions. (Click here to go to Bob’s website and here for prior posts on the mailing list.) Since the earthquake, the list has been unbelievably busy and I wonder if Bob has gotten any sleep. One of the most striking things – not surprisingly, I suppose – has been the way technology has shaped my ability to intimately feel and experience the earthquake’s aftermath. Over the course of several days, for instance, one increasingly frustrated nurse at a hospital in Milot, in Haiti’s northern area, was begging for patients. “We will light up the soccer field tonight with our headlights!” she announced, “and you can land a plane there!” It was horrifying and it was only one cry among many.

Thursday the 14th, one post urgently requested five satellite phones, for use by Haiti’s President, Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, Chief of Police, and Ambassador to the UN. That might give some indication as to the state of Haiti’s infrastructure.

At 2:58 a.m. On Tuesday, the 19th an urgent message was posted to the list saying that a woman was alive and texting from beneath the rubble of the building where she was trapped. Later that day another post asked for a ‘miracle,’ and described in detail how to get to a school in Carrefour where at least 100 children were underneath its ruins. A third gave the location of an orphanage with 70 children ranging from months old infants to 17 years old, which had run out of food and water.

In Iran, during the political demonstrations, tweets and texts were a way for people to organize and resist. In this crisis, the barriers to organization are so profound it is hard to even comprehend. But when people are sending out desperate emails to get the top guys in government basic communication – those satellite phones – there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s the texts from the people trapped under buildings that are haunting me right now.

The other day Bob thoughtfully reposted the link to one of his early essays, “Why is Haiti so Poor?” Though written in 1986, it is still relevant.

Bob Corbett’s “Why is Haiti so Poor?”

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