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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Update 2 from Travis

Here is a new update from Travis.

As you look around Haiti, everyone is dirty. Showers are a rare luxery. Dirty faces and hands are constant. Mostly a bucket and bar of soap suffice, if the water can be found. The dust and dirt stick to everything, and the smell of burning trash and rotten cabbage seep into all clothing. Laundry hangs on makeshift lines everywhere, not really clean, but at least the dirty water used seems to wash off some grime.

The food given out is standard military issue MRE. After 30 days, even the most hungry debate rather whether or not it is really worth it. Any chance of real food is paramount to a homeless person at a buffet. Food is piled on top of food. Leftovers are taken back to the makeshift tents to share. Bread heels and old fruit are eaten with genuine gratitude. A simple piece of candy or a bag of chips is a delicacy and can be traded like gold.

During the hottest part of the day, you can see people lying in whatever shade they can find. Tarps, tents, sheets, plywood. Whatever can be used to block the sun and eventually the rain is fashioned into makeshift shelter. Early on, everyone slept on the ground. No tents, no cover. Now, the lucky ones have a cot and something over their heads. There is no A/C. They sleep in warehouses, fields, parks... anywhere there is room and they are allowed to temporarily live. The mosquitoes and general vermin are abundant and hungry, and take advantage of the austere conditions to get fat on the mass of people outside. The days are long and hot. The clouds bring relief but also rain. What little shelter is available has holes and water washes underneath. Materials to build flooring are in short supply. Few stores are available to purchase items, if the money was even available to do so. Despite the difficulties, all around is ingenuity. Makeshift showers,vehicles held together by scavenging parts from other broken vehicles, buildings of pallets and a few nails. No one can say the people here are not hard workers and creative.

Information flow is sketchy at best, and almost everyone learns of distribution points and movements of humanitarian aid by word of mouth. The political climate guides all decisions locally.

Everyone is tired and antsy. They will make due with what little they have until Haiti has her feet under her, but regardless, they want to get on with their lives, to be with their families, to just go back to their homes.

And that's just the Soldiers.

There is a continual improvement here. We have tents, cots, and mosquito nets and we built floors. The tents have holes, but tape and eventually some sort of makeshift sealant will cover those. We received supplements (which is basically shelf milk, some different MREs, some individual cereals, and some self heating coffee) yesterday, which is a moral boost to everyone. One good thing about OIF and OEF; we now how to get small luxeries or make them ourselves. even if we aren't using battle tactics here, we certainly apply field knowledge gained throughout the last several years.

We have stopped the mass rice distribution. We will continue to provide humanitarian aid, but just not at the level we were for those two weeks. We may move onto building supplies or something. The rain cometh, and when it comes, it comes heavy and constant. That will make things interesting and miserable. Miserable-er.

I've officially hit my 30 days in country. Seems like six months. I'm not complaining per se. It's nice to be a part of something different than the normal deployment.

Enjoy your cold. I'll trade you 20 degrees if you want.

-Travis


P.S.
The Marines are crazy! Don't get me wrong, I love the Marines and have never had an issue with them, but man, I don't understand them sometimes. There are about 20 Marines at the Embassy, providing security. Initially they were sleeping on the ground, just like everyone else. I was there for one day and managed to get a cot. Two weeks later, they managed to get an overhead tent to block the sun, but were all packed into one tent, inches apart, still sleeping on the ground. I has managed to find a pillow, sheet, and a mattress within a week. There are 3-4 disaster relief agencies right next to them, with all the above. I went back a couple days ago, and they are still sleeping on the grounds. Now, I refuse to believe that they do not WANT at least cots. The do not NEED cots; but neither do I. However, I think that it is a disservice to my Soldiers to not try and get them every comfort possible. Twenty people should be no problem if you talk to the right people. Again, this is nothing against the Marines. You can insert "Army" and I would say the same thing. You could insert "Air Force" and I would know you were lying. Air Force does not sleep on the ground.

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