Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti on My Mind

This is not the blog post I had planned for today. I have set that post and the theme of “greenness” aside because I can not get the images of the devastation in Haiti out of my mind.

Survivors are stepping over dead bodies in the streets. I have never seen more than one body at a time, and only then decked out in funeral finery. I can not comprehend the numbers being thrown at me. Tens of thousands dead? One hundred thousand? I live in a city of 110,000; I grew up in a town of 28,000; each summer I visit one of 2,000. I try to imagine everyone in my city gone, or in 4 hometowns gone, or in 50 tiny Illinois towns gone. I simply can not wrap my head around these numbers.

I have always had a tremendous fear of earthquakes. I am not sure why. In our lifetime perceptible ones have been rare in New England. I felt one only once, and didn’t even realize it was a tremor until it was reported on the news. My son felt two last week in California, the greater of the two magnitude 4.1. Later that week there was one to the north with magnitude 6.5 which caused quite a bit of damage, but I believe no loss of life. The one in Haiti was 7.0.

That doesn’t sound so different, so why did it kill so many? In the Richter Scale, by which earthquakes are most commonly measured, each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in amplitude on the the seismograph, and each whole number step in magnitude corresponds to the release of 31 times more energy. Thus, the one in Haiti was 5 times the magnitude as the one in northern California and  15.5 times more powerful. And the Richter scale does not factor in such data as building design and construction, distance from the quake’s epicenter, and geology.

Haiti’s buildings were not built to withstand earthquakes, even the most modern and the finest of them. Hence the trapped tourists in the luxury hotel, and the loss of so many UN officials, as well as the leveling of the shanty towns and neighborhoods of small homes. Haiti, land of so much suffering, was apparently a disaster waiting to happen.

The people have no homes, no food, no water. There is no power. The overcrowded prison collapsed, freeing the prisoners. I realized as I walked home from the gym last night that I had more belongings in my gym bag than many people in Haiti now own. And I was headed to a warm house filled with good food.

I think when I walk. The thought was: “If I were a doctor, I would go there, now. But I’m not, so what can I do?”

This is one of those cases where the best answer is to send money. Consider the two groups I mentioned a few posts ago, Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders. Both groups were already working in Haiti at the time of the quake, and both have sustained severe losses but are doing their best. There are other good choices as well, but you need to be aware of scams. I have added a gadget above my ads. It will direct you to legitimate information if you are so moved.

Today I am thinking back to the first person I ever met from Haiti —  an extremely shy boy named Clarence Poisson, who was in my high school French class. He recited in a voice barely above a whisper and was always being corrected on his Creole pronunciation. He was the most polite and respectful student in the school. I was a senior, he a sophomore, and this was the only time we shared. I do not know how he came to be in my town, nor where his life has taken him since then.

I was mentally composing this post before my mom called last night. Many of the aids who help her with her daily tasks are part of the Haitian diaspora; several had family members in Haiti they could not reach. My mom was distraught about what to do, where could she send money. I am sure she is also praying.

Donations. Prayers. The people of Haiti can use all you can send.

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