A series of 99s in 7 parts
In January 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, flattening an already needy nation. I went for 3 fast months working in humanitarian coordination. I attended many meetings to enhance communication and cooperation between the multitude of organizations, each trying to save the world.
But compassion had gotten lost within catastrophe. I used cold maps and matrices to align the masses of objectives, needs, and work capacities. I found myself aware of each actor’s perspective, and then, the reality that having a perspective really means being self-centered. I found myself guilty of tunneled, ego-laden views, and I left bemused.
I fly business class from a blue, San Francisco camper-van to this white, Port-au-Prince Land Cruiser. I command it up hills, over pothole puddles, to wait for meetings and sometimes cigarettes.
I say “Stop!” and climb down to stand inside the roadside earthquake fissures. I say “Go” and roll north, past the capital, to catch the cholera, rising fast. I fly helicopter-hovering over storm floods, top to bottom. I heed only high hills, I survey soggy seashores and city wells, I blow by tattered camps I’ve already seen below.
Variety gives perspective, but my vision can never be complete.
Shakes and fissures
Aftershocks and rifts fascinated me, but terrified the others.
A little shake shook me awake one night. I rushed to follow, in real-time, the USGS scrutiny. I mapped the epicenter and my bed, and showed it to the guards, who humored me.
A straight stretch of highway is frozen in waves but surrounded by open earthen fissures; as if the tarmac held the surface while the rest was free to rupture. The driver said the road turned into a snake, bouncing cars upon its back.
As a geologist, I reveled in the aftermath. As participants, they are still afraid.
Someone said that twenty million cubic meters of rubble fell into a puff of dust and groans. The palace and the jail, the cathedral and the bridge, easily they split in pieces without a grid.
To clear it now, strong-backed men must climb the crumpled skeletons of buildings with heavy axes, as no machine can fit. They slam and crack, bit-by-bit, they chip crusty concrete from a nest of rusty rebar vines. Twenty billion buckets turning chaos into lines.
Floppy walls and floors become lighter, rearrange. The slumped shapes become transparent, no longer giving shade, and finally fade away.
After disaster, how do you know it’s getting back to sane? Learned men spent two days discussing such, when someone said "And if the people build without seismic regulation or constraints?" He was too late.
People find solutions faster than institutions or machines. Scrap pieces of a useful size have been laid aside and sorted into piles. Unbroken bricks have become re-worked walls and floors, and old struts now hold new doors.
Resourceful, shameless families have come back or some remained. Reduced. Reused. Recycled. They’ve been building back their trusted walls in just the way they were before, untamed.
The earthquake has been measured by many standard metrics: Richter, energy, deaths, injury, displacement of people, or of earth, monetary value of infrastructure razed.
Heisenberg was right. Absorbing light off the blinding white rubble changes its direction, phase, superposition, tint, and of course interpretation. Putting a number on this scene affects it drastically.
They say the answer can be 42. But without units, without some knowledge of the observation, without a concrete context or scripted scene, that number means less than nothing.
Upon departing, I was sad to see the numbers sliding across news flash bulletins were criminally insane.
"I, Me, Mine"
George Harrison was a genius: He sings us a sweet waltz, saccharine in our ears, so we long to hear his song, and then he pulls us deftly into hard-rock riffs and screaming, his brash point now imposed upon us each time the chorus comes around.
I played a soundtrack in my headphones as I sped around and as I sat in traffic. I tried to read the Creole painted in many colors on the sides of taxi-busses, but in the end I never understood. I saw this country from every perspective, but I never listened to her sing.