Port-Au-Prince Journal: It's The Living Who Haunt

A man stands next to smoldering building in downtown Port-au-Prince, Jan. 18, 2010 i i

hide captionA man stands next to a smoldering building on the streets outside the commercial district of downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 18.

David Gilkey/NPR
A man stands next to smoldering building in downtown Port-au-Prince, Jan. 18, 2010

A man stands next to a smoldering building on the streets outside the commercial district of downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 18.

David Gilkey/NPR

For me the hardest part is the living.

There have been so many dead here, corpses are so common both on the street and oozing out of the wreckage, that it's the living who haunt me.

The old man crumpled at the curb calling out faintly, "Mon blanc! Mon blanc!" and asking for water.

The crush wounds. The children who've lost or are about to lose an arm, a leg or both.

NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien reporting in Haiti i i

hide captionNPR correspondent Jason Beaubien reports from an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

David Gilkey/NPR
NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien reporting in Haiti

NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien reports from an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

David Gilkey/NPR

The bodies laid out at night like cordwood on the street. Lines of people wrapped in sheets perpendicular to the curb, sleeping on the pavement because either their houses are gone or they're too terrified to go inside.

In the first days after the quake, the women wailing into the night.

Later, the dogs that survive and howl.

A young woman, alone down at the port. She sits on a bag with all of her belongings, waiting to catch a boat out. She lists the members of her family who died: mother, father, sister, cousin.

"It's just me now," she says, 22 years old and alone.

Another woman says, "There isn't a single family in Haiti that isn't crying right now."

She's trying to dig her brother-in-law's body out of a pile of debris.

There's the fear of being inside. Walking with my translator through her old neighborhood, her nervousness is palpable that any teetering building might crash down on us at any moment. An aftershock shakes the rubble under our feet. She runs for solid ground.

What is it like to watch your entire city crumble around you? Walls, roofs meant to protect you become projectiles, blunt instruments and traps. How do you ever go back inside?

A huge challenge lies ahead just to feed and house the people of Haiti in the coming weeks. Then, block after city block needs to be bulldozed. But for Haiti to be reborn, and to avoid becoming a wasteland kept alive on international aid, the living need to heal — they need to dream of a new country and move forward.

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