Careening Between Argentina to Haiti

For NPR's Latin America correspondent, it's been a whipsaw week: lurching from elated Argentines greeting the Olympic Torch to unsmiling, hungry Haitians rioting over food shortages.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR's Julie McCarthy has traveled from South America to the Caribbean this past week, racing alongside the Olympic torch in Argentina and tracking rising food prices in Haiti, where hunger has ignited unrest. From Port-au-Prince, she sent this entry from her notebook on what it's like to soar between radically different worlds.

(Soundbite of cheering and clapping)

JULIE McCARTHY: It's been a whipsaw of a week (unintelligible) from elated Argentines greeting the Olympic torch to unsmiling, hungry Haitians. Residents in Buenos Aires eschewed the firestorm around the Beijing summer games and instead celebrated down their elegant boulevards. Although the Argentines fret about inflation, restaurants still brim with locals enjoying the country's affordable steak.

But 4,000 miles and 24 hours later, I'm on the grittier streets of Port-au-Prince, famous of (unintelligible) scenes not of celebration but chaos. In the Haitian capital, hunger pounded on the gates of the presidential palace and toppled the prime minister. Rumbling stomachs - the world over make for dangerous times.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

McCARTHY: But it's not the danger, it's the images of the granite-hard life alongside the soft sea bridges(ph) in this Caribbean nation that are the most arresting. Gingerly stepping between the spice vendors splayed along the garbage-strewn street and the butchers hawking fly-covered chickens, I am transfixed by a tableau: Haiti's charcoal sellers who look as if they have been spit out of a 15th-century furnace.

Their tattered clothes saturated in soot, rail-thin limbs smeared black by the briquettes the Haitians burn to cook the food they now don't have. The whites of their eyes startle in the noonday sun. Although Argentina was just 24 hours earlier, the images of smiles and smart streets seem a lifetime ago standing amid the misery here.

Two phrases this week left an indelible impression: Clorox and battery acid - a mother's description of how hunger feels eating away at her children's empty stomachs.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking in foreign language)

McCARTHY: I'm headed to the doctor, she tells me, for a check up with my 3-year-old. Why? They give cookies away, she says. And she hopes to divvy up one of those cookies among the six other mouths she must feed.

SIMON: NPR's Julie McCarthy.

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