I find this to be especially true about tragedy. I have photographic recall of certain events and people in India, in Iraq — and now in Haiti.
On my last full day, I drove around Port-au-Prince, trying desperately to finish a story. It was a city trying to rebound, the spirit of the people alive. Markets and shops were bustling. Some businesses had reopened. As had eateries and service providers. But then, the eye would fall on a vast makeshift settlement or a hill of rubble. And I was instantly reminded of the magnitude of suffering here and the equally enormous effort it will take to rebuild.
I went up to Petionville on that last day, weaving through city streets. A tree had started new life from the concrete chunks of a building that once stood tall. I looked at the young leaves and wondered how long it would survive before a bulldozer came.
Nearby, a freshly spray painted sign on a wall: “Obama, we need change.”
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne made their presence known, as did the United Nations, it’s hulking white tanks unadorned save two letters — U.N. — stopped on street corners. No wonder some Haitians felt this was another the start of another foreign occupation.
A man sat on the street with his family silver. A coffee set, a tray. Pure silver, he said. Money for the next month’s meals. No takers in sight, though. Why buy silver when you no longer have a home? But the furniture makers weren’t discouraged. They set about their freshly varnished dressers, tables and chairs. They might look just as good in tent city, behind four sheets instead of four walls in a hillside home.
The random nature of the destruction was curious. One house untouched, the next reduced to debris. I thought about walking the streets of Mexico City a year after the massive 1985 earthquake and every so often, I’d feel a gust of chilling air slap my face. The wind was swirling like ghosts around empty plots where once buildings had stood.
And still, all around Port-au-Prince, are signs asking for help. One off John Brown Avenue said: “SOS. We are hungry. We need water. Please help now. Go this way.”