From the darkness of disaster…

meandmaya

I first met Maya Gurung last year, a few days after a massive earthquake struck Nepal. Maya was recovering from the amputation of her left leg at a Kathmandu hospital.

I wrote a story about her  because I wondered how a little girl would fare in Kashi Gaon, the remote and rugged village in Gorkha District, where she lived. It would be hard for her without the use of a leg; her future seemed bleak.

Then a second quake hit Nepal on May 12. And Maya’s life trajectory changed again.

Ahead of the first anniversary of the quake, I returned to Nepal for CNN to find out how Maya was doing. I believe hers is a story of something good happening from something very bad.

You can read the story on CNN.com: A ray of hope for one girl in Nepal

 

We said we would not forget Haiti

 

I spoke with my friend Jean Mariot Cleophat by phone today. It has been five years since I first met him.

He was my guide for much of my reporting journey through Haiti after the massive 2010 earthquake that left Haitians is utter despair. They called in “La catastrophe.”

Reporters from around the world rushed to Haiti then, hungry to tell the story of the disaster. Ordinary people felt moved to make donations, by cell phone even. The world pledged billions of dollars.

Everyone said: Haiti will rise from its ashes and finally succeed in its long struggle to overcome poverty.

Mariot and me in May 2010 in Port-au-Prince.

Mariot and me in May 2010 in Port-au-Prince.

Everyone said: We will not forget Haiti.

But we did forget Haiti, by and large.

It is the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and the world’s focus is not on Haiti today.

The earth shook for a mere 60 seconds that Tuesday and 220,000 people died.

Millions were left homeless, desperately seeking shelter in camps that grew to become huge tent cities.

In their vulnerable state, Haitians braved killer hurricanes and a cholera outbreak.

There are places in Port-au-Prince now that show no hints of the catastrophe.

The palace has been fixed up and shiny new buildings built. There are new roads, new houses. The markets are do brisk business. But, said Mariot, they belie the truth about Haiti. They belie the plight of ordinary people.

I asked Mariot how his life has been.

“I feel without hope,” he told me.

Mariot is not yet 30. He is educated and speaks English fairly well. Since the last time I saw him in early 2011,he has gotten married and now has a four-year-old daughter.

He’s worked numerous jobs in international companies. He got himself OSHA certified and was working for a construction firm but when the World Bank contract ran out, so did his job. He’s moved to the countryside because it’s cheaper there than Port-au-Prince. I asked him what he was dong for money.

He said he finds temporary jobs here and there; makes $300-400 a pop. It pays for food. But it’s hardly enough.

“There are no jobs here,” he said. “What happened to all the promises of jobs for Haitians?”

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend whose father used to work for a major cruise company. He told me how he had been to Haiti as a boy when tourists flocked to its turquoise waters and white sand beaches. I know there had been efforts to restart tourism in Haiti, a notion that irks those who see it as exploitative. But I wondered how much Haiti might profit from a booming tourism trade.

If we can talk about Cuba opening up to Americans who want to sun themselves in the tropics, then why not Haiti?

I don’t know what happened to all the people I met in Haiti. How did they recover? Were they able to regain a semblance of normalcy?

I think of them this week and pay tribute to their fortitude. And resilience.

Before he hung up, Mariot told me he lives by faith. Like all Haitians, he said, he lives by the grace of God.

Read my Haiti stories on CNN.com:

Buried alive for six days, survivors reunite

A day with Sean Penn in Haiti

Rescuer was woman’s last hope

Burying the dead

What it was a year later

 

 

‘Misery adds to misery’


A year ago, I wrote a blog that began like this: “My heart breaks.”

I had just arrived in Haiti after the earthquake and the scale of suffering was shocking.

A year later, my heart is still breaking.

In Port-au-Prince, so many lives are unchanged. Survival was difficult in this nation before the quake. Now it is that much more so.

I met a man named Carlos Jean Charles, who spoke English well and took me around the tent city at Place Toussaint, across from the National Palace. He had a life once as a software engineer, as a husband, as a father. But after a year of homelessness and despair, the will to live was fading.

I wrote about him in an anniversary piece for CNN. Here is an excerpt:

Charles shakes his head, in disbelief that he lives in this reality.

Misery, he says, adds to misery. “It makes people fight,” he says, showing a scar on his face. “Someone tried to kill me for my phone.”

The government, he says, doesn’t care about people like him. “I know Haitian politics. They like it when we are living like this.”

More than a million Haitians displaced from their homes by the earthquake are still eking out lives in tent cities once thought to be strictly temporary.

Charles puts a few drops of chlorine bleach into the water supply at his shack. Now there is another worry: cholera.

He fears that the day when he can leave this place is still far in the future. He hopes that when it comes, he will be able to remember how to live like a human being.

Until then, he walks — from Place Toussaint, uphill to distant neighborhoods like Petionville. He is a man without destination. He walks to forget.

You can read the full story and watch a video here:
http://bit.ly/eul8bX

Survival — and love


I first met Falone Maxi when she was lying on a mattress on the dirt. A sheet was her roof. But she liked it that way. Healing from her wounds suffered in Haiti’s massive earthquake, Falone did not want to be within concrete walls. What if there was another “catastrophe?” she said to me.

She was only 23. Quiet. Shy. Yet I admired her strength, her courage to face recuperation in, of all places, Haiti, where her family has little and life offers her even less.

I kept in touch with her over the months, even took her back to stand in front of the rubble of her university. I did not know if I was doing the right thing. What if all her nightmares returned?

She longed to see Mica Joseph, the classmate she had been trapped with for six long days under the rubble. Falone told me she survived because of her faith in God. And because Mica has been there with her. On my last trip to Haiti, earlier this month, I took Falone to see Mica.

I don’t cry often when I am on assignment, but when the two women, closer now than sisters, met, I found myself reaching for a tissue.

Read the story on CNN.com
http://bit.ly/e22flJ

More about Mariot


You read about Mariot in an earlier post.

In January and February, he was hired by CNN to drive us around. On my latest trip, he drove me around and translated for me. Mariot’s English, all self-taught, is very good.

Stuck in Port-au-Prince traffic, Mariot and I enjoyed interesting conversation.

He gave me a book this time: “Like the Dew that Waters the Grass.” It’s a collection of words from Haitian women — about gender violence, political turmoil, Aristide, jobs, lives and most of all, perseverance and courage.

Mariot signed the book to me: “Don’t try to be a copy of somebody else.”

Even more precious is that he rescued the book from the rubble of his quake-destroyed home.

Thank you, Mariot.