Haiti

Letter From Haiti: Port-au-Prince Driving Tour

Madeleine Philbin is regional director for CRS-Midwest. She is based in Chicago.

“I mean! It’s incredible …” says Farid, with emotion, as we drive through the particularly destroyed neighborhood around Sacre Coeur church, almost a ghost town. I also know it’s the neighborhood where Farid grew up. He continues, “…Italy eliminated from the World Cup—in the first round!”

Madeleine Philbin

Madeleine Philbin. Photo by Richard Anderson for CRS

I am seeing Port-au-Prince through Farid’s eyes, and that includes learning about the World Cup. (“Madeleine. You have just witnessed history” he says—we had just stopped in the office of the Bishop’s conference, the TV was on, and that’s where I saw history being made, when Slovakia beat Italy.) That is, the Bishop’s conference temporary space, their office having been destroyed. This small space is also used as the Sacre Coeur parish rectory, also destroyed, by the quake. There were tents in the courtyard (like you use for camping out). I’m not sure who stays there.

I have been “out” several days this week in different meetings, always accompanied by Farid, who has been the driver as well. Farid is a bit like my dad (or like me); he will not wait one moment in a line of traffic, so we are constantly turning off, taking side roads going up and down, right and left. I’m pretty sure we don’t get there any quicker, but I’ve seen a lot of Port-au-Prince now.

We take paved main roads, or we go up rubble filled roads, or across a road that might be called a cowpath it’s so narrow, with “shanties” so close to us on either side. We drive through a market that looks like there is no path at all, and the sea of wanderers part just enough to let us pass. I think, “this is no place for a car,” yet there is a car, coming the other way, and somehow we both get through. Occasionally Farid will point to a crumpled building. That was a bakery, he says. That was a supermarket. That was Citibank. Somebody who works for CRS lived there. But at least as often he points to buildings that weren’t there when he was growing up, and describes the open space that used to be. The crossroads, near Sacre Coeur actually is where he spent many an hour, as a young man I presume, just hanging out, and “when I die I’m sure it’s where my spirit will head,” he says (or at least stop by, on its way up, I add. He accepts that friendly amendment.)

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