I was born in Gwasimal, St Raphael a remote corner of rural northern Haiti, and I grew up in Cite Soleil, the largest ghetto in the Caribbean. I grew up with hunger, with gun violence. I have traveled the country as a researcher and community mobilizer, and saw communities barely holding onto the bare sides of mountains, people drinking water that their goats wouldn’t drink, villages wiped out by tropical storms. I always thought I knew what misery looked like.
Then yesterday, I found myself in the 1st Section Parisse on the abitasyon Planton de l’Estère in the Artibonite, and I found myself confronted with a kind of misery that I had never seen before. In my travels, many communities have told me, “there is no water”, meaning they had to walk several hours to get to a spring, or that the water they had around them was not safe. But when the residents of Planton de l’Estère told me “there is no water”, they were being literal. The only water available within 20 kilometers is one meager spring that barely has the strength to push water out of the exposed earth. It can take almost an hour for it to fill a gallon jug. Many residents of this village wake up at 3am to walk 20 kilometers over the mountains to find a spring capable fill a 5-gallon bucket – the round-trip journey takes over 12 hours. The few who somehow scrape together 50 gourdes can pay a motorcycle driver to go the distance for them to fill up one 5-gallon bucket. I think these motorcycle drivers are heroes: 50 gourdes are nowhere near enough to compensate them for the dangerous journey along rocky mountain paths that run along steep cliffs – the kind that Haitians call chyen pa jwenn, meaning that if you fell down them, not even a dog could find your bones.
The local kasek, Jean Pierre Rochenel, told me that there are 8,000 people living in Planton de l’Estère, who have scraped by on these precious few gallons for years. I asked how they bathed, and the kazek responded: “if we do not have enough water to drink, where would we find enough to bathe?” They save as much water as possible to clean the children, and pray for rain. But the seasonal rains have failed for two years now. The kazek told me, “it is as if Haiti has forgotten us.”
It is almost 2017. Even in a country as developmentally delayed as Haiti, families should not be living in these extreme conditions. The government finds millions of dollars to build a short overpass in the capital, to host Carnival celebrations, to pay for expensive cars and gas for state officials, to build a duty free shop in the airport. And we have Haitian citizens who are splitting a gallon of water between an entire household. This is not possible. Our country is only 27,750 square kilometers – it is too small for this kind of misery to be invisible.
I can count the number of times I have cried in my life. When you grow up around death and fear like I have, you learn to control your emotions at all times. But I could not stop the tears from coming to my eyes as I spoke with the residents of Planton de l’Estère. I had to put on a pair of sunglasses to hide my tears because I was ashamed – even crying felt like a waste of water in this place. I was thirsty but refused the cup of water they offered me. I cannot remember the last time I felt so useless and without hope. As someone who has grown up with misery as my closest companion, who has received news of friends being murdered without batting an eye, I find myself shocked and disturbed.
Behind mountains there are mountains, and behind those mountains there is Planton de l’Estère, the place that my country forgot. But I will not forget them. I know there may be hundreds of other villages like this and I cannot fix them, but I will keep telling the story of Planton de l’Estère until I find someone who is willing to help them find water. I know that this will not fix the deeper problems of water in my country, but everything human in me refuses to let me forget this.
If anyone else wants to find this community, the GPS coordinates are 19.331188, -72.532880. The kazek’s name is Jean Pierre Rochenel and his telephone is +509 33 41 36 66.
Post written originally by Robi in Creole. Translated by Sabina into English.