I got back from Jimani almost a month ago, and I’ve tried several times to write about the experience. Even in my own private journals and free writes, I’ve hit a wall. Figuring out how to communicate publicly about the situation has been, well, challenging.
I’ve been giving it some thought, and I’m going to do something I almost never do: I’m going to post pictures. I personally didn’t take any pictures, but many of the doctors at the hospital did, and they posted their pictures to a facebook group. I’m going to steal a couple, and hope they will speak for me.
Still, I’m hesitant. Over the course of the week in Jimani, I watched doctors shove their cameras into some of the most traumatic and painful moments of peoples’ lives. They took pictures of their patients at their most vulnerable: sometimes half naked, attached to IVs and catheters, in incredible pain, scarred and scared and unsure of their future. They didn’t ask, they just took pictures. Those images, taken without permission, can strip people of their dignity. Those images don’t show people who own homes or farms, who study or work, who speak two or three languages, who have families, who have plans for the future. They don’t show resilience, determination, and resistance.
That’s what bothers me about pictures. They share a little slice of the story and leave audiences to fill in the context. With little information to go off of, we in the rich countries often assume that living in poverty means living in misery, that people cannot achieve or dream, and that the poor are victims, dependents that must be saved. It is so much more complicated than that.
So, when you look at these pictures, look for resistance and resilience. Try to get past the media construction of Haitians as helpless and hapless. There people are in a desperate situation, but they don’t need pitty. They need support. One way to support them is, cheesy as it sounds, to believe in them, their abilities, and their country. Haiti has overcome a lot in its short history, it will overcome this earthquake as well.
Now, the pictures:
Starting about ten days after the quake, really critical patients were helicoptered to other hospitals and the the U.S. Comfort for further care. The patients ended up at other hospitals eventually, but they sometimes bounced around a bit before they could find a hospital that would accept them. The white building in the background is an orphanage building that was being used for the ER and post-op wards.
One night, a 6.2 aftershock rattled the orphange. The patients panicked, and ran out of the shuddering building. They ripped out IVs and dragged family members out on cots. Two jumped from the second story of the building. One man, who was paralized from the wall, said simply that he had been trapped under rubble for five days. He got out once, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.
The next morning, people were still not willing to enter the building. We didn’t have any tents, so they set up these sheet structures to block the sun. Eventually, they re-entered the first floor. But as of a few weeks ago, no one was willing to go back up to the second floor.