Paul Farmer: Haiti After the Earthquake
Posted on Jul 1, 2011
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When the January 12, 2010 earthquake laid waste to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people, it forever altered that country. Haiti After the Earthquake bears witness to the experiences of the injured and displaced, telling the stories of both those who survived and those who did not. An unparalleled disaster in an impoverished country, the earthquake pushed the international community to rethink how it initiates large-scale emergency aid and recovery projects.
Within three days of the earthquake, Dr. Farmer arrived in the Haitian capital, along with a team of volunteers, to lend his services to the injured. Haiti After the Earthquake opens with Farmer recounting his sense of helplessness immediately after the learning of bagay la — the event that so many Haitians simply called “the thing.”
On January 13, the day after an earthquake struck Haiti’s capital, I finally got through to Dr. Alix Lassègue, the medical director of Port-au-Prince’s largest hospital and a longtime friend. The hospital’s real name is l’Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, but most people call it the General Hospital. I began trying to reach Lassègue a couple of hours after the quake. His cell phone number, like all the other numbers I tried, led to a recorded message or an ominous buzz. From what we knew at the time, the hospital was smack in the middle of the quake zone. The facility sat among a dozen government buildings, including the medical and nursing schools, and we could see from live reports that most of those buildings had collapsed—during business and school hours. It was clear that our work as health providers in Haiti would be changed forever.
So now what? It was hard to know how to prioritize anxieties, and as a doctor, I thought immediately of the General Hospital. It wasn’t hard to imagine the enormity of need in this struggling public facility which had, in the best of times, too many patients, too few staff, and far too few resources. After dozens of tries, it was almost a shock when I connected to Lassègue on a colleague’s cell phone.
“What do you most need?” I asked.
In this vivid narrative, Farmer describes the incredible suffering — and resilience — that he encountered in Haiti. Having worked in the country for nearly thirty years, he skillfully explores the social issues that made Haiti so vulnerable to the earthquake – the very issues that make it an "unnatural disaster."
Other Voices: The second-half of this new book includes essays from earthquake survivors, doctors, volunteers, and other friends of Haiti, including: Edwidge Danticat, Michèle Montas-Dominique, Didi Farmer, Nancy Dorsinville, Louise Ivers, Evan Lyon, Dubique Kobel, Naomi Rosenberg, Timothy Schwartz, Jennie Weiss Block, and Jéhane Sedky.
Haiti After the Earthquake will both inform and inspire readers to stand with the Haitian people against the profound economic and social injustices that formed the fault line for this disaster.