by Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker
Nadia François walks miles to town from a ravine in the hills in search of supplies. Photograph by João Pina.
On the morning of Monday, January 18th, I set out with Frantz Ewald, a Haitian-born painter, to drive into Port-au-Prince from the hilltop suburb of Pétionville, where I was staying. It had been six days since the earthquake struck, and the city was still in chaos. As rescuers hacked at the rubble, looking for survivors, residents were out on the streets searching for water, for food, and for fuel. In Pétionville, a gas station had opened for business, and that morning a long line of cars formed; mixed among them were men and women on foot, holding plastic jerricans and waiting anxiously for their turn at the pump. An elderly woman came up to the people in line and asked politely for help. The charred corpse of a man, said to be a thief, lay at the curbside across the street, in front of a bank. His head was crushed and his legs were strangely folded behind him, and a small pile of rubbish was gathering around him. As people walked past, they cupped their hands over their noses and mouths because of the smell. A few feet away, young touts sold scratch cards for a mobile-phone company to passing motorists.
Frantz and I were in his black Toyota pickup truck, and we had not gone far when we braked to allow a group of teen-agers to cross the street in front of us. They were being led by a tall young woman in a white tunic and a long black skirt. They trailed behind her as if she were some kind of Pied Piper. As they passed in front of us, she gave us a sidelong glance of polite recognition, and we carried on.
Four or five hours later, in the flatlands at the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport, we saw the young woman and her followers again. She was standing amid a scrum of onlookers outside the gates of the airport, where U.N. and American planes were landing on the airstrip beyond the little terminal building. We stopped and hailed her, and she spoke to us, surprisingly, in English, with a Southern drawl. She said that her name was Nadia François and she was from Delmas 75—a neighborhood five miles back up into the hills. She had come down, she said, in representation of some three hundred people there who were in need of help. She handed us a paper with a handwritten message that attested to her mission, signed and stamped by a Protestant pastor. Nadia had led her group down to the airport after hearing that the U.S. military was handing out food.
We told Nadia and her companions—there were nine of them—to hop into the back of the truck, and we set off to look for food. Despite the rumors, which had attracted several hundred Haitians to the road by the airport, to gather and stare hopefully, no food was being given out there. We drove onto a nearby field where there were tent camps and aid supplies, demarcated with a dozen or more national flags, but it was a bivouac, not a food-distribution point. We asked a U.N. peacekeeper where to find aid; he said he didn’t know. Someone told us that food was being handed out at a factory nearby, where the Dominicans had set up a base, and so we drove there.
The earliest and most visible relief presence in Haiti had come from the neighboring Dominican Republic. When I first entered Haiti, in the early morning of January 15th, I had been waved across the border with a long stream of vehicles carrying relief supplies. There was also a convoy of trucks, driven by soldiers, that were inscribed with messages that the relief had been dispatched as a personal gesture by the Dominican President, Leonel Fernández.
Now a vast international aid effort was beginning to establish itself. Humanitarian assistance and rescue teams were appearing daily from all over the world—from Spain, France, Russia, Israel, Venezuela, and Cuba, as well as the United States. A team of yellow-shirted Scientologists showed up, as did one from the order of the Knights of Malta. Countless tons of supplies had been flown in or were on their way. But the distribution of food was scattershot, and every outlet was swamped with desperate crowds. All over the city, banners and signs painted on sheets asked for aid. Only the patient and motivated seemed to be getting it.
Nadia said she had grown up in Miami with her family. She was thirty-six, “going on thirty-seven,” she said, and had been back in Haiti for only the past two years. I asked her why she had returned. She gave a rueful smile and said she had “been bad” and had had “immigration difficulties.” In the past week, she had become a principal means of support for her community. Every day, she’d come into the center of town and tried to return with food and other essentials.
At the Dominican food depot, a detail of Peruvian U.N. peacekeepers nervously clutched acrylic shields and assault rifles as they tried to hold back a large crowd of Haitians who had gathered at both sides of the gated entrance. The soldiers were harried and flushed, and they yelled when we pulled up to talk to them, as if they had been deafened by the noise of the crowd. We persuaded them to let us through, and inside we found a tumultuous scene: trucks came and went, and civilians who had slipped through the cordon mingled with Haitian police, Dominican soldiers, and dozens of yellow-T-shirted volunteers for Haiti’s Ministry of the Feminine Condition—a legacy of the populist Presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. An official from the ministry was standing in the loading bay of the warehouse, where relief supplies were being piled haphazardly onto trucks.
The aid consisted of plastic bags with the essentials to sustain a single family for a day: rice, cornmeal, beans, sardines, and Vienna sausages. The official wore a decorative print dress with a matching head scarf and large sunglasses, and she spoke intently and continuously on a cell phone. Around her, arguments erupted as unauthorized people tried to sneak through the final barrier to get to the food in the loading bay. A fierce-looking woman wearing a bandanna came in and began screaming that she wanted food. A soldier pushed her. She yelled at him, and he shoved her again. He protested that the woman had been there the day before and was making off with the supplies to sell them.
A hapless-looking Dominican Army colonel was trying to oversee the proceedings. He gave Nadia’s group permission to take some food, and then added, a little apologetically, that he was under orders to distribute food through the Haitian government, and therefore could not take it directly to the people in the city. He led us to the ministry official, who removed her cell phone from her ear and listened as we pled the case. She looked sternly at Nadia, nodded in assent, and went back to her phone.
We loaded the pickup with seventy or eighty bags and secured them with yellow plastic cargo webbing, and then made for the gates. Outside, the throng was bigger, and the soldiers had grown agitated. They yelled at us to go fast and not to stop for anything, because the people would overwhelm our vehicle in order to get the food. We gunned the pickup and made it past the crowd; on the way into the hills, we drove cautiously through back streets. After a few miles, we stopped on a middle-class street, fringed with shade trees, where there was a gap between houses at a bend in the road. A crude patchwork awning of sheets and tarps stretched across the gap, and underneath were a large number of women and children, living on mats that had been laid over the pavement.
At the far edge of the awning, the street ended, and the ground fell sharply away. Below, in a ravine twenty or thirty feet deep and about a hundred feet across, was Nadia’s community, Fidel—named after Fidel Castro, she said—where she and three hundred other people normally lived. (Delmas 75, I realized, corresponded to the street that ran past the ravine and appeared on city maps; Fidel itself was off the grid.) It was a dry, stone-filled riverbed, filled with a geometry of cinder-block and tin-scrap dwellings, one of which was her house, a twelve-foot-square cinder-block structure that she rented for the equivalent of about three hundred U.S. dollars a year.
Most of the residents of Fidel had moved up to the street to sleep under the awning. They were frightened by the continuing aftershocks, and did not want to be caught in the ravine if there was another earthquake. Nadia pointed to a broken section of rock-and-block wall on the far cliff edge; I could see the outlines of an unfinished residential development there. Nadia said that the residents of Fidel had asked the developer not to put the wall so close to the edge of the cliff, but he had ignored them. During the earthquake, a section of the wall had collapsed on top of Nadia’s neighbor, hitting her on the head and killing her.
Beside the truck, Nadia called out for help, and soon a group of young men and boys began to carry the bags of food down into a small rudimentary Protestant church, the Église Pancotista Sous Delovy. The church, built into the side of the cliff, was made of sheets of salvaged corrugated tin, painted blue and pink. The altar and benches were down a steep concrete staircase, at the bottom of what seemed almost like a well. As Nadia called out orders to the youths, the pastor, Jean Vieux Villers, vowed that he would see that the food was fairly distributed; everyone seemed happy with this arrangement.
Fidel was settled thirty-two years ago, according to Verner Lionel, a neighbor of Nadia’s, when the area above the ravines was developed. Lionel was considered a leader in Fidel, because, at fifty-two, he was the oldest man there. Like many other men in Fidel, he was an itinerant construction worker and jack-of-all-trades. He had come there in the nineteen-seventies, as a worker for a developer, a woman he called Prosper, who allowed him to build a shack for himself in the ravine. “Mine was the first house,” he said. Friends and relatives of Lionel from the countryside followed him to the ravine, and then others came. Today there are some eight hundred and sixty people living there, according to Nadia’s calculations. Haitians have big families; international-aid agencies tend to estimate five or six people per family, and some have many more. Nearly half the country’s nine million people are under eighteen.
Nadia waved to the many mothers and babies and children on the tarp and said something had to be done for them. “The thing is,” she said with a tone of fond disparagement, “these Haitians don’t know what to do.” The immediate problem was that the people of Fidel ordinarily bought their water from a cistern truck, but it hadn’t appeared since before the quake on January 12th, and so there was no longer any easy access to water. (This problem was widespread; even before the earthquake, half of the people in Haiti couldn’t reliably get water.) There was no food or medicine, either, since there was no work, and no one had any money saved. These people were poor; like many of their countrymen, Nadia included, they were living below the poverty line and had been since long before the earthquake.
Haiti has been in a state of persistent struggle since it won its independence from France, in 1804. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with seventy-eight per cent of its people living on less than two U.S. dollars per day and fifty-four per cent on half that. Its traditional exports, coffee and sugar, have collapsed, and manufacturing has been in decline for decades. It has suffered riots and hideous violence and depressingly regular political upheavals, led by a succession of despots and cheats: Papa Doc, Baby Doc, the priest Aristide.
Amid all this, Haiti seems almost uniquely victimized by nature. From June to October, it has severe storms and hurricanes. In the span of just two months in the summer of 2008, it was walloped by Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna, and Hurricane Ike, which together left eight hundred thousand people homeless and the country’s infrastructure severely damaged.
Haiti relies heavily on foreign aid, but little of that money contributes to sustained development, and it has often been withdrawn for political reasons. Most of the jobs are in agriculture; as exports have dipped, nearly a hundred thousand Haitians a year have made their way from the country to Port-au-Prince. There they work largely in the “informal” sector: as bellboys, day workers, shoe shiners, and street venders. Now even those jobs are gone.
One day, Frantz and I drove past the Port-au-Prince cemetery, on our way from the small cinder-block judicial police headquarters, near the airport, that had become the provisional seat of Haiti’s government. Bodies were everywhere in the city—lying on street corners and sometimes dumped in the middle of avenues—and, at the office, the mayor of Port-au-Prince and the director of the Ministry of Health had both informed me that they were doing what they could to clean them up. Disposing of bodies was, for all intents and purposes, now the extent of the Haitian government’s capabilities. The Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, had told me that seventy thousand bodies had been collected by bulldozers and dump trucks and buried in four mass gravesites, in town and outside. One of those places was the main cemetery.
As we approached, I saw three bodies lying face down on the dirt in a gap in the wall. Two of them appeared to be women, one very young. The other bodies I had seen in Port-au-Prince were distended and blistered from the heat. These were fresh, with no visible injuries. They reminded me of photographs I had seen of victims of death squads in El Salvador. An overwhelming stench permeated the air, even inside the truck.
Lying next to the cemetery wall was a young man, drenched from head to foot in blood; more blood had pooled around him on the sidewalk. He lay on his side, with an elbow propped up on the ground so that he could cup his head in his hand. There was a bright-red advertisement for Nino cell phones painted on the wall just above him, and next to it a crucifix embossed within a circle. Frantz said, “I think he’s still alive.” Several people gathered on the median strip to stare down at him. One of them said, “He’s a thief. The police executed him and dumped him here. And those people, too”—he indicated the fresh bodies. “They are thieves.”
During the earthquake, hundreds of prisoners had escaped from the national penitentiary, just a few blocks from the Presidential Palace and the cemetery. The fugitives included hardened criminals and some of Port-au-Prince’s most violent gang leaders. Looters—thousands of them, by some reports—had overrun the Grand Rue, the main commercial area, and other places in the city. The police were hard pressed to respond, having lost half their force around Port-au-Prince. I had heard reports of police shooting thieves and of looters killed by vigilantes. There was gunfire at night in the neighborhood where I was staying, and at one point rumors spread of nocturnal kidnappers who were stealing people’s babies to sell for adoption, supposedly abducting them as they slept in the streets outside. One day, I saw a man tied to a pole, hacked up by machetes and beaten to death with rocks.
The man on the sidewalk twitched; his chest rose and fell slowly a couple of times. A yellow bulldozer came up the street, and a rough-looking man, walking in front of it, directed it toward the three bodies lying inside the cleft in the wall. The bulldozer, amid great noise and fumes, scraped them up into its iron beak and then, in several violent motions, rolled them into a mound of yellow dirt that rose some fifteen feet inside the broken wall. Within a minute, the bodies had vanished. The bulldozer came along the sidewalk and lowered its beak. Before it could scoop up the wounded man, though, the worker directing operations walked over. Seeing that the man was still alive, he waved the bulldozer away. As it roared off, we asked him what he planned to do about the wounded man. He said, “I am only responsible for the dead,” and walked away.
When the quake hit, Nadia had tried to run out of the ravine. She was halfway up the crude concrete steps that led to the street when she heard screaming from near her house. She ran back, and saw her neighbor lying dead under the pile of cinder blocks. The neighbor had a seven-month-old boy. “I said, ‘Where’s the baby, where’s the baby?’ and we saw him lying there on the ground.” She had managed to toss the child clear just as she was buried by the blocks. “A woman picked him up and gave him to me,” Nadia said. “He was covered with blood, and there was also blood on his socks. One arm looked dislocated, and one of his legs, too, and he had a swelling on his head. I was scared he would die in my hands. He kept trying to go to sleep, and I was trying to wake him up.” Nadia went looking for his relatives and found his aunt, who lived in Ravine 75, a few blocks away from Fidel. “After, I went outside and sat, and I was crying, because I didn’t know what happened to my boyfriend.” Her boyfriend, a young man named Kesnel Jean, had left earlier in the day on a bus for Jacmel, a town on the southern coast of Haiti. He had not been heard from.
That night, “after it stopped,” Nadia said, she walked down to Delmas 36, about thirty-five blocks away, to see if her cousin and his family had survived. They had, but what she saw of the city—“a lot of houses down,” and people dead and wounded everywhere—saddened her. Nadia recalled that a rumor had begun circulating after the disaster struck. “The Haitians started saying that it was the U.S. doing an experiment that caused it, because they wanted to take over Haiti. But I know it’s God’s work, because if it was the U.S. that did it, then did they also do the earthquake in California a few years ago? I tried to tell them it don’t make no sense.”
In the next days, she continued roving out of Fidel. “On Wednesday, I walked all the way to downtown and back up, looking for my boyfriend. I saw dead people lying around,” she said. “I saw one kid who had tried to run out of a building, and it smashed down on him, and all you could see was his face and one of his arms. I saw looters taking things and throwing them down from one building that was destroyed, and I took off running, because I didn’t want to get taken by the police.”
It was in those initial sorties of hers, looking for Kesnel and for her relatives, that Nadia had started searching for food. She told me, with a kind of fierce pride, “I never suffered in the U.S. for things like food and water, so I don’t think I should have to in Haiti.” She brought the food she found to Pastor Villers, to be stored in the little Pancotista church until it could be handed out.
It wasn’t until two days after Kesnel went missing that he arrived back in Fidel, injured in one leg but otherwise unharmed. When the earthquake had struck, his bus had crashed; a U.N. vehicle was also in a wreck nearby. Many passengers had been killed, he told Nadia, but he had been pulled to safety by the U.N. people. He had managed to hire a motorcycle to get partway back to Port-au-Prince, and had hitched a ride the rest of the way.
On the coastal road leading west out of Port-au-Prince to Léogâne—an old plantation town that had been almost entirely destroyed in the quake—I stopped one day at the home of Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s preëminent houngan, or vodou priest. Beauvoir’s rambling complex was situated in a shady glade of tropical trees—an unusual sight in this part of the country, which, like much of Haiti, has been largely deforested. The coral-rock wall in front had partly collapsed in the earthquake. A section of his temple and an open-air kitchen had been damaged, too, but his home was intact. Several statues of vodou gods overlooked the garden from the parapets of the buildings.
Beauvoir, seated at a round table beneath the trees behind his house, greeted me graciously. A tall, handsome man with deep-set, intense eyes, he had a pair of huge Rottweilers at his feet and a pack of Marlboro Lights on the table, which he drew from as we talked. He said he was upset about remarks made by the American evangelical preacher Pat Robertson, who had blamed Haiti’s tragedy on a pact with the Devil. “I feel that Pat Robertson missed a very good opportunity to close his mouth,” Beauvoir said. “What is needed most in Haiti now is certainly compassion. A tragedy like this is the fault of nobody, and to look for fault is ridiculous, and it seems to me that was not very intelligent. It would have been more intelligent on his part if he had simply shut up.” Beauvoir was also upset about the mass burials of the earthquake victims. Tens of thousands of unidentified human bodies a day were being bulldozed into the ground without any ceremony, and he wished for a way to bring greater dignity to the process. “We all have a part of God in us, and our bodies should be disposed of in a decent way. The way they are doing it, picking them up and putting them in holes, it’s undignified.”
I told Beauvoir about the bodies I had seen dumped at the cemetery, and he nodded. On January 16th, he said, he had been summoned by Haiti’s President, René Préval, to an emergency cabinet meeting, along with the Prime Minister, the police chief, and the surviving heads of the Catholic and Protestant churches. At the meeting, the leaders had discussed the unravelling security situation in Port-au-Prince. “We decided we had to deal with them in an emergency way,” he said. “Beginning on the seventeenth and for the next two weeks,” criminals were to be treated “as in an emergency.” I asked him if this meant capital punishment, and he said it did: “Capital punishment, automatically, for all bandits.” Some of the looters were taking what they desperately needed, and from places where it wouldn’t be missed. And some of them must have been supplying those too sick or badly injured to fend for themselves; Nadia couldn’t have been the only one tending to a community. Others, of course, were stealing out of greed and opportunism. But this seemed an impossible distinction to make, especially for a beleaguered and diminished police force.
I asked if such license could extend to the killing of a young girl, and mentioned the girl whose body was among those dumped at the cemetery.
Beauvoir nodded. “It could include anybody.” He seemed to think of such harsh treatment as a lamentable necessity. “I personally regret this,” he said. “I regret all death. I regret the many calls I have received asking for help. I regret that people are still trapped in their houses. I regret the earthquake we had this morning.” (Earlier that day, an aftershock registering 6.1 on the Richter scale had rattled Port-au-Prince.) I told him about the young man I had found shot and left for dead, and how it had been American soldiers, in the end, who had taken him away for medical treatment. I told Beauvoir that I had tried to follow up on his case but had been unable to find him. This, too, he said, was regrettable. “But if you want to look for him, I can tell you, go and look in the graves.”
The Haitian government has denied ordering the police to use extrajudicial means to deal with looters. But when I told Nadia what Beauvoir had said, she wasn’t surprised. A few days earlier, a policeman who lived in Fidel had told her and her neighbors, “If you catch a thief, kill him.”
Nadia spoke English and Spanish and Creole, but, she told me, she felt more American than Haitian. When I asked her what her favorite television programs were, she laughed and said, “Oh, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ and ‘Punky Brewster’!” Her mother took her and her siblings to the U.S. when she was six, on a boat with other Haitian illegal immigrants, going first to Cuba and then to Florida. Her father was in prison in the United States, and joined them when Nadia was fourteen. Soon afterward, she caught him sniffing cocaine in the house, and he had tried to beat her. Her mother threw him out. When she was still in high school, he shot someone and escaped to Port-au-Prince. Not long afterward, she heard, he was shot dead after a drug deal in Delmas 33—about thirty blocks from where she lived now.
As a child in Miami, she had wanted to be a marine or a model. “My mother kept promising to take me to Barbizon, but she lied, she never did.” Nadia smiled. Life had been difficult. Her older brother, she explained, had fallen ill after a vodou curse was put on him. Her mother had returned to Port-au-Prince to nurse him, but he had died. Nadia’s mother had brought the illness back with her, and died soon afterward. That was in Nadia’s senior year of high school. She graduated, but after her mother’s death she and her sister had had to move out of their rented house.
For a time, she said, she studied “H.R.S.” at Tallahassee Community College. When I asked what that meant, she said, “Human resources services,” uncertainly, as if she couldn’t quite remember what the initials stood for. She had also studied cosmetology, and got a certificate for call-center work. She had three children, two by one man and one by another.
In 1992, she was arrested and spent five and a half years in prison. The charges were for forging a Treasury check and for armed robbery. She told me at first that she had been arrested in a car that had a gun in it which didn’t belong to her. Then she looked at me and said, “I fell in with the wrong people.” After prison, she was deported. In 1999, she returned to the U.S., hoping to see her daughter, who she said was being abused in foster care. She was picked up by police for entering the country illegally, and spent seven years and one month in the federal correctional institution at Tallahassee. In June, 2007, together with other detainees, she was sent by special plane back to Port-au-Prince. They were greeted by Haitian policemen, whose faces were hidden by masks, and placed in detention. “I was afraid, because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said with a shudder. “I don’t know why they had to wear masks.” After a couple of weeks, a cousin came to fetch her. Not long after, she rented the small house in Fidel and had been there ever since, earning a little income by cutting women’s hair.
Nadia hadn’t seen any of her children since her last arrest. Her youngest had been a baby when she went to prison. All three had ended up in different foster homes. Nadia’s greatest wish was to return to the States with her nephew (the son of the brother who had died in Haiti), to be reunited with her children, and to have a job. “I can work at anything, I don’t mind what,” she said. “They say that if you pay your dues you’re supposed to be given a second chance. Isn’t that right?”
When I arrived to see her one morning, Nadia was on the street, talking heatedly with the woman who sold water, sugarcane, and soda from a hole-in-the-wall shop at the end of the street, where everyone from the ravine congregated. Nadia was loudly admonishing her in Creole. It went on for some time. The day before, Nadia explained, the woman had taken receipt of some boxes of Chinese rice that had been intended for her. The donor was a Canadian man whom she had stopped as he was driving by; she had persuaded him to bring food for her and her neighbors, but he had apparently returned while Nadia was away. The shopkeeper said she had already handed it out. “So she claims,” Nadia muttered disgustedly.
When I asked Nadia how the people of Fidel had come to regard her as a leader, she said that it was because she spoke English. Then, harshly, she added, “And because I’m the one searching for help while they’re sitting on their sorry behinds.”
Fidel was not especially hard-hit by the earthquake; other than Nadia’s neighbor and a couple of women farther down the gulch whose house crumbled and injured their legs, it experienced none of the ravages that destroyed so much of the city. But, in the absence of a viable economy and national infrastructure, it was still a hopeless place, a symbol of Haiti’s deep and persistent problems. Many of the men in the neighborhood seemed to sit around most of the day. Some played dominoes to pass the time. There was no work for them, and would not be until the aid money for reconstruction created jobs. Lionel Verner hasn’t had construction work for a long time, he said; he sells cell-phone scratch cards to make a living. He has eight sons and no wife, and he makes twenty to thirty gourdes—something less than one U.S. dollar—a day. Nadia explained that before the earthquake a small bag of beans sufficient for a family meal cost twenty-seven gourdes, a bag of rice about fifty. By now, prices had risen substantially. Verner said that he and his sons usually ate one meal a day: spaghetti or rice, and sometimes cornmeal mash with beans. Since the earthquake, Nadia and a large group of others from Fidel—those sleeping under the awning—had begun cooking a collective evening meal in a large pot over a charcoal fire, right on the street. They wasted nothing. Some of the blocks that had fallen on Nadia’s neighbor had been repurposed as a base for a washtub. Nadia had stored the baby’s disassembled crib.
On January 25th, twelve days after the earthquake, Nadia asked me to go with her to the Pétionville Country Club, a nine-hole golf course studded with flamboyant orange trees. There was a displaced-persons camp there, she said, and the American Army was giving out food. Nadia said she had found the camp after she noticed U.S. military helicopters and followed them “to see where they were going.”
At the golf course, we walked onto an incongruously clipped lawn at the second tee. Ahead of us, spreading out over the slopes of the hillside, were thousands of shelters, made out of every conceivable material: bedsheets, sacking, plastic, and in one case, a greenish plastic printed with the words “Caution: Contains Infectious Biological Waste.” Small tent-shops had sprung up, including one that sold wigs and hair weaves, and another in which a young man with a tiny generator was recharging cell phones.
The aid was being dispensed by Catholic Relief Services, and Nadia stopped a C.R.S. worker as he trotted through the crowd, an Irishman named Donal. Although he looked busy and exhausted, he listened patiently as Nadia made her appeal. He explained that he could do nothing for her until she first went to their office, in Delmas. A team would be sent to survey the ravine, and if her claim was accepted then food could be given. The camp had at least twenty-five thousand people in it already, Donal said, and the number was swelling by the day. Because there were no latrines, everyone was defecating in the open, a major health hazard. There had been three rapes, and he was worried about fires. C.R.S. was trying to cope, but it was on the verge of being overwhelmed.
Nadia nodded sympathetically, but she was relentless. “So what do I have to do?” she asked. Before she let him go, Donal had told her where to get help and supplied her with his own cell-phone number.
At the C.R.S. office, Nadia found a tall, amiable Oregonian of thirty-five, Lane Hartill, who got her a chair and a bottle of drinking water and listened intently as she described the situation in Fidel. C.R.S. wanted to help as many people as it could, he told Nadia; the agency had already brought in sixteen hundred tons of food, and it planned to put people back to work by hiring them to clear rubble.
Hartill offered to come with Nadia to survey Fidel himself. When he arrived, he was amazed that there were people living in the ravine. “What do they do in the rainy season?” he asked. “They get wet,” Nadia said.
Back at the office, a waybill was drawn up that authorized Nadia to go to the C.R.S. compound across town and collect a hundred and fifty buckets of food, a hundred and fifty hygiene kits (buckets containing towels, soap, sanitary napkins, and detergent), and fifty cases of drinking water. Nadia went off on a motorbike that belonged to a young man who lived nearby and soon returned with four small pickup trucks.
While the trucks were being loaded at the C.R.S. compound, Nadia cracked jokes and flirted with a contingent of Nepalese U.N. soldiers who were on guard there. She was overjoyed at the supplies. When she returned to Fidel, Pastor Villers threw open his church doors, and soon there was a stream of boys and girls and men going to and from the trucks, carrying the C.R.S. buckets and water and stockpiling them on the church floor.
Nadia moved back and forth, issuing orders. She told people to line up, and, using a list of names she had compiled in girlish handwriting, she began to call them forward. ♦
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