Haiti through my eyes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Mitchell
  • 823rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
(Editor's note: This is a part of the weekly submissions from the 823rd Security Forces Squadron, which is currently providing security at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.)

Upon arriving in Haiti, I witnessed a country in chaos. That was late January and we are now well into May. Haiti, most specifically Port-au-Prince, has seen life return to more of a normal pace.

The destruction was devastating but the people are hardy. In essence they have no choice; this is all they have ever known. Seeing this firsthand has allowed me to appreciate my own life in the U.S. much more. I arrived expecting to see devastation and much human suffering, but what I found were resilient people that needed help.

Port-au-Prince is like any American city that has crime, unemployment and illiteracy, but it is to a more severe degree. Its citizens' suffering is more substantial, yet they endure it, unable to remove themselves from this downtrodden condition.

This is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Going to Cite Soleil (English translation is Sun City) is like experiencing something out of National Geographic.

It's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 residents live in one of the poorest and most dangerous slums. Although this does not encompass all of Haiti, it is a large urban area within Port-au-Prince.

To briefly describe this, I will relay a visit I took to a new market that was supposed to be a sign of progress in the area.

Driving up to the market I could smell human feces. Pictures cannot do justice to this place. They will never capture the smell or heat. I saw dirty secondhand goods and little stands of unripe fruit strewn on the ground, with children sitting on the sidewalk while trash was actively being dumped into the open gutters.

This trash then mixes with rain water and sewage runoff because they have no closed sewage system and all this is being perused through by a pack of hogs rummaging through the leftovers and depositing their own contributions to the mix.

As we left, I saw a woman squat down and urinate on a trash heap. All this mixes with humid tropical heat, fine dust and unregulated vehicle exhaust that just hangs in the air.

However, Haiti is a land of contrast. On another trip to the more affluent Petionville, an area in the hills where diplomats and business owners live, their recovery has been more profound.

With sound initial construction and better means to repair damage, these citizens have made the transition back to normal life much quicker.

As Americans, we usually do not have to deal in extremes like these on a daily basis. Our lives are comfortable enough where we have the energy and inclination to question the actions of others. I have had the opportunity to talk with several aid workers that spend on average about two weeks in Haiti before rotating out.

They usually comment on the resiliency of the people and how good natured and industrious they are. While that is true to an extent, two weeks here just does not capture the real picture. Many of the Haitians I have come in contact with are in survival mode.

Their existence is so poor that this mode of living has become the norm. Even with international aid and disaster assistance funds from the U.S. totaling billions of dollars, the average Haitian might not see all that is being done for them and in turn may not understand what is being done directly on their behalf.

As a people they have been exploited so often throughout their history that I feel survival is all they count on. If someone is handing out food, water and cash, they do not care which country or organization is providing it; they just want help.

No matter what we personally give out, there will always be a need for more. I do not blame them for this and now have a greater understanding for their struggle.

If I had been born here, I doubt I would be any different. It is a condition as deeply ingrained in the average Haitian as the sense of entitlement that displays itself in the average American.

America has numerous domestic issues that require attention. But it is also in our nature, and more so in our spirit, that we help out those who cannot help themselves. I believe that we have delivered much needed aid to the Haitian people and America's assistance and intervention has directly saved human lives.

I do not believe my time or effort here has been wasted. I have learned a great deal about myself and the people I serve with. I don't grow more impatient or irritated waiting for the day until we return home. It is my duty to serve the interests of the U.S. and to perform those duties with my greatest ability.

Like all large scale projects, this operation is not perfect. It was not flawless in concept, design or execution. Like any great undertaking, in hindsight our options and opportunities will always be clearer and lessons learned will be more obvious.

But as this operation draws to a close, I feel the overarching objectives were met and that at the end of the day, human beings were helped and are alive because of the generous nature and hard work of the United States of America and her citizens.