Friday, March 12, 2010

Dispatches: City Soliel

Cell Phone Photo: Driving through City Soleil, March 11, 2010

I'm emotionally drained, physically exhausted. Too tired to think, too weak to talk. The day went by fast. Too many thoughts, too little time.

I'm not going to explain to you the disaster, nor am I going to show you images of people suffering. Truth is, I'm sick of seeing it on mainstream media, and I'm sure you are too. That's not why I came here.

I came here to tell stories, to bring meaning to suffering, to give a voice to those who are muted by the few who are overly vocal.

Part of my job involves truth-searching, simply by walking the beat of a journalist. On days like today, I'd scour certain areas without a camera and arm myself with nothing more than a pen and note pad. People look at me eye to eye. We talk--human to human, and through words, I'd develop my story and determine what I shoot and how I shoot it.

In Haiti, there's a section of Port au Prince called City Soleil (Sun City, pronounced 'Solay'). Heavily fortified for decades by gangs and guns, few people enter this area and make it out alive. Known by the international community as one of the world's most dangerous slums, City Soleil is currently home to thousands of Haitians who live in the most sordid conditions humans can fathom. The United Nations security team dare not enter this part of the city. Instead, they guard the perimeter and only enter when foreign nationals are caught between the lines.

I entered City Soleil yesterday. Driving through in our un-marked pick-up truck, people stared at me thru my window, some waved, children smiled. I decided to venture there because no one would. Aid groups ignore this area. Journalists can't find the ratings to justify such stories to be covered. So there I was.

I was guided by a local who knows the area well. He's young, trusted, and accepted. A few times, we had to stop on the side of the road so he could call his people a few blocks up--and we'd wait. When all was clear, we proceeded.

When you first get to Haiti, you're blown away by the number of tents scattered throughout the cities. Companies like Coleman donate their brands through aid groups for distribution--and like a finely decorated store window, you'd pass by a parade of logos--as far as the eye can see. But sadly, in City Soleil, the world has strangely forgotten about their existence. So instead of water-proof tarps with double layered sun resistency and break-proof poles, they use thin bed sheets that are riddled with holes, sticks and stones to hold everything together, and with hope and prayer, they call it home.

Walking through some of the hardest hit areas, you can smell the scent of human waste and rotting garbage. It's enough to make you vommit--but through respect, you hold it in.

I couldn't sleep last night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw their blinding stares, the linen walls they call home and the children that called me 'friend.' Laying there alone in my tent, I couldn't help but to remember the time when I too lived within linen walls--when as a refugee, I too lived in tents that were held together with nothing more than a string of hope.

I'm going back to City Soleil. It's a story I need to tell and capture with my lens.


Wander to the Wayside said...

I've heard some 'visitor' accounts here and there, by relief people or just people that are there to find someone, and they say they just were so shaken by what they've seen that they lay in bed afterwards and sobbed for the suffering these people are having to endure. I don't think enough can be said about those who are there to help in whatever way they can, even people like yourself who want to witness and report on the humanity aspect of what they've seen. You're a good man, Ron.

Deboshree said...

Tell your story Ron!
The world is a better place with you around. I must say, I really do admire your will to show the truth through your lens!

Keep at it Ron!! I'm reallllly proud of you!!

Lots of love

Katherine said...

Whilst reading your post Ron my heart sunk deeper into my chest. Your emotion filled description of what you've seen & experienced has left me with a heavy heart.
We live in our warm houses, sleep in safe & comfortable beds, eat 3 meals a day & drink water free flowing from a tap...we know not of how these people are suffering.
It is through the work of people like yourself Ron that we learn of the plight of others & although it is hard to hear and even harder to experience in person (like you are) their stories need to be told.
You are indeed a very special person!