Saturday, February 20, 2010

Google Earth Images of the house, campsite, and mountains

Just for fun, I decided to look up the address of Andre's family in Delmas, Port-au-Prince, never expecting to find it.

How surprised I was not only to find their neighborhood and their house, but to realize that these satellite images were taken on Jan. 25, 2010, nearly two weeks after the earthquake.

I painted the roof of their house in red in Photoshop so you can find it easier on the map. It's pretty distinct anyway because of the way it's positioned on the lot, at an angle to the stairway that separates it from a walled-in empty lot.

It's hard to see the destruction from these photographs, but it does give us some idea. At least we can tell that the roof of Andre's family's house is intact. We heard that three houses on their street collapsed completely, killing people inside.
I was also surprised to find their campsite. The colorful tents really stand out from the concrete buildings and rubble around them. Tony Hoffman, who is working for children's rights for the American Refugee Committee in the Delmas area, estimated that about 70 families live in this campsite. Seventeen people are living in the big blue tent with Andre's family, probably extended family members.

Andre's family inherited this tent from his sister's in-laws when they went back to Jeremie where they're originally from. It was brought to Haiti by the Chinese. Andre's brother-in-law had connections with someone at the airport in order to get it.

In the third picture, again I painted the rooftop in red. You can see the tents in the middle of the picture. And I wrote the name "Route de Delmas" on the main street in the bottom of the picture. This road runs from downtown through Delmas and up to Petion Ville.

Now I have a clearer idea of how far away from the house they are camping. This makes security of their possessions a bit tricky. We hear that the men stay awake at night to guard everything. Tony said they are safe sleeping in this campsite because all the buildings around them have already fallen.

This last picture is a big overview of Port-au-Prince and the mountain villages above it. Andre's family lives about halfway between Port-au-Prince and Petion Ville. The Route de Kenscoff winds from Petion Ville through Fermath and onto Kenscoff, whose cool weather is enjoyed by the wealthy residents of Port-au-Prince on weekends and vacations.

To arrive at the village where Andre's family wants to buy land you turn off at Fermath. From there, you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, motorcycle, or strong legs to make the four mile hike over a rough, rocky road past Fort Jacques. Duval, the village where Andre grew up with his grandparents if farther off this map, beyond Athis.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First post-earthquake photos of Andre's family

Tony Hoffman, PhD, a lecturer at UCSC and specialist on children's rights in the third world, is now in Port-au-Prince and today he visited with Andre's family. He sent us back this report and two photos.

I was really impressed to see this wonderful tent that the family inherited from Andre's sister Marjorie and her in-laws when they left Port-au-Prince for Jeremie, a 7-hour trip by boat. Somehow Marjorie's husband had connections to get this 20-person tent from the Chinese at the airport. Andre and I will stay here when we go to Haiti in March, so we're hoping someone will donate an air mattress.

I was also excited to hear that Tony thinks the house in Port-au-Prince might be salvageable in the future. Of course they will need to get a seismic engineer to look at it and decide how to make it safe. It's so sad to hear that four or five of Andre's neighbors were killed when their houses collapsed completely and their bodies are still under the rubble. I originally got in touch with Tony a few days ago, through a UCSC writer named Guy Lasnier who's doing a story on him. Here's Tony's email:

Hello chelsea and andre:

I met with your family today. They are safe, no one is hurt, and their house
has cracks in it - but I think it is repairable. It is in a crowded and
unstable area, but the house seems somewhat intact. Just up the street are
three collapsed homes in which four or five people died.

Your stepfather seems concerned and worried that little aid has come their
way. Your mother is cautious but optimistic. [Brother] Reginald is looking for a
driving job.

The family is living in a tent in a front yard about 100 meters from the house.
It is very cramped, perhaps 70 families are in the two or three "camp" yards
right there. But they do have water and are using one or two functional

So their situation is bad, but not desperate. They are living by buying and
carrying water and food - no food or water aid has arrived, because there
are much worse situations with no money or shelter.

They DO need water filtration - so bring that when you come. I am not sure
what they should be doing to get their toilet and bathroom working - you
should plan on that. They mainly need money, because they are buying water
and food at rising prices...

I will visit them again. The biggest problem is the 70 families they are
with - no services at all, and some are in worse conditions with no home,
family or money.


Monday, February 15, 2010

TV interview and new contacts in Haiti

Erica Argueta from KION TV 46 in Salinas, California came to interview Andre about how his family's doing one month after the earthquake. The interview went well, and Andre looks great, even though I don't like how I look on camera.

Today is President's Day, so U.S. banks are closed. Andre called his stepfather, but the wire transfer I made on Feb. 4 from Bank of America to Unibank still hasn't arrived. If I had known it would take this long I would have borrowed all the money we need for the land and sent it at once. It costs $45 every time you send money, but Andre and his stepfather thought I should do a test first before sending the bulk of it.

We were thinking to send a few thousand via Western Union, but as of Friday (the one month anniversary of the quake) they no longer wire money fee free to Haiti. So now we're stuck. Tomorrow when Bank of America is open I will go there and see if we can trace the 2/4/10 transfer. We're afraid of someone else buying the land we want, or the seller raising the price.

A co-worker at UCSC sent me this great article by Guy Lasnier about UCSC grad Starry Sprenkle, She lives two hours from the capitol with her Haitian husband and their baby girl, but she was driving to Port-au-Prince on the day of the earthquake. Guy helped me get in touch with Starry, who has added some insight into the situation. We were also surprised to learn that her husband's family is from Athis, the same village where Andre's family wants to buy land. Starry agrees that it's a nice place to live, but they'll probably want a truck to get back and forth to Port-au-Prince in the future.

Guy also put us in touch with Dr. Tony Hoffman, a lecturer at UCSC, who will be working in Haiti on children's rights. Andre and I spoke with him today via Skype in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was on his laptop at the same hotel where I would use the wi-fi. Unless his sore throat gets worse, Tony is scheduled to fly in a UN plane to Port-au-Prince tomorrow. He speaks Spanish and an African language, but no French or Creole. He encouraged Andre to come to Haiti sooner as an interpreter for him. The interpreter he was assigned speaks French, but the average Haitian speaks only Creole and a little French.

Tony will be working in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, which is where Andre's family is. He'll try to look them up and get photos for us. That would be so great. We're very anxious to see everything now, how the family is holding up, what kind of tent they have, the damage to the house and the neighborhood. It's tempting to go sooner, but we're busy trying to raise funds, and Andre doesn't want to fly into the D.R. and cross the border, especially with 300 pounds of luggage. It's not practical and could be unsafe. Many people have been attacked because everyone is so desperate.

Friday, February 12, 2010

One month after the quake

Today marks the one-month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. When Andre called his family in the morning they were unable to talk to him because of the National Day of Mourning and Prayer in Haiti. When he called in the evening they were still praying. Now they say they'll be praying for five days, then on Wednesday they will have a Celebration of Life, with music and dancing.

That also means the banks will be closed for five days. We been waiting more than a week already for the $2,500 I transferred from Bank of America to arrive in Andre's stepfather's account in Unibank. He won't even be able to check again until Wednesday or Thursday. I'm afraid we could lose the land that he picked out because they need 75% of the sales price to do the contract, another 10% for escrow and closing costs, and then the final 25% during construction. It's not like here where you put 10-20% down and have 30 years to pay the rest.

We also found out that the price of the land went up from $10,000 to $12,500. Actually, the price difference was probably a misunderstanding. Haiti has three different currencies: Gourde (the official money which is printed on the bills), Haitian dollars (1/5 of a Gourde, which is the price most Haitians talk about even though they don't exist in reality), and U.S. dollars (which are used for big prices, like houses, cars, computers). The U.S. Dept. of State -- see "Special Circumstances" has a great explanation of the three currencies in Haiti. They also warn you that ATM machines are incompatible with U.S. credit cards and generally out-of-order anyway.

I think Andre must have heard his stepfather say the price was $10,000 per centieme and the seller has 10 centieme that he won't subdivide. So Andre told me the price was $10,000 U.S., but the real price is $100,000 Haitian dollars. You have to multiple that by 5 to get the price in Gourde. Then you divide by 42 or whatever the current exchange rate is to the U.S. dollar. If the rate doesn't fluctuate too much, we'll be paying about $12,000 for the land, plus $1,200 for escrow and closing costs. The seller pays the same for closing costs.

I had a very pleasant surprise today. I got an email from Ronnie, the EMT from New Jersey who was on vacation in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake happened. The small hotel in Delmas (very near Andre's family) where he was staying was mostly destroyed in the earthquake, but they had a generator and some gasoline so he was able to get on the internet a little, even right after the earthquake. He was the first person in Haiti who I made contact with. I had hoped he could put us in touch with Andre's family. But he warned me he had to go back to Santo Domingo since he had no money or food, and the banks and stores were destroyed or closed.

Here's an amazing video that Ronnie shot on January 17, just five days after the earthquake, as he and some friends drove around the ruins of downtown Port-au-Prince: