The New Normal: Haiti After the Earthquake

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It’s amazing how quickly things can return to normal. You wouldn’t know it from watching CNN, but big segments of life in Haiti, including in the capital, Port au Prince, which suffered the greatest damage, have returned to what would have been considered normal in the days and months before the quake. There is plenty of destruction still evident, and tens or even hundreds of thousands of people living in tents or under blue plastic tarpaulins throughout the city and surrounding areas. But shops and restaurants and gas stations are open, petty street commerce has resumed, and children in clean, if faded, uniforms walk to and from school.

Normal is a relative term, of course. Life in pre-quake Haiti was a precarious affair for most of the population, who lived then, as now, in dire poverty. Driving through Port au Prince, I asked Ralph, my driver, what sort of neighborhood we were passing through and he would respond, “Here most people eat twice a day. Back there it is closer to once a day, but up the hill in front of us people eat as much as they want.” Ralph, a law student at the national university and an office manager for DHL, lost his job and his studies after DHL laid off more than half of its staff and the university closed indefinitely until the earthquake damage could be repaired. Now he works as a driver for Europcar, the rental agency, earning $25 a day when there is work. Fortunately, the armies of aid workers, consultants, and potential investors crowding the city keep him fairly busy.

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