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Baker’s Blog: I Want Coffee, They Want Water

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 19, 2010 – I woke up yesterday really wanting a hot cup of coffee. I hadn’t had any coffee for a few days.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Fred W. Baker III of American Forces Press Service is reporting and blogging about relief operations in Haiti.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

A few hundred yards from me, several thousand others woke up really needing something to eat. Who knows when they had last eaten?

I realize when I write this how spoiled I am and how ashamed I am to write it. They are starving, and I want my Starbucks. Sad, really.

But I am used to a different quality of life, granted at least in part because of geography. Haiti is almost 11,000 square miles, about the size of Maryland. Its estimated population in 2009 was just more than 9 million, according to the State Department. It is the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world, and last week’s earthquake just cemented that fact in rubble.

The devastation made a bad situation worse. The damage here ranges from having no power to having nothing at all.

I am staying at a forward operating base near the embassy run by the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, out of Fort Bragg, N.C. From the first day, the need was apparent. The troops had barely landed, and a crowd of thousands started coming up the hill from a survivor camp below.

The troops had been on the ground only hours when they started passing out the much-needed food and water. We drove from the forward operating base here yesterday to find a local hospital that can take any critical patients that the soldiers may hear about or treat at the base.

Along the narrow mountain streets, cars still were crushed beneath rubble. Some of the fallen trees were cut back to allow traffic to pass. Broken clay pots scattered the roadsides. The streets were full of people, many wearing masks and scarves across their noses and mouths.

Along the narrow, curvy road, you could look down into the valley and see some houses crushed.

People walked along the streets, carrying what they needed for life to move on. One woman carried a white plastic chair and a small bag of vegetables on her head. Another carried a full-size mattress.

In the cities, makeshift markets were open for business. People were doing their laundry and bathing in the streets and along the sidewalks. Many were cleaning up the debris or pushing the rubble off into a mountainous pile so that business could return to some kind of normal.

What would have been a park turned into a survivor camp, with people pitching tarps for tents, stray dogs running in and out of the crowd and women cooking food in pots in the open air.

The line for gas stretched for blocks. The police were directing traffic at the station we passed. Everyone was impatient for fuel to run the motorcycles, cars and generators. And all along our route, there was the occasional hand-scrawled call for help on a fence or gate:

“We need help. Water and food.”

Not one of them asked for coffee.

(Fred W. Baker III of American Forces Press Service is reporting and blogging about relief operations in Haiti. His e-mail address is fred.baker@dma.mil.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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