I smile knowingly at her & ask her how old she is â€“ 20, she says. Her infant struggles in the crevasse of her arms. Eli & I, our eyes collectively survey her innocence, her willowy brown skin â€“ there is nothing 20 about her. I gather her newborn into my arms, as she grasps on to the box of donations handed to her.
As boxes are removed from under the tarp & into the arms of these young & eager mothers, weâ€™re careful to explain its contents â€“ the Kotex & toothpaste is for their own use & not for the children; the Pedialite & soap is for their babies; the shampoo is to keep their hair clean, and so on. We exchange a few rushed words about cleanliness & personal hygiene â€“ as much as we could amidst the chaos & disorder.
The number of pregnant women & young mothers was overwhelming â€“ however, they were the lucky ones today. As they made their way to the head of an unruly line, we struggle to maintain the magnitude of it all. Of the hundreds of displaced people clustering about, only a handful would receive a box today, far more would be turned away.
This is Leogane â€“ the epicenter of Januaryâ€™s hell gushing down from the skies.
Very little prepares you for the sheer desolation here. A camp leader, a middle-aged bearded man in khaki slacks and a thin white towel cooling his neck, leads us through the mud-soaked pathway. A few donated canvas tents are strewn about â€“ the rest made unusable by the ever-present rain & subsequent flooding.
Most shelters are 8×8 handcrafted & sewn together using dried palm fronds. The floors are patchy dirt & remnants of last nightâ€™s rainfall. Through an opening slit in the cracked leaves, we witness a makeshift â€˜bedâ€™ â€“ course 6-inch concrete blocks covered by insects & soiled patchwork cloth. Children sleep here; elderly women find their shade here.
In the distance, a wide-eyed 12-year old & her sibling kneel before a clearing. They hastily pull weeds & clear rubble using a miniature utility knife. They are quick to build their shelter as a rain cloud looms in the distance.
We make our way back to the empty truck.Â How do I shoulder my backpack & climb in â€“ with that longing to stay behind & yet the demand for onward movement?