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Dispatch From Port-au-Prince

The Road to Vote in Haiti

by JOHN CARROLL, MD

I walked to church in LaPlaine this Sunday morning. I usually go to Mass at La Chapelle Marie Auxiliatrice de Sarthre. Salesian priests say Mass and run the parish.

The fifteen minute walk was very easy. There were hardly any moving vehicles in the streets. An occasional motorcycle would go by. The Haitian Government has banned cars and motorcycles from using the streets today for the entire country.

Today is election day in Haiti.

However, hopes are not high that the election results will actually help Haitians who need the most help.

I arrived at church which is a long lean-to. It has a roof made of corrugated metal and a cement wall along its west side. The original church at the same location was destroyed in the earthquake in January.

The church was filled with people sitting on wooden benches. The sun did not feel bad today. And there was a little breeze.

The man leading the services was the “responsable du chapelle” (director of the chapel.) The priest that should have been there saying Mass was not able to get there because he lives in Croix-du-Bouquet and had no way to come to this area of LaPlaine without a ride. And rides were off limits today…even for priests.

So the director told us there would be no Mass or communinion but he gave a great homily and the choir was fantastic.

The director spoke a lot about cholera and how to prevent it and that we must pray for cholera victims. He also told people not to accept money from corrupt people today to vote for a candidate.

The service ended with another long prayer for cholera victims. The prayer was printed nicely and about five people would share each paper with the copied prayer.

After the service was over, a man approached me and said his three year old was sick and would I examine him right there in the neighborhood. After a quick walk we arrived at his house. A large gray tent filled his front yard in front of his little house. The tent seemed larger than his house. His house had been “fissure” in the earthquake and is still being patched with cement when he can afford it. He and his family still sleep in the tent.

On the front porch of his house was a young lady holding his three year old son. The little boy had obvious cerebral palsy and developmental delay and was covered with scabies. This little one seemed miserable.

I told his father that I could not help the little boy with his brain problem but could help with the scabies and malnutrition if he would visit the pediatric clinic in the back of Soleil where I work. The father assured me that they would come next week and knew exactly where the clinic is located.

I met another young man named Jean. He is 37 years old and is an advisor for a Catholic Youth Group in the parish. Jean was happy to report his Group is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

I asked Jean if he was going to vote today and he said yes. He is in his fourth year of “infomatik’ education and he received an e mail that said he would be voting in Duvivier.

He invited me to come with him to the voting station.

So we set out.

We walked and talked about everything. Many times during our one and one-half hour walk Jean had to stop and ask people directions regarding the location of the voting station on Duvivier.

I asked Jean how most people received information as to where they should vote. He said it was listed in many places, but he thought that many people did not know where to vote. He was happy he received an e mail telling him where he should vote.

As we walked down the dirt roads of LaPlaine, it seemed like a normal Sunday except for the paucity of vehicles on the streets. Little kids were carrying water and young adults stood around talking. Men were sawing boards and putting varnish on furniture. Green mucky horrible water filled the ditches along the street just like usual.

We passed a large field on the main road that contains a cholera compound for hundreds of paitients suffering from severe cholera who need intensive rehydration and medical care. It is staffed by Doctors Without Borders.

We kept walking.

Down big dirt roads and little dirt roads until we reached Route 9. It was surreal to see Route 9 deserted of vehicles. This highway runs north and south and leads directly into Cite Soleil. A barefoot little old lady with a long green dress was walking alone on the highway. She did not appear to be searching for a place to vote.

We crossed Route 9 and kept walking down a large path towards Duvivier.

After another half mile we turned left onto another little dirt path. We could see a lot of activity several blocks down.

At the end of the street, where it turned to the right, was a small kindergarten with many people milling around it.

This was the voting station. Finally.

The crowd was mainly young adults. Mostly men.

Four UN soldiers from Brazil stood together just to the right of the front door. They wore “rapid acting” patches on their left shoulders. The front door was managed by two Haitian National Police.

The environment was calm.

Jean simply stood in line for a few minutes and showed his Haitian identification card. He was ushered in and handed me his knapsack to hold outside.

There were three “voting offices” inside. The tip of his right thumb was covered with purple ink.

Jean voted and came out of the kindergarten/voting station smiling.

We immediately left and started retracing our steps towards LaPlaine.

About 50 yards from the voting station were a group of about 8-10 young men to our left. I could see some open Prestige bottles.

“Get out of this country” was screamed at me in Creole. I said nothing and looked straight ahead.

We walked a few more yards and I repeated what had been screamed. Jean broke down laughing and said that they were just “making a joke” and were just vagabonds in the first place.

A quarter mile later we met Jean’s brother- in- law. He was on a bicycle.

He was frustrated and told us that he was not allowed to vote in Duvivier. He showed us his thumb which had no purple ink.

His last name started with “Cou” and the list he checked told him where he should vote.

Duvivier was the 6th voting station that had turned him down this morning. I think Duvivier was going to be his last attempt to vote as he mumbled that “the country would continue its misery under Jude (Celestin)”. Both Jean and his brother in law referred to the presidential candidates by their first names.

So that was it.

Jean walked for three hours to vote and he is a computer student and gets e mails. And it was difficult for him.

And believe it or not, he and his wife are pedalling bikes to Tabarre for HER to vote this afternoon. They couldn’t both vote at the same location. And Tabarre is in the opposite direction from Duvivier. The good news is they have no kids, so no one needs to watch children for them.

Big election day in Haiti.

No school for kids tomorrow and Tuesday. Need to protect the children of course.

During our walk today, Jean checked his cell phone often to get text messages from a “correspondent” regarding how voting was going all over the country. Text messages said President Preval was happy with the way the voting process was going, another message said that there was some violence here and there, and yet another message said that a body was lying on the side of the road on Delmas 33, cause of death unknown, and “someone needs to remove it”.

John A. Carroll, M.D. is a physician working in Port-au-Prince.