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  • October31st

    Comedy still exists in crippled cholera community

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    Behind the scenes view of what life can sometimes be like for a solo journalist working in a humanitarian disaster zone. Comedy can sometimes be found in the strangest places.

    The Haitian village of Grande Saline has been hit hard by a cholera outbreak. Flooding has cut the village off from surrounding communities. The only way in was through a UN helicopter. While the community was receiving its very first humanitarian aid in the form of a machine that will produce clean water, the children were so excited to see me and my cameras that it became impossible for me to report.

  • October30th

    CHOLERA is as scary as Hell: scenes from St. Marc part 1

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    October 28th, ST. MARC, HAITI.

    Cholera is as scary as Hell. The victim gets so sick, so fast, that they have very little time to realize their situation. Fluids involuntarily flow from all orifices of the body. The loss of so much, so fast, sends the body’s vital systems into collapse.

    When I stepped through the large metal gate of St. Marc Hospital, I realized that I have no idea how to photograph this situation. All that was running through my mind was: “How do I do this without making the cholera victims and their families feel like they are being exploited.” There is no privacy for the ill at St. Marc. The disease is vicious. It not only takes lives-it takes a person’s dignity with it.

    Sick people of all ages are lying everywhere. Grown men and women are wearing diapers. Makeshift beds cover every square inch of walkways, courtyards and hallways. The victims of cholera are completely exposed by this environment and far too ill to be able to defend themselves from prying journalists and their nonstop camera shutters. I watch another photojournalist clicking away. He is shooting a person whose eyes are rolling back in their skull-like head. The subject has no idea he is being photographed and no family at the hospital to support him. This scene unnerves me. I walk the grounds and I just can’t bring myself to lift my camera. I pass a truck delivering food. I notice men in masks and rubber gloves carrying a coffin out of the hospital’s back gate. As the coffin fades from view around the corner, two photographers go running by to get their money shots. I want to throw my camera in the garbage. If that is who you have to be, then I guess I may never be any good as a journalist.

    I have a seat next to a man who is wearing big yellow gloves while eating chicken and rice. The man’s surgical mask is pulled under his chin. Shoveling greasy food into his mouth, he squats in the driveway-finishing his lunch. I try to relax and get my head around this environment. All I can smell is feces.

    The question “what would James Nachtwey do?” floats to the top of my mind. I, like many other people, find the photography of the award winning godfather of photojournalism, James Nachtwey, to be life changing. In my mind, I replay some of my favorite Nachtwey quotes to bolster my spirit. I will never be a Nachtwey. But, I can-and must-be my best self. An authentic self.

    I decide on the spot. The only way to do this right is to follow my own inner code. If a person cannot shake my hand, they are not in a position for me to make a personal connection and, thereby, off limits to my camera. As far as the children lining the hospital’s floors, if their parents aren’t there to give me permission to communicate and photograph their kids, then shots will not be taken. Watching the hospital’s crew cleaning the floor while wearing surgical masks and gloves makes me think the handshake idea is dicey. I watch a doctor-without any protective gear-working feverishly to help people. I am inspired by this man’s ability to connect with his patients and yet function in an “all business” mode. I take a deep breath and figure it like this: What is the worst thing that can happen? I am a white guy. I have access to healthcare inside Haiti that even Haitians do not have. The least I can do for the sick is to get in the trench.

    The first cholera victim I meet is stunned that I want to shake his hand. A man alone and without family seems pleased to have my company even though we do not speak the same language. His big watery eyes hold mine until he involuntarily urinates into a Styrofoam food container that is being used as a makeshift bedpan. I say goodbye and hit the hand washing station.

    The following photos will not win any awards. But, I can tell you that I now know every person’s story that fills these frames.

    1 - The sign on the front gate of St. Marc - vomiting and diarrhea only.

    2 - A child in the late stages of cholera. His mother is nowhere to be found. Her sister is watching the child and explains that the boy fell ill last night. It is amazing how fast cholera goes to work on its victims.

    3 - I watched the child scream in pain while being held down so doctors could put an IV into the child’s head.

    4 - The smell of this room is overpowering. People are lying on makeshift mats in various stages of illness. Victims have lost all control. Urine, vomit and diarrhea are a constant problem for hospital staff. Family members are filling any extra space, tending to their seriously ill loved ones.

    5 - Anything and everything can be transformed into a stand to hold an IV bag.

    6 - A hopeless feeling fills the eyes of most parents I met. Hospital staff work around the clock. Courage and fear are bedfellows at St. Marc hospital.

  • October30th

    CHOLERA IS HELL: scenes from St. Marc part 2

    Posted in: Blog

    CNN producer note
    JOHNNYCOLT was at St. Marc Hospital on Oct. 30, where patients were seeking treatment for cholera. He says many of the people have died but doctors and nurses are tirelessly working. ‘The hardest thing to get your head around is how a person can show the first symptoms of the illness and four hours later be so ill they are in danger of dying,’ he said.
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    iReport —
    October 30th, 2010, ST. MARC, HAITI.

    1 - Flies land on this baby’s head. Diapers are changed over and over while fluids leave the small child’s body. The mother says that the little girl is doing okay now that an IV has been given.

    2 - This twelve-year-old girl became sick only the night before. According to her father, she was almost dead by morning. The IVs were started just in time and she is well on her way to recovery.

    3 - This fourteen-year-old boy is throwing up his guts, literally. He moans in pain. For him there is no IV or bed-just his mother to care for him. The temperature in the tent is sweltering. The boy’s mother encourages me to shoot photos of her sick son. All she can do, at the moment, is pour water over her son’s head to help keep him cool.

    4 & 5 - Nurses spend most of their time inserting needles into the sick. IVs save lives.

    6 - This grandmother shares her relief by flashing me a small smile. Although I do not speak her language, her attitude tells me that this child is improving.

    7 - The fourteen-year-old boy’s mother has beautiful features. Features that have hardened with worry. Reaching for clean water to try to keep her son cool and hydrated is all that she can do.

  • October30th

    CHOLERA: A VISCERAL VIEW (scenes from St. Marc)

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    October 30th, 2010, St. Marc Hospital, Haiti.

  • October29th

    The Pugilist, HAITI

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    October 30th, 2010, Port-au-Prince.

    Haiti is the pugilist that just keeps standing up no matter how much canvass he tastes. Haiti is the opponent who gives you a grin after your very best punch. A fighter whose lungs are always strong and has knees that never go weak.

    Unfortunately, Haiti seems to have a glass jaw, a crooked manager and the cut man fails to do his job. The country staggers around in the international ring, drawing mixed and questionable attention. As the odds turn against the fighter and it becomes increasingly clear that money is to be made, the cheap seats will have already sold out. If endurance under hardship were a sport, then Haiti would currently be in its title fight. Only the spectacle of extreme suffering through bloodshed and death will continue to grab the desensitized audience’s attention. How does Haiti continue to throw punches? Character, that is how.

    The country is no stranger to struggle. Haiti was born a fighter. What happens when the tiger is released after life in the cage? When the master lets go of the leash and the beast bites the owner? Haiti, that’s what happens. Like so many stories in history, lessons never seem to be learned.

    From the ground up, young Haitians learn the science of struggle. The toughness I have come across in the Haitians I have gotten to know is met with equal parts beatitude. From the most defiant youth gang members of Cité Soleil to hardened grandmothers in the streets of Port-au-Prince, every smile I cast is cast back even brighter and wider.

    No wonder Haiti is so easy to fall in love with…

  • October28th

    If the camps could speak, HAITI

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    I went back into the Palace Camp to find my friend, Yves. I wanted to check on him and his family to find out how their life in the camp was going. Having spent time with Yves and his family, I was eager to hear their thoughts about the current state of affairs in Port-au-Prince.

  • October27th

    The mission continues

    Posted in: Blog

    On UN helicopter flying in to bring safe drinking water with Partners in Health/Operation Blessing. Grande Saline has been totally cut off from help since floods wiped out the roads. October 27 - Partners in Health fly in and assess the village. October 28 - Operation Blessing delivers Living Water Treatment System. Eric Lotz, Haiti Relief Manager, is in charge of setting up. October 29 - Bill Horan (President), Eric Lotz, James Collins and myself are currently in the air and on the way to Grande Saline. Today, Operation Blessing team will complete the setup of the water system and the cholera stricken village should have safe water in FOUR hours!

  • October27th

    If the camps could speak, HAITI

    Posted in: Blog

    iReport —
    I went back into the Palace Camp to find my friend, Yves. I wanted to check on him and his family to find out how their life in the camp was going. Having spent time with Yves and his family, I was eager to hear their thoughts about the current state of affairs in Port-au-Prince.

  • October25th

    CHOLERA in CARREFOUR? “It is coming.”

    Posted in: Blog

    CNN producer note
    JOHNNYCOLT is a globetrotting iReporter who has traveled to many faraway places and most recently to Haiti to investigate the Cholera outbreak. He’s also a former bassist for The Black Crowes, just one more of the many interesting things about him. We first heard from JOHNNYCOLT during the Gulf Coast oil disaster and discovered that he had a knack for getting to the heart and power of an important story. Now, he’s on the ground in Haiti showing us what’s going on from a first-person perspective.
    - nsaidi, CNN iReport producer

    iReport —
    Wednesday, October 27th, 2010.

    Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

    The word “cholera” is on everyone’s lips in Haiti. The general population is living in fear. Much of Port-au-Prince and its infamous tent cities are a Petri dish ripe for a cholera outbreak. The story began just a few days ago two hours north of Port-au-Prince, with St. Marc hospital being the epicenter of a cholera outbreak. Haiti has not seen a cholera outbreak for a hundred years. Today, the story is not IF cholera will strike the heart of the city, but when.

    I am writing this at the end of a very long day. Crisscrossing the capitol, I have visited most of the city’s clinics on a hunt to find out if cholera has hit Port-au-Prince in earnest. The sound of feral dogs howling rides the heat right into my hotel room. My head throbs from having sucked down tap-tap fumes all day while sitting in endless traffic. I have a moral brain cramp trying to decide what would be proper reporting. Considering all the doublespeak and read between the lines eyebrow raises I endured today, you would think the subject of cholera was a game of hide and seek.

    Gaston Elso, my Haitian driver and translator, is at my side for yet another adventure. Gaston speaks very little English. He is the world’s worst translator. I speak very little French. So, I do not hold the lack of English against Gaston, personally. But, he did tell me on our first meeting that he was fluent in English. Turns out Gaston is a bullshit artist and the only thing he knows how to say in English is: “I am good with English.” My closest Haitian friend is, however, one of the world’s greatest fixers. After spending twenty minutes trying to explain I was doing a story on cholera, I had to pull up the word “cholera” on the internet and physically show it to Gaston for him to gain an understanding. The man’s eyes light up. He says, “Cité Soleil.” I say, “What? I have heard rumors that cholera is everywhere in Port-au-Prince, but not in Cité Soleil.” Sitting behind the wheel of his Montero, Gaston is smiling and has no idea what I am saying. Shaking his head up and down, “Cité Soleil” he says with a new level of confidence. I frown and throw my hands up. “Whatever,” I say. Gaston eases my tension as he always does. The man pats me on the shoulder and calls me a BonbaGuy (Haitian slang for a good guy.) The Montero sputters to life and we are off.

    Rumors are rampant all over Haiti and beyond. In the city, itself, there is hysteria brewing. The radio says “cholera” and clinics, everywhere, are suddenly flooded. It is difficult to discern the real situation. After what I have seen in the camps, I fear the worst. So our mission, today, was to find something concrete about cholera and its mysterious comings and goings.

    Speeding through the flat, West African looking streets of Cité Soleil, Gaston pulls over and ask questions in Creole to seemingly random individuals. Eventually, he skids to a halt and, hopping out of the car, he pays a woman who is vending hair products on the street corner to watch our car. Pointing out the hospital, Gaston motions for me to follow him through the small crowd gathered at a large metal gate. Sure enough, as I enter, I walk straight into a Belgian TV crew. As if on cue, the communications advisor for Doctors Without Borders walks right up to Robin (the Belgian TV reporter) and myself to give us the latest details. Once again, I am stunned at Gaston’s abilities. I pat him on the shoulder and call him a BonbaGuy.

    Francois Servranckx is the communications advisor for Doctors Without Borders. Francois stated that the Cité Soleil clinic had a few possible cases. But, there was no outbreak at this point. However, we were not allowed to visit the inside of the clinic. We were held at the front gate, where Francois came out to meet us and cited patient privacy as the reason we were not allowed to enter.

    My second meeting was with the head of a clinic in Port-au-Prince. This meeting was with an expert in the field of cholera who asked not to be revealed as a source. The source being known could possibly stop his clinic from getting funded and, thereby, be unable to help the Haitian people in the future. At this clinic, like Cité Soleil, they have a few possible cases. However, they are currently turning part of their clinic into a cholera triage center. “It is coming” is the thing this expert had to say on the subject of cholera.

  • October24th

    CNN producer note
    JOHNNYCOLT shot this video on October 22, just as the cholera outbreak was starting. ‘Had this village not received help, the experts around me assured me they would [have] experienced cholera,’ he told me.
    - rachel8, CNN iReport producer

    I am woken up by the handsome Bryn Mooser. His unshaven face declares in a matter-of-fact tone, “There has been a flood. We gotta go.” The Haitian sun blares through my windows. A rooster crows from the schoolyard next door. My eyes are barely open. Good thing I sleep with my clothes on and my camera gear packed for just this type of occasion. Slipping into my boots, I notice Bryn is munching on crackers that were hidden in my personal stash. Bouncing out the door, Bryn yells, “Meet me at the car.” Did he go through my gear while I was asleep to find those crackers? Part musician, part actor, part NGO hero, Bryn Mooser is one hundred percent rock star.

    Bouncing down a thin patch of mud that only a Haitian would have the nerve to call a road, I am sitting next to David Darg. The copilot seat under my butt is usually reserved for Bryn. David and Bryn are a humanitarian dynamic duo. They are an odd couple. Bryn Mooser is the country director in Haiti for Artists for Peace and Justice, an NGO started by Director Paul Haggis that has board members like Ben Stiller. On the other end of the spectrum, David Darg is the director of international disaster relief and special projects for Operation Blessing International, an organization that was founded by Pat Robertson of “700 Club” fame. Haiti makes strange bedfellows. It is part of this country’s magic. If you add my cameraman, Harold Sellers, then the four of us look more like a rock band than like people who may save your life. But, make no mistake, David and Bryn are experts. Experts who are all business when it comes to helping people.

    After getting a seat on a U.N. helicopter that never took off, we are racing down roads that are under deep water and trying to find the epicenter of the flood that was reported in the Leogane area of Haiti. David Darg has compiled an entire truck worth of supplies for flood victims and has us entering the flood area before most organizations even know that the flood has happened. The death toll keeps fluctuating between eight to fifteen people according to the limited information we receive on Bryn’s cell phone. The whole place looks flooded to me. Everyone we pass looks like they need help in some form or another. But David knows exactly what signs to look for… The man is razor sharp.

    For first responders working in a Haitian disaster environment, there is rarely much information from which to work. David explains that we have no idea what we may be walking into… No one has any idea of the scale of this issue. Since the roads are passable, the U.N. will not send out helicopters to survey. For all we know, we may be the only people looking for this flood-a flood we have no proof exists. In the end, it is David and Bryn’s experience that sniff out a small village resting under water and locate people who are in desperate need of help.

    The following iReport is the rest of this story…