Lorin Mallorie in Haiti: Hurricane Tomas, voodoo and cholera


“Ou we sa w genyen, ou pa konn sa w rete.”

“You know what you’ve got, but you don’t know what’s coming.”

All eyes gaze up at the sky, nervously, as the gray creeps across like a demon. 

Hurricane Tomas comes early.

Banks and markets close – suddenly – and panic strikes the streets of Port-au-Prince. 

For those who can leave, it is a mass exodus up the mountain: Traffic, fear and uncertainty. 

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— Dolphine resident takes water from infected Artibonite River
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The government’s text message arrives. Advice to the displaced peoples — evacuate the tent camps, prepare supplies and protect your families — is seen as bitterly ironic. Like much advice in Haiti, it is absurd in the face of reality. 

If we could find shelter, we would be there already. 

If we had clean water, why drink from the river?

If we could afford food for tomorrow, why struggle every day just to eat?

The advice prompts a string of text messages, between both friends and strangers, like chain mail. Proverbs and wordplay about the impending storm, the defunct government, the missing international money.

(In Haiti, there is always a punch line — even to the sickest of jokes).

As the night deepens, street music blares until the last possible moment, when the skies open and the rain falls in sheets: a downpour of salt in the wounds of Haiti.

Horror wrenches my gut each time the wind blows, thinking of mothers with their children, huddled under tattered tarps in the filthy shantytowns and shacks of this nation. 

With sleep — haunting dreams, images of the dying pleading for mercy, and the rain beats down on the tin roof of my damp, cement shelter. 

How would you make it through the storm, knowing in the morning, after the last rains had passed, there would still be nowhere to go? 

Haiti wakes before dawn for 4 a.m. phone calls to friends and relatives across the country.  Identifying their needs and where to go first, when the worst is finally over.

Then, just as sudden as he came, Monsieur Tomas changes course! 

Port-au-Prince is spared, and the whole city exhales together before returning, immediately, to work.

In the depths of the capital’s ghetto, in a neighborhood overlooking the broken Presidential Palace, women dressed in white dance with offerings as a voodoo ceremony greets the new day, calling forward Haiti’s ancient spirits — celebrating a past not forgotten.

Tomas is gone.

Nature? Prayer? Sorcery? No matter what force steered him away – Hurricane Tomas is gone. 


And on the first day of sunshine, the panicked phone calls begin.

Cholera.

Cholera in Cite Soleil. 

Cholera in Port-au-Prince.

…You know what you’ve got, but you don’t know what’s coming…

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— Patients at AMURTEL cholera clinic in church in Dolphine, north of Saint Marc.
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“For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?”

— Jeremiah 8:22-9:1


Children on the perimeter of Delmas tent camps, “Columbia” and “Jamaica”

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