The broken blocks of concrete that fell from his house during the earthquake killed Vladimir Desir’s wife and child, and split open the top of his head. Bleeding badly, he tried to find medical help in Port-au-Prince. There wasn’t any. Desir gambled that he’d have a better chance of receiving care in Jacmel, a city 60 km to the southwest. It took him 12 hours to get there. When a Maclean’s reporter spoke to him a week later, he lay on a cot in the yard of Saint Michel’s Hospital and was enthusiastically praising the work of Canadian military doctors who treated him. He doesn’t regret leaving.
Desir’s case is unique only because of how quickly he decided to get out of the capital. Tens of thousands of other Haitians are now making the same choice. Many have family in countryside towns and villages. Those who can afford it buy space on private buses that are brightly painted with images of leopards, pop icons, and all manners of slogans: Thank you Jesus; In God we trust; Jerusalem; Big Family; Baby I love you. Ticket prices have almost doubled since the quake. The owner of one bus blamed the price of gas.
Vaneau Jusil lives outside the capital but returned to it to bring out his mother, Tamanie Jean, 58. When Jusil located her amid the rubble, she wouldn’t leave. Many members of her family had been killed, and she refused to abandon their orphaned children. “I’ve been living on the streets for a week. I want to go, but I couldn’t leave with my son. I had other people with me,” Jean told Maclean’s. She pointed to half a dozen nieces and nephews crowded around her, explaining who had lost mothers and fathers. Her son only had money to pay bus fares for the two of them. When Jean wouldn’t leave Port-au-Prince, Jusil stayed, sleeping on the streets with the rest of his growing family.
They finally got a chance to leave last week. The Haitian government began supplying free buses to evacuate those who wished to leave the capital but couldn’t afford to pay for transportation.
There are other options. Thousands of Haitians with connections to foreign countries flock to those embassies. They are joined by those with no ties abroad. “I’ve never been to the United States,” Cadet Ligner, 39, said as he lined up to get a Haitian passport—the first piece of paperwork necessary to travel outside the country. “I have no idea if they’ll let me go, but I hope they take pity on me. I believe I can have a better life there.”
An official at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince said most of the straightforward cases involving Canadian citizens in Haiti have already been dealt with and that embassy staff are now working on more “complicated” ones. This takes time, he said, and as a result Canadian planes often leave Port-au-Prince to return to Canada with empty seats. But when Maclean’s visited the embassy last Saturday morning, several of the Haitians lined up outside carried up-to-date Canadian passports.
Other Haitians try to get to the Dominican Republic. Hospitals there are providing wounded Haitians with medical care. Some Dominicans complain that healthy Haitians are trying to slip in as well. “I can’t count how many have come through. Some are sick and some are not,” said Luna Mendez, a volunteer at a hospital on the border.
Haitian Johnny Jean-Louis, 31, was at that hospital as well. He had already looked everywhere in Port-au-Prince for his mother, father, aunt, and cousin. “I never found their bodies,” he said. “I thought they might be here.” Jean-Louis claims Dominican police beat and robbed him when he crossed the border. Maclean’s gave him a ride back to Port-au-Prince.
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