Three Americans Absorb the Disaster

Pacific Palisades native Robert Larson photographed Haiti after the earthquake.

Pacific Palisades native Robert Larson photographed Haiti after the earthquake.

  Los Angeles-based friends Robert Larson, Jordan Vaine and Matthew Paneno sent these spontaneous impressions of their two weeks in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Each of them has contributed to a blog journal, which summarizes their feelings, opinions and thoughts as they continue to ponder the meaning of it all. Robert Larson, 24, was born in Dallas and grew up in Pacific Palisades. A writer and photographer, he is currently working on multiple photo books, including one about the earthquake in Haiti. Jordan Vaine, 23, was born in Temecula and raised in Keen, New Hampshire. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in communications, she’s an excellent writer and no-nonsense girl currently looking for a job. Matthew Paneno, 23, is a West L. A. native. An aspiring firefighter, he is currently working as an EMT with McCormick Ambulance. Photos by ROBERT LARSON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20–Robert Day 1 – Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo   Matt and I arrived in Santo Domingo yesterday afternoon. As usual, the first taxi ride in a brand new country was wonderful. This place is so green.   My anxiety keeps changing. For awhile it was about… ‘How the hell are we going to get into Haiti? And if we do, what the hell then?’ But now, I feel I have a solid plan to get us into Port au Prince.   Whenever Jordan gets here (which should be sometime on Thursday) we will spend one last night here in Santo Domingo. The next morning, we will get on a bus and head down to Jimani, where a military base is being used for a staging area for aid workers and supplies heading into Haiti. Every morning, a U.N. convoy heads towards Port au Prince; most of the aid workers, journalists… etc., are heading in with that convoy each day. If you miss the convoy, you have to find your own way in, which we are not going to risk. So we’ll camp out at the staging area until we manage to get that ride. FRIDAY, JANUARY 22–Matthew H’la from Jimani   The adventure started today. No more ice water, fresh linen, or CNN. We boarded a small bus in ‘little Haiti,’ Santo Domingo. Bound for Jimani, we were instantly bombarded with the sounds and smells of a world unfamiliar.   We passed a few dozen small villages and seas of banana and sugar cane. The road carved tunnels through miles and miles of dense tropical forest. This place is beautiful. We arrived, and are staying at Fort Aleza, a small camp protected by Dominican Civil Defense. SUNDAY, JANUARY 24–Jordan I am sweaty, stinky, and there is immovable grime under my nails. Today has been a good but frustrating day. Mix one part rock mattress, one part music from a nearby bar, a splash of sweat and grime, and garnish with a twist of 6 a.m. wake-up call… and you have three Americans in a foreign country ready to start the day. When we arrived AT the Good Samaritan orphanage and hospital, we noticed the place was absolutely brimming with doctors and nurses milling about. Boxes and boxes of food, water and medical supplies piled on the porch of the hospital. Medical supplies in boxes marked ‘For Haiti,’ and shipped UPS next-day shipping. For some reason, the popular item to send is gauze. I am telling you from first-hand experience’earthquake survivors do not need 5,000 boxes of gauze. These do-gooders even had the audacity to put smiley faces on the boxes. I am not bitter. I am disillusioned. While I and the other foreigners worked in the hot sun organizing boxes, Haitians stood around and watched. The air was thick with a slave mentality: Come and help us while we sit around and watch. Boxes of food and water are turned into chairs for the Haitian children and are crushed as a result, causing the water they need so badly to leak all over the medical supplies. Their reaction? Kick back, sit, and wait for someone else to clean it up. There is one more element of being among aid workers that I had not expected or planned for: Egos. There are 50 or so doctors and nurses who have all volunteered here and most are wonderful, caring and generous people. But there is a large portion of those who relish in the fact that they are doctors. These certain doctors seem to be more interested in the fact that they will have some new stories to tell their friends at home while they smoke cigars on their sailboats. They look down their noses at anyone who does not have MD written on their nametags. THURSDAY, JANUARY 28–Jordan   Today we went to Port au Prince. We woke up at the crack of dawn to make a 6 a.m. bus with food service workers who are shipped every day to what is called the ‘free zone’ in PAP. This zone allows businesses to buy and sell tax-free, but with the earthquake this zone is now a safe haven and camp for aid workers complete with high fences and armed guards.   Jimani is about 30 miles from Port au Prince, but the bus ride takes two to four hours. Four hours after we boarded our chariot we arrived in the free zone. We wandered around for all of five minutes before running into Marcos, an ACU worker. ACU is the Dominican equivalent of our ASPCA minus depressing commercials with Sarah and her golden retriever. If we would pay for some gas, Marcos offered to have us squired around Port au Prince. We agreed, though slightly worried that this amazing offer was too good to be true.   Lucky for us, the ACU workers are legitimately gracious and kind. We were driven all over PAP and were even allowed to get out and snap a few pictures. The smell of decaying bodies is unmistakable and the damage is extensive in certain areas. However, there were no riots, no wailing and no one clamoring on our vehicle begging for a ride. Port au Prince was business as usual. Tomorrow we leave Jimani and will stay with the ACU workers in the free zone. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1–Robert   I managed to get all the pictures I thought I wanted, and to see all the things I thought I wanted to see. I am not too sure how it is all going to affect me. I was just sitting here wondering if this is really what I want to do with my life. Shooting dead bodies. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to throw up. Of course, there are also times I want to cry, but I don’t really know why. It is not sadness. Just this overwhelming experience of being alive, and of never wanting to end up that way. Rotting, smelling, peeling apart, being un-identified. I think that is the worst part. Being unidentified. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6–Robert I’ve been home for four days. All the things I experienced have begun to fall into their rightful place. I feel changed. I feel thankful’which would seem to be a major ‘Duh!’ I’ve also noticed that I am having much more violent thoughts than I used to have. Or maybe I should call them fantasies. But these daydreams are more vivid than any I have ever had before. Maybe because it is all that much more real now. The greater experiences a person has in life, the more information at their disposal, the easier I think it is to dream. I am interested to know where it will all settle from now.