In the aftermath of disaster, Haitians ask what makes a city.
Port-au-Prince was decimated when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. Buildings crumbled, the parks turned into tent camps for the displaced, rubble blocked the streets. But as the years progressed, from the balconies of Pétionville you could see something new taking shape in the distance, several miles north. Settlements began to appear on a barren landscape, shacks and tents spreading over dusty plains.
No land titles were given, and there was no guarantee of how long people would be allowed to stay. Nonetheless, desperate for space, tens of thousands of Haitians flocked to the area, arriving from the camps that had erupted throughout the capital. Some came from places that were hardly affected by the earthquake at all but who’d been living indebted to landlords, paying hundreds of dollars in rent each year, in a country where most people live on less than $2.50 a day. Establishing a foothold here was a way to become homeowners for the first time, and to finally escape the noise and hustle and violence of the cities they found so suffocating.
Before the earthquake, the only people who visited these remote mountains did so to pray. It offered a quiet reprieve from the city, a place to be alone in nature. They referred to it as Canaan, the biblical promised land where Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, the land of milk and honey. “This Canaan has the same history,” one Nazarene pastor, who was among the first to move there, told me. “This is our honey.”
Honey or not, this emerging city is the earthquake’s most visible legacy: an enormous expanse of winding dirt roads lined with houses, scattered among which are thousands of shops and markets. Into this labyrinth, an army of NGOs, charities, and international agencies have arrived to infuse Canaan with public parks and plazas, drinking water and money for schools—things the Haitian government has neglected to provide. But with these gifts come tension: Suddenly there are resources to compete for, and an incentive to be the one in charge of allocating them.
NGOs aren’t the only force complicating Canaan’s fate. Haiti’s government itself has been playing catch-up, struggling to create a social contract between people and their government. As to which comes first—the rights or responsibilities of citizens, the roads or the taxes—the state and the citizens don’t easily agree. And if that weren’t enough, Canaan’s very existence is being threatened by a man who claims that the land upon which it was built was taken from him illegally—a claim Haiti’s government has every incentive to ignore.
In Canaan, as in any city, people—the rich and the poor, the powerful and weak, the complacent and the desperate—were destined to get in one another’s way.
Read the full feature in the Spring 2017 issue of VQR, or online. You can buy a yearly print subscription that includes web access for just $25 using the discount code Friends&Family or buy 3-month web access for just $6.
American evangelicals’ antigay gospel forced him to flee Uganda. Then Christians in California offered him a home. A refugee’s story, in words and pictures.
Read the full story at The Atavist.
German authorities looked the other way as a right-wing terrorist cell went on a seven-year killing spree. Now they won’t look in the mirror.
MUNICH, Germany – One clear November day in 2011, in the town of Eisenach, two bank robbers, cornered by police, set their getaway van on fire and killed themselves inside it, going out in a blaze of fire and gunshots. It made for a sensational breaking news day, and that might have been the end of it, if not for a disturbing DVD that was distributed to several major media outlets in the days that followed.
The DVD contained a short film collage made using footage from the animated series, The Pink Panther. In it, the cartoon cat protagonist joins a group called the National Socialist Underground, or NSU, whose members “serve the fatherland.” He goes on what the narrator calls a “tour of Germany”; slowly, it emerges that this “tour” consists of visiting various murder scenes. Clips of the Pink Panther, playing over his trademark theme music, are spliced together with grisly photos of men, all ethnic minorities, who had been murdered in Germany between 2000 and 2007.
The film was a confession — or rather, a boast — of responsibility for what would come to be known as the NSU murders, the most horrific string of racist killings in Germany’s postwar history.
How did German authorities fail to notice that a group of neo-Nazis was killing ethnic minorities, practically under their noses? The answer — according a growing body of evidence deemed inadmissible to the trial — is that they should have noticed. Or even, that they did — but looked away.
Now, the victim’s families believe their last resort for justice is failing them. Among those standing trial in the Munich courtroom sits not one government employee, not one police officer, not one intelligence agent — not even an informant.
Germany’s struggle to reckon with the state’s role in the NSU killings has new relevance following the arrival of more than 1 million asylum-seekers to Germany since 2015. Their presence has been met with a wave of hundreds of attacks. As German authorities prepare to confront a new groundswell of xenophobic violence, precedent doesn’t bode well. They still haven’t come to terms with the last one.
One month after Al Jazeera published the story of Dorcas Kiteng’e’s struggle for cancer treatment in a nation whose doctors are on strike, the 25-year-old has died due to lack of proper care.
Some 5,000 public sector doctors walked out on December 5 after Kenya’s leaders failed to make good on a 2013 agreement to raise salaries, hire new physicians and improve conditions in public hospitals. The standoff between the health ministry, which lost $53 million last year due to corruption, and the doctors, continues to drag on. Nobody knows how many hundreds or thousands of Kenyans have died as a result of the government’s refusal to pay and the doctors’ refusal to return to work until that happens.
This is the story of one of those victims – the final days in the life of Dorcas Kiteng’e.
Read the article at Al Jazeera.
At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options.
From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.
But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.
Read the full feature article in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation magazine or online.
Kijabe, Kenya – At the bottom of a winding, tree-lined road, a crowd of patients spills out of the entrance of a private hospital waiting room on to a patio and a dirt parking lot. It begins to rain, and a man on crutches tries to hobble into the cramped building for cover.
Sitting in a wheelchair outside the door is Dorcas Kiteng’e, a 25-year-old woman suffering from cancerous growths in her ovaries.
“They’re pressing down on the spine, they’re paralysing her,” says Mwende Mutambuki, Kiteng’e’s sister-in-law. “She can’t walk. Back pain, leg pain – I’m hoping it hasn’t spread.”
Kijabe is the third hospital they’ve visited since they arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week, looking for an oncologist who could perform the surgery, only to be turned away.
“They sent us to Agha Khan,” says Mutambuki, referring to the private Nairobi hospital that’s regarded as one of the nation’s finest. “But we know we were not going to be able to afford that.”
She fears time is running out to save her sister-in-law: “It’s a matter of life or death.”
Two months ago Kenya’s public sector doctors walked out on strike, and millions of Kenyans who normally depend on them are beginning to overwhelm the nation’s private hospitals, particularly in rural areas.
In 1992, the U.N. formally recognized Kakuma as a refugee camp — a temporary shelter. A quarter-century later, Kakuma hosts more than 150,000 refugees — victims of all manner of East African calamities, from Ugandan homophobia to political unrest in Burundi. Presently, it is filling up once again with people fleeing civil war in South Sudan.
Long before the Syrian civil war, before millions of people began fleeing to camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere in search of safety, Kakuma was something of an icon in the global refugee crisis. Today, it stands as a solemn reminder of the permanence of humanity’s displaced masses.
Meet Fathom, the world’s first-ever cruise line for vacationers who don’t just want to do beaches, spas, and shopping, but to do good.
Launched in April, Fathom consists of a 704-person ship, the Adonia, that sets sail every two weeks from Miami to Puerto Plata, where cruisers volunteer to plant trees, build floors, teach English, and otherwise make the Dominican Republic a better place. (On the off-week, the boat heads to Cuba.) But Fathom isn’t the handiwork of some Christian missionary or celebrity NGO. It’s a subsidiary of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, with revenues of $16 billion a year.
Fathom exists to make money, but it also exists to fill a growing demand in the global-tourism industry: volunteering, a trend widely referred to as “voluntourism.” More than 1.5 million people vacation to volunteer, spending about $2 billion annually. Fathom may be the largest single manifestation of that trend to date: In its first year, it claims it could ferry 18,000 passengers who could generate upward of 200,000 volunteer-hours—the equivalent of more than 100 full-time NGO workers. It calls its program “impact+travel.”
It’s a bold claim.
Read the full article at VICE.com or in the November 2016 issue of VICE Magazine.
The death toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti—now officially at 336, though likely far higher—is a big part of why the world is paying attention to Haiti right now. It’s in the headlines, it’s in the ledes. It’s the reason news agencies continuously hunt for the highest figures: The higher your death toll, the more fresh, the more ominous your reporting appears, and the more likely it is that TV news stations, newspapers and news websites will choose your story over your competitor’s.
We should care that hundreds of people have died. But we shouldn’t only care when a storm hits. More than 9,000 Haitians have died from cholera in the six years since the United Nations introduced the disease there. Diarrhoeal diseases kill at least 4,600 Haitians each year. Those diseases are usually brought on by lack of clean water and sanitation — things with relatively simple and low-cost fixes that neither Haiti’s government nor the international aid community has invested in sufficiently to fix.
A friend of mine who works for a major aid organization in Haiti messaged me last week that “it’s awful trying to get to the south with the bridge down, blocked roads, etc. So sad.” She’s talking about a bridge on the same road I traveled back in 2010 to cover hurricane Thomas as it struck Haiti’s south. Indeed, bridges in Haiti fall frequently when storms hit. Without them, aid workers can’t get to the affected areas easily, or at all.
How many of us have opened our wallets in the past five years to donate to the construction of bridges in Haiti — or roads?
More to the point, how many news outlets that are gaining clicks and ad revenue by reporting on the current death toll in Haiti bothered to report on any solutions to Haiti’s chronic infrastructure or health problems in the past? Absent any solutions-oriented coverage, the recent barrage of news about the tragic toll of Hurricane Matthew feels an awful lot like disaster porn.
“We have a bad, bad story,” begins Gloria Ibara, a refugee from Burundi and the mother of four. Sitting on a mattress in a simple Nairobi apartment, she tells me of her problem: “They want to kill our family.”
Gloria, whose bright smile accents her worn face, was born in rural Gitega province to a family of farmers. As her children grew, Gloria came to realize her son Eric was gay. (The names of the family members have been changed out of concern for their safety.)
At first “I told him to stop, that it’s not good,” Gloria says. But over time she decided that “that’s the way he was, and he couldn’t change it.” So she went on loving and caring for him just the same.
In many parts of East and Central Africa where homophobia is rife, parents react harshly on learning that a child is gay. Parents feel enormous pressure to either “fix” their gay kids or disown them. I’ve met dozens of LGBT refugees who have fled their home countries and escaped to Kenya, and only one—a woman, also from Burundi—wasn’t disowned by her family. So when Gloria learned that her son Eric was gay, it was extraordinary for her not to reject them. Stunned as she was when she later found out that her older son, Claude, then well into his teens, too was gay, she supported him too. It’s for that reason that they are now a family on the run.