Posts Tagged ‘Haiti’

Letter From New York, August 17, 2010

August 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

I usually do a draft of my letter on Saturday or Sunday, mull it over, play with the words and then send it out on Tuesday. This past Saturday morning I was awake early, it was another beautiful day at the cottage and I had an impressive list of errands to run. The day started with perusing the news online. I was creating some witty things in my head to write about Steve Slater, the world’s favorite flight attendant gone berserk. He was, after all, the story of the hour. The blogoshpere was atwitter. It was something one could not not comment upon.

I spoke briefly with Torrey Townsend, head of the small team Odyssey had down in Haiti covering the earthquake six months after. He sounded in fine fettle. Lucia, his associate producer, had been down for a day but had bounced back. They had good things planned for filming. All was going well.

In the sun blessed day, with perfect temperatures and that soft wind blowing, I ran my errands. While I was weeding in the center patch I missed the phone ringing. Later I noticed I had missed a call from Lucia and that a colleague, Eric, had left me a message. Torrey, in the few hours since I had spoken with him, had collapsed with a high fever, gastroenterological distress and was hallucinating.

The lazy, lovely Saturday I was enjoying was shattered and in a moment I was engaged in the process of extracting a team from Haiti, one of them very ill and the other two very worried and scared. Torrey was the team leader and with him down…

It took me back to a moment some years ago now when I helped Brent and Craig Renaud get an assignment from Discovery Times [the now gone, much lamented network] to go cover the Iraq war, embedded with the Arkansas National Guard, returning, eventually, with an award winning ten hours of programming that is one of the things I am proudest of having been involved with. The day they got on the plane to Iraq, were on their way, I broke down and sobbed. Jon Alpert, the great documentarian, was on the phone with me. He too was fighting tears. We had worked for months to fulfill their wish to do this job and when we had succeeded, it came down crushingly, we had just put two wonderful young men into harm’s way and their was no guarantee they would come back safely.

When we learned Torrey was ill, hallucinating in Haiti, on a Saturday when the normal office infrastructure was unavailable to support us, I filled in. I had to. I had sent him there and in his moment of distress, it became my job to organize our getting him and his team out. SOS Emergency got him booked on a flight out on Sunday. I secured the last two seats on that flight for his team, thanking God for credit cards, internet access and the intervention of God that I could get those seats. I did not want him alone, sick, on that plane. We got Lucia focused into getting some local doctors to provide some care, which they did and which, it turned out, turned the tide.

There was huge frustration because I wasn’t on the ground, getting things done. I was on the tenuous tether of AT&T cell service. Each step we took helped me feel I was doing what was my responsibility to this young man and his team. They had gone willingly, even joyously, to Haiti.

Several times as we moved Torrey and team out of Haiti and back to the states and through the hospital and to the good news that he was on the mend and that the drugs given by the Haitian doctors had been good choices, that as relief came, I found tears near the edge of my eyes, grateful, as I had been when the Renaud brothers returned unscathed, while pondering the bond sensed when lives intersect, even briefly, in some crisis.

Letter From New York February 2, 2010

February 2, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The week flew by…

The work velocity was such that it was Monday, I blinked and it was Friday. Most weeks seem like that these days and I know I’m not alone in the experience. Similarly, events went by, blinking quick, making impressions while it being difficult to discern which day which event had made what impression.

Haiti’s horrors grind on. Medical airlifts to the United States have been suspended while all parties determine who is going to pay for the care of the desperately ill. And following the natural course of events, children are being born, entering life in a sea of uncertainty, in a land that is devastated and destroyed, in a place where hope is in short supply.

Attention is still focused on that sorry land. Anderson Cooper and CNN is still there, focusing attention on the Haitian plight while others proliferate other reminders, letting people know, for example, that if they text “Haiti” to 90999 a donation will be made to Haitian care. Millions have come from text donations. Churches and denominations rally also, sending human and financial resources to the beleaguered nation.

Here in the United States, economic growth in the Fourth Quarter was the most robust it has been in years though many an expert suggested temperance in interpreting these results as a definitive sign we are moving out of the Great Recession. The question remains: is this growth sustainable? We just don’t know. And it isn’t translating into new hiring – employers are finding ways to do more with less. Hence, weeks go by in a blink for more than just me.

And it was economic growth and job creation that was at the heart of Obama’s State of the Union address. Widely considered an effort to “reboot” his Presidency, Obama focused on the economy and efforts to put Americans back to work. He apparently had heard the message: “it’s the economy, stupid.” Economic fear is marching through the fields and the cities and reports of one quarter’s robust growth are not laying that fear to rest and won’t, not until jobs begin to appear again.

In what became a sigh of relief for New Yorkers, it appears that the Obama administration has reconsidered and the 9/11 Terror Trials will be held elsewhere. The probable cost kept rising, to a staggering $200 to $250 million dollars a year for a potential four or five years and that sobered a number of folks up. Plus the nerves of the city are frayed again – the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day underscored New Yorkers fears, feeling that this city has a bull’s-eye painted on it and so why ask for more trouble with trials. The Real Estate industry has been cringing, thinking a locked down portion of the city, watched over by snipers, was not going to be good for business. It’s not official yet. The city will breathe better when it is.
Toyota has issued a recall for a huge number of vehicles, issuing an apology at the same time. They have gone so far as to suspend sales of vehicles until a fix can be found for accelerators that stick. It has been a jarring note for Toyota, once a halcyon of reliability, a reputation now in danger of being tarnished as the recall spreads globally.
In the world of pop culture, Elizabeth Edwards kicked out John; he having moved from political icon to tabloid fodder. According to some, Brangelina is breaking up while others deny and one tabloid has Jen taking Brad back. The world of the tabloids has lots of room for celebrity sensation but not a lot of space for the horrors of Haiti. But perhaps we need our escapism; the world is cluttered with realities hard to fathom and harder still to assimilate into our lives.

Letter From New York January 25, 2010

January 26, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As the Friday night train trundled languorously north, there was an animated conversation between my fellow passengers about what had been the most important stories of the week – in a week that was full of important events.

Haiti still dominated the news and my train companions were all struck by the number of children who had been orphaned, a tragic number in a tragic situation, helpless individuals in an almost hopeless situation.

Friday night there was a telethon for Haiti, organized by George Clooney, a star studded event that pulled on heart strings, opened pockets in a desperate economy, raising an unprecedented 58 million dollars. The reality of the devastation of Haiti has struck everyone – there hasn’t been a story that has quite captured the attention of the world to this degree since 9/11. It is a story that has seized the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Nothing really matches it but the drumbeat of news goes on.

Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts for the Senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy. He campaigned as an opponent to Obama’s Health Care Reforms and his victory has dark ramifications for Democrats, a signaling of discontent one year into the Obama Presidency. Even loyal Democrats are discontent, wondering why there is so much focus on Health Care Reform when the economy remains mired in trouble with employment not rebounding. Why health care and not job creation? Without jobs, who can pay for health care? As a close friend of mine stated: it’s the economy, stupid.

Following close on that and outraging most of my Democratic friends was the news that following a Supreme Court decision corporations are now granted the right to spend as much as they want to support candidates. Conservatives rejoice and liberals are rending their clothes. The ruling overturns decades of precedent and could fundamentally change the landscape of American politics. Have we opened the door to office going to the highest bidder?

While the Haiti catastrophe played out in the endless news cycle and while Democrats despaired because of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court ruling, the pop culture landscape was also the focus of attention as NBC came to terms with what to do with its late night franchise. In the end, Conan O’Brien was out, Jay Leno was back in and Conan went out on Friday night with a great deal of humor and more class than could have been expected. In his final remarks, he lauded NBC, his home for many years while acknowledging their current differences. It was a moment he will be proud of in the future; he did not go darkly into that good night.

I went to a hotel in downtown New York on Tuesday evening to meet a producer I’ve known for years though have not seen for many of them. He and the woman he is partnered with were staying in the Millennium Hilton, which overlooks Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site. Both of them as well as many of the crew they were with had not been to that part of Manhattan in all the years since 9/11 and all of them were struck in awe by being by the site and felt, they said, the ghosts of that day all around them. It both left them awestruck and unnerved.

As a New Yorker, I simply was glad that, after all these years, construction cranes were sprouting from the site and there was movement in moving on. The actual site holds less trauma for us now; we are glad to see movement, real movement, in building fresh while at the same time recognizing the city will never be the same – and this has been a week where events have indicated the world will never be the same. It won’t be in Haiti. It won’t be in politics. New York is not the same. But then nothing is ever quite the same, from week to week – it’s just this week seemed to underscore that more than most.

Letter From New York January 18, 2010

January 18, 2010

I know very little about Haiti.

I know it is reputedly the most impoverished country in the hemisphere.  I know French is the language and they won their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century.  I know Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.  I know my mother stopped there on a cruise and was shocked by the level of poverty.  I know it suffered a catastrophic earthquake this past week, with destruction of a magnitude that is almost impossible to imagine.

It has been hard to put fingers to keyboard.  Every other event or situation this week has paled against the backdrop of this tragedy, a word that seems too soft for events in that poor country.  And I have not known what to say regarding Haiti.  Coming home last night and other nights this week I have been riveted to the news, watching the awful scene unfold in front of me on the television screen.  In a move that was different from my recent behavior, I found myself looking to the television screen rather than my computer screen for updates on events.  The catastrophe filled the airwaves and news channels were focused on Haitian events; visuals were not hard to find and this is a story of devastating visuals.

As is often the way, Americans have begun to donate money. Millions have been raised by texting the word “Haiti” to 90999, thus donating $10 to the American Red Cross via your cell phone bill; the sum is over $10,000,000 so far.  An acquaintance is flying to Haiti on Thursday with volunteers funded through the Clinton Foundation. All major organizations seem to be directing funds to Haiti

It is a story that has pushed all other stories away from the front page, below the fold.  Obama has pressed Clinton and Bush 2 into service to focus attention and raise funds for Haiti.  U.S. service men and women have arrived and are arriving to help maintain order, get supplies through the bottleneck at the airport and to provide desperately needed medical aid.  I watched reporters this morning discuss their reactions to what they’re seeing and they are overwhelmed, all saying they were witnessing the worst situation they have ever seen.

The loss of life is profound and may reach higher numbers than the death toll in the Chinese earthquake and it is in our own backyard, not all that far from our shores, inflicted upon people who have significantly less internal resources than the Chinese.

It is a tragedy of a depth I find hard to comprehend.  I was in Los Angeles for the 1994 Northridge earthquake and so have some base of experience yet I cannot imagine what this is like.  In Los Angeles, the earthquake struck a city that had evolved knowing it was vulnerable to earthquakes and so had built itself accordingly.  The destruction was terrible but mitigated by construction designed to survive and bolstered by an infrastructure that survived the earthquake and was able to respond.  In Port Au Prince the city was not built to earthquake standards and has little social service infrastructure that seems to have survived the quake.

This is the kind of cataclysm that results in men and women of faith looking skyward and wondering where is God in all of this?  It is the common result of any tragedy, of events in life that seem unfair and unjust.   It is devastation not often seen on such a scale and it will live with all of us for a long time to come, reminding us of the fragility of life and the power of nature and, hopefully, the resilience of the human spirit to rise above tragedy and, at the end, come to peace with it.