12th January, 2010

Tuesday 12th January 2010 began like all other weekdays in the Dol house hold.  The children, all in their teens,  woke at 5.30am and in the half sleep readied themselves quietly and left for school in the truck. By the time they reached the main road at the bottom of the steep hill they were wide awake.  Much later Rea and her husband Bato woke and they too readied themselves with Rea giving instructions and answering the never ending phone calls all the way to the school which at 9am was in full swing.  600 children K-12 children the youngest 3 years and the oldest 20+. For so many children, the school, in the which is housed in the former home of a Tontons Macoute, is a small space.  The front compound is just large enough to kick a ball around. The space is shared with Rea’s truck and the three or four women traders selling ice pops and sweets.  At the rear there is another smaller play area and what was once a swimming pool now filled with packed dirt.    The building is on two floors with most of the classrooms upstairs arranged in a maze of large and small rooms, all open to the elements and each other.  On the ground floor there are the staff rooms, the main office and a large temporary extension which houses the kindergarten classes. 
The constant low buzz of 600 children reaches a crescendo at 11am when the school breaks in relays for lunch of beans and rice.  For many this is their one meal of the day.   The lunch is cooked by four women who arrive at the school at 5am. The beans are left to soak overnight and then cooked in a stew with vegetables in huge pots along with the rice.   The whole feeding process is takes about an hour from start to finish.  The children line up, youngest first, to wash their hands then turn left and pick up a spoon and plate. The food itself is eaten in about 10 minutes. Those not in line or eating play screech, jump and teachers shout instructions and beware anyone who gets in the way of the whole process.  Rea is on constant call to visitors and students with various requests, dealing with mishaps, arguments and enquires.   Most days she leaves the school between 3 and 3.30 pm.  On the 12th January she was late, very late and being late no doubt saved her life. 
SOPUDEP school is in the Morne Lazarre area of Petion Ville which was hit badly by the earthquake.  However  the damage to the school building was  minimal relative to other buildings in the area as only the font wall collapsed.   There are three streets by the school.  On the left and right and along the front.  To the right and along the front, buildings collapsed.  As Rea and her eldest daughter, Tamara felt the tremors which only lasted 35 seconds, the houses opposite the school began to crumble and the front wall of the school collapsed onto the street below.  They heard cries and screams in the distance and ran onto the road where they immediately  saw five people crushed to death from the collapsed school wall.   As they walked to the corner to make a left turn more homes were collapsed. There was dust and debris everywhere.  The road by the school is unpaved and narrow running along a very steep hillside. To the right the houses were all large homes built into the the hillside. Most of these  collapsed so the road was unappeasable by foot or by car.  They turned back and took the road to the left which ran down the hillside and was in tact.   By the time they reached the bottom of that hill and hit the main road, 40 minutes or so had passed.  They walked holding on to each other. All around them were fallen buildings, the injured, the dead, people crying, bleeding. There was panic everywhere.  Vehicles abandoned as traffic built up and hundreds of thousands of the living tried to figure out what had just happened as thousands and thousands more lay dead and injured.   

Rea kept trying to get through on the phone but the lines were also dead. They had no idea if the other children who left earlier on the tap tap buses had arrived safely or even if their own house was standing.  They walked fast at times running the 10 kilometers through the horror and panic of the streets. They did not stop. Pennier is a long walk from Petion Ville on a good day and this was a day of terror that would stretch out into months ahead. 

As they turned into the steep narrow  lane which led to their  home, their hearts pounded.  There were collapsed houses here too.   The lane is cobbled and uneven, not an easy walk and very steep.  They climbed but you cannot see the house until you are actually in front of it. They walked as fast as they could. People were walking and running in both directions it was hard to fathom out what was going on.  Eventually they reached their home which was still standing.   As they entered everyone rushed to greet them collapsing and crying and just holding on to each other in shock and relief that they were all alive.  In the next 24 hours they would learn that  200,000 people were dead and millions injured and homeless.  24 of her students and two teachers were also dead.  Many were injured and lost family members – they were all  traumatized. Everyone at the school was affected by the earthquake.  By the end next day  there were 63 people camped at the home of Rea Dol and Jean Jacques Bataille and the long road to  recovery began.  Initially it was hard to know what to do beyond tend to those who had begun to gather  for medical care, safety and solace at the house.   The next day she got a  gallon of Betadine disinfectant and some gauze and went out into the street and started to clean wounds, spoke to people and tried to give comfort to survivors.  The recovery work had begun. 

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