It was International Water day so the Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers trucked in a tanker full of water to an orphanage not far from their base outside Port au Prince. The kids were divided up into boys and girls and then given a good scrubbing.
In this particular establishment there are - depending on who you ask - between 150 and 200 kids living here. There are 3 bedrooms. In one, 60 plus kids sleep, splayed all over the floor on thin reed mats.
Their kitchen consists of a corrugated metal roof supported by two pieces of wood. There's no running water and they cook by burning wood.
Their playground is a large field littered with debris - scraps of wood, plastic and metal - over which they run in bare feet so as not to ruin the one pair of shoes they have.
The next week I went back and gave out t-shirts and soccer balls - donated by the UN. I know it's not much but the soccer balls went over well.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
To avoid any misinterpretations, this next photo is not the Brazilians loading up to slaughter innocent civilians like some Left wing media outlets love to believe, but the Brazilians displaying ammunition found in a house near the gang base. And yes, all you naysayers, I was there when they arrived, entered the locked house and discovered the cache hidden in a closet and under a mattress.
I know it's late but, hey, some of us have to work you know. This next selection of photos were taken at the beginning of the year and marked the end of the gangs in the notorious slum of Cite Soleil. The UN troops moved in in force in the wee hours and surrounded a section known as Boston. At 2 am the noose began to close and after three hours of automatic gun fire, tracers searing the sky and flashbang grenades it was all over. The gangs either fled (some dressed as women it was rumoured) some went to ground and some were soon to be buried under the ground (it's hard to hide from snipers with high powered rifles and night vision scopes.)
In any case, three more operations were carried out in the two other major neighbourhoods, but in both cases, not a shot was fired. And now, months later, Cite Soleil has become the hot tourist spot for all the visiting dignitaries and all the Civil Affairs and Political Affairs hacks who rode their desks until all the work was done - "Look what we did," they seem to crow, posing for pictures with the troops that actually put their life on the line to get the job done. Sorry, I rant.
Anyway, as for me on the night on the operation, I was "embedded" with the troops - which means they locked me up in the base telling me it was too dangerous to go out in the dark. Fine, too hard to take pictures at night, anyway. When the sun rose, however, things changed. Unfortunately, it was still "too dangerous", according to the Brazilian public information soldier who was supposed to take care of me. I realized that to him, "take care" meant keep safe, whereas to me it means "get me in the shit and leave me there". In the end, I just walked out and ignored their fervent calls to return.
I walked up the main road, side stepping armoured personnel carriers and chatting with Haitians - no matter the situation, no matter how bad, there are always Haitians walking around, beats me where they feel they just have to get to.
Eventually, I reached a school newly acquired by the UN troops. In a strolled, looking around taking pictures as shots from really big guns rang out from the second floor. As it turned out, the troops did not think it was such a good idea for me to be there and so they forcibly loaded me into an APC and took me back to the base.
Well, when I got back I lost my nut. What the F was I doing here if I couldn't cover the operation? I yelled at the befuddled PIO soldier. He hummed and hawed and phoned some people and hummed some more. After an extended amount of chin rubbing he told me he'd get me into an APC that was doing patrols into newly "liberated" areas.
Fine, let's go.
Well he may be a shite PIO officer but he was a crafty bugger. Sure he got me into an APC, but damn me if we didn't drive around the perimeter and then park for 3 hours doing sweet F#$K all. I can't describe sitting scrunched up in a metal box on wheels with ten sweaty soldiers bored and frustrated. Well I could describe it but I'm sure you get the idea. It took calls all over the mission to get them to finally let me out. By that time I was fed up and once back at the base I walked off and didn't look back. And that's when I finally managed to get the shots that I'd hoped for. By the by, HQ in NY was overjoyed with the photos - "Best I've seen in my 11 years with the UN," the head of the photo department in NY said. I wonder what he'd think if he knew how many rules I broke in order to get them.