I was investigating reports of human rights abuses in Haiti and had come to La Gonâve, a tiny island west of Haiti. Haiti, the poorest land in the American hemisphere, has La Gonâve as its poorest part. I stepped on to La Gonâve and thought I had landed on the moon.
Hilly, barren and bare, as far as my eyes could see La Gonâve had nothing except a few miserable shacks made of straw, tin, plastic and cardboard. A few rickety children played naked on the beach; the fishermen and women wore little more. The roads were mud tracks. Further down, there were a few modest brick houses, all in imminent need of repair. Old people lay around, ill and emaciated, waiting patiently for the next day. Even in the worst slums of Mumbai and Manila I hadn’t seen anything quite like this. It was just another world, a lost one, about which the galaxy I came from had no clue.
I stumbled through the sand to meet the only doctor in town, a soft-spoken Belgian pediatrician, who was examining the horribly swollen limbs of a child. An assortment of women waited outside in mute pain.
How does a qualified, experienced doctor bring herself to practice here? What makes an attractive woman choose to live in a place as primitive as this? I wondered as I talked business. When finally I expressed, hesitantly, my private curiosity, she looked up, smiled and signed for me to look out the window.