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Shelling peas to survive in squalid Haiti camp

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 6, 2011
From dawn to dusk, surrounded by her grown children and small grandchildren, Altagrace Reaud shells the peas which have become her means of providing for the 13 mouths she has to feed.

Displaced for the past year by an earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and left much of this city in shambles, the 59-year-old Haitian grandmother has the challenging task of feeding five grown children and eight grandchildren from her meager roadside sales.

"Since January 12, I'm the one who takes care of everything, who works, who has credit," said the woman, whose customers are Haitians just as desperate as she.

Reaud sells her peas for about one dollar per 100 grams (3.5 ounces), which gives her an income of about 30 dollars per week.

She sometimes goes to the market to purchase fruits and vegetables, which she can then resell in the neighborhood.

On the rare occasions when Reaud is flush, she can even engage in a bit of creative commerce.

"When I have money, I buy manioc, which I use to make griddle cakes," she said.

"I also sell peas, or mangoes if they are in season, and I resell everything I can."

Reaud's entire clan huddles with her in the cramped Toussine homeless camp in Port-au-Prince, under a rickety shelter of blue plastic tarps.

Before the massive earthquake that devastated much of Haiti's capital city, the matriarch lived in a humble yet solid house. But the dwelling was reduced to rubble in the disaster one year ago.

Three walls of the structure are still standing, but it is impossible to reoccupy the dwelling in its current state, without a roof and a floor.

"The owners want me to pay for the rebuilding, but I don't have any money," she said in Creole.

Miraculously, a neighboring shack belonging to Reaud's brother remained standing after the quake, although the dwelling is hardly what one would call luxurious: there is a mattress on the floor, and no doors or windows.

More than half a million people have been able to leave Haiti's homeless camps since mid-year, when they sheltered some 1.5 million people, according to the International Organization for Migration, which monitors the plight of uprooted populations around the world.

There are still around a million Haitian refugees like Renaud housed in the makeshift tents, about one-tenth of the entire population of this impoverished country.

The 14 members of Reaud's family migrated from place to place before landing, like thousands of other destitute Haitians, in the Toussine camp, where they have lived for the past several weeks.

When sales of her produce are off, and when circumstances turn really desperate, Reaud and her family members are reduced to begging.

"We live by the grace of God," said one young woman from the clan, Marie-Nadege, 26, holding a bare-bottomed baby on her lap.

"When you have, you eat," Marie-Nadege said. "When you don't, you beg."

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In squalid Haiti camps assault stalks women: Amnesty
Washington (AFP) Jan 5, 2011
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