PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Ousner Benjamin usually worries about supporting his common-law wife and five children.
But on the eve of Tropical Storm Isaac's passage across battered Haiti, Benjamin was just worried about keeping his family alive.
Benjamin heard on the radio that Isaac was coming to Haiti. His mind raced as the wind became stronger and the rain grew heavy. It was clear his family couldn't stay in the one-bedroom structure of plastic tarps and tree branches that has housed them since they lost their apartment in the 2010 earthquake. It would be too dangerous, and their home would likely blow away in the winds.
So the 24-year-old sent his family to a hospital up the street that served as a shelter as he raced about as a volunteer for an aid group, using a borrowed megaphone to alert people to the dangers of the storm, which officials later said killed at least 19 people in Haiti. Benjamin repeatedly checked on the family's precarious home, which leaned closer to the ground with each hour.
Rain seeped through the tarps and the ground turned to mud but the home survived. His neighbors in this settlement of 300 families weren't so lucky. The winds that reached 60 mph (95 kph) toppled their sheds and shacks like a house of cards, leaving behind a frame of tree branches in the thrashed camp, known as Tapis Vert.
"For me, the misery never ends," Benjamin's wife, 35-year-old Nerlande Salomon, said as she sat on a strip of carpet in the family's sole bedroom. The youngest child, six-month-old Niaka, was born in the tarp home.
This parcel of land on the northern tip of the Port-au-Prince metro area became Benjamin's home several days after the earthquake, which initially displaced as many as 1.5 million people. More than 300,000 people still live in the tent-and-tarp settlements, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Benjamin and his family initially had slept in the street for a few nights, but eventually found a brief reprieve: a soccer field. Once they were booted off of the field, they wound up on this rent-free plot of land, next to a private electric company and under the path of international airlines winging off to exotic places.
Shortly after the quake, an aid group distributed the tarps they used to erect their rickety homes. These days, the camp's only visitors are attorneys working for a local bank that's trying to seize the land. Camp leaders have asked the bank for leniency, but Benjamin said the bank raised the issue of being paid rent by people who have lived on the land for more than two years.
Benjamin would like to leave Tapis Vert, but being evicted by the landowner isn't what he has in mind.
"Here, you have the land owner on your back," said Benjamin, a school teacher who earns $38 a month. "You got the sun, the rain, dust and hunger. All of these things are against us. Some people here want to go into the street and get run over by a car."
Though he volunteers for a foreign aid organization, Benjamin has grown skeptical of the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. With thousands of such groups, Haiti is derisively known as the "Republic of NGOs."
"There are a lot of organizations here that would rather us stay in the tents forever, because it's better for them," Benjamin said. "More misery means more for the organization."
It's easy for Benjamin to feel trapped. He borrows money each month to purchase groceries and medicine for his children. So when he receives his check he pays off the debt. Still, Benjamin holds out hope, figuring that even Haitian misery must have its limitations.
"The only way for the misery to subside is to do things for yourself," Benjamin said. "If you keep waiting for forces to help, you won't get anywhere."
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