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Inside Sean Penn's Tent City in Haiti

Almost a year after the earthquake, the lives of many Haitians are filled with unimaginable horrors.

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Daniel says that "Sean’s not here right now" -- he’s off filming a movie -- and talks about how the actor and American Marines set up in this camp after the quake. He helped run errands for the Marines. He helped deliver babies. He did whatever he could to aid the aiders. But the Marines are gone, and Daniel's friends who work in the camp say much of the rest of the aid organizations are leaving, too. "Already, it's been five months since we've gotten any food," he says. But they do have water in the camp now; you can fill up buckets at pumps. It used to make him really sick, and sometimes the bleach taste is quite strong. Sometimes they still wake up with knots in their stomachs. There's water that's safer to drink, but that's only for sale.

I am thirsty, but I hesitate to buy refreshments because Daniel doesn't want me to use the communal toilets. It's only eight o'clock, but it's dark, and plenty of girls before me have been assaulted on that short trip. Also, "the toilets aren't used properly, and you might get a disease you aren't interested in catching," Daniel says.

That's why everything smells like urine. To avoid the toilets, Daniel's family uses a bucket in a corner. The three of them keep their mud-floored plastic hovel fantastically neat, and empty the bucket constantly, but at some point I inhale sharply and breathe in too much of the stink. I puke into my mouth, and pretend I didn't. I suggest that we go for a walk.

Outside, it's clear that plenty of other residents are improvising bathroom facilities, too. The air is still, and within seconds my nose and throat are coated with the reek of hot rotting shit. "People have a lot of needs here," Daniel tells me while I spit as inconspicuously as possible. He's starting an organization called Redeem for Handicap. "There's a lot of amputees because of the earthquake, right?" I ask, looking for my footing on the steep muddy trail. "How do they get around here?" "Yeah, that's a problem," says Daniel.

But he points out that they're hardly the only ones struggling. There's a lady who lives right over here who lost her husband, Daniel gestures. She's got kids, and she's too sick to work, and she hasn't eaten in a week. This tall smiley fellow shaking my hand is difficult to understand because he's deaf from rubble that fell on his head. He needs a hearing aid. But Redeem for Handicap, or any other organization, can't raise money from the international community without a website…

Suddenly, a skinny guy comes tearing up the path. What should he do? he's asking Daniel, he's asking some guy behind Daniel, he's asking everyone nearby frantically. Some thugs are threatening his family because they want the space and piece of tarp his family occupies. The thugs say they will set it all on fire if he doesn't move his family out. Is there anyone to talk to? Can he find a cop around here or what?

You can't go anywhere in Port-au-Prince without seeing soldiers of MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. They do have a presence in some of these bigger camps -- the French platoon kicking it at my hotel one night had spent their day breaking up a fight among refugees who cut open the side of a USAID tent to rob it, just as gangs of rapists slice through the side of a tent easy as pie and steal a woman. Haitians complain that the troops don't do much to actually protect camp residents. We haven't passed any police or soldiers or security on our long lap around the camp.

 
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