Victims of Haiti earthquake help each other - Today's Top Stories

PETIONVILLE -- In the hillside suburb of Pétionville, the sports bar Muncheez is best known for its pizza and pool tables.

But in post-quake Haiti, it's become a homegrown help center, feeding survivors every day despite dwindling supplies and no money to pay employees.

``We don't believe in sitting around and waiting for outside help. We can help ourselves,'' said Clifford Rouzeau, 43, one of three owners.

Rouzeau is one of many Haitians who, while victims themselves, have organized relief efforts for fellow citizens, trumping the notion that all aid arrives from outsiders.

In clinics, young volunteers change bedpans and clean wounds. A philanthropist is delivering diapers. Haitian medical students returned from Cuba to assist, administering care at night by the light of their cellphones.

When the General Hospital ran out of alcohol for surgeries, Maryse Kedar was the one who sent vodka to the hospital for doctors to do surgeries. She also distributed water from her home.

``For sure, Haitians have been helping Haitians,'' said Dr. Margaret Degand, one of Haiti's top plastic surgeons who usually performs cosmetic surgery for the well-heeled in Pétionville. ``We waited at least three days before the international community came down to help. At the beginning, it was Haitians helping Haitians.''


Within moments of the Jan. 12 quake that rocked this Caribbean capital, Degand was treating patients for free. Her doors have yet to close to victims who arrive needing everything from minor wound care to trauma surgery. All four operating rooms are full.

``Some patients have gone in and out of the operating theater eight times'' to save their limbs, Degand said, dressed in scrubs on the front steps where recuperating patients sleep on mattresses underneath a tent in the middle of the street.

Two large buildings not far from her clinic collapsed, including Petits Freres et Soeurs, which had a number of American volunteers in it, and Total Communications, a four-story building. Patients ran to her front door with scalp wounds, broken limbs and other injuries.

``They were really badly wounded because they were big buildings with lots of cement. Really, I have never seen so many traumatized patients,'' she said. ``They had scalp wounds. They were bleeding. One patient had four or five lesions.''

Within hours, other Haitian physicians came by offering to help, she said.

During the first 24 hours, ``we were one anesthesiologist, one orthopedist, me and one nurse to do the whole job,'' she said, estimating she may have treated about 120 patients. ``Non-stop.''

In total, she figures she has treated about 1,500 patients since the catastrophe, more than 350 of whom required serious surgery. She had few supplies, but her daughter showed up from France with more provisions -- and doctors.

Another Haitian, Sophia Martelly, 44, parlayed her role as the wife of celebrated konpa singer Sweet Mickey to arrange water shipments to the country.

Her husband raised money at a Miami concert called ``H2O for Haiti.'' She's been handing out clothes, too, items she had collected during the holidays but never got around to donating.

``Right now, there is no high class, middle class or lower class. We're all Haitians,'' said Martelly, who spoke via cellphone as she accompanied a hired truck to deliver diapers, water and tissues to Port-au-Prince's General Hospital.


At the Muncheez sports bar, owners Rouzeau, Gilbert Bailly, 43, and Klaus Eberwin, 43, plan to keep cooking meals as long as they can scrape together food.

The first day after the quake they emptied their freezer, handing out sports bar staples: pizza and chicken wings. Since then, their cooks have whipped up spaghetti, cornmeal, rice and beans.

``It's a lot of work. Our kitchen is not designed for this,'' Rouzeau said.

Supplies have been tough to come by; in some cases, strangers have simply dropped off USAID food bags. Rouzeau estimates they're serving 800 to 1,500 people a day.

At the restaurant Tuesday, the line snaked around the block but was orderly, in contrast to the unruliness of many food distribution lines. The restaurant hands out paper ID bracelets to keep people from cutting.

``I'm happy,'' said patron Silaine Regis, 23, who was sharing her hot meal of rice and beans with her sister and 2-year-old niece. ``It's never enough, but at least it's something to eat.''

The restaurant's efforts also provide hope for its 100 employees, who had worked in two other locations that are shuttered now. They have flocked to the main eatery. But with no paying customers, the owners may not be able to pay them.

``We're going to hold on as long as we can,'' Rouzeau said.

Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report.

Miami Times report on Haitians helping Haitians. The report includes a major photo slide show.

Sankofa Mark at Old New York Burial Ground Is Questioned

When the remains of hundreds of colonial-era Africans were uncovered during a building excavation in Lower Manhattan in 1991, one coffin in particular stood out. Nailed into its wooden lid were iron tacks, 51 of which formed an enigmatic, heart-shaped design.

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Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

The symbol of the African Burial Ground.




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The African Burial Ground Monument in lower Manhattan.

The pattern was soon identified as the sankofa — a symbol printed on funereal garments in West Africa — and it captured the imagination of scholars, preservationists and designers. Ultimately, it was embraced by many African-Americans as a remarkable example of the survival of African customs in the face of violent subjugation in early America.

The sankofa was widely invoked in 2003, when the 419 remains were reinterred at the site, now known as the African Burial Ground, following painstaking examination. It was chiseled into a black granite memorial unveiled in 2007. It is featured in an interpretive display in the federal building at 290 Broadway (the construction of which led to the discovery of the graves), which describes it as a direct link to “cultures found in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.” And it serves as a logo for the African Burial Ground as a whole.

Michael A. Gomez, a professor of history at New York University and an authority on the African diaspora, said the design’s apparent link to 18th-century Africa “is of enormous meaning and carries a lot of symbolic weight.” For decades, historians and anthropologists have debated the extent to which the continent’s cultural practices endured and came to influence art, language, music and religion in the Americas — a question with particular resonance for the African-American community.

The burial ground sankofa was important in this debate, Dr. Gomez said, “because, let’s face it, we don’t have an extremely large amount of material culture with which to work.”

But now a peer-reviewed study, published this month in a leading history journal, argues that the heart-shaped symbol is not, in fact, a sankofa, and probably does not have African origins at all. Indeed, it suggests that the sankofa probably did not yet exist as a symbol in Africa at the time the coffin was made, and that the design is likely Anglo-American in origin.

The National Park Service, which has managed the burial ground since it was a declared a national monument in 2006, is itself stepping back from the original claim. As a result of research by scholars who prepared reports in 2006 for the federal government, the interpretive sign in the service’s new $5.2 million visitor center, scheduled to open on Feb. 27, will say only that the design “could be a sankofa symbol” and that “no one knows for sure.”

In an interview, Erik R. Seeman, the historian whose new study treats the sankofa claim skeptically, acknowledged that his argument could be politically fraught. In his article, published in the January issue of The William and Mary Quarterly, he makes a point of emphasizing his belief that African influences did play a major role in the lives of early black Americans — although generally as part of hybrid traditions.

“As free and enslaved blacks created a distinctive culture in the New World, they drew on remembered African practices and Anglo-American religious and material culture to fashion something altogether original,” wrote Dr. Seeman, who teaches American history at the University at Buffalo. Dr. Seeman’s article, adapted from a book, “Death in the New World: Cross-Cultural Encounters, 1492-1800,” to be published in May by the University of Pennsylvania Press, argues that scholars “have too readily attributed cultural practices to African antecedents without convincing documentary or archaeological evidence.”

After archaeologists who examined the bones “emphasized the African origins” of the beads, shells, rings and other objects in the graves, Dr. Seeman writes, “historians followed this lead, seeing in the African Burial Ground artifacts glimpses of a long-hidden African worldview in New York.”

Particularly striking was the coffin labeled Burial 101, containing the remains of a man between 26 and 35 who died sometime after 1760. (Some of the tacks within the heart-shaped symbol can be read as the number “69,” suggesting that the man died in 1769.)

The hexagonal, larch-wood lid of the coffin was studded with 187 cast-iron tacks, 51 of which made up the heart-shaped pattern, about 18 inches wide and 19 inches high.

“It can be safely concluded,” Kwaku Ofori-Ansa, an expert in African art at Howard University, wrote in a 1995 newsletter of the archaeological excavation, “that the image was meant to be” the sankofa — one of several hundred symbols that are stamped on adinkra cloth, used by the Akan people of present-day Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Sign in to Recommend Next Article in Arts (3 of 17) » A version of this article appeared in print on January 27, 2010, on page C1 of the New York edition.

NYTimes article on the "sankofa" symbol used at the African Burial Ground in New York City. The same symbol is found throughout grillwork in New Orleans including the historic "iron grillwork" that was created by Africans in historic New Orleans.

Walter Mosley Takes On St. Peter in His First Play

The author Walter Mosley specializes in his own kind of flawed Everyman: easy to underestimate, easy to overlook, like the title character from his allegorical 2008 novel, “The Tempest Tales.” But a new spotlight will fall on Tempest Landry and the other characters from the book as they wrestle with big questions about perceptions of good and evil in Mr. Mosley’s first play, “The Fall of Heaven,” which opens on Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

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Esau Pritchett portrays the angel Joshua in “The Fall of Heaven,” Walter Mosley's first play.


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Mr. Mosley, whose play, “The Fall of Heaven,” was adapted from his “Tempest Tales.”

Mark Lyons for The New York Times

The play's director, Marion McClinton, on the set of “The Fall of Heaven” at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

A 58-year-old New Yorker best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries like “Devil in a Blue Dress,” Mr. Mosley has written dozens of books (including science fiction), short stories and essays on race and politics. The play is an adaptation of “Tempest Tales.” His foray into the theater isn’t so surprising. “My writing is kind of made for people to speak,” he said.

Discussing “Fall of Heaven” by telephone a few days before previews began, he explained that the theater setting was “a way to make the work deeper.”

“Having the story up there onstage meant I could get that many more insights, from the director or the actors,” he said, not to mention the dimensions added by lighting and audience response.

In the play and the novel, Tempest (Leland Gantt), a ne’er-do-well from Harlem, is minding his own business when he is felled by 17 police bullets, his MP3 player mistaken for a gun. St. Peter (Anthony Marble) sentences him to hell, citing a life of petty crimes and other transgressions.

Tempest disputes that judgment, arguing that he bent the rules to survive and made ethical choices, at least based on the situation. He gets a second chance by being sent back to earth in another body, guided by an angel named Joshua (Esau Pritchett). If he does not admit his sins (and go to hell), Joshua warns, heaven will fall and allow the Devil, who’s named Basil Bob (Anthony Marble), to reign supreme.

“In ‘Tempest’ and ‘Heaven’ I do what I have often done, which is take a very pedestrian black male character and put him at the nexus point of these gigantic questions about good and evil and the meaning of life,” Mr. Mosley said with glee. Tempest Landry, through no fault of his own, has to take on heaven and hell and decide the fate of humankind. That makes him a hero, Mr. Mosley said, adding that he is one of just a few writers who turn ordinary black men into heroes.

“The black man in America has a bad reputation,” Mr. Mosley said. “It’s this one-note kind of thing. There is a lot of depth to most people in the world, black men included.”

So when Basil Bob (in a white body) asks Tempest if he fears him, Tempest replies: “Fear? Let me tell you somethin’ brother. I’m a black man in America. I know fear better than Amos knew Andy.”

Mr. Mosley said, “The biggest challenge for me in doing this was leaving things out.” He tapped out the play in a few weeks but said that writing it was a bigger challenge than a novel. For starters, onstage “you have to hold the audience’s attention for two hours or more,” he said, “with people talking at you,” as opposed to a novel, where readers go at their own pace.

When he sought to switch mediums, Mr. Mosley reached out to the director Marion McClinton, best known for his work on the plays of August Wilson. Mr. Mosley is a fan of Wilson’s. Some people thought they looked alike, he said, and would do things like congratulate him for Wilson’s play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and tell Wilson how they liked “Devil in a Blue Dress,” Mr. Mosley’s novel.

It turned out that Mr. McClinton knew a bit about angels and devils because of his Roman Catholic background, which helped Mr. Mosley, an agnostic, refine the drama’s arc. Mr. Mosley “has a way of making the common and the regular seem infinite and epic,” Mr. McClinton said in a telephone interview from Cincinnati. His conversations with Mr. Mosley — he approaches directing by learning how the playwright thinks — showed him to be “one of those artists who didn’t see it as a disadvantage but an advantage to being who he is and where’s he’s from,” said Mr. McClinton, who was nominated for a Tony for directing the Broadway production of Wilson’s “King Hedley II.”

The political tones of “Heaven” also intrigued Mr. McClinton. “It’s about a major question that goes through American society,” he said. “You have a set of laws with little thought for those whose lives are affected. You see it in the health care debate. The people whose lives are affected the most have the least say.”

He found that it was a task to keep the action flowing in a two-act play with a lot of scenes, depicting heaven and Harlem and many other places. (The set designer is David Gallo, who won a Tony for scenic design in 2006 for “The Drowsy Chaperone.”) Because of technical difficulties, the first preview, scheduled for Saturday, was canceled. Still, there are advantages to a theatrical adaptation, like having a character suddenly turn into someone else, which wouldn’t work as well in a novel, Mr. McClinton said.

Ed Stern, the producing artistic director for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, said he jumped at the chance to produce “Heaven” because it was unlike anything he had ever seen onstage.

“That kind of hip, quirky, street-smart character that Walter Mosley creates is a new voice for the American theater,” Mr. Stern said. “He doesn’t need us. We need him.”

Mr. Mosley, though, said he had always adored the intensity of theater and looked forward to having new work produced. Ever prolific, he will publish his latest mystery novel, “Known to Evil,” featuring his new hero, Leonid McGill, in March; he has also written two plays. One is about a habitual liar; the other is about two people stuck in an elevator.

“This has been a great deal of fun,” Mr. Mosley said of his Cincinnati adventure. “I feel very satisfied. As a writer, I want to extend my range as far as possible.”

Sign in to Recommend More Articles in Theater » A version of this article appeared in print on January 27, 2010, on page C4 of the New York edition.

NYTimes report on Walter Mosley's new play, "The Fall of Heaven."