Haiti earthquake diary: Trading my tent for a hotel room

At the Plaza Hotel, people are watching tennis on television. I love tennis, but can no sooner think of watching it than I can imagine spending a day at the spa.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
A man reaches out from a tent made of bedsheets, sticks and tarps at a makeshift refugee camp in Port-au-Prince on Monday.

Saturday, Jan. 22

I check out of the hotel this morning. I use that term loosely since I never really "checked in." Sleeping in a large tent in the hotel entrance doesn’t really count. But I’m happy to be leaving my tent behind. I don’t think I’ve slept more than four hours uninterrupted since I got here, and maybe even not that. The guy at the other end of my tent, a guy I wouldn’t recognize if he walked by me, snored so loud that I wanted to throw my pillow at him. But it was hard to come by a pillow and so I just put it over my head and prayed for sleep.

I know I’m not thinking my clearest, know that I have to slow down or I will crash.

I’m happy to be going down the hill, happy to be moving closer to the neighborhood where I lived in the 1990s, but also nervous. It’s been easier to stay objective when I’m away from all that is intimately familiar – my old neighborhood, home, friends.

I pay closer attention to things around me as I head down to Canape Vert, in the city's southeast. There are still signs of the old life. Billboards have survived – advertisements for Whirlpool, Westinghouse and various cosmetics, featuring models whiter than 99 percent of the population. On the same side of the street as the Plaza Hotel, where I am about to check in, I look for the businesses I used to frequent. Gone is Uniglobe, my travel agency. And Tablo Ronde, where I used to sip coffee on the veranda overlooking the square. The patio is in shambles. The second floor office is exposed like a ripped shower curtain; chairs hurled upside down on a desk, tin siding collapsed and hanging over the side.

It’s shocking to walk into the Plaza compound. Aside from tents and sleeping bags and suitcases strewn about, the hotel is functioning as normal. Or as normal as possible given an invasion of journalists and aid workers. The bar is open and people are watching tennis on television. Tennis! The Australian Open, perhaps. Hard to believe the world is functioning as normal. I love tennis but can no sooner think of watching it than I can imagine spending a day at the spa. Which sounds heavenly. And totally inappropriate.

I’m even more shocked to see that the man behind the reception desk is the same guy I knew 20 years ago. We smile at each other like we’re the old friends that we are. He hasn’t lost any family but the expression in his eyes is all too familiar. I’m wanting to offer words of comfort but have none.

Only two rooms are available for a five-member PBS NewsHour team coming in. I may have to share a bed with them, but that's preferable to a tent on the roof. I’m feeling the need to be able to shut a door.

At the reception desk is a collection box for victims of the four hurricanes that hit Haiti last year, drowning thousands from their homes.

They haven't even bothered putting up a box for the earthquake yet.

Also of interest:

An audio slideshow: Haiti earthquake: at the epicenter

For all stories, blogs, and updates on Haiti after the earthquake, go to The Monitor's Haiti page.

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