The green paint is peeling, but you can still make out the letters: "Morgue." A line of makeshift hearses lines the side of the building – a pickup, a converted taxi, a pair of beat up Chevy Caprices. A shriveled man in a torn shirt is washing their dented hubcaps.
We circled around back. A woman is splayed stiffly on the floor of the morgue. She looks like she's sleeping. She must have been in her mid 50's. Flies perch lazily on her face and shoulders. A pair of feet juts out near her shoulder, another victim.
Moments later an orderly pushing a gurney topped with a white body bag rolls by. He dumps the body in the back of the morgue just inside the green gate as if it were a load of gravel.
Caskets are lined up in side. Some propped up against the wall. A trickle of fetid water oozes down the ramp. We sidestep it.
My soundman – who's admittedly superstitious -- says something passed through him. Later that evening he's puking his guts up.
With all the sickness around it's easy to become paranoid about infection. You become conscious of every hand you shake, of the breath of each subject you interview. You remember that you kneeled in mud that might have been contaminated by vomit or diarrhea, or that you brushed up against a wall that someone may have been sick on, that cholera and death hang dense in the air.
So after each stop, we squirt thick dollops of hand sanitizer in our hands. Each night the crew used Clorox wipes to clean their equipment and we disinfect our muddy boots. We pop doxycyline and cipro. We know it may be overkill. It's hard to catch cholera from shaking someone's hand. One actually has to consume a certain number of particles through the mouth to get sick, literally drink a dose of sewage.
This is our second trip here to cover cholera. We've become accustomed to seeing death. Cholera is sweeping through this country, methodically claiming its percentages. In a typical outbreak, 2 percent of a country's populace is likely to become infected. Here some say it'll reach 8 percent. Here that's 200,000 people. Of them, thousands will die. And they are dying.
Last week we came upon a man who had died in along a main boulevard in downtown Port au Prince. He'd perished moments before we'd arrived, his limbs still pliable as a sanitation crew in yellow rubber suits worked him over. Cholera is a disease that offers no dignity, no privacy. The crew yanked down the dead man's soiled pants. He'd clearly died in agony, losing his last fluids as he died. Gawkers gathered staring and covering their mouths with shirts or sleeves, anything to stop the germs.
We were shooting the scene as his body was sprayed with disinfectant, zipped in a white plastic body bag. As we were shooting, his mother drifted through the shot. We wondered who the person was infiltrating the invisible cordon of fear that held the rest of the people back, but she kept gliding by.
We realized later who she was and enlisted some locals to help us find her. A few hundred yards away we did. She seemed to float to us, hands folded around her head. She was so slight. Her chestnut-sized eyes seemed all that was left of her.
"He was all I had. My only child," she said through a translator. She looked bewildered, her big eyes bugging. She told us she lives on the street now, after the earthquake leveled her house. She had lived with her son somewhere on the street.