The Haitian Mr. Bean

Haiti, February 18, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Joseph Moїse prepares bamboo poles for temporary housing. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

This is Joseph Moїse. He’s 34 years old and a native of Pétionville. Before the earthquake he was a teacher and now he’s a cash-for-work participant with Mercy Corps — but what he really wants to do is direct.

We met Joseph today in a displacement camp and Mercy Corps work site called Impasse Corail. He quickly volunteered to speak with me and let Miguel, our photographer, take some pictures. He told us that, before the earthquake, he lived on the second floor of a house nearby — a house that completely collapsed when the quake struck.

He and his extended family escaped the crumbling building and are now living in temporary shelter in the Impasse Corail camp. When we came along, he was in the process of rebuilding his tent with the plastic sheeting Mercy Corps had delivered earlier in the week.

During the day, Joseph and his neighbors in the camp are part of a work crew — removing rubble, clearing out drainage ditches and earning a daily wage from Mercy Corps. When we asked what he planned to do with his wages, he said his first priority was taking care of the woman in his life: his mother. I asked if he planned to return to teaching when he gets back on his feet and his school reopens.

That was when he really opened up.

He enjoyed teaching — the classes he taught were an unusual combination of physical education and penmanship — but what he really wants to do, he told us, is to make a film. What kind of film? A documentary perhaps? A moving story about his community’s struggle in the weeks after the earthquake?

No — a comedy. “You know Mr. Bean?” he asked us. “That’s like what I’m making. But funnier! I’m much funnier than Mr. Bean,” he assured us seriously.

Joseph took us up the steep hillside to show us his new tent site and the huge bamboo poles he would use to hold up the plastic sheeting. The bamboo grows just a few hundred feet away from the camp.

“It’s amazing that after all this, the earth still gives back,” he said. As he gathered up the poles, he showed off the new work gloves he’d been given when he started the cash-for-work job. He is deliberate and serious as he describes his plans and cuts the support polls for his tent.

But he’s also written his stage name in marker on both gloves.

He’s ready to give back — through the heavy lifting required to rebuild his neighborhood and the longer-term need for some comedy to lift its spirits.