Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's visit to Haiti was over faster than you could say cholera. Palin spent less than 48 hours in the earthquake-ravaged nation that's currently facing a growing cholera epidemic that has already killed more than 2,000 people, and mounting political unrest due to a contested election. Palin was accompanied by her reality-TV-star daughter, Bristol, and her husband, Todd. And she mostly remained off-limits to media organizations except for Fox News, the network on which she serves as a news analyst.
The trip to Haiti had been planned a month in advance, and was hosted by the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and founder of humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse. During the weekend, Palin visited a couple of cholera treatment centers in the notorious slum area of Cité Soleil. Palin made herself briefly available to the media on Sunday at the headquarters of Samaritan's Purse, alongside a depot with temporary-shelter materials the organization has built about 10,000 temporary shelters since the earthquake.
Haiti is the fourth country outside North America that Palin has visited, and she said her impressions of the poorest country in the western hemisphere were "much harsher" than she had expected.
"I've really enjoyed meeting this community," Palin said. "They are so full of joy. We are so fortunate in America and we are responsible for helping those less fortunate. Samaritan's Purse is still here doing the tough work."
Samaritan's Purse vice president of programming Ken Isaacs helped plan Palin's trip, and explained that before her arrival, Palin was given a 30-page booklet on topics such as the cholera epidemic and the Jan. 12 earthquake. Despite the restricted media access, in pictures released by Samaritan's Purse Palin is seen rubbing the foot of an infant and delivering gifts to children.
"She was holding a set of 6-month-old twins who looked like they were 6 weeks old due to malnutrition," Isaacs says. "I could tell it was heavy on her heart."
Isaacs described her as being inquisitive, saying she "asked a lot of questions." Most of them began with why: Why doesn't Haiti have proper sanitation? Why doesn't it have proper infrastructure? Isaacs says he tried to explain the answers in detail, and argued that the root of the problem lay in Haiti's lack of education. Isaacs adds that Palin threw in a bit of French with a quick quip of "Merci beaucoup" while leaving one of the centers.
The Palin family along with Graham arrived in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on a Samaritan's Purse helicopter on Saturday. Commercial flights had been canceled due to civil unrest. But cargo planes and chartered flights were allowed entry into country's international airport.
Palin's session with international media was so brief that Isaacs admitted, "I can't even remember what she said." Her visit went largely unnoticed by the locals. She may currently top the polls among Republican voters asked to name their favored challenger to President Barack Obama in 2012, but most Haitians are unfamiliar with the name Sarah Palin.
Streets were calm in Port-au-Prince Sunday as life seemed back to certain level of normalcy except for the occasional massive white U.N. tank posted on a street corner. The acrid smell of burning tires wafted in the air, but the occasional smoke pile was more likely to be from routine garbage fires.
But the calm could quickly turn. To counter allegations of fraud, the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced plans to add up all the tally sheets in the presence of the three main candidates. The political situation is currently at a standstill as two of the three leading candidates refuse to participate in the proposed recount. The official results of the election will be released on Dec. 20.