Saturday, March 6, 2010

Travelers log - Day 1 in Haiti

Port au Prince airport.

Loading the luggage and the passengers.

Baggage claim.


Well, we made it to Haiti! We were humbled to find out that we are part of the first mission team to work at Mountain Top Ministries since the earthquake. It's been a long day for the 24 volunteers sharing the guest house at MTM. We originated from Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and even a few folks from Canada. Some got up as early as 2:00am! Included in our team are medical residents, nurses, physician assistants, an architect, child advocates, and a communications person (yes, that would be me).

While traveling via bus from the terminal to immigration, we were able to see the military camps that are set up right next to the runway. Tall fences with razor wire surround anything of value, including these camps. There were Hummers and many helicopters on the ground and in the air. We saw a HUGE airplane which opened up the entire tail end to expose full-size shipping containers of supplies being loaded and unloaded.

Immigration was a simple stop at a wooden "booth" right before entering the baggage claim area. Willem and his crew met us there and moved us swiftly through baggage claim (which was a pile of suitcases in a warehouse), customs, and out to 2 low sided trucks and a jeep-type-vehicle. The luggage got stacked in the trucks, the team piled into the trucks (some in the cabs and some precariously perched on top of the luggage) and off we went.

The roads in Port au Prince... how should we describe them? The majority of surface area has deteriorated and crumbled causing gigantic potholes everywhere. Our truck actually got stuck in a huge pothole. Thankfully, our driver was very capable and got us out! We were very concerned about the fate of those who were riding on top of the luggage. It may be the bumpiest ride any of us has ever taken!

And driving in Haiti? Suffice it to say that there is only one rule of the road: try to survive. There are no traffic lights or signs. You can drive on whatever side of the road you want, pass when and wherever you want. The roads are filled with dilapidated buses, trucks, cars, mopeds, pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and pedestrians. It is truly survival of the fittest.

They gave us a quick tour of Port au Prince before we left for MTM. The devastation is indescribable. Photos do not even come close to doing it justice. Collapsed government buildings / businesses / homes / hospitals / hotels / universities / schools; piles of rubble as tall as small buildings; piles of trash littering the streets; stacks of old tires; overturned vehicles that have been stripped of every possible usable part; padlocked buildings everywhere; huge make-shift tent communities wherever there was enough space.

And then there are the beautiful people: street vendors trying to make a living, people working and shopping at street-side markets, people walking with giant containers on their heads, Haitians staring at us as we looked at them. Some of the people were lively and talkative while others appeared to be in a daze. Very young children roamed the street, running around, darting in and out of traffic. Some waved and called to us while others hid their faces from our gazes.

Needless to say it took quite some time to get from the airport to MTM, but we all made it safely. Thankfully, the all-terrain wheelchair made the trip well. We assembled it onsite and the MTM staff is very excited about giving them out. There is such a great need for this type of wheelchair here. The terrain is very challenging and there are so many new amputees that need help. We look forward to serving in this area.

Following grace, which was led by Willem's eldest son, Stephen, we shared a great Haitian/American meal of cornmeal with a layer of ground beef and black bean gravy. (I asked for the recipe, but since the cooks just "cook", I think I'll have to try to duplicate it on my own. Hoping to volunteer in the kitchen this week.)

Willem and Beth shared information about staying at MTM including water conservation, limited electricity, the daily schedule, safety, sleeping in the mosquito netting and the rules about leaving MTM's property.

Well, many folks got up very early this morning and we are trying to wind down now, so we will close for tonight. Look for more posts with additional photos.

No comments: