Friday, March 12, 2010

Travelers log - Day 7 in Haiti - a lesson in flexibility

Driving through Port au Prince.

Man sleeping in his bed. Willem woke him up and gave him a bit of money for food.

Women in a broken down truck in the slums.

Child who begged us for a hot pink string bracelet worn by one of our team members.

No caption necessary.

Well, our week is rapidly coming to an end and we have learned so many things about Haiti, Haitian culture and the earthquake.

One of the most important lessons learned is that Haitians do not work on US time. They may be on Eastern Standard time, but it still isn't our time. They do not schedule their days like we do and show little sense of urgency about being anywhere at any particular time. This is why Beth printed "BE FLEXIBLE" on the white board next to our Creole lesson of the day. We have experienced this so many times this week, and, as Americans it can be difficult to accept. For example, if a Haitian says "hey, it's time to go", that could mean we are literally walk out the door, open the gate, and leave the property. Or it could mean go outside, wait for 1 hour baking in the sun, until it is really time to go.

Which leads us to what we did today. Even though we planned to work at the clinic for the morning and then do inventory, the plans changed and we went on an extended tour of Port au Prince and surrounding areas instead. So we practiced our new-found flexibility. We piled 24 people into 3 vehicles and began our drive into the city.

The farther down the mountain and closer to Port au Prince we got, the more evident the earthquake damage became. Buildings showed more and more damage and the deteriorating attitude of the people was evident. The closer we got to ground zero, the more desperate people became, tent cities started popping up and indescribable destruction surrounded us.

Buildings reduced to rubble. People looking dejected and catatonic. Multiple story buildings flattened like stacks of concrete and rebar pancakes. Amputees in slings, on crutches and in wheelchairs. The Presidential palace crumbled to the ground. Children pounding on cars, begging for money and food. Tent cities stretching for blocks on any piece of flat land. People sleeping in wheelbarrows, basins, curled up on the streets. Tents made of anything people can find: sheets, tarps, blankets, plastic wrap, towels, table clothes, etc. UN trucks, tanks and soldiers packing AK-47s. People living in squalor, unimaginable poverty in scrap tin shacks. Rice donation stations handing out sacks or rice. A family picking up individual grains of rice off the street after their bag tore, sifting out the rocks and trash so that they can have something to eat. Schools and hospitals that no longer exist, demolished. Private security guards with huge billy clubs at private businesses and residences. Children making toys cars out of empty plastic milk jugs. Mountains of rubble, trash and human waste along the roads. Naked malnourished children, immobile, staring at us. Police packing shotguns with pistol grips. A thief splayed out in the street in a pool of his own blood with about 30 people staring at him, shot for stealing. Hospitals set up in outdoor tents treating patients with minimal supplies, no sterile spaces, no ventilation and no overhead light.

Those are just some of the things we witnessed first-hand. We could fill pages, but this is sufficient to begin to paint a picture of the conditions in the capital, and further strengthens our commitment to the children, especially orphans, in this country.

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