Monday, February 7, 2011

TRAVELER'S LOG - Haiti - Day 1

Tom, Hana, Sonya, Dr. Eric

Arriving in the PAP airport today was a pleasant surprise. It was obvious that at least some of the infrastructure has improved, albeit few and far between. Things were MUCH more organized than on our last visit. Lines moved swiftly and baggage actually came on a conveyor belt instead of being tossed in a pile on the concrete. The customs agents… well, they were customs agents. Bursting with personality as usual. But their attitude didn’t deter the excitement of our youngest team member getting her first stamp in her passport.

We quickly found our Haitian liaison who helped us leave the airport and find our ride to the guest house. He was kind and helped us maneuver swiftly through the lines and out to the truck waiting for us. We were pleased that the airport has installed some outdoor covered walkways to shield travelers from the hot sun.

We noted that the crowds were much more manageable and we weren’t mobbed as on past trips. However, the small turnout of Haitians anxious to help with our bags may have been due to the rioting that happened earlier in the day. We suspect many who would normally be there stayed away due to the unrest.

Thankfully, we did not see any evidence of the riots on our drive from the airport to the guest house. The house is only 1 mile away from the runway but it still took about 20 – 30 min to get there.

Streets looked about the same: roads are barely paved, street vendors positioned along graffiti-covered walls, trash in the gutters, people riding bicycles, scooters and motorcycles precariously amidst the traffic. Taking photos during the drive was challenging to say the least, but we were able to get some usable shots.

One of the salvageable photos from the drive

We were greeted at the guest house by 2 ginormous dogs, one Mastiff named Larry and a mixed breed named Nora. Both are friendly as can be but could easily be mistaken for small horses!

Tom & his new best friend, Larry

The guest house is amazing compared to other places we have stayed in Haiti. Two large dormitory style rooms, one for the men and one for the ladies, each bedecked with multiple sturdy wooden bunk beds. There are even fans in the rooms! A working shower practically brought tears of joy to our eyes. It may be cold well water, but we’ll take it.

After we settled in, we went outside and took a walk as a group. We are in a “community within a community”. There is a main gate and wall around the neighborhood. Then, each home or business has it’s own wall and gate for privacy and additional security.

A yappy neighborhood friend

Fresh mangoes growing

We identified banana, mango and coconut trees and enjoyed the bougainvillea and other tropical flowers in the midst of rubble-strewn streets. The gem of the walk was the discovery of a boutique / store / bakery where they were pulling fresh bread out of the oven. The smell was amazing but none of the bakers wanted to have their photo taken. We purchased 5 huge breadsticks for about 50 cents and enjoyed them on the remainder of the walk.

The bakery and mounds of fresh bread

While everyone we passed stared at us, a simple greeting in Creole softened each one and even brought a smile or two. Met a man named George outside of a small tavern—a friendly man whose eyes were afflicted in some way and was missing multiple fingers on each hand. His English was great and we visited for awhile.

Upon our return from the walk, it was all business. Simultaneously, 3 laptops emerged, 2 smart phones, 2 regular phones, 3 cameras, etc. We reviewed our plans for tomorrow, our first day at St. Vincent’s. Contact was made with our Haitian liaison who is helping us with the wheelchairs in port.

Hana on the verandah

In the midst of deep conversation, the most adorable 1-year-old child came out on the verandah with us. She is the first child we encountered on this trip, and, as usual, she stole everyone’s heart. Her mother beamed with pride when we asked her permission to photograph her daughter. (photo to come) If this was our reaction to one child, imagine our first morning at St. Vincent’s!

Dinner was a bit unorthodox for Haiti—pizza and watermelon! And they even served breadsticks from the same bakery we discovered just a few short hours earlier. During the meal, we met people from various groups of volunteers working in Haiti:
  • a group of photographers going from orphanage to orphanage, photographing children for adoption agencies and sponsorship programs
  • folks working in a home for teen mothers who have no place to go where they live with their children and learn a trade for 2 years so they can sustain themselves
  • volunteers from a mid-wife program (found out that approximately 75% of all Haitian births are not attended by any medical professional)

1 comment:

dyencer said...

Jaden and I enjoyed the pictures. Looks beautiful. Give Larry a hug for Jaden. And Hana too.