Haiti: Day One (Part Two)

The posts that follow are a brief description of daily events surrounding an organized trip to Haiti in the summer of 2010. There were 12 of us total plus one reporter from the Daily Journal in Farmington, MO. I have relayed each post as it was written in my journal so please overlook any grammatical errors or crazy talk. I will also try to include pictures along the way.

Monday, July 5th (afternoon)

We finally landed in Haiti (even a snack on the plane!) and wow! Very hard to describe! We took a “shuttle bus” to the baggage area and then stood in line at the customs area to get our passports stamped. We also had to fill out paperwork on the plane to turn in. Several of us got caught up in line, and by the time we got through, the others had loaded our luggage onto “carts” you could rent for a couple of US dollars. Little did we know what was in store for us!

We were warned that there would be many people waiting to help us with our bags. There was a small “staging” area outside and all of us gathered together there. Outside of a fence were literally hundreds of people – some yelling in at us, others just standing by. There were several airport security folks and then some other men in blue shirts and red hats. We thought they were part of the airport staff, but it turns out that they were the people we were warned about. As soon as we rolled our carts outside of the staging area they immediately ran to us and started to grab our carts. We kept telling them NO very strongly, but a couple of carts in front of us could not get rid of them and had to let them help.

We walked down a cobblestone type path that had been damaged by the earthquake. It was definitely hard to navigate! The cart kept tipping over and we had to reload the baggage. Every time one of the red had guys tried to help us, but we were persistent that they stand back away. We pushed down the long walkway with fencing on the side. It seemed like it went on forever! Finally, we saw a barricade up ahead with hundreds of people behind it. What in the world was going on? Our party had totally been separated by this point. Finally we saw Gerson who motioned us to go thru the barricade to the parking area.

The parking area was jammed with cars, trucks, bikes, etc but we pushed forward and found an old school bus waiting. It was painted blue and white and was rented by Gerson and Heather to transport us to Leogane.

We loaded up and immediately began to sweat. It was definitely HOT and very humid. Gerson got water for each of us which really helped. Port-au-Prince was built for about 200,000 people or so, but since the earthquake it now is home to 3 million!!

It’s hard to describe the bus ride through Port-au-Prince. I took lots of pictures, so I’m hoping they tell a better story than this incredibly messy handwriting. The city – hmm…how do I describe it? It’s like a huge bomb detonated, threw rubble, building and trash everywhere and then added people on top. Totally insane! It’s almost like a never-ending flea market that endlessly winds thru every street. By the way – before we left the parking area the bus hit a car in the lot. Apparently this is a normal occurance!

Our driver was outstanding however. Haiti has no road rules. Pass when and where you can and go fast. There are tons of motorcycles because it is so hard to navigate the streets. The roads are questionable at best – lots of damage everywhere. Most buildings have been destroyed or are falling down.

Everywhere you look – TENTS. Or tarps. And sticks to hold them up. There is no sanitation and dirty water/sewage rolls through the gutters on most streets. And trash everywhere. I’m guessing the Haitians are beyond hope of keeping up with trash so they just litter the streets with it. We even saw one spillway that was full of Styrofoam to completely block off one end. It’s so overwhelming to picture. Poverty everywhere. I have no idea how these people survive, but yet they seem content to do so.

We traveled a long time down the streets of Port-au-Prince. The bus driver was fantastic and many times we thought we were going to crash or hit something or someone. We were hit by another car at one point. They tried to pass us but another large bus was coming and they ended up swerving into us. Not much damage however, and after a short conversation in Creole we were on our way again.

We passed the Presidential Palace, now destroyed, but framed beautifully in the background by a large chain of mountains. I didn’t realize there were so many mountains here.

After a few hours we arrived at our camp. An unassuming compound housed behind a line of broken down walls and buildings. Not quite what I expected (not sure what I was expecting really) but a charming community willing to take us on as guests for the next week.

The first thing we did was setup our tents in a small field inside. There were about 20 other tents or so, most of them on a concrete area, but we only had room in the field. We quickly set up our tent, sprayed on bug spray all over us, and then a quick tour of the camp.

There are showers here, only cold water, but very make-shift. They put on doors to small stalls just last week. They have a large tent area that houses the kitchen. A bigger surprise – running water for the toilet! You cannot put any paper in them however, so a small cardboard box sits beside them for your “waste” products. 🙂

There is a good-sized rotunda in the middle of camp where we will gather and eat each day. Speaking of food, our first meal was at 7pm today. I say day, but Haiti get dark this time of year about 6:30pm or so (and light by 5:15am!). From what Gerson said, we were treated to an unbelievable feast for our first meal. Chicken, rice, fried plantains and french fries! Schweet! There is a large water cooler for everyone to fill their water bottle. We were warned many times NOT to drink the water or we would get diarrhea. We’re not even supposed to open our mouth in the shower. That’s easier said than done.

After dinner we quickly turned in – totally exhausted. But before we could get back to the tent, a HUGE thunderstorm rolled in – a torrential downpour! It totally flooded the field we were in and all of our tents had water inside. We managed to stack some of our stuff in one corner and find a small place to sleep. Yuck! Talk about a first night’s experience!

The tent I’m in has four people: myself, Mark Burlison, Jeromy McDowell and Jake Whitener. The tent was HOT. Not just warm, but sweat everywhere hot. It was hard to go to sleep in the heat, but finally after about 30 min I was able to go to sleep. A LONG and interesting first day!

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