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DAY ONE IMPRESSIONS—SATURDAY, APRIL 7, 2012
We are here and I am already in love with Haiti! It was actually quite less of an ordeal to get here than I imagined. The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cap Haitien was not too turbulent, and after two preceding tavel days and half nights of sleep, bleary surreality was cemented already. The charcoal/azure watercolor-spilled Florida night sky transformed into a peach/rose painted morning. A quick 2 hours and 40 minutes later we started descending into this gorgeous tropical nation. I was glad that Jeff Monda pointed out the imposing Citadel to me high atop the mountaintop as we descended. In the absence of much city development, the imposing structure was commanding in the wash of lush, green jungle and a few lone roads.
When we touched down, we immediately saw several dilapidated airplanes sitting on the tarmac, their only service being provision for shade. Hank Vejvoda said that he could see people playing on the runway just feet away as we landed.
After a fairly seamless customs process, we waited for our shuttle service. We then packed in sideways for the not-as-long-as-expected ride from Cap Haitien to Milot, maybe 35 or 40 minutes away. The town, I have to say, did not strike me as the worst place I’ve ever seen. It was right on par with Cusco, Peru or Vanuatu, or parts of China and Tibet—definitely abject poverty, but with a vibrant color and life and style all its own. A hodge podge of quickie banks and ramshackle shops and streetside cellars of ubiquitous cheap treats—Coca Cola, ice cream, chips abound.
The colorful “tap taps” here remind me of tuk tuks in Thailand and the caravans I’ve seen in Turkey and heard about in India. They are funky psychdedlic neon flashy group ride vans, with random English words like “Imagination” or “Fantasy,” or adorned with bible verse numbers or odes to Jesus Christ. And there are suicidal motorbikes here, just like everywhere, with the necessary constant honking when speeding up and passing.
As we left Cap Haitien the surprisingly good road turned dirt and pot-hole filled and the area just got increasingly gorgeous. I really didn’t expect how lush and beautiful it would be here—banana trees, coconut/palm trees, mangoes, breadfruit…cocoa! Coffee! The gorgeous mountains here are sheer vertical. They remind me a little of China and Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, several newbies from our group commented right away about being blown away by the physical beauty of the nation. Since heartache, disease, violence, and suffering are the focus of media portrayals of Haiti, I didn’t anticipate how striking the place and the people really are. Haitians are gorgeous people with sometimes severe features and expressions which often transform into wide, animated smiles, “Bon Swa” greetings, and waves.
It took a little time to orientate ourselves at CRUDEM. I imagine I’ll be trying to squeeze in a little with Rotary here and the medical staff there, but day one has been successful. I joined Donni for a tour of the hospital, and then later the hospital director spoke to the Rotary group and gave us a thorough tour of the grounds and hospital. We saw where the earthquake victims had been housed here, viewed the brand new maternity ward (it’s amazing how far a $50,000 donation can be stretched), saw the hundreds of patients already waiting for the orthopedic and urology teams upon arrival. 90% of the patients are estimated to travel from outside the area when they hear the surgical team is here.
We saw preemie babies in incubators, family members with no housing napping on benches, and many of us have already been approached by people lobbying for their family members as patients. It is going to be eye opening here in endless ways. It’s been fascinating to hear how things have changed over the past several years Jeff Monda and (urology tech) Fred Schuenemann have been coming.
It will be hard to continue to see so much need and to not be able to ever broach providing enough to meet the need. But it’s good to channel Rosedanie and remember that any kind of help is enough for that day. I guess I will toggle between helper and anthropologist. This week while the Rotary is here I will try to tag onto their trips. This afternoon I toured Milot with them, with our local guides, Michel and Joseph. What a beautiful town—with hugely varying degrees of streets, housing, people. Some kids were bathing in tubs in the street, garbage and pigs collaborated in the river, I noticed the improvement of the road leading up to the church and San Souci Palace. We walked into the church—a powder blue and white 75 foot dome with water damage and an original alter from 1812. Some kids greeted me with a Bon Jou and smile response, one little guy pinched me, several waved, one blew an air kiss, and loads wanted their photo taken and then shown to them on our digital cameras.
There’s a festival for Easter going on here this weekend, so we ran into a marching band, saw colorful costumes at the cultural center, and some of us even went to a cockfight! (This is something that is not at all ethically sanctioned by me, but it was a cultural experience for sure. I can’t believe it is that compelling to people!)
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!