Monday, July 23 (morning)
I arrived last night! There are so many things to say and describe and tell! So exciting!
After a strange 1.5 to 2 hour delay in boarding the flight from Miami to Port Au Prince (they couldn't find the flight attendants!), I was on my way. I sat next to a friendly lady who lives in Boston but grew up in Haiti - she was on her way back to visit a couple family members in Port Au Prince for 2 weeks. We flew over some gorgeous islands (the Bahamas, I think), as well as Cuba and Jamaica! Finally, we were flying over Haiti and the nice woman next to me pointed out what was what. Over Port Au Prince, we got a pretty close-up view of the roofs of shanty town after slum after shanty town.
Our arrival in the airport was fairly normal compared to any other very small airport that has some construction going on, until we got to immigration and baggage claim. They had 4 immigration desk stations set up, and my airplane friend said they didn't even have those last time she was here. Going through was very easy, but getting our baggage was a crazy adventure! They had a luggage carrousel running, and when luggage started to come out, there must have been at least 15 guys with white shirts and ID tags who started pulling a bunch of it off. It turns out that it was a necessary step, as the carrousel kept bringing more and more and more luggage out, and at times was almost overloaded even with all these guys pulling stuff off! The other thing the men in white shirts were doing was taking people's checked bag tags and locating their luggage for them (probably for a tip?).
I got my big bag on my own pretty quickly, but my backpack wasn't showing up after a while and neither was my airplane friend's checked bag. (We never got around to exchanging names, if you hadn't noticed by now.) After a while, one of the men in white shirts came in with a big ol' sign that said "Kelsey Capron OTP" in big, colorful, marker-made letters. My driver, Silas, had sent this guy in to retrieve me and my bags. He located my backpack just as my friend found her bag, so we grinned at each other and waved goodbye as I followed my new temporary guide. Boy, was I grateful to have a pro there helping me through the airport! He knew when I needed to hand over which immigration/customs paper, and then bee-lined it through this crowd and that crowd and this outdoor hallway and that sidewalk. The indoor area of the airport was actually quite small, and then it was just a bit of a walk out to where Silas was waiting.
Silas had a blue pickup truck and three Haitian-American passengers who had arrived by plane (a few hours before; they had to wait a while for my delayed flight) and were also headed to Jacmel. Silas speaks a fair amount of english, and the three others were about my age and had lived in the States for at least 5 or 10 years (after growing up in Port Au Prince), so they spoke pretty good english. They recently founded an organization in NJ that is sponsoring an orphanage down here near Jacmel, so they're here for a week or two to check it out. Everyone in the car was super nice and friendly, although a lot of the 3 hour car ride from Port Au Prince was spent with Creole conversations flying around while I watched my new world fly past the window. I didn't mind so much, because it's just the start of my immersion and I want to learn!
The drive was incredible. First, we had a long drive through the streets of Port Au Prince, which looks (unsurprisingly) a whole lot like all the photos we see in the news and online; there are still some crumbling buildings destroyed in the earthquake, piles of rubble here and there, the occasional building being rebuilt (pretty much always rough cinderblock and cement, from the looks of it)... but at the same time, it wasn't always obvious that there had been an earthquake. There were areas where it was just a mass of little cube rooms/structures made of sticks and tarps, and there were areas where all the buildings were cement, painted in all kinds of bright, bright colors. Sometimes the paint was faded and flaking, sometimes it looked fresh and new. Many of the streets were drowning in shallow rivers of water flowing along because of water pipes that are still broken throughout the city. There are humongous piles of trash in some of the streets, or along the sides.
Lots of people were walking around, and at one point, a little boy with a rag came and started to wipe the front of the car down until Silas waved him away. Some businesses looked like they might be doing ok, but many looked old and closed, too. Sometimes we would drive past a group of houses/structures with a central courtyard with a fair number of people sitting or wandering in it - apparently their kitchens are usually outside on the ground rather than in the house.
The vehicles were a mix of cars (just like anywhere else I've been), motorbikes, and these trucks and buses that have been painted with every bright color you can imagine - they look like they're coming straight out of the 70's! English words like "peace," "love," "generosity," etc. were painted all over them, as well as stuff like "Jesus loves." Quite a sight to see! They were all set up with long, skinny benches in the backs (some form of public/private transportation). Driving through the city was an experience, because everyone goes really fast whenever there's room to shoot forward, everyone honks seemingly all the time (whenever they need to get someone's attention, warn them they're coming, say "look out!", communicate that they're annoyed they did something, etc...), and no one follows any rules other than self preservation and honk a lot. I started to feel slightly carsick early in the drive, and it persisted for the next 3 or 3.5 hours (it took a while after our arrival for me to feel human again).
After we got out of the city, the drive was actually quite beautiful! We could see the sea at first, which was awesome, and the vegetation on both sides was so big and lush and green! Banana trees were everywhere, along with other large tropical trees and plants. The hills and mountains started to slope up around us and then under us after not too long, and we had a winding, drive up for quite a while. Every now and then, we'd drive through a small town, or maybe just a house, or a group of people walking along, or one of the crazy-looking rainbow buses flying down the road past us. Luckily, it was a paved road the whole way, with a short metal fence along the edge that wasn't a mountain wall. The views of mountains and ocean and sunset were all quite beautiful, and I tried to take photos when my hands weren't full of holding onto the handle on the ceiling of the truck. Oh, and did I mention that the backseat (where we were sitting) didn't have functional seat belts? Just another thing to instill a little sense of security!
At some point, we stopped for some paper plates of fried plantains and pork, and Silas also got me a Coca Cola (the bubbles helped a bit with the slight motion sickness). I ate a bit, and it tasted good, but I couldn't stomach too much food due to the driving. Anyway, we drove and drove and drove, until finally I started to feel almost as if this was all the existed - driving fast in the truck, swerving mountain roads, beautiful views, slight queasiness, wind in my face if the window was open, Creole conversations swirling around me, and more driving... After the sunset, we finally wound down the mountain to Jacmel as dusk and then darkness fell (about 8pm). There had just been a soccer game in town and the winning team/fans were marching and cheering and singing through part of the street as we came into town, which was exciting to see! Lots of happy people.
Finally, Silas dropped me off at Sarah's place, and I went in to sit and chat with her while we waited for Melinda, another Canadian midwife (and also my roommate!). Sarah is super nice, and friendly, and really easy to talk and sit with. She seems very down to earth. :) Melinda arrived after a visit at the hospital to check up on a patient (a kid who apparently choked and had to have an xray to see if the blockage was moving down into his stomach, and his mom was hitting him to scold him for choking...). She is also very nice and friendly and easy to get along with, so I feel like I'm in good company!
We dragged my rumbling suitcase on wheels as well as a jug of clean water on a dolly cart over to the volunteer house where I'll be staying. The house is similar to other houses around here, made of cement mainly, with slightly decorative metal grates installed in the windows (no glass), a sturdy metal gate outside the house and another for a front door, both locking with padlocks. To get upstairs (where our bedrooms are), you walk around the outside of the house (inside the tall, solid fence) to the back, where there's a cement staircase built against the outer fence and inner wall. It takes you up to the roof above the kitchen, and you walk around to the front where there's a second big, metal, lockable door. Everything is pretty simple, but we seem to have all the necessities. There's an underground water tank that a truck fills with clean water periodically, and when there's electricity (almost always at night, and sometimes during the day) we have to pump the water up to a tank on the roof. That allows for water pressure in the sinks and shower.
I'm rooming with Melinda, and in the other bedroom upstairs is a French Canadian couple, Sebastian and Marie-Paul. They're very kind and friendly (seeing a pattern yet?), and they have lived down here on and off for about 3 years now. It sounds like they're getting a little worn out, but they've taken a 4 year old girl named Rosna ("roze-nah") into their care... they aren't allowed (by Canadian law) to adopt her, but they've effectively been her parents for quite some time now. They found her when she was extremely malnourished and weak and almost developmentally stunted, due to lack of care from her biological parents, so now they've fallen for her. They claim that they're not planning on staying for more than 1 year from now, but Sarah (and myself) somehow doubt that at this point... They're renting a place in Jacmel and will move in in a few days as soon as it is ready. It's been nice to get their perspectives on Haiti - Marie-Paul came here for the first time in '69 and has been coming on and off ever since, sometimes for extended periods of time. And I get to speak French or English with them! Also, they like to talk. A lot. ;)