Friday, January 15, 2010

Landing in Haiti 1/11/2010

My first day in Haiti for over 2 decades. Some things are different, some things aren't. Here are my first impressions:

There were cows munching on the side of the runway in Cap Haitien's International Airport when we landed. We get off the plane and go through the door, then wait 20 minutes while they find the right form for us to fill out to get into the country.

At the airport, someone wanted to carry my bag. I thought he was so thoughtful! But then he hounded me for money for the next 15 minutes.
"yes ma'am, I will help. I will help" Give me, please. Give me one dollar. Give me one dollar please miss.
They are persistent and never leave. We get relief only when we drive away and start the journey toward town.

I look out the window as we drive through town. Everyone stares at me. I'm the only white face for miles around. I stick out in a crowd here.

Honking a horn is not just for attention. Here, you honk to say "I'm coming", hello, I'm passing you, please get out of the way. Here I am. Make way for me. Because the roads are unruly. No stop lights (that requires electricity). No signs (that requires some sort of infrastructure). Just people, on the roads, signaling, honking, waving at one another. Stopping to talk along the way. You say hi to those you know.

Little huts. Small. Dilapidated. Constructed with thin cement, boughs from trees around in the area. They look like they groan under the weight of the roof set on top of the walls. They might fall down at any minute. Sometimes they do. But they are homes, and people live in them. In between the homes are cactus hedges that serve as organic fences. The juice from these hedges are used to brand cattle (no kidding).

Snow days are common in many US areas. Here, we have "rain days". It's been raining for 2 weeks. It has paralyzed the town. No one wants to go out in the rain. It is cold. It is wet. It is uncomfortable. They canceled school today, and 600 kids went without a hot lunch. After 2 weeks of cold, wet, overcast weather, the people are depressed. They aren't used to so much glum weather.

You can see Terrier Rouge, Haiti on google maps.

We are on a compound. On the way into town, there is a very nicely paved road. Thanks to the EU. Complete with road signs (cows crossing here, people crossing there, etc). The don't have a "goat pooping in the middle of the road" sign. It would come in handy here. Nor do they have the "stop here and talk with your neighbor in passing" sign.

The signs look funny in this area of the world. The stick figures crossing the street don't look Haitian. They look out of place. Their orderliness looks out of place. This world is haphazard. The buildings are tenuous. They add water to cement to make it go farther, so its weaker. They build buildings, but then they fall down. They paint walls, but the thinned paint fades quickly. Requiring more painting.

But the people. They are so amazing. Smiling, gracious, graceful. Happy to see you. Not the ones that approach you on the street, begging for money, "give me one dollar". But the friends you've made, or have yet to make, they are happy to see you.

We stay on a compound at the school. It's safe. It's orderly. The surroundings look chaotic, but only to the untrained eye. Look around you now. Remembering a time in the past when you went to that store, visited that house, walked down that street. It's familiar to you. That's the way it is here. It may not be familiar to us, but many people walk down these streets, visit these houses, go to these stores.

The most prominent logo around here is Digicel - the Verizon of Haiti

The first night, the group gets together for sorting suitcases: people bring stuff with them on the plane ride down here: meds (ibuprofen, vitamins, etc), clinic supplies, sheets, clothes, embroidery thread. Sort out what goes where. We each find something that has been requested. I was asked for aqua and turquoise embroidery thread. Evidently that's the popular color for those who embellish linens, towels and fancy dresses to be sold in the States.

The sun hasn't come out for 2 weeks. That means that the solar panels are lounging around, unused. Instead, we must start up the diesel generator if we want to keep the lights on to socialize after the unseen sun goes down.

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