Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leogane with HODR

* Made it to Haiti with no problems at all.  Leaving the airport a couple of people wanted to help haul our bags etc, but very orderly and a very strong police presence....was really excited to be met by David Driscoll at Airport.   He is volunteering with HODR for a week after many weeks in Port au Prince at the University Miami Hospital.

* After leaving the airport the trip got MUCH more interesting.  Two drivers were needed to pick up Carrie, Larry, Jerry and I plus David and Caitlyn (a volunteer who arrived on the same plane as us.  She is from Columbus Ohio).   Jerry, David, and Larry went in one and the other three of us went in the second car.  The two cars separated and agreed we'd see each other again at camp in less than two hours.

We got a fast tour of the Port au Prince.  I really do not know how to describe it.  The damage is clearly EVERYWHERE.  From the palace to homes in the slums.  So many homes and buildings were destroyed that the exact number will never be known (estimate is about 280,000 but there is little doubt this number is at loose estimate at best. )

That said, what we saw was much deeper than the earthquake.  It was a people of great strength, but homed in a country with severe (and I can not stress severe strongly enough) economic troubles.  Mile after mile of people living in tents at best and in conditions that are almost beyond the grasp of a resident of almost anywhere in the developed world in 2010: no running water, no electricity, no plumbing, and roads that can only be generously called in horrific condition.

While the amount of damage varied a little from neighborhood , what seemingly was always the same were the poor living conditions.

That said, it was almost as if the people did not care.  While our car winded through the hills of West Port-au-Prince, we stopped twice  for small parades in honor of Flag Day (a national Holiday that Hatians treat much more seriously than the same holiday in the US).

Then we hit beach traffic.  As part of the national Holiday and incredible heat, beach going seems to be a popular thing to do on May 18th.  As the day wore on, more and more people were coming back and the already bad roads were clogged to gridlock, about 20 miles of gridlock!  A drive that google optimistically estimates to take about 40 minutes, took us (in the second car) seven (yes 7) hours!!!  It was quite an experience.  Seeing so many people walking,biking, motorcycling, and just sitting in cars.   We definitely saw a side of Haiti that few get to see.  (and all learned that " Alli Alli Alli" means Go GO GO.

Needless to say the others (at camp long ago--there drive took two hours), got worried.  But we had no cell phones.  After about 6 hours, the driver got a call from HODR making sure we were ok.  And we were.  I think we all fell asleep (bets are the driver too, but no one is saying)  and lost about 10 pounds of water through perspiration and breathed enough CO and sulphur to last the rest of our lives, but we all arrived safe and sound at about 10:10.

Which is 10 minutes after curfew so no lights, no food, etc.  Which made setting up a mosquito net on the top bunk all the more of a challenge.  Needless to say sleep came easy.


Today Jerry and I cleaned around the base (w/ Erica) while Carrie and Larry went to a rubble clean up crew.   The camp is kept pretty clean for over 100 volunteers.  But another lesson learned: do not clean the camp after Flag Day (which was a day off for HODR as well).

Then in the Afternoon we joined the rubble crew.    It was pretty hard and not nearly as fun as gutting.  Mainly because we had to haul the debris about 70 yards down the road.  That said everyone worked really hard under Jim (with Hair)'s  (NOT ME) leadership.

Really enjoyed working with some local volunteers as well.  Amazing stories and good  to learn about Haiti.  Wesley was one such volunteer (and about the first person I met who could carry on a full conversation in English!).  He was out working in sandals. So at lunch tomorrow we are going to buy him new boots (size 9 if you were wondering).

I hate to single out any volunteer, but I do think Larry deserves special mention.  On a day in the high 90s with a rumored heat index of over 110, Larry (a retired accounting professor from SBU) matched us all sledge hammer swing for sledge hammer swing.  Really a remarkable performance.  

 Short takes:

  1. The big meal is at noon.  It is cooked by Venus (a local that HODR pays to cook).  Today I had rice with black beans and then rice with a red hot sauce with potatoes.  While probably not Dr. Fuhrman approved (WAY TOO HIGH ON simple Carbs), both were very good.  
  2. Toilet facilities are bad.  You do not flush toilet paper AND a saying hung on the wall says much more that you want to know: " If it's yellow let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down."
  3. Recycling does not happen.  Indeed garbage collection does not happen in most spots so everything seemingly gets burned.  
  4. Pleasantly surprised by lack of mosquitoes (knock on wood)
  5. Everyone seems to get along really well.  It is a veritable UN here (well except that we do not carry rifles when directing traffic that is not moving and yelling "Ali, ali, ali".  
  6. Doubt I have ever drank more water in a single day (and that includes 100 mile rides in above 90 degree temperatures).
  7. I have been unsuccessful at getting a SIM Card.  But still working on it.
  8. Went for a bike ride after was not much (roads are muddy, crowded, and too dangerous for a real ride,  but fun.
  9. Can't upload pictures.  Will have to wait.  But have been taking many
  10. Showers are "sponge baths"

More tomorrow



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