Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Haiti 2016 - Day 1

Okay, so I never intended to go this long before actually sitting down and journalling our trip, but I needed a little time to process, and then I got distracted by (I'll save you all the details) life but I'm still determined to get this out to you all, as well as just recorded somewhere for myself. 

So here we go - DAY 1 
When I first stepped off the plane in Port-au-Prince, all of my attention was on getting through the airport unscathed. I tend to stress a teensy bit (read, A LOT) when I travel, particularly regarding the act of traveling (flying especially). I'm not afraid of flying, per se, but I am afraid of making it through security (not sure why, I've never tried to take anything through that I shouldn't have), late take-offs, missing connecting flights, customs, immigration, etc. So when we first landed, my focus was on simpling making it through immigration, customs and finding our luggage. 

Customs and immigration were no problem, it consisted of mostly waiting in line, and it was pretty much what I expected. We did however have an issue with some of the luggage, which I suppose is to be expected when you're traveling with 12 people all with 2 checked bags and 2 carry-ons (which against my very adamant wishes were also checked by the airline). We had one piece of luggage that did not make it to Haiti with us. So while the airport wasn't the most common experience I've had, it wasn't a huge shock, either. 

It wasn't until I stepped out of the airport and pushed my way through the crowds of Haitians, standing by just to watch us (presumably) as we exited the airport, that I really understood..... we weren't in America anymore. 

My first impressions of Haiti were: 
#1 The obvious inefficiencies - everything seemed to be made more complicated or solved in the least helpful ways, from the lost luggage, to parking, to crowds gathering, to driving.... everything seemed unregulated (which I'm not all against) and inefficient in many ways. I was surprised that although it was inefficient, for the most part, it was still effective. Though it took longer than it should have, they did actually manage to narrow down which piece (of the 36+ pieces of luggages) we had lost. 

#2 The smell & atmosphere - This was definitely more prevalent in Port-au-Prince and in our drive up to Hinche but it really was something that remained fairly constant throughout the week. I can't quite place or describe what I mean but between the heat, the dust/dirt, smoke, sweat and gas fumes I never seemed to get a handle on the different smells I kept being bombarded with, or the layer of "dirt" and sweat that always covered your body. 

(This picture makes me smile, because while the rest of us were standing near the van attempting to help but mostly just watching as Lavaud's people took our luggage and tied it to the top of the van - Tim was off, Lord knows where, with the other part of our luggage loading it into Lavaud's truck.... within minutes of stepping onto Haitian soil Tim had manage to separate from me (he knew I was safe, I however did NOT know he was safe), cut his finger, and find a ride..... typical Tim.) 

#3 The people - of course the people - as with any place there are mixed impressions of people. I went into Haiti with my guard up, knowing that in Port-au-Prince and particularly at the airport people would try to grab my bags and "help" but then expect money. I was told repeatedly to guard the luggage and not let anyone grab our bags.... it seems easy but with 12 people and 48 bags.... things can get a little intense pretty quickly. Overall, there were no major incidents, but it was hard to keep track of who was there to help, who was there to take, and who was there under the authority of Lavaud. 

I remember at one point Danielle and I were trying to count the luggage as the guys were gathering them from the baggage claim. They were piling them, and we were counting them. I had had my back to Danielle when I hear her yelling (and I don't think I've ever, in my 4+ years of knowing Danielle heard her yell) I turn around and a guy, in a yellow work shirt (he looked "official") was leaning over some of our bags reaching to grab one from the middle. Danielle was saying "No" "No, Thank You!!" "No! NO!" She managed to reach the bag and grabbed it from the guy, it took me a second but once I realized what was happening I yelled "No!" too, I don't think my voice mattered much but he did let go of the bag.

All of that to say, the first 30 minutes after stepping out of the airport were..... overwhelming and exciting, but all in all pretty smooth considering. 

Our first stop, after spending our first couple of hours in the airport was Pastor Lavaud's home only a few blocks from the airport where we met his wife and two of his daughters. 

His wife graciously fed us the best goat I think I will ever eat in my life. It was seriously, delicious. 

I have to just say, here what a blessing Lavaud and his family were to us throughout the trip. Though this was the only time I saw his wife and daughters, it was/is because of their sacrifice that Lavaud is able to do what he does. They are an amazing family, one that I would like to learn from and become more like. 

After dinner, we loaded up the rented van and Lavaud's truck to make the 2.5 hour drive through the mountains to Hinche. We left a little after 5 o'clock. 

The ride was.... interesting. By the time we began the last leg of the trip, we had been up for nearly 15 hours after only getting about 3 hours the night before. I was exhausted and on over-drive all at the same time. There were 6 of us in the truck (including our driver), and it was a very quiet ride. When we left Port-au-Prince, the sun was beginning to go down so it was hard to get pictures while driving, but it was quite the experience. 

Driving through Port-au-Prince was.... eye-opening and for my first impression of a third world country I was experiencing a mixture of emotions ranging between curious and appalled. I wanted to be careful not to make assumptions or judgements on anything I saw but to just "take it all in and attempt to process later." It was humbling and overwhelming in a lot of ways. 

We drove by large groups of people just sitting on the side of the road selling items, or just waiting... for what I don't know. There were large groups of motorcycles and people all over the streets and in the streets, we saw many "tap-taps" (Haiti's version of a taxi truck where they attempt to cram as many people as possible in the back of an enclosed truck) drive by us and past us at crazy speeds, sometimes with people just hanging off the back. 

I felt like I had just entered a world where rules no longer existed and anything would go. The idea was both a little exciting and a lot frightening. 

The drive through the mountains was nothing like Port-au-Prince, really. It was far more rural and quiet. It wasn't as chaotic, but it was just as frightening (as far as actual driving goes) we drove through small communities with people literally sitting on the side of the road where cars (felt like) they were just zooming by. 

Imagine here in the states sitting on the side of a county road in the dark just watching the cars drive by (and when I say on the side of, I mean on the white line on the side of the road). Children, toddlers, moms, dads, grandparents, groups of men, groups of women.... just walking and sitting along the road. 

While it was a "two lane road", depending upon the driver, the two lane road often became a temporary one-way where you would pass lines of cars at a time. There are no such things as passing lanes or dotted yellow lines to let you know when it was safe to pass, it was more like first-come first-serve and if that was in question it reverted to whoever was driving the bigger vehicle automatically assumes the right of way. Sometimes the 2-lane would become a 4 lane where several motorcycles and cars seemed to squeeze by each other at the exact same moment. Regardless of oncoming traffic, it almost always felt like we were driving in the middle of the road (looking back this probably was our safest option). It also didn't help that we were going through the mountains so there were lots of inclines, curves and drops. I thought for sure one of us would get car sick, but even Tim managed to make it without incident. 

Once we got to Hinche and arrived at Lavaud's compound the ladies there had a meal waiting for us (most of us were still full from our meal in Port-au-Prince), but we ate it, and it was very good. I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Haiti, I don't know what I was expecting but I enjoyed most every meal. 

After dinner, we found our room assignments and went to bed. I had been warned to bring ear plugs with me as well as over-the-counter sleep aids. I took one, and used my ear plugs though I'm not sure I needed to. I was asleep before everyone else in our room turned out the lights. 

1 comment:

Alexis said...

More, more I want to hear more!