Friday, October 15, 2010

Exhausted, but alive and well in Port-au-Prince

Where to begin… So much has happened in the past 24 hours and I’m still hovering in a world of disbelief. It has yet to sink in that I am here relatively permanently. I am not going home in a week. I am not going to see my kitten boy or snuggle with him at night, and I am not going to see my best friend everyday. My mom’s care and my grandparents just across the street are no longer my reality. Now, I will be calling Port-au-Prince (PaP) my home and HELP is my new family. Although overwhelmed by just about everything, there are two things that stood out the most to me: a) the state of the country and b) the incredible hospitality with which I was greeted.

Flying in to PaP in itself was an experience. As you descend into the airport you can see all the decomposing ships that had gotten stuck on the reef or a sandbar with little white triangle sails zipping all around. The closer we got to the tarmac, the more I could see the destruction from the earthquake. Tent camps and shantytowns are scattered everywhere. As you may imagine or remember from the pictures just after the earthquake, there is rubble everywhere. The camps take up all the space where there isn’t rubble, and just up the street from my apartment there are still tents in the street. Everybody just goes around them, but what else can you do? They aren’t going anywhere soon. These tents and makeshift shelters will be the Haitian way of life for many years. Nobody is cleaning up the rubble, and few are rebuilding. I passed by a couple of construction sights on my walk to the HELP Center from my apartment, and I wonder if they are rebuilding with plans and materials that can withstand a 7.0 earthquake. I hope so, but somehow I don’t think they are.

I had the opportunity to go into one of the camps with Michael because Conor (the executive director) had arranged a meeting with this NGO called SOIL and I thought I’d go along. SOIL installs and maintains toilets and they compost the waste. It’s pretty cool and reminds me of the Living Machine at Oberlin. They’re even trying to come up with ways to bribe more people to use them. Anyway, the camp was pretty dismal. Life is hard there, but like I mentioned these camps are fully expected to be permanent, so they’ve strung up electrical wires and have giant water reservoirs where they can get water for cooking, bathing, and washing clothes. This particular camp had been built on what once was a park with a soccer field (of dirt) and a basketball court. Building the camps in these open spaces makes sense, but the people, particularly the children, of PaP have nowhere to play. It’s sad. They just sit around the camps all day, since most don’t attend school.

But, this brings me to b): The Haitian People and their hospitality. It is no exaggeration what they say about the kindness and tenacity of Haitians. Everyone in the camps greeted us with smiles and a “bonjou!” The same goes for pretty much everyone I saw or met from my flight to PaP to all the others throughout my day at HELP.

Itelier (a LOVELY student) and Roman (the driver) came to get me at the airport around 8 AM. They brought me right to my room in one of the dorm houses. There I met Michael (my boss) and Linedy (sometimes the d’s in Creole are pronounced like “dz”, so her name is the equivalent of Lindsey) who showed me around the house, introduced me to some of the students and helped me get a little settled. But I didn’t get to rest. At this point, my adrenaline must have been pumping because I took a quick sponge bath and walked with Michael and Linedy to the HELP center. The welcomes never stopped and neither did the happy faces. I met so many people who kept showering me with “Glad to meet you’s” and “We are so happy to have you’s.” What I don’t think they quite understand is how happy I am to be here. And how excited I am to learn their names and their stories. I can tell already that they will make a wonderful second family for me. How could I not already love them? Some of them who don’t speak much English at all were still eager to talk to me and welcome me to their country. It just feels so right. Now if I could just remember everyone’s name! (I have about 160 names to learn, ahhh!)

I think that’s a long enough first post from Haiti. There is plenty more to come… Look forward to descriptions of my living quarters, the food, the classes, etc.

I love you all and miss you dearly. Mom, pet Oscar for me and tell him I love him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Tomorrow night, I will fly on the red-eye from Los Angeles to Miami, then from Miami to Port-au-Prince. The flight gets in just before 8 AM to Haiti and the following is what I have received in preparation (as it turns out I've learned quite a lot):

"We'll send our driver with a student to meet you at the airport on Wednesday.
As the main terminal collapsed in the earthquake, you'll go through
immigration in what was originally a building for handling cargo. Once you
clear immigration, you'll go outside, turn right, and walk following a
chainlink fence on your left for maybe a couple hundred yards before reaching
the area where people can meet you. Our student will be holding a sign with
your name on it. The driver can take you to your room, where you can
drop off your things, get cleaned up, and then come to the office when you're
ready. Then we will be delighted to welcome you here!"

It's real, and it's here. And I am not packed. I am sitting here watching the Daily Show going over my packing list, but not actually making progress. So far I have 3 piles: Clothing, Toiletries/Accessories, and Stuff. All are growing, but none is in the suitcase.

I think it's time for me to stop writing in this blog as if it is some sort of catharsis and just get'er done. Beace out beoble. (That's Arab-American speak for peace out people). Wish me luck.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Final Countdown

Sorry! I had to include Europe in this post. Only because "The Final Countdown" is one of those epic songs that gets stuck in your head and you start to hate after the first minute. Cruel? I don't think's a guilty pleasure.

It really is the final count down, though. I leave in 5 days. Come next week, I'll be on the ground in Haiti, probably settling into my new apartment, meeting all the students, and adjusting to what will be my routine for the next year. It's hard to imagine how much my life is going to change in just 5 days time. I don't really know what to expect, and I am surprisingly OK with that. Contrary to most people's intuition, I am feeling like the less I know the better. Obviously I know the big things like my arrival date and time and the contact information for the H.E.L.P. headquarters. I've been told somebody will be fetching me at the airport, but I don't know who; I know I have an apartment, but I don't know exactly where. The unknowns aren't bothering me one bit. I am ready to get thrown into it. Plus, I honestly don't believe that extra information is going to "prepare" me for anything. Just gotta go with the flow and be flexible. I know I'll be taken care of, and I know I'll figure it all out in due time.

Believe it or not, a quick trip to San Francisco and Stanford has finagled its way into my schedule. While I am so happy to attend a family gathering and see Timmons one last time, it's crunch time, and I will return from NorCal with one more full day to get it all together. Stressful! Attempting to get ready early, I've been running around doing all the little errands that creep up on you and can take over, like getting a pair of jeans hemmed, buying DEET, and the like. (I really don't want to get Dengue Fever, although it feels inevitable)

Goodbyes and departures are always sad. I am spending my final days indulging in all the things I will really miss, i.e. See's Candy, frozen yogurt, crisp beer, and good company to name a few. But, I am ready to get down there. I'm excited to learn, to share, to be inspired, to meet amazing people, and to forge connections. Only 5 more days... Yee-haw! Bring it on!