Haiti Diaries #3: Welcome to the Republic of Haiti

Posted on April 20, 2014

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“Bonjou…Sa fè lontan!” – “Hello…Long time no see!”

So I got back from Port-Au-Prince last night (hence the drought in blog posts) and AMAZING is an understatement for my experience. I have so much to share, but I will try not to bore/overwhelm you all with the minor details. However if you ever get a sudden urge to have both your ears talked off, please give me a call and I’ll be more than happy to oblige…lol.

This first post is about my first impressions and observations when I arrived in Haiti.

Port-au-Prince(PAP) is the capital of Haiti, and the city where the international airport is located. This is also where half of our team stayed for the duration of our trip (the other half went to Léogâne). PAP is about 1.5 hours from Miami by air, and I was very impressed by how organized their airport was. For those wondering from my packing list post, AA did not charge me for my checked bag…whoop! At PAP airport, I purchased a Natcom simcard (with phone + data minutes for $10) because I wasn’t sure if there’d be wi-fi at our lodging (there was…and in fact most establishments in Haiti have free wi-fi including the airport).

After fighting my way yelling a long, continuous “NOOOO” in slow motion to all the porters who insisted on helping me “carry” my one ROLLABLE bag (not for free…might I add), I finally made it out of the airport. Nothing really prepared me for the sun/heat/dust that hit me…but lets just say I worked a lot on my tan this past week 🙂

Terre-Noire was our lodging for the week.A gated compound with high yellow walls, it is located in Blanchard and houses a pentecostal church, a school (Pre-k to 6th grade), housing for their staff, and dormitories for HOM missionaries. Our female dormitory was fully decked with one mosquito net and 2 fans per bed, and this was really where most of us bonded. I haven’t lived in close proximity with that many women since I was in high school, and I found it to be a very refreshing experience.

There were morning & evening services everyday at the church, so we were treated to singing from the choir twice daily during breakfast and dinner. Outside the compound, there wasn’t much to see except hawkers and mini-convenience stalls, as Blanchard is a slum area.

The Haitian people were very hospitable and respectful. Due to our location in  Blanchard, we didn’t mingle with a lot of locals outside of the compound and the clinic, but the few we met were very courteous. Their greetings were always very warm, and occasionally you even got a peck on the cheek. Many of them are very religious and believe in a higher power, be it Jesus or VooDoo and some even both! (Not really sure how this was possible and I wanted to ask, but I was wary about being offensive).

I was mistaken for Haitian through out my time in PAP ( because of my dark skin and possibly my braids) so the two phrases I had to learn quickly were “Mwen pa komprann” andnon pale kreyòl” which translates to “I don’t understand” and “I don’t speak Kreyol” respectively.  Not because I didn’t want to be associated with Haitians, but because especially at the clinic, several people started to give a long detailed account of their symptoms to me in kreyòl, and I hated to have them repeat it all over again.



“Tap-Tap” was our team’s primary mode of transportation around PAP. At the airport, I thought the back was where my luggage went, until Arnold (our host) told me to get in. You should have seen the horrified look on my face!…LOL. That said, I adjusted pretty quickly as we all came to realize that the back of the “tap-tap” was actually a cool spot and had all the breeze (a welcome consolation for the heat), plus it was a prime spot for picture-taking.

They look similar to pick up trucks, but they are covered at the back and have two benches on the inside. Going by American standards, the “tap-tap” would most likely be considered unsafe, because all that separated us from sliding down the bench onto the road was an iron bar. However, despite a few potholes that had us bouncing off our seats, none of us ever felt unsafe. Our escorts/translators always sat at the edge, and our drivers were very responsible. We also had a button where we could “tap-tap” and alert the driver whenever we needed him to stop or slow down.


The food was amazing! Terre Noire provided all their guests with breakfast and dinner, and each meal was better than the last. Huge, sliced, delicious mangoes (my favorite fruit) were served EVERYDAY at breakfast, and we had freshly made fruit juice with every meal! I also loved that their chicken was free-range and more “chicken-y” (I can’t really explain what “chicken-y” is…but I think you know what I mean lol).

The Haitian staple menu is usually rice and beans, but our cook  did her best to switch it up every night. My personal favorites were the pumpkin soup, fried plantain fritters, chicken pâté and the Pikliz (spicy coleslaw) and Terre Noire always made enough so that we could go for seconds. We were strongly advised not to try street food, even though some looked so delicious that they seemed worth the potential diarrhea.


Our lifestyle at Terre Noire was very simple. If someone had said to me that I could go a week without having severe withdrawals from my favorite TV shows, I may have called him/her a liar. I even loaded some movies on my iPad for good measure. But I surprised myself because i didn’t miss my TV one bit, neither did i miss my phone (we had wi-fi, but i hardly ever used it). First of all, a good chunk of each day was spent at the clinic; and after we got back, we spent our time bonding with each other and also getting to know the other groups staying at the compound. We had devotion and played games until bed time.



Siesta was also a wonderful luxury afforded to me on this trip. I found it interesting that regardless of how loud the sounds of nature in the compound were (birds chirping, roosters crowing, dogs barking, crickets chirping, children playing) and despite the fact that our dormitory doors and windows were always open, I never needed my earplugs because I always slept very comfortably.

 

Anyway, I will say “Orevwa” at this point. I will continue with updates through the week, so don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any. Your comments are also welcome, and thank you for reading!

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