> Destinations > Haiti > Trip Reports > Trip Report
Travel dates: 6/23/06 - 7/05/06
I traveled with a Haitian friend, named Pierre who is starting a mission in Haiti (I'm helping out). We delivered as much medicine as we could carry in our (over-the-weight-limit) luggage and sponsored a feast at Pierre's church (I'm also creating a video for fund-raising purposes). The photos are of the people we stayed with, or met, in Port au Prince and Leogane.
The entire country is occupied by UN troops. Every couple of blocks there's a contingent of heavily armed UN soldiers and tanks to quell uprisings and kidnappings. The UN presence is both disconcerting and reassuring at the same time. I was extremely well-looked after by my hosts and traveled with an entourage at all times. The Haitians took good care of me and I felt very comfortable and safe.
The roads are so incredibly bad that I have no idea which side of the road people are officially supposed to drive on (whichever side has less ditches, ruts, and rivers running through it?). Since there's little or no electricity, stoplights are mute. We careened through a couple of giant "intersections" that were an all-out melee (the first phrase I learned in Creole was "Thank you Jesus!") It took us about 2 1/2 hours to travel 18 miles from Port au Prince to Leogane. As an unexpected benefit, the atrocious road conditions help ensure that there are very few car wrecks in Haiti (drivers exceeding the break-neck speed of 5 MPH risk loosing an axle).
The hospital I visited had only occasional electricity/ventilation and barely any running water. It was so gloomy inside that I had to use the night-vision setting on my video camera. Since the hospital can't afford "sanitation" the conditions were pretty appalling. I couldn't decide between the urge to wretch or cry. The CDC has an office adjacent to the hospital to study the myriad of vector-born diseases that plague the region. The malaria prophylaxis I'm still taking causes some pretty severe skin sensitivity to the sun (my shoulders are still crispy). There is no reliable electricity in Haiti. When it does actually work - the wattage is so low it's practically useless. There's not always running water either. Showering involved a trip to the well to fill a 5-gallon bucket for a "camp shower" (I haven't been more grimy and disgusting since 8 weeks of boot camp in the sweltering July heat of Orlando). Toilets (if there are any) may also require a trip to the well. Everyone in Haiti (men and women) pee freely on the side of the road without reservation.
Garbage removal is expensive and has not yet caught on in Haiti. The concept of dumpsters and even garbage cans is totally foreign to Haitians. "Outside" is considered the proper place for all matter of debris. Consequently, the entire country resembles a garbage dump and there is no safe drinking water. Drinking water comes in "baggies" distributed by a local water plant (for a fee of course). Disease-carrying mosquitoes thrive in the small shallows of rain water collected in the ubiquitous garbage. The squalor is the worst I've ever seen.
Despite the negatives, there were some particularly good positives: I have never been more warmly received by strangers. The out-pouring of Love, generosity, and kindness was beyond what I could have hoped for. Haitians love to be together and are rarely alone. Theirs is a communal society with much interaction. In each of the houses we stayed, we were showered with gifts and true Christian hospitality and there was a never-ending stream of visitors (20+) every day.
On the beach and at the church I got mobbed by children eager to meet a friendly visitor. I don't think the kids had ever met an approachable white person (I saw only one other white face during my 10-day visit). They examined me closely and were particularly intrigued by my light-colored hair (they took turns brushing my arm hair with a toy comb). They examined my moles, eyebrows, and were very concerned by my sunburn which they poked gingerly (to test for a pain response?).
I got tons of gifts and enjoyed the trip immensely. Haiti deepened my appreciation for the important things in life: Love, Unity, Friendship, Togetherness, Compassion, God, and basic human kindness.
Thanks to Tiffany for this trip report ...