Today was a really important day for me. I had been trying not to let the devastation and dire circumstances here affect me and trying to concentrate only on the positive things we had seen – and there were plenty of those too. People smiling, dancing, sharing a joke, eating delicious Haitian food and most of all just living their daily lives.
Today, I let myself feel emotional for the first time and it was a good thing.
We all woke up at our usual time of around 6:30-7am, which is easier than it would normally be, as we go to bed early! The sun sets around 6 here and the daylight fades incredibly quickly – it turns from day to the blackest of night in mere minutes.
After the usual breakfast (which is waiting on the table for us every morning from 6am) of Haitian coffee (pretty good) little mini soft bread sticks, peanut butter, Haitian grapefruit (extra sour) and/or cereal, Brock, Kathrine and I headed out to our meeting with the St. Luke’s team, which was at the Petit Freres et Souers Paediatric Hospital. The rest of the guys were staying behind to check out the Heartline hospital facility and were hoping to interact with some patients and kids. They ended up in an impromptu singalong, which I’ll let them tell you about!
We got there pretty early, and mistakenly congratulated ourselves on our promptness in Haiti so far, little knowing the experience to come later in the day! We met with Anette (assistant to the director) and the rest of the board (who it turned out spoke only Creole) I was a little nervous, but with Anette’s English and my French, we made do! It was tough being the only translator, as we had been relying a lot on Parfait, but I am really enjoying using my French, especially with our driver Jean-Jacques (who has 3 daughters, loves music, soccer and church, and lost a LOT of family members in the earthquake). The meeting was interesting, and we found out that the street schools that we had been imagining as small one-room shacks were in fact big schools with 400 students per building! They employ over 240 teachers, and follow the Haitian national curriculum (yes, there is one!). Unfortunately, they are still struggling with rebuilding some of the schools after the earthquake and the recent big storm, and they won’t be open while we are here, so we won’t be able to meet the children. We were pretty disappointed about that.
After the meeting, we got to look around the hospital a little and it was sad seeing all the mothers waiting outside with their sick children and knowing that only some of them would make it inside for the free care. They would like to treat everyone, but have to take patients on a needs basis, as they just don’t have the space or resources.
After an impromptu walk to the tiny shop in our neighborhood, Bill and I came back with treasure: fresh warm bread, doritos and pringles! We had lunch out on the porch and then Parfait, Brock and I left for our next appointment, with Jacky Lumarque, head of Quisqueya University and also one of the people charged with rebuilding the Haitian education system. On the way, we drove past the Presidential Palace, which was completely devastated by the quake. Seeing the once beautiful palace reeling drunkenly like it had been swatted with a huge fist was shocking. It was surrounded by tents and hungry people and I was really happy to give a little boy a bag of trail mix I had with me and see the look on his face.
We finally arrived at Quisqueya, which had been completely destroyed. We were early yet again and confidently waved good bye to Jean-Jacques before making our way towards the temporary buildings. It soon became obvious that we were in the wrong place, and it turned out the university had moved their headquarters to a temporary location up a mountain half an hour away! Oops. After dragging our van away from where he was getting it cleaned, JJ drove like the wind and got us to our meeting with a couple seconds to spare. He really is the man.
Meeting Jackie was an honor. There is a lot I could say, but I think I will just sum it up by saying that he is amazingly passionate, knowledgeable and wise about Haiti and throughout all the hardships that the country has gone through, he still has the hope, drive and energy to change things for the better. He believes that change will start with the educational system, and has been instrumental in coming up with the 5 year reform plan. We came out of that meeting feeling slightly euphoric, and on my part, emotional. Through all the things I had seen over the past few days, it took his true belief in his country to make me cry.
As we sit together melting this evening, swatting at mosquitoes and joking about how a glass with one ice-cube in it has already become a treat, I feel that today was a really good day.