It is 8:38 pm on Wednesday, 10-29-2010, and I finally can sit down and compile a few notes about what this experience in Haiti has been so far. As you can imagine every work meeting, every interaction with Haitians and every sight seeing venture, stirs up emotional lava awaiting to erupt.
When I first landed in Port Au Prince on Monday, conversely to my own expectations, I was shocked by the lack of resources at the Airport. This was very similar to my past experiences when visiting west African countries. However the scale seemed relatively worse. There were many volunteers affiliated with a wide range of organizations whose focus ranged from humanitarian, religious, medical and construction services.
The combination of heat, memories of Africa and the thought of the magnitude of what was awaiting us in Haiti, plunged me in a state of emotional anxiety for the following 2 hours. We were welcomed by Jon, the head of the Heartline ministries in Haiti (owner of the guesthouse where the team is staying). We boarded a caged truck and were locked in for safety reasons. You can imagine how wild and extreme my mind wandered at the sight of this. In the midst of the chaos (people asking for money, people helping us carry our luggage etc…) it felt safe to be caged in this truck.
We started driving through the city of Port Au Prince and could notice the aftermath of the quake. A few houses had parts of their structure standing, others were totally crushed. I took a look at the streets and the people and could not help to compare the landscape and population’s morale to that of West African countries. A few young kids (maybe 10 years old at most) approached the truck at the stops light begging for money screaming “done oim l’agen, oun gran gout”. This was my second chance to crack the mystery of Haitian creole since the first attempt failed at the Airport. I was very glad to translate to the rest of the team that these kids were hungry and wanted money from us.
When we finally landed at the “Village theodat” residence, I found myself saying “Ouf,” a french expression to express relief. It felt at home. I have also began to realize how adjusted to comfort I am. The emotional anxiety due to dis-orientation, and high expectations of myself to be in control once we’ve landed, went on for another hour. After an uplifting talk with Beverly, the owner of the guest house, I went to my room, kneeled and prayed for strength, wisdom and a clear mind.
Then we started calling the Haiti Tour company to get a hold of our designated driver. My rusty french was proving to be helpful. Next, I called our contact at the World Food Program and scheduled a meeting in the following hour. Our Driver, whom I will write more about a bit later, is this awesome 54 years old Haitian man with one of the most gentle and humble spirits I have ever come across. He took us to The UN head quarters and started teaching us some creole expressions on the car ride. At this point, I was feeling grounded and very excited about my mission in Haiti again.
The meeting with the WFP/PAM went so well, I could not believe that I was sitting across the table from UN relief workers who have worked in crisis areas around the globe and were excited about what the Rubicon Foundation could potentially offer in the education arena. This was a childhood dream come true.
Several exciting ideas for a potential partnership came out of the discussion. One included the concept of a school/Food day with a big musical concert for the kids. I was thrilled at the idea and realized that I was not in Haiti by chance. Yes food is a big incentive to get children to school in Haiti and this is one of the WFP/PAM strategies as we speak. We walked out of the meeting with additional contacts, and very confident and empowered for our mission.