It was cloudy over the country as our flight approached Haiti. Glimpses of mountaintops and sea, then touchdown. We stepped into the tropical warmth, onto a crowded bus, into a more crowded terminal to stand in line for a long time. Nothing to declare. Keep the green card. Put the passport away. Claim the luggage.
Our belongings had long been off-loaded, so by the time I got to the conveyor a man in a uniform was dragging my suitcase around shouting my first name in French. “Ici,” I said as I took it from his hand. “Merci.” He glared, probably because I didn’t display my gratitude in currency. Onward into the fray to find the AIM staff who had been waiting with a bus for us for at least 2 hours.
Loaded into the white school bus, we were taken into the streets of Port-au-Prince, heading for our base for the week at a pastor’s home in Carrefour, Ouest, a sort of suburb of this sprawling city with a pre-earthquake population of 8 million people. The breeze from the open windows was welcome, but brought with it unfamiliar smells mixed with vehicle exhaust and lots and lots of dust.
As our driver navigated the most intense moving traffic I have ever seen, the team was snapping pictures, watching the mass of humanity mill about everywhere. The road we were traveling was lined with markets selling everything from live chickens, pigs and goats to vegetables, furniture and clothing. There was a lane, sometimes 2, in each direction, but it didn’t matter where you went in a vehicle or on foot. People, motorcycles, colorful public taxis called tap taps, trucks, wheel barrows, pushcarts, police, soldiers, animals all share every inch of space on or along the road. Makes travel interesting.
At one point I laughed because I realized we were part of a spectacle. As we peered out the windows looking at Haiti, Haiti looked back at us. It was not one-way glass. We were all caucasian, “blanc” as they say there, and we were as much of a curiosity to them as they to us. Most relief workers are white, most white people are American. Every time the bus stopped or slowed, children asked us for money, men brought trinkets, art and bottled drinks to sell. We smiled and waved or shrugged, and eventually we all moved along.
There were tents and make-shift shelters for miles along this road, even on the median. There were crumbled buildings with tents in front or on top. Some of the buildings I’d seen previously in photos taken by friends months ago. There was garbage, spoiled fruits and vegetables, animal droppings, and people droppings along the sides and in the canals. I’m told it was considerably cleaner than it was in July when two members of our team were there before. There were also new cars in auto dealership showrooms, providing a bit of disconnect.
After a detour to return to the airport to pick up people from another team, an hour more sitting absolutely still in traffic, our four-hour odyssey to Carrefour was completed. We had been traveling for about 12 hours since leaving our Ft. Lauderdale hotel, and had already experienced first-hand the motto for explaining everything, “This is Haiti.”
Byenveni nan Ayiti! Welcome to Haiti.