Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Still Holding Haiti: It's Not All Happy

Even though it felt great to be back in Haiti, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared or sad.

As I went around the city going back and forth to the airport I was reminded of all the destruction that I had left last January. All the buildings that had collapsed and were still so slanted that it looked like a gust of wind could knock them over. Even though I had already seen all of this before it was sad to see the enormous amount of work that still needed to be done, just to clear the ruble.

Driving around also brought me back to my last day in Haiti where I spent the morning driving around for hours before finally going to the US embassy. All the anxiety from that day found its way back into the pit of my stomach.

We also drove by some of the tent cities. Some of them taking up only the space of a small public square and others that stretched off into the distance. One thing that was good about seeing the tent cities was to see the tents. When I left people were using make shift sheets, plastic tarp and umbrellas for shelter and while this was still the case sometimes, there were also an abundance of tents giving people a close to suitable place to live. But its still disappointing to see the conditions in the tent cities and one has to wonder when people will be able to go back and live in permanent homes.

One of the things that affected me the most during my trip back was the fear. I was staying in Petionville at the Episcopal missionary’s apartment. It was on the third floor of a building next to the church and right next to a busy street. The night as we were going up to the apartment I remember asking if the building had been checked out and if it was safe to sleep in and the response was something like “We think its ok”…

As it came time to sleep we talked about what we would do if there was an earthquake and where we would go. I wasn’t all that comfortable with the plan but it seemed like it was the best option. Then I prepared a backpack with my passport, change of clothes, granola bars, phones etc that I could quickly grab in case I needed to leave quickly. We slept with the door unlocked so we could get out quick.

As I laid down to sleep at night I couldnt help but about how all this prep work probably wouldn’t be that useful if anything like the January 12 earthquake happened. I didn’t really think there would be time to get out or that I would have the presence of mind to get out with my things or worse that I would just sleep through something. Then I thought about the buildings I had seen which had pancaked. Not very comforting. I laid there stiff as a board feeling like I was back on the grass at the soccer field the night of the earthquake.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep very well and woke up to a swollen bottom lip. Apparently during the night when I had managed to sleep I was so tense that I bit my lip…and judging by the feeling in my lip…I bit it hard and for a long time.

Despite some of the fear, anxiety and sadness, I tried my hardest for it not to become the focus of my trip. I knew that this was what my students and friends had been dealing with ever since I left and I couldn’t let just one night ruin my visit.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Still Holding Haiti

Last time I wrote about my upcoming trip to Haiti, where I was looking forward to returning and hoping to see my friends and students and seeing what has happened since I left. Because it would be probably one of the longest blog entries ever to write about my whole trip all at once I’m going to spend the next few days writing about different parts of the trip. So here’s the first one...
Getting There…
As you might know I was more than excited to go back to Haiti, so imagine my disappointment when I found myself sitting on the plane at O’Hare airport 2 hours after my flight was supposed to takeoff. There were electrical problems with the plane and eventually we had to switch to a different one. We landed in Miami 3 hours after my flight was supposed to land and I missed my connecting flight to Haiti, which also happened to be the last flight out for that day.

I spent the night in Miami at the Holiday Inn and ate at the hotel’s Cuban Restaurant (the Airline Paid). I was more than angry and disappointed so while eating alone, instead of completely sulking, I tried to distract myself by watching planes take off, thinking how thankful I was I had packed extra clothes and toiletries in my carry on, and trying to figure out the similarities between the Cuban food I was eating and Haitian food I should have been eating.

Bright and early the next morning (before sunrise) I was on the shuttle bus back to the airport. There was a small scare that I wouldn’t make it to the airport because the driver didn’t seem to know how to get there and kept driving on streets that were dead ends but eventually we got there and after some small delays on the airplane I was finally on my way to Port au Prince!

As the plane began to land I was able to look at the window and was filled with excitement. As I stepped off the plane, greeted by a small band, and making my way through customs I felt so happy to be back. I eagerly pulled out my Haitian phone and sent texts to some friends letting them know I was there. One friend even called me and as we were talking the mentioned how much happier I sounded.

Even as I waited and waited for my luggage, I continued to be happy. Listening to the familiar sound of Creole. The pushing and shoving as people edged closer to get their bags. The workers helping the older women first. The rich men who tried to do what they could to be first to get their bags. The heat. The organized chaos. The hurry up and wait. Seeing and feeling all of it let me know I was back in Haiti and it felt great.

A lot of my first day was spent making return trips to the airport…seems like the Airline decided not to put my luggage on the plane (or about half of the other people on the flight)…I did eventually get everything but I couldn’t help but be in a good mood about it all because I was back.