Sunday, February 20, 2011

November Visit : Part 2

“Its good to be back”

I was sitting next to the window and reading my book, Tale of Two Cities, when at one point I looked up and saw Haiti’s mountains and saw that we were getting closer to Port au Prince. I put my book away and just kept looking out the window.

When I was younger, every time I flew home to Chicago I would always look out the window to see things I recognized. Usually the only thing I was sure of was the Sears Tower, but I would try to find my house, my school, that really big movie theater close to the airport. Anyway as I sat on the plane flying into Haiti I strained my neck to get the best view out the window. I tried looking for what was left of St. Etienne a rural church in the mountains, that was the first church I visited in Haiti, I looked and found the road that we usually drove to get to Montruis (where the old seminary is, as well as some nice beaches), and as we descended into Port au Prince I struggled to see other familiar landmarks.

Searching for these places that I knew made the fear go away. I was coming back to a place that was familiar, a place that was like home, a place where I would be taken care of.

As I stepped out of the plane, walked through part of the airport and outside to the bus that would take us to our luggage…I took in the sun and the air, breathed in and thought “Its good to be back”

I walked with confidence through customs, and easily got all my bags (an accomplishment in itself) called my friend who was waiting outside and left without any problems. And when those guys surrounded me to help with my bags, speaking Creole to me, I just said “no mesi” (no thanks) and kept walking to my friend.

It was great to be back!

Monday, February 7, 2011

My November Visit to Haiti

So I thought it might finally be time to write about my November trip to Haiti. I know it’s a bit late (ok A LOT late)…but I guess it just wouldn’t be me if I blogged about things in a timely fashion. I’m making posts about my trip in small portions – I wrote a lot about it, mostly for my own sake so I can remember the trip in the future – so here is the first portion or two.

Planning my November Trip

Last fall all I could think about was going back to Haiti. I missed my friends there, the food (even the rice and beans), the art, the music, the atmosphere, all of it. I hadn’t been there since last June and 6months was too much time to be away.

Of course it was right after I booked my tickets that problems started to arise…For example, the Cholera Outbreak. Although I was never too concerned about how this would impact me personally I think it may have caused some worry for my family. I don’t mean this to say that the Cholera isn’t troubling but I believed I had nothing to worry about since I am fortunate enough to have access to clean water and good food when I am in Haiti.

Then the night after I booked my plane tickets I was talking to one of the Haitians that I would be visiting and told him my travel dates. While I’d had this discussion before, it all the sudden occurred to us that I was leaving the day of the election in Haiti and they were expecting riots. Violent protests had already started in response to the Cholera and there were some campaign events that were becoming dangerous. So I changed my tickets to leave Haiti on Thanksgiving Day avoiding the election.

I won’t bore you with all the other little stumbling blocks I ran into planning my trip. I just wanted to make the point that there were moments that I seriously questioned why I was bothering with all this. Perhaps all the issues might be a sign that now is not my time to go back...Why not just postpone for a few months?

But the truth is I had to go. I kept thinking about how I spent my last Thanksgiving in Port au Prince…Attempting to plan a Thanksgiving meal in my apartment - Trying to explain in Creole to my friend Jeanine, who was cooking for me, that I wanted turkey and pumpkin. Being surrounded by a table of new friends, Haitian and American that had become like family. It was one of those moments that I knew Haiti had become like home. And as this years Thanksgiving approached I knew I had to be back, and all the problems that kept coming up were not going to stop me.

“Here we go Again”

After flying from DC to Miami, I had to spend the night in the Miami airport. It was awful (...but worth the money I saved on tickets). I got to Miami at around 10pm-ish and was wondering what I was going to do there all night since my flight didn’t leave till around 7:30am. Was I going to be the only one there? Would I get kicked out?

None of that happened – apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted to save some money on plane tickets and there were a couple other people at the gate. The airport workers left the TV on for us…too bad they didn’t leave the remote control…but watching CNN all night wasn’t too bad. I got to watch Larry King interview Russell Brand.. a few times… which was entertaining-ish. The best part was when a nice airport worker brought me one of those pillow/blanket packets they sometimes give you on planes. He didn’t give them to the other people so I felt pretty special. It was also freezing in the airport so that blanket got a lot of use.

As the excitement began to mount for my flight so did the fear. Fear of Cholera, protests, and the airport (perhaps my biggest fear of all)

Every time I go to Haiti I am terrified of the airport. Probably because the first time I went to Haiti, as soon as I stepped out of baggage claim and out to meet my ride, I was surrounded by men yelling various French things at me; them trying to carry my bags while I tried even harder to hold on to them myself. Perhaps my memory isn’t exactly how things really happened but every time I imagine flying into Haiti that is what I think about; strange men surrounding you trying to grab your bags and yelling French/Creole at you.

So since then whenever I go back to Haiti, I quadruple check my ride plans, I make sure I know the person picking me up, make sure I have a working phone to call them when I land, ask what they are wearing, etc. I’m sure it’s pretty annoying to the person picking me up. I called the seminarian, Goursse, who was responsible for my ride, about an hour before my flight left Miami and made him promise (about 10 times) that he would be there, on time and as close as possible to the door I would be coming out of.

As I boarded the plane, I really started to have second thoughts… “Saying to myself what on earth are you doing? There’s Cholera…You know mom is going to be angry if you get sick? What about the protests? What if your car gets stopped by protesters? You are absolutely crazy? What if all those scary things that have been on CNN happen to you?” I sat in my seat and as the plane took off – I took a deep breath and thought “Here we go again”