Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day Eight in Haiti - Jacmel (1/12/10)

Adam still wasn’t feeling very well when we woke up, so we decided that after breakfast, he would walk me over to Pazapa, then head back to the hotel to sleep. For breakfast we were told to sit in the back to eat, which was fine by us. The night before, we had eaten dinner at the front of the hotel and we felt like we were in a zoo with everyone peering in and talking to us as we were eating. The waitress never brought us a menu; she just started bringing out food – white bread toast, Haitian grapefruit juice (it’s very sweet), and fried eggs with salad. A very interesting breakfast, but we just went with it. We’re not getting too picky when it comes to our food here anymore.

We walked down the street and went to Pazapa. It. Was. Amazing. I fell in love immediately! There were little children running around, eating breakfast, greeting their teachers, and staring at the two foreign visitors. Ti Joe (Little Joe) greeted us and reassured Adam that he would take care of me. After Adam left, Ti Joe gave me a tour of the school. There are four different classrooms, the “babies,” early primary, late primary, and intermediate. In the older classrooms, they really want to integrate their students in the community, so there are typically developing peers who go to school at Pazapa in the morning before attending their school in the afternoon. The facilities aren’t amazing, but they are clean and the teachers are amazing with the students. I was just smiling SO hugely the entire tour – it was awesome! After the tour, I went into the early primary classroom to observe. Even though I didn’t understand the language, I still had a fairly good idea about what was going on. Students in any country are always excited when there’s a visitor in the room and these little Haitian students were no exception. I sat at a table with about eight little boys, all who would shyly smile at me, then quickly turn away when I asked their names and how old they were in Creole. The teacher was giving a lesson about the color green and passed out leaves from a plant outside and even I was picking up the Creole for green – ve.

Next, I went to the classroom for the babies – infants and toddlers. There were only about four children there, but their moms came with them and stayed the entire time. It was so neat to see the network and support that these mothers had through each other and it was clear they loved their children as well as the other children in the class. Each child had a very different reason for being at Pazapa, but all were equally sweet. There was even a child there for the first time with his mom and grandma and after being observed and filling out paperwork, he became the newest student there! I loved playing and interacting with these little ones. No language is really needed to interact with them, though I was soon saying, “Bravo!” and clapping after a little girl successfully stacked rings. She loved to clap and would often stack them again and stare at me, waiting for the clapping.

During recess for the early primary classroom, a little boy led me to the center of the courtyard, pointed to a chair, and I sat down. I was immediately surrounded by all the students, who were all touching my skin, hair, and notepad. They loved taking my pen and making little scribble marks on my paper and were even more amazed when I would trace their hand on it. After tracing about five hands, with plenty more waiting, one of the teachers had me sit on the side of the courtyard so the students would be able to run around and play, rather than just surrounding me.

I spent the last 30 minutes or so in the baby room. Adam came in and sat with me, playing with that same sweet little girl. It was exciting to be able to tell him everything that I had seen that day and my plans for interviewing the director, teachers, students, and family about the school itself. As horrible as we had felt the day before, I was so happy to be here at Pazapa and knew that it was worth it! It is such an amazing program – even in American standards (though the resources are very different). They only have the school Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, but I was excited to go with the physical therapist for home visits on Thursday morning and to see their school for the deaf in the afternoons.

We decided to wait to see the school for the deaf until the following day because Adam still needed to take it easy and I could use a little break as well. We went back to our guesthouse and ordered lunch in the back room. Adam got a ham and cheese sandwich with fries and a salad and I ordered rice and beans – exactly what I wanted. We then headed upstairs and watched “Starsky and Hutch” on the laptop and then drifted off to a nice nap (with the many noises of Jacmel in the background – roosters, car horns, motorcycles, Haitian mommies yelling, etc.). We slept for a solid two hours or so before Adam got up to take pictures from the balcony of the hotel and I did a little reading in the room.

I left Karen to sleep while I got up to take some pictures of the street from a second floor balcony and church right next to our hotel. It was a nice day and the beautiful singing was coming from the church next to us. It sounded like a choir practice and they were singing “Ave Maria”, one of my favorites. I was lining up a shot of the hallway in the hotel and the ground started shaking. At first I thought a big truck or something was driving down the road but then the ground was shaking even more under me and the church next to me started falling apart. I aimed the camera in that direction and started sporadically taking pictures. I was right outside the door of our hotel room on the second floor while all of this was happening. The ground stopped shaking and I ran into our room to find Karen alright. It’s hard to tell how long the earthquake lasted but it lasted anywhere from 10 seconds to 1 minute. Our perception of time is a little distorted.

So while Adam was actually seeing the disastrous effects of the earthquake as they were happening, I was still in our room. When the ground started shaking, I started to freak out – was this an earthquake? Is that what an earthquake feels like? What am I supposed to do? Run outside? Hide in a doorway? Where is Adam? Is he okay? So, instead of doing any of those – I just stayed on the bed, frantically looking around at the roof and the walls. As soon as it stopped, Adam ran in – we were SO happy and grateful to see each other. We sat together on the bed briefly talking about what happened, had a family prayer, and then decided to walk out to the balcony to see the damage. As we were up there, people from the street yelled at us to get out and on the ground. We quickly ran to our room, put on shoes, grabbed the camera bag and made our way to the courtyard behind the neighboring church.

It’s really, really difficult to express what this experience was like. Cars and mototaxis were still driving in the street, through huge piles of rubble. People were wailing, praising God, and everything in between. We sat through a few aftershocks behind the church, but luckily there didn’t seem to be further damage. After waiting over an hour (and because it was getting dark), we decided to head back into our hotel, which had no sign of damage. We found some of the employees and they told us we would be fine in our second floor room, gave us a kerosene lamp, and we tried to relax. About ten minutes later, a woman (presumably the owner) came through telling us we needed to get out of the hotel until we got the all clear. It turns out the entire street is built on a floodplain and they were worried about further damage. We grabbed our flashlight, camera bag, and laptop bag and headed into the street to wait.

By this time, it was about 6:30 and getting dark quickly. It seemed that everyone in the town was fleeing in the same direction. The owner told us we would be walking to the beach for safety, but we ended up staying in the street across from the hotel because her parents couldn’t make the journey to the beach. We stood around just waiting for nothing when a nice Land Cruiser drove up with a Haitian in the driver seat and what appeared to be an American in the passenger seat. He asked if we were American and I ran over to him. It turns out his name was David and he worked for the US Embassy here in Jacmel and was just driving around town looking for any Americans. We showed him our passports and we hopped into his car and we headed up to where the MINUSTAH (United Nations) base station was next to the airport. We arrived but then I went to go back with David to grab the rest of our bags from our hotel room since we left in such a hurry.

The twenty minutes that Adam was gone were the longest in my life. There was another American waiting with me whose hotel had crumbled down behind her and on her best friend. There were four Danes whose home had crumbled as they ran out without luggage, money, or passports. There was an American who lived in Jacmel whose home was also destroyed. I knew that Adam was safe with David and that our hotel hadn’t suffered any damage, but in a situation like this, it is easy to speculate. After Adam got back, Angus, a tattooed Scot who is the head of security, came to give us an update. There had been a 7.0 earthquake 10 km outside of Port-au-Prince and already there had been a 5.9 aftershock. The airport was closed (both here in Jacmel and in Port-au-Prince). There went our plan to fly to Port-au-Prince, and then head home a few days early! The UN troops (from Sri Lanka) passed out brandy and cookies - we drank our water and ate a lot of cookies (we weren’t sure when we would eat again!).

At least once an hour, but often more, we would feel rather large aftershocks. We were in a big open parking lot, so while we felt safe, we also knew that if it was this bad two hours outside of Port-au-Prince, it was probably even worse in the city itself. As it got darker, the aftershocks seemed to get worse. The worst part was hearing the screams and shrieks coming from the direction of Jacmel. After a few more updates from Angus (including that the threat of a tsunami had passed……glad we weren’t aware of that beforehand!), dinner from the UN (the worst crackers ever and pieces of bread with a marmalade), and a few more aftershocks, they passed out a few mats that we could use to sleep on. We headed to the UN cafeteria, which had been cleared out, and cuddled up on a mat. By this time, there were about 50 Haitians who had been let in the UN station with 3,000 more out on the tarmac of the airport. However, within 30 minutes of being inside, we felt three more aftershocks, one that was really bad, so we decided not to chance it inside and to head back to the parking lot. Haiti can get pretty cold at night, so we used Adam’s hoodie as a blanket for the both of us and tried to rest. By this time it was 2 AM and the last aftershock came at about 3 AM. Finally, we could get some sleep.


Ashley Lauren Trunnell said...

What a relief that you are okay! We've been eagerly waiting for some solid information and I am so glad to finally hear.

My Adam called your Adam's dad (do you follow?) Tuesday night to see what he knew because Casey had called and told us there was an earthquake. Of course he didn't know yet and we've talked to him a few times since but he didn't really have any solid information. When you turn on the news it's all you hear about and I just kept picturing you guys there in Port au Prince. I'm so glad to hear that you were 2 hours away from the worst of it (even though it still sounds bad there) Take care of yourselves the best you can and exaggerate your pregnancy so you get some real food!

I hope that you guys get the help you need and get home soon and safely. We can't wait to see you in person.

funniah said...

I am glad you guys made it safely and am in your blogspot because I am a Deaf person who is trying to find the RIGHT place to donate money for the Deaf children in Haiti. You said you were going to visit their school the next day. I guess it never happened.

Who can I talk to about contributing some help to the Deaf children of Haiti? Can you please help me out with this if it isn't too much?