Thursday, December 30, 2010

Port-au-Prince - 12/28/10

So my first and second day of the trip weren’t divided by sleep like most people. I stayed awake and made good friends with a guy from France (who I thought was Haitian). We had an interesting conversation while he spoke broken English and I spoke broken French. We talked about great places to see on vacation and how different the cultures of America, France, and Senegal are. His family is from Senegal and he visits on a fairly regular basis. After talking for a few hours I decided to go sit in front of the Air France ticket office just because there was no way I was going to sleep. It was positively cold in the airport. It was probably 40 degrees outside and maybe 55 degrees inside the airport. I found another man sitting in front of the Air France desk and after quickly discovering that he was Haitian we talked for another hour about how to fix all of Haiti’s problems. We both came to the conclusion that Haiti is so far into its problems that it will take several generations to fix everything. After our long talk we checked in, I grabbed a bite to eat, and then tried to get at least some sleep before my flight. I realize now as I’m writing this that I had been awake for 22 hours. That’s a long day! I got about an hour of sleep before the sun was in my eyes and boarding for the plane was about to begin. I got on the plane and noticed that my window seat was already occupied, leaving the aisle seat available. Normally I would have spoken up and tried to get my window seat since I love looking out the window as we fly into Haiti, but I was too tired to protest. I went through the flight with little conversation and another hour of sleep.

After landing I got off the plane and got my first reminder of the reality of the earthquake last year. The main (and only) terminal was condemned because of the structural damage sustained by the quake. Broken glass, rubble, and cracks running all over the walls was all that was left of the still standing building. It was eerie peering through the doors as I boarded a large bus that took us further down the runway where the makeshift terminal was found. An old American Airlines cargo warehouse has been converted into customs and baggage pick-up. Luggage is laid in neat rows and long lines zigzag around the open space on the floor. After passing two less-than-interested customs workers I was out of the airport with my bags and looking for James Rhodes, the originator of the Nap Kenbe project. He hadn’t arrived yet. I was hounded by countless Haitians attempting to give me an overpriced taxi ride but I told them sternly, “Non, M’ pa bezwen taksi!” “Nope, I don’t need a taxi”. My Creole impressed them and they left me alone after that, discovering that I wasn’t a “Blan Bet” “Dumb White Person” that could be tricked into giving them my valuable American dollars. After waiting about 15 minutes I agreed to use the phone of a friendly (almost too friendly, obviously looking to profit with his “Haitian Hospitality”) Haitian taxi driver named Patrick. James told me that he was 10 minutes away. I took the opportunity to get a SIM card for the phone my buddy Howard let me borrow for my trip. My new found friend Patrick walked me over to the Digicell hut where I could get what I needed. Fortunately, it wasn’t near as expensive as I had feared. $5 got me the SIM card and $10 bought me enough minutes for at least a few days’ use. Patrick gave me the Haitian Hustle and told me about his starving children and how much he helped me and everything. I gave him $10 after talking him down from $30 and found James soon after.

We stopped at a nice Haitian restaurant on the way to the house which is acting as our base camp. (Interesting note, our house is across the street from former-President Aristide’s house. I think that’s kinda cool!) I was reminded of our trip last year when it took 30 minutes for them to bring us water and then another 20 minutes to bring us food. The food was great though. After being stuffed silly we went to the house where I finally got a chance to get some quality sleep. 4 hours later I woke up and got a chance to talk with another member of the Nap Kenbe team, Hadas. This is her first trip to Haiti and she is certainly getting a good dose of how Haiti works. She was trying to go to one of the cities outside of Port-au-Prince and the bus she took ended up stopping and taking everyone back to town after the driver wanted to charge another 10 goudes for the bus fare. She then walked 45 minutes towards another bus stop and was met by Tassy, another one of the Nap Kenbe Project originators. I used the internet for a short period of time and managed to get a short Skype video chat with Karen, Rachel, and a stubborn Everett who wasn’t wanting to sleep. After eating another meal we took a car over to one of Tassy’s friend’s house and I got a chance to get to know Tassy. He lives in Orlando and is a Priest in a church there. He’s a very well known man in the area and nearly everywhere we go he stops to talk to people he knows. He is pretty much the one who has arranged most of our contacts here in Haiti and takes care of transportation for us. After grabbing another mattress for me to sleep on we returned to the house and after my very first genuine Haitian bucket shower I went to bed.

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