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Dispatch from Haiti

21 December 2010 32 views No Comment

By Allison Diva

Haiti, December 2010

My bags are packed and I am ready to go, this journey that started with an idea is on path to becoming a reality.  So many times we look at the news and the reality never impacts us as actually involving real people.  So I am out the door to discover what the media only hints at.

I get to the airport and it was different, I was the only one going on to Haiti, everyone else was journeying to resorts and family, I was on my own.  What a different story once I got to JFK, the waiting area was filled with Haitians going home all speaking in a language different from mine.  But you could understand the meaning, they were anxious to get going.

I can relate, I was as well.  We boarded the 3 hr + flight and the plane was filled to capacity about 300 people.  A handful of us were visitors or volunteers.  Do people visit Haiti as a vacation spot? I think not.  One goes back home, or one volunteers, but a travel destination it is not.

I realized that we were near Haiti when the people on the plane started cheering, looking down I could see what looked like a blanket of light fog.  It was 1:30pm in the afternoon; it wasn’t fog, it is pollution that covers an entire city stretching far into the mountains.  Plumes of smoke can be seen rising in the distance.  As we disembarked into the hot air you could smell the burnt smell that would never go away.  Looking around, no one seemed to mind that they were home.

The buses came then to pick us up.  Driving to the immigration area, one could see the devastation from the earthquake and other forms of destruction, cracked walls, broken loose wires, huge bins thrown aside.  The outside looks like someone’s messy back yard.

We get to the immigration section and off load, this is my first taste of Haiti and what the people deal with, there is no air-conditioning just huge fans circulating hot air, everyone jostles to get to the front, there are no real lines, people just push through.

I get to the immigration official and was all prepared for the questions.   I had my answers ready but there were no questions, indeed there was nothing spoken between myself (first time visitor) and the official.  My travel document was stamped and I moved on to collect my luggage.

All baggage to be collected was in one large room.  There were porters who took your baggage claim tickets and went in search of your luggage.  Everyone is looking for money and even when you don’t want help, you must take it as this is the only way  people make their living.  My porter introduced himself and showed me his name tag in limited English and off he went with my baggage claim tags.

Needless to say after 2 hours of looking we came to the conclusion that no bags had arrived for me, it was now on to the luggage people for location.  After waiting another hour behind 3 people, oh yes 3 people, I was told I had to come back the next day.  Lovely, I still had to pay my porter for the time wasted.  So in the meantime my car left and had to come back in another 2 hours.  I got to PAP at 1:20pm and did not leave until about 6pm, with no luggage.

On the way to the car it is a long barren walk with a high fence to the left. I don’t make eye contact with anyone outside the fence; they are begging for money, you become their sister, friend and  cousin all in the time it takes you to reach the other side to get your ride.  While waiting I was continually accosted by a woman smiling, smiling at me and making money signs with her hands, indicating that because she was there I should give her money.

One thing I noticed is that everyone is so skinny, the only reason they offer to help is because of the money, nothing else.  In a country such as this, 10million plus with very little means of income, begging is the only other means of survival.  Leaving the airport, the car is air-conditioned, the air outside is pungent with all types of smells, burning, food, pollution, exhaust and decay.  The windows must stay up at all times; I have that luxury in a country where less than 1% do.  There are so many cars, mostly SUV’s, trucks, buses, colourful pick-up trucks with people hanging from them in an effort to get to their destinations.

More colourful buses I have never seen.  They’re all brightly painted — the Haitians are very good artists, you see their art, from metal carvings to dried branches painted white for Christmas.  Stretch upon stretch of art line some of the streets, with every hue of the rainbow, making you want to buy all of them.  So many sellers and no buyers.  Everyone is selling something, everything seems to be covered in dust and dirt but so they press on.

What else is there to do?

The traffic is horrendous, dusty, smoky and smelly. The roads are of the like which I have never seen before, some so steep and rough, I don’t believe that there are paved roads in Haiti; the short cuts take the longest times.

Cars pass each other closer than a coat of paint.  I am holding on for dear life and people on the back of motorcycles are dialling their phones with one hand.  I don’t know how they do it.  I am impressed with this ability, to be on a motorcycle going up a track with potholes the likes I have never seen.

Steep hills up and down, winding roads and everyone is rushing, the roads are so narrow they can barely hold two cars. Vendors ply their goods in between the cars in the traffic with all sorts of items for sale on the road.  We don’t stop as it is about 2 hours to our destination.

We finally get to the house with 12 foot walls and steel roll-away doors guarded by an armed security officer.  This  is my base.  I will be escorted anywhere I go by a driver at all times. I am not allowed anywhere on my own, especially as I do not speak the language.

I made it I am here, now I await my luggage.

Stay tuned for Allison’s next dispatch.

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