Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our arrival to Haiti

I am very thankful to be able to say that we have arrived in Haiti, safely and with little incident. We left Alaska at 4pm Friday afternoon and arrived at our destination at 3:30pm on Saturday afternoon. Granted, there was some time change in there, but was a long journey.

We arrived into Port au Prince this morning at 9:00am, collected our bags, and made it through customs without so much as a bat of the eye from the customs officer. I was relieved, but of course relief was a bit premature, as we were then randomly selected to have our bags inspected. First one up was the 70 lb. bag filled with IV supplies and medications. I was very surprised that again, not a word was said. The bag was zipped up, and the agent proceeded with the others, with not one exchange of words. This seems to be the Haitian way.

Now- prior to our arrival I had done some reading which described the frenzy that would soon greet us. I instructed Glen that we would be met with swarms of Haitian men who would be attempting to help us with our luggage...I should say, very aggressively and adamently trying to help us with our luggage. I explained to Glen that this can sometimes be used as a way to hold luggage hostage until adequate papyment is provided to the assistant, or even at the most innocent level, a way to push help on someone to get any amount of money. Seeing as we did not need any assistance, I told Glen that we would just have to be adament in saying, "No thank you. We do not need help." many of you know, sweet Glen is a bit of a lamb...a very sweet, kind, loving, laid back lamb. I look away for a second and he has 3 men helping us! I get the situation under control and repeatedly say, "No, thank you but no, we do not need help. No..." The men did not take no for an answer, so I had to get tough. to make a long story short, one of the men said, "If you do not like Haitians, then you should not come to Haiti!" I tried to apologize and explain myself to him, but of course with the language barrier it was very difficult. Actually...more so than the language barrier, it was the CULTURAL barrier...

We sat down in the waiting area to wait for the other volunteer, Liz, a nurse from New York, who would be arriving at 1pm. Seeing as it was just barely past 9:00am, that meant we had a nearly 4 hour wait. 4 HOURS. Sitting. With all of these luggage "helpers" surrounding us.
In the time we sat waiting, I thought about the incident with the bags and the Haitian man getting mad at me for denying help. As much as it irked me that the idea of "No, I do not need help" meant nothing, I eventually came to an understanding. This is their livlihood. This is how they support themselves and their families. The difference between getting bags and getting no bags was that man having food for his family or not. What if that were me? Would I take no for an answer? Not if I could help it. And so my first lesson in Haitian life unfolded as I sat and waited and watched. I had already read about it but I got to see it firsthand- Haitians are persistant. They persevere. 

4 hours latter, we loaded up onto the pink Midwives for Haiti jeep and got to meet Liz. It was so nice to be in the complany of another birth worker who was excited to be in Haiti to support this organization. We exchanged basic introductions and then watched in awe from the metal cage of the back of the Jeep (where we sat), hanging on for dear life, as the city flew by us.

Getting to the Midwives for Haiti guesthouse took us nearly 3 hours. It was a long, windy trip, on very bumpy terrain- twists ad turns and up into the mountains, leaving the loud and screeching sounds of Port Au Prince down below. As soon as we were at the outside of the confines of the city, the noise level dropped and the temperature felt as if it plummeted 15-20 degrees. The drop in temperature was refreshing, but even with the "coolness" it was still about 80 degrees. I put on my headphones, put on some music, and just watched...
House made of branches and sheets of tarp, scraps of metal, stones, sheets...I don't think I saw one "normal" home. They all were a different version of the same.

We saw women and young girls walking alongside the dirt road with buckets of clean water on their heads, carrying home to the family, groups of women and children gathered around what looked like community water pumps, filling buckets and doing laundry, clean clothes hanging out to dry on makeshift clothes lines, laid on the ground or large rocks alongside the road. And as we whizzed by in the cage in the back of the pink Jeep, they would look up...but not once did I see a change of expression. No smile, no grimace. no curiosity...just pure observation.

Now we are here, settled into the guesthouse in Hinche, our bellies full and ready to go to bed for the night. We sat and ate dinner, telling about ourselves, the community we come from, and how we "practice" birth. When asked what brought us here, the why, I honestly don't know the answer...or atleast how to verbalize it. It's multifaceted.

We were fascinated to get to sit and speak with Liz, the L&D nurse who will be here with us for a week. She shared stories of her work in New York with us, and talked about the desire she once had to be a midwife, but after seeing certain things, she is hesitant that it is the right path for her. I have known her for a few hours, but I can tell that it is. She seems as though she is meant to be a midwife. I'm looking forward to getting to know her more.

For now, Glen and I are off to bed. We have church in the morning and then a down day to relax and explore. Work will start on Monday.

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