When I left for this trip I swore I would keep notes and write up the events of every day just as they occurred. Of course, that didn't happen.
What I'm left with is a series of vignettes and impressions, some sweet, some sad, and some infuriating. My intention is to serve them up to you.
My two friends/coworkers and I arrived in Port-au-Prince at around noon and met our contact in the airport at baggage claim. And I use the term "baggage claim" loosely--there were boxes stuffed with fruit, plastic bags, crates, and all sorts of stuff rotating around the conveyor in the warehouse that was the terminal. The place was hot--107F hot--dusty, and smelly. Those three words would define the rest of my stay in Haiti.
We also met another volunteer: G, from Wisconsin via Boston, an adult nurse practitioner who works in a neurosurgery practice. She ended up being my roommate, for which I will eternally be grateful: I couldn't have asked for a better roomie!
Looking out the window of the minivan on the way to the hotel, we saw the rubble and devastation remaining after the earthquake nearly six months before. Tent cities filled with makeshift dwellings filled every open public space. One of the other volunteers who grew up in Port-au-Prince later told us of the former beauty of the public parks that surrounded the Presidential Palace and the hotel--a place to stroll with your family, eat ice cream on Sunday after church, and have picnics. All of these spaces have disappeared, covered with shanties and shacks and tents. People sell food from charcoal grills set up along the road; vendors hawk their wares from shacks labeled with what they are selling: cell phones, clothing, ice cream. Adults and children bathe in the street. Port-a-Potties are everywhere.
We headed to Hotel Le Plaza on Rue Capois. It was behind high cement walls with armed guards. We were left to our own devices until the crew returned from the hospital for the evening meeting. We were strictly admonished NOT to leave the hotel grounds for any reason; there had been a kidnapping of volunteers from another organization a few months before, and our organization was not taking any chances with our safety. So essentially, we were to be prisoners in a gilded cage for the next two weeks--shuttled between the hotel and the hospital every day. We were fortunate to have such a nice place to stay. Other organizations had their volunteers sleeping at the hospital in unused buildings, eating in tents and not showering for days.
We set up in the ballroom and waited for the others to return: we claimed our mattresses, changed out of our hot travel clothes, and unpacked a little. We strung up mosquito netting. I brought my own pillow and boy was I glad to have it.
We swam in the pool, ate a Haitian club sandwich (chicken, cheese, fried egg, bacon, lettuce, tomato) in the bar, had a beer, and then it was time to meet our compatriots for the next two weeks.
We spent the first night in the ballroom, enjoying the air-conditioning. We were up at 6 am the next morning, ready for our assignments and to spend our first day at the hospital.