Where did we leave off? I believe the last time we spoke, I was in the Miami International airport, waiting for our flight to Port Au Prince (“PAP”). Well, as some of you may have seen on my facebook profile, the plane was not what Abby nor I expected. What we expected was a tiny airplane, maybe even a little jet plane. Because really, who all is going to Haiti?? Well…apparently a lot of people. It was one of those planes that has three seats in the middle, and two seats on either side; so instead of your usual 5 seater row, there were 7. There was a giant surgical team that was flying on board with us, but the rest of the people were actually Haitian. There were a few people in wheelchairs, and I’m still wondering if those were people who were airlifted out at the very beginning, and are just now returning home.
So, flight was fine. A short one-and-a-half hour flight from Miami to PAP. A little turbulence, nothing crazy. Got a nice snack pack (another wonderful surprise from American Airlines!). No pillow this time, but I guess that’s because it wasn’t over night and it was such a short flight.
During the landing, Abby and I were scoping out the country. Most of it seems fine, from an aerial perspective. But the one thing that does jump out is all the blue tarp that you see spattered about. And you can begin to see the tent cities splotched every here and there also.
Being in the PAP airport was something else. I used to make fun of the airport in Guatemala (before it was renovated), but nothing, NOTHING compared to this. One airstrip, no real air conditioning. We had to wait in a crowded and hot hallway so that buses could drive us 200 feet to customs. Mind you, customs is basically a giant warehouse, and by warehouse I do mean that the ceiling is made of sheet metal. Which means it’s really, really hot inside. They had fans inside, but being in front of those was actually worse, since what you got blown in your direction was 99 degree air. But all the airport staff were really nice, and very helpful. We tipped some guy to get our luggage-not that he really gave us an option, and headed out to wait for the rest of the people that were sharing the shuttle back to the base camp. Ian, from London, had already been waiting for us for a couple hours, and we had to wait another 40 minutes or so for two other girls who were coming in on the flight after ours. We were specifically instructed to wait BEHIND the airport gates. It was no surprise why. There were about two dozen men wearing a grey uniform shirt, and these are the men that “help” you with your luggage–except they get a bit aggressive. After waiting almost another hour for our shuttle to arrive, there was some confusion as to what man had carried our luggage, who had loaded it, and who needed to be paid for it. Our driver had to drive our of the airport while three men were sticking their hands in our windows asking for money.
Now comes the fun part: the drive from PAP to Leogane. It probably took a good 45 minutes to an hour to just get out of the slums of PAP. I’ve seen slums in Guate before, but this was crazy. I had to wonder which ones were pre-earthquake and which ones were post-earthquake. The streets were insanely crowded: there was rubble everyone, people everyone, and cars everywhere in between. There was rubble in the median, rubble on the sidewalks, dump sites of ruble, people selling stuff on the of everything, houses half collapsed waiting for someone to fix them, someone who probably has already moved on and forgotten about it. People flirting, people painting, people welding, people selling, people walking from school, people walking to wherever it is that life is taking them. While taking all of this in (6 people in one car, and few words were exchanged-everyone was lost in thought), all I could think was: where would I start? How could you possibly fix this? Where would you begin to organize the clean up and reconstruction of such a behemoth?
Amid all of this, our driver gave us a heart attack a few dozen times. I mean, there’s Guate driving, and then there’s Haitian driving. Not just crazy, but INSANE. Of course, pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way, and our driver made that clear. And secondly, anything goes. This includes driving on the wrong side of the road, with oncoming traffic, for a prolonged period of time. Yes, I’m serious :)
Thankfully we made it safe and sound. This is getting a bit long, so I’ll wrap up the rest of the day as quick as I can (and thank you for reading this far already). We got to pick our bunks out (thankfully Abby and I got ones together), and waiting until everyone got back from work for dinner (beans and rice) and our nightly meeting (more about those later). After people took showers and got settled in, we headed to Joe’s bar right next door for a couple cold ones. One thing you need to understand: nothing is cold here. The water is lukewarm, the milk is lukewarm (no more cereal for me). So COLD beer was aaaaaamazing.