Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome to Haiti!

Welcome to Haiti!
Friday, March 6, 2009

Miami, FL, connection to Port au Prince: Even in the airport terminal, it’s clear which gate is for Haiti. More people crowded and waiting, less luggage and more plastic bags, more body odor. It’s clear we are not flying to a tourist destination or a wealthy place. I sit down next to a Haitian –American lady and learn my first word in Creole: “Famn Saj “(midwife). I find Steve Eads, the OB-GYN from Richmond who serves as medical director, sitting on the floor talking on a cell phone to his wife one last time before leaving the country. Nadene Brunk, founder of Midwives for Haiti, and June, a peds RN and veteran of many trips, come along soon after. June functions as pharmacist and fills RX’s in the clinic. Cathy and Cindy, the 2 NP’s of this trip, are due on a later flight in the pm. We all have separate seats, as we booked separately, so don’t get to talk much on the flight.

We all meet up on the tarmac, happy to see 80 degree weather. The mountains surrounding Port au Prince are big and dry right now—reminding me of Las Vegas terrain. The airport scene is hectic but manageable but it’s great to be there with veterans: 2 different drivers were present to pick us up, so one is very disappointed. At the exit doors, over a barrier, a crowd of drivers are all shouting and haggling to get some work...welcome to Haiti! We have hundreds of pounds of baggage, but finally get it all into Nadar’s bus and start our ride through PAP to our guesthouse.

The Port au Prince streets look like a war zone, literally. Pot holes like bomb craters. A crazy jumble of compounds, schools, shops, street art, and street vendors. Goats, chickens, a few skinny dogs. Live chickens for sale. Cinderblocks and concrete, and lots of half-finished houses with only a curtain in the window; no screens, no glass. Finally, we rested at the Bensons’ guesthouse compound, a very simple but refreshing oasis that offers accommodations to missionary and medical missions. Shade, tile floors, a breeze, cold water, locked gates. Haitian art for sale in the front office. A great view from the roof of the surrounding city and mountains.

I get a good background story of the M4H program from Nadene and Steve. There’s discussion about the new class of midwives starting during this trip, that we’re coming to facilitate. On Steve’s laptop, we view the slide show of the graduation of the first class of midwives...So moving to see all these faces of new midwives, and to understand the work it took to train them. As it was the first class, and presented many organizational and logistical obstacles, it took 2 years to completely train 7 midwives. Now, with much more financial support and experience, and Haitian connections and alliances, the hope is that it may take 6-12 months. Just before dinner, we walk over to see “the Ravine”, a neighborhood just around the block from the guesthouse, and one of the most dense and impoverished sections of Port au Prince. This is an astounding experience. (see“Beans and Rice and Singing”)

Dinner is traditional Haitian food, served family-style; Beans, Rice, goat cooked with onions and carrots, fried plaintains, sweet potatos, salad, mango. A cold shower (hot water does not exist down here—but I have the SUNSHOWER along!!!!) ...exhaustion... and a deep night sleep.

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