Some of you may have noticed I took a brief hiatus from my walk with water and the bible yesterday…I was detained and distracted by my journey from a rural hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Miami, Florida. The distance between these two places is great — geographically, economically, and culturally. I thought I would take some time to recount and reflect on this physical and cultural journey.
I woke up the day of my departure in a guest house at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) called “Kay alumni”, which means Alumni House in Creole. This is the place doctors, nurses, and researchers like myself stay when they visit the hospital. It is a modest cinder block house with no air conditioning or hot water, hardly roughing it, but not the Embassy Suites either. I was awoken several times during the night by roosters who seem to have some issues trying to time their crowing to coincide with the actual sunrise. When the sun finally rose so did I. The roosters, by the way, were largely silent at this time…
I shared breakfast of fresh Haitian bananas, coffee, tea, corn flakes, and bread with an engineer from Germany installing solar panels for the hospital; a videographer documenting what the hospital does; an undergrad from the U.S who had just arrived in Haiti for a month on his break, and a colleague from my university who I am travelling with to explore bringing students to Haiti on a study abroad trip in 2016. After breakfast I went to “read” the bacterial results for well water samples we had taken from two experimental wells the previous day…good news…no e. Coli in the samples.
This was my colleague’s first trip to Haiti so I wanted to show him a local market. We arranged for the driver who was taking us to the airport to take us to the Saturday market in Verrettes, about 10 minutes by car. We invited the undergrad student along, who had arrived the night before, so he could see it as well. The market was a hustling and bustling hive of activity with hundreds of people all occupy the space of a small grocery store in the U.S. Many travel on foot for hours to bring items down from the mountains to sell at the market. Each vendor has a stall about three feet by three feet. There are loose “departments” or sections in the market such as the fruit, sugar cane, housewares, rice, and meat. There is even a “food court” where many large pots of rice and beans and other take out food is prepared. The “floor” of the market is a well worn and compacted mixture of dirt, debris, and assorted liquids (some of which it is best not to think about).
We made a quick transit of the market and purchased some mangos for the videographer back at Kay Alumni. I made a quick stop to say hello to a family who lives in Verrettes near the market. We returned to HAS after a brief detour to Kay Ayiti, the only hotel in Dechapelles, to say goodbye to the owner, Legrand Mellon, who had graciously hosted us for dinner and her famous rum punches the night before. Ms. Mellon, known to the locals as madam “B”, described the Haitian markets as a ballet… I second her description.
We returned to Kay alumni, grabbed our bags, and said our goodbyes. We piled in the Toyota Land cruiser with our luggage and three other passengers bound for Port au Prince. The road from Deschapelles to Port au Prince is actually pretty good and we made good time until we approached the Port au Prince suburbs. We dropped off our first passenger, a young Haitian girl about 12, at a bustling intersection west of the city where “tap taps” were lined up and making u-turns in the middle of the street to return to PAP with a load of passengers. Tap taps are the Haitian equivalent of mass transit…sort of a cross between a taxi, a bus, and a broken down Toyota truck. Imagine a small Toyota truck with 20 or more people in the back…I was thankful for our Landcruiser with just 6.
After a few more miles of winding down bumpy dirt roads we arrived at the depot where we stretched, waited, and dropped off two more passengers. The depot is a house near PAP that HAS uses to store supplies, and sometimes people. I spent a long four hours there once on a previous trip. We loaded up for the final leg of our journey to a hotel called Visa Lodge near the airport, where we could have lunch, drink Prestige beer and rum punch, and wait for our afternoon flight.
On the way to Visa Lodge the driver encountered heavy traffic approaching the airport. He clearly had driven this route many times and he knew of many shortcuts and “alternate” routes. One such alternate was a sketchy looking two-track through an interesting section of town, but we emerged onto an actual road that conveyed us to Visa Lodge with minimal traffic delay. We had a lunch of pepperoni pizza and grilled chicken to go with our Prestige beer.
We called for an airport shuttle about three hours before our flight. It took the airport shuttle about 40 minutes to go 2 miles to come pick us up and the driver was not optimistic about getting back to the airport any faster. The drive to the airport was…..what is the right word….invigorating. A true “whitewater” experience. Each time we encountered seemingly impassable traffic obstructions the driver found new and interesting ways to proceed. This included: driving behind a police car on the wrong side of the road; driving down the sidewalk for a short way, and a detour through a gas station. Creative driving at it’s best!
We arrived at the PAP airport and got checked in for our flight. We found the waiting area under construction, and entered the doldrums of delay….our flight was going to arrive at least 2 hours late from Guadalupe. The construction meant no air conditioning and more mosquitoes than we had encountered on the trip so far…I wish I had remembered that I had bug towelettes in my pack.
We waited, then went through a final security check, then waited, then proceeded to the gate, then waited, got to the plane door, then waited. We finally got settled in, flew to Miami, caught a cab to the Embassy Suites Hotel, got to our room….and collapsed 🙂 The entire trip from rural Haiti to modern Miami had taken about 14 hours…
It is hard to put into perspective the economic gulf that separates the beginning from the end of our journey. I suspect a fraction of the annual operating budget of our Miami hotel could support HAS for a year to heal hurting Haitians. Haitians are amazing at making what little they have work for them. It seems many in the U.S., myself included, often do little with a lot of resources. If you or someone you know has funds they would like to donate to help Haiti please consider HAS….they are doing a lot with little resources.
Prayer: Thank You God for protecting me on my journey both today and always.