Recently, yours truly traveled to Haiti for more than a week. Having just come on board here at Heart to Heart, this was my first chance to see our Haitian operations firsthand. I was more than impressed. My trip coincided with the first week of a three-week volunteer trip sponsored by BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co). And so, I was also there to support BD’s communications team as they documented the volunteer experience in the many locations where HHI works.
Here now, more of my thoughts, impressions & observations of my trip to Haiti.
Plus photos! Click them to see full-size. And you can read my first post from Haiti, here. -DW HHI
We’ve returned to Petionville, one of the suburb cities of Port-au-Prince, and to the Heart to Heart Volunteer Center where it is calm. The previous couple of days were spent in and around Leogane, Haiti. Leogane is a seaside town steeped in Haitian history and is due west of Port-au-Prince by about 20 miles. As I’ve learned, distance here in Haiti is judged not on actual distance like mileage, or kilometers, but by time. “How far is that place?”, “Oh, about an hour…”
This is something that is just a fact of life here, for Haitians and for volunteers. The traffic is, shall we say, challenging. Especially for those of us from the US, because there aren’t many rules. We left the Petionville center at noon on the first Monday of the trip. We didn’t arrive at the Leogane volunteer center, 20 or so miles away, until after 2pm. Those 20 miles took two hours and 8 minutes. A very long trip for such a short distance.
However, during the journey, you really can take in the city life of Port-au-Prince and it’s outskirts. The streets and sidewalks seem to vibrate with the hustle and bustle of people on the move. Tap-Taps, pick-ups converted into taxis, are piled with people going somewhere. Street vendors fill long sections of sidewalk, hawking everything from fresh fruit and blocks of Haitian sugar, to cell phone cards and individual auto parts.
Women, and men too, will balance their cargo onto their heads and navigate all of the traffic and others without stumbling. And just about anything goes up top: fruit, baguettes, even a big bag full of little bags of water.
It’s not just the traffic that makes the journey long, the road plays its part. In some spots they’re flooded days after a rain, with good-sized potholes hidden under the murky water. And there’s the slurry-like combo of rock and mud that washes down steep roads during a rain and deposits right onto the main highway to become a wide rumbly speed bump.
There are sometimes roadblocks, either constructed by local factions or by the UN MINUSTAH Security Forces. All in all it makes for a fascinating journey. A great welcome to a dynamic culture. And we got to drive it several times.
After those two hours of traffic and sensory overload, we arrived at Heart to Heart’s Leogane Volunteer Center. We would base ourselves here for a couple of days, bunking alongside a Haitian doctor, and the nurses and lab techs from BD. Based at the volunteer center, they rotate through three separate Partner Clinics around Leogane.
When we, the Comm Team arrived, the BD volunteers were already at work. More on that in our next post…