8.27.2009

Well, Haiti's going to be over before I finally get around to writing about it, so it's high time I get around to writing about it. I'm just going to go semi-chronological-probably-mostly-stream-of-consciousness on this one and see where we end up.

Flew here on a Sunday morning from NYC. Lunch in the hotel, and I realized I was once again eating salad in the third world again. Can't trust the water the lettuce has been washed in, but certainly can't trust unwashed lettuce anymore. Sigh.

I'm in the hotel everyone said to stay in - Hotel Montana - so that's nice. The room is clean and the bed is comfy and it feels pretty safe. Unlike most places I've worked in Africa, here in Haiti all of the hotels and office complexes and homes and apartment complexes have the gates and electric fencing and barb wire and whatnot - but here the guards have guns.

It reminds me a lot of Mozambique - the whole country seems to have that war-is-still-fresh-in-our-past kind of bombed-out feel to it. And it was poor before the violence too. Haiti's been a very up and down country in my lifetime, fortunately right now it *appears* to be an another up...the UN troops are here in full battle gear and riding around in their peace-keeping APC's and SUV's and whatnot - but hey, at least they are here. I don't fully believe that its them that are really keeping the peace, though.

The hotel has a couple fish ponds which I love and one in particular has a turtle in it I've named Steve. I always know its a good morning when I'm walking past on my way out of the hotel and I catch a glimpse of Steve out for his morning swim. Its become something of a superstition for me. I don't like leaving the hotel without seeing Steve.

They have a Domino's here but its the only western chain I've seen anywhere yet. Its kind of an odd bastion of bad-for-you food, and I'm more than happy to continue my eating trend of the last few weeks. I vacillate between the room-service cheeseburger and delivery pizza, and the occasional seafood dish.

People start checking out for the day at 4pm. Its not safe out after dark here - just like home in Nairobi - so I guess that's why. I stay later and I feel bad about it on behalf of my drivers, but they don't seem to mind. And I offered to drive, I already know my way around and it would be more convenient, but its probably better that I'm not anyway. If I did somehow get lost - I don't know enough French yet to find my way back to the hotel. Need to find a couple weeks to do an immersion course or something.

Speaking of French, I spent the last weekend on a last-minute whim in the Dominican Republic, less than 48 hours but still glad I jumped over. Explored Santo Domingo's downtown district - the ancient and lovely Zona Colonial - oldest church in the entire collection of the Americas is there. Still has cobble-stone streets and ancient architecture to explore, which I love. Sunday I had way too brief a time on the beach outside Santo Domingo, which is one of the worst and most crowded beaches in the country and was still insanely awesome - white fine sand and crystal clear water. Taxi drove me to the airport in my still-wet swim trunks and feet and ankles and calves still covered in sand. I drank a liter of beer on the way, which is the size beer should come in. Which put me in the mood for writing in the airport but I didn't have enough time there to finish what I was working for.

And then I was waking up on Monday morning and back at work this week. Tomorrow my team member and I are off to Plateau Central to see the field programs for a couple days. We're on a small 5-person charter plane and Veronica's a bit afraid of it but I can't justify a 4 hour drive over a 20-minute flight, plus we're driving back on Friday anyway, so its like splitting the difference. Since I'm still toying with the idea of getting my own prop plane, I'm kind of excited to be in one, since I haven't been in a while now. Well, minus the dual turbo-prop from here to SD and back on the weekend.

Saturday I'm finally starting the long trip home to Nairobi, with a 24 hour stay in NYC. I'll get to go to my church while I'm there!

The definition between the haves and the haves-not is not as visible in Nairobi as it is in South Africa, and particularly here in Port au Prince. Since the city begins to run up the hills that fence it in with the ocean on the other side, the rich mansions look down from lofty heights but not very far at all in actual distance from the cinder-block slums that stack up upon one another on the lower slopes, and down into the valley below, where they sprawl. There are big empty rock and trash-strewn riverbeds that cut through the neighborhoods - where the water runs down from the mountains when it rains. I can picture them full and raging when the hurricanes come. And I can picture the neighborhoods on the flat areas down near the shore underwater - but that I can picture because I've seen it before on TV - those are these neighborhoods that I'm driving through. These are the people that suffer and die when that happens. I look at the impoverished masses on the other side of my passenger window, and, like in Africa, they are the survivors here - the ones who made it. But here it seems more present somehow.

I'm glad I got to see Haiti. I'll probably be back here for more work - there's tons of need for it here and lots of opportunity for improvement in the organization. I wouldn't want to live here, but being in the DR and working on my Spanish a little bit made me realize I think I'd really enjoy living in a South / Latin American country for a change. I think I'd get finally fluent in my Spanish in a hurry, which would be awesome.

Time to leave. The nice thing about leaving the office so early (6 or 7) is that I actually have time for a proper workout - I've been biking for about 30 minutes and running 3-4 miles after. All in the hotel gym - I don't leave the hotel at night. Its been good. I watch the Little League World Series on ESPN while I work out. And I get to see the top 10 plays in the morning before my meeting with Steve on my way to the car.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, hey, glad to hear about Haiti. A whole new part of the world that is now familiar to you. I hate to make these sound like mama comments. So here is a change of pace....... Haiti sounds dope, dude!! Was that cool???? MM

Tim said...

A tall boy or two always seems to do the trick - I came to the same conclusion when I was in Germany - a liter - the size beers should be.

Safe travels boss.