What a day. Wake up in the morning in my house in Toronto, my daughter asleep beside me still. Last minute packing before the cab arrives with Alison to take us to the airport.
It seems strange to be going to Haiti. Neither of us had been and we had no idea what to expect. We met our colleague, Debra Kerby of CFTC at the gate, ready to start the adventure.
Landing in Port Au Prince was almost disconcerting in the sense that it was so easy, so relatively close to the hub that is the Miami airport where we had caught our connecting flight. From the air, the city looked orderly and beautiful. Our plane was full of all sorts of people – young families, NGO people, individual volunteers, members of church groups, members of relief teams, people who looked like they just might be on vacation. I thought of the people who exited their flight last January 11th, some of whom wouldn’t survive the disaster that they could never have known was looming before them.
Exiting onto the tarmac, a clean new American Airlines shuttle was waiting. This impressed me – possibly because I am so used to flying into the Guyana airport where one just walks off the plane and into the airport. The shuttle felt like a contradiction – a modern luxury on a tarmac where one could see boxes of humanitarian aid and large containers waiting to be cleared…vestiges I imagine from what must have been masses of supplies that arrived here in the aftermath of the disaster faster than they could be distributed. The shuttle took us to immigration and the baggage claim, which was a scene of total chaos. Eventually, we found our bags and wrested them off the conveyor belt, onto our baggage cart and wove through the tangle of people and suitcases and carts, emerging outdoors to a new chaotic scene of porters eager to help with our bags. We connected very shortly after with Gachette, CFTC’s country representative, whom I had met a few months ago in Toronto, as well as Alice Barthole, the head of The House of Hope Orphanage. It is nearly impossible to believe that Alice is an older woman – she is vivacious and so young looking, driving a gleaming new pick up truck which Ve’ahavta and CFTC helped purchase.
Getting into Gachette’s car, we began the long journey from the airport and began seeing the remnants of last winter’s earthquake immediately. Massive tent cities erected directly across from the airports, every city park transformed into a sea of tents, laundry hanging, children weaving in and out. Rubble still everywhere, so many buildings collapsed like fallen layer cakes, grotesquely contorted, many building sustained cracks like jagged veins in their foundations and walls. 35 seconds. It only took 35 seconds to cause so much devastation.
Many, many people, selling shoes, jeans, underwear, fruits, plants- you name it. Many many other people walking, minibuses careening by packed with bodies. So much traffic, often at a standstill.
We eventually arrive in Petitionville, where our hotel is. You can tell this is a wealthier neighbourhood, with leafy streets and funky buildings. Our hotel, villa creole, was partially destroyed in the earthquake, the wing that was reduced to rubble cordoned off by yellow tape. The main kitchen was destroyed in the quake so now one must order in from a local restaurant for meals. This hotel is another contradiction – beautiful yet partially destroyed, the repairs taking a long time as the hotel raises funds and works on plans for its restoration. Meanwhile, a couple caresses in the middle of its lovely pool, two other guests taking advantage of the wireless internet on their laptops poolside.
Tomorrow will be an exciting day – we are traveling to Gressier to visit Alice and the House (HOH) of hope orphanage. We are incredibly excited to spend time with Alice and finally meet the kids at HOH, and of course, begin to discuss plans for our continued support of HOH. I am also looking forward to distributing the messages of hope that students of Leo Baeck created for the residents of HOH.