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Day 2

October 28, 2010

I woke up early about a half hour before my alarm was set to go off, showered and headed downstairs to see morning at Le Plaza Hotel.
The parakeets were happily eating their breakfast and hotel staff were watering the plants.
I worked on the computer for a bit and then tried the breakfast buffet. Eggs, grits, toast, banana fritters, French toast were all on offer. A bit too early for me to be sampling the cod in some sort of red sauce. It was the most Haitian item on the menu, but I chickened out.

Ever the early bird, I was waiting outside the hotel at 8:45am. The minutes ticked by. Hotel staff exhausted my limited French pretty quickly and just watched me sympathetically. With no phone, I had no way to check in with my guides. At 10 am, I gave up and headed to the business center to send them an email. The internet was incredibly slow so it took close to 10 minutes just to open Yahoo. But just as I was going to send my email, Waner found me. I was chided for not being outside, so somehow I missed them. The crew was joined by another man who was really quiet. He seemed to be an older version of Eric.

He explained to me that the plan today would be to visit several orphanages so I could pick which one I would be placed at for the remainder of the week. As we pulled away from the hotel, I took a few quick photos of the tent city across the street. Waner laughed at me for being so timid with my camera. I was hesitant to take photos of people without their permission. So he grabbed the camera away from me and began snapping. We stopped in front of the capital building and briefly hopped out. Kids from the tent city begged me to give them a dollar as Waner snapped photos. Their pleading tugged at my heartstrings and Waner sent them on their way with a some Haitian gourdes – the local currency.

Then we were back on our way, winding down the hills to the airport. As we drove, Waner told me about his time working for Blackwater in Afghanistan and Iraq as a dispatcher. I cringed a bit. Eventually (every drive in Haiti is long, there’s always an eventually), we reached an army barracks and turned inside. Waner said he wanted to talk to someone with the Jordan army for a few minutes. They apparently have given them food supplies in the past.

They were clearly unprepared for the arrival of me. They were clearly not happy, although exceedingly polite, as they bade me from the car and stationed me a chair. Unhappy men with guns. Yay. Apparently, the problem was not so much that I was a girl, but that I was a girl who was exceptionally inappropriately dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. Waner requested to see the head of Jordan army in Port-au-Prince, but he was apparently unavailable. He then asked to speak with head doctor or the head legal advisor.

The legal advisor agreed to see us. Apparently, he and Waner had met once before, but he didn’t remember him. He told Waner that they didn’t have any supplies to distribute at the moment, but we didn’t leave. He seemed perplexed about why we were there and Waner explained that he wanted me to see that the Jordan army were good people doing good work. I racked my brain trying to come up with a reason why I would think otherwise. I felt incredibly uneducated about Jordan and could only really come up with ambivalent feelings that leaned toward positive. The head of legal affairs told me a little of what they do and said that it was good to speak English to an American because it forced him to practice. Waner commented that it’s good to know many languages so you can communicate with your enemy. He replied, “Jordan has no enemies.” Then Waner started talking again about his time with Blackwater. This was met with a skeptical raised eyebrow. Ack!

Then the medical officer joined us. He actually remembered Waner so this was some progress. They began talking about an ad that Waner was running in a newspaper in Jordan to get more volunteers. Then they started talking about names. The legal affairs guy was named Ossama. Waner was quick to point out that many people in the Middle East are named Osama and that I shouldn’t be worried by it. Honestly, I’m not a fear mongering idiot so it would have never occurred to me to judge someone based on their name. Double ack!

We finally brought this to a close with me standing with the two officers for photos. Ossama gave me his email address and I tried to memorize his name. I figured if I ran into any trouble, it wouldn’t hurt to know the head of the Jordan Army legal affairs.

When we came outside, Pastor Moise strugged to get the car started. Some issue with the fan, but after 15 minutes or so, they sorted it out and we were on our way. The regular roads of Port-au-Prince are in rough shape, but I started longing for them as we began working our way down unpaved paths of mud. Pigs and chickens roamed around. They asked for directions and a guy jumped on a bike and took us past the large orphanage that seemed to clearly have been the planned destination to a smaller orphanage around the corner.

There, we met Rev. Jules Boliere who had opened his home to dozens of orphaned children. They were working on their homework but came inside briefly to say hello. Waner explained how difficult it is to get the clothing needed to send the kids to school. He stressed that for $20-30 a month, a sponsor could provide a uniform and tuition for one of these kids. Bags of beans sat off to the side and I asked if an aid group had donated them, but apparently these bags weren’t for the kids. The orphanage was guarded so a friend was storing the bags there. The Reverend had the option to buy them from the friend if he could afford it. It was heartbreaking to realize how limited the supplies were and how precarious life was. All these kids, dependant on a man in his 80s for their survival. The kids gathered once again for photos and the Reverend gave me his card and encouraged me to not forget him.

As we left the orphanage, I saw a small boy running alongside the road. Unlike the orphanage, where the kids were clothed in American t-shirts, he wore a white shift that was similar to a fishnet. He called out me in Creole and it sounded like he was asking “why you?” He couldn’t have been more than 3. I wondered at the life this little one led, as he was left to run alongside the muddy road alone.

One quick turn and we were back at the larger orphanage we had intended to visit. Brightly colored signs proclaimed that we had arrived at the New Life Children’s Home. They had a large property of about 5 acres. The whole setup had the feel of an American summer camp. We walked past the two-story pink buildings past a building where the children were eating lunch. At the end of the property, a group of children sat in wheelchairs. It was a heartbreaking site. A smiling child with an enlarged skull, another boy with no obvious injury but unable to walk, young girls with obvious severe mental and physical challenges. In a building nearby, babies lay crying in cribs. All the children getting the care they needed, but with no social services in Haiti, there were limited resources to help them get to their full, albeit limited, potential.

I was introduced to Jean Barnard from Virginia. She told me that she and her husband had come in April. As she put it, they had planned to stay for three weeks, “collect their halos” and move on, but they couldn’t leave these kids. They are selling their house, staying indefinitely. Waner left us alone to talk and, for a moment, Fran thought he was dumping me there and that she’d have one more person to take care of, but I explained that I just wanted to work there during the day if there was work to be done. She was thrilled and so was I. I was glad that this whole volunteer trip was back on track with a purpose.

I told her I would be back the following day to do whatever she needed.

We drove back toward Port-au-Prince and stopped across from the airport. There was a makeshift food court of sorts as people cooked various items in large metal containers. Waner jumped out. I was trepidacious. This was clearly food that all the Passport Health people had advised against. But I remembered Anthony Bourdain saying that when you go to a poor country and someone offers you food they can’t spare, you apply the “Grandma’s Thanksgiving Rule” which states that when Grandma serves you turkey, even if it’s the driest, most awful turkey ever, you eat it, you tell her it’s delicious and you ask for some more.

As we waited, I chatted with Eric. He told me that he didn’t speak English, only French. But he was able to answer my basic questions about his age and what soccer teams he liked well enough. Pastor Moise told me about his children, all living the United States.

Waner jumped back in the car with several containers of food and I prepared myself to follow the Grandma Rule, but they didn’t offer food to me. Instead, I was offered a drink as they ate as we drove down the road. After a few blocks, we stopped at a restaurant and Waner told me that I’d be having lunch here. We went into a pitch black room, the only light coming from the soccer match showing on several televisions. I asked what I should order, but he didn’t offer much guidance. I told him I’d go with chicken and he placed an order for something. After a short wait, a massive amount of food arrived – chicken with peas in some sort of red sauce, white rice, salad, plantain fritters. Waner napped as I ate the food. It was good, but not spectacular, designed to fill, not amaze. But I was starving and it fit the bill for me perfectly.

After lunch, they drove me past the American embassy and through Petionville. Everyone refers to this as the wealthy part of Port-au-Prince, but it was incredibly hard-hit by the earthquake. I knew the J/P HRO camp was near here, but we drove part many tent cities and I couldn’t pick it out. This was definitely the long way back to my hotel, but it helped me to get a sense of direction about the city.

I returned home to the breaking CNN news that the miners in Chile would be rescued that night. I did some computer work, ate a club sandwich for dinner at the bar and then called it a night. I was tired from the long day, but stayed glued to the TV to see the first few miners rescued. A truly amazing night. I fell asleep as men continued to be pulled to the surface.

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