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Day 3

October 28, 2010

Once again, I awoke early and got ready for the day. I was assured the night before that I would be picked up at 9am and that I should be ready and waiting.

I decided that I didn’t want to spend $10 on breakfast so instead I munched on a couple protein bars that I had kept chilled in the mini fridge and watched more miners being rescued.

I went downstairs promptly at 9am and began the waiting game again. I had added a few more words to my French at this point, so I was able to joke a bit with the hotel guards, “Toujours, j’antendre.” Always, I wait.

This time, I waited until 10:15am before I headed toward the computers. Internet was a bit quicker this morning, so I was able to get my “is everything okay” email sent before Waner found me. He said the traffic was bad that morning and that it was difficult to get to the hotel on time. I was just glad they were there, although young Eric was missing. I asked where he was which delighted the quiet man who’s name I never caught. But my limited French meant that I never really figured out where he was.

I had expected to head to the New Life orphanage, but instead we headed up toward Petitionville. The guys stopped and got food. Petitionville is an interesting area because there are so many houses that were clearly once very nice. It’s the only part of Haiti where I saw American stores like CVS and actual shops selling groceries and clothing instead of it being sold on the street. Along many corners, you saw paintings hung up for sale…paintings of homes and landscapes before the quake. We continued up the hills and it was very clear to me that we were heading away from the airport, and thus, away from the New Life orphanage.

Instead we went to a lumber yard where Pastor Moise made several purchases of supplies. They explained that they would be taking me to one of his orphanages today. Okay, change of plans. It was a long drive up into the mountains, but the scenery was beautiful. Drives were always pretty quiet since my French was so limited. I felt like I was in a little bubble, never quite sure where I was being taken. But wherever we went, we passed posters and banners proclaiming the various candidates for president and senate. There was never any information or slogan, just their name and the number you would use to vote for them. Even high in the mountains, you saw campaign posters attached to trees and houses. Collapsed buildings would literally be wallpapered with them.

The roads got ever smaller as we reached Kenscoff. We stopped outside a large building that had clearly sustained serious damage in the earthquake. Alongside it in a smaller building, children watched our arrival, most offering shy, curious smiles. Waner took me into the small building which served as the orphanage. It was completely bare with the exception of one cot. The children, he explained, slept on the floor. The 2nd floor was too damaged and needed to be demolished and rebuilt. But despite that, children were still sleeping on the first floor. He talked of their plans to add mattresses and bunk beds.

Then we moved over to the school. I felt like I was on a construction site as we made our way through the dimly-lit building. Despite the obvious piles of rubble and holes in some walls, children were coming here for school and church was held here on Sundays. Each stone classroom had rows of benches and the days assignment written in French. Waner explained that the school was available to the children from the orphanage as well as to kids in the surrounding community for free. This is virtually unheard of in Haiti where schools are a for-profit business which colorful advertisements throughout Port-au-prince. They were almost as plentiful as the campaign posters.

After we left the church building, we made our way up the dirt road to another set of buildings that had not been damaged by the quake. Waner seemed somewhat impressed with my ability to name the various vegetables growing alongside the path…cabbage, lettuce, beets. I was stumped by the bowl full of what looked like colorful berries. It was coffee. I’d never seen it un-roasted. At the top of the hill, there were two guest houses with bedrooms and large bathrooms. Graduation photos smiled down from the walls. These buildings were guest houses for volunteers. That day, all the volunteers were at another orphanage they ran even higher in the mountains. Although they didn’t charge me anything the week that I was there, they did typically charge volunteers a small stipend for their food, lodging and transportation. This money was used to buy supplies for the school and orphanage. In an ideal world, American sponsors would fund their work and volunteers would stay for free, but we live in a world that is far from ideal.

Pastor Moise spoke with his workmen about how things were progressing and we wandered back down to the orphanage. The voices of the older kids wafted through the air as they sang together. The teacher led them through various arm motions that went along with the song. I couldn’t quite tell if it was French or Creole, but I was told the song was “Lord, I Praise Thy Name.” As they sang, Pastor Moise and Waner discussed the repairs the building needed. I ended up engaged with the younger children who had been following me around. My French is sort of perfect for talking to kids in the 3-5 range. I know a lot of basic words and their whole world is in the present tense. The kids were already pretty interested in me, but when I started taking their photos, their laughter rang out through the building. They were thrilled to see themselves on the screen of my digital camera. This little photo session captured some of the most endearing photos of my whole trip.

It was beginning to rain (as it does every day in the mountains) and we piled into the car to leave. I thought we were heading back to Port-au-Prince, but as usual, I was in for another surprise. Instead we drove to another town. Pastor Moise briefly stopped to talk to a woman at a small farm and then we went to Fort Jacques. The fort was apparently built to fight against the French when Haiti became independent. A young man became our guide, telling the story to me in English. I was struck by how things have changed so much for this young man. Clearly, this was a tourist destination, but there are no tourists in Haiti this year. Just aid workers and business trips.

As we walked around the site, like everywhere in Haiti, you could see the earthquake damage. One of the cannons had been lost that day when it fell down the mountainside. Walls had collapsed. The light rain continued and the rocks around the building were slippery. We went into an ammunition room that was pitch black. I turned on my camera just for the dim light of the screen. The view from Fort Jacques was amazing. You could see the airport of Port-au-Prince and the ocean far in the distance. On a clear day, you could see all the way to the Dominican Republic.

Guillaume had told me that there is a lot of flooding in Haiti because they cut down the trees to make charcoal. As you fly over the island, you can tell where Haiti ends and the Dominican Republic begins because there are so many more trees. So I strained to see where that change happened, but it was too cloudy.

As we left Fort Jacques, I noticed a high school nearby. Even though school was back in session that week throughout the country, this school was abandoned.

As the rained began to pour harder, we headed back down the mountains to my hotel.

I had dinner at the bar again. Couldn’t quite figure out when dinner time was at the hotel restaurant. Angela joined me along with a Hands On colleague who was visiting her. The lure of an extra bed in an air conditioned room meant that she had frequent guests checking on her recovery. Chris was from Newfoundland, Canada, but as he said, “I guess I live here now.” He had worked with Hands On in the past and got called to coordinate recovery efforts in Haiti. He figured he would be there until the next disaster happened somewhere else.

The talk of scorpions and tarantulas made it clear just how very comfortable our hotel was. I sipped Prestige, the local Haitian beer, and marveled at their stories. I was just there for the week. They were staying for months. This was their life.

That night, I watched covered of the Delaware senate debate. That race is particularly bizarre, but the difference between that coverage and life where I was sitting was astronomical. The arguments felt so trite. I was struck by how lucky we are to be able to argue over taxes, healthcare, same-sex marriages. They are important issues, no doubt about it. But in Haiti, they are trying to choose the person who will get them out of living in a tent.

I’d ask who the good candidate was and everyone sort of shrugged. Aid workers told me the one female candidate was becoming the favorite, but every Haitian I asked seemed to have little hope that their vote would make much of a difference. They were derisive of Wyclef Jean’s failed bid, derisive of candidate Alexis who was too close to the current government, but no one openly voiced support of anyone else.

It seems to me if aid can get to this country and there is a strong, honest ruler, real change could come to the country. But when I left, I still had no idea who would be the best choice to make that happen.

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