Mwen renmen Ayiti. Mwen rayi Ayiti. (I love Haiti. I hate Haiti.)

I have a love-hate relationship with Haiti. I mostly love this country. But some days, I hate it. Absolutely loathe it. Actually, it’s not quite that black and white. It’s much more of a roller coaster where I love it one minute, then literally the next, I hate it. Then, a few minutes later something happens that makes me love it all over again. Then yet another something happens and I want to get the next flight out of the country and never come back again. Saturday was one of those roller coaster days.

It started out well. A colleague and I attended a demonstration on an irrigation system that a non-profit wants to introduce as a social enterprise in Haiti. After that, I went to Le Plaza Hotel and met up with a lovely young woman with whom I used to volunteer when I first arrived in Haiti in March 2010. We traveled to Leogane together to attend the wedding of a very dear friend.

It felt wonderful to be back in Leogane and to see so many familiar faces.  Of course, I was especially happy to see the kids in and around Belval Plaza. I missed their cute little faces. It was also great to see so many volunteers that I worked with still in Haiti.

Unfortunately, due to time/curfew restraints, my travel companion and I had to make an early exit and return to Port-au-Prince. As we entered the city, it began to rain, so I decided to wait out the rain and have dinner at Le Plaza Hotel. As I was taking in my surroundings, I spotted a familiar face. Dressed in a soccer uniform with a group of other young Haitian men was the owner of a print shop I worked with in Leogane. He was in Port-au-Prince to play in a soccer tournament.  We spent quite a bit of time chatting before going our separate ways.

The rain had finally stopped, so I decided I should be on my way. As I walked  outside to find a taxi, I was on cloud 9. It felt so good to spend the day reconnecting with old friends and colleagues. I hopped on a moto taxi and made small talk with the driver as we made our way from the Champs de Mars to Tabarre. When we arrived on Route de Tabarre, just before the American Embassy, I was stunned by what I saw. The canals were overflowing with water, causing the entire road to flood. In fact, it looked more like a river than a road. Empty plastic bottles, styrofoam containers, shoes and other debris were floating in the brown, muddy water. I’m certain the water was also filled with human and animal waste.

The moto began to tread through the water along with other vehicles. At first, everything was fine. Then we stalled…in the middle of the road. The driver could not get the moto to start. Cars, tap taps and debris were slowly passing us by. Then out of nowhere, a large truck came barreling down the road, and splashed me and the driver with water.  I screamed from shock and disbelief. The dress I wore to the wedding was soaking wet. Brown water was dripping from my hair into my eyes and mouth. The driver yelled to the driver of the truck, calling him a pig, but I doubt he heard him because the truck was long gone.

Somehow, the driver got the moto to start. As we continued forward a few feet, I finally saw the turn off for the road leading to my temporary home. As I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking I was home free, the moto suddenly stalled again. I pleaded with the driver to get me to the turn off. He began to physically walk the moto, battling against the current. After a few minutes he stopped, saying he was tired. We were back to sitting in the middle of the road. He tried to start the moto again. After a few attempts, it started.

Finally, I reached the road leading to the house I’m staying in. But that road was flooded too. I had a flashback of the week prior when Felix came to visit me. After looking at something on the ground, he looked at me and said, “Be careful. When it rains, you’re going to have a problem.” Boy was he right.

At that moment, I broke down into tears. I was so close to home, yet so far away. I cursed Haiti and everyone who lives here. I told myself I was packing my bags, and going back to my own country, my own home. With those thoughts in mind, I was more determined than ever to get back to my room to pack up my stuff and get out of here.

So, I flagged down the driver of an SUV I saw turning onto the road. I asked if I could ride with him. He unlocked the doors. I opened the door to his car and hesitated. The car was spotless. It looked brand new. I was wet, filthy and smelled bad. Seeing the apprehensive look on my face, he looked at me and said, “Pa gen pwoblem. Chita” No problem. Sit down.

And with that, my love for Haiti instantly returned.


Chanm Nan (The Room)

The night before I departed for Port-au-Prince, I finally made a decision on where to stay until I find an apartment that I like. It’s a house in the Tabarre section of Port-au-Prince. When I talked to him on the phone, the caretaker described the house as large and told me that for US$400 I’d have a furnished bedroom with an attached, modern bathroom and access to the kitchen. He also said the house has water, and power provided by Electricite D’Haiti (EDH). The latter gave me pause as I’ve heard that EDH is not reliable. I asked him about that and he assured me that, even though the house does not have a back-up generator, I’d have electricity.

After touring the office where I’ll be working and meeting the staff, I headed to the house to settle in. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was attacked by a dog. Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic by saying I was attacked, but that’s how I felt. The dog kept barking and growling at me, and jumped onto my leg a couple of times. In case you’ve never seen a Haitian dog, they generally are not cute, cuddly little things. In a country where humans struggle to eat everyday and often don’t receive the medical attention they need, you can imagine what condition the dogs are in. Add to that the fact that a dog bit a volunteer causing her to have to get a series of rabies shots, and yet another dog left teeth marks in a volunteer’s wristlet after chasing her around, and surely you can understand why I described the event as an attack.

As soon as I entered the house, I realized that the caretaker was not doing his job, as it didn’t look like anything was being taken care of. I was told that the first floor of the house was being used for storage, but it looked more like Fred Sanford’s junkyard. There were bags of cement, boxes of tile, mattresses, boxes of shoes, cribs; it was just a hodgepodge of random stuff that was collecting dust. Lots and lots of dust. But my room is not on the first floor, so I looked past all of that.

Once on the second floor, we walked a short distance down the hall to the room. When the caretaker opened the door to what is to be my home for the next 30 days, I was quite disappointed. There was junk in the room. The floors hadn’t been swept or mopped. The room was incredibly hot. There was a Winnie the Pooh area rug on the floor next to the bed. If you’re keeping count, then this should have been strike three. But because I didn’t have a more economical option, I decided to channel my inner Tim Gunn and make it work.

I asked that everything be taken out of the room except for a table, two chairs and of course the bed. I then whipped out my Clorox wipes, Febreeze and Lysol, and went to work. (I don’t travel ANYWHERE without those three things.) An hour or so later, the bedroom and bathroom were properly cleaned and disinfected. The next day, I made a trip to the Tabarre Market (whoa that place is crazy) and Maison Handal to purchase a few items to put the finishing touches on my temporary home.

Satisfied with the transformation, I took a cold shower (cold is the only option) and decided I was going to start on the Season 1 DVD of Damages. But that plan quickly changed when I realized there was no power. No power means no fans. It’s always hot in Haiti, but it’s really hot in August. I thought about sleeping with the door to the balcony open, but I didn’t want to risk a mosquito invasion. I thought about sleeping with the door to the room open, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that for security reasons. So I spent the entire night trying to sleep in what felt like a sauna. Between being hot and being angry about being hot, I got zero sleep.

Since that first night, the blackouts have continued. Sometimes they last a couple of hours, and other times as long as 12 hours.  I was really annoyed with the caretaker because I felt like he deceived me. But I realized it wasn’t his fault. It was my own. I asked if there was electricity, to which he accurately and truthfully responded. I should have asked if there is electricity 24/7.  Lesson learned.

Update: I’m now going on 36 hours with no electricity in the room. It’s becoming unbearable. 

Le Sang de Jésus (The Blood of Jesus)

On my flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince, the captain announced that there was a bit of inclement weather along the flight path, so the seat belt sign would remain illuminated after reaching our climbing altitude. About 10 minutes after his announcement, the plane entered some turbulence, causing it to dip and shake quite a bit. A Haitian woman two rows in front of me shouted “Jesus” over and over again, alternating between French and English. The Haitian man seated next to me asked, with a frightened look on his face, “What was that?” I replied that it was “just a little turbulence”.

Now, I must admit that I don’t particularly like flying. The night before a scheduled flight, I’m wrought with anxiety. The two things I hate most about flying are being confined in a small space several thousand feet above land and turbulence. My reply that it was “just a little turbulence” was an effort to calm myself more so than the man next to me. In fact, the only difference between me and the woman two rows in front of me was that she shouted out Jesus while I said it silently.

Several minutes after the turbulence passed, I could still hear the woman murmuring Jesus repeatedly. Eventually she was completely quiet. But not for long.

Towards the end of the flight, as we began to descend into Port-au-Prince, we hit more turbulence. This time, the woman shouted louder and more forcefully, “Le sang du Jésus. Le sang du Jésus. Nap viv.” The blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus. We’ll live. A few other passengers, although silent, began to do what I can only describe as the church wave and sway (raising one hand in the air and waving it while swaying the body from side to side). The more the woman shouted “Le sang du Jésus” the more afraid I became. I mean, maybe she was shouting with such conviction because she had some inside scoop with the man himself on what was about to go down.

Just as I was about to join in and do the church wave and sway too, the turbulence stopped. The guy next to me looked at me and said, “Wow, that was really scary.” My reply: “Oh, it wasn’t so bad.”

Nou Gen Kolera (We Have Cholera)

The night before my flight to Haiti, my family and I went to Fritz’s, one of our favorite frozen custard places. While enjoying my turtle sundae, I received a text message from one of my girls in Leogane requesting that I call. I figured that I’d save myself the international calling rates, and call her when I switched my SIM card to Digicel upon landing in Haiti the next day. I also wanted to enjoy my family and give them my undivided attention since it will be several months before I see them again.

The following day, while at the gate in Miami waiting for my flight to Port-au-Prince to depart, I received another text message from the same girl requesting that I send her 250 gouds credit for her phone. She has never asked me to send her money for her phone, so I figured something must be wrong. I called her.

“Nou gen kolera,” she said as soon as she answered the phone. We have cholera. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I immediately thought of the little girl who died of cholera at the orphanage in February. I felt bad for not calling sooner.

Despite being worried and scared,  I tried to remain calm so I could understand exactly who had cholera and how they were being treated. I learned that the girl’s mother, one of my other girls and the younger brother of yet another of my girls all had cholera, and were being treated at a clinic set-up by Save the Children. There were given medication and an oral serum solution. Thankfully, they were all getting better, and one of the girls had already returned home. I asked if they cleaned their house and the surrounding area with bleach to prevent other family members from getting sick. She said yes, and that hygiene promoters from the clinic came to their homes to educate them on how to prevent cholera in the future.

Haiti’s cholera outbreak started nearly a year ago. It was imported by UN peacekeepers from Nepal – something that was initially denied, later confirmed and now rarely mentioned. Reportedly, over 5,000 people have died of the disease, and hundreds of thousands more have been sickened by it. While I don’t like that my girls and their families have now added to those statistics, I’m grateful they will be included in the latter and not the former.