The gloomy view from my balcony this morning.
It’s been raining in Port-au-Prince (and other parts of the country) everyday this week. Yes, I know it’s the rainy season. I’ve been in Haiti this time of year before, but the rains have been particularly brutal this week. It’s been raining steadily throughout the day, alternating between heavy and a light drizzle. This cloudy, cold and wet weather has given me the blues. By moving to the Caribbean, I thought I’d never have to deal with weather-related malaise again, but here I am, feeling exhausted and unmotivated to do anything except lay in bed all day under the covers, staring blankly at the TV.
The rain has caused a lot of problems throughout the city, especially for people still living in tents and under tarps in makeshift camps. According to an OCHA situation report I received, nearly 10,000 people still living in camps have been effected by the heavy rainfall. Concerns about cholera have re-emerged. Local travel has been further impeded due to flash floods and muddy roads. There have been landslides. It was reported on news this morning that nine people died, including several children. Haiti simply cannot handle this much rain.
It hasn’t rained today (yet), so I’m glad we were spared another full day of wet weather. But it’s still cloudy and gloomy. Hopefully, the sun will come out tomorrow.
Two years ago today, I landed in Haiti for the first time ever. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Even now, I cannot adequately articulate why I fell in love with this country. The only thing I know is that Haiti feels like home.
As I look back at some of my favorite memories captured with a camera (trust me, there are tons more that weren’t photographed), I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of the wonderful, inspiring people I’ve met, as well as the joyful and heartbreaking experiences I’ve had thus far.
It’s 3:08 am. I cannot sleep. Or shall I say I cannot go back to sleep. I was awakened just after midnight by fireworks, singing and kompa music. Very loud kompa music. To say I was annoyed is an understatement. If I thought anyone could hear me, then I would have opened the window and shouted, “Quiet down please folks. I’m tryna sleep ova hurr.” (That’s my Midwest politeness combined with my St. Louis accent.)
But as I sit here now, some three hours later, wide awake, the annoyance has disappeared. I can still hear the kompa music, and occasionally fireworks, but I also hear laughter, clapping and the roar of men’s and women’s voices. Obviously, people are having a good time. A really good time. And they deserve to celebrate the holiday in this traditional Haitian way; especially because last year, most people didn’t feel much like celebrating at all. This is the first Christmas since the earthquake that many people feel hopeful and happy again. With last year’s tragedy, many Haitians felt like they couldn’t truly enjoy Christmas as they had in year’s past, and most didn’t have the financial means to do so.
So with that in mind, how can I possibly be annoyed? Let them party on. If I had the energy, then I’d join them. But since I don’t, I’ll just continue eavesdropping on the festivities until they end or I fall asleep. I wonder which will occur first?
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.”
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.