Sunday, May 20, 2007

First Glimpes of Haiti

Our plane arrives in Port au Prince at 8 am. Prior to landing we fly low over the coastal city of Port au Prince, and the tin roofs of the endless shantytowns reflect the sunlight. Even from afar the poverty is glaring. My stomach tightens a bit because for months now I have read only horror stories about the airport experience. We deplane by the outdoor staircase and walk across the tarmac. At only 8 am, the humidity and heat hit hard.

The inside baggage claim area is eerily calm. Silent. The room itself is one that seems to suppress noise, and it’s very white. It somewhat reminds me of the TV Room on the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film. We get luggage carts and only one man politely asks if we would like assistance. We shake our heads no and he moves on. I begin to think the stories of the chaos and mob-like group at the airport was urban legend.

For every decibel of quiet inside the terminal, the commotion is a thousandfold outside. People are everywhere, cars are everywhere, haphazard and honking, and thank the Lord that the second person I lay my eyes on is the man holding the Walls International Guesthouse sign.

He takes my luggage cart and begins racing through the crowd, yelling at people to move (including a man in a wheelchair). I grab onto his shirt and race through the crowd with him. Everyone is yelling, bags are everywhere, cars are everywhere and all I can do is laugh. It’s nearly comical, and I am soooo relieved that we found our ride immediately and that Bruce was there with me. I can’t believe all the women who do it on their own, on their first trips to Haiti.

We throw our baggage into the back of an old pickup and climb on into the cab. Our driver is a kind man who doesn’t speak a lick of English. We leave the airport property.

The first two vehicles I see off the property are two UN tanks. I mean real, honest-to-God tanks with canons and adorned with UN soldiers holding machine guns. Crazy. The next cars I see are driving at alarming speeds, on all sides of the road, some coming straight at us. Surprisingly, I remain calm and feel eerily detached watching it all. I wonder briefly if Cliff paid my stepdad to slip me a sedative in my morning coffee.

We fly through the streets and I am amazed at the old, shabby buildings bearing the signs of modern business: cell phone companies, rental cars. There is no apparent rhyme-or-reason to driving law, but everyone honks to communicate and it’s obvious they understand one another because I don’t see a single accident my entire time there.

We arrive at the guesthouse. The rifle-clad guard opens the gate. The guesthouse property is beautiful with lush, tropical foliage. The buildings are old but the floors and walls gleam, the beds lumpy and sheets threadbare but spotless.

We meet Michelle, an adopting mom from Arkansas, who arrived the night and whose children were just brought to her for the first time by a nanny. Her son and daughter are beautiful and Paloma’s age. Another mom from Quebec talks to the nanny and translates for me: the boys are being readied and will be brought over later. Michelle says to settle in and relax because that could be quite awhile. I decide to head back to our room to unpack.

1 comment:

Sawatzky Kids said...

What a journey! Thank you for having me over Sat. night with Mel and sharing your journey with us first hand! You are an inspiration!
I will be calling for the recipe on that banana dessert! YUMMY