Friday, July 31, 2009

Part I - The Journey

Besides the issue of my luggage not appearing, the Port-Au-Prince Airport was not the slightest bit as frightening as it was made out to be. The customs officer flirted and kept glancing where my eyes weren't and the only "hassling" I got were a couple of well put-together, uniformed taxi drivers politely asking if I need a ride. I was greeted by an older gentleman who carried a sign bearing my name and confirmed he had it right be first pulling out a business card from GLA - to which I nodded - then pointing to a rubber bracelet on his wrist with "God's Littlest Angels" written on it - to which I nodded - and we proceeded to the waiting vehicle where I was greeted by James, the driver, and an armed guard who would be accompanying us.

Of all the warnings I'd received, one that came to have definite merit was the condition of the roads. James, a resident of GLA, drove the off-roader like we were being chased through town by some villain in an epic third world car chase. Horns are used freely, lanes are crossed frequently, and accelerating and braking know nothing between naught and to the floor. Just outside the airport, traffic was thick and littered with Tap-Taps; independently owned taxis consisting of a pickup truck lined with two wooden or metal benches and covered by a colorfully painted, makeshift, wooden canopy. Even this area, considered a rich part of the country, is destitute. The streets were lined with hundreds of small cement structures home to industrious, practical, necessary and downright bizarre shops and businesses; most of which looked like they'd barely survived a bombing. Though beautiful in its ruggedness and vibrantly painted veneers, it wreaked of poverty unlike anything I'd seen before. There is still something beautiful about it though; not the hardships, but the ingenuity and the perseverance to survive.

Once we cleared the main city, traffic thinned out, but the roads were steep, windy, narrow and even more badly maintained. Though lined with pedestrians, merchants and a continuous length of stone and cement walls meant to protect the residences (this point proven by the coiled barbed wire and embedded shards of glass that rimmed them), we rarely dipped below what I would have guessed to be about 60 kmh and the ride was enough to knock your head off your shoulders. I LOVED it. The ride up actually reminded me of the winding streets of Beverly Hills, but in a post apocalyptic kind of way. In short, the 1 hour drive up left me with so much to take in, I hardly said a word. It was the details, like stray goats, women carrying large baskets on their heads and posters and adds pasted up on the many miles of cement walls bearing everything from hastily drawn out theatre and concert ads to glossy cellphone ads to a tribute to Bob Marley. The air here has the same sweet pungent smell of Africa and many of the people appeared quite modern which made them look quite odd in their surroundings.

But this was only the drive in...

Warning: Graphic Content

There is a very good reason that I have not been heard from lately and that's because I've not left the Toddler House where the volunteers stay (a 15 minute walk from the main house) for the last couple days. The reason for that, I'm sure, will turn any annoyance into sympathy.

On Wednesday evening, shortly after receiving my luggage (thank you, Jesus), I got sick off the balcony outside my bedroom. That was just the beginning of a very long night spent mostly on the bathroom floor, split between time spent sitting on the toilet with a bucket in front of me; I'm sure you get the idea. I have to admit, I was actually quie concerned given the size of me and the amount of fluid leaving my body and the fact that I was so weak, I found myself needing to use the bathroom sink to pull myself off the floor, but I am doing alright; still a little weak and lightheaded, but alright. I've been told this is the Haitian way and there are very few people who escape a stay here without such an experience. If that's the case, I'm glad I got it over with early, and I pray I'm not one of the few who experience it more then once. I slept all yesterday, all last night and the first half of today and I'm sure by tomorow morning, I will be good as new, ready for my first outing into Petionville.

I'm not going to lie, this hasn't been the easiest 6 days of my life, but I'm just going to have to believe that it's only uphill from here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Made It!

I've literally just arrived at the orphanage and have been given a minute to let people know I've made it safetly, so this will be quick.

Second big NON-surprise of this trip: My luggage didn't make it to Port-Au-Prince. Again, kind of expected it, not sure why though. I will hopefully have it in my possession tomorrow as James will be back at the airport and has offered to pick it up for me if it's there.

I can't even begin to describe this place, it would take far too long, so I'll save that for later. All I can say is that I'm under a spell. I love it here. It's colors, it's smells, the people, the streets; I feel frighteningly at home considering the length of time I've been here.

I'm off now for a much anticipated tour of the orphanage...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Really? Really???

I wish I could say that my flights went smoothly and I'm now settled in at GLA, but, alas, I cannot. I am currently in the lobby of the Holiday Inn just outside of the Miami airport while thunder rolls and rain is falling sporadically outside the window. My first flight went smoothly enough, but my flight from LA to Miami became a bit of a nightmare.

When I first checked in, the flight was 30 minutes behind giving me an hour still to catch my connecting flight; doable. Then 30 minutes became an hour and an hour became an hour, 45. I was forced to deal with the fact that I would not be making my connection. Up until the final minute before boarding, I was frantically making arrangements with the airline for a different flight and calling my mom who was in turn calling the orphanage to let them know not to expect me the following morning; I was that crazy person runnning through the terminal and was one of the last to board the plane. Once we finally boarded, we waited another half hour for the backup 1st officer because the original one didn't show up and then got in line on the tarmac just to be informed that another pilot noticed something coming from one of the wings and we would be heading back to get it checked out by the mechanics. My flight was scheduled to leave at 9:15, it eventually left at 12:30am. I'm not going to lie, it was a miserable evening. I was nauseous on the flight and terrified at the prospect of using one of those bags to vomit in front of a few hundred strangers; I was claustrophobic in the dim shell of the plane while we sat there still and quiet, I was tired and really, really stressed out. This was not the way I intended on starting my trip.

My morning and early afternoon in the airport had enough complications to carry on this paragraph for quite some time, but I think you get the general idea. After 3 attempts at flagging down the hotel shuttle (which comes every 1/2 hour), I finally called them to say that there's a small girl in a purple skirt and tank top that really, really, wants to get their attention. When I finally did jump into the front seat of the shuttle, the driver and I greeted like long parted friends; it was all quite funny. As I'm going on a couple hours of sleep and I'd been wandering around the airport all morning, trying to coordinate my arrival in Haiti and tie up loose ends like making sure my luggage would be following me, I was extremely excited at the prospect of falling down onto a bed and zoning out on some brainless TV; but now that I'm here, I do admit to being quite lonely. I will be heading to bed extremely early, though, as I have to be up at 3:30am to catch the 4:00am shuttle to catch my 6:45am flight; where, I should say, I am assured there will be someone waiting for me.

The funny thing is, I knew this was going to happen; deep down I knew. Just as we got to the airport yesterday I made the decision to put a skirt and an extra pair of you-know-whats in my backpack just in case, and I quote, "I get stranded in Miami and it's really hot and I want to change out of my jeans." :-) I honestly was not the least bit surprised that this happened.

I'm doing my best to take everything in stride and trying to learn from every obstacle. I have learned a few things: Don't try to swallow a Gravol with no water, and consequently, swallowing ice is not effective when trying to dislodge a pill from your throat. I've learned how much people will do to help you when you are kind and treat them with respect (case in point, free hotel and three free meal vouchers). I've also learned that older African American women love to mother and I find it quite endearing when they call me "baby"in their southern accents; it makes me feel oddly nostalgic.

Well, I wanted adventure and I've have been known to say that it's not really an adventure unless things go wrong. So, what can I say...I asked for it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where He leads me, I will follow...

Side note; for those who followed this last time, I do apologize that I didn't stay true to my word and continue with stories from Ireland and Scotland. Those stories remain untyped, hidden away in one of my travel journals. Maybe one day I'll get to it.

Now onto why I've dusted off the old blog. For those of you who I don't see on a regular basis, this may be the first you've heard of my pending travels, so I'll sum it up for you: On July 26th I will be leaving on a plane to Haiti where I will be staying/working at an orphanage called God's Littlest Angels, until August 19th. From there I will be flying to Cuba where I will be met by a good friend of mine, Bonnie Gladman:

God bless 'er...

We'll be spending the first week in Havana checking out the sites and spending time with a church community there that Bonnie has come to know through a couple previous trips. I hear there will be a lot of eating, a little dancing and numerous impromptu jam sessions; sounds good to me. The second week will be spent at an all-inclusive in Veradero called Iberostar. I've never done the all-inclusive thing before (or a tropical vacation of any kind for that matter) so this is something I am very much looking forward to.

What are we to expect of this blog? I haven't a clue. Although in some regards I know what to expect of this trip, for the most part, I have no idea what I've gotten myself into. But I do know one thing, and that is that I am absolutely thrilled and brimming with anticipation to find out.

So good riddance North America, it's about time we spent some time apart.