So, I've been in Haiti for about a week. I definitely parachuted in, in the sense that I didn't quite know what I was getting into, but I'm not sure anyone can until they are actually here. This is my first time in an area with a reputation like Haiti's, and I am not experienced in this kind of venture. Also, I am not an authority on how Haiti has arrived at its current state, or even what that state is. These writings are based solely on my impressions and perceptions. Where to begin?
So far, and somewhat unexpectedly, Haiti is primarily a place, like many others, where people live their daily lives, where there is a lay of the land, and where the surroundings and weather are notable and play a significant part. Details follow from there, and many things differ, sometimes wildly, from the places and cultures in which I've spent time, but commonalities also abound. Innovation, adaptation, flexibility, and resilience seem key to survival and growth, but those are common threads in most realms. I'd never seen a moped carrying a family of four, or one dragging rebar to a construction site, but those are part of the way things work here. Smiles are contagious, at least when children are involved, but often enough among adults too. The drifting scent of smoldering trash takes a little while to get used to, but fits in like the odor of any fishing, farming, or mill town that I've known. When I run, most people on bicycles want to race the blan.
Those things said, and despite the commonalities of human existence, it is not a place for most to wander. The relationships between groups are complex and often volatile, and the flow of resources complicated and often obstructed. Many places are safe, and many aren't; certainly the best way to move is in numbers with people, locals and non, who are experienced at navigating the scene. There are places I've moved through that would be gravely reckless of me to move through without an escort and others in which I'm free to stroll. It's certainly a mix.
For those who have no idea what I'm doing here or how I came to arrive, here's some background. I'm currently volunteering for two months with Pwoje Espwa (Project Hope) outside the southern city of Les Cayes. Pwoje Espwa, founded about ten years ago by Father Marc Boisvert, is, in short, an organization that has transitioned from a single orphanage house for several boys to a complex that provides daily housing, meals, education, and basic medical care to over 650 children from the surrounding area. Given the difficulty of operating as a growing organization in this area, to say that the endeavor is amazing is somewhat of an understatement. The current site is comprised of about 140 acres of land which includes a majority of Espwa's facilities and a significant amount of farmland. Low-cost medical consultations, treatment, and medication are offered to the local population, and Espwa also operates several other schools that are off-site. At any given time, there are between five and ten long-term volunteers present, with the rest of the sizable staff being Hatian. Foreign medical and engineering teams regularly visit, bringing donated medical supplies, materials, and expertise. My role here is neither clearly nor nearly defined. My primary interest when I initially connected with Espwa was to work in their clinic to gain more front-line, limited-resource medical response experience before starting my prerequisites for medical school next fall. The last week has had me involved not only with HIV screenings and observing and assisting with the consultations and treatments of a visiting US medical team, but with tinkering with motors (gasoline and electric), refurbishing the batteries for our backup electrical system, and working with a team of UN personnel to locate potential sites and collect population data for a regional vaccination campaign slotted for mid-May. Espwa is a busy place, and seems one where people wear many hats; who knows what lies ahead?
Anecdotal stories of happenings pass through pretty frequently, and range widely from alarming to heartening. Since I've already witnessed some significant misinformation passed anecdotally, I'm going to try to keep this blog focused on those things that occur within my sphere of experience. Stories are to follow, potentially infrequently, since, due to our intermittent satellite connection, posting this entry has taken several days of attempts.
More to follow.