Haiti - An Inauspicious Start 7/30

In the two weeks prior to leaving for Haiti I admitted to anyone who would listen that I was having some reservations about the trip.  More than one of my friends thought I was more than a little crazy for going to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere to volunteer for two different music camps.  Upon getting my five vaccinations and picking up my anti-malarials, I could see their point.  The biggest blow to my perception of my sanity came when the taxi pulled up at 3:30 a.m. to take me to the airport.  Only someone not quite right in the head would book a plane ticket so early.

Transferring planes in Miami I noticed a woman in front of me with a violin case on her back and asked if she was going to Jacmel or Cange by any chance.  It turned out she was, and so I met the first other volunteer of the trip!  I felt more secure knowing there would be someone else waiting for a ride with me (turned out it was a really good thing, because she could recognize Janet Anthony who was waiting there for her while my ride to Cange was not!)

Disembarking in Port au Prince, my fellow passengers and I funneled through a long series of hallways and then on to an un-air conditioned bus.  Despite the heat, the bus looked pretty much like any other airport shuttle (plus about fifty more people than usual.)  We pulled up to the Customs Center and a small group of men in yellow Western Union t-shirts began singing a lively tune accompanied by the accordion.  Welcome to Haiti!

The Immigration Center/Baggage Claim area has the spartan look one expects from third-world countries.  Directly outside awaits a mass of people who make their living carrying bags for travelers.  They are a little pushy, but I held my ground firmly as I waited for the violinist, Bonnie.  She appeared with another volunteer (Lisa) and Janet (she's the woman who gave me the information about volunteering in the first place.)  Janet paced the line of people while placing calls in Kreyole to try to work out a ride for me - at least as far as the Holy Trinity Church in P au P that has a year round music school and runs the camp at Cange.  

Like the neighborhood around it, the Holy Trinity complex showed earthquake damage but men worked on rebuilding part of it and it felt clean and safe.  A community of people live and work within the church compound, sharing the space with free range chickens and cats and protected by armed guards at the gates of the high perimeter fence.  "Tout suite" takes on a different meaning when you hear it every ten minutes for four hours...  Fortunately a charming young man had taken it upon himself to try to teach me some Kreyol (a hopeless task I'm afraid) as well as practice his English while I waited.

My chariot to Cange appeared in the form of a large green diesel pickup truck loaded with bananas and other supplies for the camp.  So loaded, in fact, that there wasn't room for my suitcase.  It followed in a car that left much later.  (Didn't end up getting my bag until about 11:30 p.m. after having all but given up on it for the night)

We wound our way through the streets of Port au Prince - an experience that defies description, but I'll do my best.  Much of it is very hilly, sort of like San Francisco but after a nuclear blast.  Pot holes require four wheel drive  to navigate.  Although Haitians drive on the same side of the street as Americans do, they don't seem overly concerned about lane lines and when no oncoming traffic presents itself as many as four cars width will all go in the same direction.  Pedestrians, Taptaps, feral dogs and cats, goats, wheelbarrows, and motor bikes add to the confusion.

Three types of dwellings line the streets: multi-leveled brightly painted buildings that may or may not show earthquake damage; shacks constructed of corrugated tin and other found materials; and tents.  Street vendors peddle their wares in front of the houses and next to rivers of plastic bottles.  Those who have nothing to sell lounge in the shade on pieces of cardboard (or in one case cardboard on top of an old spring mattress frame) trying to stay cool.  There's a pervasive odor of outhouse and garbage, but the people are clean and well-kept.

 About forty minutes outside of Port au Prince my driver pointed out a new concrete housing complex intended for the displaced.  I asked if people were unhappy about the distance from the city proper but he didn't have an answer.  I'm not sure how economies develop but it seems to me that it would be hard for people to do anything but hang about if they are removed from the potential of work.

Our trip took us up into the mountains and through the beautiful countryside.  We arrived in Cange during a torrential downpour and pulled up beside the rehearsing orchestra.  Safe and sound, I ate my dinner (porridge) to the sounds of Shostakovich and wondered what was in store for me.