Last year I had the opportunity to accompany the Reliv Kalogris Foundation team on what was basically an inspection trip to Haiti. The trip took place in October and found me and my Primordial Penguins collaborator Johnny flying from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Cap Haitien, Haiti. The flight really wasn’t that long. We did have to get to the airport incredibly early and I really think we spent more time waiting in the airport than we did on our little turboprop plane.
As we took off from Ft. Lauderdale it was still pretty dark. This turned out to be a wonderful thing though because as we flew out over the ocean and towards Cap Haitien the sun was rising… and it was stunning. The golden rays beamed through the clouds as we flew towards our destination, really not knowing what to expect. However, these happy beams of light seemed to be a good start for the trip and I viewed it as a good omen. One other thing I remember thinking as we flew out over the ocean and islands was how small our little turboprop plain was. It could fit maybe 20 people and with the massive clouds, ocean, and what looked like small islands below, it was very apparent how small we really were.
In just a few short hours we found ourselves descending over a what really looked like an Island from a movie. I will admit, it wasn’t the first time that the Jurassic Park theme played through my mind. From high above the island looked absolutely beautiful. It was primarily green and had the beautiful contrast of the blue ocean. Oh, and there were some incredible mountains we were flying around as we descended towards Cap Haitien. As we descended lower and could see details, it quickly became apparent that not everything was as beautiful as it seemed from afar.
For those of us who are used to flying into modern cities, Cap Haitien wasn’t anything like the normal descent. Normally as you fly into a city you first see houses that seem to stretch out forever and then as you get closer you notice cars. Then as you get closer to whatever airport there is generally more commercial buildings. Not in Cap Haitien. Yes, there were structures making up this city as we approached the airport… if you could call them that. They were in pretty bad shape. The image that really sticks in my brain is that of rubble. So many buildings were half completed with piles of rubble surrounding them… or that’s just what they were made of. And cars? I actually can’t remember seeing that many as we descended towards the Cap Haitien airport. It was that first moment where the pictures I had seen of Haiti became a whole lot more real.
We finally landed at the Cap Haitien airport. As the plane coasted down the runway I was given a closer look at what Haiti is. First off, I saw cinder block unfinished buildings just outside of the airport on a hill. Nearly all of these were not completed and had piles of material (we could probably say rubble again here) around them. Then I started scanning the airport. A wire fence surrounded the airport. A terminal that appeared to be going for a tiki/tropical feel waited for us and felt completely out of place with it’s blue paint and bamboo decorations. Off to the right… what appeared to be a plane that had seen many better days sat abandoned on the side of the runway. It had clearly been sitting there for quite some time and clearly time had not been kind to it. I soon found that this plane wasn’t alone. On the other side of the small concourse sat another deserted plane. It was also in pretty bad shape. I remember being incredibly thankful that our plane didn’t look like… because really, who knows the stories behind those two planes and they weren’t that much different in size. I also didn’t want our plane to have a story even remotely close to the stories behind these two.
As we disembarked from the plane we got to truly experience Haiti. The smell was an indescribable mix of garbage, mountain air, and an odd ocean smell. Dust was everywhere. It was warm and humid. It was also no longer an English speaking country but instead Creole. The adventure hadn’t finished but had just begun. We were in Haiti and about to experience just how much of a difference the Reliv Kalogris Foundation makes there. And believe me, I had no idea how great of a difference is being made every day.