I’m back. After a year, a month, and a few extra days I have returned to a place I never expected to go in the first place. One year ago if you had asked me if I’d be returning, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and said “perhaps.” Haiti is a very complicated place. There are some elements of it that are absolutely beautiful. There are also some parts that are gut wrenchingly horrid. It is a place that I love to support the Reliv Kalogris Foundation’s work at. It is also a place I probably wouldn’t pick to go on vacation (although it appears that people might actually choose this as a destination for vacation now!?).
Things have changed a bit in the last year. First off, the flight here was on a much bigger plane. Whereas last year we flew in on a turboprop puddle jumper. Our chariot this year was an Airbus 319, with snacks and all! Landing at the airport in Cap-Haïtien this year was also a new experience. The airport has gone through some significant upgrades. Where there were abandoned wrecks of planes last year, the airport now has new orange and white buildings. There are now luggage trains to accommodate the larger American Airlines aircraft that visit. It appeared that the tarmac had also been worked on. Overall, it seemed that the Cap-Haïtien airport had taken a step towards modernization. It is still ridiculously small compared to small airports in the United States but… it is better this year than last year.
In fact, quite a few things are better this year than last year. Others are not. Immediately walking out of the airport is an adventure. Suddenly there are a bunch of guys who are all incredibly eager to help you carry your luggage… in some cases, overly eager. If there wasn’t a culture shock yet, this is the point at which it will happen. Having already experienced this I still found myself a bit overwhelmed by the amount of zeal that these men have for what they do. I was more than happy to make it to the air conditioned (upgrade this year, last year we had 4-60 air conditioning) van where a cold bottle of water was waiting for me. Once the entire group had all been accounted for, the two vans made their way to the orphanage in Petite-Anse. This is in the greater Cap-Haïtien area and seemed like it was only 10 or 15 minutes from the airport. The drive seemed very familiar. The roads are packed with tap-taps and motorcycles. On the side of the roads are make shift buildings, stands with who knows what for sale, and rubble everywhere. It is so hot inside most of these buildings that people are outside standing everywhere rather than sitting inside and roasting.
We turned off the main paved road about halfway to the orphange and the rest was all dirt… and some mud. More Haitians were walking around, some were students coming home from school as it was now late afternoon. After driving through the neighborhood for what seemed like a longer time than I remember (although now I just think Dr. Manno drives faster), we arrived at the orphange. This is a wonderful bastion of hope in the middle of a very hopeless looking neighborhood. The gates were opened and our two vans pulled into the gravel courtyard. As with everything today, I noticed many things that were similar to last year and some difference. The first difference: some of the kids were riding bikes. They were having a blast riding around the two courtyards in front of the orphanage and school. Second, I clearly recognized some of the kids and they had grown! The little guy who was scared of Americans and cried when we got near last year was now quite confident around this much larger group. There were also some new ones who clearly had been living a rough life. While you just want to love on them and make them all smile, for some that just isn’t something that’s going to happen at this point. One little girl in particular had a hand deformity. Because of it, she apparently had been treated as an outcast. She was a sweet little girl but there was no smile… she just watched and absorbed what was going on. Hopefully this will change someday.
We had been given balls and toy trucks to give the kids and within minutes 0f arriving, there was a lot of playing going on. Just like last year, the kids had a fascination with seeing themselves on screens. They also still thrive on a little tender loving care. They love to be held, even if it is just their hand. However, being picked up is definitely the best place to be. Our group stayed, played, and also toured the orphanage until it was time for the kids to eat dinner. That meant it was time for us to return to our hotel.
The drive back to the hotel was quite surreal. Mainly because of the whole similar but different thing. The route back to the hotel was as crazy as ever. However, there was one big difference. Last year there was construction clearing houses along the waterfront so that the main road could be widened. Where the clearing was happening there was a lot of rubble and dump trucks. The rubble is now gone and a gravel road runs alongside the main one. In the future, that will turn into the other two lanes for the main road. For now, it almost has a weird park-like quality to it and was really quite a nice break from the rubble and poverty everywhere else. Anywhere else and I would imagine that the second two lanes would be added in with a nice waterfront park alongside. Seeing that this is Haiti, that might just be something that will live in my imagination.
We finally arrived at the hotel, Auberge du Picolet. It was pretty much the same as I remembered. We were ushered into a reception area for some drinks and snacks… that were delicious after a day of traveling. My favorite hors-d’oeuvre was definitely the deep fried Okra. It is like a pod type thing that is simply delicious and I highly suggest trying it if you ever get the chance. I paired this with a local beer called Prestige. I honestly don’t know if it is that good or not or if it is one of those things that the experience is what makes it work. Anyway, down here in Haiti I love it. We sat around and chatted for a good hour or so before each departing to our rooms to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at a local restaurant called Kokiyaj. I have no clue what it means but it is walking distance from the hotel so I really don’t care. It is also where I tried goat last year. This year, I had a local beef dish on the recommendation of Scott Montgomery. I believe it was called Chupesca. It was served with rice and beans. We also ordered some plantains where were quite nice as well. The meal wrapped up with a cup of chocolate ice cream. The company was great as we chatted about things in Haiti and things at home. It really did make for a nice end of the day. By 8:30, most of the party was tired and ready to head back to the hotel. So here we are.
The first day back in Haiti wasn’t as overwhelming as the first day in Haiti ever. As I sit in my room thinking about the day, the thing I’m most glad about is the glimmers hope I saw today. While the progress is ridiculously slow by the standards I’m used to, there was definitely a change from what I saw a year ago. On the flip side, so much is the same. The culture feels the same. The poverty is incredibly overwhelming and everywhere. Garbage is everywhere. Despite all of that, there are organizations like the Reliv Kalogris Foundation helping Haiti have a better today and a better tomorrow. While I have a very hard time imagining wanting to return to Haiti, I do find myself feeling invested in it and drawn to it. I don’t know what the future will look like for Haiti, I can only hope that our continued support of the Reliv Kalogris Foundation will help it be a better future than it otherwise would have been given.
Tomorrow will be a busy day. We’ll be visiting Haut-Limbe, distributing some shakes, doing some painting of a school, and also having lunch at Dr. Manno’s house. It should be a great day. For now though, it’s time to sign off and get some sleep because the morning is going to come very quickly!