It’s been about a week and a half since I returned from my trip to Haiti. I didn’t think it would take this long to start telling the story.
“They” tell you that when you get back from a trip like this you will experience some culture shock. That you will have trouble adjusting back into day to day life. I know my team has experienced some of this. It is hard to hear people complaining about silly circumstances when you have seen the things that we had the opportunity to see.
The most common question that I have heard in the past week or so is, “How was your trip?” That is an incredibly hard question to answer. Is the person just walking by, so all they really want to hear is “great”. Do they want to hear a story or two? Or do they want to know about the whole experience. I would guess that most people do not.
I don’t think that people want to know that the first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the smell of death. No one has to tell you what that smell is. It is something that I have never smelled before but I will never forget.
The airport was crowded, confusing, and overwhelming. Actually, the main terminal was too damaged in the earthquake to be used. One of the cargo holds is being used for customs and they simply pile all the luggage in there and you fight your way through the crowds to find your bag.
The ride from the airport to the place we were staying was beautiful and devestating. Haiti is such a beautiful country but it is so broken right now. There is a giant tent city on the airport grounds and we drove past several more during our short bus ride.
The media have been calling them ‘tent’ cities, but that is not really an accurate description. Most Haitians do not have actual tents, but only a fews sticks onto which they tie a sheet, a tarp, a piece of cardboard or some tin. The rainy season is on it’s way and I have no idea what everyone is going to do.
Shortly after I took this picture, the smell from the airport returned. We were told that just over the hillside is a mass grave where 200,000 Haitians are buried. By a few days after the earthquake it became too difficult to identify all the victims and find family members so most victims ended up at this site.
The organization that my team stayed with is doing some amazing work in Haiti. On site, they have an orphanage, church, clinic (and are building a hospital), school, and feeding program. Since the earthquake they have distributed over 2 million meals and the number of patients that they have seen through their clinic has increased from about 75 per day before the quake to about 250 per day currently. Our team was actually the first non-medical team to join them since the quake.
After unpacking the food that we brought and finding our bunks, we headed down the hill to visit the kids in the orphanage. Staying at a place swarming with doctors and nurses performing major surgeries with limited supplies, it would be easy to think that we weren’t doing much. Before the earthquake, groups came all the time to visit visit the kids and play with them. That was their ‘normal’. If we could bring some of that back and help the kids smile again, the whole trip was worth it.