This past spring, I spent five weeks volunteering in Port Au Prince, Haiti. I have been back from Haiti for a little over four months. I have struggled to put into words what I did, saw, and felt while in Haiti. I usually just brush it off when someone asks me about it. It is something that you would have to actually see in person and experience to fully understand, but I am going to post some photos and try to write about it.
I’m going to start at the beginning. I decided to go to Haiti back in December of last year (2010). My personal life during the past year has been awkward and uncertain to say the least. Things sort of culminated during the fall, and I decided to make some major life changes. I started volunteering weekly at a homeless shelter in September. One of the things I decided was that I wanted one of the major focuses of my life to be about service to others. In December I realized that I needed to get away for a while to gain some perspective and sort through some of my thoughts and feelings. Because of my experience volunteering, I decided to spend the time away volunteering. After researching international volunteer opportunities, I found a group in Haiti, GrassRoots United, that seemed to be a good fit. Bill, a close friend of mine decided to go with me. Basically, we purchased our tickets, made arrangements in our personal lives, and left. Most importantly, though, and I am not sure if any one else will understand this or not, but it just felt like I was supposed to go to Haiti… with GRU.
It is important to say at this point that I did not have any expectations of what it was going to be like in Haiti or about what I would be doing there. I get asked a lot if I got out of this trip what I expected to get out of it. I never know what to tell people when they ask me about this. I honestly had no expectations prior to going to Haiti about what I would be doing or what it would be like… I was completely open, and I maintained that attitude daily while there.
I left for Haiti on the morning of Sunday, February 13, 2011. I got to the airport around 10:00 am. I met my friend, said my goodbyes, got my tickets, and went through security. At about 11:00 am I was sitting at my gate waiting to fly to Philadelphia for the first lag of the trip. It was a freeing feeling. I hadn’t been on an adventure… a real adventure in many years. I was excited. I arrived in Philadelphia and had a three hour layover. While in Philly, I got a Philly Cheesesteak at the airport. Now, before anyone gives me grief, I realize that a Philly Cheesesteak at the airport is not really the authentic Philly Cheesesteak experience. However, I found it amusing that I was eating a Philly Cheesesteak while in Philly. Afterwards, I flew to Miami. I’ve never flown internationally before. We had to change airlines in Miami, and we had a 12 hour layover. Thus far, we had been on US Airways. We were switching to Insel Air. Unfortunately, Insel Air was closed, so we had to spend the bulk of our 12 hour layover (8:00 pm to 8:00 am) in the ticketing area of the Miami International Airport. I let my friend sleep (he actually got his air mattress out and blew it up and slept in the ticketing area) while I stayed up and watched our stuff (we had to retrieve all our bags at this point because we had to recheck-in completely with Insel Air). At 5:00 am, Insel Air finally opened. We got our tickets and went through international security and got to the terminal for our flight to Haiti. At the gate to leave for Haiti was the first time I had any experience with the Haitian people. My friend and I were the only non-Haitians on the flight. We were also the only people not speaking Creole.
The flight to Haiti was fairly uneventful. We flew over the Bahamas and Cuba. We saw a lot of cool looking reefs and lagoons. When we began descending into Port Au Prince, it was then that I first realized the lack of infrastructure…. the amount of devastation. What had I gotten myself into….
to be continued…