I was initially a little wary of what this day could bring … but in some Asian cultures, 13 is actually a rather auspicious number. Our day began as usual – yoga on the roof (David, one of our Haitian guides, and Evelyn, one of the caretakers of the house, actually joined us this time) and a quick breakfast of oatmeal and the chicory-like coffee from the lady we dubbed Starbucks around the corner. The morning was pretty productive – Greg and I finished the kitchen shelves, along with the kitchen table. I always feel so accomplished after physically building something.
Yoga on the roof!
Kitchen Shelves, Greg and Betty Originals
By midday, our new friend Val came over to take Greg and I to this farm he’d been telling us about. I was so anxious to visit and see this place – just to see a more rural part of Haiti. And, I was desperate for fresh air! The stagnant air in the urban areas is so thick with diesel and dust, it was so hard on my body to process after a few days. Spoiled Americans, LOL.
Day four. Possibly the most challenging day yet. For many reasons.
The day began with a hasty, early morning departure to the orphanage – to hand out donated clothes and survey some building projects. Doug wants to build a new bathroom and shower area for the kids. When we arrived, it was hard to see the current conditions. Shoddy plywood structures and tarp make up the bathroom and the kids brush their teeth and bathe from hoses and buckets outside, while standing in piles and piles of trash. There’s trash EVERYWHERE. And the pungent stench makes it hard to ignore. I used all my strength to hold back tears. SOOOO much trash … from my past posts, maybe you recall – there is no waste management service. We Americans totally take for granted these basic “luxuries” – so much that it’s hard to comprehend that in some countries, the concept of throwing away trash into receptacles to be collected later and dumped in a designated area, simply does not exist. In many developing countries, trash is just burned in yards. Which of course leaves that burning stench constantly in the air. Everywhere you go.
These poor children are surrounded by trash – they walk in it, they bathe in it, they get ready for school every morning standing in filth. It’s heartbreaking. Even covered in bug spray, I got about 30 mosquito bites just standing in the musty area for about 15 minutes.
After a very sound night’s sleep – even beneath the mosquito netting and balmy, warm air – we started the day early on the roof with our routine yoga session. I can’t even begin to put into words how much this practice brings you the peace, balance and centering you need to carry on through the most intense and stressful of situations. And, how much it builds the mental strength you need, to endure the greatest challenges. I woke up every morning, eager for yoga and to start the day.
We headed out quickly after class to pick up a few household items. Doug wanted us to experience the marketplace … And, WOW. What an adventure.
The poverty everywhere is heart-wrenching. There’s such a strong air of desperation every corner you turn. Trash and filth line the streets. The market was no exception. Through muddy paths, we – a big group of “blahs” – were quite a spectacle, making our way through. Many were calling out to us in Kreyol – which I could only assume were, um, sales pitches. The stalls were rickety structures made from (rotting) wood. Fish, meat, produce were all laid out in the hot sun, flies swarming the pungent meat. Another reason I was thankful to be vegetarian … though, I confess – pretty sure I ate dishes with chicken/meat during the week. I mean, in the face of poverty and hunger, I felt rather flippant with my ‘no meat’ requests after a while – though, there were maybe 4 of us veggies.
We received devastating news from our friends in Haiti today. Our new friend Val passed away after sustaining fatal injuries in a car accident. He was the head of the orphanage Foyer d’Orelph in Croix des Bouquets where he cared for 30+ children. Val came to the states and spent much of his teen through college years in New England. He left Boston about 9 years ago and has been caring for his kids ever since. He also leaves behind a wife and his own three children, one yet to be born.
Please pray for his family, friends and all loved ones. Rest in Peace, Val – you were such a gentle, kind, compassionate soul and it was an honor to meet you.
UPDATE: Val’s family, friends and staff at the orphanage are coordinating efforts to make funeral arrangements as well as care for the future of the children. Any help is SO VERY APPRECIATED. The children and family need any support for funeral costs as well as food and daily operating costs of the orphanage. You can make a donation at DoYourPart.org which has been working directly with Val and his children for a number of years now.
Our first full day began bright and early – a 6 a.m. wake-up call for morning yoga on the roof of the community center. I’m not much of a morning person – even after a couple years of early morning marathon training for 10, 15, 20 mile runs. But, it is always nice when you’re able to get up and get moving, especially at sunrise. And, especially in Haiti – when the dust and diesel isn’t quite as thick yet and there’s a little dampness in the air. The morning yoga sessions were very important to me – to get centered, balanced and find a moment of peace each day to prepare for what would always be very heavy, intensive days.
After a quick egg sandwich (food was not quite a culinary treat throughout our trip – but I always looked forward to a simple egg sandwich), we immediately headed downtown to the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. The drive wasn’t too long, but the sights were a lot to take in. Tent cities, piles and piles of trash along the sides of the road, armed military … We drove through Cité Soleil – dubbed the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere. There are anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 residents, all in a massive tent city, riddled with gang violence. En route through the area, we passed a crime scene – I couldn’t quite make out what was going on but there were UN soldiers, Haitian officers, crowds of people … and what I would make out in my photo later, a body, a man, laying dead on the ground.
Well, many have been asking me about my trip to Haiti – and, WOW … SOOOO. MUCH. HAPPENED.
I figure instead of repeating myself a hundred times, it would be a good idea to document our unbelievable journey. Nine of us headed down from the Washington, D.C., area and we didn’t quite know what to expect – I was all nerves, wondering if I’d step up to the challenge … or, shrivel up into a ball in the corner of the room the entire week. Our fearless leader Doug, head of the org Mission Results, had prepped us a good deal on the current state of the country – and, mentioned how one volunteer arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport and was so disturbed by the conditions, asked “Is it better or worse outside?” To which Doug replied, “Worse.” She immediately got on a plane and headed right back stateside.