Saturday, October 1, 2011

Visiting Hours

To say that I have been busy since my last post would be an understatement.  Ever since leaving to pick Ryan up from the airport last Saturday morning (and even before then) I have been flying through life at dangerous speeds.  My schedule that had been so empty for three and a half months essentially exploded out of isolation in the English department office and into hours of public transportation, meetings with various NGO directors and quality, stimulating conversations in English.  Here is a basic rundown of the past week:

On Saturday Ryan plane arrived about two hours late, which is only natural because his whole visit was arriving about two months late (just kidding, Ryan).  I then proceed to talk nonstop for the next four days.  Seriously.  I never really thought of myself as a talkative person until this past week when I realized Ryan probably wanted to sleep at some point.  Fortunately, he stuck with me throughout my babbling and we had some really good conversations that allowed me a little more of a birds-eye view of the past three months.

Monday Ryan had a chance to check out UCNH's campus and see what life in the office was like.  We also paid a visit to some Floresta (known internationally as Plant with Purpose) project sites.  They work with groups of farmers in various communities to research and implement better agriculture practices in growing crops, breeding livestock, and reforesting Haiti's depleted mountainsides.

Tuesday was a very hectic day of class.  At the beginning of my Tuesday morning class, about 80 students showed up wanting to come in... about 40 more than the classroom can actually seat.  Ryan got a chance to observe me throwing up my hands in confusion and despair.  After having to turn away several disgruntled students and despite some confusion on the execution of certain homework assignments, the class went relatively well.  My afternoon class also presented some challenges.  Only about half of the students had books (when I left UCNH, we were still waiting on the finance office to give us money to print the books we needed) so everyone in the class had to share with at least one other person, creating an ideal environment for side conversations.  I had to tell the students multiple times that if they didn't stop talking, I would start teaching class in Creole instead of English (a surprisingly undesirable alternative for them) because clearly they didn't understand the meaning of "don't talk while I'm talking."  After five hours of teaching I was absolutely exhausted... but hey, that's what I've been asking for this whole time, right?

Wednesday Ryan and I took our show on the road.  And by road I mean dirt path that resembled a dry stream bed more often than a street.  I had thought the road between Limbé and Cap-Haïtien could use some work (and they can) but they're nothing compared to what we found en route to Pignon on the central plateau.  Between Cap and Pignon our taptap (Haitian truck taxi) had to stop about 4 times for the driver to work on the back driver's side wheel.  The last time we stopped it was for an hour and the driver ended up having to bludgeon the axel into submission before continuing on.  Fortunately Ryan and I made it in two pieces (one piece each) to Haiti Outreach, an organization that provides communities all over Haiti with clean water wells.  The process in which they do this is very community oriented and ensures that the wells will be functional long after installation.  Ryan and I got to stay in their guest house which gave me a chance to take my first hot shower in three and a half months... a definite plus.

Thursday Ryan and I got a chance to observe a community meeting in one of the locations where Haiti Outreach is repairing an old well.  It was a great opportunity to see HO's work in action.  After that, we hopped back on a motorcycle and headed to Hinche.  If the road from Cap-Haïtien to Pignon was bad, the "road" from Pignon to Hinche was even worse.  Several times, the road was so steep and the dirt loose that I was sure I would fall off.  Thankfully our driver had superhuman powers that must have included keeping motorcycles upright and we made it to Hinche bruised and sore, but generally unscathed.  In Hinche we were promptly packed in to a van departing for Port-au-Prince.  This trip had it's good points and it's bad points.  The good points: a silky smooth road with unblemished asphalt for the majority of the trip as well as beautiful views of the interior of Haiti.  The bad points: we were confined to a very cramped and noisy space for about 6 hours, meaning that we didn't arrive in Port-au-Prince until a few hours after dark.  And depending on what you've heard about Port-au-Prince, you probably know, it isn't somewhere you want to be after dark, especially for your first time.  After realizing that the station where we were supposed to disembark was a gas station full of suspicious looking characters located right next to a tent city and our contact with World Relief was unable to meet us, our van driver extremely graciously offered to drive us to a safer part of the city to meet our hosts.  It  ended up being a very stressful afternoon/evening that was only made worse by a rainstorm that drenched Ryan's bag stored on top of the van and the most miserable goat I have ever seen (also stored on top of the van) bleating a sound that was a mix between a crying baby and a dying cow.  Both Ryan and I were extremely grateful to arrive at the World Relief Haiti guest house to sleep.

I'll take a brief pause from the daily schedule rundown to say, nothing I had seen before in Haiti prepared for Port-au-Prince.  As someone who is wary of large cities anyways, arriving in Port-au-Prince after dark was an assault on my senses and imagination that caught me completely off guard.  I figured it would be similar to Cap-Haïtien since Cap is the second largest city in Haiti, but everything I've seen of Port-au-Prince so far as shown me that the two cities are worlds apart.  Port-au-Prince is covered in gray waves of concrete and cars, tents and tarps spanning in all directions.  The city and the surrounding towns (which to me bleed into each other indistinguishably) are home to almost half of the entire population in Haiti... which I guess is why it's so much quieter in the rural areas I'd seen up to this point.  I haven't seen much devastation directly related to the earthquake, only a few cracks in the roads, but the magnitude and density of the people here is just overwhelming.

Friday, Ryan and I wake up early to ride with Nate and Cecilia from World Relief out to one of their agriculture projects in Gressier.  The plan is that while we're there, we'll meet with FISH Ministries, one of WR's partners that does work in the agriculture and public health sectors.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more about FISH because as soon as we arrived in Gressier, my stomach disqualified me for any facility touring.  I spent the next few hours sitting on or leaning over the toilet.  In the afternoon we determined that the best decision would be for me to head back to Port-au-Prince with Nate and Cecilia to recover in the World Relief guest house.  Nate and Cecilia were absolutely wonderful at making me feel like an honored guest rather than a bad-smelling burden.  Leaving Ryan was hard, especially since it was so abrupt (the decision for me to go back to PAP without Ryan was made in about two minutes), but I'd already had more time with him than most interns get with their visitor, so I can't complain too much.  By dinnertime on Friday, I was feeling much better and was even able to eat some ham and cheese crepe.  We sat around for a while after dinner discussing development, theology and life in general.  Nate and Cecilia are a positively wonderful couple and any HNGR intern that gets placed here would be incredibly lucky to have them as supervisors.  So future HNGR interns... think about it.

Saturday morning (this morning) was the first time in Haiti that I was allowed to take my time waking up and starting my day.  Nate, Cecilia and I had a lazy morning arguing about the food industry in the US (Cecilia studied food science at Cornell so I was a little outmatched).  Tonight we're going to a game night sponsored by some ex-pats living in the area, so that should be a fun and interesting experience.  Tomorrow morning, I'll fly back to Cap and, Lord willing, arrive back in Haut-Limbé in the afternoon, with a stack of papers to grade waiting for me.  Also, last week the English department was informed by one of its teachers that he would not be returning for this semester, so that'll take some extra creative planning to work out.  I'll let you know if the books are also waiting for me when I get there (pray hard).  To top it all off, I'm extremely behind on all of my HNGR work for this month... but I'd say this past week was worth it.