Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Cholera Slap in the Face

While I have the best of intentions keeping up with this blog it's just getting harder and harder to focus and put this experience in writing. This entry is a bit more sad than most and lacking in my normal sarcasm. It's been a hard week and it's time to "stop being nice and start getting real." By real, I mean Cholera. Since arriving on this trip Cholera seems more like a long lost concept that doesn't effect me or anyone I know. Now, I know it's real and I know how much it sucks.

One of All Hand's many projects is working with a local orphanage. We are working to educate the staff on proper nutrition, hygiene and child development. There are several volunteers who focus almost solely on the project and two times a week a rotating group of volunteers goes to the orphanage to play with the children and give the full time staff a break.

Last week I visited the orphanage. The children seemed well taken care of for the most part and the staff genuinely cared for the children. For me, the jarring part was the fact that the majority of the children had various colds and sicknesses. Basically, each child that I held was dripping from one hole or another. But, as I soon found out, a cold is curable, Cholera probably is not.

At our daily staff meeting on Thursday night we were told that one of the children, a two year old, contracted Cholera and died the evening before. Cholera and my experience here finally hit home (or more like hit me in the face). One of the children I held and played with two days before was just gone and two others are in the hospital.

It's odd but this is the first time in the month that I've been here that I felt something. Well, maybe it's not odd. We spend most of our days here working on school construction or rubble removal and while there is community involvement the personal connection is a bit harder to establish. With a child, that relationship is instantaneous. My new goal is to try harder to make more human connections with the community. While there are painful horrible parts of having that type of connection, there are truly celebratory and joyous parts as well and both are worth the effort. So, it's my time to start getting real.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Haiti Part Yoon

I arrived safe and sound in Haiti about a week and a half ago and I have to say I feel like I've been here forever (in a good way). This blog entry is going to be scattered and crazy and probably not make much sense. But, there is just so much to say and you'll just have to pick through it yourselves to make some sense.

First, the flight to Haiti: HOLY BLAN central. "Blan" = white people by the way. It doesn't have the same connotation as say "honky" just more a term of endearment I guess. I really thought that I'd be the only American on the flight and that I might have a hard time finding my way around Port Au Prince upon arrival; however, I was a bit shocked to see that about 75% of the other travelers were American. First impression of Haiti is that I entered NGO land. I was then enormously happy to find out that the organization I am staying with, All Hands Volunteers, runs a Joint Logistics Base with other service organizations in the area. This way needs are hopefully met without duplication and each person and organization can concentrate on their strengths.

Second, Project work: Since arriving I've worked on three different rubble removal sites. These were homes of local families destroyed in the earthquake. Many plan to rebuild on the foundations that are still in tact. Others plan to sell the metal and any other salvageable materials from their old homes.

While digging, shoveling and sledgehammering we come across some interesting artifacts. Since you're looking at a pile of rocks you forget that you are standing on the remains of someone's home. Then you come across a shoe, a can of food or a shirt and you stop and think, "I hope to god the people who these belonged to got out safely. At one site we uncovered photographs and were able to actually return them to the home owner.

I also helped construct part of a school. What's crazy is that All Hands' presence in Haiti is approaching the one year mark and they (we) are approaching the start of building a TENTH school. What's even MORE crazy is that I personally learned how to mix cement!

So what else have I learned?
1. Metal sticking up from the ground is sharp and if you are walking around like a space cadet you get cut. NO BUENO.

2. Everyone is really concerned with poo. As I was obsessed with poo prior to arrival this is my Mecca. Truthfully though poo frequency and consistency are pretty damn important in a country with various possible illnesses and parasites. Since I am immortal none of this matters except that I get to talk about poo. Also, to flush the toilets here you have to dump a bucket of water into the bowl and one must only flush when one poos. On my second morning I used said bucket and was greeted by a round off cheers from my fellow volunteers upon exiting the loo. Now that is support!

3. Back to those sharp metal things. You can also trip over these objects and face/arm plant. bueno.

4. The spicy peanut butter is gross at first but then, just like crack, you gotta have it every day.

5. When riding on a Moto (motor bike) I guess you're not really supposed to wrap your arms around the driver (my bad). Also, apparently you can fit a family of five on one of those things.

6. When riding on a tap-tap (basically a pick up truck) prepare for major back and bum bruising but it does come with a nice breeze.

7. Rice and Beans Rice and Beans Rice and Beans Rice and Beans.

Okay, I think I'm done rambling for now. To all of you stuck in the snow...HA HA.