My Hope for Haiti

I sat lucidly in the American Airlines Admirals' Club staring wide-eyed and dreamily into my laptop screen. I was applying the final touches to my relentless midterm -- an online, take-home test, soon realizing it would be nearly impossible for me to get out of this exam unscathed and in one piece. Truly I needed to tend to things back home. But the announcement had already been made on the American Airlines' Intercom System that my flight from JFK was ready to board mosh kosh. I was once again in a hurry to get somewhere -- anywhere, other than here in the present moment -- and in this case, I was heading to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I had heard it several times over -- almost in a trance -- every excruciating syllable as I read and re-read the key paragraphs of my take-home mid term for my Technology Entrepreneur class at the George Washington University school of Business.

Sooner or later, I had to press send -- regretting the hours spent procrastinating when I was actually planning my big trip.; The moment was here, I was off on my first Spring Break in nearly 20 years.

The first stop was Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Santo is a busy, breezy metropolis with kind people and lots of surprises at every block.

I spent the night in Santo in my compact rental, first on the beach, then in the airport parking lot. I was too sleepy to worry about danger. I had been up for nearly 48 hours, and I would soon be facing another bout of sleepless nights, under a droopy tent, the sound of helter skelter hungriness luring all around me.

I managed to pop in downtown, through the Zona Colonial and under the massive Asian gate with dragons, lions and other Chinese allegorical sculptures and plants that evoke the culture, tradition and philosophy of over 45,000 people. Of this number, over 30,000 are Chinese--Dominicans.

I meet several Chinese expats who have built and developed a Chinatown that stretches four blocks, boasting as the 8th largest Chinatown (not just in the Caribbean) but in the whole world.

First thing next morning, I am sitting aboard an American Eagle shuttle, waiting on the tarmac because an announcement was made that the plane was over 600 pounds overweight, and we cannot take off unless we shed off some weight.

As the plane and ground crew worked out a solution (they simply removed a dozen bags off the plane), I kept my fingers crossed, hoping that my sleeping bag, inflatable pad, and mosquito net would make it to Port-au-Prince with me.

I managed a quick nap on the 50 min flight to PaP, which was ideal because in the day's ahead, I would be seriously deprived of sleep.

When we arrived in country, the views were dismal, an emotional tear rolled down my cheek as I looked around to assess the damage, the destruction, the downtrodden denizens -- I was not emotionally ready for what lay ahead.

In fact, many times, I shut my eyes, my mind could not comprehend, I stared in disbelief, in grief -- for me personally, there was deep shame, deep blame.  Where did we go wrong?

I saw thousands and thousands of families living desolate on the street with nothing over their heads except a piece of canvas and perhaps a filthy mattress they carried from the dump.

They were calling out as we passed, asking for bread, water, flip flops, anything that we could possibly give them.

"Merci beaucoup," I said  -- about the only French or Creole that I know.

Straight ahead, a handful of kids were drinking water, from the ground, splashing a handful of water from the sewer.  A lack of clean water is causing a dystentery and typhoid problem in Haiti -- another problem -- lack of city wide trash pickup.

I thought about the malaria problem.  I knew I had not taken any doxycycline before my trip, but I at this time I wasn't too concerned.

In the distance, several men from the three-thousand bustling full tent city were burning trash.  The raunch smell of smoke and debris was so pungent, my eyes began to well up.

Trash was everywhere -- on the streets, on the sidewalks, human waste -- the smell of desolation, the smell of dirt mixed with misery.

Sadly, Haiti doesn't have a trash pickup service.  The residents just dispose their trash on the streets, wherever they can.  They attract insects.  Sometimes, you see an unattended child standing in a pile of trash.  No one turns an eye; no one is concerned.  This is Haiti -- the poorest country in the western hemisphere (before the earthquake).

I couldn't cry.  Somewhere along, I ran out of tears.

But neither does much of Haiti have running water.

Later today, I will be visiting Pastor Luc St. Felix's church to see first-hand the destruction and to hear from him what we can do to help the cause.

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