The smell of the evening supper fires perfume the air as a strong wind blows several kites around the neighbourhood. There is a noisy energy to the crowd below which makes me happy to stay within the compound and enjoy some quiet time on the roof top.
We did venture outside the gates today. It was a day off for the entire team and we went on a tour of Port Au Prince. with the emphasis being on architecture and history. I was excited that things were safe enough for us to do this as I felt that it gave us a better idea of the cultural climate that we had come to volunteer in. Plus it’s always interesting to get an up close and personal look at any city with a local guide as you can ask an assortment of questions.
We headed out the gate and from that moment on it was bedlum on the roads ahead, behind and around us. I saw 4 stop signs and one traffic light and our driver paid no attention to them and neither did any other drivers. There are no lanes, no signalling, loads of merging with inches to spare, passing on the left and right, and non stop pedestrians darting here and there. We can’t believe that they don’t have more poly trauma patients from just the roads alone.
Our first area to stop was in a historical area that survived the 2010 earthquake, in essence because the houses were wood. They have a very distinctive style that is similar to gingerbread houses common of that area around the world with some warm climate adjustments like extra roof spaces for ventilation. They are in various states of repair and disrepair and seem to be the only ones in the city that have any yard space. They date back from around 1880 to 1915 and were owned by wealthy plantation owners. Apparently many of these houses have been converted to schools or clinics or multi family.
It seemed like we snaked around and back and in all that time we never ran out of people walking on the streets and hanging out in doorways. I was struck by how many people there were in the big central park during a Tuesday afternoon. There are no big box stores, heck other than ladies wear stores, most of the sales appear to take place on the street.
There was not a lot of new buildings which surprised us but it seems that in the 7 years they have only rebuilt a few big buildings. Our guide said they needed to triple the amount of housing that they built and it still would not have been enough. We did see the cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake and it seems to be pretty much untouched since the day it happened. Apparently farther up the hills in the city there is still a lot of rubble remaining.
Having now spent the morning in a hot vehicle with intermittent air conditioning it was not a relief to step outside when we stopped at the National Mausoleum. This building dates to 1976 and was obviously designed to withstand earthquakes. It is in essence buried under the ground with 6 domes that let light in. It is home to many national treasurers and our guide gave us the whole history of Haiti. It was a lot to absorb but someone said that the air conditioning alone was worth the $5 admisssion fee!
The guided tour portion ended at the Ollfason Hotel which had no admission fee but was worth one! It was apparently built in 1886
by the US Army for a hospital barracks. The main structure of the hotel is a 19th-century Gothic gingerbread mansion set in a lush tropical garden. The mansion was built as a residence for the powerful Sam family, including two former presidents of Haiti. It was a fabulous piece of archecture and the only chance we probably will have to see the ocean.
What a great setting for lunch and seems the food and liquid refreshments arrived in Haitian time it gave me a chance to explore around. Back stair wells, a top verandah that lead to the rooms and a ton of interesting details that I absorbed. I was lucky enough to see two of the hotel rooms when the maid went in and it definitely has character. The grounds were huge, lush, quiet and seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The tour guide departed and the driver then dropped us off at our requested designations. Some went for some R and R at a hotel pool attached to a restaruant that we frequent, some went home for some down time and 8 of us went to the nursery to deliver quilts and toys. Apparently the message that we were going to visit had got lost somewhere along the way so they definitely were not expecting us. It was both rewarding and sad at the same time. These little children obviously love the attention they get from visitors and were so happy to cuddle and indeed clung to some of us at times. It seemed a stark setting for children to grow up so we were happy to deliver the quilts for their beds, soccer balls, books, crayons, colouring books, toy cars and Miss Judy took suckers. As you can imagine she was a big hit! Then when she, Shannon and Paul pulled out the tatto stickers they had children swarming them. Aimy, Laurie and I spent considerable time in the nursery cuddling the truly little ones and I was fortunate enough to even feed one of them. I then gravitated to the toddler room and spent a lot of time throwing children up in the air, playing the tummy tickle game all the while holding a little boy that did not want to be put down. There was one little girl in there who was so mischevious, full of smiles, high energy and just a bit bossy. She and I bonded so I went and found her one of the dresses that we had donated and it was amazing to watch how excited she was to recieve this. It was a very rewarding eperience but we all came back with mixed emotions.
We returned to the compound and following my roof top alone time I then went to the OR along with one of the surgeons to organize our equipment for our big case tomorrow. Plans for an early bedtime went out the window when supper was a lenghty process. We returned in an absolute torrential downpour so had to spend time drying off when we got back. We were wetter than if we had used the shower here! Then I started the blog process but found way too many distractions to write with purpose. I have now segretated myself down the hallway where the internet seems to be reasonable. I feel like this is my least articulate post about the trip and it should have been the most but sometimes the words don’t always flow like you would wish. I had the same issue when Travis interviewed me on camera about the quilts. It wasn’t that I felt nervous as I am fairly well practised at interviews but rather I just wasn’t as articulate as I could have been. So that concludes another full day in Haiti from this very tired blogger. Thanks to everyone for the shares, comments and likes. It is heartwarming to recieve so many “virtual” hugs and high fives.