A pleasant flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico with three hours of good reading time at the layover, then walk across the tarmac, put your carry on bag in the cargo hold, because the overhead racks are tiny, and take the twin turboprop to Port-au-Prince. Circling the airport once to land gave a good view of the many thousands of destroyed buildings and huge areas of tent cities.
All bags arrived with us (often not the case I’m told), made it easily through customs and immigration, then wait for the hospital van to pick us up. While waiting the three hours it took to round up a second vehicle and get through the terrible traffic to the airport I got to know seven other people coming to the hospital from Pennsylvania. Two general surgeons, another orthopedist and his nurse wife, a nurse/orthopedic equipment rep, and a couple videographers, all traveling under the auspices of Cure International. I also learned AT&T has good cell phone coverage, as we called the hospital to see if they had forgotten us.
Cramming the eight of us, two drivers, and 22 pieces of luggage in a couple Isuzu Rodeo size vehicles while being attacked by a loud insistent swarm of would be baggage handlers, each of whom feel they deserve a dollar for each bag they touch, was comical. In the 20 mile hour and a half ride through heavy downtown traffic over rutted, damaged roads, my butt received a permanent imprint of the hand brake, as only half of one of my butt cheeks could find a seat. But at least my view wasn’t obscured by a pile of luggage in the lap like of the people in the back seat.
And what a view!! The entire road is nearly gridlocked with cars and trucks and buses and cattle and goats and pigs and people and more people. We rode along with the multitude of Tap-taps, the repurposed minpickups with welded bench seats in the bed and an improvised raised roof and welded on steps in the back. They each have elaborate decorations, many extra lights, bright paintings, and most include multiple painted bible verses and a name on the windshield, such as “Merci Jesus”. They cram over twenty people into these, and sometimes more hanging on the back. They don’t beef up the rear springs enough, so when loaded most of them ride nose high with the back steps showering sparks when they bottom out on potholes. …and are there ever potholes!!…everywhere…many would literally swallow a large truck, and there aren’t even traffic cones or warning tape around most of them.
The appalling scenes you see on the news. It’s really like that EVERYWHERE. If there’s a divided boulevard the median is filled with scrap lumber, corrugated tin, and tarpaulin shacks. They are on every right of way, every lawn, every available corner where you might put a shack a tent or a lean too. Every field or park is now a tent city, some are hodge podge, some are seas of uniform donated tents, often with an organization’s logo on each tent…Unicef, or ADRA, etc. Many destroyed concrete homes have their family camping in the tiny front yard. Shipping containers have windows and doors cut in them and contain the contents of the destroyed store they sit in front of, or are dwellings for multiple families.
The people are everywhere. They are not inside. They are milling about. They are lining the streets with merchandise, one woman selling oranges, the next family yams, another mangos. Every corner has merchants on foot between the cars trying to sell trinkets, snacks, cold drinks, etc. They appear overall very happy, quite clean and as well dressed as their poverty will allow. Old people are scarce and obesity even scarcer.