My first impression of Haiti was one of complete and utter chaos. When we left the airport, the streets were packed with people. The noise was unbelievable – cars honking, buses backfiring, and vendors shouting out whatever they were selling. The smell of gasoline fumes and wood smoke was overwhelming.
Perhaps what was most shocking to me was the amount of rubble that we saw everywhere in Port-au-Prince. The earthquake happened three years ago, and it’s both stunning and discouraging that the streets are still full of broken cement blocks and collapsed buildings. I saw the tent cities that were made so famous after the earthquake – hundreds of tents built of tarp and cardboard filling the hillsides.
Our jeep made some very daring turns and merges as we worked our way through the traffic to our hotel, Matthew 25. It’s almost exclusively for aid workers, especially short-term mission trips. It has a very home-like atmosphere, with a group kitchen and meals served for everyone staying there. At the same time, it was a little, shall we say, rustic. It was dormitory-style with one bathroom per eight beds. The motto “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” for water conservation applied.
We spent one night at Matthew 25 in Port-au-Prince before heading to Anse-Rouge, about seven hours north. The first four hours or so were uneventful, and then the road pretty much ended. Technically it was still a road, but a better description was more of a clearing on a very bumpy path. We went about ten miles an hour for the last thirty-one miles north (which we know because Dr. Ahrendsen had the foresight to bring a GPS) and we were still almost thrown out of our seats at times.
Somehow, the fact that Haiti is an island (with hundreds of miles of coastline) had never really sunk in until we spent several hours driving alongside the ocean. Even now, in Anse-Rouge, we’re a stone’s throw away from the beach. It’s not the pristine kind of beach that I would expect from the neighboring Dominican Republic, but it’s a beach nonetheless. It’s a stark contrast to the desert terrain: a dusty, mountainous and cactus-filled landscape with the occasional lonely hut.
Anse-Rouge is a town of about 30,000 people. There is one small hospital, which we have yet to see but are planning to visit to donate supplies on Sunday. There are thirteen people on this medical mission trip: three providers, a pharmacist, and a miscellaneous collection of nurses and non-medical volunteers. Plus me, the medical student. We’re staying in the Catholic church in town, which is the sister church to its counterpart in Iowa. The group sent money ahead of time to pay for the cost of housing and feeding us, including the huge amount of bottled water that we run through. The lodging situation is actually fairly nice – from what I understand, it was built with money from the sister parish primarily for this annual visit. Again, it’s dormitory style with a shared bathroom, but there’s running water in the bathroom and even flushing toilets. The water’s cold, but it’s so hot that I can’t imagine trying to take a hot shower. So far, they’ve fed us mostly traditional food – lots of beans and rice, supplemented with chicken and goat. (FYI, if you ever want to turn off your appetite completely, watch your dinner being slaughtered and then attempt to eat it a few short hours later. The number of chickens running around the compound has diminished very quickly, and the single goat that was present when we arrived is definitely gone.)
The plan is to go out every morning to the rural communities with our jeep and truck packed with medical supplies, and see as many people as we can within the span of a few hours. Afternoons will be spent in Anse-Rouge where we will see people from town at the local school. In the past, they’ve seen 100-200 patients at each clinic per day plus all the kids that are given a single dose of medications for worms (all of them).
More to come. My next blog will be about the medical clinics. J
Read more experiences from current medical students. Subscribe to our blog!
All of the opinions expressed here are the author’s and hers alone, and do not represent necessarily those of Kaplan or its employees.