After a brutal day of flights, delays and crappy airports, I all but squealed in delight when I got to the airport in Port-au-Prince (PAP) and met up with both my driver and luggage successfully. After he dropped me off at my hostel, my plan was to hide in my room, do a bit of writing, and crash.
Haiti Communitere turned out to be a little slice of hippie commune NGO heaven and what’s even better is that they’re the real deal. They are a hostel but more so a grassroots community building, project doing organization. I sized up the few people there as your typical backpacking hippie-dippies by the looks of them chugging beers while feverishly updating Facebook statuses in their hemp shorts. However, after talking to a few of them… OMG, I felt like the underachiever at the party. One college kid from New Jersey is in Haiti building 3D prosthetic limbs for children. Another guy from Ottawa is here educating locals on the value of solar cooking and passionately trying to spread the word about sustainable energy and related business models. Huh?! Yeah, that’s what I thought too.
As I laid in bed, sweating my arse off, gasping for fresh air under my mosquito net, I got to thinking about the beauty of traveling and doing development work, and the people you meet who are in the same boat as you – usually twenty and thirty something’s, educated and optimistic with a disregard for creature comforts and conformity, paddling their way to Hopeful Town.
And I absolutely love that optimism. I get enough pessimism in my daily life, so I relish in it the good of people when I come across it. It confirmed for me why I came here, which was not a moment too soon since I was in the midst of fighting off the hordes of mosquitoes that made their way in to my fortress and were wreaking havoc on my body.
I took a bus ride from PAP to Les Cayes today, which was a bit stressful because of the military presence everywhere trying to quell the ongoing government protests. However, I found it much more stressful not to be able to go to the bathroom for the 7 hours I was captive on the bus since I didn’t want to squat-pee roadside with everyone else. I’m usually quite content to go with the flow (no pun intended) when I’m abroad, but seeing 30+ people get off the bus and literally hunker down to pee in a pack, was a little much. I almost did it because I was all but choking on my urine, but then I pictured the stares I would get when they saw my large white arse squatting in the queue and thought it best to muster the strength to hold it for another 2 hours.
And just when I thought I would pee my pants or jump out a window, I made it to my people. They may not be “my people” yet but they are my kind of people so I know it’s just a matter of time. Morgan, the incredible 22-year old Canadian girl, living here and running the organization Little Footprints, Big Steps (LFBS), and Peter, her American partner-in-crime who is cut from the same incredible cloth, welcomed me into the fold immediately. Yup, just a matter of time.
I had a moto driver scoot me around the city this afternoon to get myself situated and the look of the town could be a bit discouraging to some, to say the least. There is garbage EVERYWHERE, stray dogs who look like they’re half dead and poverty, poverty, poverty. But I also saw a ton of kindness and was greeted warmly, which more than makes up for sucking exhaust fumes while on the back of a motorcycle in heat and dust that will keep me filthy for the next 3 weeks.
As I start work with the kids tomorrow, mostly ex-street kids, abused and enslaved by too many people in their short lives, I remember why I’m here, why I volunteer. Because it’s important and valuable and hopefully makes some sort of a difference to someone somewhere. No, I’m not building someone a hand anytime soon but in my own small way, I’m giving someone a hand in life, which I’m pretty proud of all the same.
A few years ago someone in my family said to me, why do you go over “there” and help those people? Do you really think you’re making a difference? I’ll respond now as I did then. I really don’t know. But I’d rather be able to question that than sit on my ass and not be able to. What’s that Margaret Mead quote…
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Well I have met my share the past few days and it has restored my faith in humanity which was all but dashed after a full day of encountering horrible airport people that had me questioning it (which will be an upcoming post, I’m sure).
So as I lie in bed and anticipate tomorrow, I not only feel stifling heat and limbs covered in mosquitoes bites, I feel optimistic and grateful to be here.