Well here it is one week into my journey into Haiti. And it has been very eventful to say the least. Where to start?
Ok well I left the Ashram last Sunday morning at 3 am to catch my plane in Montreal for 6:30 am and I got there at 4:30 am thanks to the wonderful driving of the great Fred Buchet. I got checked in and was through customs in a few mins and thought to myself so far so good. Then I flew to Newark and then to Miami. I basically slept the whole way and then we got onto the plane for Port au Prince. And I was super nervous, super nervous in the Fry way so I basically talked to everyone around me about many many irrelevant things. Sadly many of you have had to experience this over the years, it's even worse for strangers.
Then we taxied onto the runway to take off for Port au Prince and I was so tired that I fell asleep for about an hour and a half. The flight to Port au Prince is an hour and a half. So I woke up thinking that I was in Port au Prince but we still hadn't left Miami. So I went back to sleep and woke up 2 hours later and we were still in Miami. So after a 4 hour delay on the run way we went back into the gate and they put us up in Hotels for the night. And I am not going to lie to anyone, I was excited to be at the hotel and not in Port au Prince. I was scared to go back to Haiti after it kicked my butt so bad last time. Anyway we were off to the hotel and I was off to bed and got up in the morning and took off for the airport. This time the flight took off and 2 hours later I was back in Haiti.
I got into Port au Prince and customs and the luggage area are basically the same place so it is this crazy mess of people from all flights going through customs and hoping that their bags are there. So after this circus you get to go outside and hope that somebody is waiting to pick you up. And it is about a 700 meter walk to get to where people wait to pick you up so it is crazy because people are trying to get you take their cab, sleep at their hotel, etc...
So I finally get out with my bag and can't find my driver and am a little worried. Then after ten minutes I find my driver and one of the Teachers from Nouvelle Vie. Nouvelle Vie, http://nouvelleviehaiti.
org/, is the project that has been set up by the International Association for Human Values http://www.iahv.org/ the sister organization of the Art of Living in Haiti. The Nouvelle Vie is a group of 19 Haitian Youth who have undergone 5 months of training to become Art of Living Teachers. The Nouvelle Vie youth corps has also taken the initiative to start projects which address community dis-empowerment , mentorship program to vulnerable children, sexual education for risky sexual behavior, food security workshops and sanitation (composting projects). You can see all of their photos and profiles on the nouvellevithaiti.org website. This is the group of people that I will be working with this year in Haiti.
So our driver, Andre, and Estavella, one of the trainers, and I go off to the hotel. So we get to the hotel and it is decent for Haiti. It has a bed and a toilet, sink and a shower. And no door to block off the bathroom but at least there is a running toilet. And we all know that I have had my bathrooms issues over the years so it nice to have a working toilet. I bought a camera and will post pictures after I am done writing this blog today.
Then we go off to Wharf Jeremy which is Cite Soliel. Cite Soliel is one of the poorest slums in the western hemisphere. And Wharf Jeremy is one of the poorest places in Cite Soliel. http://en.wikipedia.
We were teaching a course in Wharf Jeremy collaborating with two other groups. Aid Still Required, http://aidstillrequired.org/
home, which is run by Hunter Payne and Andrea Herz Payne. And We Advance. http://weadvance.org/ . And at Wharf Jeremy We Advance is run by Alison Thompson.
And from Nouvelle Vie we had four teachers and one organizing at Wharf Jeremy. Estavella, Lovely, Faby, Jeff and Delicieux.
So I haven't been around Port au Prince and on the way to Wharf Jeremy it is amazing what you see. There is so much destruction everywhere. And there really are tent cities everywhere. And people everywhere. And lots of traffic. And Wharf Jeremy is hard to explain. There is sewage and garbage everywhere and there are so many children everywhere. A lot of them are orphans. And they call white people Blancs and they all ask you for a dollar when you see them. There are pigs all over the place eating garbage. There is people bathing in the streets. And we went for a walk yesterday around Wharf Jeremy and we walked by an open sewer with garbage and shit everywhere and it smelled so bad that I almost puked.And still the people here are so happy and beautiful and children are playing everywhere. And these play games with literally nothing. It seems that they can play soccer with anything.
So Alison from We Advance is one of the most interesting people that I have ever met. She just wrote a book, http://www.lasplash.com/
publish/Entertainment/cat_, about her experience of doing volunteering after the Tsunami and how it started after 9/11 in New York and how she is working now in the Haiti. She told me that she was so happy to have Nouvelle Vie offering meditation and breathing techniques to the people of Wharf Jeremy. index_nyc_events/The_Third_ Wave_-_An_Alison_Thompson_ Documentary.php
A bit of a backdrop, Hunter and Andrea from Aid Still Required wanted to help in Haiti and they are good friends with Alison and Alison said that after food and water what people said that they need most is mental health in Port au Prince. We Advance runs a free medical clinic in Wharf Jeremy and they have volunteers from all over the world at the clinic as well as local Haitian doctors and nurses. Every morning there are about 80 to 150 people waiting at the clinic. The local community has embraced We Advance. Local gang members provide protection for the We Advance site.
So Hunter and Andrea wanted to do a project in Haiti and wanted to work with Alison. Alison mentioned mental health and Hunter and Andrea came across Novelle Vie and heard the good reviews and asked if we could offer the course to the women. The women of Wharf Jeremy suffer from sever gender based violence. Many many many of the women have been raped and Alison saw a case last week where a 4 year girl had gonorrhoea after being raped by 16 men. Mind Blowing.
Last Monday we offered a course to these women and we had 24 women come for the 8 am session and 33 for the afternoon session. On Thursday we had 12 women finish the morning program and 24 finish the afternoon session. The women were so happy. One woman said that she no longer sees colour in people and only sees love in peoples heart. She said that she know will live in her heart full of Love. Another lady said that she is 63 and has lived with pain in her whole body for many many many years. She said that the pain in her body is gone now except for a bit in her legs. She was crying she was so happy. It was unbelievable to see how happy these women were.
We started another course yesterday and we got such good reviews in the community that we had 29 women for the morning session and 50 for the afternoon session. All of these women came for the second course because they heard the benefit that their neighbours had gotten. It is such a nice way to start my adventure in Haiti.
I have got to see so much of Port au Prince. I have been to the poorest slums and I have been to the richest area and restaurants. It is very strange
to eat a pizza and have a coke when an hour earlier you were in a place where people don't eat at all.
Here are some more thoughts/experiences because I want to put the photos up:
Haiti is like a bad lover. It breaks your heart our and then put it back together the next moment. Ex. Just staring at the poverty in Wharf Jeremy and feeling so bad and then a little kid comes up and grabs your hand and just smiles.
Hunter and Andrea have been great. And they do lots of work with NBA players so Hunter and I have talked lots of ball, which is always nice.
It is funny to work and do everything in French. And Creole is the main language here and is something that will take me a little while to get used to and a little while longer to learn.
Working with the Nouvelle Vie team is funny because they don't say much in the meetings and after the meetings they ask me many questions in reference to what the meeting was about. Very frustrating.
Everything in Haiti starts at least 30 mins after the time that is set to start from when the course, to when we leave the hotel, to ordering food, to every aspect of life.
Very interesting to have the gang members in Wharf Jeremy protect our course. One of the gang members has stayed by the tent the whole week and won't let anyone in but the course participants.
The earthquake happened 18 months ago and so much of Port au Prince is still destroyed.
The tent cities and the way that people live is very hard to see and/or believe.
The people in Haiti still look like their going to the club all the time and both men and women are beautiful.
My year in Haiti is going to be a roller coaster at certain points I will want to leave (this has already happened a few times this week) and at other points I will be so fulfilled that their is no where that I would rather be that Haiti.
I'll do my best to blog and post photos.
Lots of Love to everyone
Mark Christopher Fry