Monday, August 16, 2010

My Trip to Haiti -- Part I

Over the next several days, I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences from my week in Léogâne, Haiti.  Léogâne was essentially the epicenter of January's earthquake, and 30,000 people, more than 15% of the population, were killed.  I went to Léogâne to provide crisis intervention and assistance to children attending a summer camp there.

The first several days of this "serial blog" are my travelog.  I'm devoting a day in this space to each day of the trip.  I'll then wrap things up with a day or two of reflections on the experience, lessons learned, etc.  Because I'm writing about real people with real traumas , I'm changing everyone's name to protect their privacy.  I hope you find this interesting and informative.  I'll be back to my usual combing of the news for various awful things in about 10 days.

Day 1 -- Friday, August 6, 2010

My travels to Haiti began when I caught a plane from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale.  My flight to Port-Au-Prince on Saturday was to be at 7:30 AM, so I flew to Florida the night before and took the shuttle to the hotel.  Amelia, the Haitian-American woman going on the deployment as a translator, had called Thursday night to ask me to leave some space in my luggage for some materials which a friend of hers would be delivering to the hotel Friday evening.

Something you should understand -- my husband does all the packing in our house, whether or not he is going on the trip in question.  In this instance, he had managed to pack the body of my suitcase with my son's outgrown clothes to bring to the kids in Haiti, and my  clothes for the trip were packed entirely into the pockets of the lid.  He made sure I had about 11 pounds of allowable luggage weight to play with for the materials.  My backpack carried the things I would need if my suitcase never made it to Léogâne:  toiletries, medications (including some antibiotics, just in case), a change of clothes, my journal, mosquito repellent, mosquito net, flashlight, flip flops, passport, wallet, cards and iPod.

When Amelia's friend arrived at the hotel, I immediately saw we had a problem.  The materials, which had been sent by the coordinator for this deployment, were, unbeknownst to both Amelia and me, 50 fairly lengthy workbooks for children, they weighed a lot more than 11 pounds, and they took up a lot more space than I had in my luggage.  This being a trip on Spirit Airlines (slogan:  "We Can Get Blood from a Rock, and We'll Charge You For It!"), all checked and carry-on luggage has a charge, you are limited to one of each, and you cannot go over 50 pounds even if you are willing to pay for it.

I stuck out my arm to shake Amelia's friend's hand, just at the same moment he leaned in to kiss me on the cheek.  "Oh, I forgot," he said, "You're not Haitian."  I laughed and said, "What, don't I look Haitian to you?"  We shook hands and then kissed, and I was struck with the sudden realization that I needed to start remembering that I was not on my turf.  The last thing I needed to do was come in to Haiti expecting to do everything my way, the American way.  One cultural faux pas down, a zillion to go.

I wrestled half the books into my suitcase and half into my backpack, which now weighed rougly five thousand pounds, give or take.  My back was going to hurt.  A quick shower and it was time for bed.  Tomorrow would be a long day.

Tomorrow:  My first glimpse of an absolutely devastated country.

Photo copyright istockphoto/yinyang


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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