ON THE ROAD TO HAITI- some observations (as written a few days ago)

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09/02/2011 by etiennefish

So it’s incredibly strange/surreal to me, but while writing this, I am somehow sitting in the Miami airport, waiting for my flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Yeah. I know. CRAZY! Its been such a whirlwind, I’m still mostly confused about how I even left Geneva…

Here’s what happened:

So I received an email from WHO recently (you know, like a week before I left). They told me that I had been selected for a consultancy in Haiti to help with the cholera epidemic and were sending me a contract (to be fair, they had contacted me a month before asking if I was interested. But then I heard nothing more from them, despite my replies, so I assumed they were over me). A few days later I was on a plane flying across the world. I will be in Haiti for 3 months as a field coordinator. Your guess on what exactly that means is probably better than mine.

Here are a few observations I made in the course of this crazy adventure so far:

  1. When I told myself (and subsequently others) that I wanted to go out the night before leaving, as my flight left so early in the morning that it would be basically pointless to sleep anyway, I should have remembered that I am, in fact, no longer 18. Alas, hindsight is always 20/20. Let’s just say, I got back home in time for an hour-ish of sleep, and then either a.) my phone alarm didn’t go off, or b.) I slept through it, because I was suddenly being woken up to a ‘um Ro, I think we were supposed to be at the airport an hour ago…’ Needless to say, I went from dead to the world, to manic, in under 2 seconds flat. There wasn’t going to be the leisurely shower, eatings, and kitten goodbyes planned (I’m so sorry! You kittens are the best!). Sigh. This was followed by much running to bus stops, frantically catching taxis, and desperately hoping that I didn’t forget something important. Such as my passport (and no, surprisingly, I didn’t). Luckily, the guy at the BA desk said I’d arrived just in time, as I only had 5 min left to check in. I swear, next time I will totally pretend to be more responsible.
  2. Despite best intentions/plans, I have never been able to get much sleep on an airplane. I need to stop thinking that I will and planning my social life around this pretence. Luckily, though, I am very good at making random friends. For instance, my first friend was made on the flight to Heathrow. He was American(?)/Canadian(?). He was quite endearingly awkward and talkative, which worked well in my sleep deprived and punch-drunk, adrenaline-fuelled state.
  3. Switching terminals in Heathrow is never fun. Especially when you only have a half hour between connections, most of which is spent going back through security because its an international flight. I barely made this flight as well.
  4. If one is to be plonked down in a plane for 10 hours, the best way to do it is on a plane full of guys headed to a gay cruise leaving from Miami. It also helps one make amazing plane friends to laugh with when you have to sit still for longer than should be humanly possible/legal (and the only films on offer are horrible).
  5. When your online hotel reservation says there is a shuttle provided, one should always check to see if you have to call for them to pick you up. After waiting for well over an hour (in an increasingly zombie-fied state), I made friends with a Haitian porter (note to self- if my [in]ability to understand his fluent English was any indication, I’m kidding myself if I think I’m going to understand Haitian French [much less Creole]), who suggested I might want to call them. He lent me his phone. Bless. I realised then that the whole ‘going to the beach for a bit while in Miami’ thing, was quickly becoming a plan of folly.
  6. Making friends on the hotel shuttle is also a good thing. There, I talked with two nice ladies from California who were heading off on a baby whale-watching adventure, and who invited me to go to dinner with them. As I was starving and tired in equal measure, it at least gave me the chance to tick off one thing on my list of needs, and to not have to eat alone. We had good conversation and delicious Cuban food. That came in portions that could feed at least 10 of me. It was ridiculous.
  7. When one has the option of getting a king-sized bed for the same price as a double, one should totally take it, even if they will be enjoying the luxury alone. As I have lived in a single bed since arriving in Geneva, this was an unheard of extravagance. After taking a fabulous bath (another luxury no longer afforded to me in Geneva), I basically passed out spread eagle fashion while trying to calculate how little sleep I’d had in the past 48 hours (something like 3 hours at that point I think).
  8. ‘Honey,’ ‘Baby,’ and ‘Sweetie’ seems to be the most common form of address in Florida. It kept catching me off guard and sort of freaking me out. Clearly, I’ve been away from New Orleans for too long. I need to schedule a visit. ASAP.
  9. I was seriously less than half the size of the majority of the people that I saw around me. What!?!? I mean, I realise I’m not what one would term gargantuan, but I’m not that small either. It was sort of terrifying.
  10. Accents are also weird in Miami. I literally understood less than half of what people said to me. On further reflection, though, this may also be a function of sleep deprivation. I will attempt to analyse this further on the return trip.
  11. Bagels. OMG, what more can I say? Despite the high gluten content. I love them. So much. Excessively so. They also don’t really exist in Geneva. I had the best bagel breakfast in the Miami airport. It was wonderful.
  12. I am terrified for Haiti. Not because of security/safety reasons, which is what everyone thinks I should be terrified about (I honestly haven’t really thought that bit through), but because I have absolutely no clue what I’m going to be doing or how I’m going to do it. I’ve never done this before, and I may suck at it. I really hope things work out (and that I don’t suck at it), and that I can continue doing things like this in the future. We shall see what the next 3 months bring me….

Updates concerning the impressions of my first few days in Haiti to come!

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February 2011
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