Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 1- Jess

A lot. These are words I overused the first day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We emerged from the airport and a lot of men wanted to help us find our bags or drive us places. On the drive to our guest house we saw a lot of animals eating trash on the roadsides--big black pigs, small brown dogs, goats with plastic and metal in their mouths. We drove past a lot of NGOs and a lot of low and brightly painted schools. We saw a lot of women carrying baskets with a lot of different items for sale. One basket was arranged as a flower with toothbrushes as a stamen and petals of gum, loose tissues, and tiny pouches of laundry detergent. We fell silent as we passed a tent camp filled with too many tents. All the while we leaned into each other's thighs and shoulders, smiling and apologizing, because the roads need a lot of work.

Our first night, we settled into our guest house that was guarded by a man with a large gun who unlocked the gates for us. The house is run by Outreach to Haiti, which employs Pharra as its Projects Coordinator. Pharra laughs a lot and loudly and she cooked us a delicious stew with carrots, peas, and spices I couldn't place then she sang us prayers from the head of our table. Her many opinions about Haiti fell out of her big smiles. We also spoke with our guide Regine who explained how much more than Port-au-Prince we would see, how culturally rich and complex Haiti is, and how we must not use victim portrayals when we talk about Haiti.

After dinner and dishwashing, Professor Tom Griffin, Dean Susan Brooks, and we students went to the balcony to talk about what we'd seen--the a lots. Tom explained what contributed to them and we all brainstormed what could be done about them. We discussed the dearth of jobs and infrastructure that contribute to no trash collection or road repair. We discussed the population and how those under 25 comprise 54 percent; this and the lack of funding for public schools cause people to build the many private schools. The NGOs don't cooperate or aim to help Haitians attain self-reliance, so more NGOs move in on top of others to "solve" problems. The poor are so poor they can only afford small quantities of anything, hence the individual tissues and tiny detergent packets. Our conversations swell with goals and priorities for Haiti and ebb as we criticize tactics or question starting-points. In that confusion, we all, or at least I do, fall back on the comfort that we don't need to solve what we saw today. It was important work to see it, to put it in context this week, and to bring all of it back with us on our tongues and in our hearts.

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