We arrived in Haiti on Saturday, July 3rd. From the first views out of the airplane, we were immediately humbled. Even from the sky it was blue tarps as far as the eye could see. Then, on the ground, still from the airplane, we first saw military helicopters and big UN trucks. We were in a different world. The airport was half crumbled, so the baggage claim and customs were now located in an open warehouse. After getting our bags we exited the airport and were greeted just outside the door by our Baptist Global Response contacts. We were so glad to see them, slightly nervous what we would do if we couldn’t find someone immediately. They told us to hold on to our bags and walk quickly. We had to walk quite a distance from that warehouse building to where their truck was parked.
Desperation and devastation immediately hit me in the gut. People tried grabbing at our bags in order to earn a quick dollar. Kids were lining the fence sticking their arms through shouting at us and asking for things. I was overwhelmed from the start and almost lost it on that very first walk in the country. I tried hard to hold back my tears. On the other side of the fence, an older man on crutches, with an amputated leg locked eyes with me. He wasn’t aggressively begging like the others. Just watching. I smiled at him and he smiled back a big (partly toothless) grin. I don’t know exactly why, but I think I will remember his face for a very long time.
After loading our bags on top of the vehicle (some kind of land rover type thing), all 9 of us piled in with the 2 BGR people. They drove us to their compound where we had about a 30 minute break before changing vehicles for our drive to Petite Goave. Petite Goave is like 40 miles west of Port-au-Prince, but because of horrible road conditions, it is like a 2.5-3 hour drive (even up to 5 hours sometimes we were told, depending on road conditions and other traffic). So we didn’t get to see much of Port-au-Prince, just the areas lining the road on our way out of town. Our driver pointed in the direction of the crumbled presidential palace, but we weren’t able to see it. We were also told to keep our windows shut “for our own safety”. There were masses of people everywhere. And it was just dirty. Trash all over.
In Haiti there are no traffic laws. No lines on the road. No speed limits or passing laws. Not even traffic signals. It is a chaotic free for all. People pass at will. Drive wherever there is space for them. If you need to turn left across oncoming traffic, you just go. It made for a harrowing drive. And we learned that the “highway” we took is right on the fault line. It was probably pretty bad before the earthquake, but is even worse now. It would suddenly go from pretty decent asphalt to rocky, dirt road where we’d have to go 10 miles an hour. There was also a bridge out at one point. We had to drive down an incline, drive across the shallow river, and back up the other side. (On the way back the next week, there had been a rock slide that covered up half of the road that hadn’t been there on that first Saturday.)
We drove through Leogane, which was the epicenter of the quake. From what we could see from the main road, there was barely a building still inhabitable. 80-90% of the buildings were damaged or crumbled. Nearly every concrete structure was destroyed.
One terrifying incident… As we drove by we saw 2 people getting in a fight beside the road. Right as we were passing them a gun shot went off! My heart jumped out of my chest. I think we all screamed. Turns out it was a guy that shot up in to the air in an attempt to break up the fight. That was not a fun moment…
Today marks the 6 month anniversary since the earthquake. Over 230,000+ people died. 1.5 million people are homeless. These numbers are absolutely incomprehensible to me. And being there 6 months later, it is hard to see any progress being made when you look at the big picture. But at least we could go and play a small role…
Most of these pictures were taken by our good friend Jason Welch, out of the car window as we drove. Check out his photography blog here.