Part 1: An uncertain arrival
Day 1 (21st Jan 2010)
Santo Domingo: After 2 days of unplanned and complicated transfers (Cardiff-London-Grenada-St.Vincent-Antigua- Santo Domingo) I am picked up by people I don’t know, thanks to different people I don’t know, the first of many encounters like this with what I come to know as the Denise Foundation, Haiti Volunteer Group. I am welcomed into ‘The Family’ and begin my Haiti experience.
The following days I assume are not going to be comfortable or easy, so I take advantage of what is like the business class lounge preceding a long haul economy flight. My hosts Claudia and Desiree cook a great meal and take me out to stock up for my ‘self sufficient’ journey into the unknown. Expect the worst and hope for the best is the only way to go.
Later that night I meet my fellow companions Jamie Rudert and 3 Colombians who have gathered supplies and money in the days immediately after the quake.
We drive 5 hours to Jimani on the DR side of the Haiti border and stay the night at the Samaritan Hospital, which has been taking injured refugees from Haiti. It reminds me of M*A*S*H but sadly missing the comical Hawkeye. Choppers fly in to evacuate the worst patients and dozens of injured Haitians lie around in tents, corridors and any other available space.
A young boy is evacuated to Santo Domingo and his father, who is finally allowed to join him onboard, is overjoyed that he can go too.
With the supplies delivered and nothing left to do in Jimani, we decide to cross the border and drive to Port au Prince. Navigating from a Lonely Planet guide book that I photographed before leaving the UK, we get to Croix des Bouquets, the last town before Port au Prince. Seeing the traffic and chaos and with a flight back to Colombia the next day, my four new friends decide to turn back. I get out and walk a mile through the town before trying to hitch hike the rest of the way.
I get picked up, without even having to put out my thumb, by a guy and 2 girls who are singing beautiful hymns on the way to visit an orphanage.
Once I arrive I realize that I know no-one in Haiti and have no numbers to call. I ask directions to the nearest hospital in the hope I can find out where I can get online, if indeed it is even possible. On the way, I walk past the ruined National Palace and get to the General Hospital, which is being guarded by US marines, and only get inside because I’m carrying a Press card. A Norwegian Red Cross photographer tells me about a place called Visa Lodge which has wifi and floor space next to the pool if needed.
Back on the street but with no local money, a Haitian guy helps me get ‘tap tap’ to the hotel and even gives me enough money to get there! 30 minutes of skyping later I am picked up by a guy on a quad bike, Jean Succar (35), a Haitian living in his family house in Petionville. On the way, we stop at his old school, which has been damaged by the quake.
Half expecting to spend the night on the street that night I was very happy to be welcomed into a comfortable Haitian home. I also meet a French volunteer, Melyik, also staying with Jean and helping out at the local hospital. He has been here a week already and tells me how crazy it was when he first arrived.