Day 1 In Haiti: Tuesday, February 19th
Today was a long day. We started out bright and early, I left my house at around 3:15. I got to the school around 3:45 and the limo/bus came shortly after. This bus was giant! The way I think of this thing is the supreme luxury before what we were about to witness. We departed on this bus and made extremely fast time down to Newark. We arrived around 6:20 and the sun was just starting to peak above the horizon.
We went through the standard US TSA procedure (Mrs. Penniman getting a "random" search due to her headpiece) and found our way to the gate. Once we settled in a few of us poked around the airport and found a very nice little diner. The last meal before departure: sausage, bacon, french toast, eggs, and pancakes. Thanks to the woman who went out of her way for my whipped cream! After breakfast we waited patiently at the gate for the flight to depart while watching the Penniman sisters do various gymnastics. Their 7 year old joined in shortly after and showed all of the delegates up.
Something that we have been practicing for some time we practiced once more at the terminal. This something was the Haitian National Anthem. When we sang it, all of the Haitians that were present gave us a very nice applause.
Once we got on the plane and settled in I looked up to see our own Leah Penniman holding a small child. This was definitely not hers as her kids are 7 and 10. Little did I know that she had quickly befriended the lady next to her who was mother to this baby. In due time we were on our way to Haiti.
Hours later we were looking over the Caribbean at beautiful blue waters. The sights from the plane were amazing and we were finally getting close. The excitement was at max levels for all of us. As we finally saw land for Haiti we began to take pictures, a lot of them. There were lots of mountains but there was one particular feature that was prominent; erosion. There was almost no green to be seen but there was a lot of bare land. As we neared the airport I began to see what I had only seen on TV before. I began to see small sheet metal villages that were unfathomable to our living standards.
Upon landing we departed from the plane onto the the tarmac and made our way inside. Once we entered the doors, we were greeted with a live band playing VERY appropriate music to the feeling that we all had being in a new country. Next stop: a very hot, very packed, very long car ride.
We began our journey in the 5 speed van (which added intensity to the already bumpy roads). (Okay, for real, these roads can't even be considered roads. I'd deem them poorly maintained offroading trails.) We first journeyed to get the hotel owners children from school. We traversed the trails and were given our first exposure to Haitian driving. The first rule about Haitian driving, there are absolutely no rules EXCEPT for don't crash, which after stopping by the heavily guarded (armed-guards) school where we parked at the "Thou Shall Not Park Here" sign, we broke. Looking behind us, Kiki (our guide), had put one of his front tires in a bottomless pit.
To our surprise, no tow truck was called. Instead, 3-5 passerby's proceeded to lift the car and move it a few feet out of the hole. Todo, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. Now that that was behind us, it was time to travel the supposedly 45 minute car ride, that took 2 hours worth of harrowing near misses and extremely terrifying road hazards, to Leogane. Seeing many children without shoes, and pharmacies that were no more than a small box, we experienced real eye openers. If I've taken one message from today, however cliche it may be, it's to not take for granted what you have.
After dosing off a couple times in the car due to the mix of heat and sleep deprivation we were finally at the hotel. Once we stepped inside we realized that this hotel was an extremely close reminder to home. It was beautiful and nothing like what we had witnessed over the past hours. We settled in and thought that the excitement for the day was over for the most part. We were wrong.
Upon leaving my room to get a bottled water, Mrs. Leah Penniman seemed extremely shaken. She continued to explain that her, and her 7 year old son Emmet, had just witnessed a woman getting hit by a car right outside the hotel. Our guide, Kiki, brought the woman to the closest hospital. We waited his return and set dinner up while this was going on.
Once he got back, reassuring us that the woman was in-fact alright, we dug in. We had rice, black beans, chicken, eggplant, potato-salad, and other delicious things for dinner. Our dessert was an amazing grapefruit smoothie drink. That isn't exactly what it was but it is the best way that I can explain the heavenly nectar that was consumed.
Shortly after we met Jimmy, the main planner for the tree planting arrived and we met with all of the people we would be working with over the next week.