Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Haiti

I am just about out of things to say about Haiti. (I'm sure a few of you were wondering if I'd ever run out of material!) So before I'm done, I thought I'd share some of the "volunteer lifestyle" experiences.

Port au Prince is covered in "tent cities." If you've been paying attention you will notice the "tents" the refugees are living in are not actually camping tents. They are sheets strung up with sticks and boxes. Seeing such poverty and conditions it wasn't hard to be grateful for our little "tent city" back at main camp.

We lived in these lovely little 1 man tents, with a wool blanket, and a thin 1 inch inflatable mattress pad. Most people were living in them with a roommate. (2 people in a 1 man tent!) I was one of the very lucky few who only had a roommate for 2 nights, (then got sent out to the orphanage with 15 men) and then had my own solo tent. You'll noticed in the picture a lot of people threw their gear outside of the tent. Our tents were so crowded that it was just easier to keep gear on the outside, people on the inside.
We were camped out in a soccer/polo field with the US Army 82nd Airborne Division. Those guys were just awesome. They provided us with the latrines, shower, and potable water. We gave them the Super Bowl (more on that in another post- trust me, its worthy of its own post). I think they think we are even. But personally, I say we are forever in their debt. We saw the rest of Port au Prince. We saw the nasty. We saw the devastation. We know we lived like kings in that field. Our field was in the middle of a factory compound, which the Army was able to secure. We knew we were safe. We knew we could leave money and passports in our tents and not have to worry. The Army is just plain awesome. 

HA! What a joke! Our first few days we had a "shower" made from a ginormous cistern with a spigot. You could use a bucket as well. You had to stand on plywood, protected by some poorly hung up tarps. It was nasty. I'm glad I only suffered through that once. Out at the orphanage we designated an empty room (in the unfinished concrete building) as the "shower room." We could fill a bucket from an underground tank of water (rain water I think), and use that. Again, remember how I was living with a dozen men? Did I mention the room the guys picked for the shower only had a half wall and no door on it? Yeah, that made showering interesting for me. It required a guard in the hallway, and finding large pieces of plywood to cover the half wall. One of the more memorable showers was the night the goats walked into the building, following the water most likely, and they pooped in our "shower." Grrr... I hate goats. But those bucket showers felt good! (And I only accidentally walked past one of the guys "showering" twice. Er, I mean I walked past 2 guys showering. But not together. I walked past the shower two separate times, and saw guys bathing. Or something like that. Whatever.) Once we got back to main camp the Army allowed us to use their beautiful, deluxe, amazing HAZMAT decontamination showers. 4 jet sprays. Lights. Warm water. Its a beautiful thing. One of the more humorous memories for me will be my first decon shower (and you know what? after that much time in Haiti, I felt like I needed a decon shower). I was in their in my special little zip up stall, and Ally was nearby. And apparently there were two soldiers in there as well. Ally and I were chatting, and the soldiers joined in. It was a lovely ten minute shower with the Army boys. When we (Ally and I) got out of the shower (fully dressed), we caught the Army boys peeking around from their side of the tent to see what we looked like.
And for those 12 other days in-country where I didn't get to shower? Baby wipes. Lots of baby wipes.

The decon units-
(picture stolen from nurse claire's facebook photos)

I've looked through all of my pictures, and through hundreds of my friends' pictures. And I can't find one picture of an MRE. And I can't say I'm surprised. Yes, ladies and gents, we ate MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for 16 days. I'm grateful for those wretched little bags. I know I had it better than ten Haitians combined. But I hope I never ever have to eat another MRE for as long as I live. They are actually better than I expected. And I actually didn't mind the beef ravioli flavor. But really, yuck. And the rye crackers? Double yuck. And then there were the Pro Bars. Now, I'd like to thank the good people who donated the Pro Bars to us. They helped. They kept us alive. But I can promise you, I'm never eating another one for the rest of my life. But you know what? I ate them. I survived. I didn't get sick. I didn't get Haiti belly. And for that I am grateful.

It was strongly recommended (and nearly required) that we all take an anti-malaria drug while we were there. DEET and sunscreen were also much needed. I can't speak for anyone else, but I took those all very seriously! Additionally, Imodium and ibuprofen came in handy. As do sleeping pills for when you are sleeping in a hot tent, on a thin little pad, and the guys in the tent on two sides around you are snoring, and there are helicopters and C130s going overhead all freaking night long, and the roosters are eagerly dispelling all myths that they only crow at sunrise.

Bathroom facilities?
Running water? Flushing toilets? Where do you think we are? The Haiti Hilton? No, we used latrines and hand sanitizer. At main camp our latrines were not horrendous nightmares. (Unless you didn't think your steps through very clearly when entering one in the dark without a flashlight. Out at the orphanage is another story though. That "latrine" was not the lovely portable units you have seen. It was a 30 ft hole in the ground, with cinder blocks around it to create a seat. (No, I never sat on it.) And it was surrounded by cinder block/cement walls for privacy. Since, again, I was out there with all guys, I would "announce" myself as I approached the latrine. Usually by singing something stupid. Feeling confident that no one was in the latrine, I walked around the wall, scurrying a little bit because I really had to go! I stepped around the wall, and a chicken flew up out of the latrine into my face, causing me to scream. (lesson learned: chickens can fly!) And well, nearly wetting my pants. It wasn't pretty. One of the funniest things I heard said about that particular latrine. "My quads are screaming." "Why?" "I just used the latrine!" "Huh?" "I had to squat for so long my quads are burning!" "OH!" (Personally I devised my own method that involved holding on to the outer walls and leaning back. There was no way I was going to risk a) touching that nasty "seat" and b) falling into the hole. Which trust me, was a frightening thought.)

After sharing all of this it is hard to explain that I miss Haiti. I'd still rather be back there using a latrine, eating MREs, and having a baby wipe bath in the privacy of my little tent. Life had a lot more meaning there.

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