Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Morning in Haiti's Capital

Monday, December 9, 2013 
8:46 a.m. 

I fasten Justin into his car seat and then double check the necessities; diaper bag, cell phone, water bottle, purse - looks like I have everything. Strapping my own seat belt on, I disable the anti-theft device and then wait for a moment for Anoud to roll open the giant black gate. 

A few moments later I'm out on our rocky street. Shifting into first I make my way to the T and turn right. The eight o'clock school traffic has thankfully eased up some and I'm able to snake my way to the main road now with minimal delays. 

Reaching Delmas I force my way into the moving traffic and head up towards Petionville. The lights are out on Delmas 60 and traffic is stopped. The traffic lights haven't worked for a while now but usually traffic keeps moving, unless, of course, there is a police officer directing traffic. As I slowly inch my forward, I sigh. Yup, there he is. The police only allow one or sometimes two lanes of traffic to go at once with causes everything to stop or at least slow down significantly; without them traffic keeps moving at a steady pace and although it looks chaotic with multiple lanes crossing each other, it's much quicker and more efficient.

Today is my fourth dental appointment in less than a week, thanks to an abscess in my mouth, and I'm running a little behind schedule. We're on Haiti time, I remind myself, trying not to get uptight. With Jayden starting school at nine instead of eight on Mondays, I had to wait for him to be picked up by friends before I could leave. Thankfully my delay has also allowed time for traffic to thin out a little and after getting past the Delmas 60 intersection it only takes me 15 minutes to arrive at my destination. 

I find my usual parking spot on the curb a few blocks over from my dental office and pull in. Making sure I'm far enough off the busy street and that my mirrors are tucked in, I turn the engine off and work on getting Justin out of the car. As I close and lock the doors, a man walks up to me jabbering in French. Since Creole is very similar, I gather that it's okay to park here now, but not after 2:00 p.m.. I assure him I won't be there that long and with Justin in my arms I make my way down the dirty, crumbling sidewalks towards the dental office. Sidestepping to avoid a giant puddle of urine I wrinkle my nose; phew, it smells bad. 

Turning a corner I'm met with many a curious stare; a white girl with a toddler walking down the street is not a common sight. Many people greet me with a friendly 'Bonjou' so I smile and greet them back. A few of the ladies selling fruits and vegetables on the side of the road jokingly ask if they can have my ti blan (little white). I smile and shake my head. Nope, I'm keeping this one! 

A man with a giant wheelbarrow of coal heads straight at me and I move quickly aside to avoid being run over. Smells of charcoal, diesel fumes and fried foods mingle in the air making for an interesting concoction of scents. 

A few moments later I reach the green gate of the dental office only to find it locked. I knock, but to no avail. I'm attracting more attention now, particularly from some men selling tires on the curb a few meters over, so I pull out my cell phone and give the dentist a quick call. The street noises are quite intense so it takes a moment for her to understand me. Thankfully, barely 30 seconds later, the elderly secretary rushes out of the building and unlocks the gate. 

I enter and wait inside the tiny waiting room as she returns to her desk. The dental assistant peeks through an adjoining door, noting my arrival but motioning for me to wait. Letting Justin have his own chair I take a moment to study my surroundings. Turquoise paint is peeling off the walls and other than two tiny crooked paintings there is not a decoration to be seen. The whole place reeks of a dentist office even though I can't quite put my finger on what exactly gives off that particular scent. I page through some ancient magazines until I'm motioned inside by the dental assistant. 

Dragging Justin along behind me, I make my way into the exam room and take a seat on the dentist chair. A few moments later the Dentist arrives. Hah, I guess I wasn't late than, if she only just got here herself. (Haitian time affects almost everything in this country, so being late is rarely an issue.)

Seeing me she starts chatting in French; then watching my expression glaze over she quickly switches to English. "How do you feel? Does your mouth still hurt?" I shake my head. She motions for me to open so she can take a look. 

When I had first come last Tuesday with horrible pain and a swollen lumpy cheek, she had told me that since I was pregnant I couldn't have x-rays or anything for the pain. Then, with razor in hand, she proceeded to cut the lump in my cheek wide open as tears poured down my face. Seeing my pain, she catapulted back and forth between trying to comfort me and telling me my baby was worth the pain and I had to be strong. I knew all of that of course, but I still remained slightly wary of her. 

Remembering my first visit to her in the spring, I grimace as I recall her telling me that a beautiful girl like me couldn't have two nearly invisible black heads in her skin. She then pulled on a pair of surgical gloves and proceeded to pinch them out of my face. Ouch! Besides that, she had also used what I dubbed the German torture machine (it was made in Germany) to remove plaque from my teeth. I've had plaque removed before, but I have never known it to be such a painful experience! 

Still, I couldn't dislike her. Even though she might not have the best bedside manner, she meant well, and was only trying to be helpful. Besides, the mouth abscess HAD healed wonderfully and this was the final check up with no returns on the horizon, so I could be cheerful about that. 

After concluding her exam and proclaiming all was well she went on to tell me I didn't have to pay for any of the visits this past week. At least torture in Haiti is still free, I thought, only half joking. 

After thanking her politely, I headed back to the streets, where once again I quickly became the center of attention. (It used to bother me some, but then I realized that whenever I saw a foreigner walking on the street in Port au Prince, I stared too.) 

Since there was a lot of garbage and putrid mud on the streets, I decided to carry Justin until we reached a small bakery nearby. It was a real gem of a place that I discovered last week. It was quite modern inside but the style of ordering was typical of many Haitian bakeries and fast food places. You first looked through a glass and memorized the names of the items you wanted, all in French of course. Then you went to a cashier and hoped you pronounced everything correctly. She would print out a receipt with your order which you would then take to a second cashier, this one behind bullet proof glass with only a small opening to slide the order and money through. After you paid, the order would be stamped and you went back to the pastry counter and jostled your way through a host of others to pass your receipt to a lady who would fill your order.

When my order was filled,  one of the ladies kept calling 'Madam', which I didn't respond too, so she started motioning at me. When I turned to look behind me to see who she was calling and saw no one, I sheepishly realized she had been trying to get my attention. Rolling her eyes, she handed me the bags of pastries. (Customer service still could use a little improvement.)

Taking the brown bags of warm French pastries, I headed to the door, which a security guard with a giant shot gun rushed to open for me. 

Outside again I was stopped by an older woman selling 10 tomatoes and a dozen bananas. I finally agreed to buy the bananas for two thirds of her asking price. Then, arms loaded with Justin, diaper bag, purse, bananas and pastries I made my way back to where I parked. A few teenagers came towards me demanding money, but I shook my head. I really had my hands full and it wasn't safe drawing more attention to myself by handing out money on the streets. 

When I reached the Toyota a minute later, I had to wait for a moment while a man finished urinating beside it. I looked away till he was done and then did my best to not step in the puddle with my thin soled sandals as I strapped Justin back into his car seat. A few minutes later we were once again slipping in and out of busy traffic heading home. 

And that concludes just another morning in Haiti's capital. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crossing the Border

With Jason and Jayden having a few days off of work and school for American Thanksgiving we made plans with friends to escape the hustle and bustle of Haiti's overcrowded capital, and spend some time breathing in fresh ocean breezes and exploring God's beautiful creation.

Looking out the airplane window that bright Wednesday morning, I enjoyed the view of the city from above.

The city eventually disappeared behind us and dry, arid mountains came into view. 

Mostly bare of trees, they rolled along endlessly into the horizon.

Playing with my camera settings I tried my best to capture the beautiful colours.

A little later the scenery changed; we had crossed over into the Dominican Republic. Although there was no visible border marking from above, the tree covered mountains made it more than obvious we were no longer in Haiti.

Justin, sitting on my lap, decided at that point he had seen enough. Pulling his favourite blanket over his head he promptly fell asleep. 

In less than one hours time from our departure we had Puerto Plata in sight.

The little boutique hotel that Jason had discovered last year while I was in the hospital with Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever was just as charming and inexpensive as we remembered.

Jayden and Justin were soon splashing in the pool,

while I admired the exotic Plumeria blossoms floating in the clear water.

A little later we headed down the stairs to the beach to play in the sand, surf and sun.

Jayden learned how to bogey board with his Dad; something he thought was 'awesome!'

Our youngest son was more interested in dogs, so I wandered back and forth down the beach as he chased first this one, than that one.

When the sun began to sink in the cerulean sky I tried my best to capture the beauty of the moment.

Back on the pool deck Justin enjoyed washing the sand off his feet.

Then the boys splashed and played in the outdoor shower.

At 6:00 p.m. the sun began to sink steadily towards the horizon in a splendid display of brilliant colours.

After a tasty dinner, we put the boys in bed and then found chairs outside to admire the starry heavens.

That night it poured and when we awoke, clouds hung low over the ocean.

Exploring the tide pools on the beach we were caught in a warm drizzle just as the sun peaked through the clouds. We found cover under a tropical tree and admired God's beautiful rainbow.

A Dominican friend of ours had organized a day trip for us and the first stop was a small zoo.

Jayden enjoyed all the exotic animals.

Our next stop was a boat tour through the mangroves, which were full of exotic birds.

Then we battled giant waves in the turbulent ocean to reach a small dark cave in the face of a sheer cliff.

For lunch we enjoyed a traditional Dominican meal of rice and beans, friend chicken, plantain, sea bass, pineapple, avocado and salad. Everything tasted delicious.

Our next stop was a waterfall and then the blue lagoon. There was even a pretty crazy zip line you could take that would drop you more than 20 feet into the crystal water.

Jayden enjoyed snorkeling around giant tropical fish.

There was also a cave deep into the mountains we could explore.

After checking out the emus,

we headed back into the van to our next stop. A beautiful place where multiple rivers flowed into the sea.I had to admit, I was a little skeptical at first, as all of Haiti's rivers that flow into the sea are littered with trash, but this thankfully was not the case here.

From there we drove to a beautiful beach,

and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the crashing surf.

Since the waves were quite powerful, Jayden stayed close to his dad.

I simply dug my toes into the sand and reached for my camera.

After several beautiful days enjoying God's creation, it was Sunday. A missionary friend of ours in the Dominican had arranged transportation for us to attend a nearby mission church. We piled into a glorified tap tap and enjoyed the service there.

Monday morning it was time to go so after packing up our things we headed back to the airport.

Justin, who believes he's all grown up, insisted on pulling Jayden's Thomas suitcase the entire way from the terminal to the airplane.

Gazing out the window I enjoyed the final glimpses of Puerto Plata's coastline.

Before long we were surrounded by translucent clouds.

Our two MAF pilots expertly maneuvered the aircraft until we landed safe and sound back in Haiti's capital.

It was a beautiful trip.