When the plane landed in Haiti, the only thing usual was the pilot announcing “Welcome to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The temperature is 87 degrees and the local time is 10:48 A.M.” in the same warm and welcoming tone as any other airport. It was a clean start, a way to say arriving in Port-Au-Prince is just like any other trip you may be taking.
I don’t know the stories of those passengers beside me, but I do know that whether they were arriving or returning, Haiti is not like any other place they would travel to. It is not a clean start. It is not like any other place in the world. It is a country whose people have survived one of the most historic and horrifying catastrophes of our time.
The earthquake damage can be seen as soon as you deplane — terminals are boarded up and there are more broken windows than not. The former American Airlines arrival terminal is a makeshift baggage claim with luggage stacked high and deep. It seemed more like a “lost and found” than a baggage claim but, symbolic to Haiti, more felt lost than found. It was as though it was too overwhelming to organize the bags simply by flight or airline or departure city. So, instead, people step over bags and rearrange them in no particular order to try to uncover what belongs to them.
Dust is everywhere and scratches your throat as if it’s sore with the beginnings of a cold. There is stifling heat and hardly a tree can be found to provide relief and shade.
Traffic laws don’t exist – there’s not enough police to enforce them. Cars drive the wrong way and sidewalks interchange between makeshift stalls and parking spots. There are few paved roads in Haiti and driving feels like off-roading while people and scooters weave in and out.
The crystal blue color of the Caribbean ocean continues onto land, but in the form of plastic sheets and blue tarps as camps. What was once temporary housing is now permanent, as tent cities and settlement camps expand with each passing day.
And yet, this beautiful country has sandy beaches and red sunsets that compete with the best in the world. They also have the most delicious mangoes and coffee I’ve ever tasted.
These are my first impressions of Haiti and in the coming days I will share with you my experience as it unfolds. More importantly I will share stories about those who were once lost, but now are found — or at least on their way.