Haiti: Day One at an Orphanage

Following a bumpy ride over rocky streets you expect only on mountain roads,  we received a warm welcome at the orphanage, the kind usually reserved for long lost relatives. In the yard dozens of small children swarmed our little band of fifteen Americans and a half dozen Haitians. Grabbing our hands or lifting their arms to be held, the children urged us into their large home.  Inside, greeted by about one hundred more children, ranging in age from toddlers to young teenagers, all of them chattering in Creole, we followed Matt and one of the many adult workers through three stories of rooms.

Following a bumpy ride over rocky streets you expect only on mountain roads,  we received a welcome at the orphanage usually reserved for long lost loved ones. Dozens of small children swarmed our little band of fifteen Americans and a half dozen Haitians, grabbing our hands, pulling us into their large home, or lifting their arms to be held. They chattered in Creole. Inside, greeted by the rest of the 128 children who live there, ranging in age from toddlers to young teenagers, we followed a guide who works at the orphanage and Matt Smith, leader of our group, through three stories of rooms. Many children remembered Matt and mobbed him.

The facility, though sparsely furnished, was roomy and clean. Women tended a dozen or so babies in the nursery. The grounds too were spacious. Across the dirt yard, children played on swings, kicked balls on their large soccer field. A chicken house contained caged laying hens. Eggs provide a source of food and income for the orphanage. We later learned that several of our guides grew up here so it’s dear to their hearts, too.

A boy named Dawson, who appeared to be about four years old, attached himself to Rog, clinging to his hand for the duration of our visit. Judging by his hauntingly disappointed last look at Rog, I think Dawson saw him as just one more American who left without him and broke his heart. His photo breaks my heart!

Next stop was our hotel, north of the city an hour or two, depending on traffic. Haitian driving is crazy! We saw no traffic lights. There were some round-abouts, but it was speed bumps, huge ones, on the highway in small towns that slowed traffic down. As we traveled our Haitian guide and driver said he had had to memorize where they are so he didn’t hit them unawares, especially at night.

The most unique aspect of driving was the way drivers talked to each other with honks and head-light flashes. Rather than being an expression of irritation, as honking is in the U.S., it warns other drivers that you’re about to pass, or tells pedestrians to clear the street so drivers can speed through town without slowing down. Very handy and rather friendly and sociable once you get used to it. As a result car accidents are relatively rare.

Our hotel was in Montrois (pronounced Mowee in Creole), a small town along the island’s west coast. Since it was Saturday of Easter week, traffic on the highway crawled through all the towns. That allowed us, even me, though I don’t see well, to observe the homes from our vehicles. The houses, generally small, made of concrete block, and often only partially completed, climbed the hills on either side of the highway to a depth of eight or ten homes, closely spaced, on either side of dirt paths or one-lane dirt roads that branched off from the highway. We learned later that there’s no such thing as credit in Haiti. So people build their homes in phases as they can afford. We also saw people shopping at stalls in open markets crowded on the roadsides in the towns.

In spaces between towns, our drivers sped through open country. We saw fields of banana plants. Trash smoldered just off the highway in one area. Rocky mountains rose on the inland side of the road.

A gated drive with a guard led to a tropical garden, where our hotel nestled. Clean, tiled, welcoming, our hotel served us dinner and breakfast each day. We were too tired to swim in the pool or in the gulf at the hotel’s private beach that night. After dinner of grilled chicken drumsticks—which were to become a staple in our diet over the coming week—and food we enjoyed but couldn’t identify, we headed for our rooms and collapsed in bed. It had been a long, full day!

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