Monday, April 12, 2010

Haiti: Days 8 & 9

The Community

Saturday was Ali’s last day with the team…she needed to return to Port-au-Prince and get back to her real job. So Friday night, a group of us decided to go out for drinks and ice cream. It was a group of about ten of us, and at about 7:30PM, we ventured out into the streets of Leogane. It was pretty dark out, but Steve, who had been here for some time, knew the way. We first went to a place called Massage, a restaurant/bar in the middle of town. They served ice cream, cheeseburgers, pizza, and of course, beer. I went in on a bottle of Haitian whiskey (called “Something Special”) with Michelle, a pharmacist. That maybe was not one of my better decisions this trip… Massage was apparently one of the more popular venues in town, as it was very crowded. The atmosphere was basically that of a block party, with everyone hanging out outside in the street. We didn’t stay there long, though, and made our way back to Joe’s. Joe’s is a bar not far from our residence, located adjacent to the Hands on Haiti camp, typically filled with Canadians. Joe’s was nice, but it closed at ten. By then, I was feeling very “special,” and some of us hopped in a Jeep and went to a local club. Well, that was a lot of fun, too. Only problem was, I didn’t get back to the residence until about 1:30AM, and I had clinic the next morning. So by Saturday morning, sitting at my desk, with no place to hide from the Haitian heat, I didn’t feel so “special”.

Patient-wise, things were pretty slow Saturday and Sunday. But that gave James and I a little more time for teaching, and a little more time to explore the town. There is a mini-tent city along the entrypath to the Residence Filiariasis. The entire compound, containing the residence, nursing school and current hospital is largely enclosed by brick walls, with manned gates in the front and back. How these few individuals came to live within the compound, I am not sure, but it is a significant number of people. Out the front gate is the main part of town, with Hands on Haiti and Joe’s being just to the right, and the bulk of town (city hall, Episcopal church, former hospital, police station, Massage) to the left. The back gate opens into a large, sprawling tent city, from which many of our patients come.

Though I had my concerns regarding travelling about town, at no time throughout the weekend did I feel unsafe. Even at night, everyone in Leogane has been very cordial and respectful. Last week at the Port-au-Prince airport, things got a little hectic…but that’s at the airport, where travelers are easy targets for people soliciting money. In town, everything has been smooth. Now, I’m not an idiot either, and so general street safety rules were of course in full effect. For my street-knowledge-challenged readers, those include in no particular order: 1. Stay on main streets. 2. Know where you’re going, and walk like you know where you’re going. 3. Try not to travel alone, unless you know the area. 4. Watch what’s happening around you. 5. Avoid too much eye contact. Those are the basics, some might add a couple more rules. Not too difficult…follow them, and there aren’t too many places you can’t travel. If you like to bop around shady streets at midnight with a camera around your neck, laughing, smiling and flashing Benjamins, I’m not going to be walking with you. Be it in Haiti, Manhattan, or on Butterfield Road.

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