Arrival in Haiti

Approaching Haiti by air was breathtaking. The line of Cuba and the color of the water was a brillant baby blue. The arrival at the airport presented two contrasting worlds.

As we walked down the stairs we were greeted by the airport employees who all had huge smiles and they greeted each and every one of us. A small band played in the background . . . and then reality hit. Once we left the gates of the baggage claim area, the day-to-day life of the Haitian people became reality – mass hysteria. It was a scene right out of the movie “The Killing Fields” as the Cambodian people stampeded to leave the country before the gates closed. Our bags were grabbed by hungry porters – – pushing and angry words followed. In one word – pandamonium! For a few mintues I wondered if we would survive the first few minutes of our trip.

We were so concerned about safety issues, we crammed 14 people and luggage into two of three rental cars we had ordered, while we waited desperately for the third to be located. Shortly thereafter, our hostess for the journey, Terry Boucard of Boucard Pest Control in Port au Prince, arrived and offered a breath of fresh air. She helped locate our third car, our armed-security guard, and our translator. Organization immediately replaced chaos.

Our delegation then met with the Minister of Environment and his team. They were incredibly appreciative of our group’s support and stressed how reliant they were on NPMA’s recommendations of where to start and what to do to alleviate the pest problems that are plaguing their nation. Despite all the problems with which they were dealing, they stressed that “their house was our house” and wanted us to feel welcome.

We were then whisked off to a private hospital where the delegation spent three hours inspecting the premises from top to bottom. At once, the reality set in on the true public health concerns facing the Haitian people. We saw incredible problems with rodents and flies and surgical rooms built over murky ponds covered with mosquitoes and holes in the ceilings allowing the insects’ free admission into what should be a sterile environment. Severed limbs and bodily fluids in open buckets cluttered the hallways. Sadly, just a few weeks ago, dead bodies were piled all over the exterior of the hospital, reminiscent of an ARMY MASH unit. The sanitation conditions are deplorable.

We then had the long journey back to the hotel. Nothing in Haiti happens fast. The traffic is horrible. After a lengthy, sobering set of instructions on how to evacuate the hotel in the event of an earthquake and precautions we should take, we were shown to our rooms. (Good advice to pay attention to as there have been two after-shocks this week, registering 4.4 and a 4.2.) While in the basement of the hotel with only one exit and a large crack on the ceiling, Raleigh and I should feel grateful as our room was mosquito free – though another in our party reported hundreds of mosquitoes in his room.

We then gathered for a bit of normalcy enjoying a wonderful dinner together as a group and celebrating our hostess’ birthday. Excellent food and excellent company. It was nice to take a short time out from the utter devastation we had seen. Driving through the streets and seeing whole communities just gone is a sobering experience.

Day two will bring us to four tent cities, the waste management area, and another hospital. Unfortunately, I fear that day two will offer even more visions of reality that are almost too difficult to comprehend.

For the delegation,
Rob Lederer

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