20 – UN

UN3Today I am showing Prya where the UN camp is and our aim is to introduce her to some new projects and to find out some more info on the up and coming cluster meetings. We have arranged a 6am pick up with Jake and Thuan’s ride as they drive past the UN camp on the way to the refugee camp.
So far, transport has not been my friend and I seem to be a bit of a jinx. On the way to Club Indigo we got a flat tyre. On the way to the orphanage, we bought ‘bad gas’ which we were told had been diluted with water and caused the car engine to pack in. Today, 20 mins into our journey, we get another flat tyre. Jake jumps out excitedly to get the customary tree branch – the Haitian version of a warning triangle / traffic cone. Cast your mind back to the ‘Tap-Tap’ mishap. It gets fixed pretty quickly and we are on our way again.

We reach the UN entrance at PAP and wave goodbye to the boys. We walk down the long path to the first security gate where we have to present our IDs. GVN’s lack of competency arises again as Prya has yet to receive her pass and mine hasn’t got the correct name on it – Melissa Gilchrist, nearly right. I swap my badge for 2 day passes and we proceed to the next security check which is the bag inspection. We walk on to where the tent meetings are usually held but there doesn’t seem to be anybody about. Perhaps we are a little early I start to think. We then see one boy enter a make-shift cabin and run after him to find out if we are in the correct place or if the venue has been moved. We learn that it is a public holiday today and that everything is cancelled.UN4

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! Does that mean the poverty is cancelled? The suffering is cancelled? The dying is cancelled? I can’t believe some of the attitudes from volunteers and NGOs. We are here to help, we are not on holiday. We can leave, the Haitians cannot and we need to make sure the time we have in Haiti is spent wisely. We should not be having days off!!!!! I think this boy can sense all this through my crazed eyes and he quickly points out a gentleman in a car and suggests we ask him. We walk quickly to his car and catch his eye. He seems to be quite senior and understands our frustrations and explains that these things happen quite regularly and that we can’t let it get to us. When we explain what we are in search of he delivers the most wonderful news. James (the director) explains that the schedule for the next month of cluster meetings has just been finalised and he is willing to give us a copy. We squeal with delight as this kind of information usually take weeks to obtain and we have everything we need in one document. What meetings are held where and by which organisation? The date, the time, the person responsible, even email addresses and contact numbers – we have hit gold!!! We thank him over and over and shake his hand firmly as we leave his mobile office. In 7 mins we had completed what should have been a very lengthy exercise and we had all the relevant information in our hands. We were extremely excited, so much so that Prya even called her mum!

We skip off back through the security check and down the path heading for the main road. We were very chuffed with ourselves and what we had achieved.

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We slug along the main road standing in the usual brown squelchy mass of everything you can imagine and everything you don’t want to. I foolishly had not put my walking shoes on and was doing my best not to fall into the bodily and man-made waste at the side of the road. The first few squelches are the worst as you can’t help but think about  what you are standing in; after that, there’s not much you can do. It will dry in a moment and I will wash and get dirt and stench off when I get back. In my motivated state I spy a beautiful oil painting on the other side of the road. The street vendor has a plethora of arty bits and bobs and lots of tourist tat. We crossed the road to have a closer look and it was even more stunning up close. The canvas is vibrant with colour and clearly the poverty and desperateness of Haitian life doesn’t exist in the artist’s soul. I had always the intention of buying one thing from Haiti as a constant and important reminder of my time here and this would be just the ticket. Due to my enthusiastic mood, I did my best to bargain the price down as is custmary. This is something that I have been rubbish at in the past but, as I clutched the valuable data I had just collected in my hand, I felt I had the confidence to pull this off. We had also been told by the translators that we should banter with the vendors as they find it incredibly insulting if you don’t.  Apparently, failure to banter marks you out as a foreigner with too much money and in Haiti for all the wrong reasons. Solidarity is required, not hand-outs.

Still feeling happy with the outcomes of the morning, we head back to the junction to find the first of 3 ‘Tap-Taps’ back to CDB. The first one gets us to the far end of the CDB market and is roughly where we want to be. I try to get my bearings, but with the overcrowded and identical streets of rubble and rubbish I am not 100% sure. We spy an internet café which we had planned to find on our adventure anyway so we both pay over our money for an hour and started to catch up with emails and letting friends and family know that we are alive and well. As I hand over my Gourds, I notice that there is a printing and photocopying service too – but at extortionate prices.  Notwithstanding the cost, this is my third piece of luck today. I had previously promised the translators a photo each from our weekend away. They have never had a photograph and this was a rare possession that I knew they would really love. Once at the PC, I select the 8 best ones and decide I will make a mini album for them. The kind man at the desk offers me his usb stick so that I can transfer the selected photos to his machine for printing. It’s quite unsettling to find businesses like this when, through the glassless windows, the world is falling down around them. At this point I can’t believe what a productive day this is turning out to be and it is only midday. I get one of each photo printed and then Prya photocopies them for me so that there are duplicates for each boy.

Our hour is up and, as we leave, I remember that Thuan has asked me to change money for him and get him some more Marlboros. The first I manage with ease as I can see one of the money men sitting on the corner. The fancy cigs are harder to obtain.

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I am pretty sure I know where we are and suggest that it’s only a 30 min walk back to camp. I also admit that I am not 100% certain and that there is a chance that I could be wrong and we will have to rethink. Prya seems ok with this and I reassure her that if we are at all concerned, I will call one of the translators to come and find us. We set off. About 20 mins walking down the road, I realise it is the wrong way. I’m not sure if it is the wrong road or if we are just going the wrong way. It’s very hot, the decaying stench seems worse than usual and Prya appears to be uneasy with the situation. As I sense her distress, I suggest we hop back on a ‘Tap-Tap’ to the market and take it from there.

We cross the road and jump on the next one to pass. It is jam packed as usual.

“The pink gate, I’m sure this is it” she says as she begins to walk towards it.

I glance down at my leg as it starts to swell up and pain shoots down my leg. I have a horrible feeling that I should not be walking on it, but what do I know?

“I can hear noises, things smashing” Prya shouts back.

One of our new projects is working on a renovation task of dismantling 2 unsafe schools before converting them into temporary schools and then, eventually, a permanent new primary and secondary school. Part of our group is in the yard, Babby points us in the correct direction and we begin our walk back to camp.

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