I have found myself starting and stopping this post many times over the last few hours. Trying to capture the sights, the smells, and vibe of a place so utterly foreign to me is proving more daunting than I had imagined.
Most importantly, you should all know we arrived safely – we were many hours late however as our friends at American Airlines forgot the small matter of having a pilot for our flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince. After sitting on the tarmac for two hours in the heat, a steward remarked how easygoing the passengers were in dealing with the situation. “Not what we’d find in New York City,” she remarked. A fellow passenger piped up “that’s because this plane is full of missionaries – we’re easygoing by nature.”
The ride to the Hospital of Peace and then to our hotel was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. It was late by this point so the major source of light in the city came from the throng of traffic – mostly the ubiquitous “tap-tap’s” (Toyota pick-up’s used as taxis with anywhere between 8-18 people riding in the back and hanging off the bumper). They are are painted with wild colours and all include a proverb, a line from scripture, or just a simple “Jesus saves.”
As I write this and reflect on that ride, what strikes me most is not the darkness, nor the two hours it took to drive 12 kilometres, nor the endless buildings left in ruins, or even the thousands of tents packed side-by-each. While those realities were stunning, what struck me most was just the mass of humanity. My experience with that many people has invariably involved a big city like New York or a major recreation or sporting event – where people are together for some shared leisure activity. But not here. For most of the three million people that live in this city, and in particular the thousands of people we drove past last night, it seemed obvious to me that their shared experience is much more basic – to simply live.
As we made the final turn towards our hotel at the end of a long voyage, the enormity of the situation struck me as I had assumed it invariably would. At that exact moment, the last “tap-tap” I would see on the journey swerved in front of us. It was colourfully painted like the others, and in a beautiful hand-painted font, scrawled across the back of the truck was one word: