The Haiti Blogs: My Journey of Hope and Rediscovery – Pt 2 The Port Au Prince ExperienceWade Phelps
By Hal Eisenberg
February 14, 2014
Exhausted and sore, I cannot find the energy or words to write the myriad of emotions I felt as we touched down in Haiti. On only one-hour sleep, and hours of shoveling feet of snow, I am in 90-degree weather and it is hot and humid. From watching our plane delayed for de-icing in New York, to spending four hours on the plane writing and choreographing tonight’s fashion show, to tearing off the layers of clothes I had on in Haiti, all I could think of was throwing myself into staying in the moment, and catching what I can muster up in thoughts, so that I may share it with the world. There is so much to write and say about Haiti already and the trip has hardly begun. For starters, my perception already can tell that there are so many untrue stereotypes. I’m not sure where the fear of coming here lies as I have already met so many wonderful people with big hearts. It leaves me to ponder what is our perception of a developing country, of an area that had a traumatic situation, and what is society’s definition of poverty. It is surely a different way of life here. People here seem to want to meet us, and the welcome is as if we are all one big family. So many people on the plane were there to come and help in Haiti. It was a plane full of higher consciousness and dedicated people. There was a positive vibe on the flight and you can instantly tell you were going somewhere special. The Haitian people seem so very grateful to receive us. Today was an intense and long day. My exhaustion is making it hard to process and write, so I am sure my blogging will get better as the week goes on, but let me see if I can get some thoughts out now as I force my eyes to stay open.
This morning did not begin well. We were running late as usual and on almost no sleep, I chose to park in long term parking at JFK Airport. If you have ever been there before, locating it can be difficult, and I found myself at a more expensive lot than I originally found on-line. As my frustration grew, and probably mostly from exhaustion, I decided to ask someone at the tollbooth for help, but as I stepped out of my car, I slipped on the ice, pulled my back, and I was in pain! I couldn’t stop though so I had to keep the pain inside and move forward. I thought to myself that I must try to stay positive but to tell you the truth it was difficult in that moment. When we finally got to the check in and we were speaking to the agent, we heard Dafna, our film director, shouting across the airport “don’t check in! don’t check in yet!” I truly thought something was wrong, and it turned out she needed to check her shampoo and conditioner into our bags because she could not get them in through customs. I laughed at this and couldn’t help but tease her about where we were going and how she “needed her special shampoo.” I am glad Dafna is a good sport and she joked back with us all. The morning only became more comical. We boarded and found out the plane was slightly delayed. Since we were waiting there, other planes landed, leading people to board the plane who almost missed this flight. As more people boarded, the flight attendant announced, “Let’s hope this is it.” Maybe this is the wise ass in me, but I think that is one of the top ten things a flight attendant should NOT say overhead on a plane about to take off. Just saying. Lol…
The flight was weird because everyone basically chose their own seats and were changing their seats. There were many college kids on board going to Haiti to do mission work, so it was almost like a laid back free for all. I never sensed a plane flight like that and it was kind of cool. All we were missing was a deejay and some alcohol, and I may have thought we were at a frat party. Truth is though what I over heard was passionate youth wanting to go make a difference. I felt as if I was in the right place and Windows Of Opportunity is here for a reason. Once we got to Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and I heard the captain announce that it was 90 degrees, I had this sense of exhilaration come over me. I think that is the first moment in the past 6 months that it hit me that I was going to the Caribbean. We walked off the plane into immigration with a Creole band set up playing music to welcome us. That was strange because I felt for a moment we were walking into a vacation. I wanted to tip them but I realized I didn’t get to an ATM back in the states because I was spending so much time shoveling and rushing around. Mistake number one – I came to a developing country without money on me. What was I thinking?
After we got through customs, I was observing all in sight. Dafna had already been schmoozing with people on the plane and we had the camera rolling and interviewing people in the airport for our documentary. We were interviewing a musical group from Connecticut that was made up of teenagers who visit orphanages in Haiti and play music for them. The one teen boy said it was his eighth trip to Haiti. 8th? He went on to explain about stereotypes being false when it comes to Haiti and I knew we had the trailer already shot for our movie and we weren’t even out of the airport! What he said was powerful and I looked at these kids and thought to myself “This is leadership. If they keep coming back there must be a reason. What is everyone afraid of?” I was excited to see if I would get the answers to these questions.
A few moments later, Patricia Brintle, the Founder of From Here to Haiti, was in Digicel to pick up a local cell phone for her trip. As she was doing that Shannon, Dafna, Kishner, and myself were standing in the taxi area. We found ourselves in a friendly conversation with a Haitian man who was trying to teach us French. We were laughing, sharing, and trying to communicate, and I felt such a humble sense of him wanting to welcome us to his country. I immediately laughed as I tried to envision someone in JFK trying to teach someone English at the airport. Would that ever happen in a friendly manner? Never… and that is almost sad to me. Maybe we should all be this friendly and welcoming wherever we go?
The rest of the afternoon and evening was a whirlwind of challenges and emotions that almost left me feeling quite the opposite of excitement. I felt a roller coaster of emotions coming on, and on some level I guess that is what it means to be in the moment. I wondered “what am I doing here,” but in the same breath today has been a tremendous learning experience already. I am in for a lot this week and I can already feel my life is going to be impacted deeply. I don’t know what, but I feel something big is going to happen. When I went to Vancouver and England, I knew in my heart why I went and what I was searching for. When I went to Nigeria (and it is interesting to go back and read that blog) I knew what my goal was for Windows of Opportunity. This is different though. This trip, when it comes to the direction and possibilities that Windows of Opportunity is heading, almost doesn’t fit into the puzzle neatly. Yet, I am here, so I know there is a reason. I am just going to walk the path and see where it takes me.
We met up with Dr. Leveque, the VP of From Here to Haiti and we all piled tightly into a car and sped around the streets of the capital visiting and meeting people important to our trip. Yes, we saw poverty and earthquake damage, but not how I envisioned what we were going to see. I cannot exactly explain it but it was like the poverty and earthquake was a backdrop to a much bigger story here. We went to a hardware store that we purchased supplies for the projects we fundraised for. That was cool to see first hand who was supported by our fundraising efforts. We stopped at the church where we were supposed to do the fashion show and then went back to the hotel and out for dinner. As dinner came, we were contacted that the show was going to start earlier than we expected and that we were going on first. This added some unforeseen stress to our evening, so we took our food to go (this was bad because I had not eaten all day already) and ran back to the hotel to get the clothes for the fashion show, and jumped into a cab… I am sure one day soon we will laugh at what happened next, but our cab driver got lost, and ended us up at the show 2 hours late. There was so much confusion and traffic, and it surely impacted the flow of the show and the stress of the evening, but all in all, it was a tremendous learning experience. In the moment it was not fun, but I could tell by looking at the team, with each stressful moment that went by, we were professionals and were going to deal with whatever came our way. We got to see much of the congested city in our over crowded lost cab, the poverty, and an influx of cultural differences. It’s hard to process it all in this exhausted mindset, but there was so much coming at me constantly. In addition, I learned that I am even more impressed with what Shortstack does, because it takes a lot to plan a show. I am still processing what happened tonight but it was definitely a deep learning experience. I am proud of what my team attempted to do and how they met the unanticipated challenges along the way. My favorite part of the evening was surely after I got off stage and a 7 year old Haitian boy approached me and told me he thought I was great. I asked him if he wanted to be a model one day and he said that he did. I told him not to give up on his dreams and we took a picture together. I think that was moment number one where I made sure to stop and take this in, as I felt all we did and went through back home was worth it. If you impact only one life it is enough, and I have a feeling we are going to impact many more. I have a great team here and we are going to have fun. The filming has begun already and everywhere we turn, I feel like we are on a film set. We went back to the inside of the church and interviewed the priest. That was quite an experience, and I realized this is going to be my first film with subtitles.
When we finally got back to the hotel very late tonight, we ate our cold food that we took to go hours beforehand, and debriefed the evening and what was to come next. We vented professionally and discussed the impact we were feeling already. It was a rocky start to this trip, but a good start. You are all missed and I wish you were here. I cannot keep my eyes open any longer. I am finally going to sleep. I will reflect more tomorrow.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Love you all. Good night.