Left Haiti this afternoon. In Miami tonight for a layover before the flight home to Calgary tomorrow. A colleague in Haiti working on the same project (he is helping them set up garbage collection and waste management) told me as I left that it’s on the plane ride home that the whole experience begins to really hit you.
I can safely say that he’s right.
My perspective in leaving, 12 days after arriving, is vastly different. It began hitting me on the drive to the airport. I had the same driver and took the same route. Two weeks ago I was struck by the street activity and vibrancy. It jumped out at me as this overwhelming ordered chaos. Today, I looked at it much more placidly, this is the way it is and normal. It’s Haiti.
I could also see past the bustle and non-stop activity to see all the problems and challenges behind it. The lack of services is apparent everywhere. Street vendors selling what they have are people just trying to survive. Just around the corner, if you look, is that pile of garbage with goats rooting around in it. There’s the shanty hut put up on the site of a destroyed building that hasn’t been cleared or rebuilt. There’s the “park” that’s now a dumping ground. I didn’t notice those things two weeks ago.
Taking off from Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport you fly out over the city and the bay. You see the dump, surrounded by huts, that burns all the time. There are people who live there, at the dump, who never leave it. Actually, it would be hard to say they “live” there; it’s where they survive. The coastline is surrounded by a 500 m to 1km wide strip of brown water, before it turns to the azure blue of the Caribbean Sea. That brown band of water, I now know, is sewage. Sewage that runs off the hillsides and through the town into the ocean. Sewage that quite literally surrounds the millions of people that live here.
We’re lucky in Canada. For all our complaining, we have government that works. It delivers services every day that ensure we have the ability to truly live our lives to the fullest. That generally, our lives do not revolve around survival, and when it does, we have government there to help.
I have now seen what it looks like when government doesn’t work, when it utterly and completely fails the very people it’s there to serve.
As I fly home I will let the waves of emotion just wash over me, and know that I’m changed. And I’m lucky.
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