During the past few months we have all had to learn not to become too attached to our plans. On March 19 the Port au Prince airport was closed. At the time, it was inconceivable to think that our pandemic furlough would have lasted more than 3 months. Airline reservations were cancelled and changed so many times that there was no certainty of our return until we finally lifted off the tarmac at MIA on the final leg of our voyage to Port au Prince. It was so great to be looking out the window over the tropical Caribbean once again, I almost forgot about the mask itching at my face.
There were a few unknowns about the trip: rumors about quarantine, extra bureaucracy, and uncertainty about how we would be perceived at the hospital. Our group planned to travel on the same reservation to take advantage of some luggage allowances. The three complementary 70lb bag benefit allowed for certain frequent flyers on AA is somewhat of an empty reward given that most business people normally travel with only a carry on. Amongst the 7 of us we were able to check in 21 complementary bags of hospital supplies and equipment carefully packed and weighed to the maximum. A few bags were deemed oversize and the ticket agent asked me if they were “golf bags”? Knowing that this obviates the 62” rule, I agreed that this would be a good thing to call them and she put the PAP tag on them and called the guy with the special cart to haul them off. In spite of having to wear masks, the travel experience was quite acceptable. I do long for the days when we could ride airplanes and people are not putting trash bags over their seats, wearing full face shields and bunny suits, or acting so afraid of one another. But I did not mind driving into LAX at rush hour without slowing down and having 2 empty seats next to me on the airplane. When we arrived in Haiti they had us deplane on a stairway down to the tarmac and then crowd into a bus with social distancing signs suggesting that we separate ourselves from the people we had been on the plane with for the last 2 hours. Then we rode 100 yards over to the terminal entrance. The jet bridges appeared to be disabled “for health and safety reasons”. We filled out an extra form and had our temperature taken and then proceeded as normal. 20/21 of the bags arrived. The lost sheep was tracked in Miami and came the following day. The customs officials were quite interested in all the contents of our bags but after a confidential negotiation we were permitted to proceed.
The incidence of Covid-19 has been a bit blunted in Haiti and is now on the decline. Headlines predicted ominous disaster due to crowded markets, impediments to social distancing and a broken health care system. Fortunately the impact has not been much different than some countries in Africa where people live most of their lives outdoors, their immune systems are robust, it is hot, and the population is young. In Haiti less than 5% of the population is said to be over 65. Upon arrival we were quite impressed to see that the people seem to be accommodating to the situation relatively well. Businesses and stores require masks and at the Delimart you must wash your hands and have temperature taken, but there has been no evidence of negative reactions toward foreigners. At the hospital there were welcome back signs posted all over. Many were giving hugs and at a minimum an arm bump. Although not required, we all got tested for Covid-19 in order to assure our workers that we did not bring any corona to Haiti. Even without that they have not seemed overly worried. This is our first Sabbath here. Today there were no church services and the morning was unusually quiet without all the song services. Churches are allowed to reconvene as of tomorrow and will give the Sunday churches a 6 day head start on the Adventists.
In prior times returning to the hospital was quite an adjustment. Everywhere you turn there were issues to resolve, piles of rusty equipment, peeling paint etc. etc. There are certainly many things that still need attention and the first day back was pretty chaotic, but it was super exciting to come back after 3 months and see so much progress. Jonathan, Vaval and the whole maintenance/construction team have been totally focused on preparing the hospital for my return. Now certainly this is not required but Jonathan uses moments like this to motivate the team to kick into action. And the place really looks incredible. Palm trees are trimmed, grass is mowed and there is not a single piece of trash on our grounds. Ezekiel is our new designated waste manager and performs his duties with pride and passion. Yesterday we had clinic and I was impressed to see volumes approaching pre-pandemic levels. Like everywhere efficiency and revenue is down. Big challenges remain. The gourde has fallen another 20% over the last several weeks. It is now worth nearly half of what it was when we moved here 2 years ago. In spite of life becoming even harder here for the average person they have a positive attitude and are more eager than ever to work. Word has it that the gangsters have gotten together and made an agreement that they will not do any kidnapping for the next 2 months. Not sure if they are interested in a higher moral standard, trying to avoid Covid or if there is no money left to take, but whatever the case there is a bit of good news out there when you look for it!