I’m sorry that I haven’t written in so long. Unfortunately, there’s been a change of plans, and DukeEngage Haiti has been cut short. The eight of us are packing our bags and flying out of Port au Prince tomorrow morning. I’ll be back in LA by 6pm tomorrow. Long story short, our in-country program coordinator, Ric, no longer works for Family Health Ministries. The executive director of FHM was unable to find a replacement on such short notice, so instead of keeping us here with no authority figure, DukeEngage and FHM decided to pull the plug. We’re all extremely disappointed – not only was our 9 week trip cut down to just 4 weeks, we also all have to find something to do for the rest of the summer. DukeEngage is offering options, but I’m sure none will be as perfect as this program was.
I can’t even put into words how upset I am that I’m coming home. Although I loved the month that I spent here, I had prepared myself to be here much longer. I still don’t feel like I was able to truly experience Haiti. I still have so much to do, to see, to learn.
At this point, I’ve had time to accept that I’m going home and that there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’ve grieved and I’ve moved on. Now I just need to remind myself of all the incredible things I did here, how much I learned, and how much I’ve grown as a person.
We spent the last three days in a city called Jacmel, on the south coast of the island. It was a really fun trip, a welcomed change of pace from the past few weeks in the guest house at Leogane. Definitely the best way to be ending our journey in Haiti. We drove up through the mountains, past Fondwa, and into the beach city of Jacmel. We stayed in a resort called the Cyvadier, which has to be one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen before. It overlooked the ocean, with tropical trees everywhere and a small path down to a private cove with huge rocks and beautiful tan sand. On Monday, we spent the day swimming in the ocean and in the pool at the hotel.
On Tuesday, we went to a place called Bassin Bleu. We got there by first riding the van for about 20 minutes, hopping out and then hopping on to motos. With two of us riding on each moto, we zoomed through the streets of Jacmel and up a dirt road. It was like our own little Haitian motorcade, complete with 7 motos and a Haitian flag at the front. We rode across a river (well, mostly walked across it), up hills, over rocks, and around twists and turns until we reached the end of the road, where we got off our motos and hiked for a half hour. I love hiking at home, but this was better than any hiking trail in the Palisades. We climbed up hills, crossed over rivers, and even rappelled down a rock using a rope! Finally at the end of our hike, we reached Bassin Bleu, which is a cove with a waterfall and towering mountains all around. It was absolutely breathtaking, with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We swam in the cove, jumped off the waterfall, and took plenty of pictures. We laid out on the rocks in the sun, ate crackers and cheese for lunch, and cooled off by diving in the refreshing water. It was quite literally paradise.
After a few hours at the cove, we hiked and took the motos back to the Cyvadier, where we spent the rest of the day swimming in the ocean and buying souvenirs from a woman on the beach. This morning, we went to the art district of Jacmel where we saw some incredible art galleries and bought some more souvenirs, like paintings and jewelry and small Haitian statues. Then we drove up to Fondwa, the village on the mountains where FHM has a clinic and another guest house, and we ate lunch up there. Driving back down through the mountains, seeing the stunning views of the valley and the same rolling green mountains that I saw out the window of the airplane just four weeks ago, feeling the warm Caribbean air coming in through the windows of the van, passing by the small stone houses and lonely soccer fields dotting the hillsides, and sitting in a van full of seven individuals whom I have grown to know and love over the past month – it’s still so hard to believe that I’m leaving this country tomorrow. It has felt more like a vacation than anything else.
Now we’re back at the guest house in Leogane. We’ve packed up all of our stuff, leaving behind our half-used shampoo and half-consumed snacks and all our other belongings that we brought two months’ worth of but only used for a month. The room is silent, as we all stare into our computer screens, still at a loss for words after finding out just two nights ago that our program was cut short. We’re waking up at 5am tomorrow morning to drive into Port au Prince and get dropped off at the airport. We can’t leave the house right now, since we have no one to come with us to make sure we’re safe.
Even just a few more days. Just a few more days to be able to walk into Leogane, to do a couple more surveys, to take some more photos. Just a few more days to go salsa dancing one more time, to play soccer with the kids across the street, to run around in the rain. A few more days to enjoy Yvette’s cooking, to hang out with the guards, to ride Samuel’s moto around the town. I had mentally prepared myself to be spending 5 more weeks here. When I said bye to my parents and friends back home, I said bye for 9 weeks, not for one month. Every time I went out into the village or conducted a survey, I knew that I’d be doing it dozens more times. I hadn’t even bothered to take many pictures out in Leogane, because I knew I’d have ample opportunities to do so. But now everything is different. Now when I greet someone by saying “bonjou” or when I see a Digicel sign or when I hear a cow mooing across the road, I know it will be one of the last times that happens. I hate things ending. It’s always been this way. I hate saying goodbye, and I hate knowing that I’m doing something for the very last time. But it’s even worse when it’s so sudden, when that ending is premature.
At the hotel last night, the owner of the resort came up to our table to introduce himself and to talk to our group. When he asked if we are enjoying Haiti and we responded with a resounding yes, he said, “be careful, it’s a disease. If you get this country stuck in your heart, it will never go away.” I laughed when he said it, but he was so right. Even though I’ve only been here for four weeks, I still feel like Haiti has become a part of me. I’ve started a chapter of my life that’s ending early, but I fully intend to return to it and finish writing. I’ll come back to Haiti, I know I will. Either next summer, or maybe after I graduate – I’ll be back. When I walk through the streets and see people riding motos, selling mangos, or speaking in Creole, it feels right. I feel like I should be here. I’ve traveled across the world with my family, I’ve been to Greece and Costa Rica and even to Israel, but never before have I felt such a strong connection to a people, a culture, or a country. It’s unfortunate that this experience is being cut short, but I’m so beyond grateful that it happened in the first place.
Now I have the daunting task of finding something to keep me occupied for the remaining 5+ weeks of the summer. I still have to talk to Duke to find out whether or not this trip will count to fulfill my Global Health field work requirement. Ideally, I’d be able to find an internship or research opportunity related to global health or something of the sort, either in the United States or somewhere abroad. So if anyone has any contacts or recommendations, I’d be ever so grateful if you could send them my way!
I’d like to post again sometime in the next few days, not to grieve that I had to leave but to celebrate the incredible experiences that I’ve had here. Right now, I think I need to take full advantage of the fact that I am still in Haiti. I’m going to spend time with our staff, swing on our homemade tire swing, and appreciate my last few hours in this country. I will upload and post all of my photos as soon as I get home, so stay tuned for those. Thank you so much for following my blog during this adventure, it has been an absolute pleasure to write about this life-changing experience in Haiti!