Monday, August 2, 2010

Wet Feet, Humvees, Bus Rides and Supplies

Today we confronted sandstorms, a jolting bus ride, and the arduous task of carrying medical freight under the Haitian sun. Yet none of these hardships compared to one gigantic annoyance: wet shoes.

Those of us who went ashore on the LCU transport boats had to wade across maybe fifty feet of calf-deep water in order to reach the beach. For those who arrived in the luxury of helicopters, however, soaked shoes were no such problem.

More military and Project HOPE volunteers took part in today’s expeditions than in the previous day. We divided up into the appropriate teams for Med Sites 1 and 2 (M1 and M2). The former left promptly, while an initial shipment of pharmaceutical supplies was delayed at the ship. It was beginning to look a lot like the day before.

Luckily, we on the M2 team were able to board three local buses which the military arranged. These buses were brightly painted to the point of garishness, reflecting the bus drivers’ competition for potential riders’ attention. The backs of two of the buses featured pastel-colored icons of Jesus Christ; the third depicted a grinning President Obama.

With the buses escorted by two humvees, the ride from the landing zone to St. Louis de Nord was long, but hardly boring. We had to pass through a town, and then a stretch of countryside, before reaching our destination. The difference between the two towns and the rural area showed a microcosm of Haiti.

In the urban zones we saw a kaleidoscope of small shops cobbled together from whatever materials were on hand. There were also many two-story concrete houses. A few of these dwellings could have once been considered fancy, even by American standards, but all had fallen victim over time to peeling paint and crumbling roofs.

After crossing a stream with its banks thickly strewn with trash, we entered a stretch of road lined with banana trees and sugar cane. Scrawny sheep and fat pigs grazed tethered with ropes grazed beside the houses, no longer made of concrete but of wood and tin sheeting.

The Haitians themselves turned out at almost every building we passed to watch our convoy pass like a parade. The vast majority smiled and waved, or even chanted, “America! America!” The children were especially pleased when we waved back.

However, a few Haitians reacted with hostility, shouting that we should go away. One woman in particular, fairly well-dressed in a pink blouse, ran toward the bus yelling and patting her stomach to show hunger. It is easy to understand how some Haitians could resent our giving aid to the next village, passing over them.

We reached the soccer field at St. Louis de Nord which would serve as a landing zone for the Chinooks bringing our new supply shipment. As the helicopters descended, they kicked up a vortex of dust and grit from the soccer field that made everyone shut their eyes and duck to shield their faces. At the noise and the plume of sand, hordes of villagers came running to see the spectacle.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to unload the supplies and use them to equip the site. We divide the supply pallets into manageable loads, and carried them across the field to a waiting truck. Seeing soldiers, airmen, sailors, and volunteers unite for the purpose of sheer hard work was one of the most uplifting scenes of this mission so far.

With the supplies safely stored, we climbed back on the buses for the return journey. At the beach, we learned that the M1 team had continued screening surgery patients, but had turned away a fair number whose ailments were trivial or unverifiable. As those who had come in helicopters boarded them again, the rest of us marched along the beach back to our LCU.

Wet feet again.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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