At this point I have been in Haiti for one day. In my experiences in São Tomé, I have found many similarities. Perhaps more similarities than differences in the food, culture, geography and biodiversity. Although the language is different. So different.
We spend the night at the house of John Engle, the director of Haiti Partners (www.haitipartners.org). He is an American who has been living in Port-au-Prince for some time with his Haitian wife and their two adorable kids. The next morning, we drive to a small airport where we can head to our first pilot site, the Matènwa Community Learning Center on the island of la Gonav.
For those of you not understanding what I am doing here, I am volunteering with an organization called Waveplace (www.waveplace.org) helping pilot four OLPC (One Laptop per Child) programs at four different schools in Haiti. We’re basically trying to prove that a failing program can work, as OLPC donated 13,000 laptops to Haiti a while back that are now out of radar. Now we have 200 to work with, bringing about 20 teachers from four different towns (including la Gonav) to the Matènwa school where we will, in the first week, teach students the OLPC computers and the unique Matènwa pedagogical strategy, then, in the second week, have the 20 teachers teach classes too as we observe. Then these teachers will go to their hometowns and teach there, and we will follow them over the next four weeks to check up on how they are doing.
So we get to the airport heading to la Gonav. There are military vehicles and aid worker tents taking up much of the airport, though most of the ones that were there have cleared out already. I think of Marvin, my boyfriend in Afghanistan. He is Haitian-American and wants, more than anything, to be in one of these military vehicles here in Haiti, with his people. I see the men inside their heavily armored vehicles- we think they are mainly from Canada and Brazil. I wonder what they do while they sit around.
We look forward to our plane. It’s a little bit of a shocker. Tim, Bill and I are the three Waveplace volunteers going on the plane today. We are also the only three passengers. The plane seats four people.
I suck in a swift gulp of air. I’ve never been in a plane so small in my entire life. I have always wanted to learn to fly a plane but when it actually comes down to you and this tiny machine about to lift off into the air and over the ocean, it hits you smack-dab in the face. I buckle in next to Bill, who I feel has done this a few times before. We strap the vertical chest straps over our bodies and then buckle the waists. I cling to the straps for dear life. The pilot gets in- a young guy from Toronto. He couldn’t be much older than me.
If he can do it, I can.
Suddenly, we are in the air. It is much quicker than a flight on a big 747. You run for a little bit and then you just, lift off. The plane shakes much more in the wind but it is exciting, it is beautiful. Trees get smaller and smaller. Then the ocean comes, a broad swath of brown (near the land), then turquoise, then dark, dark blue. In the distance you see Haiti’s mountain range, spread in front of a very flat land not unlike the Tetons in Wyoming that I was just visiting a week ago.
Sailboats pass underneath us; the world is at my fingertips. I am to exhilarated to be scared. I look around and see where I am, this 23 year-old woman flying in a four person plane over Haitian ocean en route to a school in the middle of nowhere. This is the stuff I read about in books. And here I am, experiencing it. The moment takes me with it. I see myself from far away, reading over my own chapter as it is created in real time. How did I get here? I ask, over and over and over again.
Four hours later we are in Matènwa (a 45 minute plane trip, a one hour wait and a two hour drive- at about five miles per hour due to excessively bumpy road conditions). Chris, an American that splits her years between Boston and Haiti, greets us. She smiles big.
That night I eat the best rice I have ever eaten in my entire life.