This past week was one of the busiest, most stressful weeks since I've been in Haiti - probably even more than the week after the earthquake. There are a number of factors that contributed to it including: the increase in cholera cases at the clinic, hosting a 10 person team from Minnesota, riots in Cap Haitian and surrounding areas and upcoming elections.
Right now I'm writing from Orlando, Florida where I am spending a vacation with my family. There were many times during this week that I didn't believe I would be here.
Here's how the week went.
Monday morning at about 7 am, my friend Ben and I head to the airport in Cap Haitian to pick up a 10 person team from Minnesota who were coming to help volunteer in the clinic and do some construction work. About half way their, we received a phone call from the owner of the van we had hired to help transport everyone home that the road was blocked just out of Cap Haitian, so we turned off the main highway and took some backroads to the airport - including a little bit of 4x4 ing. We made it to the airport by 8 am to meet the flight. They were a bit late, but eventually showed up. We were waiting for their luggage to arrive on the second cargo flight scheduled to land. It seemed to be delayed by about 2 hours, so we were trying to decide if we would wait at the airport for it, or go home and send someone back later to pick it it. While we were trying to decide, the airport was suddenly filled with people off the street as they were fleeing tear gas that the UN had released outside as some riots had broken out.
We began to learn that there were riots all over the city and after awhile learned that they were targeted against the UN under the accusation that they brought Cholera to Haiti. For the next few hours, we had very little information as to what was happening. We sat in the departures area of domestic flights, talking and playing cards to pass the time. After our truck and van were secured behind the airport gates, Ben decided to take a motorcycle taxi down the back roads to see if we would be able to leave by driving across the runway and out the fence.
He returned to say that we could go, but we had to hurry. So we gathered everyone, and unfortunately had to leave another American there by herself as she was driving a while Landcruiser that would attract too much attention and cause danger.
To get off the airport property, we had to pay off some young men who had set up a road block. There were a couple more small road blocks along the way, they we successfully negotiated our way through. The next hour was relatively quiet as we drove through a rural area to the town of Plain du Nord and Acul du Nord. At one point we had to cross through a river with a steep, muddy bank - luckily the 4x4 helped us through.
When we got to Acul du Nord, I thought we were in the clear, but as we turned onto the national highway, we learned there was one more big road block to cross at the town of Pillatre. Fortunately, the clinic's reputation, and our familiarity with some people helped us cross with a little pay off. We finally arrived at home at about 4 that afternoon.
For the past couple of weeks, the number of cholera victims has been growing. Over the weekend we had 50 patients in the hospital at a time, with many others coming on an outpatient basis being treated with oral re-hydration. The Minnesota team was eager to help in anyway they could, and jumped right to work helping change IV bags and doing what was needed.
The next morning, I began calling the airline to see if their luggage would be arriving that day. At one point they said the airport was open and the plane would come, so we sent two guys by motorcycle and back roads to the airport, but the plane never came. There were still riots and roadblocks around the city.
Each morning I would call to see if a plane was coming, but things never cleared up enough for the airport to open.
By Thursday, many of us were beginning to wonder if we would be able to get out of the country anytime soon. We started to pursue avenues to evacuate the Minnesota team earlier then their Monday departure date. At first, it was recommended that they leave via the Carnival Cruise ship that would be landing in nearby Labadee on Friday. But later learned that to do that, they would have to register at the American Embassy, all the way in Port au Prince. Then we learned that MFI would fly them out of Port au Prince at 1 pm the next day. That meant that they would have to start the 8 hour drive to Port that afternoon, sleep in Gonaives, and finish the drive in the morning. After much discussion and consultation, we decided that it was not a safe option as we had heard of several roadblocks being set up on that road.
We decided to wait and see if the airport would open Friday or Saturday to fly out on MFI or IBC.
Thursday night there were rumours that the roads were being cleaned up and on Friday morning, we awoke to the sounds of horns of big trucks passing by on the highway. A good sign. The airport opened later that day, however not in time for my IBC flight out to Ft. Lauderdale to come. We learned that IBC and MFI would be flying out Saturday am so we made arrangements to go on those.
Early Saturday am (5:30) I headed into Cap to the airport on the main roads to check in for my flight. The rest of the group came later that morning to check in to their MFI flight and by 12 o'clock, we were all on our way to the US.
The road blocks during the week had made it difficult for us to receive medical supplies at the clinic, so by friday, IV fluids were due to run out, but thankfully that afternoon, it was safe to drive to Cap to pick up a load from Doctors without Borders.
Please keep Haiti in your prayers. Elections are in one week. People are saying that this is fueling the riots, while others lay the blame solely on the UN and their lack of progress during their 5 year occupation, and the belief that Cholera was brought to Haiti by Nepalese UN soldiers. Whatever the case, tensions are high the country is hot, or as they would say in Kreyol "peyi cho".
Please pray that their are enough medical personal and supplies to treat the growing number of people infected with this deadly disease.
Pray that Ebenezer Clinic can make good decisions.
Pray for strength for Dr. Manno and the staff.
Please also pray that I have a restful and relaxing week in Florida with my family. My plan is to return to Haiti next Saturday as long as things stay calm.