Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hanging Our Hats

I thought I'd take a little break from the work-themed emails and just give a brief update on our living situation here. After staying for a week in an extremely overpriced and unsturdy-looking hotel, we met a group who has been running a medical clinic in Jimani, a city right on the border of Haiti and the DR, for 5 years and have just recently opened another one in PaP. They came out to our warehouse to pick up some medicines for their clinics and overheard Gordo and I talking about potentially sleeping at the warehouse instead of the hotel. They immediately extended an offer to let us stay at a large house they have rented near the city; and we've been here ever since. It's a big house that's been set-up to specifically house a lot of people; there is just one massive room upstairs with a bunch of rolling cots. They are primarily using the place to house teams of medical personnel that are rotating down on a weekly basis to work at their new clinic here. When we moved in, there were four doctors (a pediatrician, OBGYN, orthopedist, and GP) and five nurses here from Tennessee. So with this unlikely connection, we have amongst us to ability to open, supply, and staff a medical clinic in a part of PaP where one hadn't been before.
The house is actually really nice and well-stocked with food, water, generators, and even the occasional internet connection. The best part is that, after primarily eating the tuna, beef jerky, and PB&J that we brought from home for the first week, we now are getting deliciously cooked meals from a couple amazing Haitian women who live, and sing, at the house. And, after the last group of doctors left and before the new group arrived, Gordo and I staked out the balcony and are now literally sleeping out under the stars high above the city. And we've only been woken up twice to gunshots coming from the surrounding valley! Check out the picture of our room...
On Sunday, since the city was even quieter than normal due to the memorial, we had a chance to drive up the coast a bit and see something outside of the city. The guys who own our warehouse, and the national water company they run out of it, had been inviting us to come up to their private beach for the last two weeks and we felt we could finally spare a couple hours on Sunday to check it out. It was a strange sensation. This beach house, just an hour outside the poorest and most violent city in the Western hemisphere, was an oasis. It could have been Malibu, except the water was much warmer, cleaner, and more turquoise in color. At one point, one of the guys waded out into the ocean to flag down a lobster boat and brought in a huge bag of crabs and lobsters that they cooked up straight away.
Obviously, there is economic disparity in every corner of the world, perhaps in the US more than anywhere, but it's hard to imagine a place where it would look more striking than this. And it's not to say these guys are greedy or selfish people. They came back to Haiti after living in the US for 20 years to start a business and have ended up employing about 500 people; many of whom they don't strictly need to run their business. Indeed, the small amount of money we are paying to rent the warehouse from them is going directly to hiring more staff to help us with the incoming and outgoing shipments when we need them. Other times, they are working for the water company. But it was a little hard to enjoy this place after seeing how most people live here. Like I said, you could say that about almost anywhere, but we have it on the forefront of our minds because we've been so immersed in it for the past two weeks.

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