Surviving Haiti 101

As I sit and reflect on my trip to Haiti my heart is full.  I LOVED every minute of it.  And when I say that I’m including the cold showers, the new perfume that was a mixture of Coppertone sunblock and OFF Bug spray, the blazing blinding sun, the crazy traffic, and the heat and humidity that can make one believe they are visiting the middle of the sun instead of a foreign country.  But it also includes hundreds of little hands that reach out to grasp your hand or hold onto a piece of your clothing — just to touch you and receive a touch, smiling faces of the Haitian people who are happy though by American standards they are living in conditions worse than poverty, the morning greetings of ‘bonjour’, the mountains and views of the ocean that will make you catch your breath, the diversity in vegetation (cactus, palm trees, pine trees, mesquite all within a five mile radius — the country is a little confused on what it wants to grow), the glow on the children’s faces when they receive a treat (though it may just be cookies), and the opportunity to help people — my goal when becoming a nurse…to help people.

So, there are some tricks to the trade that will make your stay in Haiti more comfortable and hopefully have you walking away from the experience wanting to return for a second go round.  

My list of ‘how to survive Haiti’, and I’m sure that others have other ideas, but since it’s my blog…this is mine: “20 Ways To Survive”

  1. To survive Haiti one must first GO to Haiti.  Whether this is for a week, a month, six months or a year.  You must first be willing to go before you can say you survived.  So start making plans!!
  2. Luggage tags.  When you fly out they will give you stickers from your luggage tags they place at the airport counter.  KEEP THESE.  They will check your bags to the stickers in your possession to make sure you are walking out with the proper luggage.  So if you decide you like someone else’s luggage better, make sure you also steal their stickers.
  3. Bug spray.  This is your new cologne/perfume.  Get the kind you have been told causes cancer…spray it on liberally.  Morning, noon, and night.  It is your best friend, it will keep the mosquitos who ‘think’ they are your BFF somewhat at bay.
  4. Sunblock.  Get some even if you ‘don’t burn’.  I personally resemble Casper the Ghost, so I purchased 75SPF.  This is applied as your lotion.  Before walking out the door, and in the afternoon if you have been sweating a lot and wiping your face.  PROTECTION is KEY!!
  5. Sunglasses.  If you do not wear regular glasses, bring sunglasses.  If you wear glasses and do not have a pair of prescription sunglasses, be tempted to buy the old people glasses covers (do not listen to your sister in law when she says you are not old enough to have a pair)…the sun WILL SCORCH YOUR EYES.  Everything is white — the rocks, the buildings, the air.  The sun reflects off of it and will make you cry.  It’s like walking out after a fresh snowfall and the sun reflecting off the crystals and you have to squint.  Protect those retinas!!!
  6. Hat.  Whether it be a baseball cap, big floppy hat, Indiana Jones hat, fishing hat.  A hat will further protect your face, and if big enough your ears and neck.  It will shade you so your eyes and skin is not scorched by the sun.  Do not care if you will look like a tourist, even the Haitians know the importance of a hat — many of them wear socktops, beanies, ball caps.
  7. This one is for the girls: sports bra.  What’s the purpose of a sports bra?  To wick away sweat as your getting healthy and exercising.  You may not be exercising, but you definitely will be sweating.  It will properly do its job, and you will be more comfortable.  One must be comfortable to want to return somewhere. <smile>
  8. Deodorant. Everyone must wear the antiperspirant. If you want to be health cautious, I recommend forgoing it for the time you are there and get the protection against the sweat. You WILL BE sweating. You will put deodorant on before bed, when you wake up, and possibly during the day.
  9. Be flexible.  Everyone knows plans change and do not always go according to plan.  If something does not work out exactly how you had envisioned, do not pout, do not freak out, do not ask to go home.  Live by the motto “Hakuna Matata” — no worries.  You will be more loved for your flexibility.
  10. Personal space. Be willing to let people beyond your bubble.  The children want to touch you and be touched.  When in line at the airport there is no ‘line’, it’s a herd of bodies pressed together like cattle going into a chute.  Don’t have a panic attack, just shuffle along until you get out of the mix.  If you’re in a group, just find some time to have ‘self time’ so you can recharge and breath again.  It’s OK!  You will survive…don’t run out and fling yourself on a returning flight home.
  11. Trash.  You will see trash, pretty much everywhere.  If you have OCD or cannot stand clutter, NEVER look at the ground.  Keep your eyes level or higher, about four foot from the ground and up.  If you keep your eyes raised to ‘the hills’ (from whence comes your strength) you will see the awe inspiring beauty that is Haiti.  
  12. Wipes and hand sanitizer.  Personal sanitary wipes/hand wipes.  The water in Haiti is not 100%, though you may want to lose a few pounds you DO NOT want to do it by having dysentery.  Make sure to keep your hands clean.
  13. Cold showers.  Be thankful you have indoor plumbing, and consider the fact that you were hot two minutes before.  It’s actually refreshing.
  14. Water.  Do not ingest the water.  I do not care if you think you have a stomach of steel.  You do not want to spend your trip finding out differently.  You do not want to be the one left behind because there are no public bathrooms and most rides are at least 30 minutes to an hour.  <again, we do not want dysentery>
  15. Drink fluids.  Though you cannot drink their water, make sure you are drinking water.  If you stop sweating, you are dehydrated.  Soda with caffeine will cause dehydration.  We do not want you dehydrated.  You will feel TERRIBLE.  You do not want to spend your trip miserable — dizzy, lightheaded, blurred vision, headache.  Haiti does not have stable healthcare, it’s not easy to obtain a bag of fluids…so make sure to drink fluids.
  16. Use the bathroom when you have a chance.  Bathrooms are few and far between.  Take your chance or be willing to use it on the side of the street.  
  17. Bugs.  There are lizards and other insects that share your living space.  Accept them.  Do not screech every time you see one.  Do not invite them in by leaving food out.  Kill what you need to, let live what you can.  Let the lizards go…they eat the rest of them.
  18. Shock. You will see things that will possibly shock you. Their concept of life and modesty are different. Absorb it. Talk about it with someone you are with. DO NOT let that blip of time affect your whole trip.
  19. Target/Walmart. Do not expect to go shopping, it’s not going to happen. They do not have Target, Walmart, chain restaurants or McDonalds. Be open to different foods and items to snack on. <flexible>
  20. Life Changing.  Bro Brian’s saying is that things are ‘life changing’.  If (or should I say WHEN) you go to Haiti, you will definitely survive, and it will definitely be life changing.  Be open to what the hills, the sea, and the people tell you.  Do not worry that you cannot understand one another, a touch and a smile go a long way.  Sometimes they realize that you love them not by what you say…but by what you DO.  If you are willing to GO you have already spoken volumes. 

This past week had me reaching outside my comfort zone, my personal space bubble was definitely burst.  When fifteen beautiful little kids come to hug and kiss you, you do not say no.  I may or may not have shown my ‘speak before thinking’ tendency, luckily not everyone within hearing distance understood.  As I sit and look out the window of the Miami airport, I know without a doubt knowing everything I know now I would do it again in a heartbeat…and I survived.

If you followed my blog and was able to ‘see’ Haiti (the people) and are interested in donations (money/supplies), assisting in sponsorship of a child at one of the orphanages, or in going on a future trip…LET ME KNOW.  Do we have opportunities for you!!  Then we can say that we all survived Haiti…even the Haitians. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *