Michael Aleman (MEAS, 2014)
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Minor: Global Health
Location this summer: Haiti
My flight was delayed by more than two hours – “Haitian time”, a fellow blanc mumbled. Miami was rainy, and our twin engine propeller plane had been having mechanical problems. We finally departed and began our flight to Cap Haitien with a stop in the Bahamas. The propeller aircraft flew low enough that I got to admire the beauty of the Caribbean islands we passed over, small plots of green, yellow and black in the center of light blue shallow waters that resembled eyes. Our stop in the Bahamas was away from any pleasant sights in what appeared to be a construction site. We departed soon after landing.
After flying over some more island paradises, Haiti finally came into view. It was HUGE, nothing like the islands I’d been flying over! And covered in lush green mountains. We landed and upon emerging from the aircraft I began to notice things – the small, unpainted two story shack that served as a control tower, the groups of people freely walking along the airport’s grassy areas near the runways, the humidity, $2 tip to the luggage handlers, the relaxed security measures. Bonjour Haiti, I thought. I was quickly picked up and whisked away through the mass of drivers to the hospital representative’s Toyota Hilux, who noted he’d been waiting since 9AM (it was 3:30PM then).
The drive to the hospital was quick and straightforward, though I continued to notice things – the infamous tap-taps, small pickup trucks with interesting names, symbols, and colors, the garbage, the number of people walking along the roadway, the motorbikes (some carrying at least 4 people), the homes (both built and painted as well as under construction, I think?), the dogs, the smoke from fires fed by both plant matter as well as plastics and garbage, etc. I did note that the road was very good, though I found out later that it was only a year old yet looking much older.
Arriving at the hospital, I was greeted by a volunteer named Lisa. She was halfway through a 1-year stint at Hopital Sacre Coeur and got me settled. I also met a number of Tufts Medical School students who I would be joining the next day on a community health trip. After getting acquainted, I sought out Tim Traynor, the man who had originally approved of my research trip to the site. He welcomed me and had me join him while he discussed hospital matters with the new security head through a translator. We then went to the shop area down the road, and I watched as he instructed the hospital hands on how to unload transformers from a recently arrived shipping container. It was interesting to see how involved Tim had to be in instructing the Haitians to properly empty the unit.
Later he invited me along on a trip to Cap Haitian. As I prepared to jump into the packed Hilux cabin, I saw him hop into the truck bed. Oh yeah, I thought, I’m in Haiti now. I joined him in the back and laughed when I realized that the Haitians must think we blancs are crazy for doing such a thing. Riding into town, Tim gave me a great crash course in both Haitian culture and society and photography. A lot sounded familiar to what I had read and been told, but mostly I began to be humbled by how much I didn’t know. The town was truly spectacular and at times sketchy, but I will let the photos to do the talking.
Tomorrow I’ve been booked for a 6AM hike, a 7:30AM breakfast, and a 9:30AM departure on the medical students’ community health trip. I’m in heaven.