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This is Haiti: culture shock part two

After a week of elevated alcohol levels and little sleep to be found between late nights and the noisy fellow occupants of our 12-bed dorm room, I’m not in the best state of mind as we leave Miami. After being let down by extremely unreliable friends and Wi-Fi networks, I spent the final evening drinking alone in a bar, indulging a hormone-induced self-pity. Luckily I made friends with the barman who delighted in calling me Emily Rose in a carrying voice and topping up my glass. He was appalled at the very idea of a hostel and offered for me to stay with him when I next come to the city.

Our flight is early the next morning, which gives me just three hours to struggle with sleep beneath our ferocious air conditioning before I’m released by my alarm and we head to the airport. I spend the journey semi-conscious, waking only to perform the tedious procedures demanded of me by airport staff, largely oblivious to my surroundings.

I didn’t really know what to expect of Haiti. Before she left to fly back to Texas, Emma asked if we were excited for the next part of the trip. Although Elliott answered at once that he was, I hesitated. Curious may have been the word for it, but not excited. My only previous experience of a third world country with extreme poverty levels was Sri Lanka, where I visited with my family when I was sixteen. Although I had a great time, they’re not exactly comfortable places to travel to. I was excited for the final part of our work for Global Giving though and the three projects we would be visiting.

This apprehension was only increased as we left the airport to be greeted by a rabble of people, one grabbing my suitcase and wheeling it for me to the taxi, a service I told him repeatedly was unnecessary. Despite this insistence, he was surprised and offended when we refused to pay him for it. From our window Port-Au-Prince is a bewildering sight, mainly crumbling concrete and high-walled unseen properties with guarded gates. The street we turn into off the main road is stony and the car rattles and jerks across the uneven surface. The journey is short and undeserving of the $20 we paid for it, but at least we arrive quickly at Haiti Communitaire, the communal space and accommodation for development workers where we’ll be staying.

I crawl into my bunk bed in our outside canvas dome room, the blazing midday sun warming it to unbearable levels, the various fans in the room making no dent in the suffocating air. I lie in a daze of lethargy, sweat and an overwhelming bleakness, sleeping through most of the hottest part of the day as Elliott runs various errands around me.

Our first problem is money. We’ve come unprepared for the scarcity of ATMs, foolishly overlooking the one in the airport, and have only a few scraps of dollars left to us. I’m roused from my stupor to take a punishing walk to the UN base, where apparently we’ll be able to get money out. In the unrelenting heat we walk through dusty streets and along the side of the busy main road, avoiding noxious puddles and eye contact with the numerous street sellers that fan themselves in the shade of the trees.

This is a futile mission, as we’re told abruptly at the gate that the ATM is broken, and we head back through the sun and dust to the safety of the Communitaire. I collapse back into bed to spend several hours on various Skype calls, which are always enormously comforting when I’m in this kind of mood.

I wake the next day revitalised and free from the lowness that Miami left me absorbed by. We make another and more successful mission to the UN where we find money, food and powerful fans, a brief break from the heat. We walk further to the supermarket and spend a good hour browsing its blissfully air conditioned aisles. I also start to explore where we’re staying and begin discovering more about the wonderful project, as well as planning our charity visits for the week ahead.

My first day in Haiti was probably one of the most difficult of my trip so far, exacerbated greatly by unfamiliarity and sleep-deprivation. But after getting ourselves settled, it’s not long before I get used to some of the more challenging elements of our surroundings and begin to open my eyes to the fascinating new country around us.

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