Countdown to Haiti: 10 Days

December 15, 2010

in #Haiti,Personal,Travel

I’m about 10 days out from my trip to  Haiti and I am feeling a bit anxious. But first, some updates.

Everyone keeps asking me when am I going to Haiti, so here’s a reminder: December 26 – January 2. Eight days.

I had optometry clinic training this weekend, a follow up from my training last month. This time we reviewed the things we learned last month, but performed our exams in Haitian Creole. No, many of us do not know Haitian Creole, but we have several interpreters that will be with us. Still, it helps to know some key phrases for an eye exam. I learned a few phrases and will hopefully practice them between now and the trip.  I’m told the interpreters can get bored after a while and tend to wander. It makes sense though, who really wants to repeat “follow this light with your eyes” dozens of times a day? We also learned how to do eyeglass fittings. We are taking 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses with us–which is SO AWESOME. They’re not the most expensive glasses in the world (think: the prescription glasses you see in the drugstore or at Target), but a company donated them to us, so we have a good range of glasses to offer. Some of them look pretty dope too. Not that fashion is a priority or anything Countdown to Haiti: 10 Days

I’m still deathly afraid of getting sick, but I’m a hypochondriac like that, so this is nothing new. I’ll be fine. Working on getting myself military strength bug spray and a mosquito net for bedtime.

Safety is still a big concern. The State Department issued a travel warning the other day. Reading the details of the warning did not comfort me. On the other hand, the State Department is supposed to deter you from wanting to travel, so mission accomplished! My team leaders are very much on top of the situation though. We are of course operating under the assumption that the trip could get postponed due to saftey concerns. In the meantime we have the following things in place:

  • Our mobile clinics work in a way such that we go out each day to various tent cities to provide free medical services. So, we are making sure the tent cities we go to are the safer ones, away from downtown Port Au Prince
  • All clinic hours end exactly at 3pm, so we have time to get home before dark
  • Nobody on the team can travel anywhere, for any reason, after dusk
  • We’re staying at a medical compound in a more rural part of town, known for being safer than normal
  • We have travel insurance to pay for emergency evacuation should we need it. We also have emergency evacuation plans for each clinic day.
  • Team leaders are monitoring safety everyday, and making adjustments as needed (i.e. relocate clinics as needed)

Internet access is not so reliable in Haiti. You already know this is a problem for me, as I am an Internet addict. I am thinking about bringing an old laptop just in case there is access. I’m not sure. I’ll definitely bring my iPhone (with the International calling plan activated), which I always do whenever I travel internationally. My dad freaks out if he doesn’t hear from me via phone or text message, so I already know the drill. We also have a team cell phone that can receive incoming and outgoing calls.

All this talk about safety makes me nervous…on the other hand, I have a high tolerance for chaos. I’ve seen a lot of things and been to a lot of places in life, so while I know Haiti will be like nothing ever experienced, I think I am emotionally prepared for what I am about to experience. I am not going to play when it comes to my safety. In Rio and Salvador, I wandered away from my group several times, for several hours. Of course, I was smart enough to discern wandering around Ipanema was safer than trying to wander around City of God…but I won’t be taking any chances at all in Haiti. You can believe that. I do wonder what in the world are we going to be doing at the medical compound from 3pm until the next morning though. Twiddling our thumbs? Probably reading our Bibles, I’m sure Countdown to Haiti: 10 Days

Countdown to Haiti: 10 DaysWe had our last official team meeting last week, where we went over our packing list and other logistics. The medical students and professionals on the team went over a lot of ailments popular in Haiti though. Basically an attending physician going down with us provided scenarios of mock patients, and the team attempted to diagnose the mock patient and recommend treatment/medication. Everyone seemed to be on their toes when it came to answers. Many of the things we’ll be treating are diseases not seen in America because we have a fairly stringent immunization system in place.  This exercise confirmed for me that I made the right decision when I finally decided to drop Biology at MIT: I am not cut out for medicine. Medicine makes me squeamish. I do enjoy science in general though!

This weekend we have a “packing party,” which is where we bring two empty suitcases to someone’s house and pack all of our medical and team supplies. The personal items we bring will have to be in our carry-ons only, while our checked luggage will be for medical and team supplies only. There are 32 of us going, so we will have a decent amount of cargo going down with us. Somehow the team is going to coordinate taking 64 bags of luggage to JFK on the 26th. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen, but okay.

This Sunday, I am going to four services at my church. My church donated funds to my trip’s project fee, as well as the project fee of a friend, so we will be brought on stage for four services so the church can pray for us, and learn a bit about our trip. The church donation came out of our Beyond The City fund, which is a special offering/campaign we raise money for once a year. I think it will be great for the church to be aware of how this special offering is helping in a very tangible way. My church has six services each Sunday, but we are only going to four (at two different locations). I’m interested to see what it’s like to “do” four church services on a Sunday, as I’ve always wondered how our church staff manages it.

All of this preparation has made me highly sensitive about many things. Like, water and safety for example. Mentally preparing myself for 8 days in a third world country is somewhat taxing on the mind.  In America, we really don’t have to think about the safety of our running water: is drinking this water going to take me out? We don’t have to think about our safety or curfews: must get home before the sun sets. Furthermore, all of my mental preparation is for a measly eight day visit. Imagine living this year round? Or living this without the luxury of having an emergency evacuation plan to America? I take so much for granted, and I complain about my life way too much.

I have so much more to say about this trip, but this post is getting long enough. Thanks everyone for reading, and for sharing your words of encouragement and thoughts. I really appreciate it.

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