My hammock and I head south to Port Salut at day break. I confirmed today that I won’t have any more meetings this week, so that frees me up to explore new ground. It rained earlier this evening for the first time since I arrived. I hope the roads are fine. It was dark when it rained, so there was no rainbow to look for.
Today I met the staff of an amazing organization called HELP. They provide scholarships to the best students from all around Haiti, but only to those that have a clear financial need. This program actually helps even the playing field a bit as far as their chances for academic success. The students begin with a three-week orientation where some of the students get weeded out of the program. HELP provides housing to the students, so they all have each other to bond with and study with. They are also supplied with books (which they have to give back to HELP after that specific class is done.
What makes this program great is the extra training they receive. In Haiti, there is no such thing as a liberal arts degree or even electives. It is a five year vocational type degree. So HELP teaches classes in technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship that the students have to take in addition to their actual university courses. In addition to all this, the students have to do volunteer work in the community. Once they graduate, they have to pay back 15% of their income to HELP for nine years. I was told that the 15% is almost always going to be far less than the amount of assistance they receive over the five years of school. Some students take part in a summer study abroad program at either Cornell or Dartmouth.
This is exactly the type of assistance Haiti needs. So many students have no way of affording university even if they would receive a free tuition. Also, it teaches the students how to be leaders in their field as well as giving back to the community. For students that might work in the medical field, their clinic or hospital may not be well equipped. This program can help them learn how to network with other organizations to get those resources. In this way, the program provides skills that can be transferable to any job. Also, it can help provide a networking base for students that arrive from out of town who don’t have the right family connections in Port au Prince to get a job.
Today I also drove around a bit more downtown and saw some of the old French architecture. Fantastic buildings with tall shuttered windows and gabled peaked towers on the corners. The massive pillars over the porches broken in half dangling from the third floor, it’s a wonder it can hang like that. All over town, grand buildings remain from the earthquake with rubble littering their decorative ledges and window sills. This is a permanent look of the downtown area. But as with every other square foot of Port au Prince, the sidewalks are lined with makeshift markets and shacks. In the industrial parts of town, tall concrete walls protect the warehouses and the markets and tent homes fill the six to eight feet between the walls and the traffic.
Speaking of traffic, I thought that driving a motorcycle, it would be safer to pass on the inside (the left) because the metal grids over the sewers can be missing. Except for the one missing grate on a major street right in the middle that had a tall stick sticking out with a red shirt tied to the top for safety. Speaking of safety, not all street signs are missing. There are the ones showing Do Not Enter on streets you can enter and the One Way signs pointing the wrong way down the street. Half way down I realized the cars were all parked the same way on both sides of the street. Other than that, it seemed no different from driving in traffic here. I suppose it would have been OK to keep going since I was on a motorcycle and they can go anywhere.
At one intersection of a two-lane road I was going to drive in the oncoming lane since there was a good long distance of no oncoming traffic and my lane was completely stopped. Then I saw the traffic cop at this corner and pulled back in behind the truck in front of me until the cop motioned to me that it was clear to use the oncoming lane.
Today, as part of my research on Haiti, I explored some of the nicer hotels.
The first stop was a mistake, I ended up at the Hotel Montana but I was looking for the country club. When I asked for directions, the receptionist asked where my driver was, which I thought was funny since I was holding my motorcycle helmet.
Then, I had several doors opened for me as I entered the Best Western (much nicer than in the U.S.) and made my way up to the terrace. I was given a free ice water served in a fine glass and drank it from a comfortable lounge chair overlooking the streets below where many local Haitians struggle to purchase their water out of a plastic bag and drink it overlooking the garbage piles beneath their feet.
Then I went to the brand new five star Oasis hotel. I purchased a $3 can of coke. Because I wasn’t carrying American money, they wrote the exchange math on my bill. (I think that is why it took so long) The bill was 144.50 gourdes, I gave them 200 and got 50 in change as if I had no use for those last 5.5 gourdes. I could have bought a tap tap ride with that or three bags of water on the street but I didn’t complain.
The hotel has a stunning view of the steep hillside slums, where homes are built right up to the edge of the eroded gullies. Stacked so tight, there are tiny steps that are built right into the homes. It sort of reminded me of Mesa Verde in Colorado. Somehow amongst the thousands of these homes that were the simple grayish tone of the clay that made their bricks, a cluster of about two-hundred were painted an assortment of pastel colors. I checked, and every color of the rainbow was represented.
My next post may be awhile since I don’t know if they will have internet where I will be staying. I’ve written down a few key phrases in creole as I may have trouble finding anybody who speaks French. Everyday more people sign up to follow my blog. We are now a community of 46 fans of Trailhead Perspectives. Keep spreading the word. Till then, I’ll see you in Port Salut.