A strong mosquito spray with DEET was essential. I had trouble finding it here this time of year so we ended up ordering it through Amazon. Thank goodness we did, because as we were on our way to Haiti, we received word that the Zika virus was rampant in Haiti. Zika virus is a mosquito-borne ailment similar to dengue fever. Symptoms, which usually are relatively mild, can include fever, rash, conjunctivitis and headache. In more serious cases, they can include muscle pain, swelling and an itchy rash. The virus is really only dangerous for pregnant women because it can lead to birth defects and miscarriage, but would definitely be uncomfortable and miserable to have a virus of this nature outside the comforts of home. Unfortunately our two team members who had come a week earlier, Mike and Austin, came down with a virus the first week there that sent them from our boarding house to a hotel to recover. They were never tested but it was widely assumed they had the Zika virus. Fortunately they recovered completely and were able to spend the next week with us feeling much better. We stayed coated in mosquito spray all week. Getting out of the shower fresh and clean only lasted a few minutes as you immediately coated yourself with the oily spray that didn’t have the most fragrant aroma either! Zika is just now entering the United States and you are probably hearing about it on the news this week.
We also had to make an appointment at the Health Department to be sure we were up to date with our vaccines. To travel to Haiti it’s recommended you have the Hepatitis A and B vaccine and Tdap. We were also prescribed medicine for Typhoid and Malaria and got our flu shots.
During most of this preparation, my husband was very quiet. He was not really thrilled about us going, especially Catie. He was proud of us, but nervous and worried. Amy assured him it was safe but he gave us each a can of mace and made Catie promise to carry it with her at all times. We teased him but I also took his concerns seriously. I did a bit of research on the violence in Haiti and it appeared to be relatively safe compared to other countries with similar conditions. In fact, while crime can certainly be an issue, Haiti might actually be one of the safer countries in the Caribbean. Its murder rate pales in comparison to that of some of the Caribbean’s top destinations – half that of the Dominican Republic and barely a quarter of Jamaica’s, according to the UNODC’s 2013 Global Study on Homicide. Port-au-Prince, the heart of recent political demonstrations and most tourists’ main point of entry into Haiti, dominates the crime statistics but foreigners are rarely targeted: figures are skewed heavily to inter-gang violence primarily in neighborhoods that tourists are unlikely to visit such as Carrefour, Cite Soleil, Martissant and Bel Air. With that being said, I knew our clinic was in Cite Soleil and we would NOT be touring Cite Soleil this year (as we have in the past) due to safety concerns with two feuding neighborhoods within Cite Soleil. I planned to be smart, but not let fear ruin the experience. My biggest fear was theft, so we wore no jewelry (except a cheap pair of stud earrings), took only our passports, driver’s license, cash and one credit card. I kept these items on me at all times. Our group did not encounter any problems with theft, but the other mission group there from South Carolina was driving in a taptap (Haiti’s version of a taxi…more on that later) and someone reached in and pulled a necklace off a woman’s neck while they were stopped. Bottom line is no matter how many years you have safely been to Haiti, you can never get too comfortable.
In preparation for our work there, we also participated in a “pill packing” party hosted by Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. We spent several hours, with the help of many volunteers, packing the medication and supplies to stock our clinic and take to the school in 22 large suitcases. We also sorted medicine such as vitamins and antibiotics from the large containers to smaller quantities in order to save time in the pharmacy once we arrived. Because all of our checked luggage (two suitcases each) were filled with medication and supplies, we were only able to bring one carry on with our personal items and a backpack.
Catie and I were both nervous leading up to the trip. I was more worried about things like safety, our living arrangements, and food. Catie was worried about getting homesick and being so far from home. Fortunately none of our concerns were founded! On the day before we left I sent Catie the following text…
“We are going to Haiti!!! WTH?!?!”
and she replied immediately,
“Hahahaha I know mom oh my gosh!!!”
And that pretty much summed it up! On Saturday morning we woke up early and met our fellow team members to caravan to Charlotte. (Thank you Janet Sims for seeing us off…so sweet!) We drove to Charlotte and caught a flight to Atlanta. We had a layover in Atlanta so Catie and I decided to honor our last taste of American food with a huge bacon cheeseburger and fries! From Atlanta we flew to Port au Prince arriving around 7:00 pm.
As we began our landing, I asked Catie, “Are you ready?” She looked at me and said “Ready or not, here we come!” And boy was she right…here is where our adventure really begins!
Next Blog Post: We Arrive and a Sunday in Haiti