By Ira Lee
Photo by François Rollin
Thomonde, HAITI – Whew! We finally made it. Our trip together started at 4 a.m. this morning as we gathered at the American Airlines ticketing desk at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. From there, we traveled by air to Port-au-Prince, Haiti via Miami. The view on the final approach to Port-au-Prince was absolutely breathtaking. Although Haiti has seen its ups and downs for much of the last century, there is no denying the intrinsic beauty of the place. From the air, the country almost takes on a storybook appearance with tall and steep ridge lines crisscrossing much of the country. As one nears Port-au-Prince, the mountains abruptly end at a flat flood plain that demarcates the physical border of Haiti’s capital city.
Disembarking from the airplane, we soon met up with Project Medishare’s local staff who quickly whisked us away by 4×4 caravan. By this time it was already 1pm, and we needed to reach the Medishare compound in Thomonde by dark. Although Thomonde is only 60 miles away from Port-au-Prince as the crow flies, Haiti’s road infrastructure has been left to deteriorate through much of its recent turbulent past. The four-hour trip brought us up from sea-level to Haiti’s Plateau Central through a series of windy roads with more back-breaking boulders than true asphalt.
The visuals along the trip to Thomonde ranged from quintessential signs of abject poverty to some of the most beautiful natural vistas I have ever seen. One of the most notable points was our trip around the ring road that runs along Haiti’s Lac Peligre, an artificial lake created by a large dam that provides much of the electricity to Haiti’s urban areas. While the natural beauty of the lake drew everyone’s admiration, it was difficult reconciling the wonder of such a place with the exploitative past
for those affected by the dam’s construction. Many have noted that construction of the dam irrevocably disrupted the lives of thousands of Haitians who lived in the now submerged valley. During our trip to Thomonde, we saw evidence that many of these residents had re-established homes on the banks of the lake only to be told that they would have to move again with the expansion of the lake’s ring road.
Finally, we made it Thomonde! After quickly storing away our gear, we were treated to a wonderful buffet of Haitian-inspired cuisine that was immensely satisfying after such a long day. We also were quickly introduced to members of Project Medishare’s local team and given a rough schedule for the week. The plan we have for the week sounds exhilarating. Because of Emory Medishare’s past experiences, they’ve stretched us a little thinner than usual to have us reach the most people. At some points, we’ll be sending different groups on two or three different activities, ranging from mobile clinic sites to well-child, school-based checkups and health education.
I can’t wait for what’s to come.
Ira Leeds is a Medical Intern Student at Emory University School of Medicine.