In 2009 we went to Haiti to adopt a little boy. Here is the travel diary I noted down.
Saturday 13th June 2009
We left home at 13.40, arriving in Nantes for 14.20. We had plenty of time. But in those minutes were lifetimes of waiting, hope and expectation. We were going to Haiti to adopt our beautiful son, after waiting, waiting, waiting.We met up with some family members, my sister and brother in law, and our niece and nephew.
The journey was strange, golden sunshine and summer heat filtered trough the trees.
Green leaved, heavy bags.
Our niece invented silly nicknames for us, as small children do, and our nephew walked with one hand in the air. He was just starting to walk,and walked in that puppet like way children do when they start to walk. .
We walked down to the train platform in Nantes station, carrying bags full of stuff. We climb on board the train, cry, hug and wave goodbye to our family. We booked first class tickets, and the train, a high-speed Train de Grand Vitesse pulls out of the station.
2 hr to Paris. 2 hr to recuperate,relax, stress, fidget, look out of the window and get excited.
Luckily we both brought tissues with us, it’s an emotional day. My dad phoned , but it’s just words.
We’re off. The train lurches, the click clack of the bogies, the hustle and bustle of everyday slides past outside.
We follow the Loire towards Angers,watching people cycle, fish, walk. The young mother and child in our carriage move out of the carriage, the conductor points to the sign which says ‘espace zen’. The train goes along. Past our house, past Ancenis. The train gets to Angers at 15:57, passing the barracks.We stop at Angers, but don’t take passengers, nor drop any off.A quick stop, and a small wait.
After Angers, I lost track of where we were. The countryside here is beautiful
and rural. My wife sleeps, she’s drained.The train seems to speed up. Passing strangely built octagonal wooden buildings , or burnt out buildings or falling down buildings.
We go through God-know-where, car boots opened, swallows flying. The fields are full of round bales of hay. Cows and church spires. Helicopters and sky scrapers, old farms and new houses, graffiti strewn walls. Poppies, factories. Into Le Mans.The train doesn’t stop.
Le Mans is busy, it’s the weekend of the 24 hrs race with many people in the town.
Then onward, past lakes,ponds, nameless town and cemeteries. France is flat, with low hills. Past châteaux on hillsides. Eagles in the air. Water towers pop out of he landscape like giant mushrooms.
Wind turbines. Fields of ripening oil seed rape, corn, barley.
Into Paris, its outskirts.Concrete and tunnels. We meet friends.
We eat out with friends. Our friends go to Greece on holiday, so it’s a quick visit, then they have to leave us. Another friend stays with us.
We are nervous. We are ready.
We’ve booked a taxi for the airport run.
We stay the night with a friend, in her flat. I like our friend, she’s got a new flat now, but this is written when we are in her old flat. She’s in the middle of moving, and its boxes and things in a mess. She’s put us up at a pinch, and we’re very grateful.
Its 6.13 am, taxi is due at 6.55.
Quick shower, quick breakfast, we dash to the cab and then to the airport.
Airports are unfriendly places,full of people wanting to go somewhere else.We had time for the quick look through the shops. Embarkation seems to drag on, The plane had problems boarding, another plane lands, and this plane unloads. This happens twice more, and we then get on our plane. We’re going to the Caribbean, and the passengers are everything from gangsters to witch doctors tourists and other adoptive couples.Its 10.08. The plane is supposed to go at 10.15, but we’re not loaded yet.
In front of us is a screen,embedded into the chair in front, where you can watch TV, see the progress of the flight, and so on. It’s fairly comfortable.
Destiny calls us all in our lives, and this is the day we’ve awaited.
A beautiful day.
We go to Guadeloupe first, then after a 3 hr transit, we’ll go to Haiti.
The flight lasts 8 hr.
A bit of turbulence, but nothing major.
30° C in Guadeloupe.
The P A is blaring the safety announcement now, and the smell of kerosene is overpowering. Sometimes in life, you only get one chance.
Waiting for the take off slot.
We go. The guy next to us suggests a rum punch, and we gladly join him.
The alcohol works its magic, and we sleep.
When we wake, we are nearly there. We’ll land in an hour or so, a bit less. It’s a long flight and coming back, we’ll be 3, and we could only afford two seats, so it’ll be a bit cramped.
I didn’t have enough leg room.
We touch down.
Guadeloupe is tropical and humid.It really is 30°C,humid, hazy.Coming in we saw volcanoes, forests and mountains. Every plant , every bird is one I’ve never seen before!
Everything is green. I need to freshen up, airport lobbies are not the best places to be after 8 hours .
We’ve flown with the sun, my body says it’s 5 pm, but its 1 pm here.
People’s faces light up, meeting friends coming home.Body language, eye contact.
I try to freshen up . The airport is very modern.
I realize we are still in France!
Close to our flight to Haiti, the airport buzzes into life. We board, and the plane leaves. The plane is for Miami, but it’ll stop at Haiti.
We fill in the paperwork in a rush, in a bother.
More kerosene, air conditioning,mist.
Flying into Haiti, we saw eroded landscapes and mountainsides washed by tropical rainfall. The erosion marks were pronounced. Trees had been cut for charcoal, and the tropical rain washed away the soil.With no roots to hold it in place, the soil washes down great gullies.
We are through the airport in no time.
The airport is a ramshackle affair, corrugated sheets and tin huts.
We walk across the tarmac, into customs, through customs. Our feet don’t seem to touch the floor.
Across the car park.
There , in a jeep is a woman holding our boy. The boy we’ve come to adopt.
It’s the first time we’ve met him, and its all a bit too much.
He’s full of fear, and didn’t want to make eye contact, but cake ,water and toys change all that. We go to the hotel. We meet other adoptive parents.
We eat, and go to bed.
On the plane to Guadeloupe there was an enormous Irish Wolfhound, and I think of this dog now. It’s strange!
My head is full of irrational fears and “what if’s”. But then we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them, if we get to them.
We’ll stay in a hotel, in a thatched room.
Tropical rain in the night.Sunday lasted 31 hours.If that makes any sense.
Now its Monday
Birdsong wakes us. Last night there was a disco, but we slept through it, more or less.
We check his size, we didn’t know his shoe size.We need to keep the room tidy, last night we just collapsed in a mess.
All around the hotel are half-finished buildings, and mountains with erosion marks on them.Scenes of poverty, misery.
I see the smallest ants I’ve ever seen and geckos stuck to the ceiling.We cant leave food lying around.In the lobby are some computers, perhaps I can use the internet.
The room is spartan, basic, bare. Bedside lamps, but no bulbs.The air conditioning is a giant fan in the ceiling.The power browned out last night (it will do that every evening) and leaves us gasping for air.
We clean up, and go to the crèche. This is the crèche where our boy lived from 3 months old to 20 months old.
We have bags full of medicines and gifts. Other parents asked us to take toys, photos, recordings. Our boy coughs.
Everything worries me.
We’ll have to keep to our budget. I’m already worried about money. Everything needs a tip, and cash.
We fell asleep next to our boy last night, wonderful.
The hotel has a pool, which looks good.The room leaks with the heavy rain. Our boy gives me a ‘high 5’ .He likes tickles and songs and dances.He slept through last night.He’s a bit scared though, so it’s softly this morning. The shower taps take a bit of working out. A = hot, H = cold.
Creole sounds a great language.Its great to hear it spoken.
We need to be more organised.
I feel threatened , and scared out here, and we’ve already become defensive and un trusting.
Need to relax, and stop worrying. Train of thought here.
We eat breakfast, and our boy sleeps.We have a lazy lunch. The food is excellent. especially when you look through the hotel fence and see life outside the compound.
We go to the crèche.
The crèche was smaller , much smaller than I thought, or expected.I counted 37 children, plus 15 babies.All wanted to play, be tickled, sing, dance, have stories told,and be held.
It was hard to leave.
Haitian roads are very bad. Bumpy pot holes , craters in the road, boulders here and there, puddles. Its frightening here, people judge you. We are the rich white folks. Haiti is really poor, litter strewn streets, police and UN troops everywhere. All the children look smaller than their age. Our boy is 20 months old and weighs 9 kilos.
Another child held my hand, wanted me to play with him.Another family are also adopting a child while we are, and we participate in their joy.The children loved to play with us.The children love to look at bags, pockets.The boy holding my hand pointed to the ladies who work here and said ‘go’.Sure enough the ladies troop out. He knows.
The children asked for presents. We’ll give them on Friday. This makes me feel like Scrooge.
We had a party for the other family , cake, juice.We’ll know what to organize when it’s our turn Friday.
The crèche is a building site, with chocolate tablet brickwork which wont stand up(and didn’t when the earthquake came later).The ladies who worked in the crèche kept it very clean and tidy.
The streets were lined with people, hunger in their eyes.
We got back to the hotel. In the drawer of the table was a telephone directory from 2000. The room phone didn’t work.
My wife makes notes for other parents on the characters of the children they’ll adopt.We take photos of every child, for all the parents who are waiting to adopt. It’s the only link the waiting parents have.
It’s the beginning of the rainy season, and every evening it rains like I’ve never seen before.
Power cuts in repetition.
On the wall of the crèche was a picture of the Virgin Mary, with the words “Oh Mary, who is without sin,to whom we turn to in times of need”. It was a magic picture, which changes when you move your angle of view.
Very tacky, but somehow moving.
The heat hits us like a truck, like opening a furnace or an oven.
We want to go home!
We’ve taken 180 photos. The flight company have announced strikes, so we don’t know if we can go home! Perhaps it won’t touch us.
As we left the creche, other children begged us to take them too. I’ll remember this till I die.
We saw an unmarked army transport.
The situation in Haiti is extremely grave. We are both so tired.We eat, sleep, clean up.
First poo nappy!
The judgement of others really touches us, some who bless us , some who curse us.
We find it hard to relax in this beautiful country.The views of the mountains are superb, but the views in the streets are depressing.
Jan Arthur Bertrand says “It’s too late to be pessimistic” but its hard to believe it when you see people in Haiti arguing about the constitution instead of acting and enabling.It is as if the population is hypnotized by the wealth of America, waiting for them to help.They need to grow more food for themselves (don’t we all!) and the infrastructure that goes with it. Seeds, fertilizer, land, tractors, spare parts, etc.
People around need to work together, that would be the miracle that saves Haiti.
We can’t divide the world into rich/poor, have/have not, powerful/powerless. Money is just a tool, not the be all and end all.The world doesn’t need more rich people, just less poor ones.
In Europe, we have become lazy, selfish, decadent, oblivious.Self obsessed.
Every crisis is an opportunity. If we look beyond the pain, the poverty to the potential.
It’s a cloudy day today. Our boy fell out of bed in the night, bumping his head, scaring us, shaking us. But it’s an overreaction on our part. He’s ok.
He’s adopted a colourful monkey toy.Our son is beautiful.
The whole journey so far is like a film, etched into our memories.
Our son eats well.He shivered with fear in the shower this morning, I don’t think he’s used to the shower, or us yet.
He rocked himself to sleep (years later he still does this) and you ask questions, but in the end, its dust.
You just do what comes.
Today we’ll find out if the strike is confirmed or not, and if we need to organize an earlier flight or a later one .
We plan our trip to the French Embassy.This plan will have to change if the flight out gets cancelled due to industrial action, so it’s all a bit ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ planning.
We are not directly responsible for the woes of Haiti, yet something Mandela said echos in my mind, ‘We cannot be really free if others suffer from our freedom’.
In the end we need to stop gazing into the navel and act, or renounce. This is a journey which will change our lives not just with a child, but with ideas about the world, ideas I now assume.
In the hotel we meet charity workers, religious people, people working to try to bring some semblance of normality to Haiti. Unless we cut the Gordian Knot of debt, then their efforts will be in vain.
In the hotel.There are staff with two characteristics. Nice, and absent.
The plane strike is still not confirmed. We will be placed on another flight if the worst happens.
Look at the adoption file and discover loads of stuff about our son.He has step brothers, and two parents. I know their name, ages. Later, when he’s old enough, well look at this. I’ll never hide the fact he’s adopted(and I tell him every now and then)
Before our journey I thought we’d adopt a second child, but when I wrote this I wasn’t ready for it, and now, in 2013 I’m still not.
I think the timing is amazing, now or never. The economic situation in Haiti is life or death. Survival, not living.
We spent a quiet day. Power cuts come and go. The heat is stifling. The jet lag is kicking in.
Our boy sleeps. We saw his character yesterday, a ‘cheeky chops’.
I feel the hand of God around us.Or something. I’m not the most religious person, but this is God’s presence.Protecting us.
Our boy has woken up, and needs me. He doesn’t cry, he observes a lot. He likes songs and games. He isn’t so responsive yet.
I think the visit to the crèche was a shock for everyone. I wasn’t prepared for that level of poverty.Misery has a name, and its called Haiti.
He saw all the children in the creche and played with them.
At lunch today he tried communicating with another boy, successfully.
He’s a bit of a glue-pot, hanging on to us.
This morning he wouldn’t or couldn’t communicate, and when my wife tried to play he cried and it took until lunchtime and a full nappy to cheer up.
After, he slept.The view from the room is mountains or shanty towns.
TV is American, cotton wool for the mind. Chewing gum for the brain.
More power cuts.
When the Air conditioning goes off, its unbelievably hot.Then it comes back on, and the ceiling fan blows all the hot air that has risen up back down on you, so it’s worse.
The evening sees big storms.
We had a bad hour today, when my wife and I kissed, our boy wouldn’t accept this and it took an hour to calm him, I had to leave the room and let my wife cuddle him and that worked. He’s got to get used to us, and us to him.
You idolize the adoption moment so much, but it’s not ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or ‘The Walton’s’ from TV.
It’s a rather slow process, getting to know each other, and we’ll just have to do our best. I’m worried because I’ll have to immediately go to Rennes for 3 days after the trip for a training.We’ll have the August holiday together though, then it’s his birthday.
I was ill in the night, grogged out and I’m OK really.
I drink plenty of water from a bottle. It’s the heat, mosquitoes, and tiredness combined.
Today we’ll break it down into doable chunks, it’s the way to survive.
Here I thought about tips for other travelers to Haiti. So here goes….
1) You’ll have to share your wealth, so come with dollars in cash and tip everyone. One or two dollar tips are fine. Oh and yes you are rich. Remember 2 dollars a day is the Haitian average wage.
2) Bring medicine for holiday tummy. We’ve been meticulous hygiene-wise, alcohol based soaps and washing hands, but still got ill.
Only drink bottle water. We paid 4 dollars a bottle, and you’d pay more in a western hotel.
3) Don’t expect western standards of service . Service is polite, but slow at best, surly and slow at worse.Tip the one’s who deserve it.Money is like honey, it attracts the flies.
4)If you leave the hotel tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back, as Haiti is dangerous.
5) Infrastructure is poor or non-existent. Roads are shockingly poor.Don’t compare Haiti to The Dominican Republic which has a well-developed tourist industry.
6) Chose a good hotel. A French Logis hotel would beat the hotel standard we used, and it wasn’t a poor hotel.
7) Many people view international adoption as best as “wrong” and as worst “sinful”
Remember if it wasn’t you adopting the child,what would happen to the child. We saw a child aged 9 in the crèche. What hope for her?
She’ll have no education and watch the children come and go, never leaving . (In fact she was later adopted)Let them judge you, they don’t know your path.It’s not about them.
8)Try not to feel isolated or afraid. Many people were genuinely supportive.Over 800 children were adopted from Haiti to France in 2009 and they all came back to France alive.
Try to relax. You bring valuable money into the local economy.If you stay 5 days, you’ll pay 200 dollars per day for food and accommodation (2009 prices)with 3 meals a day and drinks included. For a week in the Caribbean,all-inclusive, its cheap.
9)Tidiness. Be tidy, keep it all tidy.Don’t leave food lying around or valuables on display.
Ants find food quickly.The valuables you’d do in any hotel; I’m not saying Haitians are master criminals(far from that) but it’s just common sense.
10) Despite its many problems, Haiti has enormous potential as a holiday destination.
Wednesday was a lazy day.
Tomorrow we’ll go to the embassy and buy the stuff for Friday’s party.Friday is the party, and Saturday we’ll fly out back to France.
Our boy is happy, sucking his fingers, playing with his toys. We slowly start to make contact with him.
We’ve only just started being parents.
We saw some American aid workers today, and nuns doing charity work.Saw a 3 legged dog. The locals joked that they had eaten his leg. Was it a joke? I wonder, now? I didn’t see many pets!
We let our boy sleep too long and he coughed a lot due to the air conditioning.
TV broke down today.
This morning we had a big breakfast then we went to the embassy.Our Guide came to collect us, in a hire car, as his jeep broke down. We’ll have to pay for it all! And there aren’t many banks .
We ordered his cake from the baker’s, then visit the craft shop, then the supermarket, with its armed guards.
Port Au Prince is a ramshackle, broken-down, rubbish-strewn, burnt-out place, a car crash strewn out, a collection of half-finished houses, rich areas with iron gates and bottle-glass cement walls, barbed wire. Pot-hole filled roads, sided with open air markets. These markets sell everything, from TV antennas to exotic fruits, honey to rum.Bush meats, goats,fruit, wood, drinks, bee swarms, honey all get offered at the window as we pass.
We didn’t see too many beggars, but they exist, with their shriveled eyes and withered hands, or even stumps.Arms missing hands waved pitifully.
There are no really old people here,people die before.
The supermarket was amazing, armed guards told us where to park, and armed guards inside told us to be good.
I don’t think you’d dare shoplift in there!
1 dollar = 40 gourds.
The down town traffic was frightening and bad.
In the street every part of life took place. People urinated, defecated, fornicated.
The street was an open air sewer and rubbish was everywhere.Today was the funeral of a famous Catholic priest in Haiti, lots of people were on the streets to celebrate his life.
A killing took place, right in front of us, we didn’t see anything, but heard the gunshots and saw it on TV later. Our guide bundled us into the car and we sped to the Embassy.
Traffic lights are vertical and optional.People drive on both sides of the road, every journey is a white knuckle ride.
All along the route are political slogans daubed on walls ‘ Be realistic and hopeful’ or ‘Without rules there is anarchy’.
The buses or tap taps are colourful, with slogans like ‘God is my boss’ and ‘God is love’ on them.
The churches were big, bold and ugly.
The slogans say ‘What dos the constitution and the law state’ and so on. Reminding people to be law respecting citizens.All this because on Sunday, its election time in Haiti.
One gets the impression that not much will change.The crafts are excellent, though, people do have a talent here.
Today was like a bad film, too crazy to be true.
We open the iron gates to the French Embassy, wave our ID cards at the guard and enter into the compound.
The French Embassy was impressive.Colonial, and grand, making a big statement. Columned and sculpted.
The morning was very stressful . We waited, got the paperwork signed sealed and delivered. Now we could leave Haitian territory with our adopted child.
The afternoon was cloudy, stormy. Tomorrow is the party, presents. Our last day in Haiti.
We are ready to leave.
Everything in the supermarket was imported and expensive. 6 dollars a small pot of Nutella!
The flight tomorrow has been confirmed. I phoned from the mobile today, but now I have no credit left, after a ten minute call!Today we’ll do the party and give the presents.
Yesterday’s adventure was difficult to digest.We get the cake, with its bright yellow icing and piped white letters.
We go into the gaudy bustling anthill of a town.We’ll come back from this trip with almost no experience of Haiti because it’s too dangerous to take photos or to go sightseeing. Still, we didn’t come for a holiday.
The party goes well, fizzy drink and cakes, biscuits and crisps. Children are sick. We took more films and photos. We gave the presents to the children, but some children hadn’t a present(because the presents we gave were from their parents in France, and some children have no allocated parent)
Many children asked for a present, but we just didn’t have the luggage allowance or the cash to do everyone.
The crèche was dusty.
We gave the women helpers presents. The lady who looked after our boy fed him one last time, and then, we left.
A tearful parting for all.
The party was hot, sticky and smelly. I remember one girl being like a zombie.42°c
Last night we got back to the hotel. Very tired, and emotional. We will go to the airport this morning.
8 am flight. Loads of hassle at the airport.
Porters ‘hijacked’ our stuff, and insisted on a ‘tip’ to get it back.
The people want something to change, but won’t be that change themselves.
They have no future if they need to survive for today.
We check in, try to relax.We wait to board. The paperwork for our son passes through customs.Massive relief.
This is Haiti.
They search for a solution without first considering their own potential.
The country isn’t independent really, and in the hotel were Chinese people, who were doing business here. They can smell the potential!
People don’t want the responsibility, even if all the history and pain of Haiti has coloured the picture now. Haiti needs to look to the future and forget the past. Those complex problems of today won’t go away by bellyaching about the past.
Onto the plane.Walking to the plane we relax.When the plane lifts off, it’s a release. We did it. It took us 5 years to get to this moment, 5 years of waiting, hoping, praying. Our little boy is with us, and my wife looks ten years younger. It’s been hardest for her, I think.
Busy, crowded Air France flight.
The PA burbles into life. The plane lifts off, to Guadeloupe. Then Paris.
With 3 on the plane, its less comfortable.
None of us sleep, we arrive exhausted. I change a nappy as we leave the plane. Another 30 hr day, adrenaline ,excitement.
My wife’s parent meet us, we spend some time, hugging, holding, laughing, crying ,then back home.
I fall asleep in the car.
I go to Rennes for my job. The dynamic doesn’t take with this group, I’m too jet lagged and tired.
The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, 5 months after our visit. The crèche was destroyed, and all the workers scattered to the winds. 300 000 people lost their lives, from a population of ten million.
Then cholera. From UN forces who didn’t treat their sewage properly.
As of August 2012, the outbreak had caused 7,490 deaths and caused 586,625 people to fall ill.
We and our association sent a container of equipment in 2010, 2011, 2012 to Haiti. Dock workers refused to unload it from the ship till they got a bribe, and then the life saving equipment inside the container was given to the crèche.
We donate regularly to the creche.Contact me if you want to participate.