So I sort of had a crazy day yesterday. Basically, we were going on site visits to assess the situation in some of the more rural cholera treatment centres. It was a longer journey than anticipated, as we’d forgotten it was market day, making the mostly traversable roads significantly less so (i.e. there was a lot of moving at a snail’s pace while people flowed around us in a never-ending tide, ignoring the fact we were significantly larger/more imposing than they were). After leaving the paved roads behind, I proceeded to spend most of my day bouncing around in the back of our white SUV with another colleague, my legs strategically straddling the overflow of medications we were carrying, while the driver did his best to avoid the largest potholes.
After hitting a couple of well-known clinics, we headed out towards a site none of us had been to before. The journey there included crossing two rivers (you know, by actually driving through them) and climbing up a mountain into unknown jungle land. It was a really interesting ride, if extremely bumpy. But there were actually quite a few people scattered in little villages throughout the shockingly green mountain forest we were passing through. Many of the buildings were made of thatch or banana leaves, which was a sharp contrast between the dusty brick ones found in town.
After driving like this for quite awhile, the number of people/dwellings we passed dropped off dramatically, and there were no longer motorbike taxis navigating alongside us. We started to get a bit nervous. Before leaving on this venture, others back at the office had told us that this health post wasn’t that far out. We’d been driving for 2 hours. Just as we were discussing whether or not we should head back, we finally saw a sign with a logo on it. It looked like some sort of star thing. As nobody could remember which aid organisation had taken over this particular post after MSF left the region, we reckoned that we might be finally arriving at our destination.
We turned down the long dusty road. Eventually, it opened onto a large cleared space. It was like entering another world. A couple of large and new (not a common thing in this corner of the world), metal buildings gleamed in the sunlight, and there were people dressed in worker suits overseeing the construction of a third. They didn’t look Haitian at all, and there was not a sick person in sight. This was so not what we were expecting. As this was clearly not the health post, I was nominated to ask directions. But just as I stepped out of the vehicle, they spotted us.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity, and an entire fleet of motorbikes was swarming toward us. Some of them had guns mounted on their handlebars. No one had to tell me twice. I flung open the car door, and barely managed to scramble back inside before our driver almost flipped the SUV in his attempt to get turned around quickly enough. They actually chased us like halfway down the mountain. I mean, who does that? It was like living through every bad action film I have ever seen. It was also mostly terrifying, even if they never fired on us, or anything crazy like that. As we got closer to the more populated villages, their number started to drop off. I did notice, though, that none of the villagers seemed remotely surprised by their presence, but there were suddenly far fewer villagers visible than on the drive up.
I remembered then that I had brought my camera with me to photograph the cholera treatment centres, and so I quickly grabbed it out of my bag and managed to get a few shots off before the last motorbike peeled off back up the mountain. Between the bouncing of the vehicle, and movement of the motorbikes, my photos were über blurry and you couldn’t see much, which is why its probably for the best that the internet is not cooperating enough at the moment to actually upload them.
Anyway, needless to say, we booked it back to the UN base as quickly as possible, and nobody got their meds delivered to them. It was not a great day. I may have a few extra rum and cokes with dinner that evening to compensate…
I do have one question though- there was some sort of logo painted on to one of the panelled flat metal bits on the side of the bike (yeah, clearly I know a lot about car parts and such) and with some creative editing, I could just make out the words. So what the hell is Tavani Corps? And what are they doing in some random part of the Haitian jungle?