Thursday, December 23, 2010

Italy Day 1: Arrival in Siena

Just to confuse you all, while Petra is currently in Haiti, I (Erika) am in Italy visiting my sister Lisa.

After a 2-day delay thanks to snow storms in Europe, and a rather yucky long flight on an old Delta plane with inedible food and unwatchable movie screens, my mother and I flew into Rome. We made a swift and heroic trip across Rome on public transit, successfully purchased tickets and found the right track twice, and proudly took a bus from the Rome station to Siena.

This of course meant we got to drive through the Tuscan countryside. Notable sites included hilltop and cliff-clinging towns, green green harvested fields, lots of rain, sheep, umbrella trees and tall pointy trees, crumbly stone and brick buildings, geometric vineyards, and very rolling hills.

By mid-afternoon we had arrived safely in the center of Siena, where my twin sister Lisa greeted us. We spent the rest of the afternoon dragging our bags up and down the very steep hills of the city, first to Lisa’s apartment, which was modern and moldy and cold, then to Lisa’s friend’s apartment. We are staying at her friend’s place since he’s away visiting relatives, and because his place is clean and warmer and more spacious, has a view from the back garden directly onto the old city walls, and is conveniently right by the Porto Camomille, one of the main gates of the old city.

Warmer is a relative term, though: I am so unimpressed by Italian building standards, tending as they do towards making houses as miserably cold and damp and unheatable as possible, with incredibly high ceilings and huge plate windows and damp plaster walls and solid marble floors. It is consistently colder inside than out. I suppose that’s nice in the summer, but not now. I am incurably cold.

As we were too wiped by travel to cook, we had dinner at a family-style restaurant Lisa frequents, named Fonte Giusta. We ate some truly amazing food. And then off to blissful, long-awaited sleep.

hello from Haiti

It’s the end of my fifth day in Haiti, and so far everything is going well. I spent the first full day working in the pharmacy end of a mobile clinic in Cinnieas, a tent city of 18,000 in the suburbs of Port-Au-Prince. Beyond a variety of coughs, colds, psycho-social conditions related to stress and trauma, and the ever-present malnutrition, the main ailments are worms, vaginal yeast infections, and UTIs. Given the atrocious sanitation infrastructure, this is hardly surprising. We treated about 200 people and went through what felt like pounds of amoxicillin, mebendazole, and anti-fungal creams. It’s wonderful to make such a direct and immediate positive impact on people. At the same time, it’s infuriating that so many people are suffering unecessarily from conditions that are so easy not only to treat, but to prevent.

The second day, I spent a lot of time in a four-wheel drive truck bouncing from one end of the city to the other attending meetings and collecting a donation of medicines from Americares at their airport warehouse. The remaining days have been variations on the first two. The traffic combined with the poor roads exponentially increases the amount of time it takes to run simple errands, as do breakdowns in infrastructure (Gas, for example, are in short supply: it took visiting 12 or 13 gas stations over two days to find a place to fill the truck!). Consequently, we get up at 5:30-6:00 AM every day in order to allow enough time for mishaps and delays. I am keeping my journal consistently, but each day is a bit incomplete because I've fallen asleep with pencil in hand every night so far!

Haiti is a beautiful country. I love the weather, and the stars at night are absolutely clear and lovely. The food is excellent: lots of rice and beans and thick stews of meat and vegetables. The people have been nothing but lovely, warm, and generous. I'm having an intense experience, but so far it's good. Tomorrow we will throw a Christmas party for the orphans in nearby Camp Toto, with food, singing, games, and a few gifts: namely, blankets for the cool nights. From the tent city next door, I can hear strands of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing," in Creole.

My internet connection is to slow to upload photos, but I will start posting as soon as I return. In the meantime, my Facebook profile has a link to a friend’s album. He has just returned from working here in Haiti with ESF, and we overlapped for a few days. More photos coming soon.