Bleary-eyed from two nights of insufficient sleep, I did a double-take as the man in the olive cargo pants and black shirt wrestled his duffle bag through security at the Ft. Lauderdale airport just before the crack of dawn. But yes, it was indeed Sean Penn, whose J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) had politely, but firmly, declined my request to visit its Petionville Camp, heading for the 6:45 American Airlines flight to Port-au-Prince.
As I boarded, Sean, apparently intently focused on his personal information device, but perhaps only on avoiding eye contact, was seated in the second row bulkhead seat to my left. One row behind him, on the opposite side of the aisle, were two middle aged gentlemen, one sporting one of those tan photographers’ vests that actual photographers rarely seem to wear. Otherwise, business class was bereft of passengers, which struck me as strange given that coach boarding had begun.
Making my way slowly towards my seat, I gave Sean a good look, finding him to largely correspond in the flesh with his onscreen appearance, and, for just the briefest second, my sleep deprived brain thought, “Hey, here’s your chance”. Then I glanced back at the two guys across the aisle, and the one with the vest was giving me the same kind of look I’d just given his probable boss.
Our eyes met, and in a not unfriendly way, and without uttering a syllable, he said: “Don’t even think about it.” But how could anyone not at least think about it, even if well rested and in full control of their faculties? I recognized his message with a slight shrug of my eyebrows and moved along with the rest of the cattle. It does make me wonder, though, if he has to buy out business class to do it, why does Sean even bother to fly commercial?
Brillant and his next door neighbor Jean, met me at the airport in Jean’s Isuzu Trooper, and drove me to the Ideal Villa Hotel, where I will be staying the first four nights of my visit, the Palm Inn being fully occupied. The Ideal Villa is located in a more commercial part of town and feels more like a traditional hotel and less like a compound than the Palm Inn. Initially shown to a dark, internal corner room, I complained and was rewarded with a third floor room on a corner facing the street, with windows on two walls.
Brillant left to run some errands, saying he would return at 3 when we would work out a plan of action. I, meanwhile, once moved to my new room, had a dry ham and cheese sandwich and a Pepsi for lunch, followed by a short nap. After I woke up, I called Crystal Wells, the local Communications Officer for International Medical Corps. It looks like we’ll meet up Monday to visit several of their facilities around Port-au-Prince. With a couple of hours to kill until Brillant returned, I did some research on the tent camps around town.
Once Brillant showed up, we decided that we would begin with three camps we had visited in June, Acra, Champs de Mars and Fort National, to see how they’ve changed. Then, over the course of my visit, we’ll hit the Carrefour Median, the Old Military Camp adjacent to Cite Soleil, Corail Cesselesse, the planned camp about ten miles north of Port-au-Prince and Jean Marie Vincent Park, the largest camp in Port-au-Prince.
I finally got caught up on my sleep last night, although my airy room has one major disadvantage that went unrecognized until after dark. It faces a bar/restaurant that plays music for the whole neighborhood to enjoy until late in the evening. We’ll see if cotton in the ears is sufficient when I’m not totally exhausted.