Sleeping in Haiti is always a challenge. I am a light sleeper by nature, and an early riser even in the States (hence my occasional blog posts at 4 AM). Add to that the excitement of being in Haiti, not to mention the barking dogs, crowing roosters, and strange cries of the “monkey birds”. Falling asleep is difficult under a mosquito net with bug spray on my face.
This was my tenth trip to Haiti.
My first visit in 2008, I travelled with Bishop Don Johnson and a small group, visiting St Vincent’s school only briefly before travelling up the coast to Montrouis. We visited St Paul’s school, and because we were getting VIP treatment (thanks to the Bishop) we stayed overnight at one of the beachside “resorts”. I dont remember having any trouble sleeping, but I do remember waking up with about 25 mosquito bites on my face.
When we started working at St Vincent’s (Nov 2008), we stayed overnight at the school’s guest house. It was part of the school dormitory, on the second and third floors in the same building as some of the classrooms and connected to the girls’ dorm by a second floor balcony that ran all the way around the school courtyard. It was one of the highlights of our trip to be present in the morning for the school’s opening ceremony, watching the kids sing the Haitian national anthem and hoist their flag. When we arrived on our second or maybe third trip, I was quite touched to see that Pere Sadoni had installed screens on all the windows, new mattresses and sheets on the beds and a window A/C unit in the girl’s bedroom! The refrigerator was stocked with Coke and Prestige, a local Haitian beer. I was overcome, I remember, to see the welcome improvements and think of the limited funds available for the school, used to enhance our comfort. I also remember the A/C unit gave out on about the third day!
My most intense memory of NOT sleeping in Haiti was the trip we made in April 2010, just after the earthquake. The kids had been evacuated out of Port au Prince, which was a city filled with death and destruction. They were moved to Montrouis because there is an old seminary campground there, near St Paul’s School. There are a dozen or so concrete buildings with bunk beds, as well as extra bedrooms in the house where the priest, Pere Deravil, and his wife stay. Except that they were sleeping outside in tents, as were the kids. We soon learned why. The concrete buildings have windows, but they dont have much air circulation. We had 6 women in a room with one fan, as I recall. The campground facility pays to run the generator between 6 PM and midnight. That is the only time you have electricity. It was easily 90-100 degrees in the daytime and not much cooler than that at night. Montrouis is right on the ocean, so there is a breeze, but you dont feel that if you are inside a building, especially if your body is coated with bug spray. We brought mosquito nets on that trip, and dutifully hung all of them over our beds when we arrived. However, at 12 midnight plus 10 seconds, after the fan stopped circulating, the mosquito nets were quickly ripped down. Anything that impeded the slightest whiff of air had to be eliminated. By the third day after no sleep, I was getting desperate. I knew I couldn’t keep working in the heat every day AND not sleeping at night. John Mutin came to my rescue, with benadryl! He became our supply man, as every night we would get our daily allotment. I learned that taking 2 benadryl at bedtime conquered most of the heat and even the crowing roosters.
Since the earthquake, which destroyed the school dormitories and the guest house, we have stayed at outside guest houses operated by other NGOs in Haiti. They have 24 hour/day electricity and MULTIPLE fans for our use. All the windows are screened, and louvered, so there is a nice breeze all night. Some of us even complain about feeling cold when the fan is running! (not me, the memory of those nights in Montrouis have imprinted on me forever!) Even so, sleep does not come easily for me. Too much to think about, the children and the clinic and all the questions that come from our experiences. So, I have learned to continue the benadryl at bedtime routine, and this last trip Sherye and Brandy came up with an even better recipe. Drinking a Prestige WITH the benadryl, guaranteed to induce sleep. For a few hours, at least. Until the dogs start barking at 4 AM.