MY TRIP TO HAITI- DAY ONE
MEETING THE SOLDIERS
BY JENNIFER RAWLINGS
( originally published in CHANGE.ORG)
I went to Haiti a couple weeks ago to entertain the US troops that have been deployed there on a Humanitarian Mission. Normally I go to war zones to entertain the troops, so I didn’t know what to expect in Haiti. I was truly humbled by what I saw on my three-day trip and I hope that I never forget it.
John Fugelsang, a fellow comedian, and I walked down the steps of the Port-Au-Prince airport. The air was heavy with humidity and I immediately started taking off layers of clothing. A local Haitian band was playing Calypso music for donations. In a sea of vibrant fuchsia, orange and red clothing it was easy to spot our military host in their desert fatigues and soft caps.
The soldiers loaded our bags into a stark white van that could only be “military issue” or a catering truck. We drove a short distance to the base that was surrounded by concertina wire. This was a bare bones camp. In fact, of the 300 military shows I have done around the world I have only been to a few places that had so few amenities for the troops. There were huge tents lined up in perfect rows, a handful of port-a-pottys, a showering tent that had alternating hours for men and women, a PX trailer that sold a few toiletries: toothpaste, tampons, razors, gum, sunscreen; a “chow” tent, an operations tent where they did planning and a very small “MASH” style medical tent.
Despite the four months on this barebones base, almost every soldier on the base had a smile on his or her face. Nearly seventy percent of the troops that were deployed to Haiti had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of sweeping the streets for insurgents they were clearing the streets of rubble and debris.
Bambi (this is her real name) showed me to my sleeping quarters: a large sand colored tent with a couple cots lining both sides of the walls. There were a few crude light bulbs on chains that provided some illumination. Sheets and blankets were draped over clothesline to separate the cots into private little sleeping areas. A paper sign secured with a clip welcomed me and identified which cot was mine. I had only been in Haiti for an hour or so and I was already melting in the scorching Caribbean sun.
Bambi showed us around the base and it was already time for dinner: 5PM. Running water is not readily available on the base so when you line up for meals there are Costco sized dispensers of quick-drying hand sanitizer. The area where you get your food is a green wooden shack that has no walls and a simple roof.
On this base, hot food was currently only being served one night a week. The rest of time only Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) were served. Food was being served on brown-sectioned cardboard trays. The meal for the night was sausage with peppers, white rice, and canned corn. I was thrilled to find a Diet Coke in the bottom of a cooler full of sodas. John and I sat at a table with the soldiers and the airmen and had a wonderful time exchanging stories.
After dinner, it was time to get ready for the show. I grabbed a bottle of water and my toothbrush and found a grassy patch to spit in as I brushed my teeth on the side of the tent. I quickly changed tops and threw on some bright colored lipstick. There was no mirror available. The only mirror on the entire base was in the shower tent and at this time it was “males only” shower hours.
Our outdoor stage was a commercial size flatbed truck with a large plank of wood placed across it. A couple of minutes before the show everyone at the camp showed up with folding chairs or sat on the gravel to watch the show. Half way thru my set it started pouring rain. A soldier brought me an umbrella to protect the mic and me.
John Fugelsang is a well-known political comic who has been a guest on “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” more than anyone else. But what separates John from most political comics is his compassion. You can agree or disagree with him all you like and he is still going to kill you with kindness and wisdom and wits. John went on after me and, just as I had predicted, the audience loved him.
After the show, we spent a long time signing autographs and taking pictures. Then, one of the nurses took us into the medical tent where they had just taken out an appendix earlier in the evening. The medical tent was tiny and yet these men and women managed to save lives with what they had available.
After I saw the way the medics had just done surgery I decided that it was no big deal that I was brushing my teeth and washing my face outside. I want to bed exhausted and anxious about the following day. Day 2 we were going on a tour of Port-Au–Prince and to a couple of the “tent cities” where Haitians displaced from the earthquake were living.
(This story will be continued with day 2 tomorrow)