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Naylor: Touching down in Haiti for CFLPA's Huddle for Haiti

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Dave Naylor
1/9/2011 12:32:26 AM
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As I pushed my huge luggage bag toward the airport weigh scale in Toronto, the woman from Air Canada looked pessimistic.

"It's okay," I said. "It's light. It's full of teddy bears and syringes."

Not typical luggage for a trip to Miami for sure. But this was no ordinary trip.

The teddy bears were provided by my nine-year-old daughter, the syringes by a local pharmacy.

They were all destined for the island nation of Haiti, which was already the poorest country in the Americas before last January's earthquake.

Huddle for Haiti is a CFLPA led humanitarian mission to the country this week to mark the first anniversary of that tragedy that killed 200,000 people on  Jan. 12, 2010, and injured countless others.

Seven CFL players have reached into their own pockets to be here, flights covered by WestJet, but otherwise here on their own tabs.

TSN is along to document their experiences for the week in this country where so much remains to be done.

The players are stepping beyond their comfort zones, all of them new to this experience but for Winnipeg running back Yvenson Bernard, a Haitian-American whose aunt is serving as our host.

Bernard grew up in Florida but spent his vacation time in Haiti where he has much extended family.

He was here last winter after the earthquake and was keen to help his fellow CFL players enjoy an eye-opening experience.

"I didn't have a passport until 2008," said Edmonton offensive lineman Kelly Bates. "And that was to go to CFLPA meetings in Vegas."

Bates, Winnipeg long snapper Chris Cvetkovic, Hamilton offensive lineman Jason Jimenez, Edmonton offensive lineman Aaron Fiaccioni, B.C. fullback Rolly Lumbala and Edmonton fullback Graeme Bell are all here.

They gathered in Miami Saturday morning and boarded an American Airlines flight for Port-au-Prince that touched down into what can only be described as a chaotic scene outside the airport.

As we pushed our bags out into the midday heat, the senses were overwhelmed by the heat, the smells and the noise of would-be helpers screaming in Creole.

The scene was frantic, unwanted offers of help coming from all directions in hope of fetching a few dollars.

We finally located our rides, piled our bags on top of three vans and jumped inside. A man kept reaching inside, trying to prevent me from closing the door of the van, telling me to get out.

I finally managed to slam it shut and we all sighed with relief. Then we began the short journey to Bernard's aunt's.

The roads were still in ruins, there seemed no order on the streets. A boy grabbed onto our van and started running with the van, begging Lumbala for his bandana.

A man sitting on a porch of a home we passed by had what looked like an assault weapon on his lap.

Everywhere, there were signs of the devastation that had occurred 12 months earlier.

Within about 15 minutes we arrived at the home of Bernard's aunt.

It is a compound behind gates, a big structure with marble floors and nothing in it. That's because the entire place was looted in the aftermath of last January's earthquake.

We pitched tents inside, which we had brought with us for sleeping.

We ate the dinner Bernard's grandmother had prepared, then watched as darkness struck suddenly when the power cut out sharply around 6 p.m.

A lantern was lit and we de-compressed amid the peace inside the walls of the compound.

In the distance was music, the sound of motorcycles and the cry of an odd roster, the bark of a dog.

The struggles of Haitian people lay beyond the gates. But for us that would wait until Sunday.

Haiti (Photo: Dave Naylor)

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(Photo: Dave Naylor)
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