Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rain Rain, Go Away

Save it for another day.

In case anyone isn’t sure what season we are in in Haiti, its rainy season.  Apparently the month of May is notoriously rainy.  And so far that has proven true, mostly coming in the middle of night.  It is really the perfect way to have a rainy season.  Raining at night when everyone is asleep, replenishing the earth with enough water to keep things growing, and then clearing up to become sunny and mild during the hours when people are expected to be productive.  It was really the best of both worlds;

Until Sunday afternoon when a monsoon like storm swept across the Southern part of Haiti right over Cite Lumiere (where the Mission Center is), Cayes, Simon (See-moan) and the surrounding areas in the vicinity of Cite Lumiere.    I was out to lunch with my roommates and the missionary family I had attended church with.  We were at this lovely hotel and restaurant called Auberg.  The setting was tropical; little bungalows for sleeping, a pool for swimming, a big fish pond, lots of tropical flowers and trees providing a canopy over head and even some tropical animals in cages; a monkey and a pair of turtle doves, and a pair of peacocks running around free. (Click the picture to see more photos)


We were sitting inside a cabana set up with lots of tables with 102_6269beautiful hand-painted linens and chairs, enjoying a lunch of fish, chicken, omelets, fresh bread with butter and homemade orange jelly, french fries, and rice and beans.  Not long after we commenced with eating a storm blew in; and it blew hard.  With less than a moments notice rain was coming into the cabana , the wind throwing it sideways and directly at us.  We were sitting along the perimeter of the structure so we experienced the full force of the storm.  It came hard and fast and we quickly downed the rest of lunch before having to seek shelter further into the cabana.  It poured for thirty minutes as we huddled together trying to stay warm and at least partially dry, waiting for our check to be brought.  We had to wade through massive puddles to get back to the car and the canals that ran along the road beside the hotel had gone from blue and gentle to brown and rushing, as the river water from up in the mountains cascaded down.  The road in was rough to begin with, full of holes, rocks, and ruts.  As we headed back, the roads were even more full of obstacles and many of the trees and vegetation that had lined the road previously had already broken underneath the weight of the rain.  Banana trees and corn stalks lay crushed on the ground.  And it had only been raining an hour. 

We were soaked from getting to the car, but made it home safely and the rain continued on through the rest of the day, through the night and on into the next day.  It stopped briefly for about four hours on Monday and then about 6pm it returned with a vengeance.  All night long the lightning crashed and thunder boomed, and the rain slammed against the earth and anything else in its way.  There is nothing like experiencing a rain storm in an open air house with a tin roof.  Even Beth who has lived here for years said she was frightened that night.  At 1:30am I was awakened by the storm and spent the rest of the morning tossing and turning, unable to sleep because it was so loud.  I am afraid words can only inadequately describe how it actually felt and sounded during the storm.  About 4:30am I heard loud voices down in the valley below shouting back and forth in Creole and I knew that something must be wrong.  We are at the top of the hill so most of the water makes it way down, and the water that goes down, ends up down below.  I found out later that many of the houses in the valley had flooded, and some of them even filled with water.  Susanne said this storm was worse than any she remembered during the hurricanes last year. 

Susanne had three leaks in her room; one of them along most of the length of the ceiling , which leaked into her room all night long.  And I have a leak in my closet. I noticed the ceiling looked a little swollen the other night but it didn’t seem wet so I thought maybe it was from a previous leak that had been repaired but then the other night I noticed liquid coming through the ceiling and I asked Susanne about it.  She confirmed it was a leak and poked a hole to let it drain and we put a bucket beneath it to catch the water.  It probably caught about a gallon of water through out the night. 

We had a respite from the rain yesterday, allowing some of the dampness to dry out but this morning around 8:30am it began again and it has been raining ever since.  I am told we can probably expect another two to three weeks of this.  I love a rainy afternoon with a good book by my heart hurts for the people who will loose much during the rainy time of year.  They need our prayers; prayers of mercy, prayers of provision, and prayers of hope.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Going to the Chapel

Going to church in Haiti is its own unique experience and for a “newbie” as myself, its not without challenges.  Of course,when I’m out with teams, I am in church, and the entire service is centered around an American team being present so the parts presented by the American team are spoken English and then translated into Creole and the parts presented by the Haitian church are spoken in Creole and translated into English.  Haitian services are generally very long on their own, so double that and add the portion presented by the American team and you have a very long service.  The first Sunday I was in Haiti everything was so new, I didn’t even attempt to attend a Haitian service and last week I was with the team in Picot.  But this week, my roommates and one of the missionary families here on the Center were going to visit a church in Cance (Cahns) together and then drive about 45 minutes away to a restaurant in Camp-Perrin (Caump Per-ehn) and they invited me along. 

The biggest challenge for me in regards to attending church is the language barrier.  I came in with a small  amount of Creole under my belt and will begin language lessons in the next few days but what I know is in no way sufficient to actually understand an entire service spoken only in the native tongue.  Although I am getting settled in and slowly acclimating to the my new surroundings, and I am feeling somewhat at home here on the Mission Center, things are still new, and it will take time to really feel at ease and at home in Haiti.  Because of that I was a little concerned about going to a service.  Spiritually it could do very little for me since I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on or what was being said.  Relationally it could do nothing for me (from a Haitian culture standpoint) because I couldn’t communicate with anyone I met beyond telling them my name and that I was happy to meet them.  And emotionally it could be very draining for the above reasons and an overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity in everything in my life right now. 

The service officially started at 9am.  The service actually started around 9:30 or so. They have Sunday school before the service and when we arrived shortly after 9am, it hadn’t let out.  We were hoping to make a quiet entrance and slip in somewhere near the back.  When we walked in though the sanctuary was fairly empty.  Its hard to make a quiet entrance anyway in Haiti when you come in with a large group of Americans.  We do tend to stand out.  Including the four young children, there were nine of us.  We stood out. Shortly after arriving, Susanne  went outside for something and somehow the rest of us got ushered to the front.  The front row to be exact; quiet entrance indeed.  Beth and Susanne both know the Pastor of the church and so at the beginning of the service he asked us up on stage, where we were not only introduced but also asked to give a greeting to the church.  Any cover we had left was blown.

The church itself was huge; at least twice the size of any other Haitian church I have ever seen.  They have been involved in a very slow process of doing an addition on the church and the front was still covered in scaffolding.  From what I understand, the process has taken a number of years but its expensive to build and so that slow process is fairly typical of a lot of building projects in Haiti.  The inside of the church was quite ornate and had high vaulted ceilings.  High on the front wall, above the pulpit was a stained glass cross surrounded on both sides with bibles carved from stone.  The church also had a balcony running along both sides of the building.  They were not finished (or at least used) but were available as the church continues to grow.  The walls were not painted but had been left their original cement gray and there were large windows along one side of the church and doors at the back and two right up front which help with air flow.  White tiles had been laid about three feet wide, forming and aisle down the center.  

The service was nice; just long.  The music was sung in both French and Creole; but not together.  The songs were done in one or the other.  A couple of the hymns we sung were in French and I was actually able to understand some of what I was singing. There were two “special numbers”; one by the women’s group and one by the men’s group, who called themselves Caleb (Cah-lib) It was the Pastor’s son’s tenth birthday and so he had also asked if he could sing a song.  Sometimes things like that can be a little awkward, especially if the person isn’t gifted in the way of the song.  But he did well.  They had a visiting speaker who preached.  Beth tried to translate bits for me, but the full meaning of the message was lost on me.   From what the others said, the message was good.  At one point, probably around 11:30, Drew, one of the kids with us, looked up at me from his drawing pad and said “Haitian churches are good.  They’re just long”.  I think there service ended about 11:45am.  Churches usually aren’t air conditioned and if you fill a concrete building with a lot of people, when its hot outside, it gets hot inside; really quick.  But there was a nice cross breeze all morning, and because the church was so large and the day was fairly overcast, it never really even got above just a little warm.

Overall, it was a good experience but I really am looking forward to the day when I am able to understand the language and the culture better because I really want to get involved in the local church.  And that will be a lot easier when we can communicate.

Something tells me though, even then, I’ll still stand out.  at least a little.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How DOES Your Garden Grow?

I just returned from traveling out to the village of Picot with my first team.  And it was amazing.  The natural assumption is that this post would be about that.  But I am still in the process of, er, processing everything so I’ll leave you with this one instead.  A post about the trip is forthcoming.

I am not much of a gardener.  I’ve tried and failed on numerous occasions.  I just don’t have the proverbial green thumb.  I once got a notice from my homeowners’ association asking me to remove the weeds from planters beside my front door.  True Story.  And once, I almost had tomatoes until a greedy caterpillar ravaged my harvest and in less than a day, the tomatoes were gone.  I think this is why I am so excited about the fact that there is a garden growing in my yard!  Of course I can take no credit for its success but I like the idea of having a garden, nonetheless.  Perhaps, when I become more settled in a routine, I will have Susanne teach me about gardening. 

Here is what I have learned. 

The soil here in Cayes is very temperamental and only certain things can grow.  102_5385-1Sometimes even though the soil can sustain it, the sun is too direct and will damage anything that could have otherwise survived.  Here in our garden we have tomatoes, lettuce, and pumpkins.  There are other things that could grow but Susanne said that these are the things that won’t get eaten by goats; so that's what she plants.   And just other day there were some chickens that got into the garden and ate a bunch of tomatoes.  So now, the tomatoes have to be harvested early and allowed to ripen inside.  I think there are three basketfuls of tomatoes in the kitchen right now. 

I also learned that celery stalks will not grow in Haiti.  The leaves grow, but the stalks do not.  Something, again, about the soil.  Even without the stalks, the Haitians still grow the celery and use the leaves for seasoning and cooking. 

There are also lots of fruit trees in the yard; this means that we will have fresh coconut, fresh 102_5390citron (basically limes), fresh avocado, fresh passion fruit, fresh papayas, and another kind of fruit native to Haiti (that I am unfamiliar with) as they are in season.  Right now we have coconuts and citron.  Haitians use the citron to make a fruit drink. Its a simple recipe with just citron juice, water, sugar and vanilla.  I tried to make it once while living back in the states, but somehow it turned out horribly wrong. I think I added too much vanilla.  I decided I would leave the juice making to those who do it best.  And man is the juice here delicious!  In the last week I have had passion fruit juice, watermelon lime juice, mango juice, cherry juice, and of course, citron.  And needless to say, all of them were absolutely delicious. 

Maybe that’s something else I can learn how to make while I am here.  I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rainbow Beach

I ‘m not sure I’ve ever been to the beach and come 102_5355 back without a sunburn, even if just a minor one.  But today, somehow, it happened.  It might have been the sunscreen I used; mostly the fact that I used it at all*.  I decided, in a place with very little A/C and a lot of hot, being sunburned was the last thing I wanted.

But I digress.

To celebrate my one week anniversary in Haiti on Wednesday, we (The Moses’, The McLaughlins, Rob, Dave (Marilyn’s brother), and  two of McKenna Moses’ friends, and myself) traveled about 45 minutes from Cayes to Rainbow Beach .  If you’ve ever been to Haiti with RMI, you’ve probably been to Zanglais.  If you’ve ever been to Zanglais you’ve seen Rainbow Beach. I was kidding about the week anniversary thing.  

The Southern coast of Haiti  is covered by some of the most 102_5334beautiful beaches I have ever seen.  Small Islands and Inlets are scattered with palm trees, coconuts, tropical flowers, and lush green plants.  White sand is met by clear blue ocean that stretches to the horizon and is met by mountains that rise to touch the bright blue sky.  From Rainbow Beach you might think everything in Haiti is either green or blue.  

The road we took to get to the beach is narrow and winds through the mountains.  As with most any route you travel in Haiti, it is painted with a diverse landscape of sloping hills, small villages, markets, fields and farms.  The thick green valley sits just below rolling hills which are brown and sparsely covered in a few trees, homes, and farmland.  The hillsides and mountainsides have been severely deforested over the years, which is one of the causes of rock and landslides during hurricanes and rainy seasons.  Efforts are being made though to replant trees, re-grow forests and reclaim land.  Progress is slow but forward moving and that brings hope.  Hopefully one day soon, this will be something of the past. In heavily populated areas, the road is busy as brightly and elaborately decorated tap-taps (a Haitian grown version of public transportation, somewhere between a taxi and a city bus), transport people back and forth.  There are hectic roadside markets which congest the highway as those on foot share the road with trucks, tap-taps, motorbikes, and the occasional donkey.  I don’t understand how it works and why more people don’t get hurt, but overall life has an ebb and flow here that somehow seems to work.  If you get stuck driving behind a tap tap loaded down with people beep the horn, pass, and move back out onto open road.  As quickly as you come upon these busy market places, you leave them behind and the surroundings return to a slower pace.

Not all beaches in Haiti are guarded but Rainbow Beach is.  A small entrance fee is required to access the beach.  It is well maintained and very quiet.  The shore is deep and protected by a canopy of trees and you can park your vehicle right up against the ocean.  Small tables are scattered about, perfect for setting up a picnic lunch.  Between the Moses’ and the McLaughlin's’ we had an amazing spread of food; fried chicken, ham and cheese sandwiches (on homemade bread!), potato salad, baked beans, fresh cut watermelon, pineapple and a Haitian staple, mangos.  I have never had a mango as delicious as the ones here in Haiti; sweet, juicy, and practically perfect!

It was an absolutely beautiful day; the kind of day that seems handmade especially for the beach.  The weather was perfect; warm but not unbearably hot and there wasn’t a grey cloud in the sky.  Between the eleven of us we managed to devour lunch, frolic, swim, stroll down the peninsula, snorkel, explore, what I like to call, the Lesser Known Barrier Reef and discover a never before seen species of sea creature (pic to follow).  Billy, Rob and Savannah donned snorkeling gear and spent some time exploring the coral reef just a few yards from where we had planted ourselves and Debbie, Savannah, and I also explored the reef from above, checking out sea urchins, coral, sponges and crabs.  I also spent a little time working on my tan (all the while wearing sunscreen, of course!*)

While exploring the shallow waters of the Lesser Known Barrier Reef, we came across this exquisite specimen; a new discovery, if you will, floating in the ocean at Rainbow Beach.  We are now taking suggestions for naming our find.  Feel free to submit your own ideas.  All are welcome.  (I’ll give $1 to the first person other than anyone mentioned in this post who can tell me what this really is.)

102_5329 In the end, I think everyone had a really good time today. And most everyone else wore sunscreen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What You Might See If You Were Me

Side view of the house 

Picnic table in the backyard. 

View from the bathroom window; side window 

View from the bathroom window- front window 

Bubba the Dog, lounging in the yard. 

Lemon-limes from the tree in the yard. 

Flowers in the yard.

The coconut tree in the yard.
Roosters, just passing through.
View from the picnic table.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #9


I have to chuckle to myself now, every time I say his name.

Could it be that he was my angel? Was it the man at the other airport who had handed me his phone and ushered me through to Nadir? Was it Nadir? Was it the American missionary in the sports coat? Was it any of them? All of them? None of them?

Angels or not, I can’t help but be grateful for each of them in their own way.

Was it the American Missionary? He did little more than make room for me to sit down. However, in that moment, it was what I needed most.

Was it the man with the phone? I probably could have made it through to the other side on my own but not having to face it alone was priceless to me. And in that moment, it was what I needed most.

Was it Nadir? He wasn’t a surprise. He was only doing his job. But his help to see it through to the end and not to leave me on my own to figure out how to locate my ticket was again, in that moment, what I needed most.

And Gilliam? I would have never assumed him to be anything but a nuisance. I didn’t want to speak Creole. I was too tired remember any. I just wanted to be left alone. And yet, he relentlessly pursued me and in the end, showed me the way. And in that moment, it was exactly what I needed most.

In each moment I had exactly what I needed most. Huh. I think that lesson might come in handy in the future. Perhaps the near future. I'll have to make a point to write it down and remember it.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #8

While the airport at Port au Prince is unique, the airport in Cayes is quant, almost charming.

It’s my favorite airport of the three I have visited in Haiti. It too is very small but not nearly as busy as the Port au Prince airport. It’s a small cinderblock building painted pistachio green. Inside the floors are beautifully tiled and there is ironwork in place of glass in the windows. Opposite the window wall are the bathrooms and an office as well as the ticket counter and baggage claim. There is only a partial wall surrounding the office and I have never seen anyone sitting in the office, but there is a desk and chair there and it looks official. So someone must sit there, sometimes. The ticket counter is small and the baggage claim consists of something like a half door where someone stands and a half of a half wall that separates that person from the other side where the bags are placed. There are two doors at the back of the building that are always open. One is for arriving flights, the other for departing flights. Sometimes the metal detector is at the back door and you pass through it only just before you enter the plane. At other times it is at the front door. When a plane is ready to take off the plane taxis maybe 10 feet, turns left and taxis down to the end of the runway. It turns around and is then takes off down the very same runway until it lifts into the air. A very similar process occurs when a plane is landing. There is something comforting to me about that place.

Perhaps because it is the place of familiarity; the expectation of familiar faces waiting to greet me. Billy and Debbie and Savannah and McKenna were, as expected, waiting for me when I arrived.

I’m not sure why but I have a special place in my heart for the Cayes Airport. This time, it was the most familiar thing I had known all day. It felt good to be home.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #7

The last thing I was a concerned about was knowing which flight to take to Cayes.

I certainly didn’t want to miss it; especially after all that. I knew it was supposed to leave at 4pm. I wasn’t sure however, if that was Haitian time or real time. There is a difference. I couldn’t understand much of what was being said during the boarding calls but could occasionally make out the name of a town or village that I was familiar with. I hoped that I would be able to recognize the call for Cayes but prayed that God would help me to know when to board. Tickets for Tortoug’Air are not printed for individual passengers but are slips of colored paper with the Tortoug Logo printed on them and the City of Destination Printed across the ticket. Different destinations have different colors. They are laminated. As passengers board they are collected and used again for the next flight to that same destination. I kept looking at other passengers boarding tickets hoping to see one that matched mine. Then I would know to board when I saw them board. The airport was bustling and all afternoon people came and went and no one seemed to be traveling to Cayes. I kept holding out hope that I wasn’t the only one going to Cayes.

One thing to note about Haiti is that Haitian men, mostly young ones, love to try and talk to American girls. Sometimes the motives aren’t always pure and at other times they just want the opportunity to practice their English. I usually enjoy interacting with the Haitians in the airport and appreciate the opportunity to practice my Creole. But this day I was just exhausted and didn’t have it in me to even try. I did my best to keep a low profile and not make any eye contact but sometimes it’s unavoidable; especially when someone turns around in their seat, stares at you for several minutes, and starts asking you questions, before you ever make eye contact. I know this from experience. I politely made what little small talk I could, which mostly consisted of me confirming that was indeed an American. (in case it wasn’t obvious) and that I didn’t speak much Creole. And that I was headed to Cayes. I also found out his name was Gilliam. Our conversation was interrupted a number of times when Nadir needed me for something and I would gratefully go and assist. I would come back, and for a little while Gilliam would have disappeared only to reappear after not too long. I had exhausted all of the Creole I had with him and the last time he came and sat by me, after he confirmed one last time that I was an American women, we sat in silence. I knew that my flight should be boarding soon but was still not confident in my ability to make the flight. I had seen one woman with a pink ticket and thought she would be the best bet I had but I still couldn’t be sure. After several minutes of silence, a call came over the intercom. I thought I heard them say Cayes but was still not sure. It’s all said so fast that I still have trouble separating one word from the next. Just as I was wondering if that was indeed my flight, Gilliam made one last effort to communicate. He tapped me on the shoulder, motioned with his head and hand towards the door and said, “Aux Cayes”. I nodded, thanked him, “Mesi Anpil” and headed off to board my flight, ironically, grateful for his company.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #6

There would be a five hour layover at the next airport.

The local Haitian airport in Port au Prince is a small airport by any standard. As you walk in, you toss your belongings onto a small security belt and step through the metal detector. As you pass through the metal detector about 15 feet in front of you is the ticket counter. Just beyond the ticket counter is a glass wall and just beyond the glass wall is where the planes land and take off. The planes are small and can hold about 20 passengers and their luggage. There is a 70lb luggage limit and on the plane, the luggage is stashed in any unused seats and at the rear of the plane. The first row (all three seats) is about 3 feet from the cockpit. And the last row is about 15 feet from the first. The plane is in fact so small that during my flight in, it had started raining. I fell asleep shortly into the flight and was awakened to an unfamiliar, and yet somehow recognizable sound. The pilot had turned on his windshield wipers and they were scraping across the window. Not something you hear very often on a passenger plane.

The airport is comparably sized. To the right of the security belt and metal detector is the waiting area. There are probably about 50 seats available and most of them are taken, always. The ticket counters stand about 15 feet directly in front of the waiting area. Along the left wall of the airport is another ticket counter and the restrooms. The bathrooms are nothing fancy, but there if you need them. Along the far right wall are a couple offices. You are free to come and go from the airport as you please. There is no food court; just a stand-up cooler with some bottled water and occasionally bottles of juice. If you want to buy rum or wine, just see the girl at the back of the waiting area. You can get that from her. You can also pay her for your bottled water. If you want to eat, and have a long enough lay-over, just across the street at the Tigermart gas station they have a buffet line. The food is pretty good there. It’s worth the trip if you have the time. There is no A/C at the airport. The area is cooled by an old, by powerful, metal, oscillating fan. Sometimes when the electricity goes out, passengers are boarded by someone behind the counter yelling loud enough to be heard over the crowd. If the electricity goes off, so does the fan. It’s only then that it actually gets really warm in there. Except on really hot days. Then it’s warm regardless. It’s never quiet. People come and go. Planes land and take off. And the activity never stops. It seems as though everybody who’s there knows somebody else who’s there, but not because they came together.

I had made it through Jacksonville, Miami, and the International Airport in Port au Prince. I had passed security and customs. I had not gotten lost. I had not been deported and I had all my luggage. I was golden.

A ticket for my plane ride had been purchased at the airport in Cayes and arrangements had been made to courier the ticket from Cayes to Port au Prince. All I needed to do was show an ID and pick up my ticket at the Courier counter and wait until 4pm to board the small plane that would carry me away into the sunset.

Nadir took my passport and presented it to the counter. No ticket was waiting for me. Two hours later, after many calls between Billy Moses, Nadir, and the Office in Cayes, they were able to locate my confirmation number and issue me a new ticket. Hallelujah! I was goin’ home… in three hours.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #5

It was 10:55am; I had arrived in Port au Prince.

There’s something exciting about stepping through the door from the plane onto the step platform. I breathed deep and took that first step down. I descended the stairs and stepped onto Haitian ground. I walked a couple hundred yards to the entrance and just inside the arriving gate, a band, dressed in DigiCell t-shirts (one of the Haitian cell phone carriers), played lively Haitian music. This is always one of my favorite encounters when arriving in Haiti. You can’t help but feel welcomed and happy.

I stood in line to present my VISA and Declarations Forms. I had filled out my forms as instructed and handed them over the woman behind the counter. I had never done this alone before and hoped I had gotten all the information correctly and in the right fields. I wasn’t looking forward to being pulled into a small office for questions or even worse, being deported. I mean, after all I’d just arrived. The woman processing the paperwork didn’t even look up, but simply stamped my papers and handed them back to me. I was cleared to proceed.

After retrieving my luggage, I was to meet Nadir, a Haitian who runs a taxi service from the International Airport to the smaller, local Haitian Airport. I was very nervous about this part. I didn’t know that I would recognize Nadir. It had been a couple years since I had seen him and I was worried that the chaos that happens between baggage claim and the exit door to the airport might claim its first victim; me. I paid two American Dollars to rent a cart and stood waiting for my luggage. I watched the carousel go around and around but there was no sight of my bags. Outside the windows I could see more and more luggage being unloaded. With each new round of bags, I became hopeful and then disappointed. Porters were scurrying around pulling unclaimed bags off and stacking them in the center of the baggage claim area and helping other travelers pull bags and put them on their $2 luggage carts. One of the porters approached me and looked at my tags. I knew I would have to give him some money for helping but I didn’t care. I was grateful for an advocate. He watched bags and inspected tags. Over and over again he would lift the bag enough to check the tag and place it back on the carousel. I waited for at least 30 minutes for my bags and just as I was beginning to lose hope, on the horizon was a familiar sight; my bags. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Now to find Nadir.

Just as my last bag was being hoisted onto my cart someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and immediately knew it wasn’t Nadir but I didn’t know who it was. “Are you Amy?” “Yes, I am.” “You have a phone call. Its Nadir”, he said as he handed me his phone. Although Nadir speaks excellent English, it is spoken with a thick accent and in the midst of a noisy airport I could hardly make out what he was saying. I thought I understood the word “outside”. I assumed I was to head outside and he would meet me there. I think he felt unsure that I understood his message so he called the man who loaned me the phone who came back to where I was and simply said, “Follow me”. The line to get from baggage claim outside was congested. It was every man for himself. Dozens of people with overloaded luggage carts were coming from all directions, diverging into an area that split into two single lanes. No one cares who you’re following or why. But somehow he pushed his way through and kept me close behind. As I came to the exit, another man who did look familiar spoke my name.

It was Nadir. He had found me.

I wish I could say that the nice man who loaned me his phone disappeared into the distance and all that was left was a white feather in my cart. I would be lying. He boarded the bus, along with one other woman and we all headed to the small airport. Maybe he wasn’t an angel, but he will most certainly be remembered, at least by me, as a saint.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #4

I was hungry.

Although I knew that I probably wouldn’t have the chance to eat again until evening once I had arrived at my final destination in Cayes but it was only 8:45am. I had had breakfast about 5am in Jacksonville before leaving the airport. I contemplated getting some food. There was a stand not far from where I was seated. I was afraid though that if I left to get food, I would lose my seat. I was hungry, but the security of having a space to claim as my own, albeit temporarily, somehow outweighed the need for food. So I opted for a snack from my own bag.

As I munched some fruit snacks, I joined my neighbor in watching people. On the other side of the terminal stood a man that looked like what I assume Jesus might look like if he were in human form today. He was wearing cargo pants and a leather bomber jacket. His carry-on luggage consisted of a large backpack and his long brown hair was pulled back in a braid. And he had a beard. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he began walking in my direction. He paused in front of me. His eyes scanned the crowd behind me and I am sure his glance must have rested momentarily on me as well. He stood there for a few seconds; long enough for me to wonder if he might be my angel. After all, he did look like what I thought could be Jesus. It could happen. He only paused for a few brief seconds though, and returned to the obscurity of the corner where he had come from and within minutes his traveling companion had joined him. I was still in the market for a miracle.

The terminal was busy. The air around was filled with the chatter of mostly Haitian men and women. Speaking to one another in Creole, laughing and joking, they seemed happy, perhaps excited about returning home to their loved ones. They were returning to their familiar. I was leaving mine.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #3

The Jacksonville airport made a little nervous just because it was an airport.

But I wasn’t too afraid.

It was the second stop that I was more worried about; Miami International Airport. Sights and sounds overload my senses as people are coming and going so fast it’s hard to tell which way they are headed, let alone which way I am supposed to go.

I found my way the gate C5. We had entered at D35. It was a long walk. I scanned the waiting area immediately in front of the gate for a seat. It was going to be a packed flight, I could see. Nope, nothing on that side. I scanned the area just across from the gate. I saw two empty seats and asked if one was available. The man sitting in the first of the three moved his belongings from the middle seat and motioned me to sit down. He was an American. He was an older gentleman dressed in a sports coat, dress pants, and a shirt and tie. On his head he wore some kind of hat. I couldn’t tell if it was a Vietnam Vets hat or not but it could have been. His activity varied between reading a John Grisham novel and watching people. Something told me he was a missionary. Although we never spoke at the airport in Miami, later, at the local airport in Port au Prince, I found out I was right. He is a missionary in Haiti.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #2

I was worried about traveling alone.

I wasn’t afraid of being abducted by strangers or having my belongings stolen. Airports are big and intimidating and I was mostly just worried about getting lost.
I get lost easily and have begged and pleaded with God until I have cried, for a better sense of direction. I once got lost in the middle of nowhere. The night was pitch black making the street signs impossible to read in the dark. After 30 minutes of driving around in circles I called my dad crying, hysterically. He asked me where I was and all I could say through sobs was “I don’t know….”

Although I have made the trip to Haiti a number of times, it has always been with a group of people; I have always tagged along, often towards the back of the pack, happy just to follow. But this time was going to be different. I was going to have to do it, alone. I had been told stories of divine encounters with strangers, angels, some might say. I was praying for an angel of my own.

On Traveling to Haiti and other related things #1

I was searched at the airport in Jacksonville.

Something in my luggage caused them to become suspicious. I was pulled aside and both my carry-on suitcase and my backpack were searched very thoroughly. Every pocket was opened and a wand with some kind of chemical sensor on the end was pushed inside and swiped around. I didn’t know what he was looking for. I didn’t really care. I knew there was nothing in there that shouldn’t be. He too would know soon enough.

After a few minutes of searching he handed me my bags and I politely thanked him. For what? I’m not sure; perhaps for saving the world from one more crazy, lunatic, diabetic, missionary with Mentos in her bag. The world appreciates the sacrifice, I can assure you.

All joking aside, I know he was doing his job. It was nothing personal. He was polite and professional. And in case I forgot to mention, thorough. I mostly just laughed. But not until after I walked away

Friday, May 1, 2009

The First 24 hours

The sound of pots and pans are clinking in the kitchen, a busy village can be heard in the valley below and off in the distance a rooster crows. Annette, one of the Haitian ladies who works here at the house, just came outside to pick fresh fruit from a tree in the yard and behind me is a big garden. Bubba, a big black lab, sleeps three feet from me. I am sitting at the picnic table in my back yard underneath a sprawling tree, overlooking a lush green valley that stretches for miles. Just beyond the valley is a mountain range covered in clouds. There is a Haitian proverb that says, “Deye mon, gen mon.” Beyond the mountains, there are mountains. This mountainside is now home. Another rooster crows; it is 11:43am. I have been in Haiti approximately 24 hours.

I slept well last night. I don’t often sleep well in new places, at least the first couple nights until they become familiar. I suppose I was just exhausted from yesterday. I left for the airport in Jacksonville at 4:15am. I arrived in Cayes, Haiti at approximately 5pm. I spent 13 hours in transit; about 5 hours in the air and 7 hours in airports, waiting. They don’t have daylight savings time so for half a year we are an hour behind here.

The Moses family met me in Cayes, fed me dinner, and sent me home with some Diet Coke. My new roommates, Beth and Susanne are wonderful. They have both been in Haiti for many years. Beth is from Ohio and Susanne is from Germany. I have my own bedroom, bathroom, and a walk in closet with lots of shelves for storage. In my bedroom there are two twin beds, a small bedside table, a small desk, and a wooden chair. The kitchen and living area are shared as is a large covered patio space and this outside patio where I sit now. The garden behind me is ours. Susanne tends the garden with the help of another Haitian gardner who works here as well.

It is unusually mild for Haiti. Yesterday when I arrived in Port au Prince, it was 78 degrees. It even rained yesterday afternoon. There is a steady breeze. I have only broken a sweat twice since arriving. Once yesterday at the small airport in Port au Prince that is cooled only by fans and once this morning when unpacking my clothes. Experience assures me that it will at times be almost unbearably hot here. I am expecting nothing less. However, this weather is a lovely way to begin.

Bubba now lounges in a sunny patch out in the yard underneath a coconut tree. The smell of lunch is wafting through the air. The garden has yielded baskets of tomatoes and I believe tomato sauce was being made this morning. It smells delicious. Beth and Susanne will be home shortly for lunch and we will enjoy our first of many meals together. Life is going to be different here. Very different. What I have been met with here so far has been everything I expected and yet nothing like what I had pictured. I cannot reconcile that sentiment so I’ll have to be satisfied with leaving it at that. Perhaps that is because it is all still so new.

It is now 12:30pm. A hummingbird buzzes in a tree beside me, Bubba has moved back to the covered patio and I am ready to go eat lunch. The rooster crows; I am home.