Haiti Rundown #1
August 17, 2010

Had zero web access while there, so I’m having to re-cap. Here’s an idea of some of the things I experienced on the first two days of my trip to Haiti, as we traveled to our final destination:

Day 1:

There was a distinct variety of people in the Miami airport gate for the flight to Port Au Prince. A couple church groups in matching t-shirts with logos like “Mission Haiti 2010.” I felt sorry for one of those groups, who looked very tired, lost, and overdressed, but at least they all matched. There also were some Mennonites. And there were a few men in Rotary Club golf shirts. Some people from a company that makes shelter boxes. Maybe a journalist or two. And of course our rag-tag group (no matching shirts allowed!). And then you had a lot of Haitians, whose faces were noticeably more drawn than all of ours.

Landing in Port Au Prince, we flew over lots of blue tarps, tent cities. Lots of walls without roofs. Also thousands of tiny tin-roofed shacks crammed against each other with rag-clothed humans wandering everywhere between. Burning trash. Broke-down bulldozers. UN trucks. After landing we were welcomed by humidity, heat, and a lot of sounds. We waited in customs and baggage lines and eventually made it out of the very sweaty airport an into sweaty streets, where mobs of people seeking any kind of work tried to get our attention, help carry bags, sell us cell phones, whatever.

Immediately, images of utter devastation punched me in the face and sank into my heart. “You wanted to see it?” the scene seemed to say. “Well, here it is. You asked for it. Welcome to Haiti mother-f-er.”

Crumbled buildings filled the foreground and the horizon. People bathing in street gutters. Re-bar sticking out everywhere. Ladies cooking their families’ meals in the micro-space between the street and their tent. A man re-bandaging his wound. Obviously malnourished people staring at our baggage-laden van. Diesel engines whirring, horns honking, motorcycles crowding every turn, people shouting. But also saw lots of smiles. Perfect white teeth lighting up smoggy streets. There was some unseen beauty, peace, and hope weaving itself between, under, and around the destruction.

Drove to Sister Mary’s, a sweet and spunky nun who runs a charity hostel. She had a little tent city within her compound. Hundreds of people living in sun-faded blue Lions Club-donated tents. One large tent converted into a school. Kids playing soccer. Laughing, goofing off.

Ate an amazing meal, had wonderful conversation with other visiting helpers, experienced beautiful prayer and a sense of connection with strangers, and then fell asleep sweating.

Day 2:

Headed to a smaller airport to fly from Port Au Prince to the little port town of Jeremie, on the more remote southern peninsula. Crammed into a tiny, old plane and waited a long time…dogs on the runway blocking landings and takeoffs. About to take off, we abruptly turned around and headed back to the plane parking lot. Hydraulic fluid was puddling out of our plane. Switched planes, dogs were shooed off the runway, and we flew. Marveled at the beauty of the island below, but also noticed major deforestation, erosion, and dead reefs. Landed on a dirt strip, exited the plane walking toward the little one-room airport, and noticed children and ladies casually walking across the “runway” to their homes in the jungle just on the other side, carrying water and fruit on their heads.

Then made a grueling 1 1/2-hour ride in the back of a little flatbed trailer towed behind a truck, winding down rocky, pot-holed dirt roads toward the village of Marfranc in the Grand Anse river valley. Got covered in dust and got a sore butt. Said “Bonjour” to a bunch of people all along the way, half-naked kids carrying water, old ladies carrying fruit. Young men carrying what looked like red diesel but was Kleren, the moonshine-like spirit distilled from sugar cane, used as the base for rum. People bathing and doing laundry in the river beside the road. Excited kids, most of whom rarely see white people, shouted “Blanc!” pointed at us and jumped up and down. So many half-naked kids, and some not wearing anything but a smile.

The farther we got from Jeremie the more it began to look like remote Africa: Homes made from hand-hewn boards, corrugated tin, mud, rocks, rough concrete, thatched roofs of banana and palm leaves, dirt floors, absolutely zero power lines or phone lines, no power, no plumbing, no water except what the kids harvested from the river or an occasional hand pump. Each family has an average of about 6-8 people (often more) sharing a one-room home, which is usually sized about 20 feet by 15 feet by my estimation. But smiles everywhere and surprised stares following our little parade of white people.

Finally there: Turned off the main road, down a smaller, muddy road that briefly snaked between even smaller huts, set off behind banana trees, and came to the home of our hosts, the Moores, who have lived in Haiti for the past 15 years. Their home was built to serve as a hostel for work teams, so by comparison to all other homes in the area it was like a mansion, although it was the size of an average three-bedroom American suburban home. We pulled into the rock driveway, peeled our asses off the trailer, dusted off, and were greeted by the Moores, their local helpers, and Bouki, an incredibly excited chocolate Lab with an oral fixation.

After scarfing down a small meal, some of our team hiked into the center of the village of Marfranc. There they soon were offered a baby. “You like our baby? You want her? You can have her. Please take her.” They were in desperate need and wanted their baby to have a better life. This was our introduction to the realities of Haiti.

More to come, including pix and vids.

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I’m Off to Haiti…
August 8, 2010

By the time you read this (unless you’re up too late or a Kiwi), I’ll be on my way to (or already in) rural Haiti. Been looking forward to this for a long while now. Had a bit of panic today when I realized I misplaced my passport (but found it). Also whacked my nose and thought I broke it (but didn’t). Also mis-stepped and thought I tweaked my ankle (but didn’t). So I’m on my way finally.

While I’ve enjoyed the privilege to visit many nations before, this trip is a bit different. Until recent years, such trips found me over-preparing so I could be the most effective missionary possible. That’s not the case with this one. In fact, my biggest trepidation is that I am completely  unprepared. For instance, I feel like I haven’t practiced the Haitian language enough. Part of the problem is that this is one of the first trips that I don’t have the “plan of salvation” memorized in the language of my host country. In the past, that task gave me a big goal for learning more of the language. This time, however, this will be my first journey with a group that isn’t set on getting people “saved.” We don’t have team t-shirts or slogans or a mime drama to perform. Yes, all of us happen to be from my faith community, but we are simply going there to help and learn. Definitely not a vacation, but also not a “mission.” This is nice.

The main reason for me to learn the language this time is simply so we can listen in order to most effectively understand and  learn the best ways to help while we’re there. This is in significant contrast to multiple past “missions,” when we learned a language so we could talk more than listen, to be heard more than hear.

And so I’m a bit awkward feeling as I leave. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m just going there to…help. And watch. And learn. I’m  not going so I can preach in the streets. I’m not going with eyes geared toward seeing a country as a salvation project. I’m seeing it as a chance to be a guest in the homeland of smart, life-experienced individuals who may have a lot to teach me, but who also could use whatever helping hand I can give. But helping involves listening and working together, not just talking. So I’m going to try to listen, and just be aware.

I feel incredibly inadequate to be going for just over a week, thinking that I’ll be able to make a difference. But I’m trying to see it as just putting in my little shift, and working my butt off while I can. (My dad kindly described what I think I’m after by mentioning Isaiah 58:6-9. And even for those of us who don’t take everything in the Bible literally, I think that scripture captures it quite well for me.)

Anyway, I am incredibly grateful for the many of you who have made this trip possible with your donations, thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

As electricity, internet access, and time permit, I’ll post updates here (and possibly also at www.journeytohaiti.com).

Stay tuned.