I decided to take a Mission trip to Haiti because it was the right place to be and the right time to be there. Two colleagues at school had been to Northwest Haiti Christian Mission on several occasions, and after talking with them at great length, I decided to go. I had to raise $2000 for the trip. I spoke to my church congregation, and also family members and the Mebane Woman’s Club. By May of 2013 I had a surplus, and with some money out of my pocket, I was able to bring Zoe with me. She had a pretty carefree reaction to the request. I had a yard sale and raised $638. I contacted the US office in Indiana to ask about items I should collect. I went with two fifty pound bags filled with: medicine, peanut butter, toiletries, scrubs, and teaching resources.
DAY ONE- 19 June
I woke up around 4:05 am for a 7:05 flight to Miami. The connecting flight to Port-au-Prince was 50 minutes after touchdown, and then a six hour bus ride to the town of St. Louis du Nord. I decided to go to Haiti because I needed to some gain some perspective on my life.
I wondered what the six hour bus ride will be like. I assumed there would be bumpy dirt roads with some flat stretches and many ruts and crater-like holes to maneuver around. What sights, sounds, tastes and smells would I encounter? I am sure I will experience sensory overload and I will be moved by whatever I encounter. The weather will be hot and I assume I will be in a full-on sweat 24/7 for the next nine days.
Landed safely and got slightly accosted by porters in the airport. Luggage arrived, and I hired a porter for $2 with a $1 tip to get all items to the bus.
The bus we got on was pretty fancy by Haitian standards. It had AC. There were supposed to be two people traveling with us, but all planes to St. Louis were no longer available so our bus was full. My first thought about the town were a cross between Sénégal and Morocco.
We stopped in Gonaives at around 4:30 pm to go to the bathroom about two hours from Port-au Prince. It was hot, but there was a little bit of wind. I bought coke for $1.
Two hours passed and we hadn’t left. The bus was broken and we were waiting for another to pick us up. I knew something was up when they closed the gate where we entered. We were in a courtyard that had two restaurants and something that resembled a motel. I had no idea how long we would stay but told Zoe to remember two things to help her make the most of this trip: PATIENCE and FLEXIBILITY.
Still in Gonaives. Word has it, the people fixing the bus had to go back to Port-au-Prince to get a part! I hope something will happen soon.
Walked 29,000 steps 181 floors 11.3 miles ( mostly due to the bumpy bus ride)
After all was said and done we arrived at the mission at 3am. The second portion of the drive was pretty rough. It reminded me of the drive to Toubab Diallo, Sénégal.
I attempted to sleep for two hours, but was unsuccessful for the most part. I woke up around 6:45, took a “Polish shower” (wiped down with wet ones) and went to breakfast, which was oatmeal. We had a “briefing” and then took a tour of the campus. Kids greeted us and ran right up to people to be picked up. Several of the other groups there were repeat visitors and were familiar with the campus.
We had rice and some kind of stewed meat and a Coke for lunch.
I am trying to arrange to use some of my teaching resources with the kids as well as unload the 80+ pounds of items we collected at home.
After lunch we helped the “One Life” group with VBS. It was a form of organized chaos, but the kids enjoyed themselves and appreciated the crafts and candy they received.
Afterwards I wandered around the campus. I ended up teaching an English class, number 1-10 to about 20 kids varying in age from 8-18.
I went to hang out with the girls at the girls' orphanage after that. We did some nail painting. They were very creative. I taught them some French songs I use in class at home and they loved it.
The food has been good. For dinner we had cheesy chicken pasta, garlic biscuits, salad and funfetti cake.
Zoe made a friend name Kim who is 12. She warmed up to the place once she made friends and seemed to be more comfortable exploring with Kim than with me. Tomorrow we plan to do VBS in the morning and possibly the brothel ministry in the afternoon.
I had a very brief conversation with Dave to say that I was alive, wiped out and that it is only 9:30!
I slept very well last night. I went over to the girls orphanage and played BINGO. Breakfast was eggs and biscuits and then we headed across the street to the church to do morning VBS with the One Life group.
VBS turned out to be a little crazy for some groups. When everyone was dismissed into the courtyard, older kids were trying to take the crafts and balls from the younger kids. My water bottle disappeared somewhere in the mix and then all VBS volunteers were asked to go inside the church. Some volunteers were crying but Zoe didn't seem too phased by it. When we returned to the campus we visited with the Grand Moun and did some nail painting.
Before lunch I attempted to play with a little girl of one of the moms from the brothel. She was intrigued by my bags of tricks but did not seem too interested in playing with me. Lunch was a rice dish with ham and spices.
I went to the brothel ministry after lunch. It was slightly awkward and I did not seem to connect with anyone as much as I did while visiting with the kids. They did sing Amazing Grace in Creole which was bittersweet because I thought of Dave’s mom and how she would feel knowing I was serving in Haiti.
I went back to the orphanage after that and played TPR games and songs.
Dinner was pizza.
After dinner I heard some beautiful music coming from downstairs. I found out that the girls and some of the boys meet at the benches in the courtyard and have an evening routine of songs and prayers. It was absolutely beautiful. I hid and captured the audio because I did not want to disturb their evening routine.
Tonight I met Jeannot Pierre, a Haitian dentist. I actually brought a drill to Haiti for him. We struck up a conversation and it turns out that he might go to dental school at UNC. Its a small world. It was the first time I really had the opportunity to use my French in a social context as well as speak with an adult. I have so many questions about Haitian culture and hope to have another opportunity to speak with him.
This morning I went to the Miriam center. I fed a 15 year boy breakfast. It took about 45 minutes. He probably weighed about 40 pounds and was confined to the floor due to severe birth defects. He was in a row of about 6 other kids in a similar condition. I sang as I fed them. Some of the kids smiled and some had no reaction.
I went to the girls orphanage to see if I could show the movie Le Ballon Rouge. I was told that tomorrow afternoon would be good. Next I went to the “outdoor classroom”, a covered space in the courtyard with benches and a chalkboard. I did some activities with sticker activity boards and TPR. The girls the requested French music played earlier, specifically La Météo by Amulette and Les Jours de la Semaine by Erna LeTemps. After they shared two songs with me that they sang at night that gave me goosebumps.
I am finding that my “niche” is with the orphans. I need to work with the boys some more. Jean Willy came over and was intrigued by the whiteboards I brought. He drew a self-portrait and I told him that I return later today to do some more things.
This afternoon we are going into the community to play games and do a VBS. We did end up going into the town. I hung out with mostly teen boys. Vickens, a 12 yr. old boy and Tiles, 15 seemed to bond with me pretty quickly. It went really well until the VBS lesson. A woman started screaming at what appeared to be her son, who was participating in the VBS lesson. Apparently she did not want him to hear a Christian message. The rest of the kids didn’t seem phased by her yelling.
After the VBS we went to One Stop, a convenience market. I browsed and saw only really 2 local products, honey and chocolate. I asked a translator about the honey and he pointed up. On the outside of the building was an enormous beehive.
We had some pink ham salad and spaghetti for dinner. The KIND bars are really coming in handy. I miss fruit and veggies. Cabbage is pretty much it.
After dinner I facetimed with Dave and then hung out with Jeannot the dentist and Latia, a lady from Florida who came to Haiti to help with OT.
Having conversations in French has been minimal which is a little frustrating, but I hope to have more as the week progresses.
Walking through the town reminded me a little bit of Rabat, Morocco because of the narrow streets. There was a huge contrast between houses, giant cement one right behind makeshift ones made from rusted tin.
I really want to walk around the town with a smaller group. We have church in the morning and I am going to try to show Le Ballon Rouge in the afternoon.
GREAT DAY TODAY! We went to the church across the street from the mission. The service was in Creole and then a small portion was in English, given by the pastor of the One Life group we have spent most of our time with while we’ve been here. It was about two hours and there was lots of singing.
After church I spoke to Roderick, one of the translators, to see if anyone was going for a walk after church. I really wanted to see a little more of the town. He said yes and I met up with him after lunch. It ended up being a motorcycle tour. We saw most of the town, drove through a stream, saw a beach, the giant outdoor area where the market takes place on Wednesdays. We stopped at a store for some lam, Creole for breadfruit. I had seen it at the mission and was curious about it. They did not have any ready, but Roderick managed to ask the cooks at the Mission to prepare some at dinner time.
After the tour of the town, I headed over to the girls orphanage to show the movie. Turns out they thought the movie was about a DEAF boy! I guess since there are no words in the film..it makes sense.
While I was watching the movie, I met Wilson Lafontant, the man in charge of the boys orphanage. He was curious as to why I spoke French and asked lots of questions.
He formally introduced me to Madame Sandra and Mme.Roger. Mme. Sandra directed the girls orphanage and was happy to meet me and asked me about resources she could use for the orphanage. Wilson was distracted by the soccer ball I brought and I told him that he could keep it at the end of the trip.
Dinner was somewhat Haitian.It was a chicken thigh, a savory beignet and some plantains. Roderick then gave me the lam. It tasted kind of like cold french fries.
After dinner I went downstairs to help a middle school boy with some Earth Science homework. I was armed with two iPhones, an Internet connection and a Creole/French dictionary. I had 30 minutes and was able to finish in 20! The boys surrounded me as I feverishly searched the internet for pictures and video clips of earth science terms I had a hard time explaining in any language!
After, I went to the girls orphanage. Williana, a 13 year old girl was a spitfire and we bonded. Wilson was curious about people visiting that were overweight. My answer was simple. Americans drive everywhere and.McDonald's. He then asked me about my faith. He then invited me to say evening prayers with the girls. They sang two beautiful songs, acapella and then he asked me to say the evening prayer...in French! It was something I had never done before, but I did it even with all the orphans giggling at my awkward prayer.
It was so nice to be able to speak French all afternoon as well as have an opportunity to learn more about Haitian culture. Tomorrow we go to La Baie with the Miriam Center kids then Bonneau.
I seem to sleep well every other night..so tonight should be good.
I’m writing outside in the moonlight, with a flashlight. The bunkhouse is a bit stuffy, but when there is a breeze it’s ok. I got bed bug bites but no mosquito bites ot sunburn yet!
This has been such a different kind of trip for me. I am in Haiti, but inside an American Mission. I am exposed to the culture via the interpreters and orphans...but with the orphans, its mostly me doing the talking.
All the Haitians I have met have been so kind and answered all of my questions. They only seem to have one for me...Where did you learn French? and why do you speak it? It seems that the Americans that come to Haiti either speak Creole or English..period.
We went to the playground in Bonneau today with the Miriam Center kids. I was paired with Yéyé a young tween boy that was blind. The bus ride was insane! Super bumpy. We hit air several times due to ruts, rivers, and tight spaces in a giant school bus. It was really hot! but Yéyé was very familiar with the playground set up. I also played with some kids from the community that came down when they saw the bus.
I played similar games I did in all the other places I encountered up to this point with kids. The fact that I was a teacher and had a “bag of tricks” really came in handy and I felt like I was serving a good purpose.
Dinner was pasta and chicken in a savory sauce, with a side of..cabbage of course.
After dinner and devotions I went down to hear the girls sing and say evening prayers with them. It was so interesting to see how older kids were taking care of younger ones. This evening routine of
theirs is completely kid led with no adults are facilitating. It was fascinating to watch and I felt so special to now be a part of this every evening.
I hung out in the courtyard with the older boy orphans and Wilson. I asked him for food recommendations because tomorrow we are going to a restaurant.
Zoe is doing well, just seems more comfortable hanging out with Kimmy and the kids in the Miriam Center.
Ms. Sandra is very happy that I brought resources and wants to meet to talk about how I use them in a variety of ways. I plan to leave my “bag of tricks’ here when I go home.
I am thinking more about my purpose and being at the Mission brought some clarity to that.
I have been blessed with the ability to speak French as well as teach. The majority of my time here in St. Louis du Nord has been spent doing just that.
The boys and girls orphanages on the St. Louis du Nord campus are where my heart is. The kids are all so grateful and appreciative of anything, spending time with them is especially important.
Wednesday and Thursday are wide open so I have decided to spend as much time with these kids as possible. I am also going to see a voodoo temple, which will happen tomorrow.
Last night I slept soundly, without music for the first time since I have been here. The moon is so bright some nights you almost don’t need a flashlight!
Today went to L’Anse à Foleur to see a voodoo temple and monument. It was like being in a bad horror movie.The temple was an unassuming yellow two story building. The second floor the words Bar Restaurant were painted in red. As you entered the temple, you came to a hallway of sorts with a tree branch sticking out of the ground. There were people surrounding it, praying and lighting candles. They believe that a spirit lives inside of it. We then walked down a dark hallway and to our left were large open rooms, filled with people, laying or sitting down singing and possibly praying. Our guide was very matter-of-fact in his presentation was attempting to convince us this practice was normal. We then entered a courtyard where there were some roosters and a goat being prepared for sacrifice. From there we went upstairs, into an actual chapel where people were praying to Sainte Anne, a puppet, believed to have fallen from the sky when a large cross was struck by lighting in this town. We hiked to see the cross and along the path there were remnants of small sacrifices, charred ground, and lots of children walking the path with us. At the top was a beautiful view and a damaged cross.
Had an apple dumpling for breakfast then headed over to the orphanage because Sandra invited me for some authentic Haitian coffee. It took a couple of hours for that to happen, but it was worth it. It
reminded me of Vietnamese coffee. I played with Moise, a nine month old boy who was left for dead by the river!
I walked around town with Sandra and Wilson. I had a Sapi Bon, AKA Haitian freezer pop. We walked through the market, it was market day. It was very crowded and I bought some coffee to bring home. It was really hot. I have adjusted for the most part, just don’t like being wet all the time.
The market was a lot like the ones in Morocco, only not covered and no one harassed you to buy their goods. There was so much stuff: fruits, veggies, kerosene, clothes, coffee, DVD’s, and homemade alcohol.
Instead of lunch at the Mission, I went to Caridade, a restaurant in town with Wilson and Josney. I ordered cabri (grilled goat), spicy slaw, and plantains. The cabri tasted a lot like beef jerky. I also ordered a Grenada, tasting much like a Sunny D. It came in a styrofoam cup which put me in a slight panic because I want uncertain about how it was made and did not want to get sick. I requested for Wilson to discreetly ask the waitress how it was prepared. She was offended by my question but obliged and said it was safe. That was the first instance on the trip that I felt like a dumb American!
Today was crazy busy fitting in any last minute..anything...that I wanted/needed to do. I started with my new morning Haitian coffee.
Next I went with the orphan girls and Sandra to the church courtyard to demonstrate how I used all the teaching resources I brought.
I had some lunch, did some packing, then headed out on my last walk in town. I wanted to buy Sapi Bon for the boys and girls.
I was with Wilson and Josney again and this time we took motorcycle taxis to the market near the river, Rivière Bas. Kids saw me and some yelled “Hé Blanc!” and I obliged by waving back. They smiled.
On my motorcycle taxi ride I was certain I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and it was Roderick. It turns out that the translators are assigned to a group and once the group is gone, they do not come back. They are called as needed which means that they may not return for several weeks.
Back at the Mission, I went to the girls orphanage and showed the girls Zoe’s show choir DVD. After I inhaled my dinner I went to pick up the SapiBon, about 100 of them, which was in a large cooler. I passed out the ice cream to the boys first and then the girls.
The rest of the night was pretty rough. When the girls started , I was tearing up. We headed upstairs for evening prayers and it just got worse. Everyone was crying. I started thinking about it and wondered if it was like this at the end of every visit! I gave hugs to everyone and got a last mango fix and it was 10:00. The trip was over.
We had to get up at 2am to take the “Magic School bus”...which I had seen flying down roads in town. It was not like the fancy white bus. I did not sleep well at all and an added twist was some drumming and chanting heard in the mountains outside the bunkhouse.
The bus ride was over the top! It was the bumpiest ride I have ever experienced in my entire life! My pedometer said that I had walked 30,000 steps, yet I was seated the entire trip. The interior was the color of Nemo, the clownfish from the movie Finding Nemo. We stopped every now and then, maybe to check to see if bus parts had fallen of? or to tighten something? Who knows?
This Mission trip experience has been so different than any other travel experience I have had. I was immersed in a hybrid of American missionaries and Haitians. Something I noticed was that every Haitian that I got to know appreciated the time that spent with them. They were always happy to see me and spend time with me. I know that nine days was not enough and that I need to return.
Sandra and Wilson both really appreciated the time I spent with them and the kids. Sandra said that I was the first person to visit her directly and inquire about needs. Most visitors come and spend time with the orphans exclusively. I left about 70% of my belongings in Haiti. I have a weak stomach and did not get sick once!
While in Haiti, I never really felt unsafe, except maybe on the motorcycle taxi.
My general impressions were, in no specific order...It was hot and I was sweaty 24/7.
The children are beautiful and always smile. French was used by adults. Older kids understood it, but some responded in Creole.
I know that my heart is with the orphans and I will focus all my collection efforts on them for the next trip. I am still learning about distribution of funds and who to best distribute money and to whom.
I think one of the pieces I struggled with the most was the pace and finding my niche. There was a lot of bus rides to places to spend short periods of time with kids and the bonding piece was missing for me. I was happy to finally figure out that my place was with the orphans, and now I can work
on developing building that relationship!