The Best and Worst of Haiti

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Sunday, Dec. 2

Since it was the last night in Arcahaie, naturally I slept the best all week – straight through from 9:30-5:30. Apparently I finally got used to the roosters. I got up and had a little Haitian coffee, then we all got ready for the church service and packed our bags. This morning’s breakfast was a little unusual – spaghetti! It had oil & onions rather than marinara sauce. The kids were at the church early, probably aware that it was our last day.

Matt playing a string game with sweet little Fresmica.

Obison, one of our favorite little 6-year-old boys, was there in an oversized shirt and no pants, but several other kids began to arrive in very nice looking church clothes, including his older sisters. Whitney gave him her cutoff scrubs, hoping he’d be presentable enough for church. Unfortunately his sisters still shooed him off, so he didn’t get to come inside.

Obison was proud to show off his “pants” – Whitney’s cutoff scrubs.
All dressed up for church in Haiti.

The entire congregation was in their Sunday best – an indication of how seriously they took church. Several of us took photos with the kids we’d been playing with all week so nicely dressed up. At 9 we filed in through the back of the church as the congregation started singing. Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the music. A few minutes into the service, Patrick introduced our group and we stood in front of the congregation while Scott told the church how much we loved them and their country, and how we appreciated their hospitality and planned to come back soon. His speech was very impressively spoken in Creole. The service was about 2 hours long and consisted of lots of singing, several readings, chanting prayers, and a 30-minute sermon by Pastor Moles. I didn’t understand any of it besides a quick happy birthday song in English to 2 members of the congregation, but it was still great to worship with the community. Two of the little ones sat with Ryan right when he said he was missing his own children, and Fresmica, Obison’s little 3-year-old sister, sat on my lap toward the end of the service.

A full house at the Methodist church in Arcahaie.

After church we quickly gobbled up some chocolate cake the cooks had made for breakfast, loaded up the van with our luggage and supplies, and said good-bye to a few of the kids. I don’t think any of us wanted long, emotional good-byes, because we weren’t sure if we’d ever see these amazing children ever again. We were all pretty solemn and quiet on our way out of Arcahaie. Along the drive we stopped at the mass gravesite from the infamous January 12, 2010 earthquake. Many thousands of bodies (debated between 45,000-316,000) were dumped and buried there, most never identified. There was only a small monument and a couple of crosses, including one at the top of the hill for ~7,000 cholera victims following the quake. For the first time during the entire trip, I really lost it. I was already missing the children, so standing on the gravesite and remembering the media coverage of all the victims was just more than I could handle. We said a prayer and continued on to Port-au-Prince.

The mass gravesite from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

When we arrived in Port-au-Prince we got a flat tire, conveniently right next to a tiny street-side tire shop. James fixed the valve stem and got us going again within 20 minutes. While we were stopped, Patrick got his shoes shined on the side of the street for the equivalent of 12.5 cents by a small, elderly Haitian man. Ryan decided to get his shoes shined too, and believe it or not, the man made his shoes look brand new within a matter of minutes!

A very talented Haitian shoe-shiner.

We continued on to lunch at an Epi’Mac, which was similar to McDonald’s, with American food on one side, Haitian food on the other, and a bakery in between. We had to exchange our American money for Haitian money, so we didn’t eat lunch until about 2. I got a “Royal Burger” meal with fries and & tropical punch for about $3.50 (American).  If there’s a middle class in Haiti, this was it. We very much enjoyed the AC and bathrooms with running water, soap, and working toilets.

We stopped by the Methodist Guest House to grab our items from their safe, then we went to an Expo to check out the Apparent Project booth. The Apparent Project is an organization for Haitian women to make money by designing jewelry, ornaments, and other items out of paper & recycled materials. We would have just visited their store, but they were closed due to the Expo. The Expo was similar to the Holiday Mart in the U.S., except it was in a fancy hotel on a big hill overlooking shacks and tents. You had to pay $6 to get in, and every booth but the Apparent Project was selling exquisite merchandise like sushi, alcohol, vanilla, and fancy artwork. Most of the group had a really hard time with how the wealthy were living right next to people who didn’t have clean water or know where their next meal would come from. Many of us bought several things from the Apparent Project, then we quickly escaped to Gertrude’s Orphanage, where we had arranged to stay in their guest house.

A view of Haitian shacks, seen from the exquisite Expo hotel. It really shows the separation of classes.

Gertrude is a Haitian woman who takes in children who’ve been abandoned at the hospital. She has about 40 kids, many with disabilities, and only a few staff to take care of them. Two American & Canadian friends were also staying there a month and helping out. When we walked in, the kids were immediately drawn to us. They were very well taken care of – fed and nicely dressed – but they desperately craved attention. One little girl handed me her shoes, and once I put them on her, she motioned to be picked up and clung to me like a little monkey until dinner. Another boy did the same later in the evening.

We had tasty spaghetti, bread, and made-from-scratch lemon cake for dinner. (And sat at a real table!) We ventured back downstairs to check out a cabinet full of local art donated to Gertrude’s for income. A few people bought more souvenirs; I bought an engraved stone plate for $20. We played with the kids, including 3 babies that staff pulled out of their cribs for us, until their bedtime. A few of the older boys were absolutely fascinated with my point-and-shoot camera and my watch, so they surrounded me while I was holding one of the babies. The sleeping quarters were very nice, with multiple rooms with several beds, fans, and running water in the bathroom. There was also a nice rooftop deck, so we watched the sunset and later had our evening devotional there.

Our view from the Gertrude’s Orphanage roof.

During the devotional there was a lot of negative talk about the Expo and positive talk about where to donate our remaining trip funds. It was hard to decide between the Methodist Guest House, Pastor Moles, the church in Arcahaie, the school in Arcahaie, or Gertrude’s – so many good causes. We took turns showering in the only bathroom and stayed up “late” until 10.

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4 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Haiti

  1. Allyson Fantasia

    I have loved reading about your trip to Haiti. It certainly reminds me of how much I have and puts so much into perspective. You have made such a difference in these people’s lives. You are a truly wonderful person. When my kids were growing up, we would spend several weeks at a time in the middle east. They realized how lucky they were to have all of the advantages they did growing up. It is amazing to me, that when you go to such a poor country, how these people really have it figured out. They focus on family, and not on things. My kids would see an entire family, sharing an old bicycle, and feel very lucky that they each had their own, shiny, new, and clean bicycle. We take running, drinkable water and electricity for granted. In the middle east, we could not. I always came back from these trips feeling very lucky and very grateful for what I have.

    1. Thank you so much Ally, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading it. I had no idea you’d spent time in the Middle East with your kids – what an amazing experience for them to have while they were growing up. We really do take everything for granted here, and we have way more than we really need. It’s really put things into perspective for me. I think everyone should experience a mission trip or trips like yours, where they get to experience cultures that are not as well-off as their own.

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