Water Filters and Nail Polish in Haiti

Read Day 1 Here      Read Day 2 Here      Read Day 3 Here      Read Day 4 Here

Friday, Nov. 30

I woke up promptly at  sunrise, as usual. For breakfast we had really hot cream of wheat in red solo cups. I added corn flakes to mine (kind of like granola). I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I did have it on a couple of sleepy mornings; it was thick & strong. We headed out around 8:15 to install more filters – each group did 4 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. I joined Robenson’s team today (with Hank, Gwen, Matt, and Scott), and I quickly found out that his process was a bit different from Patrick’s. The first house had two rooms, and we installed the filter in the back kitchen area for a very sweet lady and her adult son. The 2nd installation was for a nice younger lady. We walked through a scenic field to get to the 3rd or 4th house, where the family really enjoyed having their photos taken. I forgot to take photos at a couple of the houses, so my memory of all the installations has already begun to fade.

Robenson explaining how to use the water filter we installed in this woman’s home.
I wish I did a better job of capturing their smiles – many of them looked so serious or sad when I shot the photo, but they lit up when they saw their picture.

We went back to the church for lunch of tuna sandwiches around 11:30, then we rested for about an hour before heading back out. The 5th install was at a house so small we couldn’t all fit, so Gwen and I stayed outside. There were a couple of adult men and about 3 boys waiting outside with us, so we tried to communicate with them without much luck. They did motion to us to stand in the shade, because the sun was beating down on us. The boys enjoyed having their photo taken there, too.

Matt and Robenson inserting the tubing into a water filter.
A little boy curiously waiting outside his home while our team installed a water filter.

We installed a couple more filters – one at a house with a beautiful elderly woman outside. I took her photo and told her she was “bel” (beautiful), and she gave me a big smile and said thank you. It might be my favorite photo of the trip.

A beautiful Haitian woman outside her home.

The others installed a filter at Oldi’s father’s house, and they were each given coconuts, sliced open for fresh coconut milk. A short time later Fred got sick, although I don’t know if it was related. Unfortunately he felt bad for about 2 days and barely ate anything. (We later heard that he took his servings of food to the street to give away to passersby.) After the day’s hard work, we stopped at a bar/barbershop for Cokes (in glass bottles, which you must return). Yes, there was a barbershop in the back of the bar. I passed on the Coke since I haven’t had soda for years. We were happy to see the kids waiting for us at the church when we got back. I got out some nail polish, and one little girl in particular really enjoyed painting my and Gwen’s nails. A few other kids picked up on it, and the boys painted their own nails with the clear polish. The girls even convinced Scott & Matt to let them paint their nails clear, too! (Shhh…don’t tell them I told you.) My original vision of cleaning their feet and painting their toenails didn’t quite work out, but it brought smiles to their faces, so I’d call it a success.

This sweet girl spent a great deal of time painting my nails. (Thanks for taking the photo, Gwen.)

We had a tiny bout of rain, then dinner around 5. Tonight we had rice with chicken & Congo beans in sauce, mango, and a delicious (pumpkin?) spice cake. Once it started to get dark we headed inside. The evening devotional was great again, with several tears shed. It’s always a great time to share feelings and experiences with the group. To bed by 9 again – hard to believe the trip is almost over.

Water Filter Installation in Haiti

Read Day 1 Here      Read Day 2 Here      Read Day 3 Here

Thursday, Nov. 29

We had another night filled with noisy animals and traffic, so I slept off and on from about 9:30 – 5:30. We had delicious scrambled eggs and bread with pb&j for breakfast. We all headed out together in the van, but we split into 2 teams to install the filters. James would drop off Group 1 with Oldi and Patrick, then drive to a nearby location to drop off Group 2 with Robenson. I was in Patrick’s group with Curtis, Hank, Matt, and Jacob, so he showed us how to install the filters at the first house. They must first be cleaned off and put on a level surface (often the trickiest part), and then you add water, the big rocks (level them out), the small rocks, more water, lots of sand (quickly for a good flow), and more water. You rinse it 3 times to remove dirt & debris from the sand. The amounts and levels all had to be very precise. Finally, you time the water flow for a minute to make sure it’s fast enough. After we finish with each installation, we circle up and pray with the family, then Oldi explains how to use the water system. It takes about 10 days before it’s clean and functional. The guides return to the homes in a couple weeks to make sure everything is working properly and the family is using it correctly.

The first house was nice by Haitian standards – we installed the filter on a porch next to a garage filled with soda and juice bottles that the man obviously sold. The homeowner gave us huge hugs afterward.

The homeowner of the first water filter installation.

The 2nd home was also very nice with several rooms. The woman immediately offered me a seat, which I politely took for a while, even though I wanted to be helping with the installation. She had a cute baby in a nice crib; Hank and I were both thrilled to hold the baby. After we prayed, the woman told us how grateful she was for us to travel all that way to help her family.

Installing a water filter at the 2nd home. We were still in the learning process at this point.
Hank and a beautiful baby at the 2nd home.

The 3rd house was a one-room home, but it was nicely kept and had a beautiful headboard and bedspread. The family was very gracious and offered for several of us to sit while we were there. The 4th house had no roof, but it did have a few rooms. The home had chickens and kittens running around through the house. The lady seemed shy, but gracious. We walked to the next 2 homes since they were close by. Unfortunately the van had taken off with the other group with our water bottles & food inside, so we went without for a few hours. The last 2 homes were both rundown, with just a couple of concrete rooms with uneven, rocky floors. We spent a long time in the 5th house, with several family members standing around watching us, trying make a level spot for the filter. We finally got it by placing the filter on 2 cinder blocks. The final house was very close and went much more smoothly.

We finally made it back to the church around 1:30 or 2. Today’s lunch was spam, pb&j, cookies, and passion fruit juice. Soon we headed out for our final installation of the day (2 for the other team). The house was in a tight community with everyone outdoors. Since the home was small, Curtis and I stayed outside. I began taking photos of the kids and a few of the older folks, and they absolutely loved it. I think some of them had never seen their photos before. There was nothing better than seeing their faces light up when they saw their picture. Most everyone said thank you to me for taking their photo, even though I tried to express how grateful I was to them for letting me. If only I had a way to give them a copy of the photos.

Family and/or friends near a home where we installed a water filter. After I snapped the photo, they were so excited to look at it!
These boys loved posing for the camera – I’m not sure they’d ever had their picture taken before.

When we left, the lady in the house offered me a large papaya as a thank-you. Hank joked with me for at least a day, because he installed the filter and I got the reward. I was temporarily named the “Papaya Queen.”

This generous family offered me a papaya after my team installed a water filter in their home.

We returned to the church and played ball and clapped hands with the kids for a while. We had dinner of coleslaw, fried plantain, delicious breaded meatballs, rice & beans, papaya (my gift), and mango. We played with the kids more, and Kinsey, a 14-year-old boy, gave me a mango. So sweet.

Jacob and Ryan playing ball with the kids outside the church.

I headed inside after dark and listened to the evening church service. Even though I couldn’t understand it, I was still moved by the singing and loud chanting prayers. We had a great conversation during our evening devotional, then we read or played cards until the generator turned off around 9:30.

The Beauty of Haiti

Read Day 1 Here        Read Day 2 Here

Wednesday, Nov. 28

Our first night in Arcahaie I didn’t sleep that well – even with earplugs I woke up a lot from loud cars, roosters, dogs, and goats. I was wide-awake at 4 since we went to bed so early. I showered once it got light out (there’s no light bulb in the bathroom), then we had pancakes for breakfast around 7. We loaded the van with supplies for 10 filters, and Group 1 (Whitney, Curtis, Matt, Hank, and me) headed out around 8. We got into a couple of crazy traffic jams because a bridge was washed out from Hurricane Sandy, so we had to detour through the bustling marketplace.

A washed out bridge from Hurricane Sandy in Arcahaie.

I’d never seen anything like it – there were rows of tap-taps (taxi trucks) 3-deep, several blocks long, just stopped. Our guides got out and talked to several people for quite a while, a bunch of the vehicles backed up or squeezed through tiny spaces, and voila – we made it through and the traffic jam cleared up! On our way back we sat for a long time, then finally backed out and took a different route. James could squeeze our van through anything, and back up as well as he could go forward. After dropping off our filters, we returned around 10:30 and loaded up the next group’s supplies. They dropped off their filters and installed 6 of them that were farther out of the way, so they didn’t return until almost 3. When my group first returned there weren’t any kids around, so we had a bit of downtime. Once the kids starting arriving, we had a great time coloring, looking at the English-Creole wordbook, and playing with stickers. I had about 4 packages of stickers that lasted maybe 15 minutes – the kids started out just taking 1 sticker, but then they’d take an entire sheet and disappear with them.

Obison with his princess stickers. He even stuck them on his ears.
One of my sweet little friends coloring.
Another sweet boy – I just love this face.

Group 2 finally got back and we had tuna sandwiches, Pringles, cookies, and hand-squeezed passion fruit juice for lunch. We always felt horrible eating in front of the kids since we were told not to share, but sometimes we couldn’t eat in the church for various reasons. During lunch the kids were nearby goofing around, and one knocked over my drink. They all looked up at me with wide eyes like they were waiting for me to yell at them, which of course I didn’t. Their reaction broke my heart. After lunch we all went for a long walk to downtown Arcahaie.

Along our walk we saw fields of banana plants in bloom.

The main road was very busy, so we had to stay over and watch out for vehicles. Downtown had a park with a statue and a stage they use for Flag Day. Near downtown was another marketplace. There were lots of people selling food and used items, such as shoes and books. It was very crowded and pretty run down, and we got lots of stares. No one tried to get us to buy stuff or bargain with us – probably because they weren’t used to tourists. When we said bonsoir, most everyone would respond with a smile and a greeting. Along the ocean we saw boats bringing in coal from a nearby island. One of the dogs from the church went on the entire walk with us, always staying by our side. There are tons of stray dogs in Haiti – most of them aren’t treated well, and they have to find scraps of food amongst garbage to survive. And besides their color, they all look identical.

A group playing soccer along our walk.

Dinner was ready around 5:15, shortly after we returned from the walk. We had a feast tonight – fried plantain, coleslaw, fries, pasta salad, lasagna, fried chicken & pork. It was Jacob’s 18th birthday, so we even had a cake they’d picked up from a gas station. It was a bit different from American cake (more dense), but delicious. I got so sweaty today that I decided to shower in the evening, in the dark bathroom with a flashlight. We played some rummy and I was obviously tired, because I started giggling  to the point of tears over something dumb. We had a nice evening devotional and went to bed by 9. I was happy to have my Nook so I could stay up and read in the dark for a while.

The Initial Culture Shock of Haiti

Read Day 1 Here

Tuesday, Nov. 27

I slept so-so last night, as the roosters start crowing incessantly around 3 a.m. We woke up around 6, I showered, and we had a great breakfast of oatmeal, mango, crunchy toast with hot pepper peanut butter and guava jelly, and sausage. Our guides Patrick and Robenson arrived and we loaded a covered truck with all our food for the week, a gas stove, our luggage, and all the water filter supplies. (Heavy sand bags, gravel, buckets, and tubing.) We didn’t have quite enough supplies, so we fought traffic through Port-au-Prince to a factory to pick up a few more things. Actually, our incredible driver James fought the traffic. He actually bought the van (complete with AC) for $42,000 and has to pay it off in 3 years. He doesn’t speak English but he’s quite the entrepreneur, if you ask me.

A Port-au-Prince street, seen from our van.

I was still amazed at how busy the city was. There was a market right next to an open water supply (a mostly dried up creek) just filled with trash. Everyone seemed to stare at us very apprehensively.  We left Port-au-Prince and drove along the ocean past several rural areas. There were random goats, chickens, and even cows grazing in fields filled with trash. We also saw groves of banana plants, which were owned by farmers.

On the road to Arcahaie we saw a few tent cities.

We arrived at the Methodist Church (ran by Pastor Moles) in Arcahaie around 11. We unloaded all the supplies, keeping out enough for 20 water filters that we were going to deliver soon. The pastor’s aunt and a couple other ladies prepared lunch for us, as they did all week. They worked in a concrete room with a bed, chair, and no table, but they had been properly trained to sanitize the food. There was no refrigeration, yet amazingly we never got sick. We had white bread with spam or peanut butter & jelly with tortilla chips for lunch.

The United Methodist Church sanctuary in Arcahaie.
The first half of our water filter supplies, ready to be delivered.

After lunch we loaded supplies for 10 filters in the van, and 5 set out to deliver them to the homes with James, Robenson, and Oldi’s help. (Oldi is part of the team that was hired to teach the locals about the water filters.) Delivery was slow because it was incredibly hard to find the correct house. There were no addresses, no street signs, and barely real streets. (Mostly gravel, very bumpy.) Robenson & Oldi would just stop & yell to people nearby, and they’d point us in the right direction. At first it felt like the adults were staring at us like we were unwelcome tourists, but I think they were just apprehensive. Once we started waving, their eyes would light up and they’d wave back. The kids, on the other hand, absolutely loved us from the start. They’d high five, say bonjour, etc. Most of the homes were concrete with open windows and curtains. In one home a very old man was lying on the floor, with several kids holding him up. We were told that we drop off the filters first so they know when to expect us, to make sure they’d be home, and probably to prepare their homes for us. After the drop-offs, we returned to the church around 4 and the other group headed out.

One of the beautiful girls who came by the church every day to play with us.

There were several kids hanging around the church, so we had the best time playing and interacting with them. I used an English/Creole dictionary to go through words with a few kids. One boy, named John, went through every word in the book with me. He spoke English very well. Some of the kids said they had studied 4-5 languages (Creole, French, English, Spanish, & Latin) in school. They didn’t have public school, so not all children even had the opportunity to learn. But it was obvious that many of them craved it. We laughed and played with the kids, tossing a ball, arm wrestling, throwing rocks, talking, etc.

Obison and Fred showing off their “guns.”

Once the other group returned and it got dark, the dinner bell rang. We prayed before eating pork with peas and onions, tiny soft rolls, mango, canned fruit, and rice. They turned on the generator for a few hours in the evening so we’d have light inside, and we had an evening devotional lead by Matt. Whitney’s husband Fred set up a mosquito net over my bed so all three ladies had nets.  Mosquitoes really didn’t end up being a problem, but I was glad that I wasn’t the only one in the room exposed. The guys slept on cots in the sanctuary, and the women slept on cots in a back room. There was an indoor toilet & shower, but there was no toilet seat and we had to pour water in the tank to get it to flush. The shower was just 1 small stream of cold water, but it felt nice after a hot day. Without much to do after dark, we were in bed by 9.

Travel to Haiti

I recently had one of the best weeks of my life. I took a mission trip to Haiti from Nov. 26 – Dec. 3. Even though I’ve been back several days, I’ve been processing everything, editing photos, and trying to determine the best way to share my experience. So many people have been asking about it that I’ve decided to do a blog post for each day I was there. I journaled throughout the trip, so I’m going to share a few photos and each day’s journal entry. I know that hearing about another person’s mission trip secondhand will never be the same as going on one yourself, but I hope this can at least make a small impact. Here we go…

Monday, Nov. 26

The trip started off bright and early, leaving the house at 4 a.m. for a 6:30 flight out of Kansas City. Scott, Curtis, Gwen, Hank, Whitney, Fred, Matt, Ryan, Jacob, and myself gathered for a group photo before we headed out. At that time, we had no idea how close we would become over the next week. We flew to Chicago to Miami to Port-au-Prince with no hold ups. The flight from Chicago to Miami was the longest (with no snacks from American Airlines, of course).

Flying into Port-au-Prince

When we flew into Haiti we could see tiny shacks, homes with no roofs, tents, and even a few mansions amongst the rubble. It has been close to 3 years since the earthquake, but much still needs to be done.The airport was recently remodeled with fresh paint and … air conditioning! Haitians were trying to grab our bags for a tip, but we had a plan to get carts for our luggage, and we stuck to it. Once we got outside the culture & environment was so vastly different that I almost lost it right there. There were tons of men standing outside trying to give rides, grab luggage, etc. They looked so needy, yet determined. We found our ride (Jackson – with 1 arm) and crammed into the back of a truck with a caged roof.

Fred, Whitney, and Hank crammed into the truck that took us to the guest house.

The road to the United Methodist Guest House was incredibly bumpy, and therefore very slow. I was in shock most of the ride – the city was so crowded with people; everyone looked so poor. Lots of people had tiny stands alongside the street; many of them were carrying huge loads of stuff on their heads, some without shoes. It smelled like fuel, burning trash, and dust all in one. And the noise! So many horns honking and people yelling all at once. The homes we saw were small concrete one-room buildings & tent cities. Yet up on the hills you could see a few exquisite mansions. I can’t get over the huge separation of classes. It was starting to get dark so I couldn’t get many photos.

A view of busy Port-au-Prince through the caged truck at dusk.

We were grateful to finally arrive at the guest house, which was quite nice with running water, electricity, and Wi-Fi; rooms with bunk beds; a nice outdoors space with a pool; and a decent kitchen with excellent cooks. We had a delicious dinner of tender pork, bananas, salad with tomatoes, cheesy potatoes, sweet potato fries, rice, and cake. We had a debriefing about the culture and what to expect from an American who lived at the guest house (had been there 6 months), then we went to bed by 9. I made friends with Lily, a cute kitty who slept at my feet all night, making me feel right at home.

Stay tuned for Day 2 and better photos…