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…