The Best and Worst of Haiti

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

Read Day 5 Here      Read Day 6 Here

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.

Good Beaches, Good Company in Haiti

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

Read Day 5 Here

Saturday, Dec. 1

Today was another great day. We started out in our normal routine, with eggs for breakfast again. Both groups headed out around 8 to finish the last 6 water filter installations. With only 3 installs per group, we knew the morning would go by fast. My group only ended up installing 2, because the 3rd house wasn’t complete, and they wanted to finish it before having the filter permanently installed.

These two boys lived at the home where we didn’t end up installing a filter. Young boys not wearing pants was pretty common. Right behind them were two turkeys on a leash.

Both homes we visited were fairly nice. The first appeared to be home to several teens and an older gentleman, who was listening to music on a battery-operated radio. One of the boys was actually playing on an old cell phone.

We installed a water filter in this pretty Haitian girl’s home.

The second home had quite a few big rooms with a lot of furniture, but it was very dark and musky. The dining room where we installed the filter was almost pitch black, so they screwed in a light bulb … and there was light! It was one of the few homes with electricity, although they obviously used it sparingly. The mother, father, and four adorable children watched us while we installed the filters. Like almost everyone else, they seemed very appreciative. We were done installing filters by 10:30, even with the traffic jams going through the market.

Back at the church, we played with the kids for a while, and the same girl painted over my pink and blue fingernails. We had spam, pb&j, and Pringles again for lunch, then we ventured out for an afternoon of relaxation at the beach. The views along the road outside Arcahaie were gorgeous, with the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. The beach cost $2/person, and as we headed toward the water, groups of Haitians immediately tried selling us bracelets, artwork, conch shells, etc. Most of it looked like cheap, bulk souvenirs rather than handmade crafts. A couple guys even tried selling us live crabs and lobster for $15, which they offered to cook for us! I was actually glad I didn’t have any money with me. The beach was rocky rather than sandy, so you couldn’t really lie out, but it was nice not having to deal with messy sand.

Scott and Curtis enjoying the beautiful views.

Ryan, Jacob, Matt, Hank, Robenson, and I went out on a small wooden rowboat with a local to go snorkeling. It was $5/person, but only $2.50 for Hank and me since I had my own snorkel & mask, and Hank just went for the ride. We immediately started seeing jellyfish in the water – some probably 10-12 inches in diameter. Pretty soon we started seeing lots of garbage, too. The local man kept telling us there were no jellyfish, yet we kept seeing tons of them float by. It took about 15 minutes to get to a small reef area, where we reluctantly jumped in for a few minutes but had to constantly doge jellyfish. As I was heading back to the boat, I felt a sharp sting on my upper thigh. I’d been stung by tiny jellyfish in the past, so I immediately knew what happened. I’m not sure the others believed me (maybe because of my high pain tolerance, ha!) until it started to swell up. Matt got stung on his shoulder, too. Needless to say, we didn’t stay in that spot very long. The local continued on to a better spot, where I only saw one jellyfish. Besides the occasional garbage, the water was crystal clear, and we saw was some nice coral and small creatures swimming about. I was able to dive down 5-10 feet for a few seconds at a time to get a closer look at the small fish and anemone. I’m guessing the area had been over fished though, because everywhere else I’ve snorkeled or dove has had a lot more marine life.

After we got back to the shore, Whitney (our nurse) put hydrocortisone on my sting, which helped with the pain and swelling immediately. Cold Prestige beers were waiting for us, so I enjoyed one with the group. The others had already had a couple of beers and even some Haitian rum and son-son (whatever that is), which was part of a long-running joke with Hank throughout the week. We took some group photos together and just had a great time hanging out, laughing, and telling stories.

Our entire mission team, along with Patrick, Robenson, Oldi, James, and the bartender lady at our beach hut.

Unfortunately we had to leave the beach around 4, but we stopped at a preschool to drop off some donations. The school was a simple concrete building with about 4 classrooms, an outdoor hallway, tiny chairs, a chalkboard, and a few old toys. We learned that this particular school cost $125/student/year, and about 36 kids attended. The attendance had dropped from about 50 students due to cost.

A chalkboard at the very simple preschool we visited in Arcahaie. The kids that get an education in Haiti are the lucky ones.

Next we returned to the church to see the kids anxiously waiting for us. They were always so excited to see us, with big shouts and waves and huge smiles on their faces. For dinner we filled up on fish with Congo beans, onions, and rice; fried plantain; coleslaw; and mango. We continued to hang out with the kids until dark. Our water supply had a leak in it, so we ran out after only a couple people had showered. Patrick went out and brought back a few buckets full of water so we could take bucket showers. This trip, and especially tonight, really made me realize how little water you actually need for daily tasks. I’ve heard than an average American uses 300 gallons of water a day, but I think we could probably use about a hundredth of that. Since I’ve been home I’ve vowed to take shorter showers, spend less time with the water running while doing dishes and prepping food, and just appreciating the clean water that I’m blessed with every day. We had another great devotional before heading to bed at our usual time.

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.