Photo of the Day: Remembering the Haiti Earthquake

Many of you, like me, probably remember the media coverage of the earthquake in Haiti like it was yesterday. It was three years ago today. After visiting Haiti in November, I still cannot fathom the masses of people who were killed, or how resilient the survivors are. As you can see from the photo below, there is still a lot of recovery to be done.

To read more about my journey to Haiti, click here.

A building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti remains in ruins three years after the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

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.

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…