Haiti - A Memoir (Or So It Would Seem... )

Since we returned home early on Sunday morning, I've been thinking about the best way to "talk" about our trip with my Facebook friends.  I don't want to write a summarizing post and risk missing the small details that made the trip special, but I also don't want to overwhelm you all with the 77 pages that I wrote in my journal.  I think the best way to share my experience with you is the same way God shared it with me, one day at a time.  Here we go....

Day 1

Today has been my first full day in Jacmel, Haiti.  Friday night, we met at the church at 11:30 p.m.  We drove to Atlanta and arrived at the airport at about 3:30 a.m.  I honestly thought we were leaving too early, but it seemed to be a good amount of time - especially with all of the luggage we had.  Between the six of us, there were 12 carry ons and 11 large checked bags.  We checked in at 4:30 a.m. and headed to security.  My carry on back pack set off their alarm so it was fully searched.  I'd really like to know what set it off so I know not to pack that again.  It took almost an hour to get us all through security.  We found our gate and Mark, Elena, Kristy and I went to grab breakfast.  My last full "American" meal was an omelet, sausage, bacon and cheese sandwich on a croissant with a diet Pepsi.  It was awesome.

On the way back to our gate, I passed a vending machine that had items one may need while flying.  One of those items was a Kindle - a Kindle in a vending machine!  Only in America....  

We sat down near the gate and Mitch and Candice went to get some food.  I saw that I had missed a call from Big Jake (my father in law) and called him back.  I promised to be safe on my trip.  When I hung up they began boarding the plane.  The four of us stood in line and kept letting people ahead of us since Mitch and Candice had not yet returned.  They appeared just as the airline called final boarding and we were off!

Once in Miami we found out that our next flight had been over-booked.  The airline was offering $800 vouchers to 6 people that would give up our seats.  It was very tempting but we had people waiting for us in Port-au-Prince and we did not need to delay the.  The flight was so crowded that the airline gate-checked most of the large carry on bags.  I couldn't help but think of the "United Breaks Guitars" song when I overheard one of the employees complaining that they were up to four guitars.  

We were warned that the airport in Haiti would be chaotic.  It definitely was.  We filled out customs and immigration forms and then waited in a hot, sticky mess of people to go through immigration.

The immigration officer took y passport and documentation.  He stamped them and gestured for me to keep going.  He didn't ask a single question.  The immigration area provided the last opportunity for a bathroom until we arrived in Jacmel.  You'd better believe that I took advantage of that opportunity!

The majority of our luggage was thrown in the floor, despite the conveyor belts.  After some searching, pushing and some mild panic (we thought a bag was missing), we found all of our bags.  We then paid a gentleman to help us and began to venture out of the airport.  Several men rushed our carts, trying to "help" us.  They were looking for tips.  We kept saying "No merci!" but they kept coming.

Finally Candice recognized Jean Mary and Mitch saw Chris.  We followed them to the van and our luggage was loaded.  There were three vans total.  One for luggage, one for a group from Tennessee and one for us.

It seemed like it took forever to get through the sea of vehicles around the airport.  If there are traffic laws in Haiti, they are not obeyed.  There were no speed limit signs, no lines on most of the roads, very few street signs and only  handful of traffic lights (which, surprisingly, were obeyed).  The horn is the most used signal in Haiti.  when approaching an intersection, the first to beep the horn proceeds.  When passing, the horn is beeped to signal the other person to move over.

Driving through the city of Port-au-Prince was eye-opening.  I knew going into the trip that it was a poor city, but seeing it really made it hit home.  It was obvious that the poverty existed long before the earthquake, but the quake definitely didn't help.

We drove passed several tent cities - all still occupied at least to some degree.  There was trash everywhere.

People rushed the van and tried to sell us drinks, ice cream and art.  It was very overwhelming.  We passed the capital building.  The dome was almost completely collapsed by the earthquake and the remainder of the building was in shambles.

The entire drive through Port-au-Prince took a little over 2 hours.  The poor road conditions and non-existent traffic laws made for very slow travel.

Outside of the city, we began our climb into the Haitian mountains.  If Port-au-Prince were on one end of a spectrum, the mountains would be on the other.  The road was very narrow and winding, but I didn't feel like I was in danger.  I enjoyed the ride and barely flinches as we swerved around cars, livestock and people.  The driver slowed down for me once so I could get a nice picture from the top of a mountain.

The air was so much nicer up there and, for the first time since arriving I thought, "The temperature might not bee too bad!"  It turns out though that Jacmel is not in the mountains.  It is on the other side in the elevation of hot and sticky.

We went straight to the hotel and unpacked the luggage.  We were given our room assignments.  Kristy and I shared a room that had a full sized bed and a twin sized bed.  The bathroom had a toilet, large shower and a sink.  No mirror.  There was a five gallon bucket in the shower.  This could be filled and used in case the water didn't work.  That happened once on our trip.

Back in the main area of the room I thought I was seeing things.  There was an air conditioner!  Praise God!!!  Throughout the rest of the trip, we referred to this wonderful amenity as the "magic box."

We had about 20 minutes to comb our hair, drink some water, check out the rooftop and meet in the lobby to go to the Restoration House for dinner.

We rode in the back of the tap tap which is a pickup truck equip with either benches for sitting or rails for holding on.  It was a fun but bumpy ride.  We passed several children playing near the road.  They smiled and yelled "Blanc!  Blanc!"

We arrived just in time for dinner.  After the blessing, we ventured over to the spread.  I don't know what I expected the food to be like, but I know it wasn't that.  We were served an amazing stew with potatoes, dumplings, beef and vegetables.  We poured the stew over rice and drank either mango juice or water.

After dinner, Pastor LaFleur  briefed us about what to expect while we were here.  We went back to our hotel on the tap tap and met on the roof top to discuss our day and pray.  As we had been warned, the power turned off at 2am.  It took 8 minutes for the generator to turn on.  After that, the "magic box" was back on and we were very happy.

Join me next time I have 20 minutes to myself for Day 2.  In the meantime, please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 providing the same children with a glass of milk for $150.


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