Haiti holds a very, very special place in my heart.
When I was 19 years old I desperately wanted to take a mission trip to visit friends who run a school in Ghana, West Africa. I begged and pleaded with mom, but there was no way she was going to send me that far away by myself. So we compromised. We knew a family who was living in Port-de-Paix, Haiti and teaching at a school called Sonlight Academy. I would be allowed to go visit them if I wanted to. It was a compromise I agreed to partially because I loved the family I was going to stay with – Scott & Debbie Taylor and their two kids, Hilary & Evan. I had babysat Hilary & Evan before they left for Haiti and thought it would be fun to get back in touch with them.
We scheduled my trip for December 1997. I was going to go for 10 days and help in the school while staying with the Taylors. I was nervous and totally excited.
I quickly learned the term “island time” meant nothing follows any schedule (something I enjoy on St. John now, but it made my 19-year-old self very upset). The flight from Miami to Haiti had been delayed by about 7 hours…meaning I was going to have a TEN HOUR layover in Miami instead of a 3 hour layover. My uncle had planned to come sit with me (prior to the restrictions of non-ticket holders at the gates), but ended up taking me on a tour of Miami and out to eat to kill some of my time. Thank you, Uncle Marshall.
When I finally got on the plane to Haiti, my heartrate sky-rocketed. Was I really sure I was ready to do this??? It was dark as we flew into Haiti. Though mostly dark, there was a small village on side of a mountain with electricity. My first thought, “A city on a hill can not be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) Isn’t it amazing how God speaks to us in times of need?
My anxiety was alleviated once I saw Scott Taylor at the airport in Port-au-Prince. The same airport where I’m now watching planes from all over the world bring aid and aid-relief workers.
Scott got me through customs and got my passport stamped. Then explained to me that instead of taking a small plane to Port-de-Paix (PdP), we were going to spend the night in Port-au-Prince (PaP) and then take the BUS to PdP. We stayed at a small hostel in PaP where many American missionaries stay the night before or after a flight out of/into the country. There was an armed guard with a large dog at the locked gate…my first experience of this type. There was a pool, though we didn’t swim, and a beautiful fountain. Everyone staying in the house used one bathroom. As I sit here now, I have a horrible feeling that the house where I slept (or didn’t sleep) that night is no longer standing. I’m wondering what happened to my very kind hosts.
The following morning, Scott and I were taken to a bus stop for our trip to Pdp. There were dirty children everywhere begging for food and for money. It was awful. Scott told me there was no way I could help the all. It was heartbreaking. Now I sit and wonder…what happened to those children? Were they still alive this week when the earthquake hit? I know they are no longer children, but they may even have children now…
We boarded a school bus full of people and wildlife…goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, etc. It was straight out of a movie. Even the aisle had stools in it. Scott had paid for us to have FOUR SEATS which meant that the two of us had a whole school bus seat to ourselves. Yes – a school bus seat. As the bus pulled away from the stop, a shadow of the bus appeared to my left. THERE WERE PEOPLE ON TOP OF THE BUS where my suitcase was. Oh my!!! I looked at Scott with panic and he told me that for the price of 1/2 a seat, you could ride on top of the bus.
Now, in the U.S. this bustrip may have taken a few hours (including stops), but in Haiti the roads are awful. We were on a paved road for a while, but then the pavement ended (go US) and we were traveling on dirt. The trip took 10 hours…on a school bus…with goats & chickens. It was WONDERFUL!! I bought sugar cane from a child who ran alongside the bus tapping the bus with the canes. (note: watch for splinters in your tongue when eating sugar cane that had just been chopped) I had never seen anything like it. When the bus stopped to refuel, we got off to stretch our legs and I experienced one of my favorite Haitian treats…Banan-a-fui…or banana of fire. It was plantain sliced lengthwise and grilled topped with something hot. I’ll never recreate it because I have no clue what it was. But it was delicious.
As we traveled, the driver had the radio on a Haitian station and the music was fun. Then suddenly, at some point in the trip, the radio announcer came on saying something in Creole that caused the whole bus to go crazy. People were crying and then listening carefully as the report continued. Scott explained to me that a very important official in PdP (where I was headed) had been assisnated overnight. The plan for my arrival in PdP changed, though I have no clue what the original plan was.
When we got to PdP, I was instructed to get off the bus and RUN to a doorway on the other side of the street. Scott would get my bag. I did just that – there was no question after seeing the near-riot in the street where the bus stopped. I ran into that doorway and the man inside said to me, get under this counter. I did that too. It wasn’t too long before I was loaded into the back of closed SUV (like a dodge ram, maybe) and taken to the Taylor’s house. It was scary, but exhilarating.
I didn’t spend much time in Port-au-Prince on my arrival, but I did get to see more of it when I left…
Yes, I’m skipping my entire week in Port-de-Paix. I’ll post about that another day. It was a wonderful week and I have always longed to return and teach at Sonlight Academy. Maybe someday…
When I left Port-de-Paix, Scott thought I deserved to go the easy way this time (i.e. no 10 hour busride). They took me to the PdP airport…a shack with a dirt runway…where a TINY plane was waiting. There were 11 of us on that plane, counting the pilot & co-pilot. I have never been so thankful for the kindness of strangers…there was a Mennonite couple who traveled back and forth to Haiti on a regular basis and spend the time between leaving PdP and getting on a plane in Port-au-Prince helping me along so I didn’t get lost or overwhelmed.
We got in the air (surprisingly) and the pilot TURNED AROUND (no speakers here – TINY PLANE) and said that some of our gas had been ciphoned and we would need to make an unplanned stop to refuel. It was actually scary since at one point, the plane actually sputtered. I looked out my window at the mountians beside me and thought, “I lift my eyes up to the moutains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from you, maker of Heaven.” (Psalm 121:1-2) We stopped in Cap Haitien, Haiti to get gas. It was BEAUTIFUL. Oh my…
Then, reboarded the TINY plane and headed to PaP. Once there, we landed at some tiny airport that wasn’t the main airport where I needed to be!! Again, the Mennonite couple shuttled me into a cab and over to the main airport where their flight was getting ready to leave. I had a few hours to kill. So I shopped. I got a lot of Haitian keepsakes there that I hadn’t had an opportunity to even know existed. My favorite purchases? A statue for my dad which sits in his office at church though they picked on me that it was a voodoo statue. A mask for Karen Fletcher (single at the time) that we all joked was a fertility god. And a Haitian navity set for my mom in which the stable is a coconut.
I met a lot of people on my trip in and out of Haiti. It breaks my heart to think that some of those people could possibly be in that mass grave of an estimated 40,000 people – unidentified – lost. I think that is a part of the reports that break my heart the most. Burial is an important rite no matter what your religion or belief. The thought that people will never know what came of their loved ones really gets under my skin. CNN had a family on this morning whose mother was in Haiti and died in the earthquake. They have no clue where her body is. They are begging for someone – anyone – to find her body and return it to them. And how is that someone supposed to find her? What if she is already in the mass grave? What if they never find the body of their mother? It is devastating…
Please, please pray for the people of Haiti. Please pray for the aid workers striving to bring help to those people. PLEASE PRAY FOR THE CHILDREN!!!
I nearly adopted a child the week I was in Haiti. There was an orphanage in Port-de-Paix that was closing and they had an infant that had yet to be adopted. I called home (during a moment when the lines were functioning) and told my mom I was going to adopt him. I didn’t…but I almost did. Someone else took responsibility for him.
I saw many things during my 10 days in the country of Haiti and I have never been the same. There isn’t a day when I don’t think about Haiti and returning to teach there. It calls to me…
The earthquake this week is making my heart break. I want to go there and hold those children. I want to sign up to adopt a child who has been orphaned by the quake. For now, all I can do is give & pray. I encourage you to do so too.