0600- Last night during orientation someone in our group asked Sarah if an alarm clock was needed to wake up on time this morning, to which Sarah replied with a sly southern smile; just listen for the rooster! Well 4:45 am Mr. Rooster took to crowing and let me tell you that is one cock who knows his job! Our group slowly gathered downstairs for breakfast bleary eyed and not so bushy tailed, yet spirits remain high as the thought of coming closer to our final destination loomed near. A quick breakfast of bananas, toast and Haitian coffee helped to upright our balance, preparing us for a two hour car ride then four hour boat ride over to the island of La Gonave. On a personal note, Haitian coffee is the best damn coffee on the face of the planet! Starbucks, PEETS, and all you other half cracked coffee hacks can bow down and kiss the Haitians bums because your roasted beans are no match for the superior flavor of Haitian coffee! MMMMMMmmm sipping some right now…. Oh yeah where was I? Our main interpreter Richard arrived and was introduced to the team. I don’t have a read on him yet, he appears friendly enough but to be honest he comes off as a bit curt and rigid. I am sure that comes with meeting 10 people you don’t know but will soon be living and working with for a week. I hope he adapts quickly because with our groups dynamic personalities we are not for the rigid!
The team loaded up, waved goodbye to our hosts, and headed out (once again through the UNLOCKED, UNGAURDED gate of the guest house-so promising). Moving through the streets I tried several times to strike up conversation with our driver, he was very friendly but his English was lacking, or should I say my Creole sucked. Always one for good humorous conversation it seemed as though this trip would hold no such luck, although somewhere mid trip our driver did locate a radio station playing Haitian/English Rap and let’s just say some of the music’s lyrics involved various parts of the female anatomy being used in various ways that well, just created a serious run of the giggles for those who could hear it!
Honking, braking hard, weaving in and out of traffic, it became clear that some things in Haiti would never change. The Haitian driving style is terrifying to most foreigners, it was terrifying to me the very first time I rode through the streets of Haiti. But who am I to judge, it works for them. In America we use the horn to say: Hey asshole get out of my way, or you idiot, you almost hit me! Or Hey buddy I am telling you I think you are number one! Look over here, look over here at my waving “number one” symbol!!!! In Haiti they use the horn to say; hey buddy I need to come around! Then the driver in front will honk his horn in return as a symbol he understands and you may pass. It’s an interesting system devised of horn honking with a series of hand signals combining rapid acceleration and flat to the floor speed. It’s like NASCAR with horns and vans and Tap-Taps and Mack trucks and Water trucks and oxen with carts and-oh well you get the point!
In the town of Carrefour we were to pick up our second interpreter Caz. Now Caz was an interpreter on Jacy’s first mission and through sheer luck became the interpreter on my first mission. Caz feels like family, he is warm and caring, has the tact of a politician in touchy situations with the caring hand of a pastor. He loves his country, and believes in the resilience of the Haitian people to stand up and overcome all forms of adversity. When I left him last year within minutes I was missing my new found friend. I have kept in contact with Caz over the year and my heart is pounding at the thought of reconnecting with this dear man. In the distance we see the truck holding our supplies parked on the side of the road, pulling up we also see the driver has in fact picked up Caz. We roll by slowly and everyone waves, Caz is on the phone and gives a gentle wave out the window that is until he sees my child like pie eyed face beaming back at him! He jumps forward and waves excitedly as he realizes who is waving! Little does he know there are two more of his old friends wedged in the back anxiously waiting to give him a giant hug as well!
Continuing along the western coastline from Port au Prince, signs of recovery are everywhere! Sidewalks cleared, repaired and clean with residents sweeping them as we pass by. Traffic, short of the normal craziness that is driving in Haiti is moving unimpeded. For those of us returning to this area once again it is a sight to behold. There are parts of this island that astound you with the level of destruction still remaining. There are other areas teaming with recovery efforts, and there are parts of this country that leave you feeling as though the recovery process is almost complete with gleaming buildings, painted or reworked walls and fencing along with courtyards brimming with banana plants and foliage! As we climbed into the mountains my breath was taken away by the sheer beauty surrounding this magnificent place! Plantations built into the mountain sides, lush green rolling hills and corn growing on any free space available. Rolling over our last hill before the drop into Petit-Goave, our final destination, I am wishing I had seen this place before the earthquake to know what it looked like prior. One can have a sense but unless you have lived in that time frame you will never truly know and I wanted to know. Pulling down a small narrow cobblestone street we stop next to a courtyard and are directed to get out for we’d arrived! Jumping out of the van Caz and I take one look at each other and start laughing as we give each other a great big hug! Quickly he spies Jacy and Heather making the reunion complete! He is overflowing with joy at the sight of our smiling faces as we are overjoyed at the sight of his as well! We all soon find ourselves unloading luggage from the truck, then shuttling it through a courtyard to a small slab of concrete and dirt where a small skiff is waiting to take us out to the larger boat. Once our luggage is loaded the skiff maneuvers carefully off shore where our sailboat awaits its arrival. Yep I said it, SAILBOAT! Wind driven voyager of the seas, a trusted form of transportation since the dawn of time! From the first moment some knuckle dragger looked into a hollow stump, threw the stump into the water and thought; ugh I float in that, it take me far! Wait! If me put up large palm leaf, me harness wind and go farther! Yep the trusty old (an in this case I mean really old) sail boat! Capt. Jack Sparrow himself walking the port side couldn’t have made this day any better!
While our luggage is being hauled off to the boat Jacy and I meet with Pastor Jackie. Pastor Jackie runs this region for the Methodist church and is our point man for this portion of the journey. He is in his thirties, good looking and very likeable. We know from our briefing that he holds much respect in the community of Source a Philipe and is considered the future of the church. We move into a back room of the church alongside the courtyard where our crew currently waits to load into the skiff for a ride to the boat. Once inside we start to discuss expenses, there is $600 for the boat ride to and from the mainland. There is also a $50 a night fee per person for staying on the island. Then there is the associated costs of extra interpreters and such. Some of the costs are confusing to me due to various rates and needs. But we settle up and on the way out I feel even more confused by the whole process. Little did I know that confusion would grow stronger as the week wore on? Pastor Jackie stayed to see us off, letting us know he would be at the island on Monday to check in on our progress.
After a few more short journeys in the skiff shuttling people the last person climbs aboard, our crew pulls anchor and we set sail to the north for what turned out to be one of the most beautifully serene and calm boat rides I have ever experienced. The water is a color blue that not even I could explain and do it justice. The sky has billowing Caribbean clouds floating lazily overhead and the breeze is warm and damp. I am in heaven. The boat rocks gently back and forth, up and down and every now then a little water would splash up and get my dangling legs. A few of our members needed to crawl out of the sun and a few more unfortunately were dealing with motion sickness. But I was laid back, legs hanging like bait over the sides, hat over my face half sleeping, half hoping this day would never end. My wife is in her element as well. Sun hat on, sunscreen slathered, that inviting, warm smile of hers lighting up the deck as she spoke of Haiti and how much she loved this county. She ended up in a conversation with one of our interpreters Richard. Richard told a story of his mother passing away, living with missionaries, being educated in the finest schools only to have no money to go to college. Watching painfully as his friends went off and became doctors and engineers while he stayed home and drove a Tap-Tap (multi-person taxi). It was humiliating! To make matters worse his family and friends all made fun of him for not being able to figure out how to get himself through college. He has since gone to college and he holds two Visa’s allowing him to travel in and out of the United States. He tells of others who have obtained the very same visa’s only to never return to their home country of Haiti. Richard states every time he goes he feels the need to come home, for you see no matter how educated he becomes he only sees his people, the people he cares for and wishes to help. The people of his home country, the people of Haiti. I am starting to like him.
After 4 or so hours of sailing across a magnificent sea in calm weather with nothing more than some heat stroke and nausea we slip over a reef into 4 feet of crystal clear water to arrive at the small fishing village of Source a Philipe. Once the anchors set another small skiff emerges from the shoreline to start an arduous journey of bringing us to shore then gather all of our baggage. My initial perception of this place is that of amazement! Source a Philipe should be on the cover of a vacation magazine! Yes the beach is littered with run down shacks, and the streets are not really streets anymore but run down pathways filled with cobblestone. But it doesn’t matter, it has beauty in its own strange way. There is garbage lining the sand and even more as you walk around, normal for this culture, shocking to us clean freaks and easily fixable with about a weeks’ worth of work. We are greeted by many townsfolk upon our arrival. As introductions are given we meet François. (duh da dunnnnn- villain music inserted here) François introduces himself as an associate pastor and the general contact for all things involving the community. If we need something we are to ask him for it, if payment to anyone needs made it goes through François, the self-described “Liaison” was there for our group at anywhere, anytime. François wanted nothing more than our happiness during this stay in Source a Philipe. Now don’t get me wrong, it all seemed friendly enough at the time, but Jacy and I both looked at each other and after 11 years of marriage no words needed to be exchanged. Something didn’t feel right. François walked us up the hill towards a guest house where our belongings were to be delivered by the local youth. Standing on the steps the clinic is quickly spotted a few yards away and a few of us wander over, curious about what lay behind its walls. Francois follows opening the doors where we quickly discover three empty rooms, with the exception of one reclining chair and a couple of benches this is going to take a bit of creativity. Our sleeves quickly become rolled up and as medical baggage arrives within a matter of a few hours we have transformed these three empty rooms into a room for dentistry, a room for education and a room for minor medical issues. We have added two more rocking chairs for patients, and a few more tables for supplies. It’s not perfect, but it will do! During this time we also meet up with a band of college students from the Wesley Foundation who have been living on the island for the last month! They have fixed a cistern, some water lines and built a cinder block latrine! They are young and in good spirits, they seem to be a fairly tight knit group and are very happy to see us.
After setting up the clinic and meeting our new friends we all gather again (new friends too) and decide it is time for a swim. The boats captain- (Captain Jackson) offers to take us out off shore near the reef where you can stand in four foot of water, gathering starfish and sea cucumbers (also fondly known as “Kaka nan lanme a” or poop in the sea- a joke we will further discuss later) . We all make our way down the newly built dock and into our trusty skiff, laughing and joking with our new found friends. Three hundred or so yards out he stops the boat and lets us know we can now get in the water! First person off is always the hardest as you upset the balance of a little skiff so when Doc rolled out into the water all heck broke loose as the skiff rocked hard from side to side! All of us laughed and joked like school children as one by one we plopped our tired, sweaty bodies into the ocean. It was fantastic! We swam as a group, we laughed as a group and we played as a group. The water was perfect and so was the swim. The water is like swimming pool water, so crystal clear you can see to the bottom and the temperature is perfect! Ally came up with starfish and sea urchins, Orson found plenty of Kaka nan lanme a, to which we all chuckled! How could an animal of the sea look so much like a giant poop? Oh well questions that will never be answered.
After our swim while walking back from the beach we strike up conversation with a few from the other group and one in particular “Ally” seems to have the low down on the village! (sounds like a future alliance) Everywhere she goes children can be heard screaming her name; AAAALLLLLEEEEYYYYYYY!!!!! It’s hysterical! Reminds me of another mission trip where all you could hear through the village was children screaming MMMMAAAAAAGGGGGIIIIEEEE! (Maggie) Another young woman who had her finger on the pulse of a village through the children. Alley walks us around, giving us the grand tour explaining where everything is at, who is who and what is what. You can tell her time here has been very fulfilling as she speaks with kindness, love and generosity about these people. She breaks away after a while telling us she will meet up with us later and off she heads into the groups accommodations. It is nice knowing there is another group here to lean upon.
We finished the day off with showers and another wonderful Haitian dinner. François came back around and through conversation I met our third interpreter “Ronald”. Ronald would be provided for us by the Haitian Methodist Church. We had not planned on a third interpreter but Ronald was very nice and quickly adapted to our group. Francois informed us of a 9am church service that we had already planned on attending. François thought it would be nice if one of us could speak as there was no pastor amongst us. My wife offers to speak, thank goodness because if anyone can pull it off she can! She continues to amaze me at every turn. Not because I ever think she “can’t” do something, but because over the almost 11 years we have been married she does any task better and better every time with grace and charm.
The women’s dorm is located inside the main guest house and the men’s is located on the other side of the Wesley Foundations (college kids) house. An interpreter is housed in each and we both had hired security. We all gathered and chatted for a while but one by one the day seemed to wear on everyone and we all sort of drifted off to our respective place. Saying goodnight to my wife, she was working very hard on her presentation for church the following morning. I read what she had prepared, it was powerful, to the point and moving.
Heather, Alisa and Mellissa were bunked up in one room, Kristina, Gail and Jacy were in the other. It was girls’ summer camp at its finest! (Let your imagination go wild). Orson, Preston, Brent and I said our final goodnights and wandered off to our little corner of the world. Orson and Preston in one room, Brent and myself in another. I felt kind of special being roomed with the international man of mystery. It turned out to be one of my better decisions during the trip as evening conversations with this man were fantastic. I will always remember the time spent with our own Brent Watney.
Clinic set up, accommodations taken care of, dinner devoured, showers finished, goodnights all the way around, now for a little me time. Head phones on, sweat running off my legs, bugs swirling around my face and some Miles Davis. Just what the doctor ordered.
Tomorrow is a new day and only God knows what’s in store for this team and I trust he has given us a task that we can handle.
(Please dear readers be patient as Betty is trying her very best to tell this story, I am trying hard to paint a picture from my perspective and it is taking quite a bit of rewrite from my notes. I am terribly afraid I am missing key parts, hopefully as I continue through my emotions the story will come easier and quicker)