Haiti Misssion trip 2012 part 1

 

Everyone needs a great adventure! Living life in the same general confines day after day can become mundane at best. This last week my son and I took the adventure of a lifetime. We traveled to Haiti on a mission trip.

Haiti, officially the Republic of Haiti, is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.

In 2010 a 7.0 earthquake struck the city of Leogane, approximately 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The devastation to the country was massive. Nearly 220,000 Haitians killed (although government estimates were higher) millions left homeless with no electricity, running water or sanitary services. Billions of dollars in aid were raised, tent cities were built, the dead were buried and the people of Haiti were left to grieve.

June 2012

Mission Impossible

Good morning Mr. Phelps. Your mission if you choose to accept it, meet with ten other like-minded individuals looking to spread gods word and lend a hand to an impoverished country. Appoint a leader from within the ten, who will represent you, your families and the church with the utmost character, honor and dignity. Have that leader appoint jobs that best suit the team. Meet at SFO on the afternoon of June 6th, with clothes, food and enough tools to effectively demolish a building riddled by earthquake damage. Once all is in place load the plane with your team under the assumption you may never return. If you are caught or captured the association will disavow any knowledge of your being. Good luck Mr. Phelps. This note will self destruct in 5 seconds……

Our team.

John C.-Leader code name: Precious

John G.- Co-leader code name: Hammer

Mason- code name: Bieber

Paul- code name: Bubbles

James- code name: OSHA

Cody- code name: Gun Show

Heather- code name: Chicken Head

Anne- code name: The Annimal

Jan- code name: Naj/Cornrow

Maggie- code name: Rosie the Riveter

We met up on the morning of June 6th, pumped and ready to go. Our minds on fire at what we assumed lay before us. We had two teenagers on the team, Cody and Maggie, who were looking for more than just the average “community service credits” to complete high school. More is definitely what they received.

We laughed and joked all the way to the airport. We met Mason and Paul at SFO as they came from another town far away from our own. Having waved goodbye to our loved ones we passed through security and set out on our journey.

First leg; 9 hours of traveling.

Day rolled into night and night back into day. We arrived in Miami on time and drug our tired, sorry butts through the multiple terminals until we settled on gate 24, our new home for the next hour. The tantalizing smells coming from a coffee shop across the way filled our senses and before long we joined the throng of local business travelers drinking coffee, eating pastries and pretending our minds were in the same time zone.

While boarding our flight for the last leg of our journey, I quickly noticed a different mood or demeanor aboard this plane. Gone were the happy, laughing families headed to Miami for a week at South Beach or Disney World. In its place were weary Mission group travelers and grumpy looking businessmen. The flight was quiet and uneventful, we all found a certain irony in the “corn muffin” snack we were given en route to Port au Prince.

Landing in Port-au-Prince it was evident we were no longer in the United States. Uniformed personnel everywhere, passengers ushered like cattle from one place to the next eventually landing in line for immigration to check our documents. Having heard many a horror story about this process I watched intently as the officer checked documents, asked questions, occasionally rolling his eyes and waving on to the next victim. There were only two of them and both seemed like a DMV worker on a bad day.

Finally it was our turn, grabbing Cody we walked up, papers in hand ready to do battle with the icy stare of the immigration agent. He looked me in the eye, stared at my documents, looked at Cody, stared at his documents, stamped them both and waved us through. Not a word passed between us. Seriously? I was shocked! It was nothing as we had been warned. In and out in 15 minutes.

Now here is where you learn the importance of keeping an eye on your bag, like you are told in every airport in every major metropolitan city in America. In Haiti, you need to be the first to grab your bag as it comes off the line. If you aren’t the first to your bag there is a Haitian in a red shirt waiting to grab it for you. Once this happens they want money for handling the bag. It’s that simple. Any job no matter how small means an income for these people. Just a dollar, that’s all it takes. One dollar. If you say yes to grabbing the bags, ten of them will argue over whose claim it is. Its quite shocking at first, but what would you do to feed your family in a country the government has basically left behind?

Luggage gathered we were met by Jackson our church appointed liaison, who had a crew of his own handling our bags. Once identified as being attached to our group the other baggage handlers moved aside out of respect and allowed us all to travel unimpeded to our awaiting vehicles. Arriving at the vehicles we were greeted by two more members of UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers In Mission) with great big hugs and giant Haiti Hello’s. For our group it was a welcomed sight and tensions eased a bit after the bombardment of hustling for bags from men just trying to earn a buck.

The ride through Port-au-Prince to the guest house was eye-opening to say the least. Devastation, filth, and concrete dust hung in the air. Everything here is built from concrete as wood is a premium. Also concrete handles the bombardment of seasonal hurricanes better than wood products. The roads through the main city were filled with giant pot holes and piles of garbage, abandoned cars and street venders. Some roads had pavement, others were dirt, while some where a battered combination of both. City streets were filled with people, cars, tap-taps and motorcycles. There appears to be no traffic laws as drivers went where they wanted when they wanted with nothing more than the tap of a horn. In Haiti the horn is used the way it was originally intended, to warn you of an upcoming vehicle. Much different from here in the United States where it is considered an insult associated with poor judgement. While stopped trying to wedge our way between another vehicle and motorcycle our vehicle was bum rushed by a handful of children and a few adults. The children with their hands out saying; hello friend, god bless you friend, may I have a dollar? The adults selling bracelets and necklaces or water. We had been warned not to give anything, no matter what for fear of the chaos it would evoke. Yet every fiber of your being wants so desperately to help the children.

The immediate area was dirty, crowded, and smelled of sewage in some spots, but there seemed to be a strange harmony, or rhythm to the controlled chaos surrounding us. We wound our way through the street and alleys, collapsed concrete buildings and fences, eventually driving by a “tent city” that remained in effect. The tent city was at one time an organized neat row of fabric buildings but now were relegated to disgusting shanties and I found it hard to understand how people could live that way. That of course is the ugly, privileged, I am better than you American coming from inside; in hindsight you make the best with what you are given and try to forge ahead. Its human nature. Our driver told us many have deserted the tent cities and are finding better housing but for every family that leaves there are many more taking their place. Crime is rampant inside the tent cities and gangs are claiming areas as their own.

The smell of burning plastic, paper and rubber hung heavy over the area as well. Our diver apologized to us for all we had seen along with the smells. I thought it odd he was apologizing, but what I failed to think about at the time was; this was his home. He remembers the way Haiti used to be, a place of pride for himself and many of his countrymen. It must be sad to see his own people suffering day after day.

The streets climbed upwards, they grew more narrow. Still lined with merchants selling their wares, people bustling about, make shift repair shops, fabricating materials in ally ways the place was alive with activity! It was exciting. In all the dreary colors one thing repeatedly stood out and continued to stand out throughout the trip. The bright, clean pressed, sharply put together uniforms adorned by school children walking in groups around every corner.

I checked in on Cody from time to time during the drive. He was quiet and reserved looking at everything that passed our way. He Had Maggie with him so they were both sharing the very same experience. I was glad they were together, our families have known each other for many years and that simple familiarity goes along way in a foreign place.

We drove by entire blocks of housing crumbled to the ground, tarps covering some with people still living in what was left of their homes. It continued endlessly up the hillside as we rose. Yet there they were, school children, neat, clean and fresh as a daisy. Bright yellow, Blue and grey uniforms all markers of the schools they attended. it was awesome! A smile and wave would get you the same greeting in return. One last turn of a corner and we had arrived. Mission accepted…

The guest house. (to be continued)

Off on an adventure!!

I am packing my bags and I’m hitting the bricks! Dagwood sandwich in one hand, knap sack in the other,”we” are headed on an adventure of great proportions. Oops I let the cat out of the bag, by saying “we” didn’t I? Well it seems my eldest son wanted more than to just file paperwork at the local police station to fulfill his “public service” requirements for graduation from high school. So he and I headed off on a spiritual journey. An expedition hopefully filled with emotional growth and worldly knowledge. Not a vacation mind you but an actual trip filled with hard work, dedication and compassion for others. So we answered the call, meeting up with 8 other people from our church, partaking in some fundraising and away we go!!!

Along the way it will be a true conquest to overcome the need for electronics, video games, ringing cell phones, packed schedules and school. A much-needed reality check from todays society filled with not so real “reality” television blaring in your face 24/7.

Where can we go to find such isolation you ask??

Haiti

Yep, that’s right as in “hot as Haiti” the wonderful little grief-stricken country on the tip of the Dominican Republic. You remember Haiti don’t you? A massive 7.0 earthquake ripped the country apart in 2010 leaving 316,000 dead, 300,000 injured and more than a million residents homeless; devastating the country’s infrastructure and crushing any commerce or trade to sustain economic stability. Well its 2012 and it appears that half a million Haitians still remain homeless living on the streets or in tent camps. financial aid is at a stalemate with only portions of promised funding actually being delivered to its intended recipients. Government corruption is rampant and the Haitian citizens are truly suffering.

Winner, Winner!

Thanks to the wonderful air carrier American Airlines , my son and I are heading into Port Au Prince with a United Methodist Church group, sponsored by UMCOR or the United Methodist Committee On Relief. Leaving in June we will spend 10 lovely days and nights soaked in radiant sun just north of the equator. This not so all expense paid vacation will provide us ample time to dig, shuttle rubble, and carry heavy objects from one place to another. Want to lose weight while in Haiti? No problem with an average 80% humidity while entrenched in 90+ degree weather, those pounds will melt right off. I am surprised Guthy-Renker hasn’t figured out how to bottle it up and sell it to the masses on late night T.V. yet.

While in Haiti we will be treated to luxurious accommodations including but not limited too; One room out buildings with army cots, an open air solar shower, built-in charcoal kitchen, and wooden sided latrine. Want to go on an excursion while you there? No problem just grab your interpreter and head out into the streets to meet the locals! Dont worry, they are glad to see you ( as volunteers are the only true economy source) so be respectful, take it all in and just avoid eye contact with U.N. police officers at all costs.

All kidding aside. We cant wait to go! My wife volunteered last year and came home with amazing stories of families torn apart, entire families killed, strangers raising children they found after the quake and some of the kindest most resilient, generous people she had ever met. They live in a world where they are truly on their own. The streets are lined with garbage, rubble remains everywhere, mass tent cities are still operating, and Cholera is still rampant, all though latest statistics from UMCOR show those numbers are dropping. The Haitian people want and need our help. The churches are the only true center of social and economic stability for these people. We are honored to a part of this rebuilding effort.

I also think this will be an incredible growing experience for my son. Surrounded by all the creature comforts a kid could possibly have, we hope this will further ground an already fairly centered kid just a little more. When we are finished I hope this will help him understand why people risk their lives daily to make it into the United States hoping to create a better life for themselves and thier families.

Not that long ago I had the pleasure of meeting a gentlemen during jury duty who resided from Haiti. He risked everything and fled the country 20+ years ago hoping for a better life in America. To this day he works very hard at his job, sending half his income home so his family may survive. He is a pillar in his community and a regular at the local United Methodist Church, where he leads committees, sings in the choir and prays daily for “his people” back home. During the earthquake he lost 6 of his 8 siblings along with his parents. He wishes daily he could go home to visit the remaining family members but is terrified they (the government) will recognize him and hold him back in country. In his words this would not only mean incarceration but as the major contributor to their well being, the loss of a very good income for his family. So he remains in a country he has learned to love, adopted as his own and stays by himself so others may prosper.

So be prepared people! For while my son and I are in Haiti with our team, I will be blogging about our experiences! The highs, the lows, the weight loss, the crying, the need for beer and my soft, fluffy, imperialist bed! Along the way we hope to learn a culture, to make new friends and if only for a very short moment in time help out with the good attitudes and strong hands god gave us.