Friday, November 27, 2009

"What Was Haiti Like?" (pt 1)

I've wanted to answer that question with, "If you have an hour I'll try to tell you."

If I had one word to offer it would "paradox." The country is both gorgeous and ugly. The people are both beautifully approachable and some annoying and uninviting. My time there was both soul-lifting and draining.

The countryside is beautiful. It could easily host resorts that people of means would flock to. The foreground is stick and mud homes with no running water or utilities to speak of.

Some of the people are physically beautiful and warmly charming and inviting. Some of the kids begged militantly, "Give me flash!" (flashlight) "Give me dollar!"

I personally saw probably twenty people come to Christ. I also saw the house of a voodoo priest and people who seemed to care less about talking with us.


At 2:45 in the wee hours of Thurs. morning Nov 12, we arrived at Oakbrook sluggish and tired. The good people of First Presbyterian Church gave us their bus and a driver to usher us to and from the Indy airport. (Thanks, First Pres. & Tom Hearn!)

By dusk that same day, after flying to Chicago and Miami, we touched down in Port Au Prince Haiti. You do not walk from the plane onto a gangway and into a terminal. You walk down a huge set of stairs that are driven up to the plane and you walk down them in presidential fashion.

Walking across the tarmac towards the terminal, you can tell this is not your normal stateside airport.

Once in the terminal we were faced with the language barrier that we would encounter all week. As a white person in America it's a very different feeling to be a minority in a country who's language you do not know. The impact of that reality was a bigger impact on me than I would have ever thought.

The terminal was hot, old, and the worse for wear. It would be a foreshadowing of what lied beyond it. (But it would also seem modern and clean after a week in a a Haitian village.)

Once through customs we had to cling to our luggage that would be incessantly tugged at by cabbies fighting for a fair. Then it was into the parking lot to wait for our host. As we stood in the tropical heat we were twenty yards or so from the main Port Au Prince "thoroughfare" (I use the term loosely.)

The style of vehicle and style of driving was far from home. The cars and trucks were old, worn, and driven wildly. Perhaps the writer's of the "Mad Max" movies had drawn inspiration here.

Driving in Haiti is organized chaos, minus the organization. "Tap-taps" (mini-pickups turned into cabs) overflowed with Haitians, weighting down careened down the road without concern for passenger or other traffic.

As dark came upon us, it was amazingly clear that electricity was almost non-existent. The streets on both sides of us were flooded with people walking in front of businesses and hovels that were either dark or candlelit. This ride through the city pulled us out of our western comfort zone and into a culture we'd never experienced.

I will admit a certain amount of uneasiness at this point. Not fear that something would happen to us in way of attack or the like. Rather, it was the feeling of getting on a ride that, whether you like it or not, there's no getting off of for the next eight days. And whether my back (weak from recent issues) liked it or not, there's no turning back.

The roads through Port Au Prince were rough, but once we turned off toward the Village of Coupon we would learn how "good" those roads were and what in fact, rough roads really were.

It's not too much to say that some rural Haitian roads are more like driving down a dry creek bed than a road. And with the rains that came before us, it made for even more excitement. At one point, our minivan did get stuck and we all piled out to give it a shove. "Welcome to Haiti."

Our accommodations at Double Harvest were incredible--for Haiti, they were palatial. We had an upstairs--let's call it "condo" with a patio. It had two very large kitchens and it was divided into two wings; ladies on one side, men on the other. Each wing had it's washer and dryer.

Most of the rooms were like comfortable dorm rooms with its own bathroom and shower. There was a larger room in each wing that housed 5-6 beds. It was air conditioned and had a fresh water and crushed ice dispenser. The only drawback is that power, generally speaking, is available only from 7am to 7pm. Flashlights are very handy.

*** End part 1 ***

photo album 1, photo album 2, photo album 3