haiti: our mission mansion
During the first week of August, Chad and I were in Haiti on a mission trip with 14 students and 4 other adults with Adventures In Missions. As I've mentioned, it was the most powerful and meaningful week of my life. Because of what God accomplished in, around and through our group, I've been processing and writing my response to those experiences here on my blog. This is response #4 of 9. You may want to start from the beginning if you're just jumping in.
As far as where we stayed while in Carrefour, we were actually spoiled (at least to Haitian standards). AIM was renting what we affectionately called the "Mission Mansion". It was a two-story, 7-bedroom, 3-bathroom house with solid, complete walls and a functional, covered roof. The AIM leaders, our translators, Pastor Manny and a few of his church members stayed in the house with us all week. Thankfully, we felt very safe and truly blessed.
IT WAS HOT. The word "hot" may actually be an understatement. It was around 110°+ each day with the heat index, without much relief at night. It would drop to 85-90° for sleeping, with a breeze if we were lucky. Sticky. You pretty much sweat constantly. There were thunder showers most evenings, which helped cool it off a bit. The sun was relentless, though…I rocked my 50 SPF sunscreen multiple times each day for protection. Shade was our friend. Since Haiti isn't too far north of the equator, it looks like mid-day sun around 5am and is completely dark by 5pm every day. It is not advisable to be outside your house after dark, so our evenings were enjoyed together at home. Electricity is dicey… there are unannounced "rolling blackouts" at any given time. Sometimes they last 5 minutes, sometimes 5 hours. You never really know. We learned to carry flashlights—even to the bathroom. :)
In our Mission Mansion, there was a common area on each floor, a kitchen (empty room for supplies, food preparation) and a dining room (empty room with a plywood "table" over barrels). Outside, there was a large courtyard area where we ate and had our group times of worship & sharing throughout the day. We also shared our indoor & outdoor spaces with critters. Yep, we had geckos, very large spiders (quick lil' suckers), massive flying cockroaches (the size of your palm), a plethora of ants and plenty of mosquitoes. Chad even got cozy with a large rat friend in the middle of the night on Wednesday! Yuck… You should read our AIM leader Rebecca's write-up about this crazy night! It didn't end there, though. Upon returning home, I found out I had also made friends with several bedbugs (or a couple very hungry little guys)—over 30 bites right on my hinder. Lovely souvenir.
The girls slept on the top floor and the boys slept on the main floor. Sleeping was a challenge! We weren't quite used to all of the noises! All of the windows and some doorways are just open to the outside air, usually with bars or slats (no screens). All homes & buildings were very densely populated and close together. You could hear roosters, chickens, dogs, goats, cars, and people at all hours of the night and day. There might be clanging of pans, hammering of metal (?), radio shows, or singing at 12:30pm or later. It seemed like there were parties going on all the time. (Have I mentioned how vibrant the Haitian people are?) One night, Chad, Nick & Al even heard a live child birth next door! (That's also mentioned in Rebecca's write-up.)
There were bathrooms, but no running water. In Haiti, you can't flush the toilet paper, so there were garbage bags nearby. To flush, you would pour a bucket of rain water down the back of the toilet. Because water is gold in Haiti, it needed to be used sparingly. Our mantra for the rule of flushing was, "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down." :) You can imagine there were other, more specific "adventures" revolving around this common, yet ever-comical topic. In fact, if you want a good laugh, read another one of Rebecca's posts: Cinnamon-Scented Glazed Donut Hand Sanitizer. Showering was a challenge, too. There was a large barrel of rain water that had been collected from the roof. The advice was, "Just figure out a way to get soap on yourself and then get it back off." Some resorted to the "buddy shower" method or the "natural rain shower" method. Haha!
Delicious meals were prepared by a few women of Pastor Manny's church all week. They worked so hard for us…getting up around 4:30 in the morning to begin preparations. In Haiti, most everyone cooks over hot coals in large wok-style basins. And, as you could guess, "boxed foods" are not not a viable cooking option… everything is prepared from scratch, by hand. Breakfast every morning was a spread of sliced fruits (avocado, mango, Haitian apricot, pineapple and bananas), eggs in some form (hard-boiled, scrambled, etc.), and oatmeal (not your instant Quaker Oats, either). Lunch was on us—gourmet pb&j and chips every day. Dinner was uh-maz-ing. We had rice and beans with either red sauce or bean sauce, fried plantains, fried chicken, french fries (yes, manually sliced into little perfect shoe-string sizes), and bread fruit (a sort of starchy tree fruit that is fried—tastes a little like a baked potato). We ate well! Very well.
We did have clean water to drink while we were there. We were actually ONLY to drink from the water AIM provided for us. Because of the extreme heat, we never traveled anywhere without our water bottles (warm, of course). At dinner each night, Pastor Manny spoiled us with COLD Coca-Cola and Sprite in glass bottles. Yes—made with real sugarcane, too. Yumm! In Haiti, after drinking your pop, you send your empty glass bottles back to be sanitized and refilled with more pop. I still don't know how they got ice for the pop each day…in town somewhere?
Our translators... Wow. Billy (in green), Watson (in white on left and Nebraska shirt), Zachary (playing guitar), Pierre, and others, were unbelievable. They have such strong faith and are allowing God to use them in powerful ways. We could not have done ministry during the week without their language skills and knowledge of the area/culture. They live in the surrounding area of Carrefour and have families there. All of them experienced the earthquake and have inspiring stories of how God has strengthened their faith. It was a blessing to learn from them and to get to know these men of God. They also saved our conversations more times than we'll ever know! "Hmm….that's a very long translation for what I just said. …Ooooh. I get it. Ha, thanks!"
Driving in Haiti was an adventure as well… There really are no rules of the road that we could tell. It's more "free for all" style with lots of waving, honking and jumping out to direct yourselves through intersections. An earthquake doesn't exactly leave roads nice and smooth, either. Mix that with mounds of rubble and garbage, street markets, wild animal crossings and other activities and you've got quite the scene unfolding outside your bus window. One day, our bus and a huge Coca-Cola truck actually rubbed together as we tried to move passed each other on the narrow road—no one seemed to be alarmed, except for us Americans! Jess and Chad were sitting in the seat where the window cracked (no one was hurt). The bus driver just got out and told the other truck to move over so we could get through. Haha!
On the way back to the airport, I saw a little mo-ped trying to squeeze in between two large buses on a busy road to Port-Au-Prince. The big rear view mirror on his handlebars slammed into one of the busses, bending completely upward, and he didn't even flinch!
Here are a couple videos I thought would be fun to share. The first one shows us arriving at our house from in town—we are the rusty red gate on the right.
This second one is an attempt to show the way it felt to ride around on our bus in Haiti. It was taken in the Port Au Prince area on our way back to the airport. The really brightly colored buses/trucks you see are called Tap-Taps, which are basically the city transportation for anything beyond a 20-min walk.
Read the next response (#5 of 9).