Saturday, April 21, 2012
Well we are here. Safe and sound. Which I've learned is a big deal in Haiti. As usual, the trip was full of bumps and unexpected turns, but we lived to tell about it.
We seem to be having a baggage problem this trip. We had gathered enough supplies to stuff 30 army surplus duffles. However, American Airlines wasn't as pleased with this as we were. They recently changed their Hatit baggage allowance to one checked bag per passenger. The fact that there was only 12 of us and 30 bags posed a mathematical dilemma. AA wasn't willing to budge at all and $1400 in fees later, we were on our merry way.
We arrived in Miami and settled into our hotel around 10pm. After a not so quick meal at Bennigan's we tried to catch some Zzzzz's. I tossed and turned for a few hours, then it was up and at em at 4 am so we could catch the shuttle back to the airport. Of course, getting onto the shuttle on time took some finagling, but we made it on that final plane to Port Au Prince. More impressively, my massive backpack made it into the overhead bin with minimal resistance. Yep, I was that annoying person with the carry on that barely fits and causes the flight attendants to suffer symptoms mimicking a heart attack. Sorry, but sometimes a chick has to do what a chick has to do.
We thought we were doing swell when we landed in Port Au Prince and found all 30 of our bags relatively easily. Things started to go down hill when we attempted to get all 30 awkward heavy bags onto the wobbly carts you can expect to find in an airport of Haiti's caliber. These carts were the opposite of cooperative. If we wanted to go left, it would go right. If we wanted to go straight, well it would just fall over.
And then we and our impossible carts came to a screeching halt when we went through our final customs check. We (and the 30 bags) were "randomly selected for inspection." Life gets a little tricky here.
In a country that isn't exactly known for being honest and fair, sometimes you have to play by the same rules. We were hoping that they wouldn't find the meds that we may or may not have declared. Items like meds are highly coveted in Haiti and if found, we knew we might as well kiss them goodbye. So when they started going through our bags, we were a little concerned about what they were going to find (and subsequently take). After rifling through crocs, blankets and baby clothes, they released us.
Released us to the wolves is probably more accurate. The minute you step foot outside of the airport, you are greeted by the most persistent sales people known to man, known as porters. There are about 50 or so guys begging to help you out with your bags in exchange for a cash payout at the end. Our group of 12 weary American travelers with bags tumbling off of wobbly carts was every porters' dream...
We fended off as many as we could for as long as possible. But our exhaustion proved to be a weak opponent to their persistence. About halfway to our mile (uphill both ways) trek to the bus, we surcame to the pressure and and stopped batting away hands. Of course, this always leads to the tenuous moment of money exchange. It's amazing how many people can appear once you pull out a little green.
Soon we realized paying the porters was the least of our concerns. Our friends from customs were back. It seems that they wanted to be awarded for their "leniency" with our baggage. Things got decently heated and perhaps just a little scary. It took some time and prayers, but we narrowly escaped. I have never been so happy to be moving on a school bus in my life. Never mind having all of our bags and team members in tact.
I was actually relieved for another reason as well.
I was very excited to see, smell and hear Haiti. My first impression was of absence. All of the tents that used to line the streets going into the airport were absent. There was a remnant of blue canvas here and there, but the society that used to inhabit this ground was absent. Wow. I can't begin to describe what that means. Probably a more stable home to a thousand or so people. That is mind boggling.
Now that I try to reflect, I am not sure that I recall passing any tent cities....Wow...
As much that has changed, there is so much that hasn't. Trash litters the streets, sometimes in burning piles. The markets are bustling as ever. Music blares around every corner. Traffic will scare every rookie.
Apparently, Haiti has been experiencing some downpours. As we entered the orphanage, I was really sad to see the "soccer field" was underwater. However, Haiti contradictions continued, as I was uplifted to see a second story on the orphanage. And then I saw Pastor Ron's house. It is magnificent! We are blessed enough to get to stay in this luxurious palace by Haiti standards. Air conditioning, Wi-Fi, mosquito free, kitchen and bathrooms all included! I can't wait to rest in this comfortable bed! We even have the option of hot water, but can't bring ourselves to turn it on. Seems glutenous.
As the bus parked, the orphans ran outside and arranged themselves neatly on the steps. Surprisingly, they greeted us with a great rendition of "Hey Hey Hey" complete with clapping. I love these kids! Our overwhelming greeting continued with the customary kisses and hugs. I love these kids!
We were told before we sat down for lunch that the orphans wanted to sing a song for us. So once again, they neatly arranged themselves and placed their right hands over their hearts and sang the Star Bangled Banner- in Creole! I loved it! Have I mentioned that I love these kids?!?!?
After lunch, we immersed ourselves in orphans. It's so easy to love these kids, and they want it so badly. These kids just soak up every ounce of love we can give and it feels amazing to give our hearts to them.
To me, these orphans are the definition of resilient. Left without parents, few clothes, maybe a pair of shoes and two servings of porridge a day, they continue to smile and make you realize just how lucky you are. There's Wadson, who is my Haiti version of Jace and will always hold a special place in my heart. There's the youngest, Stevie, who just wants to be able to play with the older kids. There's Sonal, the hyper 7 year old who loves to use your body as his personal monkey bars. There's Annanya, a 2 year old whose infectious giggle is craved by all. There's Eugenia, a 7 year old who was wearing shorts that buttoned up the middle. Yes, she was wearing a pair of infant pants as shorts. I could go on and on describing these souls that have forever touched my heart...
It's amazing to watch these children interact with each other. They really run around the orphanage with little supervision. There's wildlife to contend with, jagged rocks and many other hazards that American lawyers would never allow. But these kids never seem to get hurt. They know that that danger is present and are smart enough to avoid it. There's also a level of accountability they hold that is unexplainable.
We just wrapped up with the best part of staying at the orphanage; the nightly devotional. The older children recite psalms and the entire orphanage is overwhelmed by the singing of hymns. It's a feeling that cannot be described. Especially at this level of exhaustion.
I am barely at a functioning level right now. I am looking forward to my weak, cold shower and bed. I'll check back with you later!