Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Journey within the Journey

Monday, April 23

When I said I had a feeling things were going to get interesting yesterday, I pretty much hit the nail on the head. I started the day hearing our plans were on hold because of roads being barricaded in protest and ended with a big sleepover on the concrete alter of a church while hundreds of villagers sat in the pews waiting for us to wake up. Perhaps I should explain more...

At 6, I got up to go get rent cars with a couple of the guys. Pastor Ron greeted us with a worried look on his face. He explained that a police officer was shot and killed on Friday and today the police officers were protesting, as they felt that the government was involved. And of course, since safety is our first concern, we weren't sure if we were going to make it to the mountains, because if without the rental cars, we were stuck in the city.

We got the all clear a few minutes later, so our spirits lifted. Pastor Ron's solution was to take an alternate route, through the outskirts of Cite Soleil. In all honesty, I was relieved that Pastor Ron had earlier strongly suggested I sit in the cab of the truck. I breathed even easier when the driver discretely rolled up my window.

Cite Soleil is essentially the Five Points of Port Au Prince. Actually, a Cite Soleil dweller would consider Five Points a paradise. Often considered the poorest slum in the western hemisphere, it is not a place I ever thought I would find myself. Gangs are rumored to control this area and violence is rampant. Up to 400,000 Haitians call this slum of about 8 square miles home. With only shantys and no sewer system, the stench burns at your nostrils. I didn't see anything terribly disturbing that I can verbally describe, but I can tell that it wasn't a happy place.

We were hoping that renting the cars would just take a couple of hours at most. When we returned to the orphanage over 4 hours later, our spirits had taken a beaten. Nothing is easy in Haiti and renting cars is no exception. I'm not sure why, but Avis decided to "try harder" and repainted one of our trucks before we could leave with it. Then it needed three new tires. Then a different car needed more gas. Then we needed to get water for our trip. Running errands in Haiti can easily be a day long task. And although I didn't do much besides watch "Father of the Bride" in French and try to read newspapers in Creole, I was exhausted by the time I got back to the orphanage.

Because it was past noon by the time we finally reunited with the rest of the team (who had graciously cleaned our host house!), we knew that we had to omit what I was looking forward to most. We had planned to arrive in the mountains in time to hold an education clinic.  I personally was excited at the prospect of educating expecting moms on the basic care of taking care of newborns, while others touched on subjects such as hand hygiene.  Using canvases, we made displays depicting the information in Creole and I think we were all more than a little proud of our hard work.  But because we faced at least a four hour drive to our destination, we knew we wouldn't have time before the sun set.  It was a disappointment, but I have to learn to expect such circumstances.

Despite our exhaustion, resting wasn't an option. We needed to get going if we were ever going to make it to our mountain destination. We knew that a trip to the mountains rarely is without a few obstacles along the way and we needed to give some leeway for whatever lay in our way. We loaded up our truck and 2 Land Cruisers with our 20 something bags and 20 people AND their personal belongings AND water AND rice and headed off (like sardines).
Dan tying down our supplies

As soon as the tires of the Land Cruiser hit the dirt roads, my spirit was lifted. I continue to be in awe of the Haitian mountainside. I just can't describe the serenity of it all, which is odd considering the utter poverty. Children often run out to yell, "Blan Blan Blan" wearing only shirts, mothers are bathing with their children in a stream next to the dirt road, and you can't help but wonder how the huts continue to stand trip after trip. I love to see little children run out playing with a stick and a wheel.  The same "toy" my grandfather played stills entertains children in these parts.  It's so serene and simple, you feel like you are intruding with your vehicles.

Typical part of the road

As promised, the road is such an adventure. I think last time I wrote that it was like Independence Pass, minus the pavement with the addition of randomly placed rocks and sometimes boulders. Still can't think of a better example. Luckily, Tony and Dan love to four wheel and took to the challenge with an awesome attitude and amazing driving skills.

I shared a car with three Haitian translators who had never been to the mountains before.  Actually, they didn't even know this part of Haiti existed!  They kept passing around my camera taking pictures of every sight they saw.  They were in awe of this beautiful part of Haiti and I was in awe of their amazement.  It would be similar to living in Denver and never going to the mountains.

Taking a break from driving

As beautiful as the mountains are, a sadness lies in the hillside.  The vast majority of Haiti's mountains have been deforested.  There are many reasons the trees were cut down, ranging from logging to clearing land to farm.  Without trees, the land was not able to handle the torrential rainfalls that occur in a tropical environment and erosion caused many problems. It is said that 98% of the country's forest has been chopped down.  When you catch a glimpse of the rare land that was spared, your heart aches for more similar scenery.  Basically, you would have the Dominican Republic.

Missing Trees

Those that had been on the previous trip were nervous because the road was underwater 6 months ago and they weren't able to reach Cornillion, our destination. It was so fun to see the jubilation on their faces as we drove past (not through) the lake that overflowed last time. We pulled into Cornillion just as it began to rain.
A villager

Pastor Ron ushered the women into one of the houses while the men figured out the next task. I have a hard time using the word "house" because it would never be considered a house back home. People have tool sheds bigger and more finished than these. I can't wait to go through my pictures, but am a little concerned because it was so dark. As you can imagine, electricity is not exactly a standard in these parts. I hope they turn out! But if they don't, I promise you that it is straight out of movie set. Dirt floors, mud walls and proudly decorated. 

We asked the Pastor's wife if it would be ok to take her picture and she ran out of the room. Turns out, she wanted to get herself gussied up before we took her photo. She came out in her Sunday best with her hair styled. It was hilarious, but proof that women are the same everywhere in so many aspects. Plus, showing people who don't get the luxury of cameras, let alone digital cameras, their photo is a joy!

The rain let up, so it was decided that it was time to backpack in to the church. We strapped on our personal gear and followed the trail that lead to a rather large church on top of a hill. It was a beautiful hike and one you can only find in the rare undisturbed corners of the world. We passed an old cemetery with old tombstones above the ground. It was so far in the distance, it looked like a miniature replica. I also loved passing the grass huts used for kitchens. The dark green leaves they use are so beautiful and I have yet to figure out how such a lovely leaf can form such an important structure.
 It was amazing to see our bags had already been hauled up and were awaiting us in the church! The Haitians are so strong and so willing to help us. They don't let us do anything! At one point, a barefoot teenage girl took my bag from me to carry it. Really? I have access to great health care, a gym, a physical therapist, shoes fitted especially to my feet and a square meal whenever I want it, and YOU insist on carrying MY stuff?!? For some reason, I find this extremely humbling.

Per village standard, they offered us a delicious meal of rice and beans (and perhaps goat) and settled in for church service. We were introduced, sang and worshipped, then tried to rest before our long, challenging day tomorrow.

All 12 of us inflated our mattress pads, rolled out our sleeping bags, swallowed some sleeping aids, prayed and attempted to turn in for the night. Turns out when the church is filled with people lining up for a clinic in the morning, you have two security guards watching you and they provide you with a pot to use should you need to use the restroom, sleep doesn't come easy.

Ahhh..the mountain villages of Haiti....

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