Day 2 of the mission trip with Schools4Haiti:
One of the very first things that was apparent upon arriving in Port au Prince (my first exposure to Haitian people) is how boorish or verbally aggressive they are. It is classic id run amok–no filter. If they think it, they tend to say it. “Hey pretty lady!” they call out to some of the ladies in our group. Wow, put a sock in it, Ace! I think to myself. Yet somehow, they are also polite and quick to smile. Their default expression is one forged out of lifelong hardship, however.
Unless you are from Haiti or used to driving in Haiti, it’s best to hire a driver who can double as an interpreter–especially if you are not fluent in Creole. One truck was not enough for our team and our luggage. The trip organizer, Penny Demert-Neal of Schools4Haiti left our company to get another truck rented from Avis. The standing joke of how many people can you fit on a Haitian truck (one more) did not hold for our team. We needed two trucks. Driving in PAP streets is harrowing, crowded, choked with traffic, and very minimal traffic laws are observed. Our host would later tell us stories of drivers who have hit others in the street who were then pulled from the vehicle and stoned by villagers–judge, jury, and executioners all rolled into one frenzied group.
We began our northward ascent toward Mirebalais and the New Life International compound and our hosts, Brian and Jamie Rauschenberger. Soon we were climbing Mt. Cabrit (goat) and were seeing what appeared to be wild goats, donkeys, and horses. Our driver soon corrected me on this issue and said that although each animal appeared to be wild, every Haitian knew exactly who this horse belonged to or that goat, even that stray chicken scampering about. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the countryside that followed the despair, crowds, and litter so rampant in PAP. Cacti of varying types speckled the mountainside, while animals scurried about. On the way up Mt. Cabrit, those of us in the back of the truck got caught in our first monsoon, taking care to hold the blue tarp over us and at least limit the impact of the big drops of rain that were pelting us.
After arriving at New Life International at meeting our hosts, we grabbed our bags and checked out our new dorm rooms. Each of us men had a single bed, three in our room. One of the docs roomed with his sister, a high school French teacher. The rest of the ladies in our group shared a larger dorm room with two single beds and two bunk beds. The dorms, recently completed, looked more like bunkers than dorms as the interior was unpainted cement that was not yet finished sweating–and would not be painted until time passed and the sweating had run its course.
Our host, Brian, explained that the air conditioning was freshly installed but the daylight hours had slipped away before the electrical connections could be completed. Therefore, our first night we would have no AC but each subsequent night we would. This was a huge bonus, as the nighttime air brought open windows, mosquitoes, and security risk. Outside were two armed guards who kept patrol while we slept. New Life International in Mirebalais sat on 40 acres of the prettiest jungle in Haiti. Enormous cane stalks bordered the lane and the property and made me recall the memories of my grandfather Ever who grew cane and pressed sorghum for 47 years until he died in 1983.
Wanting to appease the curiosity of my foodie wife Sara (of thesisterslice.com), I took care to carefully catalog the different foods that we ate while in Haiti. Brian’s wife Jamie served us spaghetti with fish, rice & beans, an iceberg salad, and ranch chicken drumsticks with lime-aid to wash it all down with. Brian assured us that the lime-aid was made with purified water from his own system.
** Watch for Why Haiti, part IV soon! Please remember to like and follow the blog.