call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, hunger, mission work, sorghum making, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part III

Len Demert founder

Schools4Haiti Founder, Len Demert

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.

Haitian elder

She’s younger than you think…

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.

haitian streets

driving in Haitian streets

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.

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Our New Life Int’l hosts, the Rauschenburgers

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.

inside NLI dorm

inside dorm room at New Life Int’l

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.

Haitian water purifying system at Pastor Paul’s orphanage

** Watch for Why Haiti, part IV soon! Please remember to like and follow the blog.

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call to serve, Haiti, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti?

Mercy Capitol

Mercy Capitol, Des Moines IA

Standing in the ER at Mercy Capitol in Des Moines, IA in late August, 2005, I watched the coverage on TV as Katrina moved down upon New Orleans.  Mostly, I stood there amazed at the tales of how many people remained, certain they would be rescued.  Suppinated palms, waiting for a handout.  They had DAYS, days in advance warning of the category 5 hurricane what would devastate their city, that city which rested below sea level.  Um, how could anyone there expect to remain dry?  This is not a rhetorical question.  How far could I walk in days, knowing that hell was soon to be unleashed upon my sub-sea-level home?  With just my thumb and a strong will, I am pretty sure I could be standing upon Pikes Peak with a warning that fair.

Katrina

Hurrican Katrina, August 2005

A national call to help those devastated by the storm rang out, and our intensive care unit wanted to send a representative, along with a team of other nurses and doctors to lend a hand.  I wanted to go.  I talked with my wife about going, but our supervisor for the ICU chose Bob to go instead.  Crud.  I would have to travel vicariously and eagerly soak up details from my friend Bob when he returned.  This call sparked something inside me–a call to serve.

disaster response team

Disaster Response Team

Fast forward eight years and my family is living in Wisconsin, attending a new church.  An announcement is made in church that a program called Schools4Haiti will be organizing a medical mission to rural Haiti to visit and treat orphans.  There was no question–I knew I was going.  Sara must have known this, seen it in my eyes, known my heart.  Why Haiti?  I felt called to serve there.  She simply said “you should go.”  I texted my brother the ER doc, right there in church.  Medical mission to Haiti in July–want to go?  “Yes.  What dates?” came his very quick reply.  It was settled then.  I got the itinerary from the others to coordinate flight information and bought my ticket.  I was pretty sure I wanted to arrive in Port au Prince with the group and leave with the group.

Most of the group met up at a hotel near O’Hare and took stock in the medical supplies we were taking with.  Our arrival in the late afternoon was strategic–customs would be tired and weary and more likely to wave the group through, rather than rifle through our bags and confiscate supplies that were intended to do good for the orphans.  That plan worked.

mission organizing

organizing our mission supplies

Before I ever visited the Big Apple, someone offered a piece of sage advice: “just get used to streams and streams of people, everywhere you go, no matter what time of day it is.”  A similar suggestion was made of landing in Port au Prince.  Flying over Haiti I surmised that there was short, scrubby jungle everywhere and the entire nation appeared to be void of rural life.  I would later come to understand that I was just not able to see the huts below the canopy of the trees.  Ten million walked within Haiti’s boundaries–about 35 people per square acre, and that seemed like a conservative estimate.

Haitian crowd

Haitian crowd

I would soon discover that everyone is a salesman in Haiti, a service to offer or goods to barter with. Trash everywhere.  Graffiti. Earthquake damage.  The city reeked with a diffuse, acrid smell of smoke no matter where we went.  How many people can you fit in the back of a Haitian truck? One more.  On the way to our accommodations outside of Mirebalais, we were soaked in a monsoon rain while jam-packed in the bed of a pickup, dusk upon us.  I remember thinking “I am from small-town Wisconsin and I am riding in the back of a pickup in rural Haiti, caught in a monsoon and soaked to the bone as night is falling.  How did I get here?!” I chuckled at my circumstance while doing my part to hold down the corner of the blue tarp that wanted to dance in the wind.

Haiti pickup

mission pickup in Haiti

We arrived after dark, crossing a raging stream to pull into the New Life International compound.  Prior to leaving I imagined staying in some tiny hut, co-mingling with nature, squatting to answer nature’s call, no regular meals or running water, and returning half-dead with malaria and intractable diarrhea.  Instead, there was a male dorm and a female dorm, running water, air-conditioning at night so the mosquitoes could not reach us, armed guards to watch over us, a hot breakfast and supper, with packed lunches sent along with us while seeing the orphans during the day.  Okay.  Not bad.  This might not involve the suffering I thought we would have to endure.  We would be living like Americans and not so much like most of Haiti. Except for the tarantulas–those were the size of small plates.  We weren’t sure how they sneaked into our rooms on occasion. I became the designated tarantula-ridder.

tarantula

Haitian tarantula

(more on Haiti and mission work to come)…

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