Week 1 in Haiti (The Novel-Length Version)
Hello from Haiti!
I’m finally getting around to blogging. I’ll just give a recap of what’s been happening since I left.
Tuesday was travel day. I was so organized (my YWAM trip last year gave me serious packing skills!) that it only took me half of the day to get ready. My flight wasn’t until 7pm so I watched a movie to kill time. My mom made a delicious Italian dinner before sending me off.
My complicated last name and flight schedule made things a little slow at the airport, but I still had about half of hour to kill before my first flight. The next stop was Seattle, where I had about two hours to snack and relax before the 5-hour flight to Newark.
The flight to Newark was not the greatest. The controls on personal movie player thing were broken, so I couldn’t turn off the glowing screen. I eventually rigged up my motion sickness bag to cover it. So I unfortunately didn’t sleep very well or very long. I enjoyed seeing the NYC skyline flying in.
After breakfast and about three more hours at the airport, my flight to Port Au Prince departed. Most of the people on the flight were obviously with mission or aid groups or they were Haitians. I was able to get a lot of sleep on that flight and catch some beautiful Caribbean views from the plane window.
Shelley had warned me that the airport was a bit crazy and I read a few tourist stories online so I was a little nervous. We deplaned and then got put on a bus that was not-quite-jam-packed that drove us other to a big not-air conditioned building. My favorite part was the Haitian equivalent of a mariachi band that greeted us at the entrance. I stopped and used a surprisingly not-that-gross bathroom, and then went through immigration with no problem. One of the stories I read said that they through all the luggage in a pile on the floor and you have to dig for it, so I was relieved to see a regular luggage carousel. It took long enough to get my bags that I was afraid they might have been lost. But they weren’t and I went through customs easily.
The real crazy part was stepping outside to a barrage of people who wanted to help with my luggage and take me in their taxi. I had instructions from Shelley to walk out of the walkway and meet her at a little red building, so I tried my best not to make eye contact and just kept walking even though I did see a guy holding a sign with my name, but had no intentions of going anywhere with anyone besides Shelley. One Haitian guy insisted on holding onto the handle of my luggage and helping me.
When I got the red building there was a guy who asked me if I was looking for Shelley Clay, but I acted like I didn’t recognize the name. After a few more minutes I realized he had an Apparent Project t-shirt, but still insisted he call Shelley before I would leave with him. Shelley assured me it was fine but was glad to see that I was cautious (they’ve had interns who just ran off on motorcycles during their first week and stuff like that.) So it turned out be safe and I rode back to the house with Junior, who turned out to not be a kidnapper, but instead one of Shelley’s right-hand people at the Apparent Project, and an American lady named Lee who was staying at AP for a few days and had to pick up her delayed luggage. I did have to tip the guy who helped with my luggage.
The streets of Port Au Prince are sort of like Tijuana but worse. There’s virtually no paving, I suspect mostly from earthquake damage, but who knows. There are motorcycles weaving in and out in stereotypical third-world fashion. I noticed a lot of hair salons and tiny stores, mostly selling liquor. I was pretty darn tired at this point, so I don’t know how observant I was. Junior drove us through one of the tent cities on the way. I can’t say that I’ve felt super emotional about seeing the poverty. I think it’s what I expected.
I was met by Corrigan (Shelley’s husband) and some of the kids when we got to the AP house. The helped my haul my luggage upstairs and then I got see where I’m staying. I didn’t realize that The AP house, where all the people come to work, and Shelley’s house are next door to each other. My room is in the upstairs of the AP house and I’m the only guest for the month. I like my room because it feels so much like the one I had in Kona. Bunk beds, fans, and even the same kind of windows. The shower is cold, but it’s hot here so it feels good. You can flush TP and there’s drinking water and Wi-Fi and electricity that work most of the time, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.
|Terrible cell phone picture of my room. I was too lazy to get out my camera.|
|One of the other beds, covered in yarn!|
I spent the rest of the day relaxing. I usually head over to Shelley’s house for dinner and Corrigan cooks really yummy stuff. They’re not that big on Haitian food, but he makes things like steak and Italian salads. They have satellite TV, so I’ve gotten to see a few Olympic events and last night was my favorite: So You Think You Can Dance.
Shelley took Lee and I and some of the kids on a walk on Wednesday evening. We saw some houses they’ve built, and met a lady that works for AP. She showed us the house that she and her husband are building. We got to see a tiny baby and a lady roasting coffee over a fire. The people are so sweet and happy. I guess most of them who I’ve seen are working and a lot of them have been able to build houses. It’s interesting too; the only people who look poor are the street boys. It’s very important here to have your hair done and be clean with nice clothes so no one knows you’re poor. Shelley said everyone has a cell phone and TV.
The street boys I should talk about for a minute. They are the cutest thing. There several of them, probably 12-15 years old. They’re too young to legally work, but Shelley gives them errands or other tasks sometimes in exchange for food or a little money and they make some wind chimes out of bottle caps to sell in the boutique. They usually spend the whole day outside the gate, just hanging out and talking and waiting to see if there’s anything for them to do. One day they were singing along to Justin Beiber and it was hilarious. Monday was Shelley’s birthday and they gave her two cakes, purchased with money from the wind chimes. (Money they probably should’ve spent on food for themselves, since they showed up hungry at Shelley’s house at dinnertime.)
I happened to arrive during the week that the AP house was closed down because they had a $40,000 order that wasn’t paid for on time. So the house was pretty calm, just some of the managers cleaning and organizing some stuff. I spent Wednesday unpacking and brainstorming knitting ideas with Shelley. I tried my first Haitian food: rice and bean sauce and some sort of chicken-y stew. It was good. Between the heat and jet lag, I’ve taken a nap almost every day here. The weather has been in the 90’s, so not too horrible. It’s moving towards hurricane season so it rains and thunderstorms most nights and that cools it down a little.
The house was still shut down, but that $40,000 order (which was half paid for by this point) requested their 3000 necklaces be individually packaged. So a few people came in and worked on that all day. I tried another Haitian food, fried dough stuffed with chicken filling called pate. (Not sure how you spell that but it sounds like pah-tay.) I started knitting some samples of the things I’m going to teach. Shelley and I talked and want them to learn basic hats and scarves, “market bags,” probably made out of recycled t-shirt yarn, baby shoes, and little brown dolls. She says a lot of people who are adopting Haitian kids come through the boutique here and she thinks they’ll buy dolls.
Since I’m the only one staying in the AP house, Shelley locks all the security gates when everyone leaves.
I have a key for the main gate, so I can go to Shelley’s house for dinner. Unfortunately, someone locked the wrong lock on the gate and I couldn’t get out! Shelley was napping so I couldn’t get ahold of her. I spent about an hour going through the different keys that are in the house, only to find out that it wasn’t locked at all, there was just a bar I had to move to open it. It was a fun little adventure.
I spend every evening at Shelley’s house. Their kids are hilarious. Keziah is 9, Zebedee is 6 and the two adopted Haitian kids are Jackson, age 4 and Ember, age 3. Keziah and Zebedee are quite fair and blonde, so they make an adorable family. They’re all quite cuddly and like to hold my hand. Zebedee has the most creative metaphors, things like, “that bathroom felt like a sweaty monkey.” Jackson is like a little mini-man. He has so much swagger and he sings and dances all the time. He has a deep little voice and I always expect his singing to sound like Louis Armstrong. Ember is a little performer. She loves to dance and sing too and even dressed up in her “rock star” clothes for me one night. The little ones are fascinated with my freckles and Keziah told me she loves my bedhead.
Saturday and Sunday:
I’ll start with a little story about birthdays. Shelley was my aunt Rebecca’s best friend in high school. When my mom was pregnant with me, I was due right around Shelley’s birthday (August 13th) and she really wanted me to born on her birthday. I was two days too early for that, but years later when Shelley had Keziah, she was born on my mom’s birthday. So my birthday was Saturday and Shelley’s was on Monday, so we went to the beach on Saturday to celebrate.
It was an interesting two hour drive to the resort hotel we stayed at called Club Indigo. We drove through some bumpy Port Au Prince streets and then out into the countryside, where we drove through several little towns on our way. Keziah told me how the speed bumps literally translated would be called “police lying down.” The best thing for me to compare it to is Mexico, the way the advertisements are and the street vendors, the people who crowd around your car to sell you drinks and snacks. There is trash everywhere and it’s very dusty. The Haitians are also masters of carrying things around on their heads, a skill Americans never seem to have acquired. There are other random businesses and discos and cows, goats and donkeys wandering around the fields. There are some pretty hill/mountains and the ocean is gorgeous.
The resort was so nice. There’s a huge warm pool as well as miles of beach. It was very crowded with rich Haitians, (they mostly live half here and half in the states) missionaries and UN workers. There was a huge buffet for each meal, with a mix of American-ish foods and Haitian foods. (My favorite part was the tropical fruit!) We spent the evening on the beach. The kids entertained us with a song and dance show. We spent part of the next day swimming in the ocean and part at the pool. Corrigan did some snorkeling and spear fishing and caught a puffer fish. That was pretty cool.
Monday and Tuesday:
Monday was my first day of classes and the first day that everyone was back to work. Teaching went so well. I have a great translator who’s picking up the knitting herself so she’s able to help the others. I have two groups: a Mon/Wed and Tues/Thurs. They each have three ladies and one guy. Most of them have kids, some are married and I think all but one live in houses not tents. I’m really bad at remembering their names. The guys both speak some English and that’s helpful. I’m amazing at how quickly they’ve all caught on. They started with simple rectangles and yesterday and today I had them moving on to baby hats. They need so little help that I sit there and work on samples of the other projects they’ll learn. The doll I made came out with crazy hair and they told me it was a Rasta named Stephen Philippe. They’re teaching me a few Creole words. It’s pretty similar to French, but simpler I think, so I can sort of recognize the words that sound like English.
Since Monday was Shelley’s birthday, Corrigan made a really nice dinner: steak, peas with brown sugar and bacon, rolls with herb butter, caprese salad, olives, and pumpkin cake. The kids gave her a ton of really cute homemade gifts.
Ever since Tuesday evening I’ve had a tiny bit of a cold. I had been in ice cream withdrawal, but I got to have a bowl of it and that helped my sore throat. I’m so spoiled and blessed here. I also did laundry, which was actually exciting because they have a really nice, high-tech washer and dryer. I think that was also the night when my power went out. It’s a very intricate system of batteries and inverters that use the city power (which comes on most nights.) and a generator. I couldn’t get ahold of Shelley. There’s a phone in the house, but she wasn’t picking up and the Wi-Fi was out, so I couldn’t send a Facebook message to her phone.
Wednesday was a Haitian holiday, so my class was the only group working. The cook, Siannis (Not srue if I’m spelling it right, it’s pronounced like Siamese but with an “n”) makes food for 115 people every day. Sometimes I have the Haitian food for lunch, although she always dishes me about three times more than I can eat and I feel bad to throw it away. And sometimes she makes me a really yummy smoothie. I’m unfortunately getting used to drinking soda. I don’t drink it at home because it’s so sugary and filling and just not healthy, but in the heat here, a cold Sprite always sounds so good.
I usually spend the afternoons after my class relaxing, helping Shelley, playing with the younger kids, (Keziah and Zebedee just started school for the fall.) reading the Bible, keeping my room clean, watching So You Think You Can Dance online, getting ready for the next day’s knitting class (prepping supplies mostly) and napping.
So overall I would say it’s going well. Compared to last year’s trip, it’s much more relaxing. I don’t have move every other day and I get enough sleep and some actual free time. I miss traveling in a big group though. I like being surrounded by people and always having someone to talk with. I especially hated the plane rides by myself. I do spend a lot of time talking to Shelley though. She has such an interesting take on everything.
First of all, I didn’t entirely understand how the Apparent Project works. Basically, it’s the non-profit that everything done in the States is run through. (Mostly the Home Jewelry Parties.) Here in Haiti, they also have to have a licensed business, and that’s called Papillon (butterfly in Creole) Enterprises. People buy wholesale here and there’s also a boutique downstairs where missionaries and tourists come to shop. Shelley’s put it together very nicely. She’s always looking for new and creative ideas for the artisans to make. There are a bunch of products that I’ve never seen in the stuff they send to the States. I’ll definitely have to do some shopping before I leave!
Shelley told me that it’s actually quite Christian here and I saw evidence of that on our ride to the beach. All the schools are named very Jesus-y things and there are often Christian messages, Bible verses, etc written on the tap-taps, which are these crazy crowded little buses. There are a lot of really interesting things I’m learning about the culture. Most Haitians have faith in God, but Christianity here is different than in the States. In some ways it can be manipulated. If you can read and start carrying a Bible, preach really loudly, and call yourself a pastor, you instantly have power over other people. There’s a lot of weird legalism. Sexual sin isn’t looked down on as much here as in the States. It’s very common for people to never get married because they can’t afford a wedding. However, they still make all the unmarried women with children sit in a special section of the church. (The men don’t have the same stigma; it’s not a very feminist society.) Shelley told me that the people here have more faith and trust in Jesus than anyone she’s ever met.
It was so interesting to hear more about Voodoo as well. For one thing, a lot of it is just natural medicine. Shelley says it’s used as a last resort, like if someone’s baby is dying and nothing has helped, they take them to a witch doctor. It’s all they know to do. They don’t think of it as something separate from their Christian faith. But it does include basically inviting demons to possess people. She said she’s never seen so much of that.
Shelley really loves it here. She says she’s spoiled because she gives people jobs doing things like her dishes and laundry. There’s always someone around who can fix your car, because there’s so much unemployment. There’s always someone who has time to talk. Some of the stuff is just funny, like how she cashes checks at the Lebanese grocery store. The kids aren’t exposed to any commercialism and they can run around outside and stuff. They have a bunch of dogs, partly for security reasons. One of them had two puppies the day I arrived. Unfortunately the first one died, but the other is growing like crazy!
The people never let you know they are poor. They are always wearing clean clothes, have their hair done, and often their nails, eyebrows, etc. With the exception of the street boys, they all have cell phones and TVs. Shelley says they’ll buy new shoes before they’ll buy food sometimes. They’re very smiley and very passionate. A simple discussion sounds like a heated argument. They workers are incredibly smart, creative and hard working.
There are frustrating and sad and hard things too. Shelley has told me some heartbreaking stories and even while I’ve been here there’s been drama. Theft is incredibly common, so they have to have a lot of security and the justice system is not so just. As much as America’s government has lots of problems, I’m still thankful for a country that has a working system. The city power stays on, the drinking water is safe, the garbage gets picked up, and you can expect the law to be enforced.
So that’s probably the longest blog ever, but I wanted to write about all the details of what’s happening. Continue to pray for me to get over my cold, for my students to understand and pick up the projects quickly, for ways to get the right knitting supplies and yarn here, for Shelley and Corrigan and their kids to be strong and wise in their ministry (and for Jackson and Ember’s visas to come through so they can go to the States and finish the adoption process by getting social security numbers, etc) and for lives to be changed!