Haiti Week Three (Starring Isaac, the Fierce Tropical Storm.)

After having been home for two weeks, I’m finally getting around to blogging about my last week in Haiti.
I’ll pick up where I left off: just before the storm hit.

We all kept our eyes on Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac as it neared Haiti. All the news seemed to care about was whether it would affect the Republican Convention in Florida. The projections showed the eye of the storm going directly over Port Au Prince. That day, Friday, the morning was spent moving important things away from the windows and them sealing them up with packing tape. Shelley shut the Apparent Project house down at noon. It started getting colder and windy pretty early in the day. I spent the afternoon wrapping up Keziah’s birthday present, which was a little coin purse I knitted, and getting as much internet time as I could, since I suspected the storm would knock it out for a few days.

 NHC predicted path of Tropical Storm Isaac at 5 AM EDT on August 23rd 2012
Here you can see Isaac's path as it crossed Haiti.

Since it was Keziah’s birthday, we still had little party for her, cake and presents and a movie, since the satellite dish was knocked over early in the evening. Several of the street boys spent the night.

I still stayed by myself in the Apparent Project house. I was nervous and definitely didn’t get the best sleep of my life. It was probably the coldest night we had the whole time I was there. I moved to one of the bunk beds farther from windows and bundled up and tried to sleep. I had managed to download some radio dramas before the internet went out and I listened to those on and off. The metal balcony door rattled around in the wind all night and kept waking me up. I got up to check for flooding a couple times and stuffed a few more sheets under that door, which was really the only place water, could get in on the second floor.

Fortunately the storm shifted course slightly and was not at full hurricane force when it crossed Haiti and the damage was far less than expected. Obviously a lot of the tents were damaged and flooded, but they’ve had worse flooding from storms that weren’t even categorized as Tropical Storms.

Saturday was certainly an interesting day. Keziah was supposed to have some girls from school over to swim for her birthday, but it wasn’t exactly swimming weather. (In fact the temperatures were probably only in the 70’s the whole week after the storm.) Two girls did show up and they did makeovers and a photo shoot and played. The interesting part was that there were also two Haitian families whose tents had been damaged who spent the day with us. A 16 or 17-year old boy who works for AP brought his two younger siblings. (Their mom has HIV.) And another family of six, ranging from probably 4-15 years old whose mom works for AP. She and her boyfriend left them in the tent by themselves for the storm. I think she came back the next day, but I never did hear the whole story. Anyway, we gave them towels and blankets and found them dry clothes that fit reasonably well. Corrigan had made a baked potato bar for the party anyway, so there was plenty of food to go around. All the kids piled on the couches and watched Charlie Chaplin, a good choice since you don’t have to understand English to watch it.

It just made for such a bizarre contrast: Keziah’s normal---if very simple---American birthday party, with a bunch Haitian kids who are basically homeless, looking on and sharing the cake. It was kind of neat and sad at the same time. Once her friends had left, Keziah did makeovers on some of the little girls too. The littlest one, Lori, who was about 4 I think, really liked me and kept coming to sit on my lap.

I’ve been struggling with some questions for God since that day. It’s really hard to understand why my life is so ridiculously blessed, but there are kids in the world who are working, and malnourished and living in tents and they are the ones who get hit by a horrible storm. God loves us all equally right? So why am I so blessed and they’re not? I haven’t done anything to deserve it. I’m an imperfect, unworthy person like everyone else. I think it doesn’t bother them as much as it does me though. They don’t even know how different their lives could be. I’m coming to realize that my trust in God is somewhat based on “what he does for me.” Like, I tend to have thoughts like, “I know God loves me based on all this stuff he’s given me.” Basically, what material possessions, and food, and people and circumstances he’s given me. I would have a hard time feeling like he loved me if he wasn’t giving me all that stuff. So when I look at these people in Haiti, I think something like, “How can it be that God loves them? They don’t have any of those things that I have.” I think if you lived in a situation like that though, you would probably appreciate God more for simply who he is, instead of just what he does. I’m trying to learn what that means and come to love God for who he is, not just what he does. I don’t know if that makes a whole lot of sense, these are just my rambling thoughts.  

But to continue with the story of the trip:
The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful. Work resumed on Monday as usual and I felt the pressure a little bit since I only had three days of classes left. I worked with my wonderful translator Shirley, to get the patterns for everything written and typed up and make sure she understood them. The ladies making bags both finished and started cutting sheets to make more. They were much more efficient with the cutting the second time around and hopefully can make two bags out of a sheet. The boys finished up their adorable dolls and even made jeans and t-shirts for them. I finished class with them on Wednesday feeling pretty confident that they know what they’re doing. I have donated boxes of yarn in my room at home that I have to ship to them, and then I’ll have the final total of extra money to donate to Apparent Project. It will be just under $800, which about enough or two families to rent houses for a year!

 On the left, a doll my student made, on the right, my doll. His is so much better!

 Here he is with clothes!

One interesting thing I learned is that a lot of the people don’t want to get out of their tents. If they stay in tents, there are aid organizations that will bring them food, water, etc. The Apparent Project has a chunk of money that’s enough to get 30 families into houses for a year. One artisan that they asked has six kids, but only wanted the money to fix up her tent after the storm. It’s kind of messed up. It doesn’t seem like a good idea for organizations to stop giving food to people in tents, but on the other hand, it’s kind of keeping them there. It’s making the problem worse in the long run not better. Craziness!

The internet didn’t come back on until Tuesday morning, and even then went incredibly slowly. (I think the whole country was trying to use it all at once.) I know it made my mom pretty nervous to not hear from me for 4 days. Fortunately Shelley still had internet on her phone and I was able to borrow it and send a quick message assuring everyone that I was alright. Shelley had to print some important papers on Monday night for her Visa appointment and we had to go to a neighboring missionaries house, where they eventually managed to figure out the right combination of computer, usb port, internet, and printer to print her papers. I think we actually ended up putting the documents on a flash drive and printing them at the AP house. By the way, the Visa appointment was successful (thanks to those of you that prayed!) and Jackson and Ember got their Visas the day I left. Shelley is in fact staying in Washington State right now with them so they can get their citizenship papers and US passports, the final step of their adoption process!

It was a pretty chill week though. I spent the evenings eating yummy dinners and watching movies. The TV was even fixed in time to watch So You Think You Can Dance. On Wednesdays only a few people work and there were a bunch of guys working on men’s jewelry designs. It was cool to watch people come up with different ideas and learn some new techniques.

I did my shopping in the boutique and picked up gifts for my family and friends. I tried to get mostly items that they don’t send to the States and I think I found some really cool stuff. There’s a great puzzle with a picture of Port Au Prince on it I got for my family. We haven’t had a chance to do it yet, but it looks challenging and fun.

I did my final loads of laundry and we squeezed in a last-minute trip to see an orphanage. It was just a few blocks away. The kids were so cute and clingy. Almost all of them had medical issues, even some severe ones like brittle bones disease. There was a five-year-old with cerebral palsy who just lays there, but she’s going to get to start school soon, with a nurse going with her. That’s amazing and I’m sure few special needs kids get that in Haiti, but it still made me sad, because I know a girl with cerebral palsy who was walking and talking and eating on her own by that age, because the medical care is so much more advanced here. You could tell the people who worked there and the lady that ran it really care about the kids and they get lots of attention and have an outdoor play area, but they’re just not quite like normal kids.

I left around 3:00 on Thursday, so I got up and showered and packed, helped my knitter’s with a couple of last minute things and relaxed a little. I did get a massage. They’ve recently had someone come and trains several of the women and they’re really good. I tried to pay for it, but Shelley insisted it was on the house. (And they’re already so cheap, only $25 for an hour. If you’re ever in Port Au Prince, I highly suggest getting one. ) It was my first “real” massage and it was really nice. I’m afraid I undid all the good by sleeping in an airplane seat later though.

The massage took a little longer than I expected, so the last minute stuff was kind of rushed. Shelley had a stomach flu, so didn’t even get to say goodbye to her.

The airport was a little crazy. I had to go through a little bit of security just to get in. I had a couple guys that guided me and hauled my bags to the counter and then demanded a $20 tip.  It took a long time to get my credit card sorted out when I paid for my bags, and then I had to stand in a line to go through immigration, then a long line for regular security. There were only like two other white people on the plane. So I got the waiting area and it wasn’t well marked and laid out and I was supposed to just go board apparently, so I ended up at the end of the next line. They opened our carry-on suitcases and scan us down and then we boarded. I’ve never been through so many security checks in my life. The plane was hot and we sat for a while. I don’t think I napped as much as I wanted to. I read sky mall (where I saw some paper bead bracelets that are made in Uganda.) and my book and listened to radio shows on my phone.

When we landed in Newark, immigration wasn’t too bad, although it took a long time to get my bags before I could go through customs. They did a full bag search there too. I think we were in the only plane that was going through international arrival in that terminal, so at least there were no lines. I was excited to see my mom and sister waiting to meet me when I got out of there. I was a lot less tired than they were. From there we began the trek from Newark to New York City. But that is another blog for another day…..

So to wrap up, here are some of the best things I took away from my trip to Haiti:

-I learned a ton about the culture, language religion, food, poverty, etc.
-I learned about the challenges and rewards of running a ministry in Haiti and hopefully some ways to be truly helpful and not make problems worse. I saw how it’s pretty crazy what God can do in just a couple of years.
-I taught 9 people how to knit, hopefully a skill they will keep developing and be able to support themselves from. They learned more than I possibly expected they could in three weeks.
-I learned a few words of Haitian Creole, which were pretty helpful when I was teaching.
-I was totally blessed and spoiled by my hosts and by God and had a lot of relaxation and fun.
-I remembered how much I love tropical climates and since I’ve been home I’m freezing! (Also tropical fruit!)
-I got even better at traveling by myself and dealing with customs and crazy airports. I also remembered that I hate flying alone. I need someone to talk to.
-I rode a motorcycle.
-I got to hang out with a lot of adorable kids. It’s exciting to know that most of these kids have a good shot at having a good life.
-I figured out how to knit a doll, something I’ve never done before.
-I swam in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
-I’ve now been to half of the time zones in the world.
All in all it was a great experience. I accomplished what I set out to do and got to be helpful and have fun too!