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Monday, March 18, 2013

Haiti - glimpse into the real country - Part 2

Today is day one. Tonight we'll be in Grand Goave in Haiti, ready to build a rubble home for an earthquake-displaced family.
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Me, (Barbara), with my husband, Allan, with Bob, Joan, Rhonda, Tessa, Jackie and Sharon are in-flight. We managed to clear customs, although I wonder what they thought of us traveling with steel pipe, saw blades, screws and other building tools. I've discovered that Miami airport is a gazillion miles long. And naturally, our flight landed at one end and we had to journey to the other end. We took a Skytrain to reach our gate, only to backtrack looking for a restaurant. But TGIFriday's was worth the trek.

The Port-au-Prince airport is a non-delightful version of some 1970s airport in the middle of someplace hot and dusty. And every single person on the flight tried to squeeze out the single door, all at the same time. Beyond were vendors, drivers, families and friends all pressing in on us. We are going to be working with Conscience International, and had been told our trip to Grand Goave will be in the back of a pickup truck. 
But fortunately, a bus, not unlike our old church bus (which we retired due to its poor condition), awaited us. Unfortunately, the bus smelled like burning brake pads. Or a burning transmission. I'm not sure. Thankfully, the driver kept a gallon of water on hand to pour on the brakes should they heat up.

We've met the other group with whom we will be working this week. Seven men, one woman, all from Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. 
Two of the men had been on this type of mission trip to Haiti before and marveled at the improvement they saw in Port-au-Prince, while I was struck by the level of despair. There were still small cities of tents, uninhabitable buildings, piles of rubble, and so many cars and people. It reminded me of Bolivia, but without the stop signs and traffic lights. Traffic pressed all around us, especially the small pickups with tin walls and roofs colorfully painted, called Tap-taps, because you tap on the roofs when you want the driver to stop. They were brilliantly painted, often with religious symbols and icons. Jackie later noted that these icons seem to be more as talismans than any religious fervor.

It was a long, bumpy ride and the bus filled with dust and the smell of burning brakes. Some of the other team put on dust masks. I'd forgotten how quickly it gets dark in countries close to the equator. We finally arrived, but it was too dark to see much. Our compound seems to be a mishmash of buildings covered areas and tropical trees. The ladies were shown to the house at the front of the property whose main room was turned into a dormitory.

The doors are intricately carved and there are two bathrooms.

We were warned that there was no hot water and only cold showers, but I've discovered that the word cold is relative. In Canada our cold water comes from the ground and at this time of year, it hovers just above freezing. There, the water is stored in a cistern on the roof and exposed to the sun all day, and is more lukewarm than cold.

We were given a meal of rice, spicy brown sauce with veggies, and another sauce made from beans, and small grilled drumsticks. Each of us were given a large glass bottle of Coke, though there were few 7-Up mixed in. 

We had a quick orientation by a tall Haitian named Alex, who claims he loves to laugh. We put our passports and money in the safe and Tessa and I sent quick e-mails, me to my daughter and Tessa to her mother, saying we arrived safely. Just as we hit 'send', the circuit breaker clicked off, and we had to navigate from the office in the dark, through a forest of trees and picnic tables, one filled with people from Cliff Temple who had brought iPads and iPhones and were checking in with their loved ones through the now-unavailable wi-fi. I now have several bruises from hitting the picnic table.

The streets are filled with potholes and rocks and they're incredibly dusty. Many people still live in tin shacks or anything that can provide cover. 

We'd crossed over a river on our way here, and it was filled with garbage and various livestock that foraged there. When the rains come later this year this junk will be washed out to sea. 

We are all exhausted, so several of us are already in bed. Such is day one. Tomorrow starts with breakfast at 630 and work at eight.

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