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Hello from Haiti. Peter Cihelka and I are in Port-au-Prince, following a mission team from Grace Church of Fredericksburg. Internet connection has been spotty, so we can’t promise regular posts, but we’ll try to keep you updated.
Here’s the story so far:
We headed out yesterday with a team of 10. Most are from Fredericksburg but some are from Charlottesville. In the Miami airport, it was easy to forget we were heading to a third-world country. Sleek stores sold TAG heurer watches, crystal and perfume. Waiting to board, John taught me to play cards while a Haitian woman helped me with some Creole words. She wrote “souple,” or please while her toddler played peek-a-boo.
We got on a plane crowded with passengers–they spoke of relief work, church and setting up sports teams in underprivileged countries.
Talyor Swift sang “Fearless” over the airplane speakers as we disembarked.
And then we were in Haiti. The airport was crowded, loud and very, very hot. Large fans blew everywhere. But the air did not move.
I asked our companions if the crowds were typical. Yes, they said, except there were many more Americans than usual.
As we left the airport, people came up immediately, clutching our bags. They wanted to help, and to earn a few dollars. We kept saying, ‘”Non, mesi” repeatedly. “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you.”
We got to our truck, a pickup with a caged back and started loading our bags. Children approached. One boy lifted his shirt, pointed to his stomach. Others said, “Give me five dollars” and “I’m hungry” in Creole.
The trip was bumpy. Even the rare paved road is primitive here.
We passed a field filled with tents–tarps and nylon as far as you can see. A companion leaned over. “This used to be a market,” she said.
On the outskirts of the tent city, a naked boy of about 2 stared at us. I waved and said, “Alo!” He kept staring.
We passed a lot of rubble. More tent cities. Some pigs walking over smoke.
We passed a one-story building with cinder blocks, rebar and other rubble on top.
“This is a six-story building,” another companion tells me.
So far, the air has smelled of smoke. But here, it is a little sweeter. The man continues, “That is the smell of dead bodies.”
But they’re here to help the living. Grace Church has long had a relationship with a church, school and clinic here in Port-au-Prince and they’re here to run a medical clinic for a week. Their work starts before we get to the Christian school where we are staying. The driver stops at another church, and the two doctors stop to treat a woman having an asthma attack.
Then we are at Quisqueya, our home for the week.It is a compound surrounded by stone walls, with a guard at the gate. Tents line the edges–these make a different sort of tent city, filled with relief workers. At the other tent cities, woman sit over open fires, women carry goods on their heads and children play listlessly with empty bowls.
Here, many have their Blackberries and Netbooks, searching for an elusive Internet connection. A man plays “How Great is our God” on guitar while a group sings.
We eat a dinner of rice and beans and get ready for bed. The outdoor shower is primitive, and I bathe under the moon and stars. There is almost no water pressure. But it feels wonderful.
We are in a classroom, settled on cots and air mattresses. A party is going on in the neighborhood next door, and the music shakes our room.
Exhausted, we sleep. Until the rooster crows at 3 a.m.