Just got back from Jacmel, Haiti working with the Hands & Feet Orphanage. I have started writing the story and thought I’d let you in on it. It will be long, but I hope you enjoy it, and maybe a laugh or two on my account.
1. It Begins.
Flew to Miami with six other men. None of them from my church, and I only really knew one of them well. Chris had invited us all to go on this trip. I originally told him no. I felt like I had too much going on at my church. He didn’t flinch, “Hey man, you are always going to be too busy. You should go with me on this trip.”
I had kind of found myself in this place where I felt like the universe was being set in motion, its every rotation, dependent on my existence. I was Desmond, and if the button didn’t get pushed….
We all are “too busy” It’s all relative to what we think is “busy”. The fact is, we are all replaceable, and only make time for the things we truly care about. I preach about taking the good news about Jesus around the world and showing God’s love to others almost every week, but my calendar only reflects a self-important administrator who makes sure there are enough chairs on Sunday. I talked to Shantel, prayed about it, and called him back. I was in. Turns out 5 of the 7 guys who went told him no too. Chris had his work cut out for him.
Spent the night in a pink Embassy Suites only to wake up at 4:30AM to catch the flight to Haiti. I don’t have a problem with planes. My issue comes into play with motion sickness on roller coasters and car rides. If I’m not upfront, its over. We landed at what was left of the Port Au Prince airport. chaos. Entrance into the country and customs was basically a mean lady with a stamp and ball point pen. I imagined there to be only 8 ball point pens in all of Haiti after the Earthquake. I smiled at her, she smiled back, and I was in. I still got it.
We were told you would land, and they would throw your luggage into a pile, and you’d have to scrap for it. Apparently that was all yesterdays news because a conveyor belt was now handling the action. It was relatively tame inside the baggage claim. Outside was a whole nother story. It looked like the Haitian equivalent to a Justin Bieber stampede at a mall performance. We waited inside the fence for our driver to show up. That felt like a long wait.
Someone showed with a scrap of cardboard that wrote “Christoph” with the “er” trailing off like a bad junior high election poster where the mom refused to help the kid, and the kid lost because he couldn’t space his name properly on a piece of paper and the “er” was in tiny print falling off the self promotional cliff. We followed him.
The next 500 ft. to the car felt like 50,000. I didn’t look anyone in the eye, and I felt like Jason Bourne being chased by baggage hitmen wanted to “tip” me to death. We ended up next to this mini-van with 6 grown men essentially competing for the same tip. AWKWARD. Somehow this was handled and OTIS our driver and surprisingly, there was a small American with us, who barely said a word. Otis and Larry were our protection.
Larry never formally introduced himself, but he helped to lead the Hands and Feet Orphanage in Jacmel where we were heading. Having no clue what this trip was going to be like, only preparing for the worst, I had taken anti-nausea medicine for the van drive. 65 miles to Jacmel, and it took over 3 1/2 hours.
At first we were asking Larry questions. “Why was the airport like that?” “How long will this trip take?” “Is this normal?” Larry was clearly uninterested in answering any questions, and promptly dosed off into a nap, which left us to take in the sights for ourselves. Now, most of you know me, I am what you would call an extrovert. I enjoy conversation, an experiential journey as we openly communicate thoughts, and possible humorous things we might see while driving. For almost 4 hours, no one spoke one word. Larry knew what we would see could not be explained.
2. The Ride.
I sat in the front seat, doing my best to avoid losing my lunch in front of grown men I barely knew. We drove past the actual airport that had been damaged from the earthquake, and I could tell that it had once been a fairly nice place. Rubble was everywhere. The road was barely recognizable except for the three lanes of traffic on the two lane road. Pick up trucks with a covering over the back and two benches to sit on either side would be filled with 20-40 Haitians at a time piled in the popular taxi transportation. They would “tap tap” on the side, and the driver would pull over. The Tap Taps were everywhere. The other thing that was everywhere: people. It was like they were walking around but had no place to go. It really felt like aimless wandering, with a mixture of motor bikes zipping in and out of the three laned- two lane roads. Everyone honked their horns.
There appeared to be one road from city to city and anyone with a vehicle was on it. Inches off the road, tent after tent was lined up for living. It felt like no one was farther than 1 foot from the road. Everything was ruined. I wish I knew what Port Au Prince looked like before, I was told Haiti is the 4th most contaminated place on Earth, and the first three are due to nuclear fall out. Contaminated makes it sound so distant. This was unimaginable. We drove past flowing rivers of trash. Imagine a man-made lake-bed to help irrigate the city so no water would over-take it. Now, replace the gushing water with sewage. People were wading through it trying to scoop out debris. It was liking watching a fireman take a squirt pistol to blazing inferno. Trash was everywhere. Debris, rubble, garbage, and children all floated around and played together. Children were chasing each other inches away from the highway. Some had clothes on… no one had real actual shoes. But hey, I’m here to tell you that Crocs have made a global impact!
The paved road became the equivalent to a bmx rally track. The potholes were almost vehicle sized, perfect for a dirt bike to catch some air. We bounced around in the minivan like someone giant had picked us up and was shaking us violently to see how we’d react. More rubble. More devastation. Hopelessness loomed in the air like a fog that never ended.
I never saw any fast food restaurants. I thought McDonald’s were everywhere. Not in Haiti. There was nothing in Haiti. Gas Stations were miles and miles apart, and actual offices and buildings didn’t seem to exist anymore. The only thing I could make out were car dealerships. That was odd too. They had no inventory visible. Everything was concrete walls and fences, the ones that survived the earthquake. The “Walmart” in the major city of Port Au Prince was nothing more than an open market with hundreds of items piled on top of each other in the open sky for people to rummage through. I saw this massive pile- the size of a one car garage- of t-shirts. Shoes were the same way. They looked mildew stained and ratty. I asked Larry if that was donations given from earthquake relief. He said they were for sale. That was the open market. We drove on.
Just past the rubble, debris, urine and garbage stained streets, just beyond the lean-tos, tents, and fallen huts, you could barely make out the beach. From the van, it looked like a picture you’d see in someones beach house. Palm trees and little boats, and perfectly blue ocean. paradise right?
The second part of the trip was up a mountain. The one road in the country followed the curves of a mountain with blind spots at every turn. All you could hear were little moped and motor bike honks, and I imagined the whole thing to be a very ridiculous video game, only with no extra lives. I dozed off at one point, only to wake up to a soldier with an AK-47 staring at me through the windshield. He had a funny blue construction hat. I rubbed my eyes to see the UN sticker, and the earth mover behind him. The roads were falling apart and earthquake landslides had made the barely two lane road… less than one lane for the motorists to honk at each other on. 20, 30 minutes, finally the machine gun toting humanitarian let us pass. 5 miles, another stop with an earth mover chipping away at one side of a mountain only to toss it to the other side. By this time, 15 motor bikes had sped past us, only to screech to a halt with a UN soldier almost clotheslining one of them. Finally we were allowed to pass.
The downhill turn of the mountain was treacherous also. Otis didn’t want to drive too fast, as little cities would pop up and people would wander out in front of you like a stray dog hoping to be put out of its misery. So, we’d drive fast, we’d drive slow, and Otis braked so much, I wondered if we would have to put our feet through the floor like a flinstone mobile. The anti-nausea medicine started to wear off and my prayer life took an uptick. “God, please don’t let me throw up in Haiti in front of grown men I don’t know.” That was the last half-hour. I prayed so much so, that I’m not even sure what the orphanage looked like once we pulled in.