Notes from my time in Haiti last week serving at Mission of Hope:
How do you describe Haiti? People here have no pants. The kids, anyway, in the two villages we visited, had no pants. That includes no underwear, and shirts are just optional. I guess there is some set age in the community, something north of 3, when underwear becomes considered a necessity. Pants come later, maybe at age 6 or 7.
How poor is Haiti? No-pants poor.
Our education in Haiti started with the roughly hour-long drive from the airport out to Mission of Hope. I was surprised at the mass number of people who worked and lived along the road. There were people gathering sticks into wheelbarrows, goats and pigs scavenging barren ditches for food, and literally hundreds of people peddling wares on roadside tables. Some were selling charcoal, some bottled water, some cell phones, and a large number had 2-gallon petroleum jugs that I assume were filled with gasoline. Much of the trip was spent playing “identify that smell.” I found that I pretty much rock at that game compared to teammates who grew up in the city.
I did not bring a timepiece of any kind to Haiti—even my phone is shut off for the week—but I’m pretty sure the church service here at Mission of Hope lasted for 3 days. I do at least know that I slept twice during it.
The church building itself is a pretty cool cross-shaped shed, which just happens to not have any walls. It is a modern shed, mind you; they had a sound system, an electric keyboard, and electric guitar–and the lyrics, in Creole, were projected on the wall by a computer.
Of course, we also visited a church building in a village on Monday that was constructed entirely from tree branches, scrap tin, and blue tarps. The interior had about 10 very rough-looking homemade benches, a small table and chair as a pulpit, and a single large homemade drum attached to the wall. I’m really curious what the worship music is like with that single drum.
Everything sweats in Haiti. Coke bottles, plastic cups, people—they all sweat non-stop. It is a tropical island, which means 90-degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity, even on a good day. Before the hurricane, it never really rained, but there was often a really light precipitation; the air was sweating.
My paper journal is smudged and warped from the condensation that drips from my water bottle every time I pick it up for a drink. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure that I’ve seen any Haitians ever drink anything, while I am constantly sipping water to stay hydrated. They probably think I have some kind of condition.
I don’t think that traffic laws exist here. Or if they do, nobody gives them any thought. Well, except for one rule, which has gained strict and universal acceptance: honk. Honk as much as possible. Haiti probably has a constitution, and Article 1 of that constitution states that it is every citizen’s sacred right—and duty—to honk at each other.
It is also kind of amazing that we have not gotten into some kind of fender-bender. We travel on a school bus, a ——- County school bus, where the name of the county has been blacked out. Multiple times a mile, we come within inches of other vehicles—Mack trucks, motorcycles, and the ubiquitous and indestructible Toyota Hilux. Much honking ensues.
Our standard-size school bus seats 47 adults, 8 water coolers, and 2 spare tires. At least, in Haiti it does. Haiti has taught me that we are doing it wrong when it comes to motorized vehicles in America. Obviously, a single-seat motorcycle is designed to carry 3 people–or 2 people, a goat, and two laden branches from a banana tree. A Toyota Hilux pickup, with just a little bit of modification, seats 25. And why don’t we carry stuff on our heads? It must be more efficient, since the slightest woman can carry a 40-pound water bucket on her head, and still have both hands free for herding children.
Jesus is the same all over the world, but His name has different pronunciations depending on the language. Our friends down south, of course, refer to Him as “Hey-Zeus.” In Haiti, the correct pronunciation is “Jay-Z.” No, seriously. It was a bit odd going through the villages and talking with them about Jay-Z. “Jay-Z is my Savior.” “Jay-Z died for your sins.” “Jay-Z loves the little children, all the children of the world.” “Jay-Z moved the Nets to Brooklyn.” “Jay-Z has 99 problems, but sin ain’t one.”
Hurricane Sandy hit while we were there, and was totally not a big deal at our location. There was plenty of rain, sure, for 2 days, and a little bit of wind when it first hit. After getting back to the States, however, we learned the sad news that 65 people (and maybe more) died in Haiti from the storm. Pray for the people who are still being affected, both in Haiti and elsewhere.
Also, you can make a lifetime difference in Haiti, without traveling there, by sponsoring a child’s education. There is no public education of any kind in Haiti, and only 1% of the population has the equivalent of a high school degree.