Power of the Human Spirit… accepting and growing through challenge

Naive, uneducated, egotistical, stupid?  What made me think that I could liken a 50K run to a life of devastation and poverty?

The idea to raise money for Haiti came about when I compared running between water stops in a 50 mile or 50K race to growing up in a country with inadequate water.  While a good idea, and one that I hope truly did make a small difference in the lives of 56 orphan Haitians, there is no comparison.

When Ken and I nervously stepped out of the PAP airport, and into the throng of eager taxi drivers and hungry luggage carriers, all of our senses were assaulted by the sights, sounds, and smells.  Still recovering from the earthquake of 2010, Haiti is one of the most impoverished countries in the world.  In addition to our own luggage, we had brought 2 duffle bags of supplies. Ken waited with our pile, while I went in search of “Mitch”, our prearranged driver.  I was followed, touched,  and relentlessly badggered (in Kreole) by 50 or so eager entrepreneurs and was tremendously relieved when Mitch stepped forward with a sign that said “Katherine M”.  He quickly ushered us into his luxurious 4 wheel drive Hummer. I felt almost like royalty as I stared out the closed window while Mitch skillfully negotiated the crowded streets.  We wove through thick foot, motobike, taptap (highly decorated mini pickups with benches which serve as busses), donkeys, goats, and automobile traffic for 2 hours.  15 miles out of the city, the countryside began to open up.

It was lush, green, and very mountainous although still littered with piles of trash and the rubble remaining from the earthquake.  4.5 hours after leaving the airport we turned onto an even bumpier “road” and drove through a maize of gated homes to arrive at “Pastor John’s” where we would stay for the next 4 nights.  The mosquito net draped bed was likely a luxury here in Haiti, but to our American senses  the room  looked tired, worn, and shabby.  We pulled out our plastic bed bug mattress and pillow covers, and began to unpack.  One of many ironies is that the kitchen has only a charcoal fire stove, and yet we have good internet access (as long as the power is on, which is about 75% of the time).  Dinner (rice, beans, and sliced avocado) was served family style and we met the other 7 members of our  “team”.

We tossed and turned throughout  the hot/restless night and woke early, anxious to see the orphanage. We learned a lesson that would become the theme of our trip- nothing happens quickly in Haiti, we must learn to be patient.  Over the next few days, I am not proud to admit that I struggled  with tears of frustration on more than a few occasions.  Ken and I went to Haiti  to be useful, and to contribute, but unfortunately there didn’t seem to be much that we could actually do.  When we were finally ready to go, the bus took wouldn’t start.  This happened frequently, but every driver in Haiti is also an excellent mechanic and we did eventually get to HELO around noon.  We met the adorable children who were very excited to see us, offered high fives, hugs, and kisses.  The youngest loved to be held, and the older children enjoyed having me take pictures of them and vice versa.  We spent quite a bit of time photographing each other, the sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens.  If I were to go again, I would bring picture books and other activities that I could do one on one with the children.

The electric pump that we purchased for the orphanage has been installed.  The pipes are on site and ready to be installed next week.  Watching the children haul water for their baths and to flush toilets, made us especially thankful to everyone who helped with our fundraising.best at well.JPG

Along with 11 of the older children, we bussed to Saut Mathurine waterfall.  The drive down was an adventure in itself. Only later, did we learn that the bus driver let us out a mile early because the brakes weren’t working.  Ken and I chose to walk up, and were grateful for the opportunity to stretch our legs. and escape the bickering and whining of our teammates.   On the way, we were offered several motobike rides. Our “teammates” were surprised and perhaps even a little dismayed by our desire to walk.  They had struggled with the 1  mile back to the bus, and in fact 3 of them had hired motobikes to take them up.  At dinner they proclaimed us “crazy” and that they could NEVER do that.  Of course, I contend that they COULD do it, they just don’t choose to.  Which raises the question- why do any of us do the things we don’t think we can?  Why do we ever want to leave our comfort zone?  Food for thought for a future post, but I believe that we grow through challenge and that by taking on new challenges (large or small)  we are able to live the fullest possible life.

When we returned to the orphanage we began setting up for a New Year’s Day/ Independence Day party.    The party was held in the classroom, and we were amazed at how the children waited patiently at their desks, then diligently set to task working on whichever craft or project was handed out.  They made crosses out of cardboard and out of beads, colored the Haitian flag, sang a very rousing version of the Haitian national anthem, played pin the tail the donkey,  and made some handheld masks.  All this took about 4 hours.  They were then served caked and kool-aid.  We returned home in our little school bus and had a late supper of rice and beans.

Saturday was market Day, and a trip to the beach- Ken and I got up early as usual, after reading for a couple of hours, we decided to take a walk.  This is a bigger deal than it seems because it would be very easy to get lost, there are no phones or way to communicate, we don’t speak the language, and the gate surrounding our guest home is always locked. This was one of those moments where frustration got the better of me.   Ken and I decided to leave a note and hope that someone would wake  up and let us back into the house in an hour.  Upon our successful return, we had breakfast, then stepped back out the gate to buy a few souvenirs from the local merchants who had set up shop in the alley .  The bartering was fierce and as soon as we made our first purchase, we were actively pursued by every merchant.  We did buy a traditional Haitian style painting, a hat, and a couple of bracelets.  The planned departure time of 10am came and went, and once again we found ourselves spending a good part of the day waiting.  The beach was pretty from a distance, but there wasn’t much sand and the surf was a little too rough for swimming.  We watched the children play, attempted to dig and make a sand castle, and helped serve peanut butter sandwiches.

Haitians are extremely religious, and Sunday is designated as a day of rest and church. I consider myself spiritual, but I am definitely not a “non- church goer”, and  was apprehensive about the day’s  activities.  We began  with  an early service at Pastor John’s (our host) church in Les Cayes.  Everyone was turned out in their absolute finest; the women were in gowns and the men were in suits or tuxedos.  Many of them walked or arrived on moto-bike.  I was amazed that they were able to dress so meticulously without running water (in some cases) and with such limited means. The 200 people packed into the tiny church sang loudly and joyfully with wide smiles.  The music was uplifting, heart felt, and very moving.  As I repeatedly wiped my eyes, I glanced at Ken only to see that he was doing the same.  We went straight from this service to HELO where the iimmaculatley dressed children had already started their 2+ hour service.  Again, the music and singing was enjoyable but the preaching, (in Kreole)was long and loud. We hung out for several hours after the service.  The fancy dresses and button down shirts were replaced with shorts (or not in a couple of cases), all shoes were removed, and the children were back to entertaining themselves with simple games and friendship.  One highlight was the unveiling of the new pump which will be hooked up next week.  This will allow the children to have showers and flush toilets!  Up until now they have used an outhouse and a large metal basin for bathing.   While we didn’t feel very useful during our three days here, it is very gratifying to know that in a small way we have made a difference in these children’s lives.  Elisabeth told us some of their individual stories.  They don’t know them all, many arrived right after the earthquake.One girl, Lekita,  spent 12 years of her life as a child servant (age 2-14)  She was out getting water when the earthquake hit, and returned to find the family had been killed.  Another boy, Abraham, was abandoned and left in the street.  They have since discovered that he has epilepsy and Elisabeth’s theory is that he was “thrown away” because he was imperfect.  Stories like these helped us to understand the tremendous impact that Elisabeth and others like her have on the people of Haiti.

It is not possible through words or photos to show the true devastation in Haiti.  However, along with that, we have also noticed lots of huge smiles, waves, introductions, hugs, and blessings.  Adults and children both seem “happy”.  They are deeply grounded in their faith, they are proud of their country, and they are continuing to work steadfastly towards a brighter future for Haiti.  When we returned to Port au Prince, we asked Mitch how we could best help, and his response was that while money is obviously helpful, and the many orphans need love and attention, what is really needed is jobs.  People visiting Haiti, touring, buying their arts and crafts, eating in their restaurants, and staying in their hotels will bring jobs to Haiti.   If you are an adventuresome traveler who wants to truly experience a country outside the veneer of a resort, and if you can travel with an open mind and a good sense of humor, then there are some beautiful sites to see in Haiti.  It is an experience that could change how you see the word.     Ken and I also found that the time together without distractions (no t.v., cell phones, facebook…) was both relaxing and bonding.  We talked about our feelings and abstract ideas.  Some of the days were difficult, but ultimately we came away feeling stronger, happier, and extremely grateful for our own lives.

IF you go to Haiti, hire a guide.  Mitch was fantastic.  Not only did he get us everywhere, he always showed up early, he told us about the history, politics,  and customs of Haiti, and he took us to some places we could have never gone on our own. He has a facebook page, Mitch Tercius, and you can contact him through that.

Baisin Blue Jumpboy fishing Haitidonkeys, Haitifishermen HaitiHike Haitiwoman with water HaitiJacmel bay, Haiti

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