June Haiti Trip (as told by Kristin Egan)
It is 9:00 and I finally have time to send off an email. What an amazing day. We left Miami early this morning having had about 2 hours of sleep and arrived in Port au Prince around 8:00am. Obviously, the first thing we noticed was the heat. Ben called it heavy heat. That is certainly accurate. Ben also said he has never sweated so much in his life. Welcome to Haiti! Fortunately all of our bags arrived with us and fortunately there was someone there to pick us up. A guy named “Big” who’s description fits his name. He had a “posse” that helped us battle our way through all the guys outside trying to grab our bags. We piled in 3 vehicles and Made our way on to the crazy, crowded Haitian roads.
Haitians drive like maniacs. Not like the stateside maniacs you all know and hate. I’m talking high speeds, stop and go traffic, inches between vehicles and going every direction on the same road. Not to mention thousands of people walking in and out of the traffic, motorcycles with 4 passengers and potholes you could loose a small child in. Traveling a distance of 15 miles can take hours. It did. Not to mention we got lost and couldn’t find our lodging for several sweltering hours. We did get to see a good deal of people and some pretty dumpy areas of Haiti. People watching in Haiti is insanely interesting. I don’t know how to explain it. Beautiful children carrying their wares on their heads, industrious men and women who walk the streets, vendors who set up shop on little tables, old tires, hubcaps, buckets, tiny shops. There is a hustle and bustle on the streets of Haiti. I saw a man who was welding a under a truck. He finished, the guy paid him and drove off. On to the next car. So many businesses, so many people. It’s amazing!
The guest house where we are staying is wonderful. Fully walled in with a security guy with a shotgun at the gate. On the grounds is also an orphanage and a school. They have 15 special needs kids along with a hundred and something more. The special kids sit out under a big mango tree during the day. Some are in wheel chairs some in little cribs. They have two children who are hydrocephalic and all sorts of other special kids. Ben had a sweet moment with a little guy who might be autistic. Ben had him smiling and giggling.
The other children are educated on site or sent into town to go to school. They have little outdoor schools. The children also raise and care for rabbits, whose poop is fed to the tilapia in their tilapia farm, whose old, dirty water is used to fertilize the garden, which feeds everyone. Pretty cool. All in all it is a pretty nice place. They feed us 2 meals a day, we stay in dorm style rooms and have a bathroom. So what if the mosquitos are bad and we have no warm water. Right? Right.
After settling in we went on another wild ride through Haiti. This time we were heading to Matt & Gabe’s old orphanage. We went through some pretty tough areas. Signs of the quake are everywhere. Tents all over, crumbling buildings, trash and debris. (There was trash all over before the quake). It is amazing how many people are displaced.
The orphanage was great. We hugged, played with, tickled all the kids we could. It was fun to reconnect with people we knew at the orphanage. A bunch of then ladies remembered Matt and Gabe. I showed them pictures of them on my Iphone. The were amazed. As always there are children that tug at your heart strings. For me it was Eristine. I tried and tried to get a a smile out of her. She really wanted to be snuggled but I couldn’t get her to interact. She was very small. I thought she was maybe 1 but found out she was 2. Poor little thing. Those kids need attention and love. I’m so grateful my boys weren’t in there any longer than a couple months. I’m learning that Ben is a kid magnet. The kids loved him. One little boy named Evens cried every time he put him down. You can’t imagine how hard it is to put down a child that is clinging to you and walk away. Especially when you know that most likely no one else will pick them up. It’s heartbreaking. I was really proud of Ben. He was great with the kids. He wasn’t phased by saturated pants, snotty noses or anything. He just dished out as much attention and as he could.
When we left the orphanage it was a downpour. The roads were covered with water, hiding pot holes and making travel even crazier. All the drainage rivers and canals were rushing down full of brown water and trash. I guess the Haitians let the rains clean their streets for them. People were wrapped in plastic, under umbrellas and donning a lot of colorful shower caps, hats, buckets etc. The rain didn’t stop them from their business. I’m sure they are used to it. It rains every afternoon/ evening.
The rest of the evening consisted of dinner, (lasagna), bath, and bed. All in all it was an amazing day. I feel really fortunate to be able to experience Haiti with Ben. He fits right in with all the adults. Other than being tired, I think he is having a life changing experience, and it is only day one. We are excited for the next few days and what they may hold for us.
The girls were so fun. We painted fingernails, played jumprope, looked at photos on my phone, tried to learn Chinese jump rope. (I don’t know why I used to think that was fun.)They got a real kick out of my very bad creole. They were extremely patient with me. Fortunately, we have some great guys with us that are able to translate. We spent time at the little playground. I am certain they have never been on a swing before. They absolutely loved it. It took me awhile to help them to know what to do on a teeter totter as well. Crazy. They loved having their photo taken and then looking at it. (Every kid on this compound loves that). They especially loved taking photos. All in all it was a delightful and promising day.
Davidson was amazing. We gave him a soccer ball and he kicked it around ALL day. He loved Ben! I was so grateful to have Ben there. He was so cute with the kids. Soccer, cars, rides on rolling chairs, bubbles, more soccer, swinging, teeter-totter. We did it all with that little guy. Ben could really get him giggling. It was pure joy.
A few other things…. There is a huge mango tree on the lawn. Today I noticed that many of the lower growing mangos have names written on them. Evidently they are reserved. I thought that was a great idea. Mangos here are so much better than any mango I have ever had. I’d write my name on one too if I would be around when they ripen.
There are two little girls ages 9 and 10 who are putting around here with walkers. They both have external fixators in their femurs. They are amazing. There are many children here without limbs. Some of them have prosthetics. Most don’t. They are smiling and happy. They are mastering their crutches and walkers. I am continually amazed by the Haitian people and their resilience.
Ben played some serious soccer with about 25 boys of all ages. He was in his element. Most boys played with no shoes. Though I did notice some split a pair of shoes and each played with one. Ben said a few fights almost broke out. He played until just past dark. I am continually grateful that I felt compelled to bring him. I know this is becoming a life changing experience for him. I am constantly being told how wonderful he is. I am really proud of him.
Tonight we went to the nightly devotional. It was a unique experience. As you walk in, you are bombarded by children who sit down with you on wood benches. The rest involves a lot of praying, out loud and silently and lots of loud singing. They sing some really, really long songs. Even the little ones know all the words. They really got into it by closing their eyes, swaying, waving their hands etc. Especially the teens. Afterwards I asked what they were singing about. They were songs of hope and thanks to God. Afterwards they all come around shaking hands and saying “God Bless You”. I couldn’t help but send a prayer up during this service for these children who have no possessions, no family but lots of faith and hope. God bless these amazing children.
I am in love with the Haitian people. I wish I could live here all the time. In Haiti you feel so useful, so needed. Little things you do can make a huge difference. A smile, a touch. Yes, we love them. We help them but they do more for us. They make us smile. They make us feel. They make us grateful. They make us understand that the “things” of the world don’t matter. It’s the people, our relationships and serving other that brings us the joy we seek.
As I said before, today has been pure joy. I thank Haiti and it’s wonderful people for that.
Today I met two more of our Haitian Roots orphaned children. Samuel (13) and Esterline (7). They came to the guest house to receive a little therapy and have some fun. We did all the usual things with them. They loved to jump rope play soccer and color. The swings were a new experience for them as well.
We learned that Samuel’s mother sent him to the market alone on the day of the quake. He was outside the market on the street when it hit. He said he just stayed still. Afterwards he went home. He said no one was there. I’m not sure where his mom was killed. His dad survived the quake but died of his injuries a few days later. How frightening. He is living with an aunt who has 9 children of her own. Her husband was shot 5 years ago. She is raising the children alone. I don’t know how she does it. One sister is living with another aunt. Really tough.
I was able to find a home for two solar generators that were donated by Goal0. Nisthone received one. He is the artist that creates the bracelets for Haitian Roots to sell for fundraising. He has a small family and will make good use of the generator. The other we gave to Harry Mardy, who is the bishop of the Petionville ward and one of the Haitian Roots coordinators. He is going to give it to a needy family. Thank you Goal0 for your generous donation!
We held a Haitian Roots party today for one of the three groups of children. It went off without a hitch. Shannon and Chareyl had things so well organized and it helped that our volunteer group is so terrific. The kids had a lot of fun. They had their photos taken, had a hot meal, wrote notes or drew pictures for their sponsors, had their fingernails painted, jump roped, played soccer and played games with a big parachute. I was one of the fingernail painters. Jennifer and I sat under the huge mango tree painting flowers on their fingernails while using a lot of sign language. ( creole is not easy for me) It was a blast and they loved it. I feel so lucky to be involved with such a wonderful organization that allows me to interact with these wonderful people. They received a book bag full of school supplies, a doll for the girls and soccer balls or a toy for the boys. They were thrilled.
Later, we surprised the orphans during their movie night with some of those glow in the dark bracelets–the kind you bend and they crack and light up. They were delighted. Especially some of the special needs kids. Their eyes just lit up when they saw them.
Tonight a little Girl was brought to the orphanage for the first time. Probably about 4 years old. She has needed medical care since the quake and has been cared for by a medical ngo. Her brother is a little guy who is around 10. He has been spending a lot of time with our group. He has only been here a few days as he was in the hospital as well. He is one of my favorite children here. They were reunited tonight for the first time since the quake. They just stared at each other. (I wonder if they were in shock) then tears trickled down the brothers face.
Ben continues to be the soccer buddy to all. The orphan boys are always coming to get him to play. He is loving it.
Our volunteer group is fabulous. Interesting, fun, dedicated, delightful people. I think they are finding a love for Haiti and having experiences that they will not be able to forget. We all are.
What an eventful day! Holy cow! Today we went to the Petionville chapel to hold the Haitian Roots parties for the last two groups. One party at 10:00am and one at 1:30. All the Haitian Roots children write a letter or draw a picture for their sponsors, get their photo taken, have a good meal, do various activities and get a school bag full of stuff and a ball or doll. ( I think I may have written that before…oh well). The kids and I did all these things together. They loved their balls and dolls. Thank you to all of you wonderful folks who donated the balls!!!!!
During the next party we met up with Dan’s friend Omelus. He was one of his volunteer Haitian translators during his trip right after the quake. We are sponsoring him in school. He brought his brother Kervens who is 12. Kervens is being sponsored by my sister. He was one of the femur fracture patients Dan helped transfer to get help post quake. He is walking ok and says his leg doesn’t hurt but he limps a bit. It was fun to meet them both. They are living in a tent with their mother. Life is hard for them.
Over all the Haitian roots parties were a huge success. The kids were so cute. They really enjoyed everything that was lovingly planned for them. When Ben enjoyed playing basketball with some of the teens. He had a great experience once again. On the way back to our guesthouse he said he didn’t want to leave Haiti. I’d say this mission is a success. When we arrive at the guesthouse I heard “Ben, Ben!” The orphans were ready to play soccer again.
Today on the streets of Haiti I saw a man in a wheel chair, parked next to a tree with his head leaning against it. He looked so forlorn. I have seen many amputees. Some in wheelchairs, some on crutches. Some kids are just hopping around. I guess it is just a reminder that Haiti and it’s people are still trying to heal.
The living conditions for some here are unbelievable. It is amazing what they use to build and reinforce their homes. They have none of the simple comforts we enjoy. Many have never enjoyed a hot bath, or even even running water. Families living in teeny tiny little structures or tents. I feel so fortunate. I will send some photos to illustrate this.
Tomorrow I get to go to church in Haiti for the first time. I’m excited for this new experience.
Our last day in Haiti…at least for awhile. We are sad to leave.
Today we went to church at the Petionville ward. It was a unique experience. About a half hour into it the power went out. (it does every day) That was a major bummer. It was so hot! It was really a neat experience to be with the Haitian members. They are so strong. Their scriptures are well marked and well used. They don’t take the gospel for granted. It is a gift. Unfortunately because the power was out the microphone didn’t work. We couldn’t hear much in fast meeting but there was a really nice spirit there. I loved hearing “Because I Have Been Given Much” sung by the members in creole. I shared a hymn book with a cute little old man. I butchered the creole lyrics but he didn’t seem to care.
Afterwards our group walked a few blocks to the Hotel Kinam for lunch. It is right across the street from a tent city. It felt strange and uncomfortable to me to be eating a nice meal just feet away from people who have so little to eat. However, we enjoyed the Haitian fare and the delightful company. Afterwards we went to a street market where I was able to get a couple of paintings. Evidently I am bad at negotiating. My friend Shannon stepped in and helped me get a much better deal.
We took a different route back to our lodging. They drove us through some harder hit areas of the city. It is hard to process what we saw. Major devastation. One building standing and the next one reduced to rubble. I didn’t really see anyone clearing away rubble on this trip. I did see efforts to repair buildings by reinforcing and patching.
We stopped by a family home of one of our Haitian friends. I found it very eye opening to see inside one of the many structures we have driven by this trip. Very humble. Remember this is an average Haitian home. One of our Haitian Roots orphans is living there right now. It is unbelievable.
When we arrived back at the compound I saw my little street vendor friend waiting for me. (I had asked him if he could get me a plantain smasher called a pez.) He was so kind. He wouldn’t let me pay for it. He said I was his favorite customer. I thought that was pretty nice.
I spent some time over at the orphanage tonight pushing little ones on swings. As I pushed them I wondered about what would become of them. Will they ever be kissed and tucked into bed? Will they find someone to comfort them when they are upset and scared? Will they find someone to love them?They are so hungry for attention and love. I wish I could bring them all home. My heart breaks for them. Every child deserves love. Unfortunately, there are so many here who don’t get any. I can’t bear it and I can’t do anything about it.
We attended the orphan devotional again tonight. While we were there Ben hooked up with all of his soccer buddies and we took some photos. The boys there have really taken a liking to him. On the way back to our rooms, Ben thanked me for bringing him to Haiti. He said it has been a wonderful experience for him. I agree. It has been really special to experience it together.
During the past week our group has accomplished much. The University of Utah Students are ready to go to work. They have all fallen in love with Haiti and are excited and passionate about our school building project. We couldn’t have done anything without Nate and David who are our fabulous translators. They were godsends. Kayla our psychologist helped so many of our HR kids. Our Haitian Roots teams pulled off three great parties, distributed aid and assisted the architect students accomplish their goals. We all enjoyed each other. It was a great trip. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.
We leave tomorrow morning. Thanks for your interest in Haiti and our trip. The emails are finished. Yahoo! I hope they have given you a little peek into Haiti. If you would like more than a peek, I have a million photos of Haiti and it’s wonderful people!