Pale Anglè? Not yet!/Speak English? Not yet!
This is the fifth and final post from my recent trip to Haiti with a small delegation from St. Gabriel the Archangel. The first post was an introduction, which can be found here. This is my third trip to Haiti, having traveled there in 2007 and 2009. A post about those trips can be found here. The second post in this five part series is about the school at St. Anne and it can be found here. The third post is about the St. Anne clinic, and that can be found here. The fourth post is about St. Anne church and the seven chapels the parish supports and it can be found here. This final post is intended to share about the moments on the trip when we were not in church, school, or the clinic, rather its focus is on places we visited, moments while traveling to those places, and the times in between.
On the way to our twin parish from the airport, we four women of our delegation squeezed into the back seat of the pick up truck because the bed was full of luggage. Having been to Haiti before, I knew that once the luggage was unloaded, future travel would find us in the truck bed. Haitians utilize every bit of space in a vehicle, sometimes carrying as many as twelve people in the bed of a truck or a few passengers on the roof of a van or standing on the bumper holding on to the racks on top.
Three of us in the truck photo at the top of this post are grandmothers. Grandmothers who once made sure to follow regulations to install car seats for our children and then watched as they carefully chose certified car seats for each stage of growth for their own children. In Haiti, as in many developing countries, there are no laws about this. Acknowledging culture shock, we shook our heads in disbelief as we watched a motor scooter pass with a man driving, a woman seated behind him facing backwards clutching a soft-sided baby carrier, presumably with a baby inside. We also marveled at motor scooters with as many as five people on board, including one on the lap of the driver:
Admittedly not the safest way to travel, we preferred travel in the truck bed anyway for its access to many and beautiful sights and the cooling of the wind in the Haitian heat. Père Didier drove fast when possible and although we couldn’t see where we were going, we knew by the sudden stops that we had reached a speed bump on the edge of a village, or through a quick toot of the horn and sudden acceleration that we were about to pass another vehicle.
On Friday, after our time at the school, the clinic, and LaHatte chapel, we drove to Les Cayes to pick up a few things.
Seated in the truck bed, it was easy to get decent photos of all we were taking in. I had asked Santa to bring me a new camera for this trip and he delivered. I wanted something that had an automatic feature plus some manual settings, it had to be very small, and able to capture video, too. You may be wondering why I didn’t just use a cell phone. In fact, I kept my iPhone for communication, but ALSO used an old iPhone 6 to capture both photos and videos. The problem is that in the heat of Haiti, batteries drain quickly AND there is no promise of electricity for charging them. The camera I chose has a rechargeable battery and I also bought an extra rechargeable battery. It all worked out – when one device died, I always had another to use. This is the camera I chose and I recommend it for all of the reasons above. Plus, it comes in purple! I would often hold it in the air and take random shots to capture the scenic view. It worked out great.
Verienne asked Père Didier to pull over to buy grilled corn from a woman cooking it on the side of the road:
We also stopped along the return trip for mangoes and to pick up gasoline for the generator.
At one point as the sun began to set, we heard the horn of a passing vehicle and then quickly pulled over. We wondered what was going on when our group in the truck-cab got out of the vehicle. Next we knew, the former pastor of our twin parish came around to the back of the truck with a big, welcoming smile. It was a delight to see Père Doussous again! It seems he had passed us and when he did, Père Didier recognized him and waved at him to stop.
As we pulled away from our brief but wonderful roadside visit, in repositioning myself in the back of the truck I realized my dress was wet with gasoline. Christine realized she was wet with it, too. We rode home extra vigilant about holding the gas container in place, although we knew it was leaking beyond our control. When we arrived back to the rectory we changed out of our clothes, rinsed them, and hung them outside to air out.
The next morning, while the rest of the delegation was visiting Bellevue chapel, I asked for something with which to wash out the gasoline drenched clothing and was given both a liquid soap and a disinfectant. I scrubbed the two dresses and hung them outside on the veranda to dry in the sun, moving them every hour or so as the sun moved across the building. My goal was to get the smell of gasoline to fade enough that I could put the clothing in my suitcase to bring home without causing problems in customs. Both Chris and I were worried about giving them to the house staff to clean because we didn’t want to cause a problem for them. As mentioned before, Haiti has a trash problem and we didn’t want to “throw them away” because they would sit around a while before being burned. We also didn’t want to make a display of our privilege by simply discarding them. All of it was a big concern for us. The good news is that the strong smell of the disinfectant masked the smell of gasoline and we were able to do as we had planned – bring the clothing home in plastic bags in our suitcases and dispose of them there.
When the group returned home from their uphill trek to Bellevue, they were thirsty, tired, and hungry; we had lunch. Most meals in the parish consisted of water (only sealed bottles or water from the Culligan big bottles poured in a pitcher), fruit -including mango, papaya, plantains, pineapple, rice and beans, soup or stew, and sometimes meat or fish in a sauce. One day there were freshly cut coconuts from which we drank delicious coconut milk. We always had the option of Haitian Kasav bread (made from flour ground from manioc root) with peanut butter on top and often took advantage of this. Sometimes there were bon-bons, which is Creole for cookie. In the morning we had strong Haitian coffee, and at night sometimes sitwonad (limeade), or a Prestige (made in Haiti). On the road once or twice we were treated to a nice cold Coca Cola. On our last night at the parish, the cook made dessert, a sweet potato pudding called Pain Patate. The cook and her staff at the parish worked very hard to feed us, and for that we are grateful.
On Saturday night after all of our meetings, we drove to Aquin for the feast of Thomas Aquinas at the church there. The church was packed to the hilt with parishioners and on the altar sat over twenty priests. We got there late (seats had been saved for us) during the homily and we were still at mass for two hours.
After mass, as everyone spilled from the church, Père Didier led us to the rectory where a big feast of food was laid out on the dining room table. He made sure we each had something on a plate (plantains for me) and led us upstairs to the porch where tables had been set up. You could hear music and festivities on the ground below. At one point I went to the railing to see what was happening and was greeted by the young men in the photo below.
I asked them tentatively, “Pale Anglé?” (Speak English?) To which one of them quickly replied, “Not yet!” I loved that response! For anyone in education reading this, it is a great example of a perfect growth mindset response.
There is really nothing so universally relaxing as a day at the beach, right? On Sunday in Haiti, after three hours or so dressed up and in church, people relax as much as they can while still going about the importance business of life and sustenance. For instance, there are no carpentry projects in the churchyard and the main meal is just a bit more special. Père Didier wanted to take us some place to relax and unwind and as Haiti is surrounded by water, the beach was a welcomed suggestion. And so we began our excursion to the island of Île-à-Vache (Cow Island).
To get to Île-à-Vache we would take a boat out of Les Cayes. When we arrived at the docks, no boats were moored there and we waited while Père Didier made calls and checked in with some people there.
When the boat arrived it was not what we had expected.
But we took a giant leap of faith and boarded anyway. And just kept smiling.
What a ride. It took 40 minutes to travel the seven miles to the island. The wind was strong and the waves were high. And we were in a flat-bottomed wooden relic of a boat with one 40hp engine. This was the first time I ever feared for my life in Haiti.
There is no Coast Guard in Haiti. There was no radio communication. We were four miles out with just two guys and their cell phones to make a mayday call. And we all know what happens when cellphones take on water.
By the grace of God, we made it to the island and put the return trip out of mind as we took in the beauty of Île-à-Vache at the Port Morgan resort.
We walked down the steps to the beach and it was indeed beautiful and peaceful, as promised.
Père Didier had a nice swim and before too long, Christine and I joined him (in our clothes).
After a meal, a swim, good conversation, and relaxation, we began the return trip:
And made it back safely! The step from the boat to the dock was at least a good two feet. Suddenly about six men appeared and hoisted us, one by one, out of the boat. I remember reaching up my hands and next I knew I was on the dock. Just like that. It wasn’t until the next day I felt bruising on my left arm from the hands that gripped tightly to lift me.
I found it particularly difficult to sleep in Haiti. I don’t remember that from past trips. It was hot in the room, at least 95℉, and humid. Coming from a particularly frigid few weeks in New England, the heat was a big adjustment, more so at night, where I slept without covers in a snow-angel-making position. Mosquitos buzzed only occasionally. I remembered a lot of mosquitos in past trips, this time there were few. We had brought mosquito nets and we took the Malaria drugs, but there was no need for them. As you’ve probably heard in the videos in this series of postings, the roosters crow whether day or night. There seemed to be one on each side of the house, echoing crows all night long. Needless to say, when I returned home I was exhausted and also dehydrated even though I drank water as often as possible.
We let the roosters awake us at 4:00 in the morning on Monday as to have enough time to finish packing and have suitcases at the front door by 4:45. Père Didier borrowed a vehicle with six seats so we could make the four hour trip more comfortably. All of the suitcases were secured under a tarp on the roof. When we set off at 5:00am, it was still dark outside. Along the way, we were able to watch as Haiti woke up and started the day. Children walked or rode on scooters to school in their uniforms, vendors carried their wares to the sidewalk and set up shop.
As we got closer to the city, structures were more densely packed together, the streets were busier, and the trash piles grew larger.
Both times I had been to Haiti before this trip, we took a small plane out of a different airport in Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes, so I had only seen about a mile or so of the city, and my last trip was six months before the earthquake of 2010 that demolished the city. I was glad to be on the ground in a vehicle to take it all in.
We got to the Toussaint Louverture airport, named after the leader of the Haitian Revolution, after many hours on the road and dense traffic in Port-au-Prince.
With help from some porters, we checked our bags and made our way to the security area.
After a lot of milling around and not knowing where to go, we filled out departure forms. No pens were supplied and I used a black marker I happened to have with me. The markings didn’t transfer.
We cleared security and went to the gate area, sitting at a cafe for sandwiches. We shopped at a little tchotchke shop and eventually went to the gate. Little did we know there would be another security check. At this one, they took my boarding pass away and ushered me to a private room for a random security check, which I had a difficult time understanding due to the language difference. I was separated from and could no longer see my group, my luggage, or my boarding pass. I was unnerved. In the private room, a young woman simply ran a wipe over my hands and pronounced us “fini”. I replied, “Mademoiselle, mon cœur!” and made heart pounding motions like you see in the cartoons.
Finally, we boarded and had an uneventful flight to JFK airport in New York. On arrival, I promptly failed the automated passport to photo facial recognition check and earned a big X on my receipt. Way to go.
All that means is that you have to present yourself (your face) to a human to be compared with your passport. But what it really means is one more long line before you can go to customs. We cleared that without incident and boarded the plane for Boston, where we arrived at 8:30pm. Needless to say, I was incredibly happy to be home.
Home with deep appreciation for hot showers, my own bed, brushing my teeth without using bottled water, fresh fruit and vegetables (especially lettuce), cell service and wifi, and solid sleep. With a stroke of luck, the day after my return was decreed a snow day, giving me an extra day to recharge. Although on the next day – my return to the classroom, I couldn’t help making constant comparisons between methods of instruction at home and in Haiti, and the multitude of resources, electronic and otherwise, that we have here compared to the simplicity of the classrooms there. At home, I consciously waited until the following Sunday to enter a grocery store. Almost a full week after returning home, the comparison in consumption between our countries was great and overwhelming.
Lastly, in driving my car to work in subsequent days, I was grateful for the cold weather. Had it been hot and humid I would have been missing those carefree moments of riding around in the open air in the back of a truck.
Mèsi, Ayiti. Bondye beni w!