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Haiti in 1,974 words

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I meant to write this post as soon as we got back but I didn’t know exactly what to say. When people ask me, “How was your trip?” I don’t know where to go other than, “It was good!” How do I condense 10 days into a minute or two?

A week ago this morning I was on my way to the Port-au-Prince airport, teary as we left the Haiti ARISE compound. I was not homesick for Canada at all. Besides maybe a bit of infrastructure. But homesick for my family? It started the moment I waved goodbye to them as the plane took off. I kept it together while saying bye to them but lost it at that taking-off point. I did my best not to think too much about them lest I become a complete wreck the entire trip.

We were there to work with Haiti ARISE in Grand-Goâve. They are making such a difference in their village and their country. Check out their website to see everything they do.

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You’re probably going to make fun of me for this, but the first night I was so freaking cold. It was 46°C/114.8°F with the humidity during the day, but our air conditioner worked really well at night. I went searching around and finally found a blanket. A few days later I added another one. We slept under mosquito nets because mosquitoes carry malaria and dengue fever and all that super-fun stuff.

And speaking of the humidity, I freaking LOVE it. I usually go through at least a box a week of Kleenex and you wanna know how much I went through there? I bought those little travel Kleenex pouches each of which holds 6 kleenexes. I didn’t even go through one of package. Also, I used no lip gloss or moisturizer of any kind. Seriously, I loved it.

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There were eight of us on our team. We grew close as a group, some being comfortable enough to share their pooping schedules with one another. I couldn’t have picked better people to go with, and I’m thankful for the time I spent with them. We debriefed each night on the roof of the guesthouse, in complete darkness under the stars, listening to the crickets. Or cicadas. Or whatever they were. The sky is so incredible; there are so many stars in the sky that we miss by living in the city. There is also lightning every night, I’m not exactly sure why, but I could have sat there for hours just staring at the sky if I didn’t have a terrible phobia of being alone in the dark. Each night after our debrief we’d play a not-competitive-at-all game of cards. We laughed so much during our time there.

For me, one of the best (if not the best) parts of being in Haiti was the kids. They yelled at us, “Blan!” (“White” in creole) or “You you you!” (This one was the most common.) If they saw me carrying my camera, they’d yell, “Foto! Foto!” They’d form a group and pose, or they’d try to get as close to me as possible so they’d be front and centre in the photo. They are so much fun. The kids have absolutely no problem making us feel welcome. We’d be sitting in church (which happens thrice weekly) and be instantly covered in kids. They have no regard for personal bubbles, which I didn’t mind at all. They also kept calling us “missionaries”. It weirded me out. I’m not a missionary, I went there to work. Our wonderful hosts are full-time missionaries, but not me. But, to the Haitian people, missionary I was.

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Oh, and I should mention this before I forget. Hey Dad! There were Dutch people there! Their accents made me feel so at home. And yes, I did ask them where they were from: Armheim & Leidem. You’re welcome. :)

We were fed so well there, and we had freshly-squeezed juice for almost every meal. We also had fresh bananas, mangos, avocados, papayas, and other things I can’t remember. No bananas will beat Haitian bananas. And the avocados are HUGE, about the size of a butternut squash. I’m not even exaggerating. We had salads quite often, but without salad dressing. I didn’t even miss it. Salt and pepper go a long way. We also didn’t have dessert or chocolate. Except we had a candied coconut one day which was delicious.

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We arrived at the Haiti ARISE compound mid-afternoon and were informed that we were too sleep-deprived to comprehend anything, so we were sent to the beach. No complaining there! Haiti is a beautiful country. I had the chance to go snorkelling on one of our beach visits and it was completely fascinating. The reefs we found were so incredible, fish and urchins and anemones and all that kind of stuff. I went out quite far with two of the guys and was kind of scared but also didn’t want to separate from them. I just made sure that they were on the north side of me so that if a shark came, they’d be the first to go.

I had my first cold shower after that first beach visit, and honestly? It wasn’t so bad. Though the water was only trickling that first time so it took me quite a while to get the shampoo out of my hair. Because of our thrice-daily bug spraying, if I had a before-bed shower, I’d race under my mosquito net afterwards so I could at least sleep without being drenched in bug spray. Cold showers were my BFF. Sometimes they were even lukewarm because the black water container is on the roof and gets warmed by the sun during the day.

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Also that first beach day, we met Milo. We accidentally took him home with us. He’s 13 and he loves soccer. He instantly connected with us, but especially with two of our team members who played football and soccer with him. We saw him every day after that, at church, out in the community, and again at the beach our last day. I had a hard time leaving him behind. That’s the thing about forming relationships with people in Haiti. After 10 days, you ditch them. It sucks.

Other people we spent a lot of time with was our translators. They were quite fun, but when I learned that they are closer in age to Kaylie then they are to me I felt really old. But they thought I was 17 so that made me feel better? They led us on our community walks and took us to the market. The market is insane. So many people, so much stuff, so much overwhelment. It was fascinating. We were instructed to not buy anything there except from the bakery. Their bread is amazing. We had freshly-made bread every single day there and it was delicious, but best when it was still warm.

Also, if you think only Haitian children love having their photo taken, you’d be wrong. I took at least 847 photos of two of our translators. Goodness I laughed so hard. They were absolutely hilarious.

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We did a lot of painting during our time at Haiti ARISE. So much painting. Though I did the least painting as I was shooting footage for a video for their grand opening. One of the things I got to shoot was interviews with recipients of the EachONE BuildONE program that builds houses for people who lost their homes in the 2010 earthquake. The church I attend did a fundraiser last Christmas to build a bunch of houses, so it was especially neat to tangibly see the joy on the faces of the recipients of the houses.

One thing I noticed about the houses was that they are immaculate. The people are neat and clean and their houses are well taken care of, even though they are simple brick houses with only a few rooms and curtains for doors. It was seriously amazing. There’s so much garbage and dirt around, yet you’d never know by looking at some of the houses and people.

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Two of the guys found a kanbanbara (tarantula). It was awesome and terrifying. It was released back into the wild after we were done checking it out, and after Wade risked his life and let it crawl up his arm.

I got up early most mornings to read, and every time I went up to the roof, the other team (there were two of us there) was there doing their morning debrief. I didn’t want to bother them, so I found another place to read, usually under a mango tree on the side of the guesthouse hoping a mango wouldn’t pelt me in the head.

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That last morning, however, I got up super early and beat the other team up to the roof. I grabbed two chairs, moved them to the opposite side of the roof from where they met, and took in my last sunrise at the compound. It was beautiful. My roommate Ann joined me and after the sun had done its rising, we got a little obnoxious. Some of our team members were sitting under the one mango tree, and since it hangs over the roof as well, we grabbed some rotting fallen mangos and might have thrown them. It’s really too bad I have horrible aim. By the second and third one they figured out what was going on and we had a little mango war. This caused Ann and me to break out in gut-wrenching laughter in our sleep-deprived state. Though it would have probably been hilarious even if we were well-rested.

I already miss everything about Haiti, but one of the things I do not miss at all are the freaking roosters who crow all night long rather than just at sunrise. Whoever made up the sunrise myth is a liar. I wanted to slaughter them all. (The roosters, not the myth-makers.)

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It scares me a bit that Haiti has pretty much no infrastructure-—no healthcare system, no banking system (or only in the bigger areas?), no postal service, no landlines, no public sewer system–but other than that I really love it there. A lot. I want to go back right now RIGHT NOW. But I want to bring my family with me because they are the only thing I missed about Saskatoon/Canada/North America.

But oh, another thing, I can’t drive there. They asked for a volunteer to drive to dinner on the last day (the only time we drove besides to and from the airport) and since nobody was volunteering, I did. But before we left, I was pulled aside and told it wasn’t a good idea to have me drive because women very rarely drive, and my being a woman and being white, it was out of the question. I was completely fine with this, as I was there to work with the culture rather than against it, but it’s something that would be very hard for me to deal with on a long-term basis. I like driving. Ok, I don’t much like driving but I like road trips and I like the ability to drive. I think this is the first time I’ve been denied something because of my sex and race. It’s apparently not very fun.

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I will go back. I love the country and the people so much. But life goes on, which I’ve been struggling with. It’s been hard to wrap my head around being back. I think I’ve had a harder time coming back from Haiti than I had going to Haiti. It’s hard leaving people behind.

Anyway, I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go. I’ll never forget it and I’ll always want to go back. Also? If you have the opportunity to go, you should go. You won’t regret it.

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  • Becca Thursday, November 6, 2014, 10:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your trip, and for going and helping. :)

  • Jennifer Glen Thursday, November 6, 2014, 8:01 pm

    Okay, crazy connection. I was following your team on Cornerstone’s blog and saw the group picture, thought nothing of it. Then, near the end, as I was looking at more recent pictures, I saw one of a man and I said, “Is that Joel S.?” And sure enough, I went back and checked the group picture and it was! I knew Lynette and Joel when we all lived in Humboldt when I was a little kid. She was my first accompanist to my very solo ever in church and she and my mom sang together in a trio. SMALL WORLD! Say hi to them for me, though they don’t know me as a Glen, only as a Berkan.

  • Angella Sunday, November 9, 2014, 11:50 am

    It sounds AMAZING. Our church youth group takes high schoolers to Mexico every spring (sometimes every second year) to build houses. I can’t wait to go with my kids when they’re in high school.