Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Adventure to Jacmel

A little over two weeks ago we got a phone call from the director of CCH, our partner organization, asking us to help with a project they have going in Jacmel. Now for those of you who don’t know, which is probably most of you reading this, Jacmel is on the southern coast of Haiti out on the peninsula. CCH offered to pay for flights, but being that there were seven of us, Jared, myself, Jordyn, Ezequias (our right hand man), Will, Natalie and Jackindy we thought that would be too expensive. Besides, we also thought it would be a good opportunity to do some shopping in Port on our way back through. J

The day we left we were of course late getting started--surprise. I imagine we are like a lot of other families that just can’t get it all together when we think we should. So we left about an hour after we wanted to with two adults and two kids in the back seat, a toddler on my lap and Jared driving. Conservatively we estimated a six to seven hour trip, but that wasn’t to be. When all was said and done, it was more like nine. As we’ve said before, the worst part of the trip is the first 20 miles. We made good time getting through Hinche in one hour twenty minutes, and I was so thrilled to see a “road work ahead” (written in French) I almost cried.

There is so much going on here with repairing and building roads and bridges, and you can really feel change is in the air. People are excited to see so much heavy equipment rolling through and there are many jobs being created for the communities as they go along. Although the main part of the road is being built by machine, there is still a great need for manual labor to construct drainage ditches to funnel water coming off the mountains and walls to prevent mudslides from blocking the road. The best thing is that it is being done well and, by Haiti standards, fast!

Our plan was to stop in a town called Mirabalais around lunch time for sandwiches and also to check out a hotel and make a reservation for on the way home. Before we left, Jared had noticed the right front tire was low and we filled it before heading out of Pignon. We prayed it would stay up and at least for the worst part of the trip, the first 20 miles, it did. Going over the first set of mountains, however, it went flat. Now changing a tire alongside the road isn’t that big a deal unless it’s on the side of a mountain, and the other drivers are totally insane. Jordyn, the kids and I got out and stood with our backs to the mountainside to get in as much shade as possible. Jared and Ezequias got the hot and sweaty job of changing the tire.

I think God has a great sense of humor because we got the flat right next to a huge pile of rocks, just what Jared needed to put in front of all the tires to prevent it from getting away! Jordyn and I were amazed at the speed at which they changed the tire, and suggested if the mission business doesn’t work out, Jared could get a job changing tires for a NASCAR team. Preferably Hendrick's Motorsports, preferably for Jimmie Johnson. (Listening to the Sprint Cup races on the weekends is something we look forward to all week.)

Once the tire was fixed, it was on to Mirabalais and the Wozo Plaza Hotel. We visited the hotel on our way into town and made reservations. The restaurant was decent, the pool looked inviting and as a bonus we heard they have air conditioning and satellite TV with AMERICAN channels!

After we picked up sandwiches at the local grocery store, we headed on to Port-au-Prince. I think I have mentioned before that I can at times get car sick. Well that day was no exception, and while heading up and down the last mountain, I started feeling queasy. We had to stop at the airport to pick up some supplies for our friends at CCH so I got out of the truck with Jackindy to get some “fresh” air. DUH. I have yet to be in a big city in Haiti and feel like I am getting fresh air. It didn’t take long for the smell to overtake me, and because there wasn’t a bathroom anywhere close, I picked a small path with a lot of vegetation to get rid of lunch. There you have it.

We made our way through Port, and it was sad to see all the damage from the earthquake, but sadder still to see all the tents. Natalie must have been reading my mind because she said, “Mom, I thought it would be bad to see the damage, but it is worse to see all the tents.” I asked why and she replied, “Because I know there are a lot of families living there. A building is just a building.” For a six year old I think she gets it. Aside from the tents things looked fairly normal to me. The streets were packed with trucks and motorcycles, and there were people everywhere buying and selling all kinds of things.

It took a good hour or more to get through the city, and on the road to Jacmel we went through Carrefour near the epicenter of the quake. There again were a lot of damaged buildings but the road was most surprising. In several places the road (which was paved with asphalt) was buckled, but not like we see in the summer in Iowa. There weren’t blown up chunks; it looked more like it had melted. Several times we were speeding along only to have a “DANGER” sign pop up, but at least we had a warning!

We crossed over our last set of mountains and got into Jacmel around six o’clock that night. We were all exhausted, but I have to say the kids were very good and hadn’t complained much at all. If anything, Jared and I were the crabbiest of the bunch. The guesthouse we stayed at couldn’t have looked better. CCH had acquired the building, an old hotel, post-earthquake with the goal of operating a guesthouse for mission teams coming to Jacmel. We were there to help the family running the house, which had just arrived in Haiti in July.

The word was that Jacmel was this wonderful beautiful place, and it had a beach. We found that yes, Jacmel was nice and it certainly was cleaner than a lot of other places we had been, but it really isn’t all that different with the exception of some paved streets and more trees and plants. The beach….well first of all it was the public beach and second it was like all the other public beaches around Haiti. There was trash everywhere, even in the water too along with some things that are unmentionable. The kids didn’t seem to care and had fun anyway. I was relieved when the rain rolled in.

For the days that followed we helped with handyman (and handywoman, I can wield power tools when necessary) jobs around the guesthouse and tried to help with the chaos that sometimes comes with groups. The kids were great considering they were stuck basically in a hotel without a pool, a/c or TV. They did have their teacher with them and had school to keep them busy. It is amazing to see them grow up in this environment and know they are normal (as can be with us as parents.)

We finally left our new friends in Jacmel and headed back to Port to do some much needed “American” grocery shopping as well as buy a new DVD player (ours was getting pretty bad), and to buy a washing machine! Our plan was to do the shopping for groceries then stop at a place called Muncheez for pizza, hit the home improvement store for the washing machine, then head to Mirabalais for a little r & r. The pizza was what we were looking forward to most.

As we got into Port-au-Prince we started to notice some signs and other things that looked like they had been knocked over. I thought it was odd that these would be the result of the earthquake still and soon figured out it was because of a tropical storm of some sort. As if an earthquake isn’t enough in a year. There were trees and power lines down and the occasional billboard. It looked like the wind had been pretty intense. After getting some groceries that cost a small fortune, we made our way through town trying to find Muncheez.

We were so impressed that we found it as fast as we did. While Jared parked the truck, the rest of us went to order, only to find out they didn’t have power and weren’t fixing food. I think we were all dejected at that point. We had really gotten ourselves psyched up for good pizza. So we dug up some chips and cookies we had bought and snacked on them since there aren’t really any fast food joints in the city. Needless to say we were all a little crabby while we shopped for a washing machine and headed to our hotel. Our plan was to eat as soon as we got there and do some swimming.

After a short drive to Mirabalais, we arrived at the Wozo, checked in and headed straight for the restaurant. Now in Haiti we have found restaurants in hotels can be slow, but this was extremely slow. We ordered spaghetti for Jared, sandwiches for me, Jordyn and the kids, and goat for Ezequias. An hour and forty-five minutes later we got our food only to find there was hot sauce on all the sandwiches. Shame on us for not telling them to omit the hot sauce. The kids ended up sharing Jared’s spaghetti and he ate their sandwiches. And it was raining.

Fortunately we had satellite TV, hot showers (well at least the girls’ room) and air conditioning (at least the girls room, again!) We were all tired, worn out and did I mention crabby? For the most part it was a good night’s sleep for all and the next day was much better. We were able to go swimming, had a good lunch from the grocery store in town, listened to Jimmie Johnson win at Dover (woo hoo!), and watched Sunday Night Football. All in all, a great day.

That night Jordyn and I awoke to the sound of machine gun fire! Ok, so it wasn’t really gun fire, but it sounded like that to us. Our air conditioner had frozen up and there was a chunk of ice in the fan so we had to shut it off….bummer. I couldn’t believe it didn’t wake Natalie or Jackindy.

The next morning after a breakfast of spaghetti with ham and scrambled eggs we left for home. The trip didn’t take long, and we were so happy to be out of the truck and back in our house I almost cried. We had accomplished what we set out to…helping out some new friends, seeing parts of the country we hadn’t seen, staying in a new (to us) hotel, doing some grocery shopping, buying a washing machine, and did I mention a new DVD player? About that…I hooked it up, plugged it in, turned on the power…..and….POP, then a small stream of smoke rose from the machine along with the smell of burning plastic. Wow what a surprise. We bought something here that broke as soon as we got it home. Good news though…our DVD player that was on the fritz still works, sometimes.

Blessings to all, hope you got a chuckle out of our adventure.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A New Year Begins

Here it is September already and for most of you school is fully underway and routines are being established. There is something good to be said for routine. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of girl, but recognize the value of a rhythm too. We too are settling into life here in Haiti, albeit rather slowly. I didn’t get all of the curriculum issues figured out until last minute so some of our school materials should be arriving via cargo plane Thursday. The plan is to start next week.

So many things are different this year from last. We came back to a home instead of a tool shed, and it really felt like home. It was good to sleep in our own beds again, even if they weren’t quite as heavenly as the one we had in Sully. And no, that isn’t a typographical error. We each have a twin bed here; in Sully we had a king that was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in! Our inverter wasn’t working properly when we arrived, but Jared was able to fix it right away and we have had power ever since! It is so good to be married to such a handy man.

Of course the best thing about returning to Haiti was being reunited with Jackindy. I was afraid he wouldn’t recognize us or would run away terrified to have to live with us again, but he was great. He didn’t hesitate to come to me and was ready to go with us when the time came. I think he was really more excited about riding in the truck than going with us, but we’ll take what we get! It is amazing to see how much a little one changes in just two months. He is walking and jabbering, half the time I can’t tell if it’s Creole or English, but he understands both. There is also a mouthful of teeth now as compared to just five when we left.

He is back into the routine of waking me up earlier than I want to be up and has decided to become extremely picky about what he eats. It doesn’t matter if it’s Haitian, American or Japanese, he’s just picky! I didn’t have that with Will and Natalie so it is requiring patience on my part that I still don’t have enough of. He will eat the strangest things like Tortilla soup and fried catfish and hush puppies as long as it’s freshly prepared. Leftovers are off limits. Really if it wasn’t for baby cereal he would waste away.

Will and Natalie are doing well and have adjusted to life without TV, bathtubs, swimming pools and mini-vans. They seem to appreciate a fuller understanding of life now, and their prayers are proof. I just love hearing them pray for things like guidance for our future and blessing for our Haitian friends. Maybe that’s just because those are things they hear us pray for. All the sam, they have a better understanding of spiritual things than I did at that age!

Speaking of Will and Natalie, one of the great things for them this year is that mom will not be teaching. We are blessed to have Jordyn Vande Lune living with us, at least for the next few months, primarily to teach school. For those of you who don’t know her, Jordyn is a recent graduate of Pella High and believes the Lord called her to minister to us as a family and to Will and Natalie in particular in lieu of her first year of college. The kids think she is great (remember, school hasn’t officially started yet!), and they are happy to have someone other than mom around. I can see already they are more willing to listen to what she has to say….everyone is always smarter and more interesting than mom!

The plan for now is that Jordyn will be teaching Will, Natalie and two daughters of friends of ours, Alina and Chrissy. Will is in third this year and the girls are all in first, so it will be interesting to see how juggling all of them will go. They have a “classroom” in the Iowa House downstairs from where we used to live. I think this will be a great setup for all of us and will give Jordyn the authority she needs to be a good teacher. She has committed to being with us until December and will re-evaluate during the holiday break whether she wants to come back in January or not. I am guessing after living with us for three months, she will seriously reconsider! No, really I think it’s going to be just fine. I am already grateful just for the help with Jackindy and dishes.

We have a really light schedule until January so Jared and I are trying to focus on taking our ministry in a new direction. He mentioned that he wants to blog about it, so I will let him. It seems his entries are quite a hit and provide entertainment for those who follow us. In all honesty it’s one of the reasons I love him. Even in the midst of chaos and the monotony of everyday life, he makes me laugh.

Please continue to pray for guidance and discernment this year as we wrestle with what our purpose is here. Funny isn’t it, you’d think that with a call as obvious as ours is that we would have that all figured out. I guess just because the call to Haiti was clear it doesn’t necessarily mean that the purpose of the call would be.

Thanks for your prayers and support!