Writing about my recent trip to Haiti will take multiple posts, so I guess I better get started. The problem is, it’s hard to know where to start. Someone advised me to come up with a short answer to the question, “So how was your trip?” My short answer is “grueling.”
I really can’t complain. Since the guest house where we were supposed to stay was being renovated, we had rooms at the Haberson Paradis Hotel in Gonaives, Haiti. So we had beds, shower, and meals. Not five star, but better than sleeping on the floor, in mosquito nets, in the heat.
Our medical mission team rendezvous-ed at a hotel right next to the Miami airport on Sunday, October 17. First time I’ve missed church in a long, long time. Our team consisted of myself (an LCMS pastor), Jacob (the team leader from Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod World Relief), Nancy (an MD), Nancy (a Physical Therapist), my wife Lisa (a nurse practitioner), Barb (an EMT/Paramedic), Barb’s son Quinton (a 16-year-old EMT in training), Gail (an RN), and Jesse (the pharmacist). Our mission was to staff a clinic in Poto, a rural area not far from Gonaives, stocking and equipping it to continue to serve the people of that area.
We met each other and shared some info about ourselves. Some had been to Haiti before, in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Our doctor had been to Peru and Lebanon on a similar mission. And some, like myself, were rookies. I would be serving as chaplain for the group as well as ministering to those coming to the clinic for care. Our discussion the first night revolved around what medications we brought, what we would need, and what kind of pizza to order for supper. We’d be up early the next morning for our flight to Port-au-Prince the next day, so we didn’t stay up too late.
When we met in the lobby the next morning, we realized that we had way too many bags to fit on the hotel shuttle. Each person had two bags to check, plus at least one carry-on each! But we squeezed everything onto one shuttle, and took off for the airport. Checking our bags and getting through security turned out to be pretty easy, so we were at our gate with over an hour to wait before out flight. Most of us set out in search of some breakfast and decent coffee. (The coffee in the hotel rooms was pitifully weak.)
After a somewhat turbulent flight to Port-au-Prince, we then had to get our bags out of the airport to the place where our rides were waiting for us. Like it or not, a swarm of porters was there to “help” us with our luggage. Swatting them away like pesky flies was marginally effective; we had to tip some of them. Finally we got loaded up in a pickup and two SUVs, and we set out for Gonaives.
Driving in Haiti is a little different than driving in the US. You mostly use horn and gas, only braking for holes in the road. The drive to Gonaives took about three hours and countless bumps in the road. Some of the scenery was gorgeous. Some was heart-breaking as we got our first glimpse of endless tent-cities in Port-au-Prince and a taste of what poor really looks like.