Oct. 25, 2012, 8:45 a.m.
The morning began at night – up at 3 a.m., out of the house at 4, and to the gate by 4:50. All eight travelers made it fine: Kathy Shaffer, Chris Nazar, George and Carolyn Kroh, Mary Ann Teschan, Anne Renne, Shannon Dover, and me. We were blessed by Carolyn Kroh’s American Airlines Gold Card, which took us, and all 12 duffel bags of supplies, to the front of the check-in line. That was blessing #1. Then we made our way through security without incident or delay – blessing #2, particularly given that we entered the gate as the flight was boarding. We had to check our carry-ons because the flight was so full, so we had some anxiety about them not following us all the way to Port au Prince.
Had that been the case, we would have been at least somewhat prepared because of a purchase I made at a newsstand in O’Hare. One of the projects we hope to pursue this week is installing “Coke bottle lights” in one of the darker classrooms at the school in Maniche. These simple light sources harvest solar energy to produce 50 watts of light each. You mix bottled water with Clorox; seal the 2-liter plastic bottle; cut a hole in the roof; seal the bottle into the hole, with the top sticking out; and voila – free light that lasts about two years before having to be remixed. One complication with the technology, in this now-digital age, is that the lights require 35-mm film canisters to be glued over the bottle top. Of course, airport gift shops don’t sell film anymore. But they do sell small cans of Axe Body Spray, whose plastic lids are just the right size. Plus, if we end up with only one set of clothes for the week, that body spray will come in handy….
Approaching Ft. Lauderdale, we found out what effect Hurricane Sandy might have on our plans. According to an e-mail from Pere Colbert, the streets in Les Cayes and Port au Prince were flooded yesterday from the storms. For Haitians, hurricanes are just one more threatening fact of life. They don’t get too upset; they just see it as another harsh manifestation of the inscrutable “will of God.” I might quibble with their theology; but if I were in their shoes, trying to reconcile the realities of their lives with the presence of a loving and merciful God, I’d probably not try too hard to explain divine mysteries either.
One of the missionaries, on her first trip to Haiti, looked worried as we stood on the Jetway for one of our flights today. I asked how she was feeling about the trip, and she said, “Basically, I’m terrified.” I remember that feeling, four trips ago. The differences between our lives in the States and life in Haiti are so great and can be so frightening – hordes of young men at the airport, all trying to take your bags from you, not because they’re trying to rob you but because, if they take a bag, you have to give them a dollar as a tip. Such are the effects of endemic third-world poverty, and such are the fears we blans have to move past when we find ourselves called into such a different context to serve the inscrutable Lord.
So we’ve come to the end of the day, having made it safely into Port au Prince despite Hurricane Sandy (which mostly passed through yesterday, a deluge with something like 25 inches of rain). The flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Port au Prince was fine, actually – a little dicey in takeoff, with high winds making the place tilt first one way, then the next, on the runway; and a little dicey in descent, with low clouds surrounding the airport and a fair amount of turbulence. But we landed safely and made it through customs with little difficulty (other than one trip member having filled out the immigration paperwork in red ink, which sent her to the end of two planes’ worth of passengers). Zo, our ambassador in getting through customs and wonderfully loyal driver, was there to meet us, as always – another of the many blessings of the day.
We drove through nearly empty streets to come to Walls International Guest House, which has quite a bit to do to live into the aspirations of its name. They wanted to put all five single women into one room, despite our explicit request in the reservation that they not; so we stood in the rain for many minutes trying to negotiate an additional room. We did, and we got soaked. There’s a saying here, among missionaries at least: “What do you do when it rains in Haiti? You get wet.”
We enjoyed dinner of spicy spaghetti flavored with sardines and sliced hot dogs. The meal tasted much better than it sounds. Plus, we were really hungry. That – along with good conversation about politics, Mormonism, Voodoo, and same-gender blessings; theological reflection on what we’d experienced so far; and some lovely Prestige beer – made for a rewarding end to a long day.