An inside look at traveling to, and in Haiti

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The Haitian Pilgrims on this journey include our fearless leader Mike, Alix, Moise, Kirk, Rich, Marie and yours truly, Sue. We are all so excited and filled with anticipation of a grand adventure that will fill our souls and hearts as we work with our brothers and sisters in Boileau, Haiti.

Friday evening we fly to Miami and catch an overnight at the Comfort Inn at the airport Bright and early we have a quick breakfast and get to the terminal. Soon we board one of the largest aircraft in the American Airlines fleet for our  flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am always amazed at the volume of people flying from Miami to Haiti, these flights are full to the brim, and have been  for years. It’s a short one hour flight to Port-au-Prince and the last time our  bodies will feel real air conditioning. The weather in Haiti is scheduled to be in the high 90’s with a heat index just over 100 degrees. We land right on  schedule and are welcomed by a live musical group as we walk to the terminal.

The terminal is a place for waiting – Haiti is a country accustomed to  waiting. We wait in line at customs, we wait again to retrieve our luggage. (We were really anxious as numerous people picked up their luggage leaving us as the last to get ours! Literally, we were the only people waiting for luggage and Rich’s blue bag was the last piece of luggage put on the turnstile.) We rejoiced as the final piece arrived successfully. Of course there was more waiting, we stopped at Digicell to buy two phones and minutes to load them with. One week in Haiti, $100 to maintain communication – since it could save our lives – we paid gladly. These phones also have access to the USA, ironic since none of our high powered phones worked in Haiti.

Then we began, what is for me, the most dreaded and fearful part of our journey – the walking of our luggage from the terminal to the rental car area of the parking lot.  Moise is negotiating with a very professional looking man so his crew will help with our luggage – we will pay him and he in turn will pay his uniformed attendees.  However, as we walk, 10 to 15 men are touching our bags and all will argue that their efforts earned them a tip – it’s always a  near riot with someone mad and yelling that they should be paid – even if they did nothing but touch the side of a bag.

I especially feel badly for a young man playing a trumpet – he only wants a tip – he plays our national anthem and many well known American songs.  Alas, we cannot tip him, for if we do we know that there will be many others surrounding us and begging.  Again, if we give to one, we risk initiating a riot that could develop into a dangerous situation for us all.  (It seems terrible that men will do almost anything to get some money.  But, when you haven’t had a decent meal in days, or weeks, it’s a different world.)

Now we get to wait for what seems forever for two rental cars.  While waiting for the second car, Rich adjusts the mirrors of car #1, and the one on the driver’s side falls into his hand.  After an hour of waiting for a second car, we have to request a replacement for the first.  We continued to wait with an ever growing crowd gathering around us – it was getting tense by the time the replacement vehicle arrived.  Finally we leave Port-au-Prince Airport at 2:30 PM, two hours and twenty minutes after our arrival.

We’re off!  We have 120 miles to journey to get to the Bishop’s compound in Les Cayes. We find Port-au-Prince to be as filthy as ever, but today people are burning garbage piles everywhere!  The smoke is thick all around us – I can feel the effects in my throat – but we are all extremely grateful for the air conditioned car and bottled water.

Traffic is always very heavy and rules of the road are non-existent.  We traverse through the main road out of Port-au-Prince heading south toward our destination.  Travel is slow, our top speed is probably 30 – 35 MPH, but usually we’re traveling at 15 – 20 MPH.  Every hour we mark how far we’ve traveled so we can gage how long it will take us to get back on Friday.  We’ve heard the roads are severely damaged from the multiple hurricanes that hit this poor country this season.   Well, bad is a relative word, they are worse than bad.  The hurricanes have done their damage to the little infrastructure Haiti has – its roads.  There are so many pot holes that we have to slow down to about 5 MPH to safely travel through.  The motor scooter, as a mode of transportation, is visibly becoming the vehicle of choice in Haiti, they are going all around us with little impediment.  One scooter had 4 people riding it and one scooter had two men riding, reasonable enough, but one of the men was carrying a solid wooden door above his head as they road down the street.

At one point along this journey, the road was totally destroyed – a mandatory detour had been cut out of the side of the mountain and it was a gravel passage that lasted 35KM.  There were many large road construction vehicles along this path – it was good to see that work was being done to keep the local economy moving.  Many other parts of the road, while open, were not passable – the people had just made a make-shift road off to the side of the real road in order to move forward.

This experience went on for five hours – we made one stop for gas and a humanities break (in the most inhumane of conditions), relieved, we pressed on sharing crackers and bottled water for refreshments.  As darkness overtook us, the roads were more daunting – there are no street lights – there are no lights in the homes that line the road – only our headlights to guide us.   (There is virtually no electricity outside of the large cities.)  All along the way, people sit on the edge of the narrow road waiting for a TAP-TAP and mothers with their children hand-in-hand are walking along the side of the road returning home from a day in the market.

Oh what a joy to arrive in Les Cayes.  We’re nearing the end of our first day’s journey.  We call Pere Kensey to please come to where we are and lead us to the compound – 10 minutes later our long journey ends and we are all overjoyed to get out of the car and get our feet on the ground.

The staff at the compound is waiting for us.  They help with the luggage, show us to our rooms and have dinner waiting.  We enjoy a wonderful Haitian stew with beef, potatoes, carrots & dumplings, Creole rice and a good Prestige Beer.  I’m in Heaven.  We are led in prayer by Pere Kensy, saying grace over the meal we’re about to share.  During dinner we hear the sound of gun fire in the street, yet we all behave as if it’s a normal occurrence.  We have good food and good conversation with Pere Kinsey and after dinner, pilgrims call families to share the good news of their safe arrival.


Sue visits Boileau and assists at the Mass

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It was Sunday, our first full day in Haiti.  The cathedral bells rang out at
6:00 AM.  They also woke the chickens, and the dogs – so much noise – there was  no need to worry about who else I would wake up.

The oppressive heat requires another shower – taking a shower means that I  stepped into the outside bathroom and stood under the cold water pipe to wash  off.  Before dressing for Mass I made sure to spray my black linen dress with a very strong bug spray.  Once ready I walked around the compound – hoping to find coffee – no such luck, a pot of water was trying to boil, but was nowhere near  ready.

A Mass began at the cathedral across the way and beautiful voices of children singing in Creole rose in splendor to the heavens.  Kirk joined me on the 2nd floor patio and we talked about our long journey from Port-au-Prince to Boileau,
the roads and coffee – we really wanted some coffee.  Soon the house was waking
and many of our traveling companions joined Kirk and I for morning discussions.

Soon the women who serve in the Bishop’s house were bringing baskets of food to the 2nd floor.  We feasted on a wonderful breakfast of pumpkin soup with potatoes, carrots and beef.  Fresh baked bread, hard boiled eggs and amazing Haitian coffee left us ready to begin our day.

Off we drove to Boileau to attend Mass at St. Theresa’s – a 45 minute drive away – an early morning rain had cleared the clouds from the sky and the dust from the air.  There is a beautiful country side before us and no bumper to bumper traffic, no traffic signals and no yellow line down the middle of the road – pure country driving.  The road to Boileau was in really good shape now with only one area severely damaged, we had little delay until we got to Boileau.


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As we pull into Boileau we leave the paved road and continue our journey on a dirt and rock road, everybody braces as the vehicle twists and bends to move forward with the help of 4 wheel drive.  We are directed to park the trucks at a house about a ¼ mile from the church – we’ve never experienced this before… and soon we see the reason – the small stream is now a small, albeit fast current river!  !  The gradual decline that gently led us across the river is now a five foot cliff.  Wind, rain and hurricanes have combined to bring erosion to Boileau which has completely isolated the village – all vehicle  access is cutoff.  Everything must be brought in by human ingenuity and foot power.

The ever imaginative will and spirit of the Haitian people were not dissuaded by this set-back.  They simply cut down a coconut tree and then cutting it in thirds created an albeit rough, foot bridge that we all, with some trepidation, walked across – we must be talented as no one fell into the river……These are the experiences that keep us returning to Boileau.  Home Depot would not survive in Haiti as the people are too creative with what they have on hand using what God gave them to get through their challenges.


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We finish our walk to St. Theresa’s and find many people already in the church. In my head I am practicing for when I will share the Body & Blood of Christ with everyone.

Pere Kensy begins Mass, the church is hot and humid and Pere Kensy frequently wipes the sweat from his brow.  (I had volunteered to be a Eucharistic Minister at this Mass and had asked  Marie to help me say ‘The Body of Christ’ in Creole.  It sounds like Ca Je Zu – I must remember to press my tongue to the back of my bottom front teeth so I get the pronunciation correct.)  As the Mass proceeds in Creole I am truly anxious – I don’t want to mispronounce ‘The Body of Christ’  which might insult the people.  I also think, what if no one wants to receive from this foreigner and only line up in front of Father……..These fears, like most fears, are wasted time robbers.

It is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever experienced as a Eucharist Minister – to look in the eyes of men, women and children and share the Body of Christ with them, seeing eyes of hope, joy, love of Christ, apprehension, fear and  pain.  They all come to receive the promise of Christ.  I shall never forget this moment in time.

The Mass ends with Pere Kensy having the congregation applaud us and the choir sings us a song of thanks for what we’ve done and what we’re here to do for them.


Updated report from Haiti

We are receiving good reports from the team in Boileau.

Very little detail has been supplied this early in their visit. Similar to road conditions they found between Port au Prince and Les Cayes, they found significant road damage as they entered Boileau. (You should understand that what Boileau calls a road is a dirt trail which crosses a creek where it is normally 6 inches deep.) The small stream is now a small, albeit fast current river! The gradual decline that gently led us across the river is now a five foot cliff. Wind, rain and hurricanes have combined to bring erosion to Boileau which has completely isolated the village – all vehicle access is cutoff. Everything must be brought in by human ingenuity and foot power.

Two members of the team spent Monday at the Clinic where they first delivered donations of medical and lab testing supplies. They worked to understand every aspect of the patients and how they are welcomed and treated, the Clinic’s staff, the building, the lab instruments, other necessary “tools” and the supply of medications. As time allowed they talked with the staff about their current challenges and future needs. Although positive, this early report does not include any details relative to future needs and possible adjustments.

Two other travelers met with Charlemagne, the long time Director of the elementary school. They were pleased to hear that the school is doing very well and many of the students are graduating with certification. The state has just declared that in order for a student to earn certification they will have to complete the 7th grade and pass an assessment exam. That is tighter than today’s standards where a child can complete the 5th grade and pass an assessment exam in order to receive their education certificate. All schools must comply with this new rule or they will not be allowed to provide completion certificates.

Charlemagne is in the process of adding the two classes, which means that there is a need for an additional teacher. They were very encouraged by Charlemagne’s utilization of the lap top computer that was provided two years ago. After attending the classes we arranged for, he has taken great advantage of the lap top and has taken it upon his own to begin teaching his staff of teachers how to
use the computer to make their tasks easier.

One of the active school projects is to build a functioning kitchen, a multi-purpose community room and four additional classrooms. The project appears to be about 50% complete, but is at a standstill due to the inability of bringing in supplies and building equipment because of the road conditions. Our travelers are attempting to find a fix for this problem.

Two pilgrims also met with Pere Kensy to discuss the Agriculture project and also meet with John Robert to discuss the livestock project. The livestock project is going extremely well. The farmers receive, at no charge, an animal (goat, pig, cow, etc.). When the animal is mature, it may be bred or slaughtered. Regardless of the choice, the farmer must repay, in kind or money the value of the original animal. Many of the animals have had offspring, one is sold and the monies are returned to the project so that more can be bought, one is given away to another farmer who may be in need, and if there is a third, the farmer can keep it to improve his/her own position. It was no surprise that some livestock was lost to the hurricanes, literally washed away, some became sick and died; a couple of animals were stolen. This amounts to about 25% loss, but the program is actually working better than expected.

Other team members met with the Micro-Credit management team. These five people are strong and the program is well managed. There are 120 people participating in the program. The loans are as low as 5000 Gourdes to as high as 30,000 Gourdes. (5 Gourdes equal one Haitian Dollar and 7 Haitian dollars equal 1 US Dollar.)  Our loss rate is approximately 6%, which is a 2% increase over
our normal loss rate. This is due to the rising costs and difficult economic conditions. At this meeting they met a woman who has a husband and eight children. She borrowed 1000 Haitian dollars which enabled her to create a wholesale food business. She has successfully paid back this loan and attends every monthly meeting to share her success and learn from others. She told us that this has enabled her to provide food, clothing and education for her eight children. On Thursday afternoon, these Pilgrims will return to St. Theresa’s and meet with 20 to 30 participants of the program to hear their stories of how the
Micro-credit program has changed their lives.

A few of the pilgrims went with Pere Kensy to look at the land that has been purchased for the tilapia farm. Closing a land transaction in Haiti takes about eight months, so we’re a far cry from being ready to start any construction.
Further updates will be shared as we receive them.