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.