The Short Term Experience: Dateline 2003 - A Fact Finding Trip to MENH

Our team of three arrived at the Minneapolis airport, made it through security without delay, and arrived at the gate in plenty of time to purchase something suitable to eat in flight before boarding for departure. We arrived in Ft Lauderdale, collected our luggage, and called the hotel for the shuttle bus. While waiting, we noticed unattended luggage on the sidewalk to which police and dog were called. We anticipated they might blow it up but the owner returned and retrieved what had been forgotten.

We settled in at the hotel a little after 9:00 PM and prepared for an early morning departure by pre-booking a taxi pickup for 3:00 AM.  The taxi driver called shortly after 2:30 AM to be sure we were up and ready in order to be on time for our 5:00 AM flight. Needless to say, we did not get much sleep. We arrived at the small Haitian airlines counter a few minutes after 3:00 AM, according to instructions, to find that no one else was there yet including the airline employees. Passengers drifted in until just before the time of departure - I guess we could have slept a bit longer.

Our flight to Port au Prince took off just 20 minutes behind schedule and arrived in Haiti at about 8:10 AM. We cleared customs, had a quick look around and then were hustled back onto the plane for the twenty-minute ride to Cap Haitian. There was little fuss and no one checked any incoming bags. We stood outside the hangar (there was no terminal since it had burned down during the recent crisis)  and turned down numerous hopeful taxi drivers while waiting for our hosts to arrive. We did not know for sure what kind of reception foreigners might receive following the recent riots and mayhem so we were a little nervous until we saw our friends, the leaders of the mission. (The terminal has since been rebuilt and is much better than the last one.)

Everything fit easily into the back of the borrowed pickup including several people from the mission who came along to greet us. Our ten mile trip from the airport to the mission house took about four hours.  Our hosts needed to take care of business in town and, with the exorbitant price of gas, it made perfectly good sense for them to do it all in one trip.  This gave us opportunity to experience the way things work in Haiiti. At one stopping place across the street from a police station we observed a very long line of young men waiting for the gate to be opened so that they might apply for jobs as policemen. We also watched several humvees and jeeps of the French military patrol the streets. They seemed to be well received and there was apparently friendly exchange as they passed.

We stopped at a little shop that sold canned goods and other imported food and household goods and fresh sandwiches to go. We ordered ham and cheese, drove away and finally arrived at the mission house in mid-afternoon. Marie (the mission leader's wife) greeted us warmly and pointed out the food she had also prepared for us - we never go hungry when we are guests at the mission house!

The remainder of the day was spent discussing what we would be doing during our time in Haiti, emptying suitcases, finding places to put our clothes, gathering all the goods to be distributed, resting, and meeting whoever showed up at the house. We spent time getting to know some of the new people and continued our conversation about how we would spend the week and what issues we wanted to address.

The power went out most evenings so we went to bed early since candlelight was not adequate to read or do much of anything else. The generator had been damaged so we did not have a backup power supply and consequently no lights, fans, or use of any equipment. (Since that time an additional power supply has been installed making it possible to provide lights as needed).

We attended the worship service on Sunday at the mission church from about 9:00 AM to about 12:30 PM, and returned home about 1:00 PM for a mid-day meal. Sometime that afternoon a young man who had been part of our 2001 ESL class, appeared with 3 or 4 others. He was serving as director of youth for the church and leader of the group calling itself "Apocolypse." They sang a couple of numbers when we asked them to and did a very nice job. Some had instruments but they told us that they need more and asked for our help to get them. One of them had composed some of the music.

Our work began in earnest Monday morning. We met with the mission board from early morning until noon and again in the late afternoon for a couple of hours. Each session began with a song, a Scripture reading, prayer requests and a prayer. We had preplanned which topics would be on the agenda and started Monday by addressing the issue of mission security and its impact on other programs. We addressed each subject in turn and finished all work to everyone's satisfaction by Thursday evening.

The Wednesday session was to be an all-day event at the Hotel St. Josephe in Cap Haitian. We met on the verandah on the side near the swimming pool. Behind us at the other end of the verandah were two or three men, including a couple of French military people, watching cable TV and drinking. We broke for lunch in the open air dining hall.

On Wednesday afternoon we made at least one trip to the airport to try to reconfirm our Lynx flights only to be told that no Lynx people were working that day. This necessitated another trip to the airport on Thursday to be sure our flights were okay. We learned that Lynx had decided that instead of a 10:15 AM departure, we would leave by 7:45 AM so would have to be at the airport by 6:30 Saturday morning. While the mission leader was taking care of that, we went to a school and paid the fee required to use their internet service. We read emails and would have printed some if the girl in charge had known how to make the printer work. It was disappointing to leave without getting our copies.

Friday was an open day since our main work had been completed. Our first trip of the day was to visit a new mission school in the village of Mourn Rouge and then to visit a mission construction site. In the afternoon we drove out to Limbe to visit the Universite Chretienne du Nord d'Haiti (Christian University of North Haiti). The drive on the Cap Haitian-Port au Prince road was lovely and the road itself in much better repair than anything in town. Our mission leader pointed out places along the road known to have been favorite ambush spots of the Chimiere (Aristide's "ghosts"). Some distance out from town the road began to ascend into the hills and after rounding a bend we found ourselves looking out over the ocean and across lovely terraced hillsides between mango, palm and breadfruit trees.

The university, situated in a lush tropical setting, offers degrees in theology, agriculture, and business. The scholarships EWI provided three students recommended by our partner mission enabled them to complete their studies. Following graduation all returned to serve in some capacity.

Friday evening we visited with all those who stopped in at the mission house and then finished our packing. We set our alarm clocks for 4:30 and went to bed. By the fifth night in Haiti, one does not notice the roosters, barking dogs, voodoo drums or din of human voices as much as on the first few nights so we did sleep.

Saturday morning we arrived at the airport with time to spare, had an uneventful flight back to Florida and on to Minneapolis. The time in Haiti was well-spent. The information gathered would provide help in planning for future teams as well as guidance in making decisions about aid and funding of projects.