For years before my trip, I felt called to go to Haiti.  Before I left and during my stay, I prayed that I would see or feel or experience whatever it was that I was being called to Haiti for.  I can’t say with certainty what it was, but there were three things that struck me while I was there:

The first was how lovable the kids were.  If it weren’t for the expense and the long, unpredictable timeline for international adoptions from Haiti (some families have been waiting for three years AFTER being matched with a child, knowing who their child is and that their child is growing up in an orphanage), I would be all for adding one or more Haitian kids to our family.

The second was a feeling of confidence that I will return to Haiti, that my relationship with Haiti is not over yet.  I don’t know when or under what circumstances I’ll be back, but I am sure that I will return.

Finally, I was touched by how much the older children (older than toddler age), in particular, were affected by living in an orphanage.  I saw how much the children craved individual attention and how they sought attention from strangers.  I could see how much they would benefit from the love, attention, and security of a family.  I also felt the pain of the many losses in their lives.

On my way home, I had a hard time with the juxtaposition of the extreme poverty I saw in Haiti and the wasteful excesses in America.  A billboard in Fort Lauderdale advertised a Maserti lease for $699/month.  Do you know how many Haitian families you could feed for that sum?  Do you know how many Haitians don’t make that much money in a year?  While I was sitting in an airport, I saw a commercial for an airbrush make-up tool.  I reflected that make-up and expensive cars were all about appearances.  Why do we put so much emphasis on appearance, rather than substance?

A year after I left COTP, the cute little girl that I didn’t get to push in the stroller on Tuesday morning has gone back to her family.  Mr. Smiley has gone back to his family.  The twins that I mentioned went back to their family.  There were actually two sets of twins there; the set that I didn’t mention is still living there.  The girl who was the first child I met at COTP is still there.  She is waiting for all the bureaucracy to wrap up so she can go home with her adoptive family.  The same is true for my other favorite girl.  The little boy who had recently been admitted, the one who was so weak he couldn’t always hold up his head, is still there.  The baby girl who stayed with us in the volunteer house because she was sick is still there.  The girl with special needs who smiled instead of sucking on her bottle is still there.  The boy with spina bifida is still there and, at least as of September, has not yet been chosen by an adoptive family.  Of all the kids there, my heart hurts for him the most.  I can see how much potential he has to grow and develop, given the love and resources of a family, but even if he is chosen soon (which is unlikely), it may be two years or more before he goes home with a family.

I wish I could share pictures of the beautiful children with you, but COTP’s policies do not allow me to post pictures of the children online.  (I can share them privately.)  However, you can see pictures of all the children currently in their care on their website.

I also encourage you to read this blog post that COTP shared in August: A Story About a Boy

I’m sorry that I didn’t include photos in my posts.  I know that would have been more interesting, but it was enough work as it was to keep up with writing the posts (almost) every day.  Without further ado, here are a few pictures from my trip:

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti

View out the airplane window as I was arriving in Haiti.

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)

A street scene in Cap Haïtien. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer)


Haitian countryside near COTP. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer when we went on our Sunday evening walk)


Entrance gate to COTP.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

My Haitian lunch on Saturday.

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer--she got a better picture than I did)

Tarantula on the outside of the window in the volunteer house. (photo taken by the other first-time short-term volunteer–she got a better picture than I did)

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

The mango tree in the central courtyard. I sometimes sat under the tree holding a child.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.

A taxi boat that we did not take because we drove on the crazy road over the mountain instead.  The boat’s name, “Merci Dieu”, means “Thank you, God.”

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

A view of the little beach resort we went to.

The picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting

This picture shows the stone staircase we walked down to reach the resort from where we parked, a comforting “No Handguns” sign, and the sandy beach that was right there.

My view as I sat on the beach.

My view as I sat on the beach.

Another view from the beach.

Another view from the beach.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

My bed, after I got a mosquito net.

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

The canopied area where I often hung out with the kids (picture taken in early morning before the kids were out).

Swings next to the canopied area.

Swings next to the canopied area.

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).

Canopied area where all the laundry is washed by hand (including cloth diapers).  You can see laundry hung to dry on the clotheslines behind and on the fence.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) The trench wasn't there for most of my stay, but I didn't get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

The building that I stayed in. The volunteer house was the lower floor. (The volunteers have since been relocated and children now live in that space.) You can see the mango tree just outside.  The trench wasn’t there for most of my stay, but I didn’t get a picture of the building before they started doing a major construction project.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

This cup in the volunteer house cracked me up.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

A goat. Because no photo collection from Haiti would be complete without a picture of a goat.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of center is the Citadelle Laferrière.

And finally, a picture taken out the back of the pick-up truck as I was leaving. You can see the huge puddles in the road from the rain. The sort of squared-off shape on top of the mountain a little to the right of the tall mountain is the Citadelle Laferrière.

We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names.  They are easier to ignore before you see their faces.  It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.  (David Platt)

Haiti trip day 7

I left Haiti on a Thursday.  I wasn’t too happy about that, because I had originally been scheduled to leave on Friday.  Unfortunately, I booked my flights with IBC Air before American Airlines announced that they would start flying to Cap Haïtien.  American’s flights were significantly cheaper and they drew so much business from IBC that IBC was cancelling flights.  They cancelled my flight and scheduled me on a different one, but I would have missed my other flights home, and there were huge fees to change my other flights.  After much hassle, IBC booked me on American so that I wouldn’t miss my other flights, but I had to leave a day earlier.  So I paid more for my flight than if I’d taken American in the first place (which hadn’t been an option when I booked it), had to deal with all the hassle with IBC, had to deal with the time/hassle/expense of traveling between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, lost a day in Haiti, and had to pay for an extra night in a hotel room.

I was up early, as usual.  I got out of bed as soon as I was sure it was getting light.  I ate some breakfast, even though I didn’t really feel like eating.  I went out to see if the kids were up and saw my three favorite girls, along with the nanny I’d chatted with the most.  Then I went back to the volunteer house, finished packing, and said my good-byes.  I had arrived with a suitcase, a large duffel bag, and a cloth carry-on bag.  Because of the donations I left and the food I had brought with me and eaten, I was able to fold up the duffel bag and put it in my suitcase, thus avoiding having to pay extra baggage fees for the domestic portions of my return trip (I had planned it that way).  I appreciated not having as much luggage to have to manage on my trip home.

As I was about to leave, I saw the first girl I’d met, the one who had asked to nurse (she was one of the three favorites I’d seen earlier).  I ran over to say good-bye to her, gave her a hug, and kissed her on the back of her neck.  The stricken expression on her face pierced my heart.  As I left, I realized that she had had so many losses in her short life, and there I was, just one more person to gave her a little attention and then abandon her.  I had experienced many powerful emotions on my trip, but thinking about her losses and how I was adding another one, I cried for the first time.  I was glad to sit in the back of the pick-up truck (there were two other passengers, plus the driver) so I could quietly wipe my eyes as I tried to compose myself.

As we were driving through the countryside, I took a few pictures of the scenery out the back window of the truck.  I didn’t take any pictures in town (throughout the time I was in Haiti), for a couple reasons.  One was that I was trying to live in the moment, keeping my eyes and ears open to experience Haiti directly instead of from behind a screen (on my tablet computer that I used as a camera).  The other was to be respectful.  I had heard from multiple sources before my trip and while I was there that Haitians, as a general rule, don’t like to be photographed by foreigners without their permission and don’t appreciate foreigners taking pictures that show the poverty of the country.  Can you blame them?

We first went to a guesthouse on the outskirts of the city where the long-term volunteers were having a retreat.  The two other short-term volunteer passengers were going to help with child care there.  I was there from about 9:30 until 10.  The kids were dancing with a video on a projector, then they put on a David and Goliath cartoon.  Some of them were sucking on bags of water.  In Haiti, you can buy a small plastic bag of drinking water for a few cents.

The driver then took me and a couple other people who needed to go somewhere else.  I was dropped off at the airport at about 10:15.  I checked in and went through security.  They unpacked and examined everything in my bag of liquids.  My bug spray was scrutinized but it passed inspection.  However, the guard had a problem with my shaving gel and threw it in the garbage.  I knew it was fine; I had carefully researched all the requirements before my trip and I had already gone through security with it twice in the States.  However, I didn’t feel it was worth arguing about.  After I got to the waiting room, I realized that in my carry-on bag, I had my water bottle full of water.  Oh, well.

I was the first passenger in the waiting room, at about 10:30.  The incoming flight from Miami wasn’t even supposed to arrive until 10:50 and my flight wasn’t scheduled until 1:15.  I settled in and made myself comfortable; I actually put my sweatshirt on because I was chilly in the air conditioning.  I looked at the pictures I’d taken on my tablet and was disappointed to realize that I hadn’t taken any pictures of Mr. Smiley.  (I later got some from COTP’s Facebook page.)  I did have pictures of my other five favorite kids, though.  I wrote in my journal, ate some snacks from my bag, and spent time people-watching as the room filled with other passengers.

Coming home was a long, slow process because of the change to my flight schedule.  I flew from Cap Haïtien to Miami on Thursday, from Fort Lauderdale to Chicago on Friday, and then from Chicago home on Saturday.  It reminded me of how scuba divers have to come up slowly after they have been diving in deep water.  Although I was really tired of traveling and very glad to be home on Saturday, I think it did help to have time to start processing my thoughts and emotions from my experiences in Haiti before dealing with my normal life again.

Even though I kept my journal until after I got home, I think that the moment of leaving Haiti is a good time to end this day-by-day telling of my story.  However, stay tuned for one final post in this series with some photos and reflections.

Haiti trip day 6

The sixth day of my trip, and my last full day in Haiti, was a Wednesday.  I was up early again, about 6:40.  I came out of my room, went into the common room, sat on the couch, and looked out the window.  I saw a tarantula on the window.  This was a BIG spider.  I tentatively looked closer and verified that it was on the outside of the window screen, then I settled back on the couch and waited for other people to show up so I could show them the tarantula.  Everyone was most impressed.

I went to hang out by the baby room again and the nanny I had chatted with before was talking animatedly with another nanny.  I couldn’t follow every word, but I gathered that she was telling about the tarantula, the surprised/scared reaction of one of the other volunteers, and how the tarantula met its end when one of the Haitian staff members knocked it off the window and stomped on it.  I was excited to join in the conversation and tell them that I had been the first person to see it.

I took lots of photos that morning; I had intentionally not taken many before as our volunteer handbook had cautioned us not to go around taking a lot of pictures until we got to know the place, and the staff members and kids got to know us a bit.  I let three of the girls take turns playing with the kids’ drawing app on my tablet.  A couple of the girls and the boy I had spent a lot of time with the day before shrieked with excitement when I put on the forward-facing camera and they saw themselves on the screen of the tablet.  I took several pictures of them reacting to seeing themselves and they are probably my favorite pictures of the trip; they always make me smile.  The girl who had asked to nurse on my first day there borrowed my tablet (it was turned off) and pretended to take pictures of the nannies.

Five more short-term volunteers arrived and I had a roommate for the first time on my trip.  I showed her our room and showed her around the volunteer house before the volunteer coordinator came to take her on a tour of the property.

I hung out under the canopy with various kids.  I held a girl who was about 2 years old and had significant special needs; she couldn’t sit on her own.  A nanny gave me a bottle for her and I tried to give it to her, but she didn’t want to drink.  When I tried to wiggle the nipple in her mouth to get her to suck, she just smiled and bit on it.  A nanny gave me a big bowl of food for her.  My new roommate came and held her while I tried hard to feed her, but most of what I got in her mouth just oozed back out.  She kept closing her eyes and seemed sleepy.  It felt like an endless task.  I was about to give up when a nanny came and took her.

After lunch, I was tired, but my roommate was napping and I didn’t want to disturb her, so I sat on the couch in the common room and looked at some of the binders on the shelf.  I read the therapy book and the revised volunteer handbook.  I hadn’t seen it before and I wished someone had sent it to me before I came.  Among other updates, it described the new pick-up routine for the airport, which would have saved me a lot of stress if I had known it.

One of the nurses brought in reports for EEG tests for possible epilepsy that had been done on two of the kids in Port-au-Prince a couple weeks before.  She had mentioned that she needed to get someone in town to translate them because they were in French, so I offered to look at them and see if I could help her understand them.  I was able to translate them aloud to her, then I typed up the translations and e-mailed them to her.

In the afternoon was a birthday party for one of the little girls, who had just had her first birthday.  One of the social workers had asked me and another volunteer if we would make the birthday cake.  We both agreed, but the other volunteer ended up making it without me.  After I saw the result, I was glad not to be associated with it.  The list of suggested items to donate had included CAKE MIX (in all caps, standing out from the rest of the list) so I had brought a couple boxes.  Clearly, other people had also responded to this seemingly urgent need, as there was a fair selection on the shelf.  However, if/when I ever return to COTP, I will bring stuff for decorating cakes, as decoration options were lacking.  I know the woman who made the cake tried hard with limited resources, and the cake tasted great, but it was the ugliest birthday cake I’ve ever seen.  It looked like it was topped with melted marble cheddar cheese.  The “happy birthday” message was written with colored non-pareils (little ball sprinkles) and could really only be read if you knew what it was supposed to say.  The message was further obscured by the Oreos that she had crushed and sprinkled around.  The only redeeming feature of the cake was the candle that looked like a crayon.

There were 19 kids at the party, plus numerous adults.  It was under the canopy where I often hung out with the kids.  I enjoyed watching the kids eat their cake; they were having fun.  I had an empty lap for a surprisingly long time (most of the kids were sitting at the table) until the social worker handed me the baby she’d been holding so she could take pictures.

At 5:50, I went back to the volunteer house.  COTP’s mid-week praise and worship service was supposed to start at 6:45 and I’d been told it would be in the volunteer house, so I wanted to be sure I had enough time to cook, eat, and clean up before then.  The service didn’t actually start until about 7 and was in the area that they used for their prenatal program, not in the volunteer house.  No one else from the volunteer house went and I was tired, so, feeling a little guilty for skipping out, I didn’t go either.

Heavy rain started about 8:20.  I was hoping to get to bed early, but with more people staying in the volunteer house, I had to wait to take a shower, so I didn’t get to bed as early as I hoped.  Since I was leaving the next day, I packed my bags and made a list of the things I needed to do in the morning.  I got to bed shortly after ten but had a hard time shutting off my brain and getting to sleep.  I kept telling myself to stop thinking and just listen to the rain, but it didn’t work.  Eventually I did sleep, my last night’s sleep in Haiti.

Haiti trip day 5

The fifth day of my trip was a Tuesday.  I got up at 6:45; that’s about the time it started getting light.  I found I couldn’t sleep in during my time in Haiti, even if I wanted to.  I was the only one up, so I enjoyed some quiet time by myself on the couch in the common area of the volunteer house.

The volunteer coordinator came in and I asked her if I could have a mosquito net for my bed.  She helped me get one and set it up.  It had a strong smell, sort of like soap.

I went out about 8:15 to see the kids.  I hung out with several toddlers, including the little boy I’d fed on Saturday (I fed him a bowl of mushy corn meal stuff for breakfast), a set of twin boys, and a little boy with fluffy red hair (the red hair is a sign of malnourishment) whom I nicknamed Mr. Smiley.  I chatted with one of the nannies, the second one I had been able to talk with one-on-one.  The nannies mostly hung out together, and I was a little intimidated to talk to them in a group setting.  My Creole was good enough for a basic conversation with someone who was patient and willing to speak relatively simply, but I had a hard time understanding the nannies when they spoke amongst themselves.  They did take more interest in me than they did in the other short-term volunteers (excepting the one who had been there many times, but she mostly stayed in the volunteer house with the sick baby).  Word quickly got around that I spoke some Creole; it was obvious that most visitors didn’t speak any Creole except perhaps a couple memorized phrases.

At 9 am, I heard the morning worship that some of the nannies do with the kids, so I took one of the twins and went to listen.  After that was over, the other first-time volunteer showed up and was mobbed by two of the girls that had really enjoyed going on stroller rides with us on Saturday.  I offered to take one and she could take the other, but she noticed that one of the girls needed her diaper changed.  She took the girl who didn’t need changing and I was standing there waiting for the other girl’s diaper to be changed when a nanny picked up a little boy and handed him to me.

I am convinced that God was acting through that nanny when she handed me that boy.  I had met him previously–he had climbed in my lap at one point when I was sitting on the concrete floor under the canopy–but I hadn’t really paid attention to him.  There was no mention of him in my journal.  I’ll be honest.  I didn’t really want to take him; I wanted the cute little girl I was waiting for.  But when the nanny held him out to me, I couldn’t say no.  I took him and figured I’d just give him a quick ride around and then drop him off and pick up the little girl.  It didn’t work out that way.

This little boy had spina bifida.  He had no feeling in his feet, so he always wore shoes to protect them, whereas the other kids were barefoot most of the time.  He had partial use of his legs; he could push himself up to a standing position while holding onto a chair or a low table.  He could sit on a riding car and push himself along.  He mostly got around by scooting. At one point, I did see him on his knees, moving his legs one at a time (I read later in one of the notebooks in the volunteer house that working on crawling was one of his therapy goals).

The stroller I was going to use was wet, so I carried him on a walk around the property.  He pointed at things but always shook his head if I asked him a question (Did he want to go there?  Did he want to touch that?  Did he like it?).  He vocalized but was mostly unintelligible; later on, watching him interact with the nannies, I determined that they also didn’t seem to understand him, so it wasn’t just me.  He did make some effort to repeat words, which was a good sign.  (Between Peter’s language delay and our former foster son’s language delay, I have some experience with language-delayed kids.)

After two circuits around the part of the property where short-term volunteers stayed, I figured I would take him back, as he was getting heavy.  He was bigger and heavier than my 2 1/2-year-old son, so I assumed he was older.  Later in the day, I looked him up in the binder with info about the kids and was surprised to learn that he was only one month and one day older than Simon.  This boy had been in the orphanage for the better part of a year.  He was available for adoption, but no family had chosen him.  I felt better about his language delays; he was still definitely behind, but not as much as if he were as old as I had assumed.  I also felt sad, as the fact that he was almost the same age as Simon made it easy to compare the two boys in their abilities, their current living situations, and their projected futures.

When I got close to the building where he lived, he whined and fussed and made it very clear that he did not want to return.  Instead, I got my tablet computer and took him to sit outside the building where the babies were.  I took some pictures on my tablet and then let the boy play with a kids’ drawing app.  When I demonstrated drawing lines with my finger, he could copy me.  He enjoyed drawing circles.

I tried to take him back again and he threw a fit, so I sat down with him outside his building and let him play on my tablet again.  I ended up putting him in the stroller (which had dried in the hot Haitian sun) and walked him around, singing to him.  After spending about two hours with him, I finally left him under the canopy.

After lunch, I worked with the first-time volunteer who had been there all week as well as a new short-term volunteer to clean the shelves and the plastic tote boxes on the shelves in the pharmacy.  These were quite dusty, as the pharmacy only had screens on the windows and was located near the driveway, where dust was raised when vehicles came in and out.  I worked on that from about 1:45 to 5:20.  It was the first actual project I had been given by the volunteer coordinator.  I had assumed that I would have more direction and was surprised by the amount of autonomy I had.

After I stopped cleaning, I went to see the kids under the canopy.  I pushed the cute little girl that I never did give a stroller ride to in the morning on the swing, tickled her feet, and played peekaboo with her.  Then I took her out of the swing and helped her and another kid take turns on the slide.  I sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider for her and she copied the actions and clapped.  After a nanny took the kids away, I went over to where the babies were.  Mr. Smiley climbed in my lap, sat down, and fell asleep sitting up; a nanny took him away.  I played with one of the twins and watched as the babies were being bathed and dressed for bed, then left about 6:45.

I cooked and ate, then sent e-mails to my husband and my mom.  It started raining.  We could hear the sound of singing coming from the church.  I tried to record some of it but the singing wasn’t distinct over the sound of the rain.  I went out in the rain and darkness to get closer to try to get a better recording, but they stopped just after I got close to the wall at the edge of the property near the church.  I showered and put on a polo shirt after my shower; it felt weird to wear sleeves because I’d been wearing sleeveless shirts and/or a sleeveless dress since I arrived.  I wrote in my journal and got to bed at 10:40 to sleep under my new, smelly mosquito net.

Haiti trip day 4

I’m sorry; I didn’t have a chance to write yesterday until late at night, and I was too tired.  I will continue describing my trip, just one day behind schedule.

My fourth day in Haiti was a Monday.  Three of us short-term volunteers joined a family of long-term volunteers (husband, wife, and their four kids) on a trip to the beach.  We left COTP about 8:45 am and drove into Cap Haïtien; we drove a different way than I had arrived, so there were new things to see.  On the way into town, us short-term volunteers and the two boys in the family stood up in the back of the pick-up truck, holding onto a metal bar that was behind the cab.  It was an exciting way to ride, feeling the speed of the truck in the heat and the dust (we didn’t go too fast, considering the condition of the dirt roads), with my skirt whipping around my legs.  It reminded me of the mom’s comments about how parenting in Haiti, she lets her kids do things that she never would if they were in the States.

We went to a gas station where an attendant with a long gun directed us to a pump.  As the father of the family took care of getting gas, the mother led us across the street to a bakery/pâtisserie, where she and the other volunteers picked up some treats.  We got back in the truck and I was in the front passenger seat with one of the girls on my lap.  Even though it was crowded, being in the cab felt amazing because it was air-conditioned.  We drove through Cap Haïtien; I got to see a lot more of the city than I had when I had arrived.  One thing that struck me was the number of schools, including a Montessori school, a school for the deaf, and several écoles bilingues (I never did find out what languages they meant–were they French and Creole?  French and English?  Even though most Haitians speak Creole, French is usually the language of instruction in the schools, although that is starting to change).  There were lots of students in colorful school uniforms.  The mom told us that the peach-colored shirts and brown pants/skirts were the uniforms for the national (public) schools, but as the majority of schools in Haiti are privately run (often by religious groups), there were many different colored uniforms to be seen.  I know the rate of school attendance in Haiti is pretty low (statistics from Unicef: Primary school participation, net attendance ratio: male 77%, female 79%), but you certainly wouldn’t guess it from that ride through town.  Another thing that struck me was the obvious presence of international organizations.  I saw Oxfam, Heifer International, an SOS Children’s Village, the World Food Programme, and a large UN compound that was going to be demolished as the government is removing buildings from the ocean side of the road that it was on to make a public space.  I also saw a Scout office and the Haitian Red Cross.

We drove out of town, up and over a mountain.  Then, instead of taking a taxi boat to the beach that was our destination, we went on a road that the family had never taken before to go over another mountain.  Another long-term volunteer at COTP had taken this road on a moto and thought that the pick-up truck could probably make it, saving the cost of the taxi boat.  The road was so narrow that I worried about what would happen if we met a vehicle coming in the other direction (fortunately, it didn’t happen) and I wondered if there would be a place to turn around or if we would have to back the whole way out.  The road was in the worst condition of any road I have ever been on, with huge holes in it, causing us to travel very slowly and carefully.  At one point, the dad (who was driving) just stopped the truck, because there was a hole in the road so large that he wasn’t sure the truck would make it.  We all got out and moved rocks into the hole, trying to fill it up somewhat, until he was ready to try easing the truck down.  It was a relief when we arrived at the end of the road at about 10:15 am, where there was in fact a small parking area which would allow the truck to turn around before the return trip.

From where we parked, there was a stone staircase down to Belly Beach, a small resort with lodging, a restaurant/bar, covered outdoor seating, and a sandy beach.  To use the beach for the day cost 100 goud, or about $2.20 USD.  The resort was well-maintained and truly beautiful, like an oasis in the poverty and poor infrastructure that abounds in Haiti.  It was located on the northern shore of Haiti, west of Cap Haïtien.  We passed the fenced-off area where cruise ships dock on our way there.

I spent the day doing beach-y things–swimming, sitting on the beach with the waves lapping over my legs, eating, taking pictures, and going for an exploratory walk with the mom and the two boys.  I put sunscreen on four times but I still got sunburned on my shoulders and the back of my arms.  As much as it was beautiful and relaxing to be there, the strong sun was tiring and I knew we had a long ride before we got back to COTP.  By mid-afternoon, I was feeling ready to leave, but we didn’t actually go until 4:15.  We navigated the crazy mountain road again, stopped briefly in Cap Haïtien (I don’t remember why–I stayed in the truck–I was in the back seat for the ride back), and then continued on to COTP the way I had gone there the first time.  We got back at 5:45.

I showered, tried to call home but got an error message, and made and ate some food.  After eating, I put my leftovers in the Bongù can in the refrigerator.  (Bongù is a brand of dried milk; it is more practical to use in Haiti than trying to buy fresh milk and keep it refrigerated.  The can was the size of a coffee can.)  All the volunteers put their unwanted, leftover food in this can, just piling it on top of whatever was already in there.  Once a week or so, it was picked up by a local person and the food was used to help feed a family with 10 kids.  Although this pile of mixed-up leftovers didn’t seem very appetizing to me, coming from my privileged background, it was valuable to them.  In Haiti, there are so many hungry people (1 in 10 children are acutely malnourished) that it would be a sin to throw out perfectly good food.

I sent Don an e-mail and wrote in my journal.  I was feeling tired from having so many new experiences every day; I was looking forward to the next day being more familiar.  I hadn’t seen the kids (except for the baby staying with us) in two days and I was missing them.

I put some aloe vera gel on my sunburn (a previous volunteer had left some in the bathroom) and got to bed just after 10.  It was raining, the first real rain since I had arrived.

Haiti trip day 3

My third day in Haiti was a Sunday.  COTP is a Christian organization, so they consider Sunday a day of rest and all non-essential staff have the day off.  In practical terms for me, this meant that I had to fix all my own meals, and I was not expected to spend time with the children.  They have their own English-language worship service on site, which most of the long-term staff and their families attend, but there was a Haitian Christian church next door to the COTP compound that we could attend if we chose.  I really wanted to attend the Haitian service but probably wouldn’t have had the guts to go by myself; fortunately, one of the other short-term volunteers had been to COTP many times and was planning to go to the Haitian service, so her friend (a first-time volunteer) and I joined her.

The side of the COTP compound that faces the road has a tall cement wall, with a large steel door that slides opens to let people or vehicles pass through.  I had stepped mere feet from the exit to see the souvenir vendor’s wares the day before, but otherwise had not left the compound since I arrived.  I had been a little worried that I would spend my whole time in Haiti within the walls of COTP’s property, but Sunday shattered that concern.  It was exhilarating to walk through the gate onto the dirt road; I felt both the excitement of going on an adventure and the risk of being in a foreign environment.  I was glad to have the company of the other two volunteers.

We entered the church at about 10 am; the service had already been going on since 8 (the experienced volunteer had assured us it would be fine to walk in during the service).  A couple women in the back, seeing us enter, hopped up and insisted on giving us their chairs.  I felt awkward, knowing we were being treated this way because we were white, but felt the most gracious thing to do was accept, especially since the service was going on and I didn’t want to cause a disturbance.  I sat on the chair and took in the scene.  The church building had cement walls, bars on the windows, and a smooth concrete floor.  There were two rows of wooden school benches on the left side and three on the right, mostly occupied by children, and assorted chairs behind the benches.  There was a cross on the wall with silk flowers for decoration, a table against the front wall with a cloth over it (covering the communion plates), and a cabinet with a speaker on top and a microphone plugged in with an extension cord running out the window.  There was a tall wooden lectern in the center with white lace on it.  When the pastor was preaching, he was too short for it and I couldn’t see his whole face.  The pastor wore a dress shirt, tie, sport coat, dress pants, and white shoes.  He looked sharp but I couldn’t help but think how hot he must be.  His assistant wore a dress shirt and pants and had a belt buckle that read “LOVE”.

The service alternated between preaching and singing.  The pastor’s assistant led the singing. He would call out first line of each verse; there were no hymn books.  The singing was loud and the congregation seemed to know all of the words and tunes.  With the introductory lines called out and the repetition of the choruses, I was able to join in some of the singing; it felt good to be able to participate.  When they had Bible readings, the pastor’s assistant announced them in English also, clearly for the benefit of us visitors.  Some people had Bibles and would look up the readings and follow or sing along.  The experienced volunteer had brought her iPad with a bilingual Creole/English Bible so she was able to follow along with the readings; I tried to read over her shoulder.  If I’d known, I could have brought my Creole Bible, but I’d left it in the volunteer house.  The other thing I hadn’t brought was any money for the offering.  I felt embarrassed when they collected it and I had nothing to contribute, especially since a small offering from my perspective would have been a relatively valuable sum of money for that congregation.  I wished that I would be there for another Sunday so I could go to church again and get it right the second time.

Before Communion, a woman walked around and squirted hand sanitizer on everyone’s hands.  We stood in our places while the pastor’s assistant carried around a paper plate containing morsels of bread that were little more than crumbs.  I tried to choose a small piece, not wanting to take more than my share.  We drank wine from little glasses that were also brought to us; they were in a metal tray with a hole cut out for each little glass, like the ones used in many American churches.  I wondered how they had acquired it, as it was probably the finest item in the room.  Having Communion at the Haitian church was another of the most emotional moments of my trip.  These financially poor but spiritually rich Haitian Christians welcomed us to share what they had.  At home, I had been taking a course on the Lutheran Confessions (documents written during the Reformation that define Lutheran beliefs).  We had discussed the different perspectives of Catholics, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations on Communion.  Lutherans do not share the Catholic belief that the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood, but they believe that Christ is present in Communion “in, with, and under” the bread and wine; whereas, there are other Protestant groups who believe that the bread and wine are merely symbolic.  While this was obviously a Protestant church, I didn’t know what their particular beliefs were about Communion.  Still, I had the feeling that if Christ was ever present in Communion, He was present there in that meal.

The pastor’s wife led a group of about eight girls, ages maybe 6 to 14, in singing.  There was more preaching.  It was Reformation Sunday (I was sad that I had to miss it at my home church) and I did hear that topic touched upon.  I heard a mention of indulgences, repetition of the concept of “faith alone”, and that we don’t say, “St. Someone, pray for us.  St. Whoever, pray for us,” but that we pray only to God.  Overall, I probably understood about 60% of the service, enough so that I had some idea what was going on, but I still missed a lot.

The chair I had been given was one of those chairs with an arm that was supposed to hold a writing surface (often used in university classrooms); the writing surface was gone, but the metal arm was still there.  The seat was made of molded plastic and the back was broken, so it was uncomfortable to sit back.  After a while, the hard seat, the heat, and the feeling of hunger all combined to make me wish the service would be over soon.  I marvelled that the singing had started at 8 am (we could hear it at the volunteer house) and we had entered at 10, so there were probably others who had been sitting there longer.  (We did stand up once in awhile, but there was a lot of sitting.)  People did go quietly in and out of the building, especially the girls.  I looked out the window and saw a goat and a chicken.  Near the end, the assistant pastor lifted his arm and started waving.  I wondered if he was waving good-bye, but others put their arms up too; it appeared to be a blessing.  The service finally ended around 11:40.  There was much shaking of hands; the pastor and his assistant both came over to shake hands with us visiting volunteers.  I complimented the pastor’s wife and two of the older girls on their singing.  Many people produced punch cards which were being marked by someone from the church.  I never got a complete explanation but it seems that they got credit for attending the service, and they would get some kind of reward after accumulating enough credits.  It made me wonder how many of them were motivated to come because of the punch cards rather than for the worship experience.

We went back to the volunteer house and ate lunch.  I tried several times to call home, but kept getting an error message (they use VoIP).  I was sad because I hadn’t talked to Simon since I was at the airport in Miami.  I took a nap from 1:10 to 2:30, then sat down with my tablet computer to review Creole phrases useful with children.  The phone rang and one of the nurses asked me to get a bowl of cold water from her house and bring it to the house where most of the kids were; a boy was having a seizure and they wanted to get his temperature down.  I brought the water and offered to help in any other way I could, but they didn’t need me, so I returned to the volunteer house.

I sat down again with a half-liter bottle of Sprite and my tablet computer with the Creole phrases.  Then one of the long-term volunteers came in.  She chatted with me and the other first-time volunteer until about 5 pm; it was interesting to learn about her family’s experiences and her thoughts about living in Haiti.  She came back later on and invited us (along with the experienced volunteer) to join her family on their day trip to the beach the next day.  We were grateful for the invitation, as we were aware that this was their family’s vacation and they didn’t have to share it with us short-term volunteers.

The three of us short-term volunteers (there were others when I arrived and still others who came before I left, but it was mostly the three of us for the week I was there) went out for walk, pushing the sick baby who was staying with us in a stroller.  We left the gates and walked down the road in the direction that I had come from Cap Haïtien.  I was again glad for their company; I didn’t (and still wouldn’t) feel comfortable walking alone.  The other first-time volunteer brought her cell phone to take pictures.  To save space/weight, I hadn’t brought a camera, just my little tablet computer that could take photos.  I didn’t want to carry it with me, so I asked the other volunteer to e-mail me the pictures she took after she got home.  There were beautiful tropical views of cows grazing on the plains with mountains in the background.  (Side note: if you’re wondering why I described having such heavy bags at the airport when I keep mentioning that I packed light, it’s because I brought a lot of items to donate.  I flew down with a suitcase and a large duffel bag and returned with just the suitcase, with the empty duffel bag folded up inside of it.)

We came across an older woman (who was missing many teeth) who had a goat and a kid (baby goat).  When she saw my interest in the cute kid, she caught it and held it up for me, offering to sell it to me.  An older man came up to the experienced volunteer and me, pointing at his belly, telling us he was hungry, saying he was sick, pointing at his ankle and complaining about some ailment.  Another (younger) man came up and lifted his shirt and went through the same spiel, telling us he was hungry.  Several boys and a girl came.  The boys and the younger man were asking for money, my necklace, my watch, and my glasses, along with items from the other volunteer.  One boy persistently asked for a phone, saying he needed to be able to tell time to go to school.  The other volunteer and I were trying to politely tell them no.  We had been told not to give anyone anything as it encourages the begging and can create more difficult situations for other volunteers.  I felt quite uncomfortable and was glad that I wasn’t alone.  The other first-time volunteer was across the street taking pictures with some people who had come up to her there, and the experienced volunteer and I both kept trying to get her attention so we could move on.  Eventually we did get away and continued our walk.

It was dusk when we got back.  I made dinner, cleaned up, prepped for the next day’s trip, wrote in my journal, sent an e-mail to Don, and got to bed at 10:10.  I had clipped a small fan that I found in the common area of the volunteer house onto the foot of my bed–it made a real difference in my comfort level.  I fell asleep quickly and got the best night’s sleep yet.  I woke up during the night when the power went out but was able to get back to sleep fairly quickly.  I had taken the flat sheet off my bed because I hadn’t used it in the heat of the previous nights; I got up and found it to cover myself with because I actually felt cool with the breeze of the fan on me!

Haiti trip day 2

Although I had set my alarm to 7:30, I woke up at 7 am on Saturday and got out of bed at 7:15.  I ate some breakfast, updated my journal, checked my e-mail (there was a computer in the common room of the volunteer house; we had internet access but were asked to limit ourselves to e-mail and not use sites like Facebook), and chatted with the other volunteers.

From 9 until noon, I spent time with the kids.  Most of that time, I walked kids around in a stroller, often walking and talking with another volunteer, stopping every once in a while to trade out kids.  The majority of the children at COTP are babies and toddlers; there were some preschoolers (who loved stroller rides and practically demanded them!) and two school-aged kids (that I know of, one is a special needs kid who attends school with a nanny as an aide and the other was transferred to COTP from another orphanage to be with a younger sibling, as the two siblings are to be adopted together).  Some of the kids stay temporarily and then return to live with their families when their medical situation or their family’s home situation has stabilized, while other kids are unable to return to their families and adoptive families in the US or Canada are sought for them.  Roughly half of the kids have significant special needs and many of them may never be chosen for adoption, so COTP is having to face planning for the future of these kids who will be unable to live independently.

There is a cook who makes breakfast and lunch for the volunteers, except on Sunday.  She alternates between Haitian and American-style lunches.  We had Haitian food for lunch; the platters were sitting on the counter in the volunteer house kitchen under large, round plastic screens to keep the flies off.  Our meal was white rice, little meat-filled pastries sort of like mini Hot Pockets that were called paté, beef (which was rather tough), and a mildly spicy sauce with green beans and carrots that looked a lot like vegetable soup.  It was all quite tasty.

As soon as I sat down to eat, I felt very tired, so I decided to lie down during the children’s nap time.  I rested from 1 until 2:30, when another volunteer woke me up to tell me that the Haitian woman who sells souvenirs was outside the gate and might not be back for the rest of my stay there.  I went out with the other volunteers, checked out her wares, which she had arranged on a cloth she had spread on the ground, and purchased some souvenirs for my family.  Then I came back to the volunteer house and drank an entire half-liter bottle of Coke.  (We were each allowed one bottle of pop per day.  These were glass bottles which were then saved to return to the bottling plant to be cleaned and refilled.)

I was with the kids again from 3:40 until 6:40.   I spent much of that time with the little boy I had met the day before, who had recently been admitted (the boy I wrote about here).  I carried him on a walk around the property and he fell asleep on my shoulder, so I sat down in a chair under the big mango tree in the central courtyard and held him while he slept.  Then I put him down so I could pay attention to some other kids; I pushed some on the swings, then sat on the concrete floor under the canopy and various kids came to occupy my lap.

A nanny came and gave me a bowl of something that looked like vanilla pudding (I’m sure it was something more nutritious than that) to feed to the little boy mentioned above (I apologize; it’s a little awkward to write this without using names).  It was a slow process, one tiny bite after another.  There was a lot of scraping up the food that came back out of his mouth and putting it back in.  He cried, squirmed, kicked, and fought for the first half of the bowl.  It was heartbreaking to see how difficult it was for him to eat this food that his tiny, malnourished body so desperately needed.  He settled down and ate the second half of the bowl with less fuss.  I was tired and the bowl of food seemed enormous, considering how little he swallowed with each bite, but this was the job I had been given to do, so I stayed and kept doing it.  Feeding him was one of the most emotionally moving experiences of my trip.  I was feeding the hungry in the most hands-on way possible.

After I finally finished feeding him, I went back to the volunteer house and took a shower.  There was no shower head, just a pipe sticking out of the wall, but it felt wonderful to rinse off the sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray.  I put my water bottle in the fridge before I showered so that I would have cool water to drink when I was done.  (Our drinking water was in a water cooler-type dispenser but wasn’t cooled–and room temperature was rather warm.)  After making and eating my dinner (I brought food with me, such as tuna pouches, instant mashed potatoes, dried fruit, noodle and rice side dish pouches, fig bars, Clif Bars, and to keep the great quantity of water I had to drink in order to stay hydrated from getting too boring, Hawaiian Punch-flavored concentrate and chai latte powder), I called home, something I hadn’t expected to be able to do and which was wonderful.  Then I looked again at the binder that had the kids’ pictures, names, and stories in it, since I had learned more of the children’s names.  I wrote in my journal, brushed my teeth (it was hard to remember to use the drinking water in my water bottle, not the tap water), and went to bed at 10:15.

It was, unfortunately, another long, sleepless night.  The heat and the mattress were so uncomfortable and my mind was so full of thoughts from my day that it took me a long time to fall asleep.  Then sometime during the night, a mosquito whined near my ear.  I hadn’t put on bug spray after my shower, but my bed was the only one without a mosquito net, so I got up and sprayed myself.  It took me a long time to get back to sleep.


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