Friday, October 20, 2017

Haiti October 2017: Day 1

I’ve been here before.
I know basically what to expect.
I know the hall we will be walking. I know the path we will take once we step off of this plane. I know what it will look like and how it will feel. I know what questions to expect and the sound the stamp will make as they mark our passports.

(Early morning breakfast at the Chicago airport)  

I’ve been here before.
But it’s different this time.
This time I have 4 pair of my children’s eyes looking at me, expectantly, trustingly.

I’ve been here before.
But they haven’t. 

We stand up as we go to deplane and I look over at Tim. He gives me his “Let’s do this” smile. I smile back.
My heart is pounding, not from fear, but excitement.

We’ve planned for this. We’ve been praying for this for a long time. It’s been a long road to get to this place.

(We used a buddy system for most of the trip - these two were paired together - 
they did everything together - eat, sleep, and play) 

The moment we step off the plane we feel the hotter-than-it-should-be-in-an-airport heat. We walk down the hall and turn left. The big black fan whose only purpose seems to be blowing hot air around is the only sound I hear. I am wearing my backpack on my back, pulling my carry-on with one hand and holding Audrey’s hand in my other. I look back and do a head count. Then a backpack count. Then a carry-on count. This will be my ritual for the next 9 days. Counting my people. Making sure we have who, and then what, we’re supposed to have.

We make it to the counter where we pay the $50 required for our family to enter the country. We then get our passports stamped without even a question from the immigration officer.

Next we head down to baggage claim where I prepare the kids for what I know will be a long process of locating our luggage, bartering with the airport personnel for what is already ours, and attempting to make it out of customs as cheaply as we can. 
I’m as surprised as everyone when we find all 8 of our bags and get them loaded on carts within 10 minutes, with no “assistance” from one of the many men running around with badges.
Tim, Olivia, and Ethan each grab a cart, while Mommer and I each grab two little hands and we head toward customs. I lead the way with our custom papers in my hand. They take our form and ask if we are bringing in any food. I say “no”, and they let us through!!

I turn around and look at Olivia, who’s behind me, wide-eyed, she says “Praise God!” I shake my head in disbelief.

(Making our way through the airport... notice what a beast my mother in law is :) handling her carry on and one of the kids. She was invaluable on the trip and it was a blessing to have her with us) 

As we begin to walk out of the airport I check every face we pass looking for either Lavaud or Guensly. Normally, I avoid eye-contact in the airport as much as I can because it tends to attract even more unwanted attention. I know enough creole to say “No thank you. Please don’t touch. I have no money for you.” But it does nothing to damper the enthusiasm of those surrounding us and our luggage.
The longer we stand at the windows, the more of a “target” our group seems to become.

One of the men offer to get us a ride or taxi. Tim declines and tells him we are waiting for Pastor Lavaud. The man seems to know Lavaud and walks out of the airport. I tell Tim I want to walk out and look around for Guensly. Tim tells me to wait. I don’t want to wait, but I do. I stand at the window looking out. I start praying.

Tim and I see him at the same time, and we both breath a sigh of relief. Walking through the crowd, with the man that had just left us, Guensly’s smile is unmistakable. We take our first steps out of the airport, making our way through the crowd. All of us repeating “Pa touché” (“Don’t Touch”). Tim reaches Guensly first and they hug. I’m right behind him, I am holding Titus and Audrey’s hands. I let go of Audrey in order to hug Guensly.

(Flight from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale) 

I lean down to the kids and say “Guys, this is our friend Guensly”

Guensly smiles and says “Hello”

Titus gets a strange look on his face and says “I thought Guensly was a girl’s name.”

Guensly and I laugh and we begin to make our way through the crowd to the parking lot.  Before we reach it, I make another head count.

There are people and cars everywhere. We are relieved to see Anos and the van that will be taking us to Hinche. We quickly get the kids in the van while Tim and Ethan handle getting the luggage and many helpers from the airport handled. My children are disappointed to realize this van happens to have seatbelts, which I require them to put on.

As soon as we leave the airport, not surprisingly we’re in the midst of Port-au-prince traffic and non-existent-road-rules. And in the middle of what seems to be chaos, my heart is joyful. We made it.

I look back at Olivia and we smile at each other.
She gets it.
I can tell.
Her heart is about to explode, just like mine and she says to me “My heart is so full.”
I can’t help but to agree.

(Treyton experienced a little motion sickness after landing from the first flight. He has flown before, and this is something that sometimes happens to him, luckily he didn't actually throw up :))  

And just like that, we’ve left the airport, having just experienced the smoothest entry into Haiti we’ve ever had.

A few minutes later we pull off the side of the road where Pastor Lavaud and his wife meet us with sandwiches for our trip to Hinche. Normally, we eat at Lavaud’s home, but with the recent government strikes (due to increased taxes) we want to leave Port-au-Prince before it gets dark.
Lavaud wants to make a “quick” stop at a market to pick up drinks for us all. Olivia heads inside with Lavaud while the rest of us wait. While we sit there I watch an armed guard manage the tight fitting parking lot, directing traffic and helping cars park into too small of spaces. While I will never get used to the driving in Haiti, no one can deny the skill of some of the drivers there and their ability to drive in the most unbelievable of situations.

(In the van and on our way!!)  

I’m sitting in the first row of the van next to Audrey with Titus in my lap so he can see out in front of us.
Audrey is on full alert. She’s taking it all in. She’s leaning forward asking Tim (who’s sitting in the seat in front of her) question after question, she’s amazed by the people she sees who are carrying loads on their heads without using their hands.
All of a sudden I feel the weight of Titus, who was just a moment ago wiggling in my arms, go limp. I look down. He has fallen asleep. I adjust him so that we’re both comfortable and we settle in for the long ride to Hinche.

Once we get on the road I realize that Audrey needs to process all she is seeing out loud. J While the other kids are quietly looking out the windows taking in sights and sounds they’ve never seen or heard before, Audrey is talking a mile a minute. She begins counting the people who are carrying loads on their head. Once we’re out of Port-au-Prince and she sees her first goat roaming free on the side of the road, she’s now on a mission to see as many goats as she can. She asks great questions and I feel my mama heart swell as we talk about life in Haiti.

After about an hour, she finally calms down a bit, and lays down on my lap to rest for the remaining hour and half ride.

I’m hot. I’m sweating under the weight of my children sleeping. I'm a little motion sick from the long curvy roads up and through the mountains. But I hardly notice. I’m full of joy, I don’t know how else to explain it. I can’t help but smile. We’ve made it. We’re here. My heart really is full: full of hope, full of expectation, full of peace.

I can hardly WAIT to see what tomorrow will bring. But for now, I rest in knowing that God is faithful. He is my Hope. He is my Song.

1 comment:

Alexis said...

Can’t wait for the rest of the story!! When is Night one and day two coming out? Don’t tell but this one made me a little tearful cause it was so joy-filled. I love the way I can feel your heart. Your let’s do this smile, your mama love and your passion for the people of Haiti. God bless you always