Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 1 - on the way to Port-au-Prince

We left Santo Domingo at 4:05 a.m. with three new additions to the team in my Isuzu (a nurse, a paramedic and a cousin all the way from the great State of Washington - we always say you have to be flexible on a mission trip as things are always changing) and the back fully loaded with supplies. The only thing I was concerned about with my vehicle was my old tires as the entire time I have owned the Trooper, I have only needed to change the oil - it has been an excelente "jeepeta" as they say here.

We made it smoothly into the border town of Jimani in the morning, right on schedule to meet our armed escort into Haiti. They never showed. We waited around a little while and then Andy divinely stopped a driver who happened to work for YWAM dropping off another team so we decided to use him as our GPS directional guide. It only took 45 minutes in the shockingly beautiful landscape of Haiti for my vehicle to break down with a broken serpentine belt. My truck was cooked so we rapidly moved all the supplies into the already overcrowded school bus (I was driving just in case the old bus broke down - how ironic) and pushed my dead vehicle across the highway through a broken down gate into the front yard of a willing Haitian young man to be the security guard of the Trooper until we returned. I will admit to being a little concerned.

As we moved closer to Port-au-Prince, more and more buildings were demolished. I personally had never witnessed such a catastrophe and in my opinion it was worse to see it live. The one thing that struck me throughout the week was the positive spirit of the Haitian people to get back to the daily task of living despite the chaos all around them. As we were driving in, I was surprised to see so many people coming back from Church dressed in their Sunday best. I had always thought Haiti would look different from the Dominican where I live but it looked very similiar with the concrete buildings and little "colmados" (very small convenience stores) everywhere. We stayed at the main Police station downtown directly across from the Presidential Palace that was demolished. All the surrounding government buildings were also devastated. YWAM had setup a medical clinic inside and were distributing food, tents, water, and medical help to the people and the families of the police who in turn provided protection. The team arrived and started and unloading and I left immediately with a driver to fix my vehicle.

Since it was a Sunday (and after the earthquake, we drove by the auto parts areas with lots of stores, all demolished) and no one was open we could not find the belt part I needed. I was working with a Haitian guy around 20 years old who was on his first day with YWAM. He contacted his mechanic and who located a belt we headed back to my Trooper. We arrived, (my car was still there, yeah) but the mechanic noticed that the main problem was a "tensioner" was not spinning and I needed more parts. So I got the pleasure to drive around Haiti throughout markets and back alleys looking for ball bearings only a few hours into my trip here. Melynda knew we had a police escort (nope) and that I would be safe in the Police station by now (nope). We actually found the parts but it was so dark when we returned to the car (it was still there) he could not see to install the parts although we tried diligently to light up the area with our cell phone backlights (did not work).

So we head back to the home base in the dark (power had not returned to the country yet - just generators) flying through the capital, horn beeping, people everywhere, but luckily I was with the best driver I had ever seen (the mechanic) - I actually tell the mechanic this through the Creole (language of the Haitians - a dialect of French) translator. When I returned about 9pm, it had been dark for a few hours and my son Matt was mad at me for not contacting him somehow and letting him know I was fine. (I received it as he was worried about me because he loved me so much). I had missed dinner but I knew I was not as hungry as the people outside.

Before I left my Trooper overnight with the young man and his mother and sister, the mechanic thought it would be better for me to leave my keys with the family just in case my alarm went off and started to bother all the neighbors. (I vetoed this idea). But on the way back, the YWAM kid said if I gave the keys to the mechanic, he would go first thing and then return the Trooper to me so I would not have to go back into that area alone. (I had left some more money with the family to guard the truck and they advised they slept outside under a blanket right beside the truck. Their house was fine but there were some cracks and most Haitians are still sleeping outside due to fear of the house collapsing). Well, with some fear and trepidation, I handed over my keys to the mechanic and prayed for its return (when you leave the DR, the insurance is no longer in force - if it was stolen, then bye bye). So I walk into base camp for my first night in Haiti with no Trooper, and no keys - everything was going according to the plan ;)

Matt and I slept on top of the 2-story Police station on cots under the stars with a great view of the city and the Presidential Palace. There was a late night worship service going on that I was too tired to attend but I went to sleep listening to the song , "How Great Thou Art."

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