Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Traveling to Haiti

Dear Family & Friends,                                                                               Monday, March 11, 2013

We are enjoying the luxury of a Marriott Hotel near the Miami Airport.  Tomorrow morning we fly to Haiti, which is my first, and now my last trip there.  We have been assigned another country and Haiti will be given to the couple that takes care of the Dominican Republic because they are trying to consolidate our areas of focus.   Instead of Haiti we are now in charge of Mongolia.  Our boss quipped that we’ve been ‘banished to outer Mongolia for obvious reasons…’  I think I am going to need some Yak clothes; I don’t think my cotton blouses, breezy skirts and open toed shoes will make the grade even in their brief summertime.

We left for the airport this morning at 5:45 AM (not one of my favorite hours, making it worse by waking at 1:30 AM), on an American Airlines flight to Miami.  It was on time, and took the said 5 hours.  We had chosen our seats well, but our ‘exit row’ seats as shown were regular ones and I was in the middle of the three seats—we were surrounded by exits but we didn’t get one.  When the head flight attendant told us over the PA system to ‘sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight’ I kind of wanted to bonk her—shouldn’t she say those things to those who are not in coach?  However, I did not get nearly as rung out as I usually do after those long trips to Africa, even though we are in more comfortable seats and get fed well.  I almost looked human when we arrived, even if Jim bumped my juice and it ran all over us.  What saved me was my blanket so I didn’t have to travel all wet and sticky.

It seems that wherever we go we see someone that we can make a connection with.  We saw three young lady missionaries board our same flight—we didn’t get a chance to speak as they buzzed on by us so we didn’t know where they were headed.  Just as we collected our luggage to de-board, a young man asked me if my husband’s watch was from Kenya, and of course it was.  It turns out that he is the son-in-law of one of the former mission presidents in Kenya by the name of Boucher that had left just before we arrived.  I can’t remember how to spell his name but remembered hearing about him from others…what a small world we live in.  This man was headed to Barbados, poor thing, but then it was just for business.  Thinking of his wife I asked him if she ever got to come along and he said she had requested a trip there, so she will get some benefit from his travels to places that sounded like nice places to take vacations.  Strange, I wonder why he wasn’t going to Haiti.

I thought as we arrived in this nice hotel how much I wanted to stay here, let Jim go to Haiti, and then I could exercise, swim, lay in the sun, watch TV, take naps on the pillow-top mattress, and eat myself sick on good food.  He didn’t go for it…oh, well, a girl can only try…

Comfy room at the Miami Marriott, nice pillow-top bed.

While in Haiti we will be choosing a contractor, signing contracts, meeting with government entities, and training our new hygiene manager.  We are going to repair underground water pipes that were broken up in the earthquake.  The water is stored by the government in large tanks and pipes take it down to kiosks where the people come to purchase their clean water.  We will also repair some kiosks.  The people are used to paying for their clean water, and the majority of the people don’t have water to their homes. 

Tuesday: We arose early after a good sleep.  We are now in Haiti and I don’t feel any bad vibes about being here—perhaps it has changed.  Besides, a majority of the people on the plane appeared to be NGO or humanitarian workers. There were teenagers and old folks like us and every age in between.  When we arrived Jim was shocked because Haiti had a regular, brand new terminal.  It was air conditioned, they had lanes where they took your passport at immigration, and they had carousels that brought your luggage.  Before this was accomplished all outside in the heat, and everyone crowded around one spot to get through and they threw your luggage in a pile for pick up.  As we walked through the terminal there was a group welcoming us with their fun Haitian music—Jim said this is the only thing that was the same. We asked Berthony who built the new terminal and he said he couldn’t remember, except that it wasn’t the government—no surprise there.  Our flight was comfortable because this time we were in an exit row and they actually fed us.  Even though our 5 hour flight netted only a soft drink or juice, this one actually had a snack even though it was only a 1½ hr. flight.  I was very surprised at how pleasant the weather was.  I thought it would be more like Hades--although warm and humid, it was not all that hot. 

I was not at all surprised about the scenery since I had seen Jim’s pictures from his earlier trips.  Berthony picked us up at the airport and had Julio with him.  Julio is from the Dominican Republic and will be taking the place of Bennie Lilly, who was the Area Welfare Manager.  Gee, we like him as much as we do Berthony.  It took forever to get to our hotel because of the traffic-choked roads.  When we arrived Marie had also arrived and will be doing the community development and hygiene training.  As we ate lunch together we planned our week.

Having lunch at the Karibe Hotel in Haiti with Marie, hygiene manager, Berthony Theodor, & Julio Cesar.

Okay, I don’t want to go back to Miami—this hotel is grand!  There are palms everywhere, sometimes sporting some colorful birds, lovely spots to eat in and out of doors, a very large pool and Jacuzzi, tennis court, spa area, and a workout room.  Our room is quite lovely and roomy, and in the bathroom there is space to put all our belongings.  And, they have an ironing board, blow dryer, fridge, safe etc.   But the best part is that I get to unpack all my stuff! 
Before landing in Port Au Prince, we skimmed along the coastline and watched the terrain change from lots of farming squares with a few houses and trees to a hillier area where the dwellings were jammed very closely together. The houses were patched together on the very steep hillsides so closely together that you wonder how the owners get up there. I was surprised that Haiti doesn’t look as tropical as I thought it should—the most palms I’ve seen is around the hotel.  There are the typical slum areas with rusted tin roofs, all jammed tight and thick as thieves.  We asked Berthony about the estimated count of how many people are still in tented camps—it is down to about 200,000 now.  When Jim first came it was 500,000, so they are making progress, however slowly. 
Hope we have time to take a swim at the Karibe Hotel pool.

I could be very happy here—if only I didn’t have to leave the hotel…

Love, mom & dad, Jim & Karen, E/S Greding

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