Centenary to Haiti

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Nou Retounen

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We will return to Haiti on May 9th, landing May 10th. We will depart Port-au-Prince on May 23rd and return to Shreveport on May 24th. This time, we will stay with Zanmi Lasante in Cange, Haiti. We will explore culture of the central plateau, the mountains north of Port-au-Prince, and the beginning of the Artibonite River. We will update this blog regularly once the module begins. Our internet access will be unreliable, so don’t expect to hear from us everyday. Check this blog for updates. If you need to get in touch with us, contact the Department of Public Safety at 318-869-5000 or Nicole Rapagnani at nrap@centenary.edu or 318-869-5059.

Home?

By Tia Landrum

This might not turn out to be more than just a random stream of consciousness, but that’s probably notable in itself.  We’ve used a lot of jargon over the past couple of weeks concerning our ability to mentally and emotionally digest our Haiti experiences.  The words “processing” and “debriefing” were most common.  For example, this “blog” will serve as my overall debrief (where I will relay my acquired information to concerned parties) in order to more functionally process an overwhelming encounter.

Our first day in Haiti was frightening in a sense but more alarming than intimidating.  My first instinct wasn’t to be afraid, but rather to be aware and highly alert.  We traveled via luxury shuttle (air conditioning, properly closing windows and doors, and cushioned seats were all present) through the streets of Port au Prince, witnessing some of the most incredible and disturbing sights of my life.  However, rarely would a person be seen doing nothing.  Boredom is not a concept in Haiti.  Even in absolute squalor and resource deprivation, individuals perform necessary tasks with determination.  One or two dump trucks can be seen traveling to and from Port au Prince in constant effort to rid the city of earthquake debris that can be used elsewhere as building material.  Infants and pregnant women are oddly missing from view.

Traveling south into rural areas, phenomenal landscape is visible from all sides.  A lack of agricultural development is a troubling indicator of a hungry nation, but lush greenery in some areas is exquisite.  Banana, mango, and palm trees with other exotic plants are often the only exceptions to an otherwise unobstructed view of rolling hills and magnificent mountains that meet the clouds.  Livestock rest peacefully or graze, all tethered to the ground somehow by relatively thin ropes that are loosely tied around the neck or face.  Fences are seemingly obsolete, though hedges made of dense cacti grow around many homes.  Precocial birds and livestock offspring roam freely, none of which are terribly concerned by humans, though vehicles startle them much more than farm animals in the States.

Our guesthouse was a remarkable building made of stone and cement with pillars and marble floors.  Sheltered porch area was also marble, and the porches were elevated as much as six feet from the ground in some areas.  This element, as well as the solid rooftop we frequented, provided intense opportunities for unobstructed view of the astounding valley below on one side, the distant ocean on the other.

At night, our oasis on the hill felt like a beacon of privilege.  The surrounding communities radiated no lights as our small mansion in comparison was brightly lit.  When we had power blackouts I could sleep more soundly without the guilty hum of electricity and rattling air conditioner.

Amazing women maintained our day-to-day needs without much notice by us.  Katie was most aware and spoke plenty of French to forge substantial relationships with several of them.  The day we left, it was hardest to say goodbye to Rose.  She is an intimidating woman of fearsome wit who seemed cynical and taunting initially but clung to me with apparent emotion when we left for the bus.  I can only imagine how wonderful it will be to return to Haiti and happily hug Rose in reunion.  For a fierce woman, her genuine affection for several of us was not hidden.  I’m shocked by the intensity of bonding that we achieved with many Haitians despite the clear language barrier.  Messages of love and admiration were clearly conveyed and reciprocated in a way I have never experienced in the States.

I miss the children.  The orphanages were better than I expected but worse than one can rationalize.  Parents send their children there to exponentially improve their quality of life.  That is saying something.  These children are more skilled and impressive than I will ever be in so many ways, and yet they will have limitations and health concerns that will prevent them from ever attaining their maximum potential.  If they survive childhood, even these lucky children will be scarred and restricted by their experiences and status without exception in their lives.  There will never be a Daddy Warbucks to save the clever and precocious child or a Prince Charming to save the teenage girl who is coming into adulthood.  Dr. Kress and I spoke with a man in the Port au Prince airport who is Haitian but currently lives in Miami.  While discussing sexuality and personal relationship dynamics in Haitian culture, the man commented on Haitian marriages needing to remain open in some circumstances to allow for financial opportunities.  He was very clear that marriages had no issues of jealousy if a spouse could generate income with an additional, wealthier sexual partner.  It was also clear that teenage girls would be expected to do the same if they could financially contribute to their family’s survival.  This is not an issue of morality or of sexually deviant behavior.  This is a socioeconomic reality that has been imposed on a culture that is forced to make these difficult adaptations for literal survival.  Options are nonexistent.  One option is considered good fortune, and that opportunity must be used to its fullest.

The hope, the faith, the energy and goodness of Haiti pull me there still.  Not the slightest part of me wanted to come “home”.  What is “home”?  I’m returning to a world in which elaborate and strictly-enforced traffic laws still result in more accidents and road rage than I witnessed in the bustling, densely packed, lawless roadways of Haiti.  A world in which we defecate into drinking water and flush five gallons of it so even our toilets are pristine.  A world where thirty words are needed for the same concept because the spirit of things can no longer be conveyed between two individuals with simple words due to the numerous distractions preventing genuine interaction of minds.  On a Frank Sinatra/big band radio station on the flight from Port au Prince, “Stranger in my own hometown” came over my headphones the moment I plugged them in.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Safe Arrival.

Everyone made it safely back into the US. See everyone tomorrow.

Final Day in Beautiful Haiti

By Andra Armstrong

Today was a fantastic day. Church this morning was magnificent. We walked in on music and as we found our way to our seats, the voices, drums, guitar, and piano filled the church with praise. The choirs that sang today mostly sang a cappella and their voices radiated throughout the building. Church ended around 9:30 and we returned to the guest house for breakfast and a quick change before heading to Port Salut. Port Salut is a beach on the main island of Haiti not far from Les Cayes where we are staying. The view was breathtaking as we met such diverse terrain in that short 45 minute drive. We drove over the mountains and as we looked out and over the mountainsides we could see the effects of the deforestation and the attempts to reverse the problem. Port Salut offered a relaxing place to reflect on these past two weeks. As we enjoyed these hours to swim in the ocean and play in the sand and swing in the hammock, I couldn’t help but think about the kids that we’ve been visiting. Many of them do not get to see the white sandy beaches that we were able to enjoy today and so many more of them do not even get to relax the way we were able to do today. I felt spoiled as we wrapped up the end of our stay but I suppose that this is a feeling that I need to become used to as we venture back into the states tomorrow. Being here has taught me many lessons and I feel that I have grown so much through this time. It does not seem that this is enough time to grow, but the experiences that I have had and the people that I have met have made a substantial impact in my life that I will carry in my heart forever. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say that tomorrow has come way too soon and none of us is ready to leave and many of us are already making plans to return next year.

Return Home

All flights with American Airlines

5/21 Flight 1908: PaP to Miami 6-8:15pm
5/22 Flight 0495: Miami to Dallas 6:20-8:30am
5/22 Flight 2971: Dallas to Shreveport 10:10-11:05

Well…

By Amanda Price

I guess I’ll start off with how our day ended because then there’s no way you won’t be able to finish reading!! Let’s just say our day has been very interesting. Well…all 15 of us Centenary folk rode back to Cambry complex in the back of a Haitian police truck.
Today the Centenary May Module separated from the First United Methodist-Shreveport crew and we went to Ile a Vache, a small island tourist destination off of the main island of Haiti. We piled into our typical mode of transportation — the back of Pastor Lewis’ pickup truck — all lathered in sunscreen and drove down the road to the port in Les Cayes. We weren’t there more than 10 seconds before we were approached by a few men and women selling straw hats and handmade jewelry. Since we’ve been in country for almost 10 days now, we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with this happening. Most of us declined their sales and we were soon stepping onto a “yacht” (term used by the Haitians) which ended up being a small fishing boat. We got onto this boat with another party of 5. The waves were intensely rough and we had only been in the boat for 2 minutes. People in our group immediately started taking nausea medicine. The boat rocked left and right and up and down and everyone felt so sick. Once we started moving, I felt like we were on a very wet roller coaster. The waves were crashing up over the bow and we were being jostled around which made person number one lose their breakfast over the side. This wet roller coaster lasted about 20 minutes across the sea. Slowly the motor got slower…and slower…and slower until it finally just stopped. We ran out of gas in the middle of the ocean. (Ok, it wasn’t really the middle of the ocean but it felt just the same). No joke. So we anchored and waited for help to arrive. The motion of the anchored boat was worse than the moving boat which triggered sick person number two. (I can actually still feel myself in the waves moving on the boat as I write this blog back at the guest house over 7 hours later.) We had to wait about 20 minutes for another boat to bring us more gas, and we were back on our way. I was soaking wet, extremely nauseated, had one girl throwing up to my right, and someone else burying their head in my lap trying to keep it together. Needless to say, we were very ready to get to dry land.
The island was beautiful! We were on a mile of white beach which had an array of lawn chairs, umbrellas, and beach houses surrounded by a beautiful scenery of the sea on one side and mountains and palm trees on the other. The water was clearer than any water I’m used to seeing in the Gulf of Mexico. The resort included an inside and outside restaurant, a bar, and supposedly a pool. We got there and I instantly felt a sense of independence and freedom. I could purchase whatever I wanted to drink, go wherever I wanted to on the beach, and enjoy some of the freedoms that we haven’t had for 2 weeks. Although we only had to stay in small groups of 2 or 3, we often found ourselves clumped together which is a testament of how close we have grown as a group. Some read in hammocks, some laid on the beach, some explored the caves on the island and talked with natives, and others were in and out of the ocean. I think we just all took some time to process and begin the process of unpacking these past 2 weeks.
Our island trip included a buffet lunch which was surprisingly similar to the food Mia has been cooking for dinner at the guest house. I thought it would be either more exotic and true to traditional Haitian food or super bland and culturally watered down, but it was familiar and decent.
The beach was beautiful and I had a wonderful time playing on the beach with my friends, but that’s exactly what it seemed like. I felt like I had been transported to this Haitian tropical paradise that had very few similarities to the Haiti that I have been living in for the past 10 days. We didn’t see any people carrying water on their heads, screaming orphans, or women doing laundry in the front yard. It was difficult to relax when there are Haitians hiding in the trees and brush just 100 yards away simply to get a look at the “white people.” The purpose of going to this island was not necessarily to relax but to see the contrast in lifestyles or images of Haiti. Many people go on their honeymoon or vacation to Haiti and dock a cruise ship on this island. This one mile stretch of beach is all that they see. Just behind this resort are piles and piles of trash that are masked by pinas coladas and women in bikinis. It was hard and different to see.
We left the island about 4 pm, successfully boated back to Les Cayes, and waited there for Pastor Lewis to come pick us up. We were all sunburnt, tired, and maybe a little irritable. The longer we waited, the more these feelings grew. After a while, we began getting worried that Pastor Lewis hadn’t gotten the message that we had left the island and were back in Les Cayes, but Papa Kressious was already on top of it. It wasn’t too long before a police officer stumbled upon our group while he was making rounds. Dana worked his magic, and the next thing we know, all 15 of us are piling in the back of a Haitian police truck. This was a first for many of us! He very graciously drove us back to Cambry and that was the adventure of the day.
I’m grateful that today we got to experience a little relaxation but even more, we were able to get a feeling for the image that others see when they visit Haiti. We only have one more full day before we begin the trek home and I know it is already stirring in our hearts and minds about how to come away from this trip. We can’t come back to the United States mad at everyone for having computers and washing machines. But I also know I can’t come back the same; I am forever changed. So many of our conversations lately have revolved around how to debrief Haiti in a healthy way. I ask all of our loved ones to be patient. It’s not going to be easy to transport back into a world that so often takes for granted the luxuries that come with being privileged. That is not the reality for many.
I am so excited to come home though! I miss you mom, dad, and Joey. I can’t wait to tell you all about Haiti, these people that I have been sharing this experience with, and all of the self growth I have done. But like I said, please be patient because I know I will be unpacking this experience for a very long time. I love you all and will call you as soon as we land in Miami at 8:15 pm (7:15 LA time).

Last Day at Big House

By Jessica Lieblich

Today was another exciting day for our module group. We woke up at our usual time of 7 am and had breakfast at 7:30. Our breakfast was delicious, as always, and it consisted of french toast, rolls, peanut butter, and jams. After breakfast, we loaded up our supplies, jumped in the back of the trucks, and headed to Big House to teach. This was our second day to teach at Big House, but our third day to visit the children. This was also our last day to see the children at Big House before we leave Haiti; so I think this took an emotional toll on us. It had rained the night before, so it was difficult to drive on the road to Big House due to the unpaved roads becoming very muddy. The road had a large amount of pot holes, rocks, and other obstructions that made it incredibly hard to make it there. However, the trucks were strong enough to get us there. The trip was definitely an adventure, but we made it there safely and thankfully didn’t have to get out and push the trucks out of the mud (this apparently has happened before).
Once we made it to Big House, we greeted the children with smiling faces. Tomorrow is Haiti’s flag day, so all of the children in preparation for tomorrow had made flags before we got there. Brittany split the children, by age, into five classes. The classes for today consisted of Simple Tools, French, Crochet/Sewing, Music, and Similarities of Haiti and Louisiana. Each of the children went to three of the classes offered. I had taught English the previous time at Big House, so this time I volunteered in simple tools. We taught the children about screw drivers, how to work an electric saw, and how to tie knots with rope. Each of the children were given rope to practice with while some of the FUMC group demonstrated how to tie the knots. I felt like most of the children picked up on the skills fairly well while having a good time. Overall, I think our class was a success.
After the classes, everyone met in the Church house to sing worship songs and dance with some of the children. They also sang the Haitian National anthem to us. The children then taught us how to do some Haitian dancing. We gathered outside by the playground to learn to dance. One of the adult Haitian men taught us some simple dance moves that composed the Haitian dance we learned. It was great to experience a different culture’s dance and it was quite funny watching everyone attempt to perform the dance. Some of the older boys at Big House then performed a wonderful dance to a Justin Bieber song. They were very good and then they impressed us all with some awesome flips at the end of the dance. After the dancing, it was time for us to say our good byes to the Big House children for the last time. It was difficult for some of us to know that we may never see these children ever again. It was also hard with the language barrier to not be able to tell them that we were not going to come back. However, hopefully one day we will be able to see their shining faces again and see that their conditions are better than before.
When we made it back to Cambry, we all hung out and did a variety of things. Some went to visit the children down at the Cambry orphanage, some played games, while others washed clothes. Around 4 pm, many of us gathered to learn the Haitian National Anthem. Richard (our main translator/friend) helped us learn how to pronounce all of the words correctly. It was fun learning a song that means so much to the Haitian people. While we were singing the song each time, we would hear the women in the kitchen singing along with such pride. I think it is wonderful that the Haitian people love their country and the people that inhabit it. In our debriefing discussion tonight we talked about the difficulties of coming back to the United States after having experienced the Haitian culture. This was the first time we really discussed what changes might take place in our lives to incorporate some of the positive ways the Haitian people live, so we don’t necessarily have to go back to living a typical American life.

The teaching continues

By Jamie Dyche

Today was our second full day of teaching. This time we went to another local children’s home: Darivage. It has almost half of the number of children as Big House. This home, however, does have more adult supervisors, teachers and “moms and dads.” The classes we taught were the same as yesterday: Crafts, VBS, Math, English, and Simple Medicine. The children were grouped in age groups, like 3-5, 6-8 and so on. It was my privilege, alongside of three other wonderful Centenary girls, to teach English to three classes today. We taught them the main body parts in English, asked them to trace their hands and write their names in them, and then we ended by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in both Creole and English. Although it was difficult at times due to the language barrier, it was truly such a rewarding experience for both us as teachers and the students. I am positive that each of the other classes were just as rewarding, as well.
After each of the 45-minute lessons were finished or “fini,” as they say in Haitian Creole, the students and a few of the teachers from the children’s home taught us the Haitian National Anthem. I can honestly say that this was such a powerful experience because since day one of this trip the dedication that the people of Haiti have to their country has been so evident. They were so excited that we wanted to learn their anthem! We were asked to practice it some more and sing for them again when we return to Darivage on Friday–we are hoping that we sound decent, at least.
As far as life in Cambry (the small community that our guest house is located) goes, I think we are all getting pretty comfortable. We are getting more and more used to the goats, sheep, and roosters making their animal calls at any hour during the night. We are getting used to the power going out each night around 9 p.m. We are also getting used to the people in the community greeting us with song, laughter, and conversation early in the morning (just in time for us to wake up for breakfast). I never thought I would be so comfortable with “country” life…especially not in an entirely different country than my own. If you asked me to carry a big bucket of water up a large hill to hand-wash my own laundry two weeks ago, I probably would have laughed. Now, I can proudly say I have done just that and that I actually enjoyed it. It is all due to this wonderful country and this amazing culture. I am beginning to realize that we have less than one week left and I know, without a doubt, that I will cherish each of those days just as I have these past eight.

Teaching at Big House

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Les Cayes

By Katie Caldwell

Yesterday morning after breakfast (peanut butter banana pancakes-because our cook Mia is amazing) we visited the botanical gardens of Les Cayes, down the street from the American university that we toured a few days before. I had fairly low expectations for the trip because most of what we’ve seen in the cities of Haiti is underdeveloped compared to what I’m accustomed to, but it was actually really amazing. The head gardener there was the Dean of Agriculture at the AU and had a degree in his field from Cornell so we basically got a tour from the best botanist in Haiti. Afterwards we trucked back home to regroup and then headed to downtown Les Cayes to check things out. We spent about two hours wandering around the area and got to see some of the oldest buildings in the Western hemisphere, like the old church in the center of downtown. We also got to walk through the hospital and down to the port where all the debris of Port au Prince from the earthquake has washed up. When we got back to the guesthouse the crew from FUMC had arrived and we were all pretty exhausted, so we spent the rest of the day prepping for the classes at Darivage and wound down the night with dinner and debriefing.

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