Haiti Trip: Jim Brown’s experience

As I prepare to go to Haiti, I find it important & necessary to stay knowledgable of current events and progresses (or declines) that are happing in Haiti.  Along with that, I actively look for personal mission stories that give a more accurate day-to-day portrayal of what life is like and what the missionaries experience. 

This week I received an email from Jim Brown, a man from Pennsylvania, who traveled with GCOM International on a mission trip to Haiti.  As I read his story,  I lauged and cried; I was encouraged, challenged, and moved to pray. 

For the next few days I will share some of his story with you.  Today, he describes his entrance into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and his journey to their destination.  Just so you’re not in the dark…He flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where he met a few other trip goers and also their leader/guide, Bobby.

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The next morning we woke very early and went to the bus station in Santo Domingo, where we encountered the first real challenge of our trip. Despite having made reservations for a bus into Haiti, we were made to understand that we would not be allowed on the bus because others had been waiting in line for 2 hours prior to our arrival. The bus operators spoke only Spanish, Bobby spoke only English and Haitian Creole, and the 2-3 of us on the trip that spoke Spanish (myself included) were nowhere near fluent. Watching Bobby deal with a crowd of people shoving and yelling, and trying their hardest to prevent us from getting tickets and getting on the bus, was one of the first times I realized that this trip was either going to work because God wanted it to or it was going to fail horribly, because no human power could have coordinated all of the things we needed to get there and out. We had made reservations, we had done our best and arrived on time, but a near “riot” was likely to prevent us from getting on the bus. Bobby handled the crowd skillfully, and after lots of arguing and yelling in Spanish and a scene I’ll never really forget, especially for teaching me very early in our trip to just scrap my plans and expectations and rely upon God. I am not really quite sure what convinced the bus operators to finally let us on, but I think it was the really large security guard that everyone called “Hefe” who would randomly come out of his office when the crowd was verging on riot, and stand in front of everyone and raise his hands and just go: “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” I assume he got fed up with the commotion outside his office and let us just get on to end it.

We got on the bus, and it took 12 hours to travel 120 miles from Santo Doming to Port au Prince, Haiti. In the interim, we had our passports taken for a good 8 hours which was IMMENSELY disturbing to me (though I was told repeatedly by Anna to “not worry, God would handle it!”) The border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti is shocking. The Dominican Republic is something like Hawaii in scenery and vegetation. Though they are on the same island, the literal -moment- you cross the border the landscape changes to dry rock and scrub, sharp mountains and destitute poverty all around. I’m going to try and record my feelings about Haiti as they grew, rather than looking at them in hindsight. At this point I truly disliked Haiti, it seemed to me as though someone or some group had allowed this land to be ravaged, and the poverty was truly striking. Garbage and refuse of every type were in piles, and even at the border it seemed like some structures were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake already. There were lots of homes with signs in broken English that said: “We need help, food and water please,” and one in particular I won’t forget for the pure sadness of how bad the situation was there, and the fact that we did not go there to help. It was a small gulley of ramshackle homes made of tin and cardboard, and a tent city that smelled sharply of human refuse. Outside of it was a sign that said: “The forgotten valley, we need help and water. Please help us.”

Another striking thing was the variety and density of wild animals. Dogs, donkeys, goats, chickens and roosters, cows…. you name it, they were wandering around. I came to know quickly that every wild animal in Haiti feels the need to make every noise they are capable of at 5 AM, even if the sun isn’t up yet. It became my natural alarm clock the entire trip.

Finally, as you can probably presume from the fact that a distance of 120 miles took us 12 hours, the roads were simply horrible. Outside of Santo Domingo, there was no pavement. Calling the roads a “dirt road” would be an injustice to dirt roads the world over. Many of the roads were simply overland routes where vegetation wasn’t growing, with huge potholes and on the edge of teetering cliffs. I can honestly say that driving in Haiti was the single most dangerous thing we encountered. There was no standard of driving, everyone went as fast as they could in used their horns to signal absolutely everything. Closer to the city, motorcycles carrying up to 3 people would swerve in and out of traffic, even on the edge of a cliff on a rocky road like you can’t imagine.

When we arrived in Port au Prince it was already dark, and we arranged a “tap-tap” to the orphanage where we stayed. The “tap-tap” is a truck, somewhat like a Toyota Pickup truck, but with a -slightly- larger bed and camper. By slightly, I really only mean slightly. ALL of us crammed into the back of this truck, and took it up these cliff roads to the orphanage. This was a daily trip for us, and the first night I was not able to see the absolute sheer drops we were skirting and the horrific nature of the road, but I was well aware of the bouncing and jostling around. The entire trip, another member of our team, the head Doctor (Bogden), whose accent was really awesome, narrated the trip like a tour guide. “Guys, this part is really awesome, the road up here gets really really bad. We have only 30 minutes left.” He said that we had only 30 minutes left at least 3 times, and it was more like 1.5 hours.

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