We are on the plane returning from Cap Haitian, Haiti. We spent a week serving the poor of two communities on the outskirts of the city. We traveled with Michael and Mary Lu Hertz, my college friends who have established a mission and a non-profit, Empowering Haitians, to help the people of Bon Aire. It was a week of incredible dissonance, extreme poverty in extremely beautiful surroundings. God was at work through some people who did not even follow Him. I saw my beautiful wife living out her passionate dream to help the less fortunate with her dentistry. It was a powerful and beautiful and trying week.
Empowering Haitians works with local community leaders to determine the needs of the community and provide financing and manpower for betterment projects. Please check out their website, which I'm sure you can find by googling their name. They work in conjunction with a medical mission in another community, which is where Anna worked for four days. The organization has built a church, schools, and houses, and supports a microloan program for local small business. On this trip, we were building light posts for the streets of the community as well as working on a local office building so they have somewhere professional to meet with leaders.
The poverty of Haiti is palpable as soon as one steps off the plane, but its depths are not experienced until one has spent some time in the city. In dissonate fashion, we were upgraded to first class on our flight on a mission trip. I have never been on a plane where the only white people were us. Many people did not use deoderant. A man in the exit row refused to help out or switch seats, and had to be escorted off the plane. Anna asked the flight attendant if that had ever happened before. "Only on this flight. Actually, we are doing pretty well to get out with only a 45 minute delay." Upon arrival in Port-a-Prince, we walked across the smoldering tarmac to an equally steamy warehouse where hundreds of people fought for space to get bags from three large planes on two small belts. Did I mention the deoderant problem? It was a nightmare. We went to another terminal to fly to Cap, and after lengthy delays, arrived, sans two bags. Welcome to the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
The first thing that hits you is the garbage. It is everywhere, piled in the gutters and ditches, three or four feet high on the sidewalk. The second is the roads, or lack thereof. I have been on some godawful roads in Thailand and Iraq, but nothing that compared to this. The "paved" roads were so marked with broken concrete and potholes as to make New Orleans look like Geneva. Some were completely impassable, like Mogadishu in "Blackhawk Down". They would end without warning even in the city, spilling you onto washed out rocks and dirt lined with ruts deep enough to break an axel. And this is the city. In our community up the mountainside, the roads could have been featured in an X-games 4-wheeling competition, and the final tracks up the mountain were only accessible by mopehead. The third thing that gets you is the people. They are dirty and smelly. I know that sounds awful, but hey, soap and deoderant cost money, and they have none. They are wearing cast off old clothes with flip flops so thin you would think going barefoot would be less trouble. I guess that's why many are barefoot. If you wanted to know how old their clothes were, you could carbon date them with the many athletic jerseys I saw featuring Shaq with the Miami Heat or Steve Young with the 49ers. I think that's about ten years ago, but it could be more. I even saw Robert Brooks of the Packers and Mourning on the Heat, which is more like 15 years. Children wear either shirts or shorts, but usually not both, and no shoes. I'm not describing the poor homeless people. This is almost everyone. I saw a few university students dressed well. We met a few rich people. But everyone else is dirt poor.
Then things are out of place, like diamonds in a trash bin. Everywhere that has not been made flithy by humans is gorgeous. Tropical flowers line the road side. Mangoes and bananas hang from the trees. Crystal clear Caribbean water gleams azure. Our first weekend, because our reservation was lost at the primary hotel where the docs and another team of high schoolers were staying, we relaxed at a beach resort with white sand and gentle waves. Nick, the rich owner of the primary hotel, took us on a boat to his private beach where we ate fresh crabs and lobsters cooked on the grill. Because we were spending our own money instead of that raised from donors, it was easier to relax in comfort at the end of the day with a Cuban cigar and a cup of 5 star rum. And all around us, poverty reigned.