So what’s life like on a Caribbean island?
As mentioned previously, our household goods and vehicle had been shipped to Haiti in February and March. The shipping company put them on separate vessels and both were heavily damaged. Sorting this out has been time-consuming, but fortunately insurance has already paid us for part of the damage.
One of our priorities was to get the kitchen up and running. When we arrived, there was a room for a kitchen, but we still had to do the installation. In our shipping container was a prefabricated kitchen that we bought from IKEA. However, two obstacles stood in the way of this project: First, there was a steady drip falling from the bathroom directly above the kitchen. And second, the water damage to the prefabricated kitchen made assembly into somewhat of a salvage job. Our ministry partners live in the apartment above us, and for a number of reasons, it took a long time to isolate the problem and fix the leak. Matt ended up gutting the bathroom, reinstalling all the drainage and water supply, tiling the floor, and making sure the sink, toilet and shower were reinstalled in working order. Since our ceiling is the underside of a concrete slab, we waited a couple weeks to make sure everything dried out. Today, we have a kitchen!
Until just a couple years ago, the town we live in did not have electricity. Thanks to Rotary Club International, a large industrial generator provides electricity to the community at cost. However, of the town’s 35,000 residents, less than 100 consumers are on the grid. This means that the subscribers as a whole are only able to afford 4 to 5 hours of power each day. Typically, we have electricity between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.. On one occasion, we had a 10-day power outage, and the answer we were given was, “people aren’t paying their bills.” Hopefully this doesn’t become a pattern. After 10:30 p.m., we consider any electricity: bonus time. On a number of occasions we’ve been stranded in total darkness as BT ran out on us while we were rushing to finish something. We enjoy the evenings when we turn off the lights on our own and get into bed, rather than have the plug pulled on us.
Pam enjoys getting out for a run or a bike ride regularly. One Saturday morning, she thought it would be perfect to take Silas out in his child seat on the bike. She didn’t anticipate the high volume of traffic there would be on market day—donkey traffic, that is. Scores of people were carrying their produce to market to be sold, but Pam figured the morning was too nice to pass up. On the way home, for no apparent reason, a galloping donkey, complete with saddlebags and driver, charged at her, and a head-on collision ensued. And it turned out to be a hit-and-run! The onlookers who gathered verbally abused the assailant and kindly carried the bike and helped Pam back home. A little boy took it upon himself to follow Pam and Silas all the way and announce to everyone what had happened. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.
About twice a month, on an irregular schedule, a plane from Florida flies into our town. This plane is a courier service that brings passengers, mail and cargo for missionaries and Christian organizations in and around town. At least 50 or 75 people gather for this social event! Everyone gets there early to socialize, kids watch the DC-3 land on the grass airstrip, we unload everything, everyone gets something, guests arrive, and we all leave happy. So a couple months ago, an MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) plane landed. Now, it’s not uncommon for vehicles to drive right up to the plane and load or unload passengers, luggage and cargo. On this particular day, however, the mayor was driving his truck, and he hit the airplane! Now, they are posting one of the town’s two policemen at the airport when flights come in, and everyone has to park outside.
If you ever get steamed over the rising prices of gas—ask yourself if you’ve ever paid $7/gallon in your life? That’s what we pay in town. It’s slightly cheaper in Cap-Haitien (three hours away), but it always costs us $100 just to fill up the tank. On the bright side, a 50 lb. sack of mangoes sells for less than $3—total! Avocados are about a nickel apiece, if you like guacamole.
After we had been here for 89 days, we needed to renew our 90-day visas. Unfortunately, because of all the hang-ups with the shipping damage, we haven’t had the time to begin the process of getting long-term residency paperwork. To renew the visa, it’s as easy as driving to the Dominican Republic (exiting Haiti), and then returning on a new visa. This trip we needed to make, also coincided with Silas’ birthday, so we decided to make a little vacation out of it. A week before we were going to leave, a tornado (yes, tornado) went through the town, four hours away from us, where we would cross into the Dominican Republic. The tornado knocked down a tree that fell on the only bridge between the countries at the northern crossing. The impact of the fall actually damaged the bridge, and made it impassable to all motor vehicle traffic! And this is one of only two border crossings between the two countries—both are major arteries. It took almost a month to fix the bridge. We ended up having to drive to the southern crossing, and it took us 17 hours to get to our final destination—which is only 100 miles away from us as the crow files.
Once we were at the resort, we were looking forward to several days of uninterrupted family time. But lo and behold…in the town where we live (in Haiti) there is a battalion of UN peacekeeping soldiers that are from Chile in South America. We’ve gotten to know them since Matt speaks Spanish, and they have extended their services to us, if we ever need anything. Apparently, they get a month of vacation during each six-month rotation in Haiti, so they all go to the Dominican Republic (another Spanish-speaking country) and have their families flown up from Chile. It’s great for them, but it was funny for us that a bunch of the men from our local battalion happened to be at that resort for those days, and let’s just say our family time incorporated their families too. Since the UN also guards the border—where the tree damaged the bridge—they have special military crossing privileges that are not normally extended to civilians. They said they could probably get us back across, which would get us home in 6 hours. But if it didn’t work, it would have taken 25 hours to double back around. We decided not to risk it, and settle for the 17 hours—tried and true.
These are a few of the extraordinary happenings of recent. On more ordinary days, Matt tries to stay on top of e-mails and the shipping damage from the Internet café in town. As opportunities arise, we work on the house and unpack boxes somewhat simultaneously. Slowly but surely, things are getting done room-by-room. Pam spends a lot of time simply containing and maintaining Silas—who is all over the place now. We circulate through town regularly and take time to get to know people. We’re also getting to know other pastors, missionaries and ministries in the area, and listening and learning from the different ministry philosophies. We use Creole language constantly, and there are days that we feel like we have a good handle on things, and there are others when it feels like we don’t understand a thing!
God continues to expand our vision for, and understanding of, discipleship and sustainable development. We have been encouraged by others who have been here a while, that it is wise that we’re taking the time to lay a firm foundation, rather than rush into things—which is often a tendency. We’re happy with the progress that has been made in the past months, all things considered.