Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To the Northwest!

First of all, my apologies in regards to the length of time between the previous post and this one.  I realize it has been a while, though in my defense, I haven't had a whole lot to write about until recently.

This past Friday morning, Budry and I packed our things and headed west.  My good friend from Wheaton and fellow Haiti-Wheaton Partnership team member, Abbie Goodman, was currently in the middle of five weeks of a medical internship at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in Saint Louis du Nord, so we made plans for Budry and I to visit for the weekend.

The first challenge was getting there.  Traveling in Haiti can be complicated, and planning our route proved  to be no exception.  There is a road going northwest from Limbé and what appears to be that same road going southeast from St. Louis, but the maps that I have consulted tend to differ as to whether this road continues uninterrupted between Au Borgne and Anse a Foleur, two cities on the northern coast.  After further investigation, I determined that a road did in fact exist... and was passable on mountain bike and foot.  What also existed though, was a better option: a boat leaving from Au Borgne, headed to Anse a Foleur, which is the option Budry and I finally chose.  Our alternative was a bus ride south to Goniaves and then back north to Port de Paix, about an 8 hour trip one way.  We both agreed that motorcycle taxis and a boat (about 3 hours of actual travel time) were the better path, though certainly the less travelled.  And I will tell you... it made all the difference.

The boat ride was really great.  It was a small passenger ferry boat, about 15 feet long and 7 feet wide.  According to those steering it, the boat could fit up to 50 people, so that's how many they decided to cram on it.  I got a prime seat on top of the boat with a beautiful view of the northern Haitian coastline for the full hour's ride.  I forgot to put the pictures on my computer, but they are coming.

After landing in Anse a Foleur, Budry hailed a moto-taxi and I assumed that we were done with any more water travel.  I was wrong.  Before this weekend I have forded streams on foot, in cars, on boats and even virtually on the Oregon Trail computer game, but never on a motorcycle.  It gave me quite a start to realize that the road I'm on leads directly into that rushing water in front of me and there's no bridge in sight.  I was even foolish enough to ask the driver as he's trying to navigate the current and the rocky bottom, "Have you ever fallen in before?" to which he replied, "Oh yeah, people fall in all the time."  It made me feel a lot better the next 6 times we had to cross, but in the end, all parties made it mostly dry.  And no oxen died in the effort.

Finally arriving at the mission, it was great to see Abbie.  We had a relaxing afternoon getting reacquainted with the facilities (the mission was one of the locations I visited this past spring break) and catching up on the events of the past few weeks.  On Saturday, Budry, Abbie and I joined a group from the mission going to Anse a Foleur for a VBS lesson, a visit to a Voodoo monument and some relaxing time at the beach.  All in all, a good day of hanging out and rest.  Sunday morning, the three of us attended the deaf service at the mission and I got a chance to talk to Fedner, the teacher at the mission's school for the deaf.  After church, we hopped on a taptap to Port de Paix so Budry could check off another department capital on his list (he's only missing one now).  Sunday evening was again filled with down time.  Overall, my time at the mission was very refreshing.  On Monday morning, Budry and I packed up and headed "home."  I did actually feel like coming back to Haut-Limbé was like coming home.  My host family was happy to see me again, alive and no worse for wear.

Additional reflections on the weekend:
1. I know that HNGR discourages comparisons, but it was nice to be able to speak better Creole than someone.  Most people at the mission while we were there were Americans coming for short term mission trips who knew very little of the local language.  After being the uncontested winner of the "Worst Creole of Anyone I Know" award for the majority of my time in Haiti, I enjoyed finally being able to help other Americans communicate.  Plus, the Haitians living and working around the mission are unused to encountering white people who speak their language, so they were all very flattering whenever they heard me speak.
2. I really enjoyed the whole experience of the trip to and from St. Louis.  I kept imagining myself as some great explorer, charting the course for future Wheaton students to come.  Like most great explorers, I wasn't really finding anything new... just documenting what all the natives already knew.  Still, it was an exhilarating experience to travel a course that most people I talked to didn't know very well (most people in Limbé recommended the Goniaves route, though my final plan was approved by the university staff as feasible before I left).
3.  It was a huge blessing to be able to talk and process some of my recent thoughts with a good friend from Wheaton.  As much as I have appreciated being able to communicate regularly with friends and family via email, there's just something different about face-to-face conversation.  I was additionally lucky in that Abbie was able to relate to many of my experiences, living in Haiti herself for some period of time.

Additional updates not from this weekend:
I'm still doing very little in terms of any structured internship.  I'm teaching class three times a week for an hour each and editing letters to American/international organizations as they come.  My HNGR work has continued to keep me busy, though I'm also finding time to read for fun.  Within the past few weeks, I've started playing dominoes with some of the younger men and women in the neighborhood.  It's been a good way for me to get to know people better and practice Creole with a more scrutinizing audience.

In terms of my internship, I probably won't get anything more structured until school starts on September 5.  Which feels like a long time to wait.  The good news is that it should give me a good amount of time to start my independent study project.  I'm still determining what that will be, but Laurie has asked that I begin to investigate the ways that the university could contribute to public mental health in the community.  One of the first tasks in that will likely be understanding what forms of therapies would Haitians best respond to.  But my independent study is still very much in the ideas stage... nothing much at all on paper yet.

Thank you all for sticking with my blog, despite my erratic postings.  I would appreciate prayer these next few weeks in determining the next steps for my independent study as well as my internship.  Also, for patience in language frustrations and relationship building, as well as humility in understanding my role here.


  1. Great to get an update on all your goings-on.. I'm so glad you got to visit with Abbie and that you had a weekend getaway. Lots of love and hugs, Mom

  2. I love that you played Oregon Trail in Haiti. Best game ever (tied with Zoombinis. Did you ever play that?) Definitely fits with the "explorer" theme.

  3. Rousing blog post. I'm jealous every time I get an update about your life. Glad you're blazing a trail and becoming more and more a part of Haiti. And I'm also glad no oxen were lost.
    (Also lots of hugs,)