We made it to Miami, and then to Port-au-Prince, along with all our bags, on time. This is itself if a modern marvel. We stayed one night in Miami with Anne Langhorne, one of the loveliest people I know. She took us to Friday's after we asked for American comfort food- somewhere you don't have to look at the menu to know what you'll order. We had forgotten to rip our CD's onto iTunes, so she helped to give us lots of her music to encourage us.
Wednesday morning we went to the airport in Miami. They isolate departures for Haiti into its own set of check-in lines. We heard Kreyol for the first time. For the first of MANY times this week, we looked at each other and thought, 'Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!'
Our flight to Haiti was good. All intercom messages are in French and Kreyol- no English. The in-flight movie was Up, in English. We flew over a bunch of gorgeous green islands, and landed on one. We stood out like green people in the airport. Bag claim was a madhouse- they take all the bags off the conveyor belt and just put them on the ground, so you pick your way through hundreds of bags, no room to roll a bag or cart, everyone jumping over bags. About a thousand people tried to carry our bags for us, and we found Steve Hersey right away- the only blan (white person/foreigner) in the crowd. Its the dead of winter here and 90 degrees. We came on the busiest day of the year- New Years is also Haitian Independence Day, and its the biggest holiday in the country Bonn Annee (rhymes with Renee) means Happy New Year- our first new phrase:)
We got our first taste of Haitian driving up the Airport Road and then up Delmas. Its craaaaazy. No stoplights. No road signs. No road names marked. No paved roads- all roads are broken up rocks. We were in a Land Rover, but still no match for these bumpy roads. Its like a safari all the time. You fight your way through. Like India, but less honking. Kids begging at the window- little boys who are runaway restaveks (see entry from earlier this week to learn about these modern day child slaves in Haiti). The streets are packed- no sidewalks, people selling things on every inch of the streets, people walking everywhere.
We saw the school. It's wonderful! Big gate and wall all the way around, guards at the front open the gate when you drive up. Several two-story buildings- office building, high school (7-12) building, elementary building, apartment building (4 apartments), snack shop (where they make everyone's daily lunch). Big soccer field, big basketball court. Mostly painted yellow. Air-conditioned classrooms, with whiteboards. There's a library with 10,000 books. It's a very happy place. We met Mirna, the office manager. Saw the mailboxes where we'll get our mail.
We're staying at the Director of the school Steve Hersey's house. He's just one block from our new house, just two blocks from the school (though block is a relative term....streets aren't straight, or paved). Steve has two kids -Suzanna is 12 and Sebastian is 7. They are big, big readers. Sebastian is hilarious- like the little boy in the movie Stepmom. Mrs. Hersey is Ruth, and she speaks French fluently. She grew up an MK in Kenya, Steve grew up an MK in Japan. They've been here since '93. Their house is three stories and we're in Sebastian's room for this week until our house is ready. We eat every meal in the courtyard. Sebastian held a magic show last night. We drink a lot of hot tea. Steve made us Japanese curry the first night, and today we had Soup Joumou, a pumpkin/gourd vegetable soup that brings prosperity on the New Year- its like turkey on Thanksgiving, a cultural must. They took us to eat at Canne Sucre the first day, a sugar plantation/colonial museum/restaurant with peacocks and chickens walking around- I had cheese pizza:)
The second day was New Years Eve, and all Haitians were getting ready to party. Roads and stores were packed. We went to two furniture stores and the school bought us a bed, side tables, dresser, kitchen table, six chairs, stove, and fridge for our house. It is new, so it wasn't furnished yet. Steve went with us/drove, and Mirna was our Kreyol negotiator/The Heavy. All buying involves bargaining in most other countries, I imagine here isn't much different. Some men delivered everything and we went inside the house for the first time. We love it! It is #10, but the street isn't marked. Its two "blocks" from the school. Two stories, bright white. Pink bouganvillia (sp?) growing in the courtyard, big white gate, razor wire on every surface, bars on every window. When you go in, you immediately go up a flight of stairs. On your left is our kitchen, in front of you a big living room, then on the far side of the living room are three bedrooms. The master has really high ceilings. All windows are open all the time, with good screens (intact!). The floor is a tan tile, all the walls are white. No air conditioning, no hot water, but an inverter was installed yesterday so we'll be able to run the fridge all the time, and fans all night. The furniture they bought us is lovely- honestly its probably nicer/more solid quality wood than the Ikea/Target/hand-me-down blend we loved in our apartment at the Village in Dallas.
Some furniture came built, but we put together the chairs (no power tools!) and bed frame. "Queen" is apparently not standardized here, so our new queen mattress wasn't the same size as our queen bed frame:). Househelp is often shared here, and we're next door to another missionary family named "The Smiths" who we haven't met yet since they're out of town for the holidays. For a long time they've used a man for general help, errands named Abraham, so as their next door neighbor we kind of inherit him too. Its the dry, dusty season, so there is a BIG layer of dust every day (since windows are always open). Apparently in Haitian culture mopping is considered a man's work, so Abraham mopped our floor and cleaned all the countertops in the kitchen, and he swept our porch. We haven't paid for anything yet- the school/Steve is setting us up. For instance they bought us our first big container of propane (we have a gas stove) and four big Culligan bottles of water, and at the grocery store they got us toilet paper and soap and dish soap. We'll probably move in this weekend.
Ahhhh the grocery store..... we feel 10 times more confident after having seen the Eagle Market. Its the "second nicest" grocery store in Port-au-Prince, but its the one within walking distance, and it is great. It's no Walmart, but they have most product we would want (though perhaps not the brands or variety). There are apparently lots of Arabs, particularly Syrians, in PAP, so this grocery store has lots of packages in Arabic. Apparently its kind of random what's in stock, so we've been told if you ever see Dr. Pepper, buy every can they have, since you never know when it'll be back. Hysterical fact: the Syrian consulate is inside the Eagle Market. No joke. What a great place to seek asylum if need be!
Last night we went to a New Years Eve party at a couple's home who teaches math at Quisqueya. She's Belgian, he's Dutch. Their oldest son is in college in the Netherlands, their daughter is a senior at Quisqueya. Several other students and teachers were there. They live about 40 minutes up the mountain. We're not as far north as I thought- not quite in Petionville (the rich neighborhood). But, we drove through Petionville on the way and honestly I couldn't tell where one stopped and PAP began. They look the same. It was cold up there, and lots of people move their for the cooler temperatures. Last night was hard to sleep, because Haitians party all night on New Years Eve. Gunshots and fireworks at midnight, and music late into the night- a mix of US pop, Tejano, and Caribbean/Haitian music.
We found out what we're teaching! Ben's doing Comparative Government, World History, Psychology, and Sociology (all high school). I'm doing Speech, Geography, Theater (team teaching with another lady), and 9th grade English. My first Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author. Fortunately I've read that book several times- in 10th grade English, in college World Government- so I'm excited. It's about a Nigerian tribesman and farmer who witnesses the first Westerners coming into and influencing his culture, and I imagine the themes will translate well here. Steve and Ruth Hersey have been wonderful to talk to about teaching- they are both very, very smart and passionate about education. Ruth teaches in the junior high, Steve teaches also in addition to being the director. I hung out with several Quisqueya alumni last night at the party, and they talked about various teachers - its clear they really like their teachers. There was an interesting crowd last night- one man is an RN working as a general practitioner at a rural clinic up in the mountains, one couple who runs an orphanage up the mountain, one man who runs the Reformed World Relief, one man who came here with the diamond industry and stayed to work for Nestle, a whole team of college students from Anderson University in Illinois who came to install solar panels on an orphanage, an elderly man on his 10th trip to Haiti who runs a Christian camp in Ohio and who's traveling to Sky Ranch next week......
We're feeling very blessed. No freak-outs yet. To quote the famous theologian Aladdin, it's a whole new world! Stay tuned:)