So I read the stories, got the vaccines, packed the bags, and headed to Haiti. I knew that the team was planning to work on a guest house, help with vacation Bible school, and pass out Bibles. Still, I remained unsure about the trip. What story was I heading towards?
Our travel plans had us changing planes in Miami – the following morning. So 17 hours after leaving Kentucky we were still in the United States. A lull before the storm. This was time for the team to finally meet one another. I wanted to share the stories I had read and see what others thought. However, everyone else was talking about their excitement to serve – they were on board with the story of heading on a mission trip. There weren’t a lot of questions. At this point, it didn’t seem the place to redirect the team’s attention. I was the one on the outside of this story. So, I sat back and watched.
The flight into Haiti was uneventful. Then we landed and saw the destruction that still hadn’t been repaired following the earthquake. Here was the place where planes had been backed up after the earthquake. We were familiar with these stories. Navigating into the chaos of the airport and to our waiting van was like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool and frantically swimming to stay afloat. Surrounded by people crowding in on us, we had to stay with the team. Eventually we were outside. The caribbean sun beat down as we waited for the van and people to load our 18+ bags. While waiting I watched – UN troops, airport ‘employees’ looking for work, people waiting for family, vehicles parked randomly in the lot, chaotic driving patterns, dust. How would I keep all this in my head? What does it mean? What’s the story here?
Driving to Jacmel provided another time to listen for the story. First we encountered crawling traffic through Port-au-Prince. All arteries were backed up. We just had to wait. The narrow roads were full of cars, taptaps (buses), and motor bikes. Some of the roads were well-paved, others had gullies that could serve as pools. People were everywhere – walking, selling, living. Seas of tents filled every large, open space. Crumbling buildings, including the National Palace, were the backdrop to this scene. The cathedral looked like a ruined abbey; however, instead of being demolished by the edict of a king, an earthquake took this one. Booksellers were amidst vendors of all other products along the sidewalks. The inertia was apparent.
Slowly we made the way out and started up the mountains. Roads were before us – narrow and winding, but free of traffic. With our windows now open, I continued to watch out the window seeing the beautiful, though deforested mountainsides. Several times team members made comments about how resourceful people the people were who created the terraced farming. Maybe, but there is a larger story beyond what we saw. Wouldn’t it be better to have retained most of the forests to help prevent erosion and land slides?
Throughout this drive questions kept coming to mind as I watched the scenery pass by and tried to take pictures of the valleys below. I yearned to capture the stories behind the views but knew that I would always miss. Miss the photo as the van drove faster than my fingers and eyes could connect with the camera, but, more importantly, miss truly connecting with the lives of the people we passed.