Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fool Me Once; Or, Leaving for a Haitian Land Tour

“Of course, the heat will be oppressive.  Last time, everyone got sick.  I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life.  Best we can figure, it was from the raw sewage we waded through on the path to the beach.” The minister (not to be confused with The Minister) paused, stroking his chin thoughtfully.  “Then there were the tarantulas.  We turned over an entire nest of them.  Just some of the things to be aware of.”

I had spent the past 20 minutes listening in fascinated horror as our Associate minister, serving in the capacity of Mission Trip Screener, outlined the particulars of a Haitian mission trip for which The Minister and I had signed up.  Aside from the earthquake aftermath, of which I had read analysis indicating that no visible progress had been made, I had felt reasonably prepared for a third world mission prior to the screening interview.  Having spent time in South African squatter camps, I had seen multi-generational families living in dirt floor huts.  Having eaten food stored in a rusty metal barrel and prepared over an open fire on a Mexican hillside, I knew that the vast majority of the earth’s meals aren’t FDA approved, and that can be a very good thing, indeed.

But I have to admit to leaving the interview for this particular mission with a feeling of resigned stoicism.  In fact, during a pre-trip visit with Dr. M for shots and the like, I stared at him in unmasked horror when he made an offhand reference to swimming.  “I certainly don’t see getting in the water for fun,” I retorted.

“Why not?” Dr. M, asked, puzzled.

“Why the raw sewage, of course,” I said, surprised by his ill-informed image of the Hispaniola region.  “Not to mention, the bodies,” I threw in, just in case he still wasn’t grasping the picture.  Although I put raw sewage in the verified hazard category, I will admit to improvising a bit on the bodies, but it seemed to me a reasonable conclusion that there would be limbs and torsos washing ashore on an hourly basis.

“You know,” Dr. M, said, casually,  “people actually do go to Haiti on vacation.  Just give it a chance.”

Heeding his advice, I threw a swimsuit in with the ill-fitting rags I packed as my Haitian wardrobe.  We had, after all, been informed that after we landed in a field of goats, our team and our luggage would be tossed into the back of a dump truck and transported to our base.

It was, then, rather ironic that it was 10-minutes into the dump truck ride that I realized that I was utterly in love with what I discovered to be a gorgeous paradise.  On a bumpy ride through palm trees and green-blue seascapes, and fishing villages, it became clear that I had been duped by a verbal slight of tongue, perhaps of the same brand of which I have occasionally been guilty.

And I still went.  Which was kind of the point.  The minister was, after all, functioning in the capacity of Mission Trip Screener, a job description that basically consists of the singular goal of “weeding out the tourists.”

So began one of the most exciting weeks of my life.  We worked on houses, painted nails, played with orphans, built friendships.

And, yes, we swam.  It crystalline turquoise water.

So when we discovered the opportunity to return this year, we didn’t hesitate.  Best of all, we’ve had the added benefit of anticipating the whole thing, as weren’t going to be fooled by any “scare tactics.”  We’re veterans, after all.  We’ve been there.  We know.

Which made it all the more jarring last night when we received some grim news at our pre-trip briefing. 

See Haiti is shaped kind of like this:

A plane some reference as the “blue goose,” but The Minister and I call the One With a Windsock for a Propeller, typically shuttles groups from the arrow (Port au Prince) to the circle (The Mole—our destination, which also happens to be where Columbus first landed.  Look it up.)

Due to a snafu beyond my comprehension,  the Blue Goose is migrating, minus, a windsock, or otherwise out of commission, and we will be taking a harrowing 8-16 hour land excursion in a bus not outfitted with facilities, adverse to stopping, and prone to frequent breakdown.  The associate minister assures us that it will be harrowing.

We passed a somber evening as the news settled upon us, but I woke up buoyed this morning (our Departure Day) by the sudden knowledge that we were likely nearly duped again.

I am sure the bus ride will be fabulous.  Land Tour of Haiti: Let’s do this!

(Check in with us all week here!)

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