On Monday, July 11, Fr. Stephen, Pat and David Smith, Elsie Garfield, and Steve Miles flew from Reagan National to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We connected through New York's Kennedy Airport. Flying Delta, the only flight for Haiti left Washington at 6:00 AM, and so we all arose between 3:00 and 4:00 AM to make our flight. (We have since learned that American has more and better timed flights through Miami. We just have to book early.) Our flight went smoothly, and on the leg to New York, Fr. Stephen explained to the flight attendants that we were on our way to Haiti. They gave us a bag of several hundred in-flight cookies to share with the children of Haiti when we arrived.
When you arrive in Haiti, you climb down the stairs onto the tarmac and take a nice air-conditioned bus to hell. Okay, not actually to hell, but to a place they call "baggage claim." It is a large, tin-roofed building that is very crowded, that has no insulation, and that is hotter than..., well, you get the idea. Life in baggage claim is chaotic, and we wondered if we would ever see all of our baggage again. Eventually, we did, and while we were waiting, we met Pere Ajax for the first time. Pere Ajax is the director of the partnership program that matches parishes in the United States with parishes in Haiti. He is also the director of the Bishop Tharp Institute and the rector of Ascension Parish in Beraud--the two Haitian institutions with which we were matched. Pere Ajax would be our host for the week, and we came to love and respect him. He was able to meet us in baggage claim because the guards knew him and allowed him in.
Once we had our bags, he whisked us out of the airport and to his waiting Toyota Land Cruiser. (A good four-wheel-drive is essential to navigating the roads of Haiti, and Epiphany Church in Atlanta had recently bought Pere Ajax the Land Cruiser to ferry him on his journey.) From the airport, we had a brief tour of Port-au-Prince, still marked by the devastation of the earthquakes. There were piles of uncleared rubble everywhere--not only in the street, but also within the compound of the Presidential Palace. We visited the Episcopal cathedral in Port-au-Prince, which consists of a nice marble floor, two partial, crumbled walls, and a tent covering rows of chairs as a temporary worship space. We passed tent cities that occupied parks and any open space. These must house well over one million people, and they are dangerous, squalid places. We saw people selling anything they could along the streets, and we passed several open air markets, where fresh and cooked food could be bought by the daring or the hungry.
Episcopal Cathedral Presidential Palace Rubble along the street
Open Air Market Street Scene
Soon it was time to leave Port-au-Prince and make the four-hour, 150 kilometer ride to Les Cayes, where we would be staying. The Bishop Tharp Institute (BTI) is located in Les Cayes. That it takes four hours to drive 150 kilometers tells you something about the roads in Haiti. What else can I tell you about the drive? The road was filled with Tap-taps (small pick-up trucks that serve as buses for about 15 people per truck), larger buses (every inch covered in colorful murals), motorcycles by the thousands, and people milling about just off or just on the road, carrying out their everyday life. Pere Ajax was a conscientious driver, and he honked constantly as he passed people at 70 miles per hour, letting them know not to step out in the road. The trip was an exciting, prayer-filled adventure made possible by equal parts faith in God and faith in Pere Ajax' driving.
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We arrived at our hotel at about 6:30 Central Time (Haiti doesn't observe daylight savings time) and were delighted to find that our rooms were clean, well air-conditioned, with ample running water, mosquito netting, and beds comfortable enough to sleep well on. For dinner, we had spicy Haitian cuisine (most had chicken, but one of us tried the goat) and cold beer. Nineteen hours into our long day, Fr. Stephen's suggestion of a Bible study was voted down, and we all retired to bed.