Monday, June 25, 2012

Women's singing . . fresh from Haiti

Seigneur mwe pa kapab at Women's Conference
Enjoy the singing of area women at the semi annual Dorcas retreat.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I need a break following our recent "vacation"

It's understood that those of us who live on support or work for non-profits try to be careful with funds and/or use time and resources as wisely as possible, right?   So when my husband was asked to meet some folks in Puerta Plata to discuss possibilities of training Haitian church members, we both figured it would be a good chance to get some R&R, too.  So we left home Monday morning and drove to the northern border town of Ouanaminthe.  We arrived in the coastal resort town of Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic about 6 hours after leaving home.  Caleb had meetings that evening and the next day while our teenage daughter and I lounged at a beach front resort.  The Dominican Republic is well known for inexpensive resorts, especially the all inclusive packages.  So we ate pizza, enjoyed the all you can food bars and pools.  The AC was a big hit for all of us.
Between Caleb's meetings, he took our ministry vehicle to get some service done.  These poor cars have been driven over 45,000 miles in the 3 years we've had them, most of it off road.  Following the earthquake in 2010 they made almost constant trips to the capital doing evacuations and hauling in supplies.  All that to say they've seen their better days and are requiring more maintenance.  Between all of the meetings and car repairs, Caleb did manage to sit by the pool for about 15 minutes between phone calls.  Oh, well.
     Thursday AM we woke up early planning to do some grocery shopping before heading home.  Also Caleb had made arrangements for two Dominican mechanics to travel with us to service some of the school buses and trucks which were in Haiti.   As we headed to pick them up, we noticed immediately the car wasn't running well.  Hate when that happens after getting service.  We found out that a connector to the fuel pump needed replacing and were able to arrive in the larger city of Santiago.  There the mechanics got to work and told Caleb it would be best to leave the next day.  So my daughter and I again waited at a hotel and happily dined at TGIFriday's for lunch, enjoying their enormous burgers.  Caleb came with a loaner car from the mechanic so we could do some shopping and also planned to get a check up with his doctor in the evening.  After looking at equivalent of a super-Walmart, I planned what to get the next day prior to departure.  By then it was 3 PM so Caleb wanted to drop us off back at the hotel so he could get to his appointment.
     Just after crossing a 6 lane interchange, the loaner car died.  I remarked that the gas gauge looked a little low while my husband practiced some new Spanish vocabulary. "I just put 700 pesos of fuel in it" he said in English.  I didn't say anything about the current exchange rate.    We were stuck blocking several lanes of traffic and he told me to steer while he tried to push the car out of the way.  Calling to some passing by Haitian boys, we created quite a sight for gawkers as we tried to move the poor Toyota out of the way.  Just then a large water tanker truck pulled up in front of us and tied it's hose and hauled us out of the line of traffic about 500 ft.  By this time I had gotten out to push the car as well, so my husband was screaming, "get in, get in".  Happily I managed to throw myself into the front seat before it picked up too much speed.
Whew, we got the car out of the traffic and managed to park it in the shade.
     Sadly, Caleb had left his cell phone with the mechanic's phone number back at the hotel, so he told us to wait and he'd get back to the hotel by taxi, get his phone and then call the mechanic.  He gave me the key to hold in case the mechanic got there first.  After he left I realized I didn't know what the mechanic looked like so I hoped noone came up asking for the car keys in the meantime.  Poor daughter and I sat in the shade watching folks sell fresh pineapple and coconut juice.  It was sad because as she looks Dominican everyone thinks she can speak Spanish but she can't. . .creates awkward situations at times.   Mixed kid problems!
     About 15 minutes later, Caleb returned, got us in a taxi and switched places.  I was happy to leave (sorry, honey!) and get back to the AC hotel (this is a vacation after all) when I promptly fell asleep.  Eventually Caleb called with a good report from his doctor and news that the loaner car had been out of gas.       Almost twenty years of marriage does teach one to roll your eyes out of sight, I mean, it was over now, right?  Not quite.
     The next day we had an appointment with the two intrepid mechanics who were traveling back to Haiti with us for 9:30 AM.  Now, the relative heat in the Dominican Republic seems to effect workers there about as it does in Haiti.  Around 12:15 they finally showed up with the car working (yes, the AC was fixed, at least for awhile).  We ran to make our last minute purchases and starting running for the border, which generally closes around 4:30 PM.  About an hour away, Caleb notices the AC has stopped working and I'm really wondering about the wisdom of taking these mechanics to Haiti.  Still, it's too late to turn around now and they are still willing to go.  We grabbed some fast food (chicken and rice in plastic boxes) no colorful names this time at the border town.  Our traveling companions decided to make some last minute purchases. Apparently they hadn't been told we still had another three hours to drive and a closing border.
     Finally we turned the last corner approaching the fence and border control to see about a dozen full sized big rigs hauling 4 foot circumference cement pipes into Haiti.  My first thought, well, that will help someone!  Caleb began to panic that we wouldn't cross in time and said, "Here, you drive! I'll start processing the paperwork."  I replied, "Where exactly?" (darn women we just want some specific directions)
As he's running to the Dominican immigration, he yells, "just give that piece of paper to the men at the gate."
Slowly easing our land cruiser into the line of traffic towards the right hand side of the road, I avoided crushing the merchants pushing their wheel barrows towards the bridge/border.  I watched the temperature indicator on the car, praying that it wouldn't overheat as we waited in the line.  About 15 minutes later, we approached the Dominican soldiers who happily took the paper and waved me along.  We crept passed several UN patrols standing there.  They didn't want to do anymore than I did in this 100 plus degree heat.  As we approached the bridge, the line of traffic slows and suddenly our car is surrounded by about 10 Dominican immigration officers(?) asking what we were doing taking the two guys riding along.  Of course, my husband has our family's passports with him and I don't speak Spanish.  It doesn't help that my daughter looks Dominican as they ask her for explanation.   They ask the poor mechanics who are just trying to do a job or anyway, they didn't offer much help.  After yelling at each other for a few minutes, I pull over the car and start trying to dial my husband's cell phone and suggest he come back and deal with this debacle.  No answers, try to text him.  Finally find one of the Dominican guys who speaks a bit of Kreyol and try to explain.  No one wants to let the poor mechanics go to Haiti to work.  I finally tell the mechanics to wait at this section and I'll go and get Caleb who's now at the Haitian immigration side.  At this border at least, everyone is just concerned someone might get more money than the next official.  No one cares what we have in the car or mentions the word, terrorist.  Ah, this is what life used to be like everywhere.
    My husband shows up and tells everyone he's going to get the permits after he crosses with the workers into Haiti (as he should).  As he hops in the passenger side and tells me to keep driving, he says all the guys/officials just wanted some money. (it's almost time for happy hour).  As we cross the border other Dominican officials jokingly tease Caleb that they knew the car wasn't his because now I'm driving, he grabs me and gives me a big kiss just to say it's all his.  Machismo in the Caribbean.
     After sitting at the Haitian immigration side for 10 more minutes, we finally head out in the setting sun towards Cap Haitien, the northern city in Haiti.  It's really striking how much more beautiful Haiti is than the Dominican (sorry, it's the truth) even with all the hassle of traveling.  We stop in the city to fix the AC and grab a cool drink.  It wouldn't do to have your spouse dehydrate on the way home.  As the sun is setting at close to 7 PM, we are driving higher and higher into the mountains toward home.  The eyes of the mechanics are getting bigger and bigger as they realize we still have along way to go.
Getting a break is nice, but as my Haitian father in law commented to me today, "Now you need a vacation from your trip."   Ah, it's just how it is.