Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Coordinating Relief Efforts from Tampa

For the past week and a half Jack and I have been helping HBHH send aid to earthquake victims in Haiti. So far, HBHH has sent one medical team down on a private plane. Tomorrow another group of doctors will fly down to take their place. I saw pictures for the first time today from the first team--child after child with amputated limbs, burn victims, etc. So horrible.

The good news is that we'll soon be sending a 40' container filled with food and medicine. We'll be sending a second 40' container filled with food shortly after. For those of you in and around Tampa, we can use some help managing our warehouse. If you're interested, let us know!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Fleeing Haiti

 Scene: Cap Haitien Airport (image below)

Thursday, shortly after writing our last post, HBHH decided to pull Jack and I out of Haiti. They booked plane tickets for us to fly out of Cap Haitien on Saturday (the 16th).

So much has happened since then--reconciling ourselves to leaving Haiti, saying goodbye to all our friends in Ste. Suzanne, giving away all our food, packing yet again, closing up the house, and then flying out of Haiti. We'll have to write about all that in another post.

The calm we experienced Thursday in Cap Haitien had evaporated by Saturday. All Haitian banks are centered in Port au Prince; consequently, banks throughout the rest of the country have been closed since Tuesday. No one is able to access their accounts. Unless you have cash on hand, you have nothing.

Word in Cap Haitien was that President Preval is insane. He has yet to address the country.

A severe gas shortage was developing as well.  Thursday we filled up the truck on our way back to Ste Suzanne without trouble. Saturday all the gas stations were mobbed with vehicles of all types, motorcycles, and crowds of people with empty gas cans and plastic containers. As Fr. Medenel drove us to the airport, he worried about getting gas for the return trip to Ste Suzanne.

We arrived at the airport by noon and everything looked good for our three o'clock flight on Lynx Air/ FCA. Everything was on time, our bags were checked, we had our boarding passes. It would be a full flight, since the airport had been closed the day before while the US took over air control in Haiti.

As we waited with the other groups of Haitians and Americans waiting to leave for the US, we discovered that the flight to Fort Lauderdale had been canceled on Thursday as well. However, HBHH was on the phone with Lynx headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale and everything was still a go. At three o'clock the plane hadn't arrived. At four o'clock the airport lost power and immigration officers left. At five o'clock the flight was canceled.

Our international cell phone hadn't worked all day except for text messages. We were unable to reach our friends in Cap Haitien and Ste Suzanne. Another American couple found a taxi and asked us if we wanted to share it to the Hotel Christophe. We did. Aside from being massively overcharged, the ride was fine. We passed gas stations more packed than before and asked our driver how he fueled his car. He brought back his gas from the Dominican Republic.

Mercifully we had enough cash for the hotel. We arrived half an hour before the other Americans who were barely able to scrape together enough money to stay the night. Some of them had been going through this routine for days.

The next morning we headed to the airport early, having heard a rumor of an unannounced early flight. The hotel graciously agreed to find us a taxi, but the people they called were unable to help since they had run out of gas. The receptionist found a taxi outside the hotel--an tattered Toyota Corolla. We squeezed in the back along with all our bags and the driver's brother. The driver's two buddies shared the front passenger seat. The brother had been waiting by a gas station hoping to fill a plastic barrel without success. Ten minutes from the airport, the car died in the middle of a muddy hole. They popped the hood, fiddle around, and manage to get it running again.

We arrived at the airport before nine, determined to camp out there as long as it took to get on a flight.  Half of the group from Saturday was already there waiting. They had been told that they would fly out at ten a.m. but to keep it quiet from other passengers. The rest of us would fly out at two p.m. By ten o'clock there was no plane and still no airline employees. A few of us tracked them down a few buildings over. They told us that there was only one flight after all. It would leave at one o'clock and there were only eleven seats available. After three days of canceled flight, far more than eleven passengers had tickets for Ft. Lauderdale. Jack and I were certainly not highest priority.

An inter-island airline, Air Turks and Caicos, had a flight to Caicos at 11:30. At 11:15 HBHH texted us to "get out however you can." We managed to buy two tickets, with the last of our cash, and recheck our bags just in time. Six other Americans were already boarding, two others tried to buy tickets but didn't have enough cash.

Half an hour later we were in Caicos. Two hours later we were on a US Airways jet to Charlotte.

This morning I called Lynx offices to check if the flight had ever left for Fort Lauderdale yesterday. It had not; indeed, a plane never arrived in Haiti and those who waited for it yesterday are still waiting. Lynx claimed that the flight would leave today at two p.m.

I just got off the phone with the airline again. The plane has still not arrived in Cap Haitien; now they say it will leave Haiti at 5:15. 

I hope that this is true.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two Days After the Earthquake

The town of Ste. Suzanne got to a late start today; everything in the North seems a little slower during the rainy season even now after the earthquake. Tuesday morning, Jack and I had arranged to buy food today in Cap Haitian--the largest city in Haiti after Port au Prince.  Fritz, our driver-on-loan, was to arrive "after breakfast." Usually this means around 7:30- 8 o'clock. He arrived at 10.

Anouse (who has returned to the rectory in good health) was coming too, but at 10 she wasn't quite ready. While waiting, her daughter (Dada) and I played Blind Man's Bluff until she tripped over the dog. Hilarity ensued.

The four of us at last made our way to Cap, and the scenery was the same only wetter. There was talk in the car as we all exchanged the little knowledge we had of Port au Prince (Fr. Jean is fine!). The radio played Celine Dion per usual, interspersed with personal messages like "To Claude in village X, everyone is okay, the whole family is fine."

Half expecting mobs of people buying food and a depleted market, everything was incredibly calm in Cap Haitian. In fact, when we stopped for lunch there were slight shortages not because of the earthquake but because of the rain.

People here have always talked of the "Republic of Port au Prince" as opposed to the rest of Haiti. It seems as those this distinction holds--at least in the North--during the earthquake crisis. Through and through, it's business as usual punctuated only by sadness and worry for family and friends near disaster area.

Perhaps there is chaos in the rest of Haiti, but it has not reached Cap Haitian or Ste. Suzanne. The calm here contrasts greatly with the frightening news we see on various news sites. The devastation in Port au Prince is surely vast, but not all of Haiti is undone. You can still fly to Cap Haitian easily enough!

We'll continue our updates in the upcoming days,


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake Update

We keep hearing terrible news from Port au Prince--everyone in the UN headquarters is believed dead, the Bishop in Port au Prince died, the National Palace is badly destroyed along with the cathedral. Having been to Port au Prince and seen the slums there, I know the devastation must be vast.

Most everyone in Haiti uses Digicel for cell phone service; there are few land lines. Digicel has been down since yesterday so no one in Ste. Suzanne knows anything about their family and friends in Port au Prince and the surrounding areas.

After hearing about the bishop, Jack and I are terribly worried about our friend Fr. Jean who lives in the same rectory complex.

For those of you who've tried calling or texting us, know that our phones are just down and that we're still okay.

Also, Catholic Relief Services has pledged $5 million in aid to victims of the earthquake; they've been doing great work in Haiti for years. I know some of you are looking for places to send donations, this would be a good organization. I'll let you know of others as I hear more.

We're so appreciative of all the prayers and concern. Please keep praying for those affected by the earthquake.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010


About 20 minutes ago, Andrea and I were in our living room enjoying a little respite from mold, leaky ceilings, spiders, etc.

Then there was an earthquake.

Literally. We first felt the house begin to shake, like a big truck had parked under our house. However, there was no sound of a motor. The shaking increased and we started to hear our plates and cups rattling. I remembered learning in grade school that doorways were the place to be during an earthquake (growing up in Wisconsin, I don't know if this is true...). We opened the door and quickly walked downstairs. Our house is on the second story of a garage built against the edge of a ravine. The boy next door at the rectory pointed at our house and said something we couldn't understand. Once the initial shaking stopped, we went back inside and looked up "Earthquake" in our dictionary. The boys at the rectory confirmed, Ste Suzanne does get earthquakes sometimes, but they normally are not dangerous. They also couldn't stop laughing because one of the girls (Berlina) had started running in fright and tripped!

Even as I am writing this, we are still feeling tremors.

Apparently, there was a 7.0 magnitude earthquake near Port-Au-Prince, Haiti's capital. It is far away to our south, so we are fine.

Please keep those near the epicenter in your prayers.

Jack and Andrea

What to Do When a Giant, Lightning-Quick Spider Enters Your House and Hides Under Your Couch?

Kill it with wasp spray! (shoots up to 40 feet)

Works every time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Fun with Mold

Today my toothbrush was green!


First Day of School! (or Rain Drops Keep Fallin' on My Head)

Today is the first day of the second semester of school. Everyone had a long break for Christmas and New Years. Now with polished shoes and pressed uniforms kids are getting ready to go back to school.

Only there is a problem: It is raining. I asked one of the girls at the rectory, Sonny, is she was excited for school, and she said that school would be closed today due to rain. It isn't even raining hard. However, she pointed out that many students have a long walk (sometimes an hour) and they don't want to get their uniforms dirty or wet. Growing up in Wisconsin, we barely ever had school closed, even for snow. But we had paved roads, rain coats, umbrellas, and, in a pinch, Mom to drive us to school. Our learning could continue uninterrupted day after day, giving us a sense of stability and routine.

Andrea and I have already seen many obstacles to a child's schooling in Haiti - tuition, unpaid teachers, lack of school supplies, and lack of sufficient school space. After adding "Rain" to that list, I marvel even more at the effort of those who have "made it."


PS: The picture is (from the left) Sonny, Noye, and Berlina doing laundry. Noye wasn't really doing laundry, he just wanted his picture taken!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Adoration in Haiti

Check out our first video blog!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Our Return to Haiti

Jack and I returned to Haiti yesterday. Our plane flew in very low over Cap Haitian to avoid a storm, and we saw whole sections of houses along the coasts covered in water. We had heard that there were two rainy seasons in Haiti, but only ever seen the summer version. This one seems far worse, as the rain has been falling day and night with little sun. Roads are a mass of clay and water, and as the rain falls down the mountains and into the sea, clay and mud is mixed with it.

When we arrived in Ste. Suzanne, two surprises lay in wait. The first--Anouse, the housekeeper at the rectory, our friend, and our source of support here, has been sick. She's gone, staying in another town in her own home and we don't know if she'll get better or if she'll return. The second--our house is covered in mold. It's difficult to describe how big a problem this is. All the furniture in the house is covered with it. All our linens, towels, and clothes. We will have to wash everything, but since it's been raining so much I have no idea how we'll get it dry. Our bed was spared, thank God. Only the mattress cover and pillows were moldy so last night Jack and I slept in our clothes on the bare mattress.

I've been advised to keep the entries short, so I'll conclude here. Be assured that we miss you all!