We were in Haiti for four days scouting a fellow Episcopal church to partner with. Because of a four-hour flight delay and a paralyzing rainy traffic jam between Port au Prince and Carfourre, we were way behind schedule and still three hours from our destination in Torbeck.
That’s when we pulled up to the washed out bridge that had been out-of-commission since the earthquake. Most days there was a detour across the rocky riverbed, but because of the torrential rain that night, the detour was impassable.
Our guide called our destination to tell them we could not make it and to find out if there was a place nearby we could stay. Thirty minutes back towards Port au Prince there was an Episcopal hospital in Leogane. Calls were made. They indeed had room for us.
Electricity had been restored in Haiti since the election a few months back, but it’s intermittent by day and non-existent at night. When darkness falls it’s headlights, candles and flashlights. As we pulled into the dimly lit hospital, I felt like a character in a dusky dream.
The hospital had been damaged during the earthquake and under major construction on the guest floor. They hadn’t seen visitors in over a month. There was usually running water. Not today. We help cart construction dust-coated mattresses out of storage to our rooms and buckets of water to flush the toilet. We’re sweaty and tired, but there will be no shower tonight. My body pulsates with heat as I climb onto my mattress, but I give thanks for the overhead fan.
The plan was to rise at 5:30 and on the road by 6:00. I sleep restlessly and wake early. Word is there’s coffee brewing, so I head for the kitchen. As I pass the men’s bedroom, our leader walks out dazed, hands combing through his hair. “I think I’ve been robbed.” I follow him into his room. His small suitcase that had been gone through was sitting outside the door. His backpack, containing an I-Pad and our $3100 cash kitty for the driver, meals, and accommodations, was gone.
Knowing the hospital was walled and its entrance and our floor locked, he had cracked the door to his room for air. The guesthouse manager had failed to warn us of potential danger.
There’s nothing like a kitchen table in a time of trouble. As Fred and our Haitian-American priest friend, Judith, spend the morning at the police station, we sit around drinking percolated coffee and chatting with the St. Croix characters.
We learn that Leogane, the oldest city and former capital of Haiti, had lost close to 30,000 or ten percent of its population in the earthquake. The mass grave at the edge of town holds 10,000 people. Imagine. We also learn there’s not only a St Croix hospital, but a school and church as well, both of which were leveled in the earthquake.
Midmorning, Ayida, the Haitian cook arrives. She’s not expecting guests, but like any good cook she lays out a beautifully simple lunch from what she’s got—warm boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, plates of fresh pineapple and mangoes and hot dogs she’s cut to look like festive pom-poms.
Fred and Judith return for lunch with Pere Kerwin, the priest at St. Croix, who worked a little magic at the police station. And there was even a happy ending to the theft. Although Fred’s I-Pad was long gone, they found his day planner on the hospital’s abandoned third floor. In it was the envelope that held our precious kitty.
After lunch we viewed the church remains and visited the school. Despite the devastation, the church, hospital, and school are thriving under hardship. We don’t know if they will be our partners, but one thing we know. We were meant to spend the night in Leogane.
Kathy - Panini Happy says
That had to have been a meaningful trip for you – thanks for sharing it! Hope you’re able to find a church to partner with over there. My parents run a nonprofit that has been building an orphanage in Hinche, Haiti. It actually just opened a few months ago.
Thanks for sharing this, Mom. It’s quite a story. From my time and travels in Haiti I know that the hospitality is incredible. The people, warm and friendly and the food – delicious! Love these playful hotdogs. And the fact that everywhere around the world, the kitchen is the heart of the home.
What a story! Like Maggy said kitchen hospitality is alive and well all over the world. There’s nothing like a big table and a bottomless cup of coffee to make relationships happen. And I can only imagine how amazing that mango and pineapple must have tasted! I hope you got Ayida to teach you the hot dog technique! That’s cool!
And what a miracle you got the money back!
Such a great story! Although many Haitians have lost so much and live with so little, they share so selflessly! That is an area where I am constantly being challenged, recognizing my blessings and sharing them generously as they truly do not belong to me.
My mom used to make those hot dogs for us kids on camping trips! We called them Octopus Dogs!
Ha!Octopus Dogs, I love it!
Really a nice story.I bet you can make a really good short movie kind of thing out of it.