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  • Tom Stein

January Haiti Visit

January 17th

Just picked up another bottle of Permethrin spray for my clothes at REI. Great insect repellent for the trip to Haiti. Have been using it and recommending it for years now. Ever since my run in with the Chikungunya virus. Packing up for a solo trip this time around. Will be taking a few laptop computers to donate, but other donation will wait for next trip. Looking for a source for sunglasses and dental hygiene supplies. Anyone know an organization that could help with these items? Getting my fill of salads at Sweet Tomatoes for lunch. Not a lot fresh vegetables in country.

Looks like a busy first few days. I leave Sunday, arrive Monday.

Monday, meeting with Help4Haiti on collaboration.

Tuesday, site visit at Help4Haiti's future grass farm, meeting with a notary and land owner in Hinche.

Wednesday, visit the farm and survey the land.

Thursday, visits in Mirebalais and back to Port Au Prince.

Friday and Saturday, meetings with bishop Pierre Andre Pierre, of Notre Dame University Haiti, to continue conversation about collaboration and scholarships.

Head home Sunday, back in Portland Monday.

I'll be posting about the daily events when I have internet access.

Keep the prayers going for a successful trip and for BonZeb's mission to give a d hand up to the people of Haiti.

January 20th

About ready to board my flight to Port au Prince, Haiti, via New York City. Hmm, 14° or 95°, which do I prefer. Praying that the weather lifts a bit so I can make in and out in the 59 minutes the airline is giving me. It'll be a real test for the knees.

Looks like everything's falling into place for meetings tomorrow afternoon and Tuesday through Thursday. Usually, there is not a dull moment while I'm in country. This trip is shaping up the same way. Already met two other missionaries headed to the island. Might have a chance to talk on the plane. I am not a good sleeper when strapped to a seat at 35,000 feet. Total eclipse of the Blood Wolf Moon tonight. Wonder if I'll catch a peek.

The Haitian phone is charging as I sit here. That will good upon arrival. Could only take two laptops this trip. Too heavy with everything else I need to take. Next time with a bigger group, we can take the other equipment we need to get onsite.

Please pray for the pilots and flight crews that are operating tonight. Get everyone home safely.

11:00pm: Guess who hasn't left Portland yet. Connecting flight was late. Delay #1. Coffee machine broken in cabin. Delay #2. Maintenance can't be found. Delay #3. Captain is timing out and a replacement can't be found. Delay #4.

I did have an hour from the initial arrival time to the departure time for my connecting flight to Port au Prince. Now that we are an hour and twenty minutes behind in the boarding process here and still no movement from maintenance, who thinks I'm in Haiti tomorrow. ?

That 14° is going to be cold. I packed my windbreaker in my carry on when they asked to check it to speed up boarding. It will be in to Haiti before I get to see it again.

Like we always say when going on mission prepare for the unexpected. Duh!

The airport is closing down and the heat is off. Hmm.

January 21st

Day 2. About to board once again. Better rested this morning. Same place, same crew, same passengers as last night.

The delay will cost me one day in Haiti. Would be there now if the delay hadn't happen. Now I get to spend the night in New York. 6:00am departure tomorrow, weather permitting. 4:00am check in. Ugh!

Still only have a light coat for the trip. Hopefully, Jetblue will give me a voucher for a room tonight, if there is still a room available due to storm we will be flying into.

Please keep the prayers coming. God has the plan, even when it is not apparent to us. You never know what blessings will come from adversity. As my dad used to say "be flexible", everything will work out.

Guess what? Flight crew arrived late and then they had to finish the maintenance from last night. We are now looking at another hour long delay.

Let's see what else God has in mind for this trip. I met another Haiti bound traveler yesterday and had an opportunity to talk a little about her sewing project in Kenscoff. The team makes medical scrubs. See God does work. The 7th grade group from Salem decided not to check any of their bags, greatly slowing down the boarding process. Sitting next to an excited preteen.

Look like we are all on board. Time to go.

God's love to you all. Thank you for your prayers and words of support.

January 22nd

Bags are rechecked. Trip from hotel was not as cold as last night. -11° with the wind chill as I left the airport and had to stand in the wind for 20 minutes waiting for the shuttle. 11:00pm to 3:00am, four hours of being prone. Nice break, but not enough sleep.

Took hours of standing in line waiting for an agent to get my boarding pass for today and meal vouchers and hotel vouchers and then, by the time I made it to baggage claim, my bags were missing. They were in lost luggage and I was able to retrieve them for the night. This meant hauling them through the terminal to the train and then to the shuttle. 1.4 miles walking yesterday, just in airports.

Flight leaves a 6:00am and on arrival we will be headed directly to Hinche and a meeting with the landowner and notary to write up the sales contract. Big day in the life of BonZeb.

Thank you Lord for making these possible.

January 23rd

Day three. Actually, day one in Haiti. After a false start on Sunday, I made it to NYC last night and had an early morning flight to Port au Prince this morning, 24 hours late and sleep deprived. Only 3 hours in bed last night. Took from 7:45 arrival until 11:30 to be checked into my room, which I left at 3am to get back to airport for my flight.

After a smooth check in I sat at gate 21 like my boarding pass stated, charging my phones and eating breakfast. Then when the boarding time came, no one was at the gate. I decided to use the boys room. Saw on the board my flight was now at gate 12, never heard the announcement. Walked to the end of the terminal. Walked right onto the plane. Then sat and watched the circus that is travel to Haiti.

Much like the day before when a school group from Salem thought they'd save on arrival if no one checked a bag, no matter how big, and took at least 20 extra minutes boarding. They found a bag sticking out 8 inches in the overhead bin is not okay. Wonder how that went on arrival.

Haitians are very similar in the luggage choices. Some awful interesting parcels make it onto the planes. I'm not sure how some got through check-in, much less security. And who says I can only have two items. I can handle 5, 6. They hit the bins all over the plane not realizing or not caring that upon arrival they need push through rows upon rows of passengers slowing down the exit from the plane.

More tomorrow. Can't keep my eyes open.

Spoiler alert: we close on the land this afternoon at 5:00.

January 24th

Morning has broken on day four. Yesterday was a long day and I am feeling the toll today. Good night's sleep, but still feeling tired. Some good Haitian coffee is in order this morning.

Yesterday, we accomplished the goal of our trip. We completed the purchase of 1.6 acres of land in Benico. Today, we will take a survey of the land to be filed with the government and then we can begin construction of the site which will include, in the long term, our manufacturing plant for converting our grass to charcoal, an office, a guest house, and a formation center for educating those interested in partnering with us.

Speaking of that, we were able to reschedule our meeting with Help4Haiti and pastor Olistin Estecoeur who wants to support his orphanage in Onaville by collaborating with BonZeb on their land. We will meet tomorrow with him and Louis Chalmers, the president of Help4Haiti, who is in country this week as well.

The 80° change in temperature yesterday did a number on me and probably contributed greatly to the long rest last night. We arrived about half a hour ahead of schedule and my bags came quickly. I found myself outside the airport before my scheduled arrival time. This meant acclimating while waiting for Jovenel Dubois who was stuck in traffic -- no surprise there -- and Jean Othuco Anaxe to arrive.

The drive was interrupted by a flat tire, a stop at the bank -- never a short process -- and beautiful vistas under blue skies. We arrived in Hinche at 3:30, not 1:00 like we'd planned, but everyone was present. After introductions, which I suggested, I met Fritzner's wife and two brothers. The notary then commenced writing out the contract and bill of sale, by hand. He concluded by saying he had conducted his due diligence, and the sale could be finalized and payment made in full.

At our banking session in the morning, we discussed how much cash we would need for what we thought was the first step of the process. We did not bring the total amount. That would be a lot of cash to carry halfway across the island. So we gave a 10% down payment, which let Fritzner pay the fee to the notary. We will head to the bank again this morning to transfer more funds to Hinche to cover the balance.

We spent last night at a Hotel Maguana in Hinche. After a light breakfast we are on our way. Let today's adventure commence.

Today went very smoothly, until we got back to Port au Prince an hour and a half ago. Should have known. Its Wednesday, market day in Haiti. All the little villages we passed through had their markets open. Open markets mean everyone in the area with anything sell comes out to the plaza, or in Port au Prince, any and every street corner. People were flowing into the streets with produce, cattle, chickens, pigs and piglets, horses, donkeys, burros, and every other vehicle available. It causes great congestion in a city known for daily congestion.

We dropped Jean Othuco Anaxe off on the highway near his home and parish and then hit the market snag. Six or seven kilometers in two hours. Six or seven kilometers to go before we reach our housing for the night.

But back to the start of the day. We met with the landowner and the surveyor in Benico. The road seemed a little worst this trip. But we made it in one piece.

The first step was to walk the entire site, 3 acres, and decide which piece of it we wanted. Not wanting to make the family have to move their home, we picked the eastern side.

Step two: using a ruler and calculator, draw lines at various points and measure the lengths and calculate areas until the it adds up to half a carreaux, about 1.6 acres.

Step 3: walk the new piece of property with sticks and a measuring tape. I gave up when the team veered into a jungle of cacti and thorny scrub plants. A path was cleared by machete wielding volunteers and the process was finished in about two hours.

Having signed the agreement based on the pencil marks on the map, I was disappointed to find that the last measurement went straight to the house, one foot from the front door. No we won't be asking Fritzner and his family to move two feet to the west.

Our visit to the bank went much quicker than in Port au Prince yesterday. Another nice piece to the day and glad we did it, because our volunteers expected compensation and were paid promptly for their labor.

We treated ourselves to lunch in Mirebalais. Fried lamb, plantains, white rice with bean sauce. It was great.

Now hopefully we get to our home for the next few days and a cleansing cold shower and some rest. Tomorrow brings Help4haiti and a look at at least two potential farm site. Our agronomist FanFan and Anaxe will accompany our visit. I look forward seeing Louis Chambers once again.

January 24th

Oh what a day. Pastor Olistin Estecoeur and Louis Chalmers were at Matthew 25 a few minutes early. While I was still chatting with a group from Marrieta, GA. They are here on a mission and will be around tonight when I get back.

Time to be off. We are picked up Myriel Fanfan and head to the mayor's compound in Croix des Bouquets. It's quite the compound. The security guard didn't want to let us in until we got the mayor on the phone. We drive in and find that our guides had already gone to the other property. So a quick turn around, and we follow one of the many vehicles at the compound and found the site.

Surveying the lay of the land required crossing the ten foot creek rock-to-rock. My knees have been good on the trip so far, but I didn't want to test fate. Good thing, pastor Olistin did what I was afraid I'd do and slipped off his perch on one rock and waded ashore covered in mud. He luckily had a change of clothes and shoes at the orphanage. I stayed with Louis, who was heading to the airport after our meeting. We discussed the site's potential and FanFan tested the soil. Good location, very near the orphanage.

Back at the mayor's compound we negotiated with his attorney over lease options, total average needs, and purchase of land for the factory. No one wants to say how much we want to pay. We have no idea of the costs to start up and prep the land. It has a lot of scrub brush which we be harder to clear than the land in Boucantis. After an hour and a half we headed to the airport with Louis.

Pastor had an errand, meeting of the local pastors to discuss the upcoming election for church leadership council. Two hour animated discourse, then I was asked to speak. Didn't see that coming. Afterwards I was given many business cards and gave out all I had on me. They were all excited by our presence in Haiti and our work.

One more errand at pastor's school in Delmas 31 and finally back home by 4:30. My morning meeting took eight and a half hours.

I walked into the 3 gentlemen from Georgia and chatted until Junior showed up for his donated computer, thank you Nathan, and also picked Natacha's donation.

I had dinner on my own. A rare occasion her at M25. Janet, the current US volunteer sat with me and chatted for awhile. Then I had a call from Mgr. Pierre Andre Pierre, at Notre Dame University Haiti. He was heading over after services, but I haven't seen him yet and it is time to turn in.

I tweaked my back somewhere along the road today. It caught up with me when I tried to stand up from the table out front.

Good news I found the land on Google earth. Yeah!

Tomorrow Bellegarde and I will meet Chery Melchisedec Mel in Cabaret around noon. Then Michel Santia, a HEAR scholarship candidate, and Mgr. Pierre Andre Pierre, I hope.

Thank you for all your prayers.

Now the real work of BonZeb is ready to start.

Janaury 25th

Day 5: Meeting up with Bellgarde this morning. Off to Leveque and a visit with Chery Melchisedec Mel. This is another potential organization that, with help from NCompass from Tigard, Oregon, could be partner.

We visited the site that the mayor of Leveque has offered on a free lease. Originally, we thought we were looking at a 8 acre parcel. As we veered off the highway onto a gravel road, we found ourselves passing lush banana plantations and other farms. Well irrigated and beautiful. Not the type of land we want for BonZeb.

Chris, a member of one of the groups staying at M25, came with us today. As Myriel Fanfan and I shared our vision during the two drive up to the property, he got an understanding of our mission and the reasoning behind how do things.

The gravel road continued passing nicely built homes and a few shanties. We crossed a stream and WOW! everything changed. We had reached the foothills and a severely deforested patch of land. Just the kind of land we want. A little further up the road we pull off. This is the spot.

We walk up the first rise. The soil will work, FanFan informs the group. Then they inform us that the land continues. We climb the hill and they point out the extent of the property. Not 8 acres, 8 hectares, not really, more like 8 carreaux (26 acres). There's good wind flow for wind power, potentially. The back side of hill is flat, suitable for a factory. And there is a stream for irrigation.

Discussions continue for awhile, and then it is off to a celebratory lunch. Haitian pizza and Haitian wings. Good food, good conversation, good result. The bill comes and my new Costco Visa card is denied three times. Luckily, I have enough cash for the meal. Then we are back on the road to Port au Prince.

Traffic is heavy again near the markets, a couple of big rig breakdowns snarl the road, but finally Bellegarde finds an escape route. Our detour fortunately takes us by Rebo Cafe where we have a wonderfully Haitian coffee with a quarter inch of thick cream. Sitting in an air conditioned space felt nice.

Back on the road for our last stop, Delimart. Haitian ice cream run. Sadly when we reach Delimart in Delmas, it is closed. The parking lot is lined with burned out cars, victims of the recent gas riots. Bellegarde saved the day by finding another market where we found rhum raisin and strawberry ice cream. Perfect way to close off the day with our bunk mates from Georgia.

Mgr. Pierre Andre Pierre came by tonight just in time for bowl of each and long conversation. We discussed collaborations with the University of Portland and Concordia University of Portland. Emails from Johnnie Driessner and Thomas Greene must have been list in his spam folder. He is embarrassed to not have responded and invites me to mass on Sunday morning. He will draft a letter to them. Should make my morning interesting, I have a 1pm flight Sunday. He says, don't worry he will personally take me through the diplomatic entrance. Nice. I've done that a few times over the years, beats the long security lines.

We also discuss having his engineering and bioscience departments take an active role in BonZeb, potentially building our kilns. After this week we might need two more in the coming year. This could potentially lower the cost significantly. No international shipping? Yes, please.

I am pretty pumped up right now and even though I should be in bed I am enjoying the rhythms coming from the night club across the soccer field accompanied by the welding light show across the street.

Thumbs is getting tired, so I will sign off.

Thank you all for your continued prayers for the success of this trip, for my safety, and for the success of BonZeb.

May God bless you and keep you safe.

January 26th

Day 6. WOW!! What a week so far. Last full day in paradise. Keeping with tradition I am heading to Visa Lodge, but not before the usual delays as I wait for my driver. Bellegarde is out there making his way slowly from Croix des Bouquets to Delmas. About 10 kilometers. Today it will take him about 2.5 hours.

In the meantime, I have a last chance to talk with Chris, Bruce and Ray from Georgia. There is also time to chat with a few delegates from an Iowan medical missionary group. Over 70 people clutter the center as a busload of missionaries arrive on their way to the airport. Lots of activity and chattering, calling out, organizing, hustling to the bus while 36 of the 37 residents from last night are checking out and shuttled to the airport as well. Then I get a call in the middle of the chaos, my ride is at the gate.

I am greeted by the beautiful smile of a petite Haitian girl, Josephine and her friend, not boyfriend, Jim. They were 6th graders during my last year at Louverture Cleary. Jim tells me he recognized me by my hat. It is a few times removed from the original. I think Eileen burned that one a few years ago. Jo admits she can't really remember me, but does remember her first year in the school. She has recently finished her last class for a law degree and is now working on her thesis. Jim has a few more classes and his thesis and he will have a degree in economics.

We arrive at Visa Lodge and order a drink to test my Visa card, which had been rejected the day before. It works. Thank you Eileen for calling Visa last night. Now we can enjoy the buffet and an afternoon of insightful conversation, sharing dreams and visions for Haiti. After one round of conch, chicken, beets salad, and rice, we are joined by Erick Toussaint, the former IT guy at LCS, and his wife Che and their lovely daughter and shy little boy. He is now working at the FOCAL Foundation. He is willing to ask Madam Pierre Louise, the past Prime Minister, and Valery's former boss, to meet with us on our next trip at the end of March. We are looking at spring break week for anyone wanting to join us. After a dessert of tiramisu and pastries, no I didn't indulge, we were off to Matthew 25.

I Opened the gate and I was greeted by Anaxe and Michel Santia. Anaxe had one more form for me, and Michel had her transcripts from her first year of university. A teachers' strike and the unrest in the streets have made it difficult for her to attend classes. Hopefully, she can get help to attend NDUH and finish her degree.

I thought I was done for the night when Nelly Droinaud dropped by the greet me. What a gift she is to Haiti and all her patients at the state hospital in Tabarre. After a very pleasant visit she gave me a bag of Rebo coffee. Thank you. A trip to Rebo is the one tradition I was not able to fit in this trip.

As I walked to the gate and she disappeared into the darkness of the Haitian night, I felt concern for this lovely young woman. No Uber or Lyft or taxi or bus. Just walk until you find a tap tap and make your way home. I asked her to confirm with me that she was home safely, which she did an hour or so later. Three tap taps to cross town. Home safe. Good night. It is a good night. Another cool, breezy night. Perfect weather after another warm day.

It is always amazing the way God fills up my days here in Haiti. Old friends, new friends, amazing stories and storytellers, beautiful smiles and wonderful songs. The rhythm of life here isn't a single thread, but a multitude of threads interwoven and stretched out, sagging at times but taut, resilient and hope filled.

I can't wait to return and see what else God has in mind. I still have the anticipation of the morning liturgy with the Monsignor at the Earthquake Church. Then the dash to the airport and the flights home.

January 27th

Airborne. On my way to NYC. Should be back in the USA around 5:00pm. Hope to pass through customs quickly and get something to drink.

Another great day today. Said goodbye to Matthew 25 and attended a wonderful mass at St. Francis de Sales Church with a few M25 staffers and a young woman, Rose, who has a sewing ministry. She works with women in the area to sew bags, purses, etc. out one recycled plastics. Gorgeous bags. I'll have to get one next time. She acted as my translator for the Monsignor's homily. She pointed out that everything is said three times in different ways to make sure the people hear it.

They announce any visitors at the end of the service, and the guests come forward an introduce themselves. Then they read the list of birthdays for the week. Followed by the usual announcements. No picking up a bulletin at the back of church, printing is too expensive, so every announcement needs to be shared. Final blessing and then the gathering in front of the church for crushed ice.

There are thirty minutes of blessings and well wishes, and the constant refrain, "don't worry I have it covered". Meaning, Tom, I will get you to your plane even if I have to deliver you to the plane myself.

So as the minutes tick down, I meet the parish staff, that includes an architect, youth minister, and others. The final introduction is to a young priest recently assigned to the church. After a few words of introduction he grins and say "Mr Stein, I am a Louverture Cleary student, I know you, I know you, I know you." A quick catch up and then I retrieve my bags and we are off to the airport.

True to his word, Mgr. Andre delivered me to the diplomatic entrance and walked me in. They took my ticket and passport and Monsignor sat down and opened his computer to draft a letter to U of P and Concordia. But it was not to be. The agent came and said it was time to go.

Hop in the van, ride to the terminal, go to the front of the line, skip a few checkpoints, front of the line at duty free, front of the line into the gate area and then back to being a regular Joe.

Made it to the plane as it was already boarding. Drinking water, drinking juice, drinking Sprite, drinking water. Must be a bit dehydrated today. JFK in a few hours. Then Portland by 1:00am. For a trip that started with so many cancellations, delays and missed opportunities, God made up for it tenfold.

With today's gospel focused on the parts of the body, I was reminded of how every encounter leads to another part of the body, helping the whole body function. Each conversation adds to the story. Even a decade later someone can return and have an impact on your life, and your ministry.

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