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  • Writer's pictureTom Stein

Tom's Travelogue

Before I get into the story, it should be said that everyone ended up fine. Shortly before I left for Haiti, there was news 17 missionaries kidnapped as they left a local orphanage heading to the airport in Port au Prince. Things in the north of Haiti weren't quite so hectic, but that doesn't mean it was comepletely safe. The roads were more dangerous than we'd anticipated so we weren't able to visit as much of the island as we'd planned, but we were able to make many meaningful connections with local leaders without risking too much.

Day 1

Got I a nap before heading to the airport. Longer wait than I anticipated checking bags. Took 35 minutes for ten passengers. Then the security check point and another wait. Made it on board the new Jet Blue plane for my flight. The plane was definitely new, but not as comfortable as the old models. No sleep on this flight. Did get a short nap on arrival. 82° and high humidity. Wild ride with a Jamaican shuttle driver who swerves like a race car driver. At every turn I had to hold on for fear of falling out of my seat. Welcome to Florida.

FLL airport is one of the most unhelpful I've visited. I asked at least five times where I could find a hotel shuttle and got no help. Even when I called my hotel the receptionist said to go outside and turn to my right and walk to the white awning. There is nothing but white awnings outside the terminal. I kept walking from terminal 2 past terminal 4. No designated smoking areas, so the whole walk was filled with smoke. It was thick in some areas, 'under the white awnings'. An hour later my shuttle arrived with a different hotel on the sign.

Hotel was musky, but the AC worked. Thank you Lord. Met up with Troy Sanon of Ncompass and had a nice chat with him about his background and work. He is very in touch with the Haitian community in Miami and New York, as well as in Haiti. He was also interested in our work and our relationship with Melci in Leveque. I look forward to working with him moving forward.

Now time to sleep. Thank you Lord for the blessings of this day.

Day 2

Morning came early.

Awoke around 5:45, picked up a breakfast sandwich in the lobby and made my way into a dark room to find the coffee. Hard to see buttons in the dark. Then I was told that the 7 am shuttle could come anywhere between 6:45 and 7:15. It arrived a 7:05.

Thank God it did. When I arrived at Spirit my confirmation code didn't work. At the counter they asked when I canceled my flight. When I said I hadn't canceled they looked up my name and told me I had a one way ticket. I'm glad I asked about my return flight when they asked if I lived in California. They had my name wrong, address wrong, phone number wrong, and no record of a return flight. Got that taken care of for $100. Then my bag came in overweight. Not because it was over 50 lbs, but because Spirit has a 40 lb limit, an additional $50. No such thing as a cheap ticket. Then I was informed there are no carry-ons on Spirit. Oh well, I'm delivering about twenty pounds of supplies, so return weight should be fine.

Did you know that the bottled water from Florida springs has the taste of tap water. I always thought water was clear, tasteless, and odorless. We are spoiled in Oregon, especially in Gresham.

Boarding went as well as any flight into Haiti. Many passengers bringing on three or four bags. Lots of chatting in the aisle to slow loading.

I remember my one and only previous flight on Spirit, from Las Vegas to Portland. Same ticketing issues and just as uncomfortable seats. No knee space, seats barely big enough to sit on, and no reclining. Thank you Lord for that blessing. No one is sitting next to me. If there was my legs would be in the aisle. Might end up out there anyway.

Doors closing, now let's see how the flight goes.

Many fewer non Haitians on the flight this morning. It's a sign of the times. It is never easy working in a foreign country. The unfamiliar languages, cultures, governments, laws, rules, and cultural mores, can all give a person pause. But then faith, love, and hope kick in and they give that same person the power to make a difference, to answer the call to mission and commission, to compassion, to empathy, and to understanding that to be God's hands and feet in this world takes action on their part. Amen.

You know that feeling when you are so tired but just can't fall asleep. You're sitting and just can't get comfortable. You're sore and can't get any relief. Lord, help us and grant us your peace.

What a day. Arrived a half hour early in Cap Haitien. Much easier to navigate then Port au Prince.

New twist, they had to check everyone's temperature on the tarmac. Then to the payment counter. Foreigners pay $10 to enter. Then they took my picture. No mask, not hat, no glasses, no smile. Then thumb prints. Then customs. Then baggage claim. That was easy. Then the proof of baggage ownership. Then customs check of both. No x-ray scanners here, everything is searched by hand. Then out to find my team.

Only Fanfan made it. Along with the ticket mess this morning, Spirit canceled my rental car with Avis. No car, no driver, so I got my first taxi ride in Haiti. Turned around twice in the 5 mile trip to our Hotel. Burning tires, road blocks made of debris and cement blocks. Luckily they were unattended and easily circumvented. A long delay about 1.5K from the hotel. 5 miles, 1.5 hours, but we are here safely.

The hotel had our reservation, but no payment from Same thing happened on our last trip. Maybe is not the way to go when traversing Haiti. The rooms are nice. They even have a TV with Tuesday night cricket and football, in English.

Met with Fanfan to discuss our options. He is contacting the schools to see about them picking us up tomorrow. Hopefully they can. Bellegarde contacted me in the last hour and plans to join us on Thursday. That would be great. His arrival will help determine what we can do during this trip.

It really feels like Satan doesn't want me here. But we all know he has no power, when God is with us, as He has been for the last three days.

Time to eat dinner. More later.

Day 4

It was another challenging day in Haiti, but as always it had its blessings.

The morning started with breakfast when a man recognized me from our flight over from FLL. Being one of three white people on the flight made me pretty easy to notice. I tend to standout where ever I go. He introduced himself and joined us for the meal. He is from FLL and is looking for land in Haiti to develop small businesses.

During breakfast Fanfan took a call from Fr. Pierre at Fondation Vincent and we made plans to visit. We arranged for a taxi and when I got in I notice our new friend and woman in the back seat with Fanfan. We made the drive in Cap and it only cost 500 goudes, about $5. What a difference a day makes.

After a very good meeting with the director of the school, we took a tour. Very impressive trade school. They teach auto mechanics, textiles, computer science, welding, masonry, home design and electrical. We continued to walk and came upon the agriculture fields, pig farm, chicken farm, and more. Back at the school building the academic university prep students were in test mode. They have a K-12 school. To say the least this is a very impressive school as well. Combined I don’t know how to express my thoughts other than to just say WOW! Our first visit in 2019 was in the dark and confined to the director’s office. What a wonderful experience in the light of day.

We discussed our kiln and they seem very capable of building them for us here in Haiti. They will also look at other equipment we need. Hopefully, they will be able to fabricate crushers, mixers and briquetters as we move forward.

After our walk I was a soggy mess. I forgot my sweat rag behind this morning.

Fr. Pierre volunteered to drive us to NDUH where we met with Fr. Moise. This meeting was a bit shorter because the agricultural school doesn’t open until November. The business administration and nursing schools were also in test mode today, so no classroom visits.

Fr. Moise was very interested in our work and involving his students in the project. We discussed the future need for agronomist, accountants, managers, marketers, etc. We also discussed our scholarship for a student in each program. The cost is 70,000 goudes or around $700 USD. We also discussed scholarships with Fr. Pierre in the first meeting and the cost is 30,000 goudes or around $300 USD.

Fr. Moise walked us to a local restaurant next to the cathedral for lunch. The jambon sandwich was good but little light on the jambon. Even ordering dinner last night was a bit difficult. You order only to find out that they don’t have the supplies for it. With gas shortage it is difficult to get supplies.

We have been waiting all day for Bellegarde to get to Cap Haitien. He found a car this morning but had no gas for the trip. We hope and pray he finds his supply and is able to join us tomorrow. Because of Bellegarde’s delay the vice rector of the school drove us back to Villa Cana, where we have had a quiet afternoon.

So to sum it up we have been blessed with three encounters today and the transportation we needed and food for our journey. God is good all the time, all the time God is good. Thank you Lord for watching over us and for the love and support of those you are reading this missive. In the daily readings for today the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 124. ‘Our help is in the name of Lord who made heaven and earth’. Amen!

Day 5

Very early start to the day. Woke up at 4:45 am and could not get back sleep. Met the team for breakfast at 7:30. Grilled fish and onions on the menu today. Didn’t know it was fish until I got the first bone. Strong Haitian coffee sweetened with brown sugar. Then it was off to pack and hit the road for Gonaives at 9:00. We opted for the main highway this trip. Map Quest said 90 minutes; it took 3.5 hours, with a couple shorts stops for mother nature. The old bladder doesn't hold up like it used too. Funny thing, every time I asked to stop everyone got out of the car to do the same thing. The good road was good in some spots and bad in most spots, until we were 20 kilometers from Gonaives.

I am so grateful that Bellegarde made to Cap Haitien last night. He had major issues finding a car for rent due to the disturbances in Port au Prince. He finally talked with an old student from LCS who offered to rent and pay for a car. Thank you, Lord, for once again for blessing us. He was on his way. Almost. First, he needed to find gas during a fuel shortage. He ended up buying black market gas for 3 times what it ought to be. He surprised us by arriving with his nephew in tow. He was smart enough to know not to make the trip alone. He arrived after 9pm so the restaurant was closed. Luckily, I had set aside half my dinner just in case. I always bring plenty of snacks for the team on these trips; dried mango, jerky, pepperoni sticks, etc. So, they had a little something, but they were ready for a healthy breakfast.

The roads in the north might not be much better than the roads in the south, but the vistas are breath taking. It is so much greener, with abundant trees and farmland. We were told yesterday the rainy season in north has just begun. Hard to believe since Haiti has already been hit by four hurricanes this fall all category three or higher. But all those storms hit the south, where Fanfan’s mother lives. Her house was destroyed in the earthquake last summer. We have talked about trying to help him and his brothers and sisters raise the funds needed to rebuild properly.

Ray, Bellegarde's nephew, was put in charge of taking pictures for the remainder of the trip. No such thing as a free ride. He has never been far from Port au Prince and has been in awe a tthe beauty of his country. He appreciates the opportunity to accompany us. He is studying economics, but like many students has been forced to take two years off to work and raise money for his tuition at the state university.

We arrived at Cardinal Keeler Center in the early afternoon and had a very fruitful meeting with Fr. Ales. He was very happy to see us after a 21-month delay. We continued our conversation about scholarships for students at the trade school and a potential BonZeb farm. Cardinal Keeler is a two-year trade school that offers training in auto mechanics, secretarial work, computer science, sewing and textile design, wood working, window glazing, electrical, and a few others. 9 fields in all. This program differs from Fondation Vincent in that there is no prep school and students can range in age from late teens to late twenties. The cost is similar to FV at 40,000 goudes which includes tuition and supplies. One of their major needs is for tools for students as they continue working after they graduate the program. We formalized our partnership with a handshake and a blessing. There was a lot to the conversation and a promise to continue it online until we can return once again.

As we were leaving to grab lunch, we learned that the director of NDUH was not going to available this afternoon. So, we had a nice lunch and grilled Ray about his girlfriend who is studying in Miami. Then it was off to our hotel, The Odivin Hotel Luxury Suites. Sounds impressive. It wasn’t. It also was not open for business.

This is the second time in two trips to Gonaives that took a reservation for a hotel that wasn’t receiving guests. So, then it was on to the hotel we stayed in the last time this happened and they even assigned us the same two rooms. Everyone has a bed for the night, and we are scheduled at NDUH at 9:00 in the morning. Then it will off to Pignon and meetings with Midwifes of Haiti and Fuller Homes.

Tomorrow night we take up residency at Emmaus Guest House. I am sure the road with be no smoother or less bumpy but the joy of service and excitement in the eyes of those we meet along the way makes the old bones a little less sore. I noticed today how much lighter I feel on my feet here and how much longer my gait becomes with each passing day.

Thank you, Lord for Your abundant blessings, a car, a driver, gas, a new companion to travel with, food for our bodies and a roof over our heads. Thank you also for another thunderstorm and the power of Your word that created all this. Amen.

Day 6

After failing to get the housing we had booked for last night we did get rooms at the Admiral Killick. It was another rough night short on sleep, but at least I was prone. The jarring and jostling is taking its toll. Met the team for fish heads and eggs. The eggs were okay. The fish heads were too bony for me. Washed it down fresh papaya juice and strong coffee.

Then it was off to NDUH Gonaives where we met Fr. Ronald. He was very gracious and we spoke at length, through Bellegarde and Fanfan, about what partnership with BonZeb would look like. We discussed our scholarship for the school, $1,300, and an additional $1,300 for housing, food, transportation, books and incidentals, because most students do not live in the district. We shared our vision for a BonZeb farm at the agronomy school and were offered a tour of their fields. But first it was the nursing school, civil engineering school, and a short presentation to the school of business administration. Then Fr. Ronald shared one his passions, beekeeping and honey. He has over a hundred hives on 4 parcels of land and harvests 35 gallons of honey every three months. It has been tested and approved for export. He insisted I take a bottle home. I was picturing honey bear bottle, but got a full gallon. Wonder how I'm going to get it on the plane.

While visiting the bishop's house where keeps the bees, we realized we spent the night across the street. He invited us to spend more time here on our next visit, which would nice. We also learned that NDUH has new campus in St. Mark farther down the coast. It is exciting how the system has grown over the past decade. Bringing educational opportunities to all the departments, rather just Port au Prince. But as Fr. Ronald pointed out, there are still too many students that discontinue their studies over financial issues.

But there is some good news, at least at NDUH, students are allowed continue from where they left off. That is a blessing to many.

Speaking of blessings, while at the bishop's we were able buy gas for our car, get an ice cold beer, a natural juice (something and banana), and sausage and fried plantains. Ray also received a little spiritual guidance. Our visit went four hours and could have gone another four. Now it is back over the mountain to the central plateau.

Day 7

Arrived in Pignon after a very bumpy ride. Bellegarde tried his best, but there in no way miss the pot holes, divots, pitfalls, ruts, etc. You just have to pick your line and go for it. It was only 3 hours. The last 10 kilometers were on the new road, but the two foot high speed bumps still give your spine a lot of exercise. We traversed numerous rivers and creeks along this leg of the trip to negotiate one road block in St. Michael. Didn't take too long or cost us anything. The five to ten people manning it didn't know what they wanted so they just let us go. In Pignon the bridge has been blocked and we are waiting for the police to clear it. It appears to be like the first day. But today it is 92° and sunny on the plateau. Ray walked up to the bridge and found that they have welded steel across it and dropped containers on the road to block all traffic north and south. This one is a protest against the gasoline shortage. Peaceful, for now. Gerald came to meet us for a brief chat in the car about building a house/office for us. His friend guided us around bridge blockade on motorcycle. He said it has been there for two days. The road was more dirt bike trail. There is another road block on the steep incline down by the river. A lot of shouting and arm waving. 10 minutes later we hit another road block. This one stopping everyone, even the semi in front of us. Now we can't go backwards or forwards, so we sit. Only an hour of daylight left. Pray that barrier is lifted. If you got my earlier text about road blocks, I want to let you know we made to Hinche as the sun was setting. Not sure how or when we will return to Cap Haitien. The bridge is still welded in place. Once we hear it is open we will leave for the north.

Day 8

When we arrived last night the power out in our building, so our rooms were like saunas. So, I took three cold showers and soaked through three changes of clothes before it was fixed. But we were here behind the wall of Emmaus House. The WiFi was up after dinner and I was able to connect with Eileen on WhatsApp with only a few issues. Slept well until the power went out again in the middle of the night. Got up early and while eating breakfast heard there will be a general blockade of all roads this coming week. Bellegarde thinks they might lift the blockade for Sunday traffic tomorrow. So, we will not make it to the farm or factory site on this trip.

Our first guest was Fabnise, a young woman I was introduced to by Jodi LePla from Concordia. She runs a school two days a week for three to nine year olds. She would like to expand the school by renting two more rooms from her neighbor, and also add more days of education each week. She would also like school supplies, desks and chairs, etc. Wonderful ministry. There are so many people trying to make a better Haiti.

Our next guest today was Jean Mariot the Program and Partnership Director for Midwives for Haiti here in Hinche. They have a midwife training center where they take nurses through a program in midwifery and women's health initiatives. He was also interested in our work in Thomonde and I am sure we talk many more time on future visits. Yes, there will be future visits.

From my room I heard a celebration in the plaza by the church. Five hours of music to celebrate the union of two individuals. Smaller turn out than the couple expected, judging by all the empty seats, but they were filled with joy and happiness. It was a little look into the true nature of Haiti. Love, music, laughter, smiles and dance. Not a lot of dancing today Ray pointed out. I am sure the heat and humidity didn't help.

Now we are in the part of our trip where we sit and sweat, sweat and sit. You can even lay down and sweat or stand up and sweat. I think I am going to do a little walking and sweating, just for a chance of pace. Generator out of gas, so no A/C unit again this evening. What we take for granted at home is truly a luxury here.

Shorter note for all you lucky readers today. The power is off and the computer battery is draining.

Please praying for Haiti.

Thank you.

Day 9

We will not be able to continue our trip. There are others we wished to meet, especially our workers in Boucantise and Bernaco. But the roads are blocked in Thomonde, so safety out weighs desire. I have always put my life in the hands of our team here and they are unified in their concern. So today we will try to return to Cap Haitien and I hope to return to the states tomorrow, if possible. It sounds like the roadblocks in Pignon have been lifted for Sunday services, thanks be to God. We picked up Fanfan on our way out of town.

As we drove up to Cap today we saw the remnants of the roadblocks and the materials in place to put them back up, but we also saw hundreds of people walking to and from church. Some walk miles in their Sunday best. Their faith and commitment shines brightly.

As we departed Emmaus House today I was inspired and encouraged by this passage from Jer 31:9, 'I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.' As we arrive safely into Cap Haitien we can say, 'The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled joy.' Though the road was not always level we did not stumble. Even though the way is not always straight, or smooth, and is often difficult to navigate, the Lord in His wisdom guides our steps so that we don't stumble. But if we do He is there with a loving hand to help us back up.

Once we are settled in at Villa Cana it will be time to plan our next step on this journey. May God continue to guide and protect.

Day 10

When I awoke this morning I thought that I would be with daughter and son in law and my lovely grandkids tonight. That will not happen.

We headed to airport early and made it through nineteen seperate barricades varying in style and size. Burning tires, burning piles of trash, metal rods, abandoned cars, broken glass, trees, etc. But the first nineteen allowed us through with a simple beep of the car horn. But then Bellegarde pulled over about ahundred yards from another burned out car in the road. There was a gap on the right that would allow us to pass, but he was aware of things I could not see. Fanfan also noticed from the back seat. Down the window went and they asked a man of the street about the blockade and they informed us that this barricade was put up by a radical group and that would not negotiate our passage. So around we turned and back through the nineteen barricades back to Villa Cana and another night in the safety of this compound.

When I asked how he knew to stop at that particular blockade Bellegarde said he saw the men on the other side of the barrier holding rocks and bottles to attack offending vehicles. Not worth the risk, especially with me in the car. On the return trip I asked how close we were to airport and he shook his head and said one minute away. So close and yet so far. So today is another day of waiting and praying for the people of Haiti.

Please join me in that prayer. Day 11

Packed and at the ready. Fanfan will take a taxi this morning to test the road situation. Jovenel just got back to me. He was trying to reach out to the head of the north department of police, but was not able to make contact. So he contacted a Senator to see if he could help us. Many moving parts. Hopefully this is the day we all get home safely.

Fanfan just called. He made it to the airport, so we will leave shortly in hopes of doing the same. If we do Bellegarde is more confident that they will make it home today as well. Let's pray that that is the case. My insides are churning. I wonder if that anxiety over the hour, or the breakfast spaghetti and mango I just ate.

Thank you Lord for a blue sky, bright sun and a hope-filled morning. Rom 8:18. 'I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation.'

We are at the airport and awaiting the results of my Covid-19 test. Then it is across to departure terminal to buy another ticket.

Praise God the gate agent took yesterday's ticket and honored it today. Even my 50.5 pound bag made it. Through the doors with Covid test and passport in hand, then the ticket counter check, then the ticket counter, then the check before security and then security and finally the customs agent, oh one more check to enter the holding pen. At least it's air conditioned.

I had barely sat sown when one of those agents came up to me to see how I was doing. He liked the way I spoke and wanted to introduce himself and get my card so that he might contact me later. Now I can relax a bit more as I wait for my flight.

If all goes well in FLL I will be in Phoenix by 11:00 tonight. 20 hours after I woke up this morning. I might try to sleep in in the morning, not. With 3 grandkids, I anticipate a lot of morning activity.

Thank you all for all your prayers.

It was amazing how clean the roads were this morning. You could see the remnants ash from all of last night's fires. Only one stack of burning tires this morning and they were just past the entrance to the airport. The smoke filled the air last night and it reminded me of the forest fires of last summer. Today God has blessed us with a gorgeous morning, food for the journey and a smooth clean and clear passage to our destination. Praise His holy name.

My prayer is for the same fortune for Bellegarde, Fanfan, and Ray on their way to Port au Prince. Lord, protect them, send your angels to clear a safe path for them. Provide gas for their car, water to drink and food to eat. Amen.

Post Script

I just wanted to send a quick note to finish up the report on the day’s activities of our team in Haiti. After they dropped me off at the airport, they began their trek to Port au Prince. Fanfan reached out to me on WhatsApp around 3:30pm, shortly after I arrived in FLL, to let me know me know they had made it to Hinche safely. They had encountered a dozen barriers to that point, but where able to pay the 6,500 goudes to have access. Bellegarde and Ray continued on to Port au Prince.

At 5:30pm I got another WhatsApp message this time from Bellegarde. He and Ray were home safely. He shared that during the trip they encountered more than 20 small groups of armed men along the road. It cost them 15,000 goudes to get home.

I am grateful to God that they are all safe at home. But that is only part of their tale. The tale is about life in Haiti and what people there have to deal with on a daily basis. The lack of gas, which sparked this week’s events in the countryside are only a small part of the problem. The lack of education, which is due to the severe poverty, especially in the countryside, and the gangs that roam the streets of the capitol, makes life difficult even on good days.

Creating living wage jobs, opportunities for children to go to school and helping to transform the agricultural practices by introducing environmentally friendly resources can make a significant difference for Haiti and Haitians. This is the goal of BonZeb and the Haitian Educational Aid and Resources.

Please consider helping us help others. Our mantra is “Giving a hand up, not a Hand Out to the people of Haiti”, is not just a catch phrase, it is how we do what we do. Why we do what we do is a different matter. All of our team in Haiti and in the US are committed to serving God and His mandate to love one another as He has loved us.

Thank for taking the time to follow our stories this week. We pray that you will all be blessed in a special way in the coming week.

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