We're here, and we're well! Ranquitte is more beautiful than we had expected, much to our delight. There are trees all over the campus, fields of corn, coffee (fair trade, of course), and a garden. The area is also more rugged: the roads here are worse than almost any in Togo: rocky, with deep ruts, sometimes falling away on their way to being washed out completely. Walking around town is rough on the knees and lungs: hopefully we'll be whipped into shape....
Anna, Thaddeus and I have moved into the upstairs rooms in Ivy Salomon's lovely place (Ivy is the Missionary who's been here for 50 or so years), and we're feeling right at home: everyone has made us feel most welcome. The other residents are Mama, Carline, Ketia, Rose Manie, Hypolite, and Daylan (all girls, except for Hypolite). Ivy is a magnet for lost girls, especially. Our quarters are reached through the kitchen at the back of the house, and our wooden floors and walls have a very rustic but comfortable appearance. Think western bunkhouse chic....
I'm typing this from the CFI dorm near the school, only a stone's throw from the school. I'm connected to the internet wirelessly from here -- technology is amazing! They use a satellite system to provide our internet service, which is better than dial-up. So much for roughing it.... The sound of a UN chopper comes across the hills. It's the third time I've heard them today: I hope that they're just doing a thorough check of the area today! The UN troops ("Blue Helmets") were observing us in a tank near the Port-Au-Prince airport when we arrived. I guess we passed inspection. Their job is to keep the peace, and help the government of the recently elected Rene Preval to get established.
Two CFI veteran volunteers brought us up to Ranquitte: Dr. Greg McMorrow and Nurse Kim Felker came along to see us safely here, and were responsible for seeing patients at the clinic, preparing for an upcoming CFI ear exam visit, and doing some home health visits. They've been great guides and resources: they know the folks here, and have smoothed over any rough spots for us.
Thad is having the time of his life, roving over the campus with several young girls as guides, escorts, protectors, mothers, etc. They seem to adore him, and he's in heaven, living like Tom Sawyer out here. It's quite a contrast from home, where he is frequently playing all by himself. He's been a great traveler, and a positive presence around here.
We had a big day of it on Wednesday (the day we arrived in Haiti) -- up at 4:00am and out of our Miami hotel by 5:00; onto a 757 to Port-Au-Prince by 7:30; clearing customs (surprisingly civil, by comparison with Togo) around 10:00, and into the baggage area (again, remarkably civil). We exited out to find a fellow that CFI regularly employs waiting for us, and he and the baggage handlers threw our gear (10 tubs, six of which weighed 70 pounds each!) into and onto a landroverish vehicle, then just a few hundred yards to the small airfield from which we would fly to Pignon on Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Everything was weighed, including us, and then, after an hour wait or so, we were ushered out to the small (6 person) plane that took us up. All the people went in one plane; all the tubs went in another. The tubs took off first, and we followed, with a very competent-seeming young American pilot (who prayed for us, for our mission, etc. before we flew -- I thought that was both a good and a bad sign....).
Shortly after takeoff, Thad turned to me and said "I don't think this is safe!", and Anna and I had to agree. We flew up and just over one mountain, and then stayed at an elevation of a mile for the remainder of the trip, coming quite close to little villages on mountaintops. Occasionally we'd get caught in an updraft, or downdraft, and have a major "tummy tickler", which took a lot of getting used to -- in fact, I didn't get used to it at all. After what seemed like much more than 25 minutes, we arrived safely in Pignon, on a grass airfield (the landing was surprisingly smooth). Two pickups were waiting, and we soon were rolling through Pignon, on our way to Ranquitte. Another hour or so and a few very wicked ruts and river beds and rocks later, we pulled into Ranquitte. Quite a small place, with very few shops, and only a small market. A little farther down, and we pulled into the school. The place is filled with beautiful trees, and friendly people. I was amazed at the dorms (for the folks who come for mission trips): they're quite as nice as the SWAP camp in Harlan, Kentucky, and there is a great supply of tools in the "depot". The solar power seems to be working fine, and we've had no problems (other than that the toilets aren't draining like they should, so we're supposed to use the outhouse for serious business).
We had a late lunch, and toured around, saying hello to people. There was a major storm that afternoon, and we had a light supper, then got ready to turn in (we were staying in the dorm the first night). Kim called me into a room where there was a tarantula, very healthy and large, crawling over one of the two bunks stored there. I spent a little time teasing him: he sneaked under the covers, then under the pillow. Made us all take a good look at our beds before we got in for the night!
I think that Thad will long remember his first day in Haiti... as will Anna and I.
On Friday the Seventh Day Adventists kick off after sundown for sabbath (Ivy and many of the others who work here are Seventh Day Adventists). Saturday is hence a rest day. We can do as we please on Sundays, but they'll probably be working! Six days they toil, and only rest on the seventh.
Today our friends Greg and Kim left, so we're feeling a little lonely right now. It's time for us to get busy with our respective projects. Since today is the first day of courses at NKU, I'm treating this as my first work day, too. I'm meeting with the principal of the school and some of the teachers about a course I may give them during the school year, and about what course I may teach (I've decided that I won't teach more than one, without a lot of arm-twisting -- the last thing I want to do is send some Haitian with an education to the unemployment line).
I'll be passing on some information about Moringa trees and about the Arborloo toilet today, to some of the folks who will have a hand in helping me implement my ecological machinations. Wish me luck!