My harrowing experience in Haiti

I was looking forward to our trip to Haiti.  Maybe a little nervous as I personally had never traveled to any other countries outside of Canada other than the United States and Mexico.  The closest I had come to experiencing a country similar to Haiti would be when I left the resort compound while staying between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in Mexico.  A far stretch I know.  But nonetheless, I had confidence in Jeff and Lisa Bontkes, our leaders who had been to Haiti more than a few times combined, and in John Tilstra and Jeff Foster, the two within our Centra group who had both traveled to Nicaragua for similar trips in the past.  Not to mention the remainder of the Centra family members who were also participating in this trip to Haiti.  We had a great group of people, before we even started the adventure.

The first day (Saturday) in Haiti and exiting the airport, we were all gung-ho to get in the trucks and experience Haiti.  A whole new sight and experience for most of us.  I found the heat and humidity to be hot for sure, but not to the point where I felt it was slowing me down.  I felt good and was proud to be at our destination.  One more step closer to helping out where help was needed.  That afternoon, after lunch, we all went down the hill, across the river, and up the other side, to the location of the Marbial school.  A bit of a trek on its own to get to, but all part of the adventure.  Work began, in the hot sun – or at least I thought it was hot, not wasting any time we had to ensure we completed our tasks and contributed as much as we could.  We were a team and working well as one.  Everybody had a job.  From keeping the block layers loaded up with concrete blocks and mortar to laying the blocks themselves, or assembling benches for the classrooms.  It was all getting done and we were making progress.

The next morning (Monday), we all meet for a delicious breakfast, then head over to the school for more of the same.  Continuing on where we left off.  One difference was Andrew Creighton and I both living in the moment and carrying buckets of rocks on our heads, just like the local ladies were doing.  Or at least we thought we were doing it just like them.  They weren’t using any hands, and made it look easy, by doing it all day.  I managed 2 trips, Andrew did 3.  That was tough, but an experience I’ll never forget.  Including all of the chuckling while they watched us struggle up the hill.  By the day, I was ready for a break.  I had taken several breaks throughout the day and was drinking lots of water, but I was hot.  A dip in the river was in order, to clean up and cool off before dinner.  I must add that the food we had throughout the trip was awesome, especially while staying in Marbial.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.  I was hot, and unable to cool down.  And there was way too much snoring happening in our bunkhouse.  I decided to get up and get some fresh air.  While climbing down off the top bunk, I blacked out and hit the floor.  Woke up thinking, “man does this cold concrete floor ever feel good”.  Wait a minute, “why am I on the floor, it’s dirty and I have a bed”.  I sit up and right away my bunk mates (Stevie B., Kristian, Kyle, and Dan) were awake to see if I was ok.  All but Doug, he snored through the whole ordeal.  Haha.  Kristian got up out of bed to make sure I didn’t fall over again, Dan immediately gave me a container of water with electrolytes in it, and made sure I kept flexing my hands as they were cramping up and I was unable to move them.

Tuesday morning I couldn’t eat.  Every one of our team members had heard what happened the night before and was asking how I was feeling.  It was very nice to know they were concerned and cared.  After all, they were my family for the week. Turns out I had heat stroke, and I was down for the count for the next two days.  Unable to help or contribute in any way.  I was very disappointed.  I had come all this way to work with our team, be part of our team, and help those that we came to help.  But couldn’t.  All I could do was rest and get better.

While the rest of our team was working, I stayed at the main house with Marlaine and Daniel, our hosts.  Using one of their beds to lay motionless in the 40 degree celsius hot and humid air, trying to stay cool as much as possible.  Marlaine would come in and check on me every half hour or so to refill my water bottle and rewet the cold cloth Lisa V. had left me to use.  Making sure I was ok and feeling better.  This was of great comfort knowing I had someone watching over me.  Isaac, the school principal, even came down to see how I was doing.

By Wednesday afternoon, after another low key day, I was starting to feel better.  Which was good, considering Thursday morning was our hike back towards Jacmel.  After all, I did not want to have to hike while sick with heat stroke.  With John T’s help, I was able to make it down to the swimming hole with the rest of the team at the end of their work day and cool off.  Something I didn’t have the energy to do the day before, but probably would have helped tremendously.  That evening we were served a delicious spaghetti dinner, and I’m sure that helped in my recovery.  It’s one of my favourite meals.

From Thursday on I was almost back to normal.  Making the hike back, at a slower pace of course.  Helping with mortar and blocks again, at the orphanage, and playing soccer with the kids.

A pretty quick recovery considering the circumstances.  But, I am convinced, I wouldn’t have gotten through it nearly as quick, without knowing that our team was behind me, and genuinely cared about how I was feeling and if I was getting better.  Each and every one of our team members asked me both days I was sick if I needed anything.  They were very supportive, such good people.  I am proud and thankful that we were there together.  I will never forget that.

In no particular order, Jeff and Lisa B., John T., Jeff F., Ed and Lisa V., Doug M., Kyle H., Steve B., Dan H., Lana G., Andrew C., Marlaine, Daniel, Isaac and of course Kristian D.  Thank you very much, I appreciate the level of care and concern you showed for me.

Given the chance, I’d go again in an instant.

This update by Jeramy Smith.