By Kristyn Emmer,
Hey all, from a stormy evening here in Haiti! It’s been quite a few past 48 hours, but we made it to the end of our grand Haitian adventure! Yesterday’s day at the beach really set us up for a jazzed and ready-to-go group of kids to head to today’s escapade to the Citadel, a fort/castle built in 1806 that stands on the top of a big ole mountain. So after surviving a night in our less-than-ideal “hotel,” we packed our 15-passenger vehicle with 19 humans and headed off to a little town called Milo. This is where the beginning of the trek up to the fort is located. Naturally we were the first van to get into the parking lot and everyone poured out. Instantly we were bombarded with vendors trying to sell us souvenirs and the quest for some shade from the hot sun was quite a commodity.
Not long after, Denny came over to round us up for what was about to be an experience that created plenty of stories to share: horses. Yes, we road horses up to the top. One by one we found ourselves on our feet one moment and on a horse the next. When I talk about putting us on horses too, I don’t mean the nice stands with friendly people working there that have those nifty stepstools to get into your saddle. What I’m talking about is a Haitian man picking your foot up placing it in a stirrup and hoisting you onto a horse. Meanwhile, all the kids are confused, people are shouting to have their turn at bringing us up the mountain, and I look over to see one of our own nearly falling off the other side of her horse. Nonetheless, my horse, Suzuki, with my two horse guides, Benito and Lulu, began the journey up the mountain. We paraded through the streets of Milo before hitting the trail—a beautiful cobblestone path lined with palm trees, tin roofs, and stick homes with a backdrop of incredible jungle forests. It was difficult for me to process how little these people living on this path have with the breathtaking landscape around us.
About an hour and a half later, we were at the grand Citadel with a sore butt and legs rubbed raw from the stirrups. After we gathered our group and found our tour guide, Eddie, it was into the fort we went. I tried my very hardest to listen to what he had to say, but I was honestly having more fun seeing the kids being kids—their sense of imagination shone brightly, their curiosity was at a peak, and the picture taking was unmatched. Similar to yesterday’s day at the beach, I nearly started crying thinking about how exciting it is to experience all this with them and to provide a way for it to happen.
We explored around the castle long enough and it was time for the trek back down the mountain. I didn’t know whether it was going to be an easier ride down or a more difficult one, given that going up felt like a workout. Turned out to definitely be more difficult. Of course, one by one we were thrown back onto our horses and my guides started sprinting down the mountain. I was a little confused on whether or not it was a race, and honestly didn’t know what the rush was. Thankfully, others caught up to me and we were on our way…with an extra conversation of tipping. As we came back together after, we all realized that the guides tried to convince us that we needed to tip them after, even though we paid (quite a bit) for them to take us up in the first place. Seeing how much they were both sweating up that trail, I offered some Haitian Goud (their money), and they turned their noses up in the air. It wasn’t good enough apparently. However, when they all did that to all of us, it became quite a conundrum. A little ways before the end, all the guides made us stop and get off the horses—it was tip time and it was CONFUSING. People arguing in Creole, getting close to each other, and raising their voices. Meanwhile, I’m standing next to some of the kids, trying to look like it’s completely normal and natural this is happening. To the rescue, though, was a man named Darling, a man from the church that Pastor sent with us to help with the kids and navigation at our stops. A few words were exchanged and we were off. I had no idea what was said, but I know I was thankful he was there to help us out.
That whole situation and the past trip got to me to thinking about some of the many things I’m learning or am being reminded of here in Haiti. Life here is simple. People take care of other people in the best way they know how and are able. Take Darling, for example. He told me after that standing up for us was the right thing to do and that he wants to take care of us like he takes care of his family. On the flip side, my time here in Haiti is making me appreciate the States more than ever. Things are easy, convenient, and comfortable there. Everything is instant. Here, though, life is difficult, with so many more hoops to jump through to get something or to do anything. For instance, the hotel situation last night getting completely scammed. Driving on roads that are nowhere near paved and are just covered in trash. Walking for miles to get basic essentials. It’s a different world out here, that’s for sure.
Tonight, many of us are completely exhausted. When the gates to the compound were opened, we were greeted with lots of little smiling faces and one big smile from Pastor. He handed out lots of hugs and excitement to see all of us. After a nice, big meal and a few showers, we’re just hanging out in a rainstorm, listening to some live music coming from town, and enjoying our full hearts after a wonderful past two days.
P.S. For anyone reading who knows these kids, we took with us Emil, Jeff, Jerry, Moise, Samara, Idziana, Feliciene, Daylynn, Ashlynn, and Amilese (apologies for the spelling errors!). These are the oldest of the kids at the orphanage and are a FUN group, let me tell you J