I am heading to Haiti in the morning. It will be my first trip in…well, too many years. Preparing for the trip has given me some great opportunities to remember our history there, including the very first exploratory trip we made in April of 1995. We had come at the invitation of Pere Albert, a local Episcopal priest and one of the most remarkable people I had ever met. Here, from something I wrote a dozen years ago, is a description of that first meeting:
I had no intention of getting involved in Haiti, but after twenty-four hours with Pere Albert I knew I had no choice. We sat around a table far into the night, our faces illuminated by a propane lantern, while Pere Albert described the local struggle for survival. I learned how he had almost single-handedly founded thirty schools in the parish and was now responsible for the education of over 11,000 children. In the morning we paid a quick visit to some of the nearby fields where farmers eked a living from the rocky mountainsides.
We couldn’t stay long. Mike had a flight out of Santo Domingo the following morning and we had to make it back to the Dominican border before it closed at 7:00 PM. As we prepared to leave, a couple of locals produced some plastic bottles with gas and put a few gallons in the truck. Then Pere Albert called out something in Creole and instantly a crowd of children surrounded us. On cue they sang a hymn, a cappella and in perfect harmony. The dirt road, overhung by trees, became an ethereal chapel, filled with sweet voices. I realized that I had no choice but to get involved in Haiti.
As they finished, Pere Albert turned to me and asked if we would sing. I looked at Mike and Eldon and reflected on our linguistic challenges, to say nothing of the fact that I had been asked to lip-sync or quit when I was in youth choir. We declined. Instead we prayed and said our good-byes, making it back to the border with one typically surreal incident. Passing through Croix des Bouquets, east of Port-au-Prince, we became momentarily lost, and were helped back to the highway by a dozen very young boy scouts in uniform, following their leader, who was also in uniform and carrying a troop flag.