On day two, Sunday, after eating a tasty breakfast of fresh mangos and scrambled eggs on the hotel patio, we rode to Saint-Marc to attend a service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The attractive chapel was surrounded by a wrought iron fence with a gate. Other than that, it could have been in Miami. Our fellow Haitian saints could easily have been members of our congregation at home. A few spoke a little English and we exchanged greetings. The meetings, which followed the same format as LDS services worldwide, were conducted in Creole. Although I couldn’t understand what was said, I felt the spirit of the Lord.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and a few of us swam in the ocean off the hotel’s private beach. We got acquainted with the other members of our group. Six women hailed from Star Valley, Wyoming, three from Bear Lake area in Southeast Idaho, and three of us are from Utah. Matt Smith, our leader is from Idaho Falls, Idaho. He and my husband Rog were the only men in the group. Of the women, one was in high school; two, college; and the rest ranged from about age forty to sixty-eight (me). Matt’s right hand woman, Ada, led most of the humanitarian projects, such as “Days for Girls,” which distributes reusable feminine hygiene kits. The rest of us were in Haiti for the first time and felt happy to do what we could to help Matt and Ada. Katie, a professional videographer, served as official photographer. The other women, Rog and I were the “grunts.” We all got better acquainted over the next week, traveling, working and playing together. Personalities emerged in long days, riding in our bus, or the bed of the pickup when the bus broke down, building chicken coops, playing with children at orphanages, etc. It was a lively, sometimes silly, always cheerful, remarkable group!
To help us understand the culture of Haiti, Matt took us to a museum after dinner. It occupied a former sugarcane plantation house. We learned, among other things, that the nation of Haiti gained independence from France on New Year’s Day 1804. Prior to independence, only white people celebrated New Year’s Day by dining on pumpkin soup. The liberated nation celebrated by serving pumpkin soup to everyone. It remains a popular tradition and dish.
The museum displayed this operating water wheel used to power the machinery.
In the evening Matt oriented us, sharing an overview of our schedule for the week and some background of his NGO, Operation Shield, formed to help children rescued from the sex slave trade by Operation Underground Railroad. Matt warned us to stay within the hotel fence at all times unless we were in a group of three or more, and to always tell him before going onto the beach. Never go anywhere alone. The dangers in Haiti aren’t visible to the naked eye, he warned us. We happily followed Matt’s advice and, thankfully, encountered no worst threat than the ever-present vendors selling souvenirs lurking just beyond the gate.