That time the airline changed our flights and didn’t tell us.

We’re back from our vacation, and one day earlier than planned!

We were sitting around visiting with friends on Tuesday evening and got into talking about about what time we needed to be at the airport the following day. Because I’d been slack at checking email on vacation I got this nagging feeling that I should go and confirm our departure time while we were talking about it so that we were all on the same page for the next day.

It was a good thing I checked, because we got a BIG surprise.

Back before we left in June we’d gotten an email from the airline letting us know of a slight schedule change. It was literally minutes on our trip back to the US. That was the copy of our itinerary I had printed out and was referring to. Never heard anything after that, so assumed all was good. According to that we were leaving at 1:00 pm on July 30th, with an overnight in Atlanta, then arriving in Haiti on the 31st around 2:00 pm. We had a hotel reservation all set up, we were ready!

As I was going through my email I saw the one from the airline telling me it was time to check in online if we wanted. We don’t do that typically so I almost dismissed it, but scanned through it. That’s when something hit me. It looked different. I muttered something along the lines of “um, what the heck is this???” and Chris asked what was up.

Instead of leaving at 1:00 pm like we were supposed to, our reservation info said we were leaving at 12:45 AM on the 30th.

What?!?!?

That was more than 12 hours ahead of when we were supposed to leave. 

That’s not slight. That’s HUGE.

I quickly went online and entered our confirmation code to see what the info in the system said and it was a match with the new info. Somewhere along the line the airline had done a complete schedule change, bumping up our trip by over 12 hours, and we didn’t get the notice. I checked my folders in all of my email accounts this morning just to confirm that it wasn’t my error, and nope, nothing!

So, we realized we were leaving a lot sooner than we had planned. It was 9:00 pm when we found this out. We needed to be at the airport checking in at around 10:45 pm. We still had to finish packing, and we had about an hour drive to the airport.

I ran upstairs and starting the process of throwing things in bags. Chris put the kids in their pj’s, because we sadly wouldn’t be getting a full nights sleep before we left. Our friend that was visiting was thankfully driving his van, and lives just 10 minutes away from the airport so it was a no brainer to throw stuff in his car and have him drop us off.

We got everything and everyone packed up and hit the road, and arrived with plenty of time to check in.

The big issue wasn’t so much the traveling as it was going to be the landing. When we leave for our summer vacation we leave a vehicle at a friends house in Port au Prince, and he meets us at the airport, we load up and head home. That’s what we did this time too, except the problem was that he was out of the country and he’d made arrangements with his driver to come get us. When Chris last talked to him the connection was so bad they were yelling at each other and Chris wasn’t able to get the drivers number, so we had NO way of getting in touch with him to let him know we were arriving literally a day early.

How on earth were we going to figure out a ride from the airport to where our van was without a US cell phone and no time to be making arrangements before we hit the airport?

Well, here’s a fabulous example of the type of friends and community we have in Haiti. Thanks to Sea-Tac’s free wi-fi I was able to get on facebook and send a group message to three couples that would be the most likely to help problem solve. We’re in this summer pocket where a lot of people go back to their stateside or Canadian homes to visit and fundraise and there weren’t a ton of people that we know around right now.

I let everyone know what was going on and that we were about to board, but that I would check back when we landed for connections. By the time we landed in Atlanta, two flights later, all of them had responded and though they couldn’t help out themselves, a plan was formed through their connections with confirmation when we landed in Haiti.

After we landed, we booted up our cell phones, I called our friend Sarah as we were walking off the plane, she texted me the number of the guy that was going to set up a ride for us, Chris called him, he was already waiting outside. When we finally got out of the airport with all our bags (always thankful for this!) Wilbur was waiting outside. He walked us to the taxi he had arranged, we agreed on a price with the driver and were on our way.

We had to push through a giant traffic jam right around the airport, and once through that it was just a short drive to our vehicle. I was worried that our friends driver wouldn’t be there and we’d be stuck while someone went to look for him and we could get our keys, etc, but no. When he saw us he was all, “What are you doing here! You’re supposed to be here tomorrow!?! You don’t have my number!!” :) We quickly loaded up and headed home.

We literally arrived home at the same time that we were supposed to be boarding our first flight in Seattle.

People are always asking us what things we like about our life here in Haiti and how we feel we’ve changed. This was a perfect example of one of those things – the ability to be incredibly flexible and quick decision makers.

The longer we’re away the more glaring certain things are to us when we come home, and none of them are bad things, they’re just different ways of doing life in the cultures we live in. When we lived back in North America we could be more rigid in things because there are systems set up that allow us to expect that. We could be less decisive because there is more time to make decisions and culturally speaking, we look at that as being thorough and courteous when it’s involving something like making plans with a group. Have you ever noticed how long it can take to make plans with people and how much back and forth there is before anyone settles on something? Again, not bad, just different from how we have to operate in Haiti.

In Haiti we have to make fast decisions. We make those decisions quickly because we’re always in this state of assessing our surroundings and trying to keep up with needed info. We have triggers to look for, signals and warnings that we pay attention to. We’ve learned things about culture, whether it’s how people interact, or what isn’t normal, and we adjust accordingly.

I love that we’re at this stage in our Haiti life and our marriage and our family life where we can see how our responses to situations show growth. If this exact situation had popped up a few years ago we would have been frantic. Instead, as I was quickly packing things up I found myself saying, “Slow down. Be calculated. Be calm. Think this through.” It allowed me to be organized, but fast. We weren’t frantic, we basically went into “Let’s do this mode”. And we did.

I kind of felt like the whole trip was this thing happening in a dream state and several times caught myself thinking, “Is this real? Did we get it right? Maybe I misread that and we showed up too early.” But it was real and we were right and we were already halfway home.

All in all it was literally the fastest trip we’ve every had back into Haiti. The last bit of prep time happened fast, we got to the airport, checked in, went to our gate and boarded after only sitting for about 30 minutes. We didn’t ever feel rushed or frantic once we got in the airport, which is a surreal feeling because traveling with kids and bags and all the things usually leaves me feeling that way. We usually end up barking at each other, but we didn’t this time. The airline, in a meager effort to apologize for the email of the major schedule change not getting to us offered a $25 voucher for our next flight. We suggested that instead of that they check our 4 planned checked bags as well as our 4 bulky carry-ons for free. They agreed, so it left us with our two back packs and a rolling back pack with the kids stuff in it. It was so nice to travel so light! I’m sure that eliminated a ton of stress right there.

We flew from Seattle to Minneapolis. We got some sleep on the red-eye flight. It was shorter than our typical red eye. We got off the plane, moved from one gate to our departure gate and basically walked right into the boarding line. We flew from there to Atlanta. We got off our flight in Atlanta, traversed the airport concourses, got to our gate, contacted our friends in Haiti, brushed our teeth, changed clothes, and got on the plane. We landed in Haiti, got the info for our contact outside, went through immigration, got our bags, loaded up and were gone. We spent less than 3 hours on the ground with all of our connections, something that’s never happened before.

When we got in our van and started to drive away I made Chris high five me. He thought I was a bit crazy until I said, “Do you realize that we did that entire trip without freaking out and didn’t argue or anything. We were calm and cool like cucumbers the whole time!” We had supper on Tuesday night, then went into “go” mode and didn’t have time to eat anything during any of our connections, so we stuck with the peanuts and pretzles on the plane, as well as some Handi-Snacks I’d packed. For the record, we are not nice people or easy to deal with when we’re hungry. I’m sure it was some heavenly holding off of the hangry monster that got us through because it just didn’t hit.  If there was any way to rock that situation, we did it with grace and a whole lot of moxy yesterday. I’m proud of us, because wow, that could have been bad.

We got home, I made supper from some well planned pantry items, which just further impressed my husband. We bathed. We tucked in and went to bed. Then we tossed and turned and watched shows until what was a normal west coast bed time. And then we slept. And we slept and slept and slept until about 9:15 am Haiti time. I didn’t know that was possible, but apparently it is because we did it.

Today I became the whirling dervish of unpacking. Chris used to HATE the way I unpacked. I would open a bag and pull everything out onto the table or some surface, then open another one and keep going until everything was everywhere and there would be piles for a few days because I would get distracted. At one point he may have said, “Open one bag. Put everything away. Then open the next bag. Put everything away!” I cave, he *may* be right on this one. It feels really good to get it all out, and put away, and the bags back in storage the day after we get back. I’ve wondered why my “spring” cleaning tends to happen in the fall and realized it’s because we come back and I unpack and clean and re-organize things in the process. It’s that time of the year when things feel fresh for me. Today was no different.

One of the advantages of being back a day early is that I was able to call Yonese this morning to see if she wanted to go to the market for us so we could have some fresh veggies and fruit, eggs, etc in the house rather than looking at an empty fridge. It was really good to see her when she got here, and in true Yonese style not only did she go to the market but she’s proceeded to tidy the whole house, and I have no complaints :)

We’re back to work on Monday and we’re happy to be home!

~Leslie

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Vacation Log 2014: Two

Yesterday was the day set aside for my birthday date with Chris.

When we got into the van Chris told me what we were going to be doing, and it was so sweet because he really had thought about what would be fun for me. The plan? Food trucks and a walking tour of downtown Portland!

Chris had downloaded maps and info for some of the top rated trucks around the city, knowing how much I love food and the whole concept of food trucks being able to deliver top quality to the man on the street. Sadly, the breakfast truck we’d picked out was not open, but we quickly found a family diner and had a delicious hot breakfast that hit the spot. I love breakfast, and I love breakfast dates with Chris. It was also drizzling so the inside hot meal was exactly what I was craving.

From there we headed downtown to meet our guide and then did a two hour walking tour. It was really fun and our little group had a lot of time to ask questions and learn more about Portland. Would definitely recommend it.

The end of our tour back in "Portland's Livingroom" - the square where we started.

The end of our tour back in “Portland’s Livingroom” – the square where we started.

After the tour we headed to Yelp’s top rated food truck in the city – Chez Dodo. The Indian food was really good. The samosa’s are HUGE, and the noodles and curry were delish. There are food trucks all over the downtown area. Definitely worth checking out. Apparently there are 3 culinary institutes in the city and it’s normal for students to graduate and start food trucks rather than opening their own restaurants or working under someone else.

I didn't get a picture of the samosas because they didn't stick around long...

I didn’t get a picture of the samosas because they didn’t stick around long…

We wandered back to the parking garage and headed back over the river to Vancouver again. We’re both still adjusting to the time difference and were tired after the two hours plus of walking, so the only thing I really wanted to do was nap, so I did! Chris and I both went down for a few hours while Mum and Dad kept an eye on the kids. It was bliss! We enjoyed dinner out with the family and then back home for a relaxing evening of playing games and eating left over birthday cake :)

~Leslie

Vacation Log 2014: One

We are here in the Pacific Northwest!!!

In true Haiti form, leaving was not necessarily simple, yet it could have been much more complicated. On Thursday evening the car developed a rod knock in the engine, and because we rely on it so much Chris wanted to get it to the mechanic so he could be working on it while we’re away. He made arrangements and the tow truck came from Port au Prince on Friday evening to get it and take it to town for us. Friday was also our last day of work, so after wrapping things up in the work yard we took all the staff to Kaliko, a nearby resort where we get free entrance, for a fun afternoon.

Saturday we got up, finished packing up, closed up the house and headed to Port. We called the mechanic to see if we could stop by and found out that our car hadn’t arrived yet even though it was supposed to be dropped off the night before. Not gonna lie – we wondered if we had just paid $300 for someone to steal our car. After calling the tow truck we found out they were on their way there and had just gotten back late. We got everything squared away there, told Alex that, no, he couldn’t take the cat that was there with us on vacation and then went to a different mechanic to get our blue truck, as we call it. Got some lunch and then headed to the airport.

From that point on everything was easy. I think when you’re a parent with young kids, and you have to travel internationally you worry about the entire experience. No one wants to be that family on the plane with the annoying kids, the whole time knowing that you’re trying your best and are exhausted and that their ears feel like they’re going to explode and they’re overtired and hungry… Chris and I are SO thankful that our kids are traveling rock stars. They both did so well in all of the airports and on the planes. We flew Delta, so it definitely helped that there were personal tvs in every seat.

More than anything though, our family is just in this really fun stage where Olivia is old enough to do certain things, and Alex is the most enthusiastic kid you’ve ever met. Olivia was like a boss pulling her own carry on like she’s been doing it for years. Alex is so excited about everything. Seeing the world through his eyes is amazing and so fun. We have enjoyed the trip so much so far simply because of our kids. In the past few years it’s felt like a circus, but this year has just been sweet and easy so far, and restful and fun.

We overnighted in New York and of course the hotel was amazing for the kids. We got a pretty good deal on Hotwire that ended up being a Sheraton within minutes of the airport. It really was nice and the service was great. We only got about 6 hours of sleep because we needed to be up at 4 am to catch our 7 am flight to Seattle. So thankful we were still in our time zone because it was only 40 minutes earlier than Chris’ alarm goes off most mornings, so not a huge blow to the system.

The kids were again amazing on our flight to Seattle, and our family was fabulous at being pack mules to get stuff from baggage claim to the curb so our friend Paul didn’t need to pay for parking. We got 4 suitcases, 4 carry ons, 3 backpacks, 2 kids in carseats and 3 adults into a Subaru Outback. Good thing we’re used to being in Haiti where there’s always room for one more!

After the hour drive to our friends house we had a quick lunch, then Chris went to work at tightening things up and connecting others to get the van running for another season while I sorted through the luggage to repack backs for the next six weeks and loading stuff into the van. We also had stuff that was ordered ahead of time to go through and put aside for the trip back. Chris was anticipating it could take us several hours, but our flight landed at a little before 10 am, and by 1:30 pm we were on the road heading to his Mum and Dad’s. We arrived late afternoon with lots of time to settle in.

As we drove here I couldn’t help but think about how much the places we come from are ingrained in us, a part of us. I know some people are more nomadic and flexible and shift and change to their surroundings like a chameleon, but I’m one of those people that has roots. I didn’t grow up in the US, but I grew up in a similar climate, and every time I come back to this part of the world, whether it’s British Columbia or Washington state, it feels like home. It’s the same for Chris. It’s deep in us. Haiti is home now, but we will always come home here too. Many people comment on how much we must love the heat and the Caribbean to live in Haiti, and the truth is, while it’s beautiful we will both feel more at home in places with mountains, pine trees, and weather that shifts and changes even in the summer to the point that you can wear jeans and sweaters. We love the cooler weather and look forward to wearing layers. And no, we don’t love the heat in Haiti. The past week before leaving was miserably hot. It’s nice to snuggle under down blankets while having the window cracked and fresh cool air coming in.

Being here is so good. It’s wonderful.

This morning I woke up and turned another year older, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that that are probably better in another post, I will say that I’m so thankful for today and this week. For many of the past 8+ years of birthdays I’ve either been in Haiti away from the rest of our family with few options for birthday fun, or been in Canada or the US but busy with other things, missing family or any other random assortment of not super fun birthday options. Being here, on vacation, with family is great. This is the first year I’ve celebrated my birthday with Chris’ family and it’s fun to share this with them too. I got to snuggle with my littles today, which is a great way to get the morning going. Mum, Olivia and I went shopping and knocked some things off my list. This will sound completely weird to anyone who doesn’t live in Haiti, but one of my favorite stops today was a new store where 1/3 of it is produce. Again, a show of my BC roots is how excited I get about produce. Apples, berries, veggies… when you come from a fabulous growing pocket in the earth, seeing so many beautiful veggies and fruit just makes a girl want to buy it all and then cook like a crazy person. Sigh. I am home!

I was actually really looking forward to this week and it was the main reason I so badly wanted all of us to be feeling better – which we are, by the way – because there are so many exciting things happening.

Today is a day to just sort of putter around and do what we want and settle in. A few weeks ago as Chris and I were working one day I noticed he was madly printing off maps and other things, and when I asked I was told to mind my own business because he was planning my birthday. Um, okay…

For anyone that knows my husband well, you’ll know that gift buying completely stresses him out. Every single birthday and every single Christmas for the entire time we’ve been married has led to some comment along the line of, “You need to just tell me what you want for your birthday/Christmas,” with lots of exasperated sighing and what not. This year though, I was informed that the day after my birthday was to be set aside on our schedule for a day of just Chris and Leslie time because he has a whole day planned for us. He didn’t want to do it on my birthday because he knew we would both be recovering from jet lag and a three hour time difference. I was shocked that he’d planned an entire day, and I’ve made myself not ask any questions because I want to be as surprised as possible. The only things I know are that it’s an all day deal, and that we’ll be doing a bunch of walking in and around Portland. He asked this morning if I wanted to know what we were doing and I said no so I could savor the surprise :)

Wednesday Mum is treating me to a much needed hair cut, lunch and a pedicure for my very sad toes. They will be very happy toes though! On Thursday we’re heading to the coast for a few days to one of Mum and Dad’s favorite get away places. Basically, rather than that having a birthDAY, I get a birthWEEK!!! And then I get to celebrate all over again in a couple weeks when I see my family in BC. Turning 36 is pretty darn good if you ask me!

So, here we are. Happy, wearing layers and feeling restful and excited for the next 6 weeks. Thank you so much for praying for our family in the past week or so as we’ve battled the chicken fever. We’ve been feeling very blessed.

Oh, and I can’t leave this without sharing a few kid highlights from the trip…

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Over the hills and through the woods to grandmothers house we go…

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Me and my little cheeseballs on the plane from Port to New York.

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The train was SO fun. Before my phone powered up Alex had his nose glued to the window and there were a lot of “Yook! A airplane! We on the train!!!”

 

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Bedtime story in the hotel.

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Circling New York City yesterday morning. The rectangle of green next to the river is Central Park. We got to see the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building from the air, which was really cool.

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Any Haiti person will understand why this is exciting…

When we were driving here yesterday we stopped at a gas station to fill up. While Chris was inside buying a quart of oil I decided to wash the windows on the van, starting with the one that Alex was sitting next to. I wish I would have gotten a video of him watching. Apparently when you raise your kids cross culturally where window squeegees are not available it makes the whole process that much more amazing. At one point he was getting ready to beat Olivia on the head to wake her up so she could watch the show. Have I mentioned how fun this trip is going to be with the kids this year??? :)

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The rain that just came pouring down as I was writing this.

In case you didn’t know it, we own a ’69 Volkswagen van here in the US that we drive in the summers when home. The kids think it’s awesome, and so do we. Mum and Dad have a little wind up one that was on a wedding cake from our reception here back in 2006 that they just held onto, which Alex has now found. He’s been packing it around and even tried to take a nap with it. About 5 minutes ago he asked me where it was, while carrying it around… I guess he’s just gotten so attached to it that it’s now become an extension of his arm.

Have a great week!

~Leslie

Peru: Day 1

I’m back in Haiti, and because I didn’t have enough time to post or write while I was gone, I’m posting all of this after the fact. I hope you enjoy reading!

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I’m writing this more as a travel journal for myself because, wow, we did a ton yesterday! I know if I don’t get it all down while it’s fresh in my mind, by the time I get home I won’t remember half of the details. That said, I hope you enjoy getting a peek into life here in Lima!

I was awake around 6:30 am, which in and of itself is a bit of a miracle considering I went to sleep close to 3 am. Good grief. Just reading that makes me feel tired. I think my body is just so trained that it’s hard to break that cycle.

Things don’t get moving around here until 10 am. As in, banks don’t open until 10 and some major businesses don’t open until 10. That meant that we could have a lazy morning. I was able to catch up on email and talk to Chris over Skype. I can’t tell you how much I love technology right now. To be sitting in South America and talking to my husband in the Caribbean for free – priceless. Forget Mastercard. This morning I got to talk to Olivia before she went to school and then Alex over video chat after they got back from the school drive. It was so fun to see his face light up when he saw mine :)

Okay… so a typical Peruvian breakfast is coffee (most prefer instant, but Carmen and I are coffee snobs so only French press will do), some kind of bread, deli ham, deli sliced cheese, yogurt, fruit and jam/butter. There’s a bakery just down the street where Carmen’s family get all their bread from. After travelling to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and now here, this kind of breakfast is a very Latin American thing and I love it. It’s like the best combination of everything :)

After we finished up we headed out and changed money a few blocks away. Money changers here sit outside a business, usually 2-3 on a corner. They all have to register with the city and have a permit to change money, and all have a little stamp. When you change money, after everyone confirms the amount is right, they use their little stamp to stamp every bill they give you. This stops people from moving counter-fit currency. If you get a fake bill you can turn it in and report where you got it. They can check their files and see which stamp is on it then know which money changer gave out the bill. Ingenious!

From there we walked to a nearby Hyundai dealership. This is probably a good place to touch on just how “cosmopolitan” Lima is. Or developed? The city is huge. Carmen said it can take 2 hours to drive from one end to another, and the population is over 13 million people. But, that said, it doesn’t feel congested and crazy. There is traffic, but it’s constantly moving, and they have a law in place that fines you for using your horn. We were laughing about the fact that we wouldn’t be able to drive in Haiti without a horn. Streets are pretty well designed from the areas that I’ve seen so far, and traffic just flows. Stop lights, over passes, pedestrian crossings… everything. There’s everything from McDonald’s (which apparently delivers, as does Burger King, but not Chinese or pizza?!?!) to every kind of car dealership you can name. Starbucks are all over the place, malls, casino’s, movie theaters, shopping districts with names like Hilfiger… you name it, it’s probably here.

So we went to the Hyundai dealership. Weird stop on a vacation and tour of the city, I know, but it was for me. See, when you live outside of North America, the vehicles you have are often made for the specific markets of the countries or regions that you live in. We have a Hyundai Santa Fe, but it’s not the same as a Canadian or American Santa Fe. Ours is diesel, a model they don’t make for North America. This means that any specific engine parts can only be bought in places where they sell the same type of model that we have. We’re still having problems with our alternator, so Chris asked if we could check in to see if a) they sold a Santa Fe here in Peru, b) if they did, if it’s the same kind that we have back home, and c) if it is a diesel automatic transmission, to see what the cost was on an alternator here compared to Haiti and buy it if it’s a match and not crazy expensive.

We checked in there, had to go to the main branch where they had the service department, and they needed the VIN on the car so they could check specs in the system. To do that we needed to get to a wi-fi connection so I could call Chris on Skype and get it from him. So we hopped in a taxi and went to Starbucks. For the record, Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks. The only difference was that everything was in Spanish, and they sell carbonated bottled water as well as regular. Got something to drink, got the VIN, emailed it to the dealership and then went on our merry way.

We took a taxi to another neighborhood so I could get my haircut. The salon looked like anything from back home. Another for the record moment – sometimes I cut my own hair in Haiti because I just get done with it. I did that back in October/November and cut off at least 8 inches. I *may* have cried the next morning, but then cleaned it up a bit and as people started seeing me they kept telling me how great the short hair was. I actually liked it more as it grew just a bit and relaxed into itself. I just needed a trim and a clean up. The guy cutting it said I had actually done a pretty good job on things. Except thinning. Apparently I shouldn’t thin it myself :) I realized as I showered this morning that he didn’t put an ounce of product in it when he was styling it, and considering the fact that Lima is moderately humid the fact that my hair was still in a sleek bob this morning made me understand why women get a professional “blow out”. It could have stayed that way for several days, I’m sure. Maybe one of the best hair cuts I’ve ever had, and we were joking around about me having to come back in 6 months so he could do my hair again since no one in Haiti knows how to do white girl hair.

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Carmen and I really liked the clips…

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First “blow out” ever. That sucker would have lasted all week if I’d let it. The ladies in the shop kept asking about my grey hair, like “How did she do that??” The looks on their faces when Carmen told them it was natural were fabulous.

After the hair, we walked a couple doors down and had a small lunch. Carmen and I shared a tamale and a meat filled potato fritter (can’t remember the name) that gets deep fried. I had something similar in the Dominican Republic. Carmen was telling me about how much the cuisine changes depending on where you are. In the city you can literally get any kind of food you want, and there are restaurants here that are well known in the food world. In Lima it’s normal to get a sort of pickled onion “salsa” with lime and cilantro or parsley and a bit of chopped peppers. It’s not spicy as much as it is fresh. You put a little on your fork and then fork a bite of food. We also shared a pork sandwich. Lunch is the big meal of the day and while they don’t do siesta anymore in the city, people might still take a few hours off for lunch. The evening is more “small” food and nibbling on things. Inca Kola is the national pop/soda. It’s yellow and has a cream soda feel to it, but actually tasted almost exactly like Couronne, a pop/soda made in Haiti, but it was less sweet which I liked. Couronne is like drinking syrup.

After lunch we hopped on a bus. There are a ton of private cars, but a lot of people use public transit. Taxis are everywhere. There are vans, which are a small bus, medium sized buses, and big buses. The routes are always painted on the side, and in the vans and medium sized buses there are people calling out to people where the bus is going and taking care of ticketing/payment. On the larger buses you either pay the driver and get your ticket, or there’s a guy walking through the bus to take money and give ticket stubs.

We got on a large bus and went over to a more touristy area of town – Minaflores. Carmen said that when things were really politically unstable about 25-30 years back the city decided to focus on one part of town and develop it and have high security so they could still have a tourism trade in the midst of everything. Now that everything has stabilized and the economy is experiencing a major upswing, other areas have and are being reconditioned and beautified. There were cobblestone streets, lots of shops and restaurants and lots of trees and plants along the sidewalks. Peru has a big garment industry and apparently it’s very normal practice for big brand buyers to go through a box of t-shirts, for example, piece by piece, and if they see one small flaw on ONE shirt, the whole box gets rejected. The rejected apparel then gets sold at discounted prices in small shops around the city. I picked up a bunch of Old Navy t-shirts for about $5/each. They’re made from pima cotton, which is really soft and really light – perfect for Haiti. I grabbed a couple for Chris too knowing how hard it is to find light comfortable t-shirts.

We wandered over to John F. Kennedy Park, which has a fun little “feature”…

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Did you see it? No? Look again.

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Anything “abnormal”?

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If you said “cats”, you win!

Back in “the day” there was a rat problem in the park, so someone got the fabulous idea to introduce a few cats to the area, which did in fact clean up the rat problem. The only oversight was that the cats weren’t spayed or neutered before they were introduced. And, well, cats know when they have a good thing. The park is now full of domesticated cats that just hang out in the park and play with visitors. There is an adopt a cat program run by the city, and people put out water and food for them. As we were walking to a different area a woman in front of us just reached down and scooped up a cat sitting on a park bench, and cradled it in her arms and petted it as she continued to stroll. See, these are the things you don’t learn from the guidebooks!

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Street next to JFK park in Miarflores, Lima.

To finish off the day we headed down to Barranco, and older part of town known for being an access point to the beaches back in the day. It’s slowly being restored and boasts little eateries and bars mixed in the midst of old architecture.

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Looking down from the “Bridge of Sighs” in Barranco.

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The Bridge of Sighs at night.

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Can I just take a second to mention how FUN it is to have a camera that takes great pictures. Most of these night shots are SOC (straight out of camera – no editing)! I was like a giddy school girl.

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A Vacation???

I shared a bit ago that this girl is getting out of Dodge shortly. In exactly two days I will be standing in the Port au Prince airport in the line to check in.

And it’s sinking in. I’m starting to get excited.

I know that might sound funny, considering I’m going on a trip to Peru. In South America.

I would normally be getting more and more excited as time goes on, but I think because I wasn’t planning and hoping to take this trip for a long time, and that it came out of nowhere really, my brain hasn’t had time to really wrap around the fact that I’m going on vacation! 

I was literally getting myself put together the other day and saw my suitcases in the room, and I thought, “Wait a second… I’m actually going on vacation.”

The last time I was on what I would call a real vacation, was two years ago when I went to the Dominican Republic with a friend for a few days. Yes, we take time away every summer, but it’s a lot of traveling around, and even when our family gets a bit of time away on our own to go camping, I’m still cooking and cleaning up after people. My kids still wake me up at night and I still feel worn out.

To me, the definition of a holiday is going somewhere where I don’t have to do the regular day to day stuff. Not being the person relied on for food sustenance. Not having to clean up after people. Not having people wake me up at night. Basically, getting away from it all.

And it hit me the other day, that’s exactly what I’m getting. I won’t be the main source of food preparation for everyone for 10 days. I will be able to sleep without anyone else waking me up at night. Maybe I’ll get some rest and feel a bit refreshed. I get to spend time with someone I love and talk and laugh and just have fun. I get to see something new.

I know I’m going to miss my people like crazy, but I also know I need the break right now. I feel worn out and tired. I need to regroup and have some time away so I can be a better mom and wife. And I love that my husband knows this about me and encourages it.

So, here’s to hopping on a plane in two sleeps!

~Leslie

Calgon, er, American Airlines take me away!

So you know how when you register for a frequent flier number and you think to yourself, “I’m never going to be able to do anything with this other than fly one way to the next major city”?

Yeah, that.

Back in 2005 when I decided to make the move to Haiti my mom was working as a travel agent. She did all my flight bookings for me and suggested that since I would be doing two round trip tickets every year it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get an AA Advantage number. Until the last few years American Airlines was the main airline flying in and it was always cheaper to do a full, round trip ticket to and from Haiti than to take one airline to the US, and change over etc. Once you factor in luggage costs and taxes it can jump up, especially when you have to get all the way over to the west coast.

Chris and I each have a number and we’ve just let them pile up over the years. It wasn’t until last year that I even checked out the reward chart to see if there was anywhere to go with my balance. It never seemed pressing though because we were traveling every 6 months. If you show no activity on your account after 18 months, you lose your balance, which happened to Chris when we were in the midst of our adoption because he hadn’t left Haiti in about 19 months.

Last fall we had a shipping issue with some tools that we would typically bring in suitcases. We just didn’t have anyone coming in, so we sent them with the shipping company, only to get an invoice with Haiti’s new 30% of the value tax slapped on top of things. What we had estimated at a couple hundred in shipping was almost $900. As we looked at options we realized that I had almost 78,000 Advantage miles saved up. To translate that into cold, hard cash, it was enough to pay for all of my flights, two nights hotel and a two day car rental to go and physically pick them up and bring them back – on a first class ticket (hello 3 free 70lb checked bags! wink, wink)! When I finally got to speak to the owner of the shipping company, who is sweet and very helpful, we found out that our reputation as great customers who pay their bills very quickly has earned us faster shipping – as in they put our stuff on the boat before they even send our invoice. The tools were already halfway to Haiti. She was able to get several hundred dollars knocked off by the broker, but it was still a bit painful.

So, no trip to Miami.

And 78,000 Advantage miles that would expire on July 4th if we didn’t fly with American before then.

You’re probably thinking, “Um, don’t you guys fly home in the summer?” Yes, yes we do. But, in the past couple of years United, Delta and now Jet Blue have all started flying into Haiti. And the prices are competitive. Last summer we saved about $200/person flying a different airline, so we knew that it would be very likely that we would be flying a different airline come summer. It would completely suck to lose all those AA miles. What to do, what to do???

tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…

Well, hello! It’s 78,000 points/miles! Of course they need to be used!

Chris and I started tossing around ideas about how I could use them. A trip home to see my family? Not a terrible idea, but my parents were already planning on coming for Christmas and we’ll see them in the summer again. Go to England to spend some time with Chris’ aunt and uncle? Again, not a terrible idea, but something I would rather do with Chris just because it would be more fun.

Chris, very much aware that our vocation and finances probably won’t allow for much “fun” travel in our lives, really wanted me to do something that I would never otherwise get to do. It was a golden opportunity and he wanted me to use it wisely.

I kept thinking, and then got an idea. I checked the reward chart. I was good. I fired off an email. I was told that when it was read there *may* have been squealing and yelling. I confirmed it was a go with Chris. I called the AA rep and booked it. I rented a car, and a hotel room. And I’m SO excited!

In less than three weeks I’m getting on the plane to go visit one of my best friends from college (who was also one of my bridesmaids) – who lives in PERU!

Carmen came to visit us back in the fall of 2009 for two weeks and we had such a great time. Her dad is Peruvian and her mom is American, and they served as missionaries in Peru with Scripture Union while Carmen was growing up. They moved to the US when she was halfway through school (I think!) and she finished high school in the US, then went on to Bible college in Canada where we met. With a missions background, and growing up in Peru, her visit with us was so different than most. It was like we got to skip over all the normal conversations about poverty and living in the third world, and just moved on to real life stuff. It was wonderful. I didn’t have to worry about the same things I usually do when we have visitors, because she was already aware of certain things, and used to dealing with others. The year after she came to visit, Carmen moved back to Peru where she now works with Bridges International.

Edit: Carmen just informed me that she actually works for Health Bridges International. Gotta give credit where credit is due!

Never in a million years would I have thought that I would get to go see her in her world. I’m so excited, and she is too. Because of our life here my visit to her will be like hers was to us – just different. Last night she sent me an email telling me that she was thinking about eating out and realized that because we live here and I’m used to things like having to wash my lettuce, that maybe I would be okay with actually eating street food! I confirmed that I was in fact okay with it, and that I have a secret – I often plan my grocery shopping trips to St. Marc around lunch time so I have an excuse to buy a pate (pa-tay) from the street vendors in front of the store, who probably have no idea what safe food handling is. I can’t resist the fried pockets of dough with cabbage, salt fish, a chunk of hard boiled egg, and a chunk of hot dog in a little plastic bag with a big spoon of piklis (spicy slaw) on top, especially when they cost about sixty cents.

On top of getting to visit a new continent, seeing a new country and getting a new stamp in my passport, I’m going to get to be with someone who knows me. We were roommates in college, so she literally saw me day in and day out. I’m excited to learn more about her culture and what makes her who she is, what she does every day, and to meet some of her family. I’m excited to see her country and for her to show me the things she thinks I need to see. I’m so blessed and grateful to have a husband that knows me and wants good things for me, who wants me to go and have a good time, not just because I have the opportunity, but because he knows I’m a better wife and mother when I get a chance to get away every once in a while.

On the way back I’m spending two nights in Miaim so I can do things like stock up on anything that we might need. :)

~Leslie

Super Fast Post

We’re a few days into a Vision Trip, and time is a bit limited so I’m going to do a bullet point post of randomness, just for you!

  • Picked everyone up on Saturday. The day involved two airport pick ups, a visit to a police station to retrieve one of our motorcycles that resulted in a whole other interesting experience, a grocery shopping trip, a lot of driving and sweat.
  • We have three guests this week, and we’re enjoying all of them. One woman is Haitian and visiting Haiti for the first time since she was a baby. It’s been really fun showing her the country of her family’s roots and talking to her about all sorts of things. Each Vision Trip is unique and that’s what makes it fun for us!
  • It’s always like Christmas when we have Vision Trippers come because they can bring in bags full of supplies for the mission and our family. I spent a little time yesterday sweating like a marathon runner in Hawaii while trying to put our new couch cover on, and am especially enjoying my new reading glasses. I’m pretty sure the ones I was using weren’t really the strength they claimed to be because my eyes are much happier now.
  • Alex has been trying all sorts of new vocab and most days sounds like a little parrot. He’s also putting words together into little sentences, which is really fun. He’s not going to be a quiet, shy child, that’s for sure. God blessed us with two social butterflies.
  • Ryan took one visitor up the mountain to Fon Baptiste today to go deliver some bucket filters and follow-up on some filters we delivered a few months ago.
  • On Wednesday Chris will take everyone on a repair day so they can see different parts of the installation and maintenance process for the filters and have an opportunity to be in the communities where the filters go. Repair days are a bit different than delivery days because we visit fewer homes, but they’re often more spread out so our guests will have the chance to see a lot of different things during the trip.
  • Our missionary friends that have been away for the summer start to arrive back this week. I always love it when everyone is back. It makes me feel a bit more “complete” here :)

I won’t leave you hanging without telling you about my interesting experience. In a nutshell, I dropped Thony off at a police station on the way to town on Saturday so he could get one of our motorcycles that had been seized because the registration had expired. We thought the police would ask for “storage” fees, and had been advised not to pay. They did, I initially refused, but because we couldn’t get a hold of our contact within the police department for advice we decided to pay, but to take badge numbers in the event that anything needed to reported. In the process of writing down the “chief’s” badge number he got angry that I was doing so, and forcefully grabbed my arm so I couldn’t write it down. I had already finished, and very loudly informed him that I was a resident with all my papers and that I knew I had the right to take badge numbers whenever I felt anything was “off”. After a stare down he let me go and I went back outside. Thony, as well as 6 or 7 other officers had seen and heard the whole things (I was actually intentional about being loud for this reason) so the officer knew that he had made a big mistake. He was later trying to be appologetic, but mostly because he knew he had made a big mistake. I hadn’t been rude or pushy at any point and there was no reason for him to treat me that way, especially not as an official that is there to supposedly serve and protect the population.

We’re going to be following up through the right channels, but not because I want heads to roll or anything like that. We know the corruption that’s within a lot of government offices here, and we try to push against that when we can. Aside from that though, we’re also aware of how regular Haitian citizens are often treated by the police. Let’s just say they aren’t served and protected in most cases. I am a white woman, which sadly brings with it certain advantages. For this to happen to me as a white woman in this country is almost unheard of and would be frowned upon from many sources. BUT, what about all the other people here that don’t have that advantage. How much worse would they have been treated? If following up on this means that officer has to even think really hard about how he conducts himself, then the effort was worth it. If it sets an example that can maybe do a little something about fighting corruption within offices that are supposed to be serving the public, then it will be worth it.

Happy Monday!

~leslie