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

Advertisements

70 lbs, Baby!

Chris’ parents are coming next week and we’re all very excited. They used their Air Miles to book first class seats. While we’re elated for their step up in comfort level and actually jealous because we’re always going to be that family that walks by the first class passengers with two kids in tow who may or may not be needing a nap, what we hear when someone says “first class” is three free 70 lb checked bags PER PERSON!!! There may have been some high-fiving involved too.

And then we went shopping.

Chris knew this fact before I did so he was already ordering all sorts of crazy boy things like inverters and battery chargers and grain grinders and ratchet straps and sacks of malted grains and all the heavy things. I kept asking if he’d left any weight for me and his parents and he just kept saying things like “SIX FREE 70 lb BAGS!”

I finally got my act together and did my shopping. You know, people say it’s exhausting going shopping in real life, but let me tell you – online shopping is hard work people! Especially when you have two kids that are constantly popping their heads under your elbows and saying things like, “Ooooh!! What are you looking at Mom? Can I have a snack? I want juice! CARRY YOUUU!**” while you’re desperately trying to remember all the things you told yourself you needed to get while you had the fabulous opportunity of SIX 70 lb BAGS!!! (**That’s Alex speak for “pick me up”. I keep asking him when he’s really going to carry me, but apparently I am not funny. Nor am I getting carried any time soon.) 

Moving on.

So, I got my shopping on and I managed to kill what felt like a never ending list of wants and needs. When I emailed my mother-in-law to tell her that I was finally done I had to assure her that my things were small and could fit in the tiny crevices (unlike some people I know, ahem) even if it felt like a billion packages were arriving. Because there would literally be a billion packages arriving. The list that I sent her of what to expect was as long as my arm. You don’t believe me?

Ahem.

IMG_1810[1]

Yeah. I wasn’t exaggerating.

And now that we’re in the “less than a week” window I find my brain regularly thinking “Oh yeah! That XYZ is coming next week with Mum and Dad. Sweet!” That, and things that I knew might need to be replaced, are breaking or falling apart or just sort of squeaking by. They know reinforcements are coming and they can move quietly into retirement. They know.

Some of those said items are undies and training pants for Little Mister. Am I excited about that? Um, yes. Just today I thought, “We might be getting closer to the end of this diaper thing.” When I started ordering things last month I thought it might be a bit presumptuous, but now I’m thinking otherwise. He’s been pretending to go potty, which means he basically sits there and gives me status updates like, “it coming” but never actually does anything. He’s got what to do with toilet paper down pat, though there’s never any actual need for it. But hey! We’ll chalk it up as one point for the home team.

Anyway.

In the past week he’s been getting more and more vocal about his bodily functions and insisting on diaper changes right after. Good thing, right? I think yes. Chris has also taught him how to take off his diapers so he can do things like get into the bath at night more independently. Independence = good. Taking diapers off in the yard and running around butt naked and then finally coming up and telling us he took his diaper off = not so good.

Yesterday Alex was taking a “nap”. I use that term loosely because some days he goes down and sleeps like nobody’s business. Other days, he just pretends he’s sleeping and when he finally “wakes up” we find that a cyclone has gone through the kids room. It is blond and cute and yells “CARRY YOU!!!”

When Alex “woke up” yesterday, not only had the cyclone whipped through, it did it naked. And it told us that it had pooped. And then wiped it’s own butt.

All three people over the age of 6 in our house stopped dead, said nothing for a moment, and scanned the room looking for it. And we didn’t see it. Yes, there were wipes on the floor, but they weren’t even dirty, just spread everywhere. Hmmm. Then we asked some questions and I peeked in the diaper pail.

Yep. The kid took off his own diaper, dumped it in the diaper pail, and then proceeded to wipe his own butt. And not a trace of it anywhere else in the room.

And in that split moment all I could think of was, “Soooo glad those undies are coming next week with Mum and Dad…” And while I’m excited that we might be seriously moving in that direction, a part of me is very aware of the fact that my baby boy is growing up. I have entire posts written in my head of all the super cute things that he’s doing and saying right now and part of me wishes I could bottle them and keep them forever, while the other part of me is so excited to see who he will become. Isn’t that the great clash of parenting?

So, while I’m looking at our diapers and wondering how much longer we’ll be having to pack them around and what not, a big part of me was also very happy to have Little Man snuggle in deep tonight and fall asleep on me in the rocking chair. And we may have sat a bit longer, just so I could bottle it a bit.

~Leslie

Over the Hills and Through the Woods!

Saturday morning we got up early  to head out on a little road trip. After a yummy breakfast we piled in the car and Ryan hopped on his motorcycle and we started making the journey across the island to the north of Haiti. Our plan was to visit friends we’ve known online for several years, but had yet to meet face to face, with the exception of Cory who had stopped by about a week and a half ago for the first time.

I had never been past Goinaves in the 7+ years that I’ve lived here, and it’s been years  since Chris took a trip up north. Back then the roads were horrible and it could take 5-6 hours or more to do the drive. Since then they’ve done a lot of road work and with the exception of a few places the roads were fine. We were able to do the trip in about 3 hours with a few stops along the way.

One thing I love about Haiti is how much the landscape changes from zone to zone. Our area is barren compared to most other areas in the sense that it’s mostly short grasses and scrub brush, if there is any. If you go north of St. Marc you arrive in the Artibonite Valley, which is where most of Haiti’s rice is grown. In areas where they haven’t irrigated the land is very arid. I do think it’s important to mention that when the island of Hispaniola was found, it would have been covered in trees and jungle type growth. Looking at Haiti now, at least in our area, it’s hard to envision that. But, when you have the opportunity to see other areas where large trees are still allowed to grow and under brush isn’t cut back it’s a tropical paradise. It’s sad to look at the terrain in our area and know what it could look like, if only the trees were kept or replanted and protected.

The dot of light is Ryan on his motorcycle following us.

The dot of light is Ryan on his motorcycle following us.

Early morning sunshine.

Early morning sunshine.

I love this moment in the drive where you crest a hill and the Artibonite Valley sprawls below.

I love this moment in the drive where you crest a hill and the Artibonite Valley sprawls below.

The Artibonite River in Pon Sonde.

The Artibonite River in Pon Sonde.

The start of a very busy market day. Two hours later and it would have taken us about 15 minutes to get through here.

The start of a very busy market day. Two hours later and it would have taken us about 15 minutes to get through here.

In the Artibonite you pass miles of rice fields…

IMG_0857

IMG_0858

As you get into Gonaives the land changes again. In 2004 Gonaives was badly flooded and the flood left a lake where cacti used to live. The lake has finally dried up and shrubs are starting to come back, and the grass is growing. The last time we drove through there people were still fishing out of it.

North of Gonaives you start to see bigger trees. The Mapu tree is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They have some significance in voodoo, so while you might see limbs cut off a Mapu tree, you never see one cut down. Because of this they’re massive. One time Chris and I were in an outlying area of Gonaives and we came across a Mapu tree that was literally about 10 feet in diameter! I have a picture of Chris somewhere standing next to it. In order to get a good picture of the tree I had to stand way back, and Chris looks like a dot. The Mapu trees will grow mixed in with old mango trees, trees that drip with fruit. It’s amazing!

IMG_0865

The road over the mountains is literally that – a road that goes over the mountains. You climb and climb and climb through a maze of switchbacks and curves as Haiti’s mountain ranges lay out before you. In Creole there is a phrase –  “Apre morn gen morn”. Loosely translated it means “After mountains there are more mountains.” It’s so true. You can look at the side of a hill and think that’s the highest range around, but when you get to the top you see miles of hills and mountains stretched before you going off into the horizon. I have honestly never seen anything like it.

IMG_0875

At the top of the climb you come to the place where the road forks. Go one way and you’ll head to Marmelade, which we’ve heard is beautiful. Go the other way, and you head to Cap Haitian. We went the other way :)

IMG_0901

You’re only at the top for a few seconds and you start to go down the other side. There is one spot where you are literally at the top of the range and looking down both sides you see miles and miles of valley below you, filled with it’s own smaller ranges. It baffles me to think of who originally cut these roads.

IMG_0883

Looking at the road to come…

Apre morn, gen morn.

Apre morn, gen morn.

IMG_0886

Smoke from charcoal pits filters up.

Going down, down, down you start to find yourself in green. Big trees, high grasses, flowering bushes – it’s so lush and fresh. After going down the switch backs and past small communities the road starts to climb again. This time the climb isn’t as severe, but climb you do.

IMG_0887

As we started to come down the other side of the second climb I looked down to see a river finding it’s way through the green jungle like landscape. It caught me by surprise, because rather than being the brown river that is the Artibonite River, this was clear fresh water that tumbled over boulders and wove through the valley.

IMG_0890

At the bottom of our decent we found ourselves driving parallel to this beautiful river. Children played in it and ladies sat in groups washing their colorful laundry. It wasn’t full of garbage and wallowing animals, and I thought to myself, “This is the Haiti I want people to see, because Haiti is so much more than what people see when they get off the plane.” The truth is, many never get past Port au Prince and it’s surrounding areas. If you only see one thing, you think that’s what defines a place, right? Haiti is so much more complicated and beautiful than that, though.

The Fauche campus.

The Fauche campus.

We got to Limbe and headed down the road to Fauche (foh-shay) to the Wesleyen campus where they live. Again, it’s a beautiful area. It gets hot, but the large trees and greenery make for a different kind of hot. I think it was cooler than our place, partly because it’s more north, but also because of the greenery. It’s amazing how much heat a large tree can cut out.

We really enjoyed our weekend with Kris, Cory, Eli and Anna and hope we’ll get to see them when they make trips down our way. There’s a big difference in spending time with people that have been in country for years and spending time with people who are only a few years in. Kris was also a missionary kid here so we heard all sorts of interesting stories about her time growing up in the country and how different things were back then.

Cory is an agriculturist, so Chris and I had fun walking through his “garden” which is really a loose term because it’s pretty huge and sort of trickles down one side of the property. He has a nursery area where he starts his plants or babies his cuttings, then finds new homes for them. The variety of things he’s trying out is mind-boggling. When he stopped by for a quick visit a couple weeks ago he brought us almost a pick-up truck box full of plants and trees. Yesterday we left with a trunk full of cuttings and root balls! Chris really enjoys trying out fruiting trees, so he and Cory had fun talking about what would work in our area and what to try. It was also fun for us to get to try some of the fruit from the things that he gave us, like ever bearing mulberry! People often ask us what we miss food wise, and when it comes to fruit, we both miss berries! They need cooler dormant times, and Haiti just doesn’t have that. But, this mulberry is great for hot climates like Haiti and is delish! We ate them fresh and in pancakes, and you can use them to make jam!

One of the other fascinating plants that Cory gave us is Miracle Fruit! Miracle Fruit is this berry that you eat that heightens your taste for anything else you eat after it, for about 20 minutes. Sour things can become sweet and sweet things become more sweet. We found one ripe berry on their bushes, so Chris, Ryan and I split it and had a tasting party before we left. I already have extra taste buds, so food tends to taste more intense for me naturally, so I was curious. Wow! The sour stuff was fun, but I noticed the biggest difference on a slice of mango. It was so syrupy sweet I could hardly finish it! It was fun, and I can’t wait until our bushes start giving fruit and we can let our workers try it. That’ll be a fun day! :)

Miracle Fruit!

Miracle Fruit!

Most of what Cory gave us yesterday are flowering plants, which I’m so excited about! We have lots of green things at our place, but not much that flowers. We now have about 10 different kinds of hibiscus and other things like ginger, anthurium, peace lily and several varieties of heliconia. Have I mentioned I’m excited???

One of the Hibiscus varieties.

One of the Hibiscus varieties.

Another Hibiscus variety we got. There's also a peach one like this, a giant coral orange one, the standard red, a deeper red, a pink with light streaks, a peach with burgundy center... so many!

Another Hibiscus variety we got. There’s also a peach one like this, a giant coral orange one, the standard red, a deeper red, a pink with light streaks, a peach with burgundy center… so many!

Cory getting some "help" from Alex. We already have the giant leaf plant that's over Alex's head growing in our yard. Cory is digging up some of the plant with the purpleish leaves for us to take home.

Cory getting some “help” from Alex. We already have the giant leaf plant that’s over Alex’s head growing in our yard. Cory is digging up some of the plant on the right for us to take home.

The drive back was just as pleasant as the drive there. We made a quick stop to buy some mangos just before we arrived back in Gonaives. There’s one area under a bunch of big old mango and Mapu trees where ladies line up along the road and sell their fruit.

IMG_0902

IMG_0903

These Mapu trees are still very young, probably only about 15 – 20 years old.

It was a fun get away!

~Leslie