I’ve spent the last several days in final preparation for our upcoming trip to Haiti. Each of our team members is allowed one checked bag and one carry-on bag per person. We also will take one ‘team’ bag per person. Our team bags are full of various donations of clothing and other items, supplies we will need during our stay, as well as supplies for the activities we hope to do with the kids at the Mephibosheth House.
For those of you who have traveled with me, you will probably be surprised to find that I am struggling to fit everything into a large checked bag and a large carry-on bag. I am the one who preaches that you can fit everything you need into a carry-on sized bag and a day bag for 3 weeks in Europe. And I can. And I have. As many of you might attest to.
But packing for Haiti is different. First is the need for clothes for every day of the trip. I NEVER do that while traveling, preaching the value of washing out your clothes in the hotel room sink and wearing them repeatedly throughout your stay. In Haiti, where the temperature is 95F and the humidity is 95%, waiting for clothes to dry (truly dry) is a sketchy proposition. Plus, it is a wonderful moment every morning to be able to open a fresh, Ziploc-encased outfit and have, just momentarily, the smell of clean clothes and clean air. Then there’s the toilet paper. Yes, we take our own. As well as massive amounts of sun-screen and bug spray, wet-wipes and hand sanitizer, dryer sheets (which you spread on the floor around the bed to keep bugs away and tucked in your suitcases for the same purpose), Listerine, and a medicine chest’s worth of drugs that you pray you won’t be needing. Squeezing it all in is an adventure. It makes me realize how very much we have.
The United States is by many reports and standards the world’s wealthiest country. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis lists a per capita income of $38,611 and the US Census Bureau cites an average household income of $50,740. The World Bank’s PPP numbers rank the average US citizen second in wealth behind those of Luxembourg. Only 13% of our population lives in poverty. Even those of us who have taken a hit during the recent economic downturn still have far more than a significant portion of the rest of the world. We have enough.
In less than 24 hours from this writing, I will be stepping off a plane in Port-au-Prince. Haiti is a 65 minute flight from Miami and is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. 80% of its population lives in poverty and 54% live in abject poverty. Average per capita income runs from $270 USD per year (UN ReliefWeb) to $400 USD (US State Department). Haiti is ranked the 4th most corrupt country in the world (Transparency International) ranking better only than Somalia, Myanmar, and Iraq. The contrast between here and there is a difficult one to ignore.
When you set down in Haiti you are confronted immediately with incredible lack. There is poverty everywhere you look. There is need. It is easy to feel guilty in such a circumstance, when you cannot help but compare what you have available to you every day and have left behind at home, just hours before, to what you are seeing whichever direction you turn your head. It is a harsh confrontation of how much we have, and yet how much we continue to ‘want.’
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, said something like this (paraphrased greatly!) – whether in plenty or in want, in whatever circumstances I am, I have learned to be content. It seems a wise approach to life.
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