Monday, March 25, 2013

Wrapping it up

This morning came really early for me. Rhonda and Joan were stirring so I got up to start my day and asked what time it was. They said, "2:30." I let out a squeal and jumped back into bed. But thanks to the cold, I could not sleep. By the time that 3:30 rolled around, Allan had the coffee on. And I had a couple of cups with some dry cereal, and it wasn't long before the bus arrived.

A different bus than the old jalopy we traveled here in, this one was a 15 passenger van. And I want to add 15 small passengers. And yet we got 17 of those in there, secured the luggage on the roof and pulled away. To my horror, Tessa informed me that Junior was sitting on the roof! When a piece of luggage worked its way loose, we stopped and we discovered that not only Junior was on the roof, but a friend of his, too!

Yes, you heard right! Two people clinging to the roof rack for an hour and a half! 
In good time, we arrived at the airport, only to be swamped by porters and men selling paintings, but we had no money. Sharon had been traveling with a small plastic jar of bubbles, and finally had it confiscated, even though she traveled with it through Canada and the United States. The female inspector had never seen a jar of bubbles before.

The airport is crowded with so many missionaries, as well as one young couple with their newly adopted Haitian son. I wonder at all the work we're doing in Haiti, and yet the country is so dirt poor. There is no infrastructure and children are always demanding money. Some Haitians say this enough food for everyone, and that it's getting better slowly, but in my short experience I can't fully appreciate that. In the market we visited, I saw plenty of used clothing being sold, and people call it Kennedy Clothing because it arrived during the Kennedy administration.

So what do these people need? I keep running that question over and over in my mind, and there is no pat answer that I can come up with. Charles Spurgeon once said, if you're going to hand a man a tract, you better put it in the sandwich. So are we to do good work only ? Humanitarian efforts are good, excellent even, but change must come within the Haitians themselves.

It's not until I return home and speak with another woman who also just returned from Haiti, that I really get a sense of what the Haitians need, from words spoken by a Haitian woman. Haiti needs lives transformed by Christ. You may not believe that, but it's true. Secular humanitarian efforts can fill a belly, but even an atheist must admit there is a spirit within each of us that needs to be filled, too. A life truly and honestly transformed by God can do powerful things.

It's been over a week since I returned, and finally I'm feeling more comfortable with my thoughts. I still don't know if I would return to Haiti, but I've come away with so much more than I gave, so who knows, maybe I will return to try to give that little bit more, and help in the transformation of the country.

I hope you enjoyed this little series and even got a better sense of the difficulties missionaries face. Take a moment if you will and comment with your thoughts. Thank you!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

True humility. The hard way.

It's the morning of our last full day here in Haiti. Frankly, it's going to be easy to leave because of the work and the food. Allan says you know when it's time to leave because they're starting to serve the same food again, which was refried beans and buns. And yet, it's going to be hard because there is so much left to do. Joan is curious about the regulations for electricity and if to answer her, the power has winked off again this morning.

can you spot the spider?
Something is bothering my sinuses and I think I'm coming down with a cold. Today, we returned to the same spot as yesterday, and saw many more tarantulas. We had to walk there, because, again, the trucks would not start. As always, our system of bucket brigade is not without its glitches. Rhonda got hit in the head, as was I, by the empty buckets. 
But there was a moment of lightness and humor, when Ricardo caught one of the piglets. Mummy pig heard her baby squeal and let out a roar and chased Ricardo, snapping back at the end of her line. Ricardo dropped the piglet, who was okay, and mum returned to check her babies out. We're lucky that her line didn't break because should it have, Ricardo would've been chased around the yard by a very angry sow.

Someone has tied up several nanny goats around another mango tree, hoping they will eat the mango leaves, but they all look frightfully skinny. Though we filled up two truckloads of rubble, I did manage to take a lot of good pictures of the beautiful flowers around this yard. On the way home for lunch, we drove around a burned-out dump truck at an intersection. It had been stripped and abandoned, giving the whole area a warlike feel. The streets are dirt and gravel, rubble is piled everywhere and is guarded and hoarded.

Lunch today was rice and beans, fried chicken, spicy onion and pepper sauce, and a hot potato salad with corn and carrots. During the rest after lunch, I had to turn on the air conditioning as I began to pack. We've discovered were going to two home dedications, something I'm looking forward to. 
Of course, Allan brought his goofy teeth and scared one little girl who hugged me. He ended up giving the teeth to the boys to play with, and loads of good pictures were taken.

The first dedication was to

a man in a cowboy hat and Seattle T-shirt. Amanda presented the keys to him and he got to open his home for the first time. We gave him a few small gifts, Joan's donation was a doormat and a bandanna and Jackie some Canadian effects. Rhonda offered a sewing kit and candy, and Sharon, some facecloths. We prayed with the man, who seemed a little overwhelmed by it all.

On the way to the second house, we passed a voodoo priest's house. There was a small cross set in the cement mound with the rope and a stick attached to it, and some people say it indicates that the priest believes he's higher than Jesus. A group of young men standing nearby invited Wes to a ceremony, and I told him I would like to pray for him first. I'm concerned about witnessing such a thing, after all, to use a counterfeit analogy, bank tellers are trained to recognize counterfeit bills by handling and studying the real thing. But Wes is a student of cultures and wants to reach out and connect with his full number of followers.

We arrived at the other house, which sat on the very site of the earthquake-destroyed house. On the front porch an old woman rocked in a rocking chair. We've discovered the family is Catholic, and I told the lady I would pray for her pope, as I was touched when I read that Pope Francis' heart had been broken for the poor. Our gifts there were much the same as the previous house, with the exception of the solar shower instead of the doormat and yet they all didn't seem enough.

The little old lady lifted her hands and praised God, and I could tell by her bleary eyes she was indeed very grateful to have a home. It was truly moving experience. All this week we'd been grumbling and complaining that we weren't building a home for anyone, until it hit me right then, that this was the plan all along. This wasn't about us. We have to stop being selfish, and indeed my heart has been broken for the poor of Haiti. I am truly humbled that these people are so grateful for a small, one room shack with the tin roof. We came into this town with a high aspirations of doing good, but rather we have learned 'good' instead. I don't know how else to describe this. We weren't sent to Haiti to build rubble homes or to save a life or two, but we were sent here to learn true humility, and for me it's a hard and difficult lesson.

I looked at the rest of the day in a different light. We had a decent supper, and I wasn't hungry, and nor would I complain. Joan gave a tour of the women's quarters to the men and I walked upstairs to discover three large fish skewered on rebar, drying in the sun. I can't say yet what I'm going to take away from this journey. I need to absorb it all first. We celebrated communion together, Rhonda played a hymn on her harmonica, and we departed into the night, in a way reminiscent of the Disciples' Last Supper with Christ.

And yet like the disciples, our day wasn't over because as we were playing a game later, the truck with all the supplies finally arrived. We had to stop, change our clothes and unload it, and take showers again. It took us 40 min. to unload 50 bags of 42 kg each of cement, dozens of pieces of wood and rolls and rolls of chicken wire. How ironic that the supplies would come in after all I learned about this trip. My throat is sore, my head is full of cold and the day tomorrow will start early as we travel for 24 hours to return home. Tomorrow, I'll wrap this up with a unique trip to the airport and my thoughts on all the effort happening in Haiti.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Part - 7 Haitians, spiders and one likeable mama pig!

It's after breakfast, which was two coffees and an empanada made with either fish or chicken (I couldn't tell which) and 'picklies', tha spicy coleslaw. Bob and I both long for some cold orange juice. We can hear the kids next door screaming and yelling and it feels like there's at least a dozen of them. It seems now we're going to the market and I hope to get some batteries for my camera.

No, wait, another change of plans, that seems typical of the culture here. No problem for me, but it frustrates others in our group. We're going to the job site this morning and to the market this afternoon, which is good because we're fresher now for the work. Though the younger girls got up late, we're not waiting for them, but rather something else. Hurry up and wait, like the old adage from the military.

It turns out that we had to push the truck and motorbike to get them both started. We returned to the site where the bees live, and I got stung again. We loaded the truck and then moved to a location nearby. This site will prove to be our most interesting experience so far.

Under one of the mango trees is tied an enormous black sow, whose five piglets run free, but never far from her. Her bones are showing, and the ancient rope around her neck has dug in and left scars. We threw her some unripe mangoes, which she munched on quite gratefully, seeds and all. She dropped pieces of the fruit for her piglets to taste. She has a huge dented tin bowl for water, which is bone dry. We gave her some of our water, and she drank most of it, then with her snout flipped the bowl over and began to roll in the mud. Apparently lying on her side is an open invitation for her piglets to have a snack.

And a more frightening note, we've discovered that in the rubble live very large tarantulas! They're the size of my hand, and someone scooped one into an empty bucket so we could all have a look and take pictures. We also discovered the tarantulas can climb the sides of slippery white buckets. Ricardo, having been born in Mexico City and lived 40 some years in Dallas, is quite used to tarantulas, and enjoyed swinging the bucket at several of the ladies. When the tarantula finally escaped, one of the Haitians stepped on it. Not to worry, we found many, many more, and eventually began to toss them into an adjacent field. Not me. I was just really careful when I picked up rubble.

Returning for lunch was quite an experience. That motorbike wouldn't start and the driver kept taking out the plug, scraping it on a rock, bending it and putting it back in. Finally, the Haitian girl, Teeteet, trotted off and returned with a chain. The little Mitsubishi truck, filled with others, towed the motorbike in. I now have a great deal of respect for the Mitsubishi company, as that truck has taken an incredible beating and still keeps going.

Lunch today was white rice, bean sauce, spicy meat, and vegetable sauce. It was very good, and we're thankful for the pop we get each meal. After lunch, we walked to the market. It was quite a distance on the far side of the main road. What a cacophony of sounds, smells, and smoke. Built on rough hard pan, it's an incredible labyrinth of tiny stalls held together with wood and ripped great tarps, and absolute maze to walk around. Most of things for sale were Oxo type cooking cubes, canned milk, lots of onions, tomatoes, and long bars of soap. There are vegetables, oranges, plantations, hot peppers all the little piles. We literally threaded our way through the whole place. I bought four batteries for four dollars, and two packs a small biscuits for one dollar. Joan spied some plastic tote bags, and again, the price asked was little high. The woman wanted "over two dollars each", but Joan asked, if we bought five, which she except $10, and the woman agreed. I got a bright pink one. They all have different pictures of Haiti on them, and here in Canada we could probably get them for about a dollar, but everyone says, "let's support the local economy", which leads the businessmen to put their prices up when they see us coming.

Like everywhere else, there's a ton of children, most of them getting out of school and following us. Allan put in his hillbilly teeth, and I would yank them out and Allan would pretend he had no teeth in his mouth. The little girls would scream and run away, and the little boys would laugh hysterically.

On the way back we followed the river. The streets wind in and out, are filled with livestock and we watched one nanny goat get reunited with her baby. We also saw several rubble homes and a hotel used by missionaries distributing water filtration systems about the size of a small fuel filter. The man running the mission was from Steinbeck, Manitoba, and he had students on their spring break helping him. The rooms in the hotel were so unbearably hot, many of the people were lying on the stone floor in the hotel atrium.

When we got back a man from another missionary group stopped by, and he told us his experience during the earthquake, and how he ran in to grab his wife and kids. He told us a little about the voodoo and how 15 children are sacrificed here each year for good luck, but I got the sense that he was exaggerating, claiming it was church on Sunday, voodoo on Monday, and that he invented the saying "50% catholic, 50% protestant, 100% voodoo." 
Good grief, I heard a similar saying 30 years ago, and that man is not that old. Pastor told us voodoo was more in the past, and part of the heritage. It's practiced less and less each year. I think that's true, or else they wouldn't be so many children running around. But it still unnerving to hear. Sharon felt that the pastor of the church around the corner would not practice voodoo. We had an interesting discussion on superstition, asking ourselves if we are any better than the Haitians and their superstitions.

I took a shower, and discovered that my towel is covered with little red ants. After the shower. I had to jump in and shower again and dry off with a clean towel. And I was bitten terribly, and still have the rash. 
 The younger crowd have gone to the beach. It's a two-mile walk. Supper was macaroni with some vegetables. Bob did the devotional, which was about Moses and how God asked "Is my arm to short?"

There are so many mission organizations here, and yet it feels like nothing is getting done. I don't have an answer for this, and to me it's very frustrating. There is some chanting and crying and yelling in the distance, and Chris suggested it was a voodoo ceremony. While it's creepy to hear, we also wonder if we aren't mistaking African music style, though some people say you can tell the difference. I certainly couldn't . And I'm not sure I would want to be able to.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Part 6 of my Haitian experience

I feel better today. But I had a hard time getting to sleep. Breakfast was eggs and rolls, and I was glad to see something a little bit 'North American', but eggs are probably a valued commodity here.
The younger girls slept in, but we saved them the eggs which they appreciated, even though they don't normally eat a big breakfast.
Again we're not going back to our rubble house and it's disappointing. I really wanted to build a whole home, but for some reason we're being stalled on that. This morning we hopped into the back of the pickup and we headed northwest to other piles of rubble, beside houses demolished by the earthquake. That's where I saw my first cockroach. Several, actually, all scurrying around when I lifted up a rock. 
We loaded the dump truck at various sites along the roads near a water purification center, trying to stay in the shade. The broken cement along the roadway is so poorly made, it crumbles when we squeeze it.
We've also learned that nowadays, rubble homes are becoming popular, and there is actually a market for the rubble, so people hoard it and sell it. We have to be careful where we get it, so as not to steal it.
Naturally, I had to pee, and Junior asked a lady at a nearby house if I could use her facilities. She took me inside past a wash area that had a lumpy wet cement floor, through a dining area with the table and chairs through a bedroom that was very tidy and into a small bathroom that was spotless. No running water, but toilet paper and even space for a shower. The walls were cement gray, unpainted and it was spartan but neat and clean. 
Most buildings here are made of cement, even their ceilings, and that makes for a dangerous situation should another earthquake happen. Rubble homes have tin roofs and will only sway. These cement homes, built with those poorly made cement blocks, crumble easily in a tremor, but are cheap to build.
Allan has taken to eating unripe mangoes that hang from the trees, but they're a bit sour for me, despite me being hungry. When we returned for lunch, Faucher told us that Alex is coming from Port-au-Prince with wire and supplies, and hopefully a goat for Thursday night. He also promises that he'll go to the market tomorrow morning to get some food.
Lunch was fried chicken, salad, and a new bean dish. Meat is only available on Saturdays and Wednesdays at the market, but our cook has found some chicken for us today, so it made for a substantial meal that didn't require peanut butter for extra protein. As a result, I expect we will have a light supper. This practice of lighter meals and harder work I will try to embrace. There's no point in trying to immerse yourself in Haitian culture, while complaining about the lack of food.
We piled into vehicles, the pick up and the motorcycle/pickup. We drove to where we were before lunch, and when that was exhausted, we piled in to the dump truck with Sharon and Rhonda in the front with the rest in the back. Let me tell you, it's not easy for me, a 53-year-old woman, to climb into the back of a 5 ton dump truck. Nor is it pretty.
The next site, another home demolished by the earthquake, was filled with wasps. I was stung on the left ankle, but had that same anti-itch cream I had a run-in with to put on my sting. Across the street were several huge mango trees. 
It turned out that we wouldn't fill the dump truck again today because the driver was needed elsewhere. We were grateful because we were all sweltering, and it's hard to believe that half a world away, it's still snowing and cold. In fact, were so hot here, that after a shower, it takes a long time to dry because you're still sweating and the air is very humid.
I lay down for a nap until Alex returned and opened the safe so we could get some money. He did not get the supplies we needed. Another day, and we will return to our house. Faucher offered another tour of the kitchen for the ladies, explaining tonight's soup.
Chocolate soup. Yes, chocolate soup. The cook invented this recipe that blends bananas, evaporated milk, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, and grated chocolate. She adds hot water and then boils it. The chocolate is a big handmade block wrapped in banana leaves, and the vanilla is a large bottle of pure white vanilla with the slightly spicy scent. Faucher says he can get the some of each to take home. The coffee, called Rebo, is arabica coffee and grown here and very strong. Coffee is five dollars, a pack vanilla as four dollars a bottle, and chocolate is four dollars a log. 
It's not that expensive, but it's not cheap either. I'm surprised that things cost as much as they do. I made up a list and gave him numbers for the order from our groups. I asked Jackie to handle the money, because it's laughable to see me trying to count bills.
We went onto the roof for our devotional and discussed why we came and what Bible verses inspire us. There were a lot of different reasons, all fascinating, from doing Jesus' work to enjoying Haitian culture to fulfilling a lifelong dream.
We walked down the street quite a ways to a fried chicken place afterwards.  For five dollars US, we received half of the small chicken picklies, (which is a spicy coleslaw) and some fried plantain. I was full from the chocolate soup, as it was quite rich, but went for the experience, and I ate half of my meal, saving the other half for breakfast. 
The restaurant was really just an unpainted room with a brazier, the counter and several children's chairs. A girl and her mother are cutting and pressing plantain into patties using spices to coat them. Beer was offered in those little brown stubby bottles. We brought back Sharon's meal as she was too tired to walk.
My legs were tired, too. I washed them and put on icy gel. They ached, making it hard for me to sleep. I can see the value of an afternoon nap and very little work in the heat.

I shouldn't have left her alone!

That crazy Georgina has done it again!  I left her alone for a few minutes, and now another one of her books is free ! Get it here! ...