Haiti is an amazing land of contrasts. So wild, full of pollution, garbage, spiritual darkness, and immense pain. But in the midst of all that, there is a joy unspeakable and amazing stories of God's grace and love that is hard to find in the states. It seems that in the States we so often mask what is really going on with an outer facade that gives the impression of spiritual fruit, but so often is just a symptom of whitewashed tombs – good looking on the outside but full of dead men's bones on the inside. Certainly the facades still exist here, but the distinctions are more open. Much can be seen right on the surface.
Our week started out with our regular church service at Mission of Hope. We walk back and forth from church alongside the crazy busy highway of Rue National 2. Everything from overloaded dump trucks to motorcycles and even donkeys are moving at contrasting speeds and competing directions along this route. Lots of horn blowing and yelling as we move at walking pace beside the din and commotion making our way to worship.
What a pleasing sound to the soul as we leave the mass confusion behind and enter the gates at Mission of Hope to the sound of worship music playing on the large speakers suspended from the ceiling on rafters bowing downward under the weight. A thin tin roof, three walls, gravel floor, and just enough structure to keep most of the rain out provides shelter for worship. I make sure to always choose a seat NOT under the speakers for fear of an eventual collapse of supports. Haiti is not known for quality construction or pioneering cutting edge safe building codes. However, the worship to our God and Savior is real, powerful, and moving.
Sunday between services is normally beach day for the kids, but this Sunday circumstances dictated that we remain at the Children's Village until the evening worship service. So we made the best of it. Amy got out her guitar and led the girls in some worship music. They know most of the modern worship songs that we do in Creole and English. The girls here have amazing voices and it just melts my heart every time I hear them sing. Listening to Amy's guitar and the voices of the girls singing to our God was refreshing to my soul.
At some point the boys found out that I brought a skateboard and asked me to bring it out. Now there is not much concrete in the village that allows for riding space, but there is enough for a taste. I gladly agreed and told them that they had to organize themselves and take turns. Robenson was the one that asked, so he ended up with the unchallenged right to go first. It was amazing to watch their natural athletic ability unfold as they took immediately to skateboarding. They enjoyed the thin strip of concrete past their dining area and outdoor kitchen as if they were shredding up a downtown skatepark.
They never fought and took turns giving each other a healthy chance to ride before passing it off.
Later in the week I noticed the boys gathered around a rough hole in the concrete area. I looked down and noticed that they were patching the hole all by themselves with some concrete. I guess they “acquired” some concrete after the construction workers went home. I asked what they were doing, and they told me they wanted to make the surface better so that the next time the rode the skateboard it wouldn't be as rough. These kids are survivors and VERY resourceful. I just laughed, smiled, and didn't disturb their work.
Sunday evening finished out with another walk back and forth to Mission of Hope for service. This time we had to walk back in the dark. A slightly more harrowing experience alongside Rue National 2 than in the day time.
Monday morning started off with formal Creole lessons from Mr. NoNo. Yes that is what he is called. I don't even know his real name. It seems that most Haitians have some sort of nick name that they are called by, and often it is some quirky English derivative. He is a great instructor, a follower of Christ, and has put together a wonderful curriculum. We need all the help we can get!
This week I reached a huge milestone for living in Haiti. I was approved by Andrew to drive our vehicles in town. The next step will be out of town, but right now this is enough! Driving in Haiti is a terrifying experience that causes the Christian to cling close to his savior with every moment spent behind the wheel. The rules are as follows:
1. There are some rules, but most are not enforced.
2. The law of gross tonnage always applies
3. Passing on either side is always allowed and encouraged. I'm not kidding. You've really got to watch out when making a left hand turn because you're likely to have various vehicles passing on both sides and oncoming traffic coming at you with the same scenario playing out in the opposite direction. Pray a whole bunch. The only reason you survive is because God is not calling you home yet.
4. Most motorcycle aka “moto” drivers to not use their headlights at night because they think it drains their battery, and they turn off their engine when coasting downhill because they think it saves gas. It is your responsibility not to hit them.
5. Pedestrians and animals will always be a part of the highway. It is your responsibility not to hit them. They don't care about you and will NOT get out of your way.
6. The road conditions are deplorable. There are various speed bumps placed in random locations that the locals endearingly refer to as “sleeping policemen”. Hope you're not going fast when one pops up out of nowhere.
7. Most of the driving is actually “off road” with roads that resemble mountain fire roads and backwoods trails. Bring extra tires and tools for the certain worst case scenario.
8. The best advice that Andrew gave me before pulling out into traffic was “Yep, It's Frogger!”
Cooking has been somewhat of a new adventure. We do have a small fridge so it is nice to be able to keep a few perishables as well as leftover on hand. Amy has been experimenting with the local ingredients and I have especially enjoyed her eggplant Parmesan. She rocks and is such a good cook. She has been using coconut, bananas, and mangoes. We don't have any fresh meat other than occasional chicken, but she makes the most out of what is available.
This week started the daily routine of school for the kids. It was pretty much like they have always done so this provided some familiarity and structure for them. The biggest difference would be the fact that our house is regularly over 90 degrees during the day. Maybe we will acclimate soon?
In order to have a permanent residence in Haiti we are required to have a Haitian bank account. This was a unique experience. Haitian banks are probably the most dangerous place you can go. So we took the whole family for the experience. The good thing about banks is that they are air conditioned. Luke said he wanted to go to the bank every day. The one unique thing is that they are very particular about how you sign your name. It was like traveling back in time to pre-automation with lots of carbon copies and liquid paper going on. I messed up so many forms because I am apparently an idiot who can't even sign his own name consistently. I have gotten so use to the electronic signature pads at most American checkouts that I have become quite lazy with my signature. Finally the lady just picked out one of my signatures that she liked and told me to make the rest of them look like that one. I can't tell you the anxiety level that washed over me as I put pen to paper trying to match that signature with a shaking hand, sweat beading up on my forehead and armpits as my heart raced. Finally I got them all close enough.
This week I learned that some of the construction workers are ex Haitian Military. There is no military now, but they were a part of one when it existed. There is one guy in particular that is the “motivator” when any big job is to be done. He is endearingly known as I Love You (yep another crazy nickname) by the construction boss. He keeps the crew motivated by yelling and making jokes during such activities as concrete pouring bucket brigades. He found out that I was ex military also, and now calls me Fre! or Brother in English.
This week has been a week where Amy has had ample opportunity to exercise her nursing skills. One of our staff members burned her arm, and Amy was able to wash it and help her take care of it. The Haitian style is to detach from pain and that is exactly what this lady did as Amy scrubbed and then applied burn cream. The hardened outer shell from strife and grief in an attempt to protect from further pain and anguish. But, I have heard this lady lift up loud sincere praise to Christ and I know she means it.
Steve ripped open his toe this week and word got to Amy that he needed some care. Steve has such a sweet gentle spirit and eyes that are aged far beyond his years. He is probably the most serious young man here at the Children's Village. Quiet and reserved he makes his way through the days. He is a joy to be around and Amy eagerly took care of his toe as he came by every morning and evening. He is almost healed now.
Late Wednesday night close to midnight we awoke to a frightening scene. Luke had gotten violently sick in the night. Amy immediately started taking care of him and cleaned up behind him. She stayed up until about 3 am taking care of him. We initially thought that it was probably food poisoning, but as time and symptoms progressed things started to point to malaria.
Sean stopped by another nearby orphanage called Be Like Brit and picked up some malaria test kits. We gave him 2 tests just to make sure. Both came back positive.
Sean and I drove into town to the nearby “pharmacy” for some chloroquine. The “pharmacy” was more like a newsstand that someone had ransacked. The lady that ran the place dug through piles of random medicine, open boxes of dust covered pill packets, and eventually produced a “sleeve” of chloroquine tablets. Ten 250 mg tablets in two rows produced by Flamingo Pharmacy out of India. The price was about 50 cents in US Currency. We got him on it right away. The fever is mostly gone, but he still feels pretty nauseated. It comes and goes, but he is holding down food now.
It would seem that you could catch a break at night, but that is when things seem to get cray cray. I woke up at 4 am to the electricity going on and off with constant inverter beeping. I walked outside to check things out and tried to communicate with the night watchman in my broken Creole. His solution was to randomly start flipping switches, wait 15 seconds, and then start flipping again with more force and rapidity. In my vain attempt to give some guidance I went in the house and produced my multimeter. This must have gained me some credibility because he stopped flipping switches and stood back to see what I would do. I found that the voltage level was too high for the inverter and communicated that to him by showing him the readout. His solution was to turn on and off the generator, which actually got the voltage to a level where we could make it through the remaining hours of the night. Andrew made the adjustments the next morning.
Friday is a day off for us so we went across the road to the local beach. Luke has been dying to go since we got here, and he wasn't even going to let malaria keep him away. The drive takes about 15 minutes through washout river ravines and rocky roads that more resemble stream beds. The local residents live in the usual Haitian shacks, tents, and some in cinder block or concrete houses surrounded by random local agriculture.
Once you hit the coast the view is breathtaking. The occasional salt breeze seems so inviting, until it is countered with the occasional breeze of raw open sewer, livestock, or burning garbage. The beach itself is beautiful.
Taino Beach is home to Stevens. A local teenager and spokesperson for the location. He is very friendly, speaks decent English, and has a few trinkets for sale. His dad is a lobster man. There may not be fresh meat available, but for the price of a US Fast Food meal, you can have fresh lobster on the beach. Luke said, “If you've got to have malaria, this is a good place to have it”.
We hung out at the beach all day and basked in the beauty as our souls were refreshed. We tried to buy a little something from the 5 local merchants that hung around selling trinkets. We told them that we could not buy every time we came, but we did our best to support the local economy and make a good impression for return trips. We spent time talking and getting to know them. Right before we left a blind lady came and sat at my feet selling peanuts. For the about 25 cents US I bought some of her peanuts, and the child helping her thanked us and led her away. No one came begging, but they were all selling something. They are industrious, they just need a way to enjoy the fruit from their labors.
Reality set in on the way back almost immediately as the bus from Be Like Brit got stuck crossing a dry stream bed right in front of us. I saw it coming, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. After we tried in vain to help them for about 20 minutes, it was obvious they had enough people and were determined to do things the hard way. So I just shook my head, smiled, and headed back home via another route.
I wonder what this next week has in store for us.