The nations were angry is the first thought that came to my head last week as I sat in the “parking lot” of the hospital in Petit Goave which just happened to be ground zero for the latest series of riots in that city. The second thought that came to my head was a song that I remembered as a teenager called “I'm Caught in a Mosh” by Anthrax. I don't know why I thought of that song other than it just seemed to fit better than anything else at the moment. The lyrics along with the heavy guitars and drums of 1980's thrash metal just seemed appropriate for the scenes playing out all around me. I could hear the loud guitars, drums and lyrics repeating “What is it? Caught in a mosh! What is it? Caught in a mosh!”
I went to Petit Goave to pick up my medical test results along with some stuff from the bank that I will need to submit for my permanent residence or Permis de Sejour. The first trip to the hospital yielded all the test results except for one. When we went to the portion of the hospital that took that particular test we found no one working inside, but several workers sitting outside on benches refusing to work. In a different section of the hospital people were working, and gave us the results from those tests. They also explained to us that they had not been paid in over a year, and the people in the other section had not been paid in two years. I would say these are pretty good reasons for refusing to work. It also gave me some perspective for what was about to happen.
Just for a mental picture, the hospital is a series outbuildings loosely connected with a courtyard. None of the buildings have air conditioning, but instead open windows with bars instead of panes of glass. Even the entrance feels more like entering a prison than a hospital. A demoralizing environment without having to work there indefinitely without pay.
With the partial harvest of test results we headed over to the bank for another round of name signing and feeling like an idiot for not being able to sign my own name consistently again. We waited inside the bank for our transaction to be complete for what felt like eternity. At least there was air conditioning. Something tells me that the bank is making money, and the hospital is not. Anyway, the system came up and down and we were able to creep along with our transaction at a snails pace while things started to develop outside. At some point I noticed the bank beginning to clear out, people would poke their heads in and yell stuff, and the bank staff turned on the radio. Oh great, I'm a white guy in a Haitian bank and the political situation is deteriorating outside right now while I sit. I am a walking text book for worst case scenario. I guess that is why I am so close to God.
The Haitian bank staff did not seem like they were completely freaked out, but they did seem way more uncomfortable than normal. I could hear words every now and then that I could understand like hospital – you know, the place I just came from that was only about a block away. I had gone to Petit Goave with two of our Haitian staff members from Hands and Feet. Our driver, Sava and our administrative assistant, Gardith. Gardith was in the bank with me and Sava went to look for a good place to park the truck and wait for us to finish in the bank.
Gardith started explaining what the radio was saying. It seemed that a manifestasyon (riot or demonstration type thing) had started right outside shortly after we entered the bank. Sava called and told us that he was not sure that he could come back and get us because people were starting to set up road blocks, throw rocks, burn stuff, and the police were responding with tear gas and things. I explained to Gardith that I had gone through tear gas training in the Navy and that it hadn't affected me. She thought this was good and might come in handy as we made our escape through the fray to wherever Sava might have to pick us up. At this point we prayed and started to formulate an escape plan – but still waited for our bank transaction because we were so close. We were the last ones in the bank.
Once we completed our transaction at the bank, the fun began. The barricades and rioting had not completely blocked the road to the bank so Sava was able to come pick us up. Curbside service. Then we drove to the Hospital. “Why are we going to the hospital!?!” Sava responded with a bunch of Creole and Gardith explained that we needed to pick up one of our washer ladies that had just had a baby. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck and I was extremely uncomfortable, but I thought it was cool that we could help out one of our workers and her newborn.
We drove through the gates and to the back of the hospital to the maternity building. Of course this was the most confined place and the farthest away from any exit. Actually there is only one exit. We sat there, Gardith went in to get the lady, and things developed in front of our eyes.
The first thing that happened was more people started coming through the gates of the hospital. Then they started yelling. Then they started running. Then they started throwing rocks, yelling, and shut the back gates of the hospital closing us in with a stampede of people and blocking off our only exit. Well now we're stuck here. Dang.
I looked at Sava and he seemed only slightly concerned, but he is Haitian. At some point the gates opened up and we could see a line of riot police walking our way. The way I have heard them described is that they drag everyone out of their cars, beat them unmercifully, and then ask questions later. I guess I was about to find out first hand. It is amazing how calm you can be when you know all your options have been extinguished and all you have left is to hope to God for mercy. It's like that clacking sound climbing the steep slope before a big roller coaster drop, and then you begin to hit the crest and everything gets still and quiet.
I looked at Sava nervously and he said,”They not come in the hospital”. Even though he knows more about this place than I do his words gave me no comfort. But sure enough, they never came back to where we were and soon the crowd started to disperse and spill back out onto the street. I felt a little better until I saw tear gas canisters flying with crests of smoke trailing behind. Let's see if I'm still immune to this stuff.
I reached down and turned off the air conditioner. Sava just nodded in agreement. Most of the confusion was confined to the street outside the gates, so we waited in our relative safety for the lady and her baby. Finally after what seemed like an eternity Gardith, the washer lady with her new baby, her husband, and two other random people. The two random people climbed into the back of the truck, and everyone else crammed inside. We then locked the doors and started driving through the fray very slowly.
Things had turned into a standoff by the time we reached the street. As we drove through the gates I could clearly see a burning barricade to our left and a line of riot police to our right. Pick your poison. Since we needed to go right anyway we decided to take our chances with the riot police. As we slowly approached Sava rolled down his window and spoke to them in creole. They just nodded and let us pass. I can't tell you the sigh of relief that audibly escaped my lips as we watched the scene unfold in the rear view mirror as observers and no longer as active participants. Thank you, Jesus.
On the outskirts of town we dropped off the random people that had hitched a ride in the back of the truck and made our way back home. When I got back home I was treated to a piece of strawberry flavored cake with chocolate icing. Amy had made a cake for us since we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary on this day. I can say it will probably be one of the most memorable wedding anniversaries. God is good. I was still alive and reunited with my family. I was also a few steps closer to our Permis.
For some reason every night before bed there is a big cat fight right outside our house. Literally some cats fighting each other. There is the stereotypical hissing, scream-meowing, and loud noises that end in thuds against our house. I'm trying to draw some spiritual connections with the riots but I guess some things just are what they are. Like cat fights. I always grab my tactical flashlight, machete, shoes, and run outside in vain trying to find the source of bedlam. They are always gone before I can get there. Mystery cats fighting in the night. Maybe another good subject for an 80's style thrash metal song.
After the nightly cat fights I get to take a cold shower. It seems like cold showers should be refreshing in the Haiti heat, but there is nothing fun about a cold shower. To walk into a cold, concrete box, stare into an open pipe, and open a ball valve for a shower seems more like entering an interrogation chamber than a soothing shower stall. You have to brace for that first hit of cold water in the face, and then settle into the stream. Sometimes I am visited by a large spider during this experience. I actually hit it one night with my flip flop, but it ran away. I've named the spider Francois. Once I pulled my towel off the wall screw and began to dry my face only to feel something coarse across my cheek. I pulled the towel away and a giant cockroach fell to the ground and scurried away before I could step on it. Everyone gets their turn – 1 bathroom – six people.
I always walk the entire perimeter before bed every night. I talk to the guards, say goodnight to the kids, and pray continually throughout the walk. I pray for each location and have already seen the hand of God move as He brings me in line with what He is already doing here. I talk with God and listen. He always talks back, restores passion, and fills me with emotion. God is at work here.
Every night after my walk I get to go to bed and sleep hard. Sometimes it is hot, sometimes it is kind of nice. But every night, I get to sleep to the thick aroma of the garbage fires burning.
It is so interesting to see the various t-shirts that people wear. I'm certain that when that lady back in the states gave away the pink shirt that says “Thank God I'm a Southern Girl”, she never intended it to end up on an old Haitian man, but that is what happened. I saw a man wearing a shirt this week that said “Same Shirt, Different Day”. There are two bets that I would be willing to wager real money on. #1. He has no clue what that shirt says. #2. It is absolutely true.
I'm pretty sure the best bakery in the world is in Grand Goave. You have to be shown where it is or you would never find it. Behind some buildings and in a back alley in the most inconspicuous run down, cinder block building lies the Grand Goave bread factory. A concrete and rock oven that is fed by real wood from wherever wood comes from here. The same guy is always there working hard day after day. He doesn't look happy, but he works hard nevertheless.
He is not very friendly as I walk in. He kneads the bread and pulls out the loaves on some old machine that sounds like a steam engine. Then he cuts the loaves by hand and feeds them into the giant oven that looks like something from Biblical times. I have to wait for him to stop working and come over so I can pay him. I always forget to bring my own bag and it is always a big hassle for him to find something to put the bread in. I am always willing to take any loaf on the hard, concrete table, but he always digs around for the perfect loaf to drop into my bag. Always a fair price, and always a perfect loaf.
This past week Amy and I started meeting with all the Haitian staff at our site. We ask them some questions and give them the opportunity to ask us. The most interesting question posed to us this week was stated something like this, “Did you come here because you are called by God, or did you just want to come here?” I was not expecting this question, but was happy to answer. I feel that after we told our story she was satisfied that at least we believed God called us here. I guess only time will prove it.
The medical team came in to give us some training this week. I can't begin to tell you what a breath of fresh air they were. Truly being the hands and feet of Christ as they provided care for our kids, and trained us in first aid and suturing. I was able to practice stitching up a mango. Today I was able to watch a local doctor give 7 stitches to the thumb of one of our construction workers. We provided first aid and a local doctor at Mission of Hope provided the stitches. They are not available all the time so I guess it was good that I learned more today. When we walked out of the clinic a motorcycle accident had happened on the street. I guess they crashed in the right place.
As I was walking by a truck on our site this week and I noticed some guys unloading rebar. One of the guys looked really familiar. When I got closer I noticed it was one of the drunk guys from the beach a few weeks ago. God has his number. I walked up to him and he remembered me. I invited him to church again and told him to make sure to come on Sunday nights when I am speaking. He keeps saying he will come but hasn't showed up yet. I keep praying for him. His name is Tony.
I have really started to develop a relationship with one of our boys. He loves to work and has a maturity well beyond his years. When we were sitting in church last night waiting for service to start he explained to me some of the events that he saw when he was living there. This one tripped me out and I couldn't stop laughing.
He pointed outside and told me with a serious tone,”When I lived here, I remember looking outside one day and a pig got hit by a tap-tap. The pig died. People came from all around to get pieces of the pig to cook.” He pointed behind us and said, “A man that lived over there, he came and got some of the pig and cooked it.” Pointing across the street he said, “A lady from over there, she came and got some of the pig. She cooked it and ate it. But one day, a dog got hit by a tap-tap, and the dog died. No one came to get the dog. It just stayed there.”
Oh I love Haiti.