I and the rest of my team have been back in the States for over a week now. For the most part I've readjusted, but when I look at photographs from our trip, I feel like I'm looking at another home. We only had internet access when we were at the Guest House, so I kept a journal instead of updating a blog. For all the frustrations, I'm ready to go back. There is so much to gain emotionally and spiritually in Haiti, and there's so much left to do.
UMVIM Haiti Trip, 2011
Sunday March 27, 2011
I'm sitting in my room at the Guest House in Petionville. My boyfriend, Billy, is at the computer on the landing letter-by-letter typing an e-mail to our families letting them know we are safe. A slow computer is an okay price to pay for internet access while we are here. Lord knows we won't have that out in Hinche.
Due to our original flight being cancelled, and too much time on the phone with airline customer service, Billy and I are here a day ahead of the rest of our team. (Most of our team is from Chico and Placerville in Northern California, we're from Fullerton in Southern California.) It's nice to be able to sit and relax after a long night and morning of travel. It's hot and muggy, but the ceiling fan and cool breeze make it comfortable in here.
It was an interesting drive up from the airport. I've been pleased to see that the vast majority of people appear clean and respectfully dressed. Buildings were in various states of repair; the path we took was not as hard hit by the earthquake, but the evidence was there. A couple congregations held their servcies in roofless and windowless cememt buildings. We passed a UN compound with a hospital as well as their Camp Charlie. The cemetary had cement, above-ground crypts, some of which had been painted orange, blue, pink or green. Weathered election posters were everywhere. Even most of the graffitti was urging people to vote for a certain candidate.
What we consider traffic laws are mere suggestions. There are no lanes. If somebody can get around you or fit next to you, they will. I have yet to see a seatbelt. People ride more than 10 in the back of a truck or tap-tap--basically a truck with two long benches in the bed with a cage around that--which is how we were riding back to the compound. Exciting times!
We tagged along with another group from Riverside that arrived the same time we did. Lunch was at a facility Deanna, the UMVIM Haiti Finance Manager, referred to as "slow fast food." I was impressed that the place had air conditioning. It was relatively clean and had three armed private security guards--one inside and two outside. The food was basic americana, and the clientel were a mix of locals and foreigners.
While there, Deanna explained that the Haitians don't build with wood as the place is deforested. They make the cement here, so it's no wonder the streets are lined with cement and cinder block gray, with the occasional structure painted bright orange or blue.
I'm glad to start off with a low-key day. Time to rest between travel and work. You know, it's really a beautiful day.
Tuesday March 29, 2011
The rest of the team arrived safely yesterday. We were taken on a tour to a lookout point where we could see the bay and look over the city. On the way up we saw a coupel of the tent cities and several cement structures with a few bits of rebar poking upwards. We also saw the fancy homes of the well-to-do, including one chateau made out of stone with three armed guards out front. Farther on up the hill a great, craggy face of limestone was visible where a landslide had occurred. The desertification from the deforestation was expansive. Is expansive--it covers the whole country. The forests have been decimated by people using the wood for fuel and to pay off the French for their independence, from what we've read and heard. It was a nice, relaxing vacation day.
This morning we piled into a van (thankfully not a tap-tap) with all our gear in a covered truck and tied to the roof of the van. We traversed across a few towns, skirting the outside of Port-au-Prince, with the driver playing a somewhat erratic rhythm on the horn whenever he wanted to warn someone of our presence or pass another vehicle. We wound up and over a mountain range crossing and following rivers. We had to drive around a donkey because it continued to stand in the middle of the road despite the driver trying to scare it away with the horn. One of the rivers had been dammed to provide an electricity source, which--according to Tom, the pastor at the Guest House--had been controversial because it flooded some of the most fertile land around.
After a four-hour ride, we arrived safely in Hinche. It was decided the women would stay in the lay-pastor's house, and the men would sleep in the church. Each place will have a guard, who is a local man sitting watch. The lay-pastor's house is a three-roomed structure with rough wood slats and a corrugated metal roof. There is a gray tarp on the floor of the room we are using as a bedroom as well as one window. It is quite warm in here, but occasionally we get a breeze. The third room our cook is using as her kitchen. The middle room is entry and where the cook has set up two wood tables with a table cloth--our buffet. There are drapes of every color surrounding our room which we have currently pulled aside to allow the breeze through. It's quite pretty, actually.
The church, which is a short distance up the road, is an open cememt structure with wooden supports holding up the corrugated metal roof. About ten desks made of wood so splintered and frail it looks like they will break if you sit on them are lined up facing the chancel. To the left there is a small room that goes behind the chancel, perhaps a sacristy, and a sectioned off area with a capped-off piece of PVC pipe sticking out of the ground. Perhaps it was meant to be a toilet, but there isn't much plumbing out here. We have an outhouse, and it looks like they recently made the "shower," both of which are cement slabs with corrugated metal walls. The outhouse has a wood box with two holes in it, and the shower has a drain. The pastor put a bucket of water in the shower so those who choose to use it may scoop the water out and pour it on themselves.
The children are fascinated by our digital cameras. Billy had a hard time saying no, so we now have a few dozen pictures of the same group of kids. They would pose for him and swarm him to see the image of themselves he had just taken. It was hard not to smile at their jubilance. There will be other crews coming out after us, so perhaps we'll be able to send back copies of one or two of these photographs.
Wednesday March 30, 2011
Billy came in while I was in the middle of writing yesterday to show me something. A local girl had beckoned to show him where a mother dog was hiding, nursing her pups, and a rabbit in a hutch. Soon afterwards he found a goat nursing two kids. We've seen mother hens with a brood of chicks. It is spring! And, oh, these babies are so cute!
There are a few details I didn't get to yesterday. We are in the town of Hinche, but we are in a village called Maurique (or Morik in Kreyol). The lay-pastor here is Solomon Joel. He and his wife have four sons and a daughter. He seems like a quiet, patient man. He is not ordained, but the District Superintendent is, so the DS will come out for communion, weddings and funerals.
Our translators are Joseph and Ricardo. Joseph is 53 and has a family. He has worked for the Guest House for some time now. Ricardo grew up near him, and Joseph advised him to learn english and helped him get a job with the Guest House. Ricardo is a little quieter, but both are quite pleasant and very helpful.
Joseph's wife is Ramona, our cook. The pastor's wife is helping her in the kitchen. The food has been wonderful! We've had friend green bananas, beets and potatoes, beef, pork and goat in wonderful sauces. This morning she made oatmeal with fresh cinnamon sticks cooked with it. That was some of the best oatmeal I've had!
Work began today on the church. The workers set up scaffolding that would give an OSHA worker a heart attack, with a wooden ladder leading up to it. Cement was hand-prepared behind the church. The twelve of us sat around feeling bored. I told our engineer, Rushney, that I was ready to work. Some of us kept asking for something to do. Eventually and suddenly Joseph grabbed my wrist, pointed at Billy and told us, "I have a job for you two." We took turns shoveling sand into a sifter and sifting out the pebbles to prepare the sand for the cement. It didn't take long for other team members to come asking to take over when we took breaks. A good chunk of the team cycled through those two jobs. We also helped shovel sand into the wheelbarrow and keep the wet cement mixed. We also carried in the tubs of cement up to the scaffolding as well as carrying the empty tubs out. We let the pros mix the cement and apply it to the wall. It was obvious these guys knew what they were doing. So there's been a lot of downtime for the rest of us. We keep telling ourselves that our main job is to employ these local workers and our secondary job is to work. Otherwise we just feel lazy.
Our other job is to interact with the locals. We are limited by the language barrier, but we can at least say bon jour. Last night, Billy and I were walking up the road and a few children were kicking around a slightly deflated, kid-sized Harlem Globetrotters basketball. The ball landed near Billy's feet so he kicked it to one of the boys. He smiled and kicked it back to him. What started as Billy versus about four boys became Billy (and occasionally me) versus half the kids in the town. We were just kicking the ball back and forth, but for us it was a mini soccer match. Everybody was laughing and hollering. Even if a kid accidentally got hit by the ball, the crowd--including the kid--laughed. They got particularly excited when we started saying, "Goal!" when one kicked the ball inside the gate Billy was guarding. As it became darker, Ricardo came by and told us we weren't to be outside this late and escorted us over to the church where we had our evening meeting. After singing a few hymns and songs, we stepped onto the porch and sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Amazing Grace." A couple flashlights revealed our audience.
Wherever we go the people watch us, we suspect in fascination as they are always quite pleasant when we smile at them and say, "Bon jour." Children and teenagers trickle in to the church while we're there only to be shooed away by the pastor. Occasionally one will say, "Hi!" or, "What's up!" so they know wo we are. Overall a very friendly and curious bunch of people.
And word is, tomorrow we will have more work. Yay!
Thursday March 31, 2011
An interesting thing happened yesterday afternoon. There was a young woman sitting around our work site with her baby girl allowing people to hold her. While Sara was holding the baby, she told her, "You take her," which we took to be half-joking. Later on, when Billy and I were walking down the street, she called us over and said, "You give me." I told her, "I'm sorry, I don't have any money." She responded, "Give me money!" in english. I tried to tell her we were here to help out the church. She didn't understand me at this point, and I blanked on the Kreyol word for "church," so I said, "Metodiste," which she repeated, stood up, handed me her baby, and the whole group of us followed her to the church. I was starting to get confused and worried, but I was holding her baby so I followed. We sat in the church for awhile with the baby girl sitting on my lap. We sat a long while that way. The baby was amazingly quiet--most cry when held by strangers. She became a little fussy, and I was relieved to see mom reach for her. I handed her back and she lay on mom's lap for another while. The gaggle of kids laughed at the goofy faces I was making at the baby. Then mom got a phone call on her cell. She answered, hung up, handed me the baby, said, "Telefon," and walked out of the church with phone in hand, leaving the baby with me. I waited maybe 10-15 minutes, hoping, hoping mom would come back. She didn't. The baby began wimpering again, which to me sounded like she missed her mommy. I looked up at the kids, pointed to the baby and said, "Le mama?" They pointed towards the back of the church, all talking to me at once in Kreyol and walked me out the front door. She wasn't behind the church. The kids kept pointing and walking on the side road. Being strange people in a strange land, we have been instructed to tell somebody if you are going anywhere. Nobody in the group knew where I was going. But I had to deliver the baby. So I followed the children. We walked through the agave fence to a small, one-roomed house. Mom was standing in the doorway, and she was not on the phone. It was a clean house with food items in canisters and a basin on the left and a bed with a pink chiffon cover on the right. Mom waved me inside and patted the bed. I laid her daughter on the bed where she patted. It felt as stiff as a cot. She patted the bed again and said, "Ou?" ("You?") I said, "I'm sorry, I have to get back," feeling very uncomfortable at this point. She looked disappointed but said, "Okay." Later--as soon as I could, really--I told Joseph and Suellen, since she's our team leader. They thanked me for telling them the story, and Joseph translated for Rochemy (who pronounces it "Wooshnee," which is why I spelled it wrong before). Rochemy said he'd take care of it. It was later decided that the church would be kept closed to the public during working hours. It's been a lot quieter in there today.
Prior to all this, while we were still working, or watching people work, on the church, I noticed a group of about seven or eight young women (including "mom") sitting in the corner watching me. I asked Ricardo if he would help me and had what amounted to a mutual interview. I found out most were in high school. One was 18 and has an infant. Another wants to become an accountant. They asked if I was happy to be in Haiti (yes), if I would come back to Haiti (absolutely, but I don't get to decide where in Haiti my future team will go), how much money does it take to live in the United States (it varies throughout the country, but where I am at least 40-50 thousand US dollars--they were surprised but said it was expensive to live in Haiti, too), do I have children (no), do I want kids (yes), why do you not have kids (my boyfriend and I aren't married yet), and so on. They thanked me for talking with them.
We are the first team in Hinche, and something we keep talking about is how we set the precident. We want to interact with the people, show we care and are willing to work, but we aren't here to give handouts or accept begging. Thankfully our interpreters, the engineer and the pastor agree with us and are helping.
Today has been fun. They let us do some of the cement work. I think I spent about an hour throwing cement at the wall. Some people had trouble getting the cement to stick--it would bounce off the wall and land on us and the floor. Sara got a good rhythm going. I was able to get small clumps to stick, so Sara and I worked on the front wall behind the chancel together. After awhile it was looking rather topographical. My aim was less than perfect and I kept throwing mud onto the same mound when I was trying to get next to or around it. Our pros would smooth down the cement with a two by two and indicate it needed to be thicker.
I purchased work gloves specially for this trip. They are black suede mechanics-style gloves with blue synthetic fabric backs. My hands got wet from the cement. When I took off my gloves my hands were a lovely shade of greenish-black. My index finger on my right hand looked like that of a dead person. I laughed and showed the crew. They laughed with me.
Coming back from lunch I was humbled. The two pros were adding cement to the wall we worked on. Each throw consisted of at least ten times as much cement as mine and over 90% stuck in these beautiful swaths of cement, unlike my little blobs.
I'm being hailed for a meeting.
Friday April 1, 2011
Happy April Fools Day! So far no pranks have been pulled in our group, though Carol was hoping to tell the guys Ramona wasn't preparing coffee this morning. The guys are up and ready before we are, and Ramona didn't know of this plan, so it didn't happen. She told the guys anyway and they told her that would have been too cruel.
Today's work was an extension of yesterday's--slinging mud at a wall. May aim is improving a little, and if the mud is soupy I can get long, narrow sprays to stick. Otherwise I'm still throwing a clump at a time. Sara and Pete were doing a good job, and John Roberts got to do some more chiseling.
I'm trying to find someone to write about the well. Billy and Manoj have spent the most time there from our group so I asked both of them, but they both declined. Some time ago, Rotary International/World Vision put in a well for this community maybe 2-300 feet up the street from the church. An older, quiet gentleman in a dark colored plaid shirt and straw hat is usually sitting in the corner directing traffic. We found out last night the town takes a collection and pays him a small amount to work there. He's been very kind to us. If he sees one of us standing there with a bucket, he'll take our bucket and put it towards the head of the line. A couple times we've seen him stand at the door to the church and watch what's going on.
The children about ten and up are usually the ones pumping the water and bringing it home. It's hard work, I've tried it. One of the team members mentioned last night that he wished he could understand the gossip going on at the well. There is constant chatter.
Unfortunately this afternoon the well went dry. Hopefully it will work again tomorrow.
Next door to the well lives the carpenter. He makes cabinets with gingerbread and scrollwork, all with a plane and three chisels. He is also the coffin maker, and the majority of those in his place are child-sized. Billy reported to me that the child mortality rate here is quite high. A broken bone, a cavity, even a scratch can lead to sepsis. The knowledge of first aid here is limited. They might soak a bandage in contaminated water and wrap it around a wound. And the people of this rural village cannot afford to pay for the clinic in town.
Tuesday April 5, 2011
We asked for more work Friday, calls were made, and we were instructed to cut down the front cactus fence and dig a trench for the security wall. The windows and doors finally arrived, so we all worked hard. I got a machete and hacked away at the cactus. My left forearm looks like I had a run-in with a kitten. It was fun work. Later we broke up the clay dirt with pick-axes and dug out the trench. Other people helped get the windows set. There were concerns with the door, so that was left.
Saturday was only a half day of work. We waited around for a tap-tap in the afternoon to take us sight-seeing. And we waited. It did finally arrive and drove us down a harrowing dirt road for about 45 minutes to the waterfall. It was a beautiful swath of white water cascading down the rock face into an aquamarine pool flowing into a river off to the left. Unfortunately the hour was late and we had to get back for dinner.
We arrived back at the church to find it cleaned out and two tables with white, floral tablecloths on the chancel. Per their request, we sat in resin chairs towards the front. The children and young families sat on the long benches and desk seats. The young adults sat in resin chairs under the scaffolding. There was a lot of singing. The congregation would sing hymns with recognizable melodies. Small groups would come to the front of the church to sing, including John Prock, Ricardo and myself. Bob, being a retired minister, gave the sermon translated by Joseph, and did communion. It was a long service, but a beautiful one.
After lunch we returned to the church and the field nearby to host an event for the children. There was a craft station, a song and Bible story station, and twice they came out to the field for outdoor games and activities. Pete, Manoj, Billy and myself were in the field. The original plan was we were going to play specific activities with the kids. Rather quickly it became more like recess and we were the monitors, though we also played with them. I played a lot of frisbee, once I kicked a soccer ball around with a group, and towards the end Billy and I twirled the jump rope for a big group of primarily girls. We did get Pastor Joel to jump a little while. He didn't do anything fancy, but the kids loved that he got involved. We had a few responsible teenagers and young adults helping us, and sometimes they were invaluable. They could explain things to the children that we couldn't when spoken word was required.
We had eight age groups over four hours. It was a fun time had by all.
History was made. The presidential candidate beloved by the people won the election in a landslide victory. 67%. By the time the results were announced we were back in Petionville. Tom and Deanna walked several of us down to the street to witness the incredible jubilation we could hear up at the Guest House. People singing and cheering as they paraded up the street, cars with his election poster on their windshield, motorcyclists riding up and back with the election poster in their mouths, people dancing in the back of trucks--it was an experience to behold.
The announcing of the election results was one of the reasons we came back early. If the results had been for the other candidate, it's very likely there would have been rioting in the streets, roads would be blocked, and we wouldn't be able to get home. The other reason was there wasn't enough work for all ten of us in Hinche. The local workers will be able to continue working without us. It was sad to say goodbye, but most uf us believe it was the right thing to do. None of us will forget Hinche or its people.
Our new work site is a house, well, was a house that was destroyed in the earthquake. Two people died when it collapsed. This is a rental property owned by the church. We shoveled and hauled rubble with a couple workers who are currently living on site. Our instructions were to put the rubble on the sidewalk outside the wall so somebody could pick it up. When and who? Who knows. We were good and took multiple water breaks. And we made a good dent in the rubble.
Tuesday April 19, 2011
We have all made it safely home to our respective locations. We've shared our photographs with each other. It's funny. I can't speak for the others, but for me I'm noticing that where this seemed so exotic and exciting before leaving, after looking at the photographs several times, speaking in church and typing up my journal, it all seems pleasantly normal and familiar. Doesn't everybody do this? Really, the hardest part is raising the money. We discussed our concerns about not having enough work to do with Tom and Deanna. They said this has been a more frequent problem and they are working on addressing the issue with the Haitian project managers.
Many fond memories, and looking forward to the next trip.