Sunday June 10th
Awoke this morning around 4 am to the sounds of dogs barking out front. It was a good thing they woke me because there was so much sweat trapped in my cot that taking a moment from my slumber to put on a life-preserver was indeed a sound decision.
Laying there pondering what on earth these animals could have to bark about for hours on end I was at a loss when suddenly like a brick it hit me. The dogs are just having a conversation. We know dogs are very social animals and enjoy the company of others, so wouldn’t it make sense that after spending the day hiding from the heat just like we do, at night its time to socialize? So with that mental image I am fairly sure the conversation goes a little something like this;
Dog 1: (bark) Hey I am a dog!
Dog 2: (bark) Hey I am a dog too!
Dog 1: (bark bark) Get out of here, really?
Dog 2: (Growl, bark bark)Yeah man! I am really a dog!
Dog 1: (Howl) Where are you at brother?
Dog 2: (bark, bark, bark) I am over here man!
Dog 3: (bark) Hey are you guys dogs?
Dog 2: (bark, bark) Yeah man I am a dog!
Dog 1: (bark) I am dog too!
And well you can see how the conversation just blossoms from this point on.
Sunday morning; there is no work for our crews today. Instead we are going to worship with our hosts the Leveque congregation whose church we are disassembling. Paul has graciously offered to give the sermon and assist with communion. He is a little nervous, (he says he is not but it shows on his otherwise bubbly face) and rightfully so, it’s quite an honor to speak in front of another congregation and for myself personally the language barrier would have been hard to overcome even with our interpreter.
Another wonderful breakfast has been prepared by the magic chef Madame Lulu, afterwords we disappear into our rooms only to assemble moments later dressed in our very best clothes. We all brought slacks, skirts, nice shoes and the group consensus was to wear our UMVIM shirts for the service. All of us are excited to gather as one with the people in this community, it will become another moment of bonding, and hopefully forging our souls together.
Before walking downstairs people begin to arrive. Families come out of the woodwork dressed in their very best, bright yellows, pressed whites, and shiny shoes. The women have gone to great lengths with hairstyles, ribbons and jewelry. The young girls are perfect, straight from a Normal Rockwell painting, if Norman Rockwell brushed in some debris and banana trees. It is painfully obvious how important Church is to these people. The only way I can explain the social order of things here would be to compare it 1800-1950’s America. Church/God then family and work. In awe of their priorities when it comes to work, family and religious beliefs I find myself ashamed at how we as a society have let our personal desires, greed and lack of morals lead away from the family unit.
Walking down the stairs we are met with numerous greetings of “Bonjour”accompanied by brilliant smiles. The children are always happy to see our faces but Mason and Maggie’s seem to be the main focus of attention. Everyone shuffles into one of the classrooms which has temporarily been transformed into a church. Gone are the classroom desks and papers, in their place are 6 rows of pews hand placed and straight as an arrow. In front there is a small podium and table with a cloth covering what at home would be the bread and communion chalice. In Haiti because of the many illnesses one can acquire, bread remains the same but wine/grape juice is in dispensable shot glass sized cups then covered for safety.
The service begins and it is glorious! Our group is given the honor of being seated in the first two rows with our interpreter sitting next to the pastor translating every word that is spoken. Caz does a wonderful job translating along with singing! Before long we are all trying to sing the songs in French-Creole. Failing miserably but trying just the same. By the way; Haitian sing! They sing while they are working, they sing while they are playing, and they sing loud to the heavens above while together in church.
An hour and a half goes by in the blink of an eye; Paul has done a wonderful job of spreading goodwill between our groups. Handshaking, smiles and laughter precede the service as we all meet in the hallway out front. Some of us break off playing catch with the children (frisbee, tennis ball, etc) , Mason and I put on a juggling act, while Paul turns on the bubble machines to the delighted screams of “bubbles” from all the children. Slowly families begin to dwindle away, leaving us to mosey upstairs, undress from our Sunday best, throw on some shorts and prepare for a Sunday excursion.
Because Sunday is a day of rest a Tap-Tap driver had been provided for us so we may go off and recreate for the afternoon. The group has been given many beaches/restaurants to choose from for our excursion and the unanimous decision is a destination known as Club Indigo. Having heard wonderful things about this place from our Hosts at the guest house, our group was excited to lay our eyes upon the crystal clear Caribbean waters while dining at an all you can eat buffet. The ten of us also decided that Sunday should be a day of rest for the fabulous Madame Lulu and our two wonderful interpreters Marcanie and Caz. The word is spread and our offers accepted. We all gather at noon, swim shorts on, sun screen applied, back packs loaded with essentials, just add one crazy, cool Tap-Tap driver and shake! The perfect recipe for a perfect day!
Our Tap-Tap drivers name was (guessing once again so its Phonetic) Yalaylay. Hired to be our on site transportation at night should an emergency occur he was acquired for our daytime transportation to the beach. Yalaylay was tall and lanky, friendly and charismatic. Carrying himself with the cool laid back style one would expect from an islander, he quickly won over the entire crew and the sound of his name could be heard echoing across the compound both morning and night. Y A L A Y L A YYYYYYY!!!!
Our group loaded into the rear of the Tap-Tap, squeezing into every available space! Cody and Maggie sat in the front seat, Caz and I were the last to load and sat (barely) at the rear overhanging the pavement. The ride was fantastic! Yalaylay cranked up the radio (Bob Marley) and took to navigating our way up the highway as best he could. Some of us noticed right away when the truck reached traveling speed it would slowly drift to the right only to be brought back to center abruptly. There were times I wondered what would happen if the steering actually failed on this ride? Then I would remind myself to relax, put my OSHA (my nickname) tendencies aside and enjoy the experience.
OSHA: The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. Congress established the agency under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which President Richard M. Nixon signed into law on December 29, 1970. OSHA’s mission is to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training. (Wikipedia)
My nickname was earned after the first of several discussions in regards to safety both on the job site and with our teams’ personal health throughout the week. As the appointed EMS team member and assisting John C with planning and organizing on site work during the day the name stuck. I wore it proudly for the entire week, it was earned with simple questions such as these…
Remember team, if you are not peeing, you are not hydrated. Pee checks are at breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Little did I know one member would take this a little too seriously; but I will cover that later.)
When we are working on the building keep your head on a swivel, look up when entering, look down, and look all around. We are here for a very short time and I am on vacation so no one gets injured. Understood? (This advise worked out well, only two major accidents. The team leader fell from a ladder my son was manning and apparently I couldn’t take my own advice ending up injured by Tuesday.)
The highway headed north was littered with cars, pickup trucks and semi’s trucks or bobtails, all having been involved in head on collisions. (have I mentioned they drive crazy in Haiti?) Most wrecks looked fatal, and it amazed me this metal carnage was just cast aside, left to rot. We traveled through a few towns along the coast, the weather was perfect, the sky was blue and the ocean looked amazing. After an hour we arrived at our destination, a gate guarded by grounds personnel leading back into lush vegetation along a cobble stoned roadway. Entering into the clearing Club Indigo began to emerge from under the palms. It resembled the set of Fantasy Island; White plantation style open air buildings all facing the ocean with a grand entryway. Slowly traveling by the front we headed into an open field where all vehicles were parked. The U.N. comprised the majority of vehicles in the lot this day. Both official and unofficial transports neatly parked rows, this appeared to be the main choice for U.N. soldier relaxation. This of course kicked old OSHA into overdrive. After hearing many stories about U.N. soldiers and their “above the law” attitudes I found myself lagging behind making sure our entire group stayed together as one.
$40.00 dollars apiece was our one way ticket to beach and buffet! Strolling through the main area past the bar, along the walkway by the pool one could distinctly pick out different languages being tossed about the pool deck. I picked up quite a bit of Portuguese, a little Spanish and of course French-Creole. But the main thing I noticed was no conversations were taking place in English. Our group strolled along the beach until we came upon a coconut tree with a few chairs underneath. Gathering a few more chairs to claim our territory, most of us were stripped to our swimsuits and in the water before the sand settled. It was warm, clear, salty and beautiful. We swam out to the buoys then back several times. Some floated around while others dove under looking for shells and fish; Standing in the water felt like a world away from where we were no more than 90 minutes prior. To be quite truthful it felt a little shameful. Who were we to come here and act like vacationers? We came here to work, to help the impoverished, to create a physical and spiritual difference in not only our own lives but the citizens for who we serve; The people of Leveque.
Before I had the chance to become too sanctimonious someone hollered; time to hit the buffet and all those feelings were temporarily dissipated! I needed to eat. Funny thing about a buffet, it can be the best food you have ever eaten or it can be the worst thing to cross your plate. You never hear someone say; oh the buffet was adequate. Until that moment we had no idea just how spoiled we become towards Madame Lulus food until we found ourselves faced with a buffet stock piled with the very same creations. All of us looked at each other and grinned as we piled food upon our plates. Sitting down at our table, salivary glands drooling, with one bite our palates quickly learned the difference. As we slowly picked through our half rate grub, I looked up to see Madame Lulu smiling at me. She knew, she knew it was crap, she knew her food was the gold star this half way house for Haitian chefs aspired to become. She knew it and yet she still blushed as each and every one of us pledged our allegiance to this woman’s golden spatula. We were all grateful for her presence and enjoyed being around her, and even though the food was poor (meaning she deserved to be served much better), there wasn’t one of us that weren’t glad she joined us for a much deserved day off.
We all had a fantastic afternoon, swimming and playing. Yalaylay, Marcanie, Caz and Lulu swam to their heart’s content while, singing, laughing and frolicking with us in the water. We discovered Marcanie couldn’t swim, yet he bravely waded out as far as his fear would let him go. Maggie tried her best to teach him to swim but alas Marcanie got no further than sinking like a rock. At one point Caz snuck up behind him, grabbed him, and then drug him out deep. Marcanie looked like Scooby Doo, legs and arms flailing as he walked across the water after Caz let him go! Cody never came out of the water continuing his search for shells he swam all day long! He came up with some very interesting looking crustaceans which made their way home. Maggie, Jan, Heather, Mason, John C, John G, Anne, Paul and I spent the rest of the afternoon switching between lounging and swimming.
As I sat on the beach I jotted down a thought;
Sitting on a white sandy beach straight from the scenes of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical I have found myself gazing upon 13 other people all happily frolicking in the ocean. 9 of them are so very far from home. Yet they are here together these 13 people; they don’t speak the same language, they don’t all share the same passions, but they are becoming friends. No longer are they strangers or acquaintances, no longer do they wander this earth unaware of the other. They have been brought together, united as one. For these 13 people now hold a bond that no one can change.
As for the 14th member of this illustrious crew (me); He feels extremely honored to have been given the opportunity to know them all. He feels especially honored to know one of them in particular, for that person fills his heart with endless pride.
His son is showing signs of becoming a man, his sense of humor is developing, his timing and delivery are being perfected, and the ability to tie the two together at the perfect place and time is quite evident. These attributes are allowing him to meld into any situation with ease. A quality many never develop, leaving them often times misunderstood. Watching him interact with the others from our team I feel as though he is liked by all, admired by some, and loved by only one. His dad…..
In the blink of an eye it was time to depart our little slice of heaven. The thirty year old, slightly run down former Club Med resort had been a Caribbean delight for us overheated mainlanders. We all changed, gathered up our belongings, took the last few pictures that needed to be taken and headed off to our waiting Tap-Tap. We were some of the last to leave due to the U.N. soldiers suiting up, loading up and departing about an hour prior. (A little scary considering they had all been drinking most of the day.) This of course left us feeling like we received every penny of the forty dollars we shelled out to bask under the sun on this gorgeous stretch of coastline.
The ride home was fairly quiet although Heather’s hair continued to be a great source of fun. As we traveled down the road the red mane of hers would engulf all who unknowingly traveled into its path! She became fondly known as chicken head by the girls from Chowchilla or Cell block C.
Anne, Jan, Heather and Maggie while living the dream in our concrete bunkers had taken to referring to it as the Chowchilla Women’s Correctional Facility thereby naming themselves the Chowchilla four or C-4. Our nicknames were all earned on this trip and one of the reasons we bonded so well as a team. Our group’s sense of humor consistently played into making this trip what irreplaceable memories are made of. I miss that sense of camaraderie.
Arriving back at the compound we were met by the children all chanting Mason, Maggie and of course BUBBLLEESSSS! The generator was started, technology was charging, the kids were playing and each and every one of us found our own little spot to sit and reflect. We all enjoyed another fantastic day together; another moment in time to be remembered forever. Sitting on the balcony darkness slowly set in; once again we laughed, told jokes, and thought about the work that lay ahead.
Tomorrow is Monday; let the real work begin….