Tuesday June 12th 2012
Rain moved in last night blanketing our compound on and off for a few hours. The smell of rain along with flashes of lightning was amazing. Haiti must be where the phrase “when it rains it pours” comes from. One minute you can see the stars and the next lightning is flashing thunder is clapping and rain is dumping. Then in the blink of an eye the rain has dissipated leaving you wondering why as the humidity/heat rise rapidly.
The good thing about the rain last night; it silenced the dogs, drowned out the neighbors and basically kept all obnoxious sounds to a minimum. There is something about the pitter-patter of rain on a tin roof that is very satisfying, calming, like a steady white noise allowing you to relax. Within minutes, the sounds of droplets smacking our roof sent my body into a deep relaxed slumber. I awoke feeling rested and ready for the day’s challenges. Rain cleanses all…
After breakfast we all stood along the rail of our second story balcony taking in the sight of our building. Three trusses to go and it’s demolition time! Many of us had been salivating for this moment of pure sledge-hammer bliss. I believe every one of us has the primal urge to destroy things; thanks to a proper upbringing many have never felt that urge. For those of us who have felt that urge there is nothing more rewarding than corralling your pent-up emotions, placing a tool in your hands then bashing the crap out of an inanimate object until it has been obliterated into dust. Some people need a little prodding, a little poke at their psyche allowing them to emerge from their prim and proper shell. Living life by following rules has left them incapable of finding their inner anger, their primal urge to destroy, but put a 10 pound sledge into their hands, place your hand on their shoulder and tell them “its ok, crush the concrete” and before long (usually about 5 minutes) they are sweaty, smiling, and laughing at what they accomplished, both mentally and physically.
That’s the way today went down. Everyone started out timid, focused, but after removing then dismantling the last three trusses it was Hammer Time! Four walls made of cinder block, 10 Americans, 5 Haitian workers and two interpreters all ready knock them down! John C and John G (affectionately nick named Hammer Time) started breaking block over the windows so we could cut re-bar ties. By doing this we could then knock a break line at window height and with ropes in place pull the wall away from the striker slowly bringing the walls down one window section at a time. Taking down walls in this fashion also expedited our clean up time with the blocks being broken up, swept up and moved to a debris pile outside, all from the concrete floor of the building.
We all took turns breaking down walls, smashing fallen portions into bits for transport in wheel barrows. It was all working very well. The Engineer of our project stopped by not long after we started moving debris, he pulled John C and myself aside with Caz our interpreter to discuss where a debris pile should be placed. Apparently we had started dumping in the wrong location and he wished the pile to be 6 feet in the opposite direction. No problem, simple enough to correct, I had Marcanie pull the workers aside and we directed them to the correct dumping location. We marked it out with a tire and nothing further was discussed on the subject of location. This would later bite me in the butt.
The day proceeded well, as we saw immediate results to our hard labor intensive work. There were only two minor fumbles that could have been disastrous and both involved me.
- Every morning I would give a short but sweet safety briefing. Things like “keep your head on a swivel” or “Always look up before walking into the building” and of course “have you consumed enough water today” Apparently I didn’t listen to my own advice for as I was studiously working on bringing down a wall from outside while the crew pulled from the inside, I spied a single cinder block teetering from the top of this wall approximately 10-12 feet above my head. Instead of heeding my own advice in regards to safety first. I continued striking the wall while staring at the block thinking; Hmm, I really should knock that down before I go any further. At that very moment the block fell striking my left ankle, leaving me temporarily breathless and focusing very hard at not allowing any profanities loose from my lips. It swelled up instantly to the size of a tennis ball; it also made it very difficult for me to maneuver around the unstable footing outside. I decided I was not going to look at it until after lunch. I could stand on it so it wasn’t broken but it sure did hurt like hell.
- After lunch with my foot being out of commission I took it upon myself to go upon the portico to knock down the parapet and main arch. This would alleviate all dangers to unstable falling blocks. While working on the arch I continued taking notice of where people were located below me before each and every strike of the hammer. A large crack began to emerge running the entire baseline of the arch which meant it was coming down in one big piece. As I started hitting it really hard, trying to coax it over I noted the only person close to me was my son Cody and he was smashing concrete over half the distance of the building from my location. No chance for him to get hit with any bricks. As I leaned in and gave the wall the last big push it needed, at that very moment Cody decided to change positions. I couldn’t stop the wall; I couldn’t yell fast enough, all I could do was watch. The 35-40 foot by 4 foot section slammed onto the ground and broke into pieces with each and every one of them sliding by him on either side. It was as if God said; not today son, protecting him from flying debris. Jan screamed and began to cry; Cody just looked behind him, shrugged his shoulders then took back to beating concrete with a sledge-hammer. Like nothing happened. Me, I played the whole incident off, but inside I was sick to my stomach. The image is still in my head a month later.
By the end of the day both main walls were on the ground. The group was sweaty, tired and feeling accomplished. A little rest upstairs and then Paul had arranged for a community meeting where everyone around us could come and ask the Americans anything they wished. A let’s get to know each other if you will.
6:00 pm the locals started showing up. Chairs and benches were set in the courtyard and we tried dispersing ourselves amongst the group. There seemed to be a little stand offish attitude at first. Pastor Charles started things off by welcoming us and explaining to both us and his community, how hard he worked to get us there along with the importance of having our work crew live on the job site promoting friendship and harmony. Individually we introduced ourselves telling of where we lived and what church we belonged too. Some people told of their employment back home, I chose to stay quiet on the subject. It took some prodding from both our people and their pastor but eventually people started asking us questions through our interpreter. Heather was grilled by two female teachers wanting know the requirements to teach in the United States and what qualified her as a teacher. Once the two sides realized their education was very similar there seemed to be an unspoken understanding. Political questions flew about. Everything from how we felt about our current president, the former president Bill Clinton to our stance on gay rights and marriage. At one point a gentlemen stood up and wanted know; why the boy doesn’t speak? As he pointed to Cody most of us at once shouted “he’s shy”! This had been a minor bone of contention with some of the Haitians. Cody was very quiet and with the rest of the party being very outspoken it was noticed quickly. All of that uncertainty in regards to Cody went away after Wednesday that was when one of the Haitian workers named Wilson told me with a huge smile on his face he (Cody) was the boy who worked like a man.
A few questions stood out for me and they stick in my mind today.
- How can the American churches help with College education for Haitians? This was a great question for as we continue to help build infrastructure should we not be focusing on education ensuring more for the future of their youth. If we merely feed these people they will only know charity, but if we teach them to feed themselves both physically and mentally wont they eventually teach others and ultimately prosper as a society?
- Was it hard to leave our families behind to help people we didn’t know or have a reason to help? They were very pleased to know from each and every one of us that it was hard. That some of us were prepared having spouses that traveled here the year before, while others where mentally dealing with an experience that was not only challenging emotionally but rewarding as well.
- What advice could we give the Haitian people in regards to becoming “better” or recognizing better opportunities? All of us had a little different version of the same answer. It went something like this: take ownership in your country, pride hard work and caring for your neighbor. Opportunities will come, but you need to create your own, act on them and succeed. Rebuilding this church is the first step for this community and all of us were proud to be a part of that process.
The evening ended with all of laughing and having a good time. Once again Paul had done an excellent job of putting us out there for all to see. He really was fantastic with placing together the right opportunities at the right time.
Tomorrow we agree to disagree…..