Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 5: Bonswa!

Saturday 9th 2012

Another sleepless night! Currently three nights in a row and I am not sure how much longer my body can take this lack of sleep. The problem for me remains the same, Haiti never rests! Being a little Haiti naïve, I was under the assumption that being away from the main city life would be a little slower, a smidge quieter, yet nothing could be further from the truth! Behind our compound are houses hidden in the mango/banana trees that appear to be the collection point for those who never sleep! Music like that of a Caribbean polka pumping from the residence all to the hoots and hollers of its inhabitants!  Lying in my bunk sopping in sweat, cursing the heavens above because there is no escape from this dreadful noise! My ear plugs have eluded me in the dark, and I am afraid to wake the lucky ones while searching my bags with a flashlight.  As for all the music I uploaded into my iPhone for just such an occasion; I made the mistake of storing everything using the “cloud”, and since all my data functions are disabled to keep from being charged an arm and a leg at AT&T it can’t be retrieved.  So all I have are eight songs placed directly onto my phones memory. Eight songs for eight days, yeah I’m screwed! Somewhere around 1 am exhaustion gets the better of me and I pass out, only to be rousted from bed at 3 am by the sounds of two dogs barking at each other! This continues for around an hour and is immediately replaced by the wonderful crows of chickens singing to the rising sun!  Now if all of that weren’t bad enough for yours truly; Marcanie started snoring around midnight and never quit.  Snoring in itself is not so bad, living in a firehouse with 4-6 other guys for 1/3 of my life, snoring is something you get used too.  But this man (Marcanie) is the king daddy of snoring, the Gandhi of bear growls, Lord of the buzz saw, the champion tree chopper, I am pretty sure some of those sounds could not legally be registered on a decibel meter! Long story short, another rough night and the hot Haitian coffee could not be poured soon enough.

Upside; Cody and Mason didn’t hear a thing (ahh to be young and able to pass out at the drop of a hat) they slept right through it all.  At least some of us received a welcomed night’s sleep. Everyone else was awakened at one time or another, dog barking seemed to be the complaint of choice.

Breakfast was at 7am on the nose and it smelled heavenly.  We were treated to spaghetti? I know it sounds strange right? Spaghetti for breakfast! But it was the best spaghetti ever! Nothing like what you would envision spaghetti to be, it was spicy, with vegetables and no sauce over the top! There was fruit and cereal, coffee and tea. The food was perfect.

 We gathered our tools, marching downstairs to meet with the incoming workers at 0800.  Today is Saturday which means it will be another half day of work for everyone.  Our goal this morning is to expose the steel trusses by removing the tin sheeting from the roof.  A few of us have high hopes that we may actually have a truss or two on the ground before noon, but that may be nothing more than wishful thinking.  Caz, Marcanie, Pastor Charles and the ten of us meet inside the church. A quick safety briefing is given along with mentioning what our goals are for the day.  We collectively decide that Opening up the concrete windows to create air flow and removing all the tin sheeting on the roof is our goal.  Everyone is pumped. Excited and ready to go! Once the concrete windows are knocked out with sledge hammers we can begin on the roof.  The Haitian crew decides going onto the roof and removing tin from the outside is the best plan.  Mean while a different plan is taking shape which places ladders inside the exposed trusses as makeshift scaffolding, allowing us to work in the shade and not risk someone falling from the roof.  Yes the tins are bolted to the trusses but they are bolted on using J-hooks.  J-Hooks are just what they sound like; they are bolts in the shape of a “J”. With the nut outside on top of the roof, the “J” passes through the tin with the “j” portion grabbing a steel truss securing a piece of tin sheeting tightly.  This is where the four bolt cutters we brought with us come into play.  Instead of unbolting the hooks from above, we are having two crews safely move up and down the length of the building cutting “J” hooks from the inside using ladders as scaffolding. Safe, easy and fast it worked as planned! The tins came down one at a time, everyone (who wished to go up in the scaffolding) took turns cutting the “J” hooks as bolt cutting a couple of hundred of these things can become a little tiresome. It went fairly quickly and we finished before noon which allowed us ample time to formulate our plan for the beginning of the week.  The beams and trusses were next to come down starting Monday and we definitely were going to need some sockets or crescent wrenches for this project.  Realizing the deficiency in our tool cache Paul suggested that we head into Cabaret (the next town over)with an interpreter to retrieve these items from a local shop.  John G, Mason and a few of the Haitian workers wished to tag along as well.  It sounded like great fun and an adventure to boot. 

Cabaret (Creole: Kabarè) is a municipality in the Arcahaie Arrondissement, in the Ouest Department of Haiti. It has 63,450 inhabitants. During his dictatorship François Duvalier renamed it Duvalierville in 1961 and a megalomaniacal construction project was begun. The project failed, but the name was kept until Duvalier’s successor, his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, fled the country in 1986.

Marcanie took us across the street from the compound where we stood waiting for a Tap-Tap to drive by.  A few loaded Tap-Taps passed us by but finally after about ten minutes one happened to stop. It appeared to be loaded with too many people for our group to fit inside, but not thinking like a Haitian I was wrong. So with a long gaze and a long deep breath we all stepped forward to receive our first lesson from the University of Tap-Tap.  Pushing and shoving, jostling and contorting, we all squeezed on, in and even hung a little off to the side. It was unsafe, crazy and something that had my Spidey senses abuzz but it was exhilarating! We all loved the ride into town and couldn’t wait for another Tap-Tap ride back to the compound!

We arrived in the town of Cabaret to witness complete controlled chaos! In the center of town the markets were open, people were everywhere! Hustling, moving, buying and selling Cabaret was alive!  Our guides took us from tool shack to tool shack looking for a simple crescent wrench or some socket wrenches.  There wasn’t a free place to move or stand without running into, bumping or moving out-of-the-way of another person, vehicle or motorcycle. We traveled through side streets, down alley ways into areas where people were fixing cars and bikes, Marcanie took us everywhere and we talked with quite a few friendly and helpful individuals.  At one point we ended up in a two-story building that resembled a shabby apartment complex filled with building supplies. There were two men sitting in the front entry staring at us as we went upstairs and it was the only time I ever felt a little uncomfortable, on edge. It seemed as though they really didn’t want us inside. Just my opinion though, I could have read the situation wrong, but it sure felt that way.  In the end we arrived back at the first store we visited. (Isn’t it always that way?) Even though the store only had two crescent wrenches available it would be enough for the task at hand on Monday. While Paul haggled with the owner over the obvious inflated prices on our behalf, John G and I were drooling over the brand new Korean and Chinese manufactured motorcycles that were for sale in front of the store.  At one point the owner informed Marcanie we could purchase them for $1000.00 u.s. dollars.  I wanted so badly to purchase one on the spot, then cruise the streets of Haiti! Nothing would have been more exciting than traveling home knowing I survived Haiti’s traffic chaos on a motorcycle! But most importantly it would have been nice to go off on an afternoon cruise and discover a little Haitian culture on my own.  Before concluding our business with the local shop owner, the price had dropped to $950.00. I am pretty sure with a little haggling $800.00 would have left me the proud owner of a Haojin 125cc motorcycle.

The afternoon trip turned out to be quite an adventure! We had walked through Cabaret, met a handful of locals and strolled into a little store for a soda. I felt uncomfortable, out of my element and excited all at the same time. Slowly working our way through the crowds back uptown towards Tap-Tap central, our construction friends grabbed the first empty Tap-Tap we came upon. Ushering us inside and after back filling the Toyota truck bed with as many people as humanly possible we slowly made our way back to our temporary home in Leveque.

The entire group gathered upon our return for prayer and lunch.  Afterwards, Paul had made arrangements through a few of his new friends for our group with the assistance of an interpreter to go on a walk about. We heard of a village in the hills behind us and it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to stretch our legs while introducing ourselves to some of the local residents. Our walk took us alongside the highway past many shanties and half destroyed homes.  Residents sat or worked in their front yards under shade trees hiding from the heat of the day.  Most waved hello, some smiled sheepishly while others looked confused at our presence.

Turning left onto a washed out dirt road leading up a hillside, the road took us through groves of bananas and plantains.  The country side was a strange mixture of tropical beauty combined with modern-day refuse scattered about without care.  After witnessing the crowded, dirty streets of Port-au-Prince and the jammed hustle of local Cabaret this little excursion was a peaceful respite for our crew. After walking with and passing many locals we came upon a concrete irrigation/drainage ditch where many children were playing in the water.   There was one small pathway leading over it and we waited patiently as donkeys and motorcycles all carrying passengers made their way across. 

Once we crossed groups of small children seemed to arrive from nowhere. Running alongside us shouting, taking our hands, some would beg for food, some would beg for water, and others were just content to receive the attention we provided.  Around a mile in we encountered our first housing encampment. Built by a group called Samaritans Purse.

Samaritan’s Purse is a non-denominational evangelical Christian humanitarian organization that works worldwide to assist people in physical need alongside their Christian missionary work. The organization’s president is Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham. The name of the organization is based on the New Testament Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus uses a parable to teach people the second great commandment – how to “love thy neighbor as thyself”.

Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries around the world. International headquarters are in Boone, North Carolina, with additional U.S. facilities in Charlotte and North Wilkesboro, N.C. Affiliate offices are in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Field offices are located in some 20 countries across five continents.

The buildings were of many different sizes, some seemed to be small in the 14×16 foot range while others looked a little larger. There were central outhouses along with meeting halls.  At one end of the project sat rows of larger 20×60 building that for some reason reminded me of a Japanese internment camp from the 1940’s.  But they were all clean, neat and orderly.  Most were weather wrapped and it seemed every one that we saw had occupants.  Smiling and waving, we were always greeted with a smile and wave in return.

Moving farther up the hill while holding a small child’s hand I began to feel somewhat guilty.  We were walking into these peoples’ lives, staring at them, taking pictures as though they were some kind of circus attraction put there for our amusement.  Personally there were a few occasions where making eye contact was hard because of the guilt I felt inside.  My mind was racing, what were they thinking, how did they feel about themselves, about our intrusion, or the hand they had been dealt since the earthquake?  Were they grateful for the housing and assistance provided, or angry because many of the projects seemed unfinished? Had these Haitians truly been helped or hindered by the short-term assistance that eventually became less and less?  

At or around mile two we came upon another community erected by Mission of Hope

Mission of Hope: as an organization following Jesus Christ, we exist to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti. Mission of Hope was founded in 1998, and continues to serve Haiti daily by meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the Haitian population.

At Mission of Hope, we desire to serve the nation of Haiti, and see lives changed. Our passion is to see the hopeless find hope through Jesus Christ, and empower future generations through education to bring their country out of poverty. Mission of Hope website http://www.mohhaiti.org

The housing at the Mission of Hope complex was refreshing to say the least.  Houses were all neatly in a row with independent yards, fences and gates.  The inhabitants looked happy sitting on their porches and all welcomed us with large smiles and a hearty Bonswa! We arrived at a church and were warmly welcomed inside where we gazed at the simplicity of their building.  A place of worship built on rock in the middle of nowhere and it was perfect. We all enjoyed spending a few moments inside.  As we traveled onward through the project children swarmed us, grabbing our hands. Laughing at our faces and all of them wanted to play.  Taking a few moments at an assembly building we took pictures while playing with children.  It was nice, even Cody got into the action.  Everyone of us had a child taking very special interest in our arrival.  It was the first time during the walk I wasn’t feeling ashamed for my presence.

As we made the corner heading for home one of our guides pointed up the hill to a similar housing complex also built by Mission of Hope.  This one was strictly for the deaf community.  How wonderful to have an entire community of like-minded individuals living as one.  In America they would be considered handicapped and maybe in Haiti they still are but in this village no such phrase exists for they live, farm and work together as one. Inspiring.

While walking towards home I asked one of our interpreters Marcanie; Why if we say nothing to an individual in passing do I feel contempt coming from the person we passed? But if I smile and say Bonjour/ Bonswa (good morning/afternoon) as we pass every person lights up with a gigantic smile then waves?  Marcanie proceeded to tell me that by saying good morning or afternoon in passing you are showing a sign of respect towards that individual.  Out in the country is it expected to show respect not only for your elders but for all individuals as human beings or children of God.  If you choose not to say good morning or afternoon after making eye contact you are showing, superiority or you feel as though you are better than they are; which in turn is extremely disrespectful. Here in a country where hard times and strife seem to be an everyday occurrence, the simple principles that our country once lived by still exist.  Say good morning or good evening to a complete strangers in our country and you are looked at as though you are crazy. It is sad.

We arrived back to the Leveque Hilton to another wonderful meal prepared for us by Miss LuLu.  We prayed, we sat for devotional and then we once again partook in something that is sadly missing from our everyday lives.  Together like a family we sat on the porch and talked. Every single one of us, for three-four hours! We laughed, and joked, telling stories about our day, sharing our experiences, our personal feelings, the highs and the lows. It was pure bliss!

I want to build a patio and shade cover in our back yard so that after dinner, no one is allowed to go their separate ways, but instead all will meet for devotional time, laughing and talking about their day.  Just like we used too, as families before technology, dual working parents, after school sports and just plain old life got in the way..

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