Art of the lie…

Art of the lie

I received a very interesting phone message today while traveling down the freeway at 65 mph in a bright green fire engine.  Interesting not with any windfall of knowledge or wealth coming my way. Interesting not in the fact that my wife, who left the message never leaves me messages. (she would rather talk to me personally) No this phone call triggered my curious Spock (Star Trek) one eyebrow lifted facial response for the pure and simple fact it was a lie. 

Now being a parent of four children, teaching the transparency in human nature associated with a lie is of the utmost importance. Nothing brings down fatherly wrath faster than a child caught in a lie.  A reminder that lying brings nothing but ridicule and solitude as no one wishes to be around you is never more prevalent in my household once you have been detained for said infraction. 

But….

There is something to be said about the art of the lie? All lies start out simple enough, the truly gifted can carry them thru lie after lie building upon a story that eventually not even a used car salesmen would buy.  But there are the chosen few, the masters, individuals with special gifts who get it right the first time.  Capturing you with an opening line, reel you in by the lip while never doubting their story for a second! You walk away wowed and in the end, thinking to yourself; I wish my life was as good as that guys! 

These “super liars” have creativity, something so many of us human beings lack these days.  An ability to play out an entire scenario inside their head like a bad romance novel.  Starting at page one the lie is not complete until they have personally closed the imaginary book inside their cranium.  Egomaniacal? Yes! Self centered;? Yes! Able to leave you mesmerized by their charming guiles? Yes! The gifted liar is truly a sight to behold.

Back to the beginning.

After arriving at the hospital to retrieve my crew, I took a moment and withdrew my phone to see who called. Seeing it was in fact my wife I eagerly touched the voicemail button and sat mesmerized as my wife simply stated; So here’s the story, the kids are all running right? And they see a hawk with a kitten in its hand and Cody goes and shoots the hawk out of the air and the kids save the kitten and brought the kitten home. That’s the story…

Thought number one: Cody knows better than to shoot a hawk.

Thought number two: Really the cat lived after falling, how many feet to the ground? Cats have nine lives and I have witnessed my fair share of cats falling from high distances (yes the fire department does get called out for cats in trees, it’s not a myth) but out of the air with nothing to break its fall? Suspicion looms..

Thought number three: Cody is a hell of a shot, but really, a hawk flying away with food trapped in its claws.

Hmmmmm something is definitely afoot.

It turns out our kids found a kitten roaming alongside the road, down the street from our house.  Now since we live in the middle of nowhere, 3/4 of the way down a 2 mile dirt road, odds of it belonging to someone are slim, so our children concocted this farce believing my wife and I would accept the wounded feline, dinner plate survivor into our abode with open arms never once questioning the complexity of their story. 

They were 100% wrooooo—-RIGHT!

After careful discussion, and not wanting to reward a blatant lie, my wife and I chose too privately commend the story telling effort, while publicly reminding the children lying was never acceptable.  Yet the four of them, along with two young family members visiting for the week actually put their heads together thinking about the welfare of this little animal and came up with one fo the best bull pucky stories we had heard in a while from any of their little brains.  Ah the joy of teamwork!

They were outed for the lie, we all laughed heartily at the effort. A true family moment to be remembered and most likely told to grand children someday.

It was only after I hung up the phone, while sitting at my desk waiting for the computer to open up did it dawn on me. 

We just helped them, by awakening their creative story telling skills! It like putting water on a seed once a day, then feeding it tons of sunlight.  Before long it will grow and evolve leading them inevitably to “the art of the lie.”

 

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Haiti Mission Trip part 11 The last day

 

Friday June 15th 2012

This morning the group is filled with a combination of excitement and sadness.  It’s that feeling you carried with you at the end of summer camp.  Happy to go home yet saddened to no longer be surrounded by these people whom you have become close to in an abnormally short amount of time.  Knowing when you wake up tomorrow the scenery will be completely different. Your feet, your body and soul will no longer encompass this place you called home for the last 8 days. It’s as if you were never there, then you ask yourself; if I come back to this place will it be the same? Will I carry the same feeling of accomplishment and joy currently residing within my being?  Could there ever be another group as wonderful, humorous and caring as ours?

We had our last breakfast, we cleaned up our rooms and many of us left suitcases filled with clothes, shoes and other belongings behind for the church to distribute to its members.  Everything was moved downstairs quietly towards the loading zone as the guest house trucks arrived to cart us away.  Small talk and innocent giggles were had by all.  Before any of us had time to sit and reflect any further it was time to go.  Our final goodbyes, our last au revoir or in Haitian; bay-bay; goodbyes are always miserable.  Some small tears were shed, many blank faces climbed aboard our chariot home. As we pulled away I looked back at our temporary home and sighed.  Many days I was ready to leave, while other days I couldn’t wait for the next challenge and now here I was watching it disappear in my rear view.  Mixed emotions swelled inside bringing tears of joy to my face. 

It only took a few minutes for most to settle down and you could see many reflecting as we rolled along towards the guest house.  Gone were the naïve Americans white knuckling their ride through town, in their place were 10 seasoned mission participants who no longer feared NASCAR style driving, crowded streets, UN personnel, language barriers, and humidity. The further we traveled from Leveque the easier it was to accept our next destination.  The guest house was looking more and more inviting. Yet inside I was already longing to see our new-found friends again.  I knew there would be another mission team in two weeks, then another after that and so on.  Before long the people of Leveque would forget who we were but I was positive they would never forget our contribution.  We had all talked about traveling back to see the finished church, I feel as though this is my next personal mission. 

After 30 minutes we arrived at a dirt road that headed back into the hills; this led up to the mass grave constructed for an estimated 316,000 who perished on January 12, 2010.  We had all declined the offer to see this memorial.  Not out of disrespect mind you, but from exhaustion.  The further we travelled the more we all relaxed and exhaustion was evident on every person inside that bus.  The bus turned anyways and up the hill we traveled.  Letting out a heavy sigh of frustration my mind-set was soon replaced upon arrival to the memorial. 

Where a sloping hillside once stood now lay a football field sized plateau. Of to the left, closer to the original hillside sat a marble monument.  Simple in stature and design, looking upon it you suddenly felt remorse for ever thinking you could drive by this place without stopping.  To get at the memorial you needed to traverse this football field sized area which meant walking over the dead.  Humbling to say the least; the entire area lays in clear view of the ocean with a gentle sea breeze enveloping you where you stand. A picture perfect view for all souls at rest; with my head hung low I made my way back to the bus where I vowed to never look past another’s reflection of the past to meet my own personal needs.

Two hours, lots of sweat, a few bumpy roads and we were back inside the comforts of the guest house.  A facility that when I arrived looked as though it had seen better days, but to me on this day it appeared as though it was the Grand Hilton, the Four Seasons, the Fairmont, it was filled with luxury and comfort. After unloading both vehicles I made my way upstairs to our rooms where immediately the i-phone was plugged back into the world.  After 30 minutes of returning e-mails, sending pictures and catching up on work I found a clean pair of swim shorts and headed to the pool.  

Our entire group was here and after jumping in I realized it was the first time I had actually been cool for 8 days. It was fantastic!  Water, cool water all around my skin, no sweat, no wet clothes, we all swam until our fingers shriveled up.  Many of during the course of discussion joked that when you arrive at the guest house for the first time the pool should be off-limits.  Because you can only truly understand the significance of this little concrete gem after you have sweated your ass off for 8 days! Of course we were only joking, maybe….

After dinner our group was invited into another structure for a debriefing.  We all shared our stories of trial and triumph with the coordinator.  I am sorry to say I don’t remember her name as she was the replacement for Sara who had finished her tenure on this assignment.  It was an excellent way to end our journey as we spoke very highly of the church congregation in Leveque.  We also discovered there have only been a couple of instances when a going away party was thrown for the team. She had heard lots of compliments about our group over the week and was impressed we took the entire building to the ground.  We all left feeling very good about our efforts, knowing we came together as one and performed to the best of our abilities, it was gratifying to say the least. 

As the night wore down we all trailed off to bed.  The 1950’s metal bunk with cotton batted mattress I despised the first night felt like a goose down bed from heaven.  Drifting off to sleep all my brain could focus on was the pride I held inside for our group, the immense fatherly pride I held for my son, the new friendships I now cherished and the thought of hearing my wife’s voice the minute we touched down on American soil tomorrow.  Sleep came quickly…

 

Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 12 Coming home..

Saturday June 16th 2012

Bleary eyed and disoriented most of us stumbled around trying to figure out whether we were coming or going.  A nice cool shower, a shave, and a fresh clean pair of clothes for travel, we were one by one getting ready for the long ride home.  Our final breakfast together was filled with prayer, laughter and stories of the past week, a truly fantastic way to end this journey. As we gathered our belongings, purchased our last gifts, distributed passports and documentation, the anticipation of finally being on a plane home started setting in on us all.  Loading up and pulling through the iron gates for the last time I was finally ready to go, ready to be home again.  I had come to this country with a simple goal, tear down a building, with that goal complete; I found myself leaving with so much more, more than I could ever have imagined obtaining from this little tropical island and its people. 

The airport was controlled chaos, people moving you here and there; the same issue we had previously upon arrival in country with baggage handlers reared its ugly head as we unloaded from our bus.  John C took the front, Paul was in the middle and John G and I took up the rear of our group ensuring no one was separated or bags grabbed. A few of us purchased some last-minute gifts before entering the boarding area, while others just made their way upstairs.  The terrace was crowded and hot but at this point no one cared. After an hour we loaded and were finally on our way.  The flight was quiet and uneventful, (except for the reemergence of the corn muffin) most of us were quietly enjoying the in-flight movie, or sleeping.

Landing in Miami the winds were blowing very hard and our arrival was hair-raising to say the least! As we deplaned heading into the terminal there was an indescribable feeling that came with walking on American soil.  There is something to be said about the freedoms we Americans enjoy on a daily basis. It takes experiencing the trials and tribulations of another country to fully grasp this immense gift we have been given, it is the reason people fight and die trying to reach American shores.

We all gathered for one last dinner together before catching the last leg of our travels home. During dinner every one of us was plugged back into society.  8 days with little cell phone use and an abundance of conversation, now with little more than 5 hours left together we all were texting, Facebooking and catching up with family and friends. Cody called his mom the minute we landed in Miami, giving her a short synopsis of his adventures. I called her sometime after that and relished in hearing her voice.  I couldn’t wait to land in SF and see her face.

The 5 hour flight was uneventful and in the blink of an eye we were face to face with loved ones.  Our dear friend Alisa (Maggie’s mom) drove her commuter van down to pick us up. When they pulled up curbside my wife was hanging a welcome home sign out the window! We all hugged saying our last goodbyes as Paul and Mason went their separate ways with family and friends.  Climbing into the van sitting next to my wife for the ride home the whole trip seemed surreal.  A years’ worth of planning, fundraising, meetings the anticipation of going and it was all over, done, we were home. Sharing our stories of adventure with Alisa and my wife Jacy the trip home went very quickly. My body was exhausted; there was a numbness that took over as we made our way to the house at 1 am Sunday morning. 

Hot water! Hot water flowing over my body in copious amounts! Soap and a towel smelling of bleach; the sound of little Parker snoring while Jake sleeps quietly in the bunk above him, being home is grand.  Slipping into a clean shirt and shorts, I stroll downstairs, peek in on Jessica then over to check on Cody finding him completely passed out, his dog Cricket (who he missed more than family) snuggled up to him lying under his arm. I whisper Goodnight son, thank you for coming with me on this great adventure, I love you. Then slowly close his door as Cricket raises an ear at the creaky hinges.  

Climbing into bed, looking at my wife lying next to me sleeping I feel as though I may be the luckiest man alive; a nice house, a soft bed, a woman who loves me, food in my refrigerator, an awesome family, wonderful friends and a great job.  When I left for Haiti my feelings were that of a married man with a wonderful family, yet I didn’t have enough, I wanted more, feeling as though with budget cuts at work, an increased workload (both at work and home) and a severely dwindling income our lives were becoming extremely difficult.  Over ten days I learned what difficult truly was, I also learned how to be happy even content with my life in those same ten days. I learned from emulating my Haitian friends.

A Haitian is thankful for each day

A Haitian is thankful for the food on their plate

A Haitian is thankful for friends and family, willing to do anything at anytime or anywhere for someone in need

A Haitian is thankful for God’s love

A Haitian believes every little moment is a gift from God

A Haitian believes hardship instills belief and all hardships can be overcome with a willing attitude

A Haitian doesn’t know the word can’t

A group of Haitians changed my life forever. I am filled with joy, love and appreciation for all God has blessed me with in this life. For that I can never repay them, I pray for the little group in Leveque and hope one day I can revisit this special place to sit and worship in a brand new church.  A church built with love and devotion from many caring hands who know there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome with God’s help.

And to our church group; the nine of you are amazing human beings. You are all caring, loving, hard-working people who I am very proud to call my friends.  We may not talk everyday, we may only see each other once in a while or only know what the other is up to through Facebook but there is one thing we will share for eternity.  It will bind us till the day we leave this earth.

Haiti

I love you all, thank you for the time of my life.. 

OSHA out…..

 

Haiti Mission Trip part 10: Working on a chain gang…

Thursday June 14th, 2012

Waking up this morning there was an incredible sense of accomplishment.  Standing at the balcony brushing my teeth gazing upon the remnants of a building.  Its amazing what people can do when they put their minds too it.  Where a large church once stood there now remains nothing but rubble.  A hazard taken to the ground so a new beginning can emerge. 

While finishing up last night it still bothered me the way our combined group began to fall apart once “Bald guy” appeared then started barking orders to the Haitian workers.  Not being one to let things go I cornered Caz asking him questions in regards to the incident hoping it would help me better understand what had happened.  According to Caz; (my interpretation) after the earthquake Bald guy lost some of his family and his home, while others were running about not know what to do, he took it upon himself to start uncovering people trapped in the debris.  He has orchestrated the removal of many earthquake damaged buildings through nothing more than sheer will, muscle and desire.   The workers look up to him because of his reputation; definitely feeling like the right “call” had been made in allowing him to take down the portico, it all made complete sense to me now.  Pride is a powerful thing and this man held enough for our entire crew, and with that I salute you Bald guy.  You were grumpy, slightly mean and unorthodox in your methods but you were completely in the right.

Today we began moving concrete, lots and lots of concrete. The pile closest to the school needs to be replied into the confines set forth by our esteemed project engineer. All of the remaining concrete block covering the church slab needs to be shuttled onto a new site out front.  Making matters worse new cinder block arrived yesterday and half our crew has started working on a new wall surrounding the church.  Half the manpower twice the work and it appears today will be the hottest yet.  Time to buckle down and get to it.

Now moving concrete rubble one piece at a time is very tedious work indeed.  Your mind needs someplace to go as one oversized rock after another is thrown into a pile some 15-25 feet away. When there are only three shovels, three wheel barrows and 13 people, someone is getting their hands dirty.  A few of us took up residence out front slowly throwing one chunk at a time, while others tackled the relocation of the rear pile.  The ones with shovels and wheel barrows took to clearing the pad distributing the mass between both piles.   It was long, slow hot and tedious work. 

Around noon time a few of us were feeling the effects of the abnormally hot day.  Exhaustion from the weeks work combined with knowing just how close we were to finishing began to play mentally with our minds. I drank more water during this one day than all other days combined. Showing the signs of exhaustion there would be no more “slow sipping” for this cat. No sir it was chug a lug all day long! As soon as one water bottle had emptied another was filled than devoured by my ravenous thirst.  Not alone I noticed many of our crew working in 15-20 minutes segments then sitting in the shade for 15-20 minutes.  The “quitter” side of me was working hard on my brain, but my conscience continued to override the thought process. 

Joh G (Hammer) on the other hand was a freaking machine! This guy could not get enough of smashing things with his hammer! I secretly looked up to him for strength, if Hammer was getting up to go work some more than gosh darn it I was too! It felt like an eternity, as though no progress was being made one rock at a time, one shovel full at a time, one wheel barrow full at a time! It had become slightly disheartening.

Spirits crushed, exhaustion ruling my head I decided taking a break from the site was in order.  Spending the whole week working on the building left me at a loss for interacting with the school children.  Something I was looking forward too prior to the trip.  Maggie, Jan, Heather, Anne,Cody and Caz all headed up towards the school for some scheduled classroom time.  Every fiber in my body screamed “go back to work”as I headed up to the school compound! But I knew in my heart I needed to swallow the pride of completion, get out of the sun and go have fun with the children. 

 Entering the classroom it was clear everyone was having a fantastic time.  All of the children were in the throes of making bracelets from string.  Each one of our group was spread around helping children with their projects! One little boy sitting at the table in front of me tapped me on the shoulder showing what an impressive job he had done with his project.  All of them smiled, laughed and generally appeared to be taking the bracelet project quite seriously.  Cody started out quiet as usual but after having Maggie drag him around a few times he started talking with the kids. It was good for him. The boys seem to look up to him and were always confused by his quiet demeanor.

Back at the job site, feeling refreshed, and ready to tackle the mound of mess something occurred to me! It’s funny how being gone for a little while takes you out of the little visionary tunnel you have stuck yourself inside.  The piles were noticeably bigger! The church slab seemed a little cleaner and it appeared maybe, just maybe with a little luck we would get it cleaned up before 3pm today! Our agreed upon goal during lunchtime quickly became; clean the floor off so as we leave the children will have a safe place to play soccer; definitely an attainable goal.

The day was long and hard, but we completed our goal! My estimate would be approximately 25-30 tons of debris moved by hand! The floor was clean for the kids and we all were excited, having accomplished our goal! It also appears there will be a party given in our honor by the community tonight. The community leaders have decided to hold it  right upon the very floor we just cleared! Some teenage kids along with a few adults cleaned it off with buckets of water and brooms made from palm leaves while we all bathed. Speaking of bathing, my last bath was the best bath ever! The water was cool, the warm breeze felt fantastic and I finally took my work shorts off for the last time! These shorts became sort of a running gag, as we started on Friday, they were covered with a thick layer of dirt from the ceiling.  So dirty they were that I puffed my chest out and with a smart ass tone declared them the official work shorts of Haiti! Then boldly declaring they shall be worn everyday until we finish our mission! Of course my little quip was merely to gross out our group and yet they women from cell block C would not let me forget that asinine statement.  So following through with my word, the shorts were worn everyday until Thursday at 4:30 when they hit the bathing room floor for the very last time!  Yes they smelled bad, they had changed color and they practically stood up on their own, but success was mine!

7:00pm

Chairs and church pews are being brought out then placed in a semi-circle on the slab.  A boom box has arrived, lights have been strung up and our generator is at full throttle.  People from all over the neighborhood are arriving and we have been asked to be seated.  Once again Charles says some very kind words in regards to our hard work and dedication.  He leads us all in a prayer and blesses the evenings upcoming activities.  Soon we are entrenched in song, laughter and some of the funniest skits! Its like summer camp with musical chairs and impromptu performances! We are all having the time of our lives! The children sing for us, its beautiful, a young woman sings for us and doesn’t miss a beat when the CD stops playing.  Then a well dressed young man holding a guitar stands up to sing a song to our group but instead turns and sings directly to our Anne!  It was hilarious!  Some of us were pretty sure afterwords an arranged Haitian marriage had just taken place and Anne was “gonna have some splaining to do” when she arrived home with the new hubby!  Earlier in the evening this young man mustered up the courage to give Anne a wonderfully written love letter filled with devotion to her very existence! So we just knew through Haitian song they were now husband and wife!

Many games were played including a chug a lug game involving two 20 ounce bottled Cokes, using no hands.  After watching one Haitian lose to another, reflecting upon my beer drinking days I mumbled to Caz, pretty sure I could have won that contest.  Within minutes Caz relayed this apparent proposal to the powers that be and two new Cokes were acquired for a chug off! Now I can’t lie, I was pretty excited, for after watching the speed at which the winner chugged his Coke, it seemed like an easy win for me! Before pondering the ramifications of actually beating this man, Yalaylay strolled by me slowly, then stopped directly in front of me, smiling as he placed his hands around his own neck to indicate the choking sign.  Wait a minute, I thought, is he smack talking me? Is Yalaylay talking Haitian trash? Oh I am going to beat this guy all right, then I am calling out Yalaylay ! But I didn’t have to wait, I never had to face the previous winner, you see Yalaylay was my challenger and yes he was indeed talking Haitian trash to me! The music stopped, Cokes were placed on the chairs, our hands were placed behind our backs while Madame Lulu counted down, 3-2-1 GO!

From what I have been told I gave it a pretty good go, even holding the lead for a bit, but Yalaylay was the village ringer! A bona-fide champion chugger he beat me by a gulp and a half. The place went nuts! People were laughing and hugging, Yalaylay came over, shook my hand then hugged me with the biggest smile! Through Caz I told Yalaylay I would be back next year to beat him! He welcomed the challenge. 

At the end of the night we were all hugging, tears were being shed, last-minute photographs were being taken.  Goodbyes continued for quite sometime and it was truly the hardest moment of our entire trip. Even Cody had his picture taken with some of the other teenagers.  Saying goodbye to some of the most honest, down to earth, hard-working people I had ever met was very difficult indeed.  They have all been handed a horrible situation and yet they survive with strength drawn from their family unit, the church and a belief that all people are good and it can only get better from here. 

Taking a moment to personally thank a few people, I pulled aside Wilson and Jonas telling them what an honor it had been to work alongside them both.  Jonas’ wife came over handing me her baby, then hugging me while kissing both my cheeks. She did this with many of our people, she was incredibly sweet and honest. Cornering Caz in one of the downstairs rooms to thank him for all his hard work with our group, I handed him our department coin.  Explaining to him the only way one of these can be given away is to someone who is selfless, who puts all others first by exemplifying honor and integrity. He was honored by the gift, humbled by the kind words and I think a little embarrassed even though he received the coin in private.  Caz truly is a remarkable man.  We all pray someday he ends up becoming a translator or official government representative for his country.  He loves this country and its people so much, and it shows through his continuing ability to find ways to make life better for its people. I will miss him, I am very proud to call him friend.

We slowly milled our way back upstairs. Taking an opportunity to share our last night together on the balcony, telling jokes, laughing at Annes’ new husbands expense.  We all hope she keeps the love letter for one day when she finds herself in a relationship that is not working out so well she can pull the letter out, remembering there is someone out there who truly does worship the ground she walks upon. If that person is a world away then there must be plenty of suitors here in the states that will do the same.  You are worth it Anne!

Slowly one by one we all trailed off to bed, knowing in the morning it was breakfast then pack up the trucks for the long ride back to the guest house! Sleep would come very easy tonight..

Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 9: Tear down that wall!!

Wednesday June 13th 2012

Curious; I seem to always start out by describing my sleep pattern from the night before. In hind sight I suppose it helps explain my emotional state during the day’s activities.

Last night there were no excuses for loss of sleep. Exhausted from the day’s sledgehammer work, 800mg of Ibuprofen relaxing me, taking away the swelling in my ankle, a fantastic set of ear plugs and the newly acquired ability to cope with the humidity at night, there truly was no reason for sleep not to come. Well except for maybe waking up to something nibbling upon the open wound atop my ankle. Terrified of what it might be, shocked by the size of the creature as it covered my ankle and part of my foot, I merely shook my foot really hard, grimacing as a large clunk could be heard through my ear plugs when it hit the ground. Closing my eyes then trying to change the scary creature images racing through my mind; I Laid upon my cot praying the surge of adrenaline would pass quickly allowing sleep to come back! My mind spun into overdrive and once again I began planning the take-down of the portico. The dreaded Portico!

The portico and front wall are the only portion of the structure still standing and while everyone moseyed off to sleep I sat on the porch staring at it, playing every conceivable option over and over again in my mind. You see this portico has many “unknowns” associated with its design. How is the solid concrete roof tied into the main wall? How much internal damage has been done to the four remaining columns that support the outer front edge? If we start breaking concrete in one area will the opposite side fail, collapsing and possibly seriously injuring or heaven forbid kill one our people? There have been plenty of responsibilities thrown at me during my short tenure here on this earth, many were handled quickly and decisively, while others took much more thought and a little luck. Of course there were ones I failed miserably at, and though lessons were learned from these failures, I was pretty sure luck and failure were something I wasn’t willing to throw into the mix on this occasion. We were a group of ten with nothing more than sledgehammers, will power and a fantastic work ethic. What I would have given for a Bobcat tractor, or a Cat dozer to simply push over this last towering obstacle.

So there it was my brain in full operating mode, rehashing all the probabilities, calculating weights, gravity, fulcrum, and points of contact. There I lay, spinning like a top with no resolve, no sleep, no rest, just a large unknown waiting to rear its ugly head upon the first light of the morning sun.

Little did I know my current frustration was only just beginning..

We assembled at our regular location, a quick down and dirty safety briefing was given. Heck everyone heard it so many times over the last week it probably didn’t need to be done. But in reality when you become laxidasical about the daily routine is when accidents happen. Then whose fault is it? Oh yeah it’s the guy who didn’t give the safety briefing!

John C and I walked over to the Portico sizing it up one last time. Our plan was simple yet relatively safe. With too many unknowns about how the porch was actually tied into the building our goal was to have it collapse upon itself. Weaken the wall with four solid point of contact, and then weaken the four posts leaving two mini support walls to be knocked aside in the end. This would leave no room for error as the entire thing would come down upon itself, imploding if you will, thereby guaranteeing no one could possibly be in the collapse zone. It wasn’t fool proof but it was as close as one could get with the tools we carried.

Carefully taping both gaps where the roof met the wall then placing tape streamers ¼ inch apart along the seam of tape. This would allow my assigned safety person to tell if the wall was separating from the roof by how many streamers pulled from the cement. Even the slightest movement would be easily visible as a streamer would pop free from the roof. Jan became our safety officer and she was dutifully placed into position with her eyes locked upon the tape. John C and I took our positions to make a series of breaks along the concrete wall. Within seconds of making our first hits a Haitian worker who I had not seen before began marching around stirring up our crew. This bald, shirtless, seemingly angry little man pulled our interpreter aside, directing him towards John and myself. Marcanie came and asked us to please stop, the Haitian crew didn’t feel what we were doing was safe. Once again carefully explaining our plan of attack to Marcanie for relay back to the crew I was met with a bit of disdain. The bald man was once again not happy, moving our crew away from the building and flailing his arms about. My frustration level was rising as again I tried to relay our plan; asking Marcanie to explain the plans measure of success revolves around safety! This was met with more frustration from bald guy who continued to keep the workers back! While taking a sledge from one of them he made several hitting motions on one of the pillars. This was the last place you needed to attack first on this structure and now my ego was starting to take over as my blood began to boil at his apparent ignorance towards the safety of his own people!

Stewing over the current situation something dawned on me. Ego; it was my ego that was getting in the way. These people don’t know me and I don’t know them, there was no hiring process, no specialized training, and no certifications needed to be shown to walk this jobsite. Just my word, our plan, my ego pitted against this mans. There lay the problem? In reality who am I? I am the outsider, the stranger from another land that’s come here to work on THEIR project! This is their church, their community, their family. This is the very last wall of a building that has stood the test of time for 60+ years. If they want to take it down their way, well so be it! If it was my church I am sure I would feel the same way, assuming that is part of this man’s frustration with us. I don’t have to like the outcome, that’s not my job! My job is to make sure everyone on our team is safe first and foremost! Safe they all were, so we gathered up our belongings, then we relayed through Marcanie for them to have at it! Bring down the last wall on their church! Use bald guys’ plan, whatever that may be! We all found ourselves a good seat and I waited with baited breath to see what great plan bald guy had to bring down this last piece of concrete and steel.

Bald guys great plan?

Hit the columns as hard as you can as many times as you can until it falls down! Why the hell didn’t I think of that? Crap I could have just gotten a great night’s sleep if only I had just said screw it! Let’s just hit it until it falls! Safety be damned, throw caution to the wind! Just hit the columns really hard and hope you can jump out of the way in time when it all comes crashing down! And that’s just what they did; Wilson and another man took to hitting it, while jumping out of the way after each strike! It was scary and painful to watch. Every safety centered fiber inside me screaming for them to get out of the way! But they continued, strike after grueling strike until it shook, rumbled and slowly twisted separating from the main wall then partially coming down. The two men jumped out of the way in time and no one was hurt. It took many more precarious strikes to fully collapse the roof sealing its fate. In the end it went off without incident, I wasn’t happy about the situation, but it wasn’t for me to like or dislike. The portico for the most part was on the ground and that is all that mattered. Everyone cheered everyone grabbed tools and we all took to breaking apart the solid concrete roof.

Bald guy continued to lurk around the site for the rest of the day. The Haitian crew acted strangely when he was around and it bothered me. We had become this very cohesive unit and now there seemed to be a small fracture forming. There was another problem brewing. Much of the broken concrete being moved from the foundation floor was being dumped well outside the perimeter set forth by the engineer. This was quite troublesome as I gave him my word we would dump the remnants correctly, saving him time and work later during the foundation portion of the project. Having relayed my concerns numerous times the pile kept growing, expanding and spilling over the lines. Most of us prayed the engineer would see the mass amounts of rubble moved then realize his expectations may have been unreasonable. But my gut said otherwise and one should always go with their gut.

Heather had been worrying me quite a bit for early in the week she took my “stay hydrated speech” quite seriously! Taking in three times the amount of water she needed too during the day; this practice caused her ankles to swell! We quickly named them cankles and though it was all in good fun she spent a better part of the week fighting an ongoing condition. We cut her water in half and had her drinking coffee. When she wasn’t working her ankles were kept up and cool. Some days they shed quite a bit fluid while other days her ankles looked as though they would explode! Through it all she worked like a champ, never complaining but I knew my friend was having trouble and it bothered me.

There was a moment today when through sweat and exhaustion I sat upon a broken piece of concrete. Placing my sledgehammer on the ground, pulling down my sock to rub my very swollen ankle I looked up past the brim of my hat to see Cody still swinging a sledge without falter. He had been going nonstop, breaking one brick after another, working alongside the Haitians without fail. I stared at him through the eyes of a father, for he appeared to be no longer a boy. He stood there not a small child to be protected but a young man with strength and determination. He was becoming a man, and pride filled my chest as tears streamed from my eyes. There were no words to say what needed or didn’t need to be said, just me staring at him crying my eyes out like a little baby. I think it was Heather who asked me if I was ok to which I replied in a smart tone “I got something in my eye” while rubbing my face! She just laughed, and after I explained my emotions it only strengthened what she already knew. I loved my son and was filled with joy.

The engineer stopped by late in the afternoon, he was extremely impressed with the amount of work we had accomplished! He didn’t think we would have the entire building on the ground by Wednesday. Pastor Charles joined us as we walked the grounds going over all we had accomplished. The Engineer pulled from his pocket plans for the new church! It was very exciting to see the artist’s rendering. It gave us all a real sense of purpose. As we walked the perimeter making our way towards the debris pile he noticed it was way beyond where it was to be located. Before we went much further, through Caz we explained that errors had been made during movement of the debris. I also explained that we respected his decisions as he was adamant about correcting the problem. I assured him that we would and asked for an alternate dumping spot as this pile had grown well beyond its means. The front near the street would do so we walked out front and marked off a new zone. These boundaries would not be crossed for I had given my word and with a handshake he was gone.

This left us feeling a wee bit dejected! For most of what we already had moved would have to be moved again. One rock at a time.

The day was done; one 1950’s flat top building was completely on the ground and amazingly we all still liked each other! Jeff Probst hadn’t shown up; so no one was being voted off the island and we were surrounded by a cast of extremely funny and hard working people!

Heather and I had a picture taken of us wearing our SF Giants hats with a sign that stated “Together we are Giant” a slogan from the Giants ballclub. That was great fun!

We met Rosie the Riveter today. Our very own Maggie was swinging away with a sledgehammer when something caught my eye. Her shirt, her bandana tied around her head, could it be I thought to myself, could it possibly be? Asking her to stop in front of the last wall standing, then posing her to emmulate one of my favorite war time bond drive photos with a modern tweak. A picture was taken. Looking to the screen my jaw dropped as we all gazed in amazement. Maggie is our modern day Rosie the Riveter! I have known this woman since she was a small girl; she has the drive of a bull, the tenacity of lion and can outwork most men! Once her mind is set I believe there is nothing this woman will not accomplish in her life. The picture we took that day is the true Maggie we all know and love.

Anne has become wickedly funny! We found that her name drops into just about any situation. As in she is an ANNEimal when it comes to work. Or hey, have you seen her Ray Annes sunglasses? Her humor is dry, delivered on time and quirky. There have been a string of inventions she is looking to patent so look out world for coming to a store near you is bacon floss. That’s right it has been determined that bacon goes with everything so Anne’s Bacon Floss should be hitting the stores soon. But then what do you expect from the preachers daughter?

John C had developed a callus on his hand which he would slowly stroke while pondering. After time he had taken to calling it precious. It was a little creepy yet devilishly humorous at the same time.

Everyone seems to be in high spirits’ still, but as for myself? I am not sure I have another day in me. Between the constant lack of sleep, the heat, my back, my shoulder and the tennis ball sized ankle I am sporting around, my mind is having a harder time overcoming these whiney little obstacles’.

I am also feeling completely separated from my family, especially from my best friend. I can’t wait to see her and tell her how much I love her. This experience has been very fulfilling, extremely emotional and moving beyond words; two more nights to go, three more nights until we are home with our loved ones.

The hardest work is yet to come…..

Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 8: Where there’s thunder..

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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…..

;

;

;

Haiti Mission 2012 part 7: Raise the roof..

 

Monday June 11th, 2012

Last night before going to bed, my 11-year-old called to say hello.  Within seconds there appeared to be tension in our conversation.  When asked about his apparent discontent he slowly started whimpering and within seconds it became a gale force storm of tears.  Jake wanted Cody and I to come home. He cried and through his whimpering, I deciphered he missed us terribly.  I felt helpless, as a father should I suppose; usually when he misses me a short trip to the firehouse will bring quick consolation; returning his normal demeanor. But there was no short trip, no hey buddy I’ll be home tomorrow, instead he is regaled for his bravery being the “man” of the house while his brother and I are away.  After a few moments of pandering to his needs, he calms down.  I miss him, I feel horrible there is no way to comfort him, to hug him and make his fears go away, but slowly he comes around, he pretends to understand.  After a few “I love you’s’ and I’ll be home soon, he giggles slightly when I tell him goodnight. “Goodnight turkey lips” usually works every time and this time was no exception.

The good news? I slept all night! Yep that’s right, soaking sweat, dogs barking, parties next door and all! Nothing a good set of ear plugs (thank you John C) and a few days of mental and physical exhaustion can’t break you down too.  It was fabulous!

Once again we met after another of Madame Lulu’s wonderful meals. Today was a big day for our crew. No more playing around, a full days work lay ahead and there was plenty of work to go around.  After meeting with the crews, discussing the heat index, water intake, our urine output and covering our job site safety bullet points we all set to taking down beams.  The beams ran the length of the building tying the trusses together.  They needed to come down as one piece, all roughly 90-100 feet of them. There were five  beams on each side of the building.  Slowly we started unbolting then cutting away the supports.  With one person per truss holding the beams in place after each was cut away we would slowly slide them down the apex of the truss until they reached the edge, then let them drop to the ground where an awaiting crew would systematically cut the unions and stack them for recycling.

Amazing is a understament when describing the well oiled machine that had become our crew.  Working together, sweating together, accomplishing big goals in a very short period of time.  I know I have said it many times but the human spirit, is an inspiring thing to behold.  By lunch the beams were gone and we were ready for trusses.

truss/trəs/
Noun:
A framework, typically consisting of rafters, posts, and struts, supporting a roof, bridge, or other structure: “roof trusses”.

The trusses were a little trickier. The needed to have all supports tying them together cut. Ropes were then tied to the peak, applying tension from either direction for stability; then with John C on one wall and me on the opposing wall we would simultaneously cut away the ties that attached the trusses to the cinder block wall allowing the rope crews to slowly lower the trusses peak onto the floor.  Once the peak hit the floor another rope was tied to an upright end formerly attached to the wall and with a great big pull the truss would slide diagonally down the cinder block wall until it fell onto the floor.  Once on the floor the crews would make quick work of cutting the truss in half, removing it from the building then stacking it neatly outside for recycling.

By 3pm/15:00 there were all but three trusses left.  It filled us with a great sense of accomplishment.  At the end of the day we gathered our group to thank everyone for working so hard and staying safe.  We had Caz tell the Haitian crew how honored we were  to work alongside them and how we looked forward to another safe productive day on Tuesday.

Today, being our first full day of work I also fully understood why we quit working at 3pm.  The heat! The humidity and heat hits a high around 3.  Its stifling to say the least.  For anyone who is not acclimated to this type of heat feels like a Sahara death sentence to say the least.  After today I never once thought about 3pm being an idiotic time to stop work again.

The kids are back, a soccer game is afoot.  Bubbles continues to be the phrase of choice as Paul once again takes time to play with the smaller children.  Mason is also surrounded after every soccer game.  They are teaching him Haitian-Creole, he is taking notes and trying his very best to understand what they are saying.  The interaction between our two cultures is fantastic.

Everyone worked very hard today. Watching Maggie, Cody, Caz and Marcanie pull on trusses, then tear them apart after they hit the ground was pretty cool.  Jan, Heather and Mason were troopers carrying off all the scrap metal. The entire crew continues to inspire me every minute of every day.  Everyone has a job and even if they have never done anything like the task they have adopted all of them sure look as though they know what they are doing.  They are fantastic human beings, with great spirits inside them.  Once again the day is finished and as I sit in my chair atop the balcony quipping one joke after another with these people I feel as though I am surrounded by family.

Speaking of family I am calling my wife tonight. I miss the sound of her voice more than I can describe.  Its one thing to be away from each other while still communicating every night or even several times a day. Its completely different when you are not able to speak with her for days.  I find myself praying she picks up the phone, and though there is doubt, after all her schedule is very busy tonight; I pray for only a minute or two, just hearing her voice will be all the revival I need to carry on for a few more days.

The phone rings………

 

Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 6: Who let the dogs out?

 

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.

I digress..

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.

Haiti….

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….