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!


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..

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