Dawn rises slowly over a dry Haitian landscape, birds are calling, chickens crowing and Mothra queen of all Haitian moths travels carefree between island shrubberies. Off to my right hoards of goats are gnawing, chewing and pawing their way across this rocky compound! These four legged creatures providing limited sustenance to the inhabitants here in Source a Philipe are driving me crazy! All night long the sounds of goats traveling unrestricted throughout our compound resonates within the night air. I could loathe these devil eyed creatures but I don’t, for their presence means survival to these people; but I must say if I never hear a goats cry again it will be too soon! As the sun continues to rise it is not quite light, not quite dark outside. This is my favorite time of day, no sun baking your skin and just enough light shadowing the surrounding beauty that a different perspective is visually stimulating. This is my last true morning here on La Gonave as tomorrow we depart under a cloak of darkness. At a time like this you end up fully appreciating the opportunity provided to sit in this very place, trying your hardest to absorb every second, every minute because that’s the moment you’re in right now. My emotions are raw, contemplating a future for these people. They are the result of a broken system which has left them hungry, thirsty, and in need of regular medical attention. But what is one small, middle class “Blanc” from America to do? So I sit, on a set of concrete stairs erected over 60 years ago, perched upon by countless other souls who felt a calling for something greater within themselves. They worked hard, saved money, stocked supplies then packed their bags and made this journey. What they found was a village in disarray, but through empathy and Christ’s love struggled to improve life for these people. How many missionaries before me have traveled this far? Why was I chosen for this particular mission? It’s one of those rare moments where personal humility and guilt leave you wondering whether you’ve fulfilled your obligations.
At home through repetition we wander the same paths every day; for we are creatures of habit moving endlessly in circles like hamsters on a wheel. Our sphere of existence consists of visiting the same stores, wandering the same parks, surrounding ourselves with the same friends, moving like herd animals across the plains we roam. But here, on La Gonave, in this small fishing village known as Source a Philipe, like an unwanted stray I feel as though I have broken away from the safety of the herd. I am now on my own for predators to stalk without trepidation. No longer tied to a singular way of thinking, my brain aches as I attempt thinking outside the box looking for solutions. Staring into the distance it has been an incredibly long week and I am left asking myself; HAVE WE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE(S)? In my heart I know we have, there shall be no regrets. Less than 24 hours to go before we depart and already I miss this sad hurtful place.
Sitting under these trees, watching the sun rise, sweating at 0530 in the morning for some strange reason this already feels like a forgotten memory.
Heading back into my room overcome with the urge to write I sit down and can’t quite bring myself to pull the laptop out. My head is submerged in variables surrounding today’s mission. Our last few days have been a mental struggle. Keeping information from the group, supporting my wife during multiple dilemmas while holding back my emotions in regards to human suffering are weighing heavy on my mind. Doc’s having an asthma attack of such severity we all sat stunned, pondering the ramifications of disaster only magnified my sometimes doomsday attitude. Dealing with the worst in people on a daily basis back home has definitely prepared me for this journey, but it has also damaged me as well. My care banks are full, I feel I have nothing left to give, and as I stare at the floor pondering the next 48-72 hours my wife walks in greeting me with a cup of coffee and a smile. I am bleary eyed and must look a mess, but seeing her is just what the doctor ordered.
“Side note; in regards to Docs asthma, a strange thing happened the following morning, she awoke with what appeared to be some form of writing or marks on her arm. Now both groups are closed up and guarded during the night, so for someone to enter one of our structures undetected is a bit unnerving so my first impression was one of doubt. When personally asked about the markings my response was; they must be charcoal rub marks from sitting on logs down by the beach! But after studying the markings a little further it became obvious they were indeed writings, and placed purposely upon her arm. Voodoo is big within the Haitian culture so I snapped a few pictures for identification purposes then cleaned had Kristina clean her arm. We chose to investigate this back at the UMVIM guest house as to not create a commotion here in Source a Philipe.”
With morning pleasantries out of the way we sit side by side holding hands and talking. This trip has been good for the two of us; the daily stress in our lives surrounding a family of 6, both of our jobs and a working horse ranch we had somehow lost the ability to just sit and enjoy each other’s company without distractions, interruptions or otherwise. I haven’t felt this connected to my wife in a long time and secretly I hope it lasts long after we get home. Sipping coffee we decide it’s time to formulate a plan for the day. For today is THE day, the day everybody gets paid, the day we make decisions as to where, what and how they are paid. Today we not only need to treat as many people as possible in the clinic before our departure; but we are required to take inventory of all pharmaceutical supplies, the remainder of our supplies, tear down the clinic and leave behind anything we don’t need or want to benefit the community. Yes TODAY IS THE DAY!
As easy as all of these happenings TODAY sounds, we know vultures will be circling, waiting patiently for the moment, any moment we are not vigilant to abscond our belongings. Sitting next to my wife I note a tone of seriousness within our conversation, for as I have previously stated ALL payments, gifts and donations of clothes, food, medicines and so forth are to be made through Francois! Those are the rules! But Jacy and I are breaking from policy in regards to this agreement. There will be no ALL for François, because yesterday Jacy and I carefully determined how much was to be distributed and to whom! All that remains is for the two of us is to decide where and how payments will be made without alerting François, thusly causing a potential disturbance of great proportions! Double checking to ensure all our planning is in order, we cannot underscore the obvious; we still need François to get off this island.
Our plan? Stretch payments out slowly during the day! She and I believe this will draw the least amount of attention leaving little chance for François to corner a payee or recipient if suspicion arises. The last thing we need to happen is for someone to be accused, embarrassed, harassed or punished because of this team! Reaching into my computer bag, many carefully sealed and marked envelopes are handed over. My wife now carries all monies needed to execute this plan, reminding her to be careful, she smiles and reminds me all will be fine. I hope so, it is a touchy situation and if things go south it could be bad, very bad.. Walking up to the guest house with her, ever the worrier I simply take a deep breath and remind myself to have faith. What else can I do?
Inside the dining area everyone has gathered for a quick bite, except for one. Heather! Ducking into her room, I find her covered in sweat and feeling poorly! It appears as though the very same bastard virus that knocked down Jacy the day before has latched its ugly teeth into Heather. We let her know all will be fine and remind her to sleep. After a slew of jokes and one liners delivered in only the way this red haired Irish woman can, she drifts off amongst the sweat, growing humidity and heat. Another person I care about down, another bit of worry to carry, another team member short. This day is shaping up quite well!
Chair after chair patients move through the door. The quality of teeth today seem to be a little worse than previous days, it’s as though the worst ones spent all week pondering whether or not to seek our help. One mouth in particular has a gum line so deteriorated that small pockets of puss explode at the slightest touch of a periodontal elevator! There also appears to be a rush on individuals needing to have ALL their teeth pulled! All their teeth! As though life would be infinitely better with no chompers what so ever! It’s as if losing one’s teeth is a badge of honor to these people! It’s frustrating, but either way doc continues working overtime accommodating every patient’s needs! The signs of her hard work are definitely showing; her back, face and hands strain as she is wearing down. Just before lunch we break into an in depth conversation regarding the sheer will and tenacity of the Haitian spirit. All Haitians are without a doubt extremely tough! But for some reason Haitian women seem to be just a tad bit tougher than the men. Maxed out on Lidocaine? No problem for a Haitian female, she will grab ahold of you and bear through the procedure as if it were child birth! Afterwards stand up, give a halfhearted smile and walk away. Most of the men on the other hand, fidget and whine a little before finally allowing you to finish the job. When they are done they walk out shoulders slumped as though you just took their lunch money.
Midday arrives and Heather appears to be looking a little better! She smiles while sitting on her bed, lying through her teeth that all is fine. Everyone takes a turn checking in on her wellbeing; its awesome watching these people care so much for another. Someone is getting her water, ensuring she is taking her medications and not one person complained that she smelled horrible and looked as though she slept
with a homeless person the night before! Not one! Gosh, that’s what friends are for? Thank the lord Heather isn’t afraid of the shower of doom for if she was a full scale mutiny may have ensued!
The afternoon was a tough grind and turned into a bit of a blur for me personally. All I could see was the end or finish line and I wasn’t the only one. One after another each patient brought us a little closer to that end. Kristina’s hands are about finished, she now struggles to pull teeth as her back and hands bear the brunt of the last four days. Many of us have taken over providing preliminary care within our scope, trying our best to ease some of her burden, but we know it won’t be too long before it is all over and she can finally give those poor hands a rest.
End of the day and people are still being smuggled in through the side door, when out of the blue Captain Jackson is noticed lurking around the threshold. Calling him inside he motions towards his mouth and through a translator expresses his desire for us to pull his other two teeth! We’re all excited as we knew he’d return to finish the job and alleviate his pain. As soon as he’s seated he stops smiling, starts perspiring and a nervousness is once again written all over his face! Caz starts talking in hopes of calming him down but it doesn’t appear to be working. Suddenly out of the blue, Captain Jackson looks up with the face of a boy and professes why nervousness overtakes him. Quietly, looking almost ashamed he tells Caz that he likes rum! Not a nip now and again, but a lot! It is why he was nervous the first time adamantly demanding only one tooth be pulled out of fear, and it is why he is nervous this time. It seems he knows enough about his liking of rum to understand too much rum and anesthesia do not mix! He promises he hasn’t had any rum today, he also promises to have eaten something prior to coming. He then very stoically asks; could we please remove the other two teeth because they hurt?
How could we not oblige?
Jacy has once again disappeared, I am positive she is doling out the dough, and my protective hackles are up! But thankfully François is lurking just around the corner so I know he is not following her around. It’s as if he is counting every patient, and taking personal mental inventory of all items that could possibly be left behind. He makes eye contact with me a couple of times, he can’t see I am sticking my tongue out, these masks are fantastic! I really want to believe this man means no ill will, but my suspicions are strong, mix them with mounds of fact and a sprinkling of hearsay and the evidence is tremendously hard to ignore. Yesterday Francois came to Jacy and asked for donation of money under the guise of throwing a party for the school children on our last day. It all sounded amazing; Francois would take money from us and the Wesley group, head into the larger neighboring town then purchase items to create a wonderful feast for all of us to serve and share with the school children! Sounds like a selfless act yes? One problem, when Jacy offers $150.00 dollars to François he proceeds to hem and haw, playing the “aww shucks that’s not enough card” to which my wife simply states; that is all the extra money we have to provide for your lunch, take it or leave it! Francois begrudgingly takes the cash then wanders off. Our interpreters later explain that $150.00 dollars was more than enough as all François would purchase were bags of rice and snacks for the children, which at today market price, equaled approximately $75.00! Wow $75.00 to feed all 300 children! Jacy and I look at each other in amazement and quietly I grumble; he’ll be back. Anyone who feels as though they can fleece missionaries on a regular basis will return with a new story hoping to fleece just a little more. Not much later Francois arrives hat in hand like an English beggar spouting; “please sir may I have another?” or “Just a bit more governor, please?” Francois tells a convincing story of walking over to the Wesley group asking for another $150.00 dollars to cover this luncheon of 300. When the Wesley group responds by turning him down due to a lack of funds, well the only thing left was to wander back and ask Ms. Jacy for just a bit more! The problem with Francois plan? There is no more for his scheme, and Jacy made that perfectly clear! In the end he simply hands her the cash, throws down some Haitian guilt and walks away! This left me wondering? If he truly was dirty would he have handed the money back or was this part of his plan, hoping Jacy wouldn’t call his bluff and pony up the extra? Either way I wish I spoke creole! A man lives by his actions, but I can tell a lot about you within minutes of hearing your spoken word. It’s a gift I have always held, it drives people close to me crazy and I am not always right, but more times than not I am dead on the money! So even if all his actions point one direction, if I could have just spoken with him personally I would have known for certain right away. AS it was my feelings (as others) about him were coming to fruition regardless of my ability to talk with him one on one.
Arriving at the point when one should relax and call it a day, the last of our patients exit from the clinic. Jacy has given me the nod, indicating all payments short of two have been paid out. The one payment of course being Francois’ the others being a little cash we put together for Captain Jackson. But that one payment, oh yes that one lone payment we have decided will have to wait. During her disappearance Jacy and Alisa wandered off to visit the twins. She reports they are doing quite well, they are being fed and cared for and look healthy (relatively speaking) for what they have endured. It is good news for sure and brings a light of sunshine onto our project. As she tells us all about their visit we are tearing down the clinic. It’s sad for it means an end to our journey is near. It is also a happy moment as we can all imagine feeling a warm shower, a soft bed with no tarantulas, and an ice cold beer waiting just around the corner! Mentally heading down this trail of self-serving thoughts is probably wrong, but right now like a prisoner staring at his last 48 behind bars, we can smell the freedom.
Brent finishes cleaning the last of our equipment and brings it in to cool. Orson is sorting through what stays and what goes, Kristina is sitting as she should in a chair staring at the floor. Gail and I are moving suitcases back and forth filling them with supplies for the pharmacy. Jacy is in the pharmacy working with Richard and Wesline to determine what meds can be hidden, used and distributed among the people without knowledge of others who wish to profit. I join them and am on the floor discovering more out dated supplies. I have given up trying to do an inventory as it would take me three days alone to organize this room no bigger than a walk in closet. Richard, Wesline and Jacy instantly quiet down with Jacy abruptly changing the conversation, it means only one thing, Francois is lurking around the corner. Sure enough walking out like I have somewhere important to be, he is leaning against a wall eavesdropping. Before I can come up with a plan to move him somewhere else, one of our team comes and says Ronald is moving bags filled with supplies for other people into a pile for himself. I find what he is doing is looking for a suitcase (we have plenty to spare) as his is worn out, but it remains odd the way he’s gone about doing so. Before long Francois is also roaming through our supplies and we end up retrieving them all, sorting and smuggling what we need for Wesline and her pharmacy. We also create a bag of supplies to send home with one of our interpreters who runs a program through mission work to save his home village. Then we fill a suitcase with medical and dental supplies for Caz, he is soon to be a new daddy so anything we can send home for him and his wife is much appreciated. In the end we hold off Francois, distribute all funds, clothing and medicines to the appropriate people. It is truly a feat of maneuvering and deception as a shell game of great proportions has taken place. For every suitcase holding important items that needed to “disappear” two empty suitcases were treated as though they were filled with gold. Suitcases were shuffled about, with some carried up to the guest house and some given away without Francois knowing which one was valuable and which was just empty. All of this action of course intrigued Francois. Unable to handle his curious side he wandered about, confused by our little charade. Little did Francois know those extra suitcases held exactly what he was owed; absolutely nothing.
During our tear down time another unexpected problem emerges. One child after another arrives for continued medical treatment! From cuts and bruises to opening an infected cist upon Captain Jacksons daughters elbow. Crying, screaming and tears could be heard from anywhere near the compound. Crying and screaming from the children being treated, tears and sobbing from our brave tired personnel who attended to these children. Captain Jacksons daughter was so strong, right after she had her elbow drained she came back to show a large cut over her eye, which we fixed with crazy glue and homemade steri-strips. All the while smiling at the gentle care given her by Jacy, Kristina, Richard, Alisa. She was a real trooper and I have to say her sweet face has been permanently etched in my mind.
Dinner time was very mundane as all had become mopey, possibly coming to terms emotionally with of our last night on the island. Word has passed we are departing at 4 am with all belongings at the dock no later than 3:30am. Some were excited to be going home, others saddened at the thought of leaving this place. It had become very hot and humid during the day with no signs of an evening shower in sight. A few grabbed dinner plates and headed out to eat on the stairs or rocks surrounding the guest house. But once
seated many who lived in the village were soon staring at the bounty laid upon our plates, it was embarrassing, and hard to stomach as we were not allowed to feed anyone for fear of showing special treatment. All who walked outside were quickly back inside sweating miserably as they tried to stomach their food. So much food before us, while others stand starving, thirsty and longing for any crumb thrown their way, we cower unable to provide anything for those in need. My appetite lost, life is truly unfair.
Ditching on dinner, Captain Jackson has offered to return us onto the reef one last time. Joining him on the walk towards the beach Caz and I quietly pull him from the group behind a shack where no one can possibly see us. Through Caz I explain how thankful we are to have met such a wonderful caring man who has treated us well all week by providing rides out to the reef. I also do my best explaining how much we all cared about him and his wife during their crisis on Monday. Then while reaching into my pocket he humbly tells of his gratitude for our help, promising us his wife is taking her medications and feeling better every day. Smiling I gently place a wad of bills into his hand, explaining its for him and his family, a small way we can say thank you for helping us get out to the reef. He smiles the biggest smile, shakes my hand and with little more than a fast trot we have rejoined the group without a soul discovering our absence.
Out on the reef, the warm Caribbean waters sooth the soul. Floating around everyone’s laughing, having a great time, I can only assume they are glad the day is over and looking forward to our boat ride home. As quickly as we have arrived, Captain Jackson motions for everyone to load back up as it is rapidly becoming dark. All week long it has been hilarious watching people try and get into the dingy without tipping it over and I am glad to say that humor has not faded! Seriously watching people flop back and forth across the beam, while Jackson looks as though any moment he may need to abandon a capsizing boat is seriously funny stuff! Laughing so hard I am choking on sea water, I decide once again to make the 300 yard swim as opposed to toppling the Poseidon adventure! Once again Brent has joined me for this nightly swim which is more rejuvenating than anything I can remember in recent history. I am always glad to have him as a swimming partner, although as I stroll onto shore I see Brent has accidentally changed headings and is swimming slightly out to sea! Nothing to worry about, with a slight course change, one of his patented anecdotes he is back on track and before long wading up alongside the dock. The Timoun have joined us and are following us from the waterline to our guest house. One in particular, my little deaf buddy has joined us and is once again tapping on my back, proclaiming; tattoo! Kneeling down for what would be the very last time, he outlines it, smiles brightly then taps my shoulder and walks away. He is another face I will remember forever and wonder if we could have done more for his situation.
The guest house is abuzz as clothes are separated, suitcases for traveling home are filled while others are left for scavenging. Piles of clothes are handed out to individual recipients, while we leave a piles of scrubs and crap clothes as a ruse for Francois. Water bottles filled, personal effects stowed, and the night is finally winding down. Francois has made several passes, asking for Jacy, but each time he swings by the team redirects him with a simple; she is busy. Jacy has used this excuse a time or two today, and each time Francois wanders away only to resurface a bit later asking for her whereabouts once again. This time though Jacy apologizes for being previously unavailable then walks outside to meet with him. She motions for me to join her as I hold the two hundred dollars we agreed upon for payment. Jacy initially felt 150 was more than enough, but I reiterated that we needed to make it appear as though we were not just paying Francois for Ronald’s time, but a small gratuity for a few others involved as well. I felt it needed to look like an appropriate amount otherwise we may be stuck showing our hand. She concedes and we arrive at the two hundred dollar bench mark. The three of us stroll to the far southwest corner of the building where Jacy shakes Francois hand and with the skill of a seasoned politician says;
“Francois, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for all of your generous hospitality. It is obvious to me and my entire team that you care for all the people in your village. You have helped us in many ways over this last week and for that on behalf of my team I once again say thank you. I trust after we leave this island you will continue helping many people by providing water, food and assisting those in need with only the best care, using medicines we have left behind for free to help the sick and injured within your community. I feel Francois you will and I feel as though we are leaving this village in your very capable hands. And that makes me feel good about all we have accomplished here for you and your people. (Francois is semi smiling to everything Jacy is saying but there is no real emotion showing from his face. Instead he appears as though this whole process is bothersome, wishing instead for closure and payment.)
As you know we hadn’t planned on a third interpreter but thanks to Ronald whom I believe is your son? We were able to work much faster in the clinic, achieving a success we could only dream of, so with that here is some cash for you to give your son and redistribute any extra to those you see fit.”
Jacy turns to me and I excuse myself to “go get the money”. Jacy knows right away what I am about to do. Walking into Jacys room I pull the wad from my pocket, tear off $50.00 taking it back down to the original $150.00 (solely based on Francois attitude) then walk back outside and offer Francois the money. Francois takes the money, smiles says; “thank you so much” while shaking Jacys hand, then walks away. Jacy turns to me and asks how I felt that went? To which I proclaim; Brilliant! It was brilliant! She laid it on thick, built up his ego then exposed his lies, quietly letting him know she was on to him. It was brilliant. As I helped her finish packing I remained in awe of the day long con we had perpetrated upon the thieves of this community. Finishing up, I am thinking of Ronald, will his dad give him the money or will he keep it all for himself? Expressing my concern, Jacy reminds me of a conversation we held in my room while dividing up payments; if Francois is what we all believe him to be, he will have no morals, with no morals his destiny is written, therefor he will not pay his son, by not paying his son he will have confirmed what we feared, what the community has described and ultimately what God has shown us all along. Doubt will stand no more.
Francois emerges from the darkness, there is no question after scurrying home he counted the money and now returns for more. Our interpreters work him over verbally until he slowly wanders away. It is the last time we see this man. I earnestly pray for Francois and all the Francois of Haiti, for what he is doing is a learned procedure brought forth by generations of those who wield power in an impoverished arena. In my heart I still wish to believe he is a kind and gentle man who knows no different of his actions, but truth be told if the stories are true, he is at the very least a tyrant. Keeping water from your people is unforgivable, choosing to feed only those who can pay in a village of starving poor individuals with no chance for improvement, unfathomable. Keeping anything donated by missionaries to sell at market for personal profit unconscionable. I have shaken his hand, shown him my kindness, it is his to cherish or abuse. A choice made, right or wrong is still a choice and once made a man should own that choice.
Final packing finished, water bottles filled, anticipation is high as the clock turns 11:00pm. Four hours left until we arise, gather and leave this island. I feel as though we accomplished many great things, treated many more than we had intended and worked very hard at forging ahead when obstacles were continually set in our path. But as I sit on my bunk typing, listening to Richard tell me his life story (very interesting I might add) I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. My trip last year was filled with community camaraderie, good times and hordes of friendly caring people. This year, through all the hard work we were barely able to meld with this community at all, and when we did have an opportunity to take part in activities that would have brought us all together, an outstretched hand of greed awaited our arrival. Confused, tired, and worried about hearing my alarm clock in the morning, Richard politely excuses himself and I lay down. Its hot tonight, no rain insight, no breeze rolling off the ocean and somewhere past midnight my eyes begin to close. A giant moth has perched upon my toe, something is buzzing my face and the unforgettable roll of sweat turning down my sides to saturate the sheets is all I remember as the lights grow dim. Goodnight Source a Philipe. Tomorrows light will find us miles from your shores.