The Face of Leukemia (December 7, 2013)

 

IMG_2037Hair:

We trim it, grow it, wax it, shave it, style it, comb it, do crazy things with these human DNA carrying follicles for attention. Hair, its funny we don’t really think all too much about hair as it’s an assumed portion of our anatomy. From the day we are born all of us walk through life with hair of some kind layering our bodies; some more than others and some less than others by choice, but hair none the less. imagesCAQUXXXU

But there is an elite crowd of human beings walking this earth. They belong to a very special club. A club that no one wants to join, no one person is standing at the clubhouse door banging fervently to get inside. No one..  Yet rumor has it close to one million people are card-carrying members of this fraternity.  One million people have come as close to death as you can get then climbed their way back inheriting a lifetime membership along the way. One million people. Think about that for a second….

So what do these one million plus club members have to do with hair?

They don’t have any! That is right, not one single follicle, not a stray, a sprig, a whisker or unkept eyebrow. It hasn’t been shaven down to the epidermis or plucked by a crazy tweezers wielding lunatic. Every single hair, all 140,000 strands of color enhanced, vanity driven strands are gone.

This of course is the norm when you are enrolled in the chemotherapy club, everyone’s worst nightmare right?  Its funny really when you think about it, we as a society put so much emphasis on our hair.

Turning grey or tired of your look- Color it, trim it, shape it.

Falling out- Rogaine

Thinning- Hairclub for men/transplants/comb over

Trends- Shave it, mohawk it, pixie cut, curls, bun, dreadlocks, cornrows, bob, etc..

And yet when it has all fallen out, what emphasis is there? To wear a hat or a scarf? As a chemotherapy club member you never have to worry about haircuts, dyes, styles etc.. All you need to worry about is whether or not your noggin stays warm.  There are thousands of hats, scarfs, and bandanas to choose from, or hey just step out like Mr. Clean and rock that shit!

Imagine waking up one morning and finding all of your hair-and I mean ALL OF YOUR HAIR gone. You are lying in a bed of your own hair. Pubic hair, pit hair, leg hair and arm hair and of course the hair from your head. What would you do? How would you feel? Would you smile taking the high road and consider it just another chapter in your already interesting life? Or would you curl up into a ball, terrified to walk amongst the hair gifted for fear of being spotted, ridiculed by the insensitive or pitied by the ill-informed. I am not making a judgement for one way or the other, but if I had my choice I am pretty sure a bitchen tattoo would make its way onto my dome, helping me to celebrate the obvious. I am still alive and kicking cancers ass! Now in no way am I advocating for my wife to get a tattoo on her head. It was purely a rhetorical question.

Why am I traveling down this little pathway? Because that is exactly what happened today. Jacy started officially losing her hair. Its coming out a thin handful at a time, and when she sits up in bed her hair looks like a dog when it sheds. Strands poking out of everywhere with strands littering her pillow. Staring at this and fighting an overwhelming urge to pull them out myself (it’s the ape in me) I found myself pondering those very questions. Thinking about all the times I cracked ignorant jokes about looking as a chemo patient to friends. How would I feel? How would you feel if this was happening to you?

Now luckily enough a sense of humor is what all of our friends and family have and my wife is no different. We have joked heartily about her losing hair and tomorrow I am going to shave it all off to save her from choking to death in the middle of the night on an unruly chia pet looking clump! But just the same it has changed my sensitivity level or judging from that last crack maybe it hasn’t? I digress…

Do you really want to know how much you love someone? Do you really want to understand if you or your partner are shallow and vain? Shave each others heads and see if one of three things happen.

  1. You both laugh until snot blows from your nostrils then fall into each others arms with smiles upon your faces.
  2. You realize in that moment you partner is hands down the most beautiful person you have ever known.
  3. You stare at each other uncomfortably acknowledging you are so shallow that you cannot see the beauty within. Only the trappings of what is on the outside.

Lucky for me as I stated previously this has changed my sensitivity towards others, and as far as my wife is concerned, well I have always seen the inner beauty of this woman. When I look into her eyes and kiss her lips there is nothing else. Bald or full of hair, when she smiles at me the world is a better place.  I don’t think she really knows the power her smile and personality carry in this world but I am pretty sure she is about to find out.

Anyways, Jacy already knows how to rock the bandana! That my friends is just freaking awesome!

IMG_2111

Kicking Cancers Ass once cell at a time!

 

 

Advertisements

Brain Freeze

Well my darlings let me take a moment to apologize for my current lack of substance! You see there seems to be a wee bit of a problem with my writing style lately.  There is none! No style, no words, no wisdom, no funny stories, no nothing! Just me, sitting behind my desk, staring into my computer screen wondering, hoping, praying that something, anything will end up written on this blank page before me. This usually ends up with me daydreaming about chocolate instead.

It actually isn’t even centered around what I may or may not have to say. There are tons of ideas swirling around in my head like fresh spun cotton candy! My problem stems from being able to capture these little gems as they whiz by from one side of my brain to the other.  Just when I think I have one of those squirrely little buggers captured for exploitation, my brain just FREEZES! That’s right all active brain matter freezes leaving me with the look of a pale-faced fresh corpse at the county morgue.

It also appears that my ability to type has lost its “mojo”! For some reason I went from a self-taught keyboard wizard to johnny hunt and peck! My thumb is whacking the space bar at random and my left hand seems to be encroaching upon the right hands territory without permission! There is a full-scale war going on between the two of them within the boundaries of 78 little tiles of statehood.  The flashing position line on my screen has advanced and retreated more times than I care to count! And for whattosugrste thatg theredsi nope   hope form e anyymogre? SEE WHAT I HAVE TO DEAL WITH!

I can’t tell whether Alzheimer’s is taking hold or I am just losing it mentally from stress? What was I rambling about again? Oh yes, Jello in the cafeteria is really quite good if you get it just after it comes out of the cooler.

Dogs and cats will never get along, women will always wonder why men feel the need to fix everything and children no matter how hard we try can and will never allow you to get out of the house on time.  Wait… sorry, sorry, my bad, wrong storyline.

So as I was saying, my brain is fried, my ability to cope shattered and I promise, any day now between a cup of coffee and a fifth of whiskey more stories about life, love and the pursuit of happiness, I mean children will be forth coming.

Heavy sigh…

Betty….

A cry for help…….

be-my-guest-sweet-presentation

 

A few years ago a promise was made.

I Betty, promised without outside influence or undue strain to lose weight, become healthier both physically and mentally. I Betty promised to change my eating habits, giving up three square meals a day (ok my meals were really more like a long rectangle) of grease, fat and yummy goodness, for the more reserved, deliberate, granola eating, salad munching variety. I also promised to cut down on my love for fine beers! Dark beers, light beers, heavy beers, bitter beers, and smooth beers, if it gave head in a glass I was in! (Read into that what you will, I aint your mom)

Why? Why did I change my ways? Give up the good life? Stop adhering to my strong belief that if God hadn’t intended me to enjoy these devilish treats then he wouldn’t have created someone to create them for me! Why? Why you ask?

Because my son told me he didn’t want me to die!

Kind of grabs ya by the old ticker don’t it? Imagine these pie shaped eyes looking up at you as he asks; Daddy doesn’t being overweight kill people? Daddy my teacher says alcohol is bad for you and that some people even die from drinking it. Daddy why do you smoke cigars? Aren’t they made of tobacco? Tobacco kills people doesn’t it? I have seen the commercials dad, the ones with the smoke that looks like a skull creeping in and killing a baby, dad I seen it!!!

Yeah it’s like that. What do you say to that? How do you approach it? An honest child’s question deserves respect! It cannot be cast aside and made fun of jovially as you talk up a good game with your buddies! No! You have to actually listen and either come up with one hell of a great lie to justify your obvious ignorance as far as the child is concerned or actually get down on one knee and apologize to the kid as though you were in freaking confession and praying for a reduced sentence on the hail Mary front! Now those questions were really me paraphrasing a conversation held between myself and two of my boys at different stages in their lives. The elder won out with tobacco and the junior won out with health and wellness.

Now two almost three full years after the latter round of questioning involving eating and weight loss or gain as it were for myself and I have lost almost 25 pounds! I am in absolutely the very best shape of my life! I have run in a few 5K’s, practiced with my eldest’s cross country team, run the “Tough Mudder” and completed it in a respectable time with my wife and a few close friends! I currently am lifting weights and riding my bike ten miles to work! It is fantastic the way I feel! Now don’t think for a moment I am bragging. Oh no my children, I am merely setting the stage, drawing you a picture for what I am going to say next because I am at a quandary, a roadblock, a wall of great proportions in my narrow view of life and it just wouldn’t make sense without having given an accurate description of events.

So with that statement along with what appears to me as being a fair picture drawn here it is…..

I LOVE CHOCOLATE!chocolate

There, I said it! I love freaking chocolate! I see it in everything, cake, ice cream, candy bars, bacon (yeah I said bacon so what) smores, little truffles, m&m’s, cookies, hell they have even jammed chocolate in granola bars, puffed it into cereals, wrapped it around drinking straws, created a martini based on chocolate! Its splashed over nuts, caramel, fruit, peanut butter, wafers, bugs (yep even insects get the chocolate treatment) and they have even made chocolate flavored medicine!

It’s everywhere! It makes me sweat when I see it! I tremble and my knees weaken! But that and that alone is not the worst of my confession, oh no!

Because….

Because you know what goes great with a gorging of chocolate, regardless of its source? What really brings the chocolate lover in you out of the closet? BEER!!!!! It helps wash down the guilt all that chocolate leaves adhered to your soul! Then you know what happens after you have a few too many beers washing down all that chocolate? YOU EAT MORE CHOCOLATE!!!! Before you know it your mouth is all dry and sticky from devouring the previous chocolate morsels so you better open up a few more beers, because gosh darn it you can’t wash down all that chocolate with 12 ounces, nope chocolate is a 16-24 ounce minimum!

Then it depends on what kind of chocolate you are eating! Cheap milk chocolate you say! No problem any domestic light beer works great! Snooty dark chocolate, that takes a micro brew and heaven forbid you’re eating the sweet sinuous, melt in your mouth English chocolate, because then, all bets are off! It goes with everything!!!! YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!

beerNext thing you know I am a bloated toad lying on the couch trying to hide my stomach distension from the family while tossing beer bottles under the couch and shoving candy wrappers in the cushions! Feeling much like a super model with the need to “purge” I am constantly looking for an out, trying to detract from my obvious discomfort and keeping all little ones at bay as one fly by would lead to the courts discovery of beer vapors emanating around the lip/mouth area!

Much like a fat man wedged deep inside a Duncan doughnuts delivery truck, it is not a pretty sight! I am known far and wide for my chocolate locating ability and like the fabled ant eater has a nose for ants I can smell chocolate before it hits the parking lot! I will sit straight up in my chair, nose twitching as the wife asks; what is it boy, what do you smell huh? What do you smell boy? She pats my head as slowly I start panting and before long with the stature of a bird dog on the hook I freeze and point. Chocolate found, chocolate soon to be destroyed!

So you see my dilemma? I am weakening, my resolve is expiring, the goodness I have done for my body is one thing, but the fat kid inside me is winning the fight! I work where food is always present, I am surrounded by friends and family who enjoy a good beer or two and lately stress has ruled my life forcing my inner demons to emerge! I am going down people, I am going down hard! Hands are shaking, knees clacking, nose twitching, and my beer hand is strengthening its grip! I am going down, yes I am going all the way down like a sinking ship on the open sea!

If you see me on the street you’ll know, wedged in a bakery window slathered in chocolate cream, lying on the sidewalk outside a 7-11 covered in M&M’s with Coors light littering the sidewalk, face first in some chocolate cake with butter cream frosting outside a restaurant or passed out in the local Big Spoon with fro-yo down the front of my shirt and every chocolate topping they offer scattered around my $45.00 yogurt. No longer a hero to my children….11950-550x-franceso-de-molfetta-new-idols-front

So don’t laugh, don’t take pity on me, I did my best, held on as long as I could. Please just walk on by and remember how strong I used to be if even for a little while. Then tell my kids I loved them.

Sigh…………

*This is not a true cry for help but self-deprecating humor of my love for beer and chocolate. No chocolate or beer was used in excess or harmed while writing this piece.

What’s new

Hello everyone! Just a note to let you all know Betty is still alive and kicking. Since returning home from Haiti I’ve had a hard time writing. Oh many stories have been crafted but placing that final polish has been a challenge.

Polishing those stories has also been further hampered by the fact my truck was broken into and my laptop was stolen with every original story ever written by yours truly. During my haste to perfect my knowledge of the new laptop I failed to back anything up so there you have it! A writer without a pen or muse.

What’s new?

I am currently assigned to the Rim fire in Yosemite valley thusly my time continues to be limited, but I promise more to come in the next few days as I try my best to write from my phone!

Happy days ahead

Betty…..

What do you see?

cowboy

 

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Do you see just another old man with lines written upon his face?

Chiseled and worn, taking up valuable space?

Can you tell what each crag or scar represents?

Or does my demeanor leave you impatient and spent?

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Neck of raw leather, hands worn, calloused and crooked.

You have unfairly judged me from the moment you looked.

For my hollow eyes have seen more than you know.

knowledge trapped in an aging body misshapen by blows.

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Did you know as a lad I rode skateboards of wood?

And enjoyed jumping my bike over a stations wagons hood?

Stole when I was ten and then lied to the end

Rode horses, shot birds and even my friend

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

I once boosted a truck and wrecked it one night

Was scared to death every time I got into a fight

Tried my best to be the center of everyone’s attention

My own worst enemy I was with little prevention.

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Can you see a boy who put social status above education

Passed the GED to keep from starvation

I followed the crowd never learning to win

Repeating devilish behaviors now and again

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

A man with temper as fierce as his pride

Yelling and screaming with fire in my eye

Knocked down and beat up Id stand up for more

Kicking and screaming at every slammed door

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

A wife and a family came into my life

a house, a job and economic strife

My personality chased many people away

I cared for them all but they couldn’t just stay

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Family members who passed, my heart ached for them so

Time and God have a funny way of helping you to let go

Jobs came and they went all at great cost

A career finally found I was no longer lost

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Can you see my struggle through loss every day?

My family does as it gets in the way

No longer carefree and fun, but the safety police instead

Images of suffering and dangers trapped deep in my head

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

In my forties I finally discovered myself

Found a lad who’d been left for dead on a shelf

Yes life’s responsibilities had been weighing me down

A wife so in love never letting me drown

Young man what do you see when you look down upon me?

Mission work, married life, a ranch, and the firehouse it’s true

Learned many hard lessons I can pass on to you

So listen intently for it will come to bare

The man in the mirror you to shall soon share.

When you look down upon me remember this to the end.

“Behind the eyes of every old man is a young man wondering what the hell happened?”-James Franceschi

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to normal?

IMG_2089

Sleepy haze, disoriented, unsure of my whereabouts are all descriptions in regards to my mental state of being this morning. It was a fantastic night’s sleep as I remember nothing from the moment my head hit the pillow. Staring at the bunk above me this uncomfortable, possibly 30 year old mattress perched upon springs tied into a prison style metal bed is now the luxury treatment of a lifetime. No longer will I sleep atop a two by four flat adorned with foam two inches thick covered with bed sheets. Gone from my senses the smell of urine and garbage. Absent from my subconscious, a fear of awaking to a tarantula feasting on my big toe. No moths the size of bats hovering overhead looking for a face to land upon or a wall to bounce off. Instead in this room are three of my colleagues, a fan spinning overhead, and clean tropical air left over from last night’s rain. It should leave me blissful, pleased to be here in the guesthouse after a job well done, but it did not, for now that I’m awake, thrust back into reality, my brain focuses solely on processing this entire week! It’s like mental TiVo running in your head and someone is continually pressing fast forward. It’s all there for me to see, lying on my back, reliving emotions I was hoping to put away. Feeling broken, worried, and tired, I eventually roll off the bunk head into the bathroom and brush my teeth. Time to wake up, put on a fake smile and go downstairs, it’s our anniversary today (Jacy and I) and I want to look somewhat coherent while telling my wife how much I love her. My heart aches to see her, but as I wander off I find my heart also aching for something else; our children.

Time seems to be running short this morning as we hustle through breakfast, gather our belongings, make one last round through the guest house and move into the loading area out front. I am finding it hard to keep a straight thought, blaming it on fatigue I wallow through most of our chores for the morning. Taking a moment before its time to go I see a small child wander through the patio area. I start thinking about the harmless unassuming children of Source a Philippe and how their little souls steal a piece of you. Bright, funny and carefree, unaware of any struggle that lay before them.haiti 3 These children run naked through the village, swim unassuming in the ocean and are left to their own devices on many occasions. Their parents love them as any parent loves a child. The village church considers them the future, holding them in high regards, or so it seems. But as a parent myself from what I have personally witnessed they deserve so much more. Maybe it’s my “American” way of thinking, maybe it’s the way I was raised, or maybe it’s possibly an assumption built upon years of education and experimentation in the parenting department. But the way I see it a child should have a chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.

You can argue the same could be said about our growing population of forgotten children back home, the very products of poverty, drugs, physical and mental abuse, divorce, death and hate. Children trapped with baby daddys and mothers who never claim them as their own until cashing the monthly welfare or federal assistance checks provided by a local government. You can argue assistance is needed or OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnot, that’s not my point. The difference as I see it? These children here in Haiti are loved by their parents, these children were wanted and are not the product of someone else’s inability to be responsible. These children are considered part of a “bigger” picture and considered a gift from God. Children who are trapped in an ideological system that punishes them for simply not being born into the right family. Haitian children right now in this century of rapid knowledge, ground breaking technology, advancements in medicine can’t even receive simple health care. If a child here gets a cold, parents pray, if a child is bitten by one of the many creatures of La Gonave the family prays, if they fall and break a bone and that particular family has a few extra dollars they may travel by foot to a local hospital to have it set. But in most cases the family will set it themselves and then everyone prays. It is unacceptable. These children, their smiles, sunny dispositions and fantastic senses of humor steal your heart. When you leave, your heart breaks looking into their eyes, because you know there is better out there for them in this giant world. I am sad because I know many of the children I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmet and played with this week at some point will become seriously ill and a few may even perish as a result of this lack of basic health care. Is that Gods will? Or is the reason I am here because God called for me, asking me to use what few talents I hold to help these children, these adults and their families? I am not sure. The answers I am looking for are not readily available to me right now, my mind filled with more questions, undoubtedly clogging my receptors, leaving me incapable of receiving any information that may benefit my dilemmas.

We have eaten a fast breakfast and relayed our goodbyes. Shaking Toms hand for what will be the last time here in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaiti as Toms three year commitment comes to an end next month. He has done some very good work and I am sure its nerve racking turning over a project you have headed up for so long without fear. But none the less the work stands on its own and I think this operation will not be the same without him, it was truly an honor to meet this man. As I walk away, I pray it is not goodbye but instead, “until we meet again.” Sarah is also transferring out OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnext month and anxiously awaits the opportunity to reconnect with her husband. They have been apart for 6 months and she longs to see him once again. Hugs were had by all and as with all heartfelt goodbyes love was felt in the simple human connection we all share. Loading into a Tap Tap for the ride to the airport, our driver brings his behemoth machine to life OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAonly to kill it just as quickly. We all stare at each other in disbelief as he tells Tom there is no fuel in the tank. After a moment of silence a small giggle turns into chuckles, for running out of gas while trying to make it to the airport is the least of our troubles after what we have been through over the last 10 days! Surviving dysentery, heat issues, emotional turmoil, almost capsizing our boat on the return ride home, lots of vomiting, and an accident in the compound van, being out of fuel is just funny. I think we will be just fine.

Driving through many side streets it’s very obvious we are taking the scenic route and before my suspicion is confirmed we round a corner into one of the last tent cities still OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoperating. It smells awful, looks just as bad and all I can think about are the reports of gangs, crime and rape that comes from inside these places. Thankfully fabric tent like clusters are becoming fewer as infrastructure is rebuilt, allowing for even the poorest to find a roof over their heads. But none the less tent cities still exist, many are looking a little more like permanent structures, I pray the last of them are demolished soon, they are after all ground zero for a majority of the health issues still plaguing this city. Turning down one more street surrounding this lost compound we run across a group of Haitians exiting a main OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtent city thorough fare. They seem to have a “look” about them and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it resembles the 30 mile stare I have referenced before. It speaks of hunger and exhaustion held together by pride. As we drive away I remind a few not to take pictures as we wouldn’t want to upset anyone.

Arriving at the airport once again red coats descend upon us like locust, grabbing our bags, being told no, then lunging again hoping we let them cart our stuff away. I wouldn’t mind the assault so much but it becomes tiresome after refuting their advancements more than half a dozen times. Either way we press up like a herd of cows using numbers for safety and make it into the airport with money and belongings in tow. The airport flow is faster than last time, people checking in without any issues, it is a very welcome sight indeed. In the blink of an eye we are processed, ticketed then pushed through one security checkpoint only to do the same shoeless dance again once we reach our gate. Its ok with me, I would rather have too many security measures in place than not enough when it comes to flying. Sitting together near gate 2, my chest begins to hurt and so does my brain! Looking around our terminal everyone else looks beat OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAup as well so I won’t complain. We make idle small talk, jokes about talking pimples, smelly body odor, giant tarantulas, and goat! Eating goat, seeing goats, smelling goats, wanting to cut the vocal cords out of goats! (Kidding, no goats were harmed in the writing of this piece) Everything and anything but what is really on our minds. It’s painful to watch these people trying to process an entire 10 day journey in the few minutes we have before boarding our plane, but you can see that is exactly what many of them are trying to do. Why now? Because the gravity of this trip has taken hold, the anticipation of making this journey is gone, the excitement about performing such a huge task is over, it’s complete and all that is left are memories. Many appear lost in disbelief, almost 10 months of planning, hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars raised! Now all that’s left are memories. It just can’t be true.

Boarding our plane other missionaries are wandering the cabin, we exchange pleasantries along with the nod. I call it the “nod of completion”. It is an almost arrogant nod, and it should be as we’ve earned the right to look into our fellow missionaries eyes and have a fair sense about what others have been through. Seated near the window, several more jokes are bantered about seamlessly. Melissa is cracking me up as usual and Heather is the Abbot to her Costello. The plane taxis down the runway, slowly turns and sits. Four jet engines begin to strain against locked wheels held in place by our captain. Its time. Time to go home, time to put this trip in the books, time to see our family and share our joy of missionary work with all who will listen. This trip may be a little harder sell when it comes to promoting missionary work, but then no one said our journey was to be easy. There are no promises on each trip, it is not a vacation though many of us use our yearly vacation time to participate in these missions. No; part of doing God’s work is knowing it may be a challenge or it may be a breeze, but either way if you have faith there is nothing that can’t be handled.

Somewhere in the terminal while passively eavesdropping a statement was overheard that really struck a cord with me. “Finally we are leaving this mess and going back to a normal way of living” This got me thinking; What is normal, and what does normal look like? 3 years ago if you asked me what normal was I am pretty sure a trite response would have drifted from my callous mouth. But today, here in this terminal I’m not sure I would have an answer. For normal is what we make of it, waking up every morning to a cup of hot coffee, a wonderful family of 2.5 kids (it’s statistics, no I don’t have half a kid somewhere) nice car and a great job may seem normal to some, but normal for others may include living in squalor, being beat by an abusive parent/spouse and wondering if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So who are we to say what normal is for the Haitian people? To often I believe we as Americans barge into situations from our little worlds of wealth and privilege (ok, if you own a Ford Pinto you are still poor in Haiti) then unknowingly look down our noses while entrenched within the social dynamics of a society. What that person said wasn’t wrong in its context as they are heading home to their rendition of normal, but for some strange reason it struck a nerve.

Hurtling down the runway a feeling of weightlessness then sinking gravity let us know our plane is finally off the ground. We slowly bank left then right and over the Dominican Republic climbing higher as we go. Turning one last time I can see straight into the Gulf of Gonave and out in the distance an island, a giant piece of rock, the home to so many precious souls, La Gonave. Gaining altitude we slowly disappear into the fluffy white cumulus clouds of the Caribbean. With my face pressed against a window seeking an outline of Haiti, I realize she is gone, so I stare blankly into the distance. My wife has ahold of my arm and is squeezing it tightly, looking into her eyes the gravity of all we have accomplished, our journey, surviving possible corruption and the children we left behind strikes me hard. Feeling sick to my stomach I am doing everything to not crumble in front her and all these wonderful people on our team. Unfortunately Jacy can no longer fight against her emotions as tears begin streaming down her face. Drawing in a long deep breath refortifies my emotional stability as she rains tears upon my shoulder. Jacy says I am her strength, her rock, her best friend. She tells me there is no her without me, and together we can accomplish anything. Leaning into my shoulder unobserved she can shed any stress associated with being team leader, she can let her emotions loose no matter how raw. She no longer needs to be political, compassionate, caring, scared, strong, or brave, all she needs is too let out all the emotions she’s held back for an entire week and cry; as her husband I will be dammed if anyone is going to take that moment away from her.

Looking over my shoulder ensuring some form of privacy, it appears she is not the only one traveling down a river of tears. Sniffles and sobs are coming from many various positions around me, wishing I could give everyone a hug I simply smile; letting them know all will be ok. One thing I haven’t taken into account is some of the sniveling could be from learning our inflight snack is the dreaded Haitian corn muffin! And to that, a small tear is finally shed from my eyes.

Pulling out my laptop I feel driven to write. It is after all my form of therapy and since a little decompression is in order, there is no better time than the present! It’s going to take a while for me to fully understand the big picture in this whole trip. Much more needs to be done in Source a Philippe. This little village by the sea needs help, lots of help! I am pretty sure going back for another medical mission is in my plans, but there are some very big questions needing to be asked and some even bigger answers that must be forth coming. Wondering what part I carry in this real life play derived from travesty and injustice, I know changes must be made. Am I one of the few that will make a difference? Will this mission change the lives of our team for the better or will they go home feeling tainted and unsure? Only God knows the answer at this point.

Leveling off at 35,000 feet, our plane is pushing further towards American soil, I feel the pull of Haiti growing stronger in my heart. She grabs you in the most disturbing of ways. Haiti is clean yet filthy, angry with life’s injustice, yet joyous about life’s rewards, rich in history yet poor in political support. Haiti stands still broken not just physically but mentally as well; yet repairs to the physical, mental and emotional are everywhere for you to see feel and experience, she (Haiti) is a living contradiction in human survival. I don’t believe she has the ability to have it any other way.

Piti piti zwazo fè nich.

Little by little the bird makes his nest.

Meaning: Many incremental changes will eventually make a significant difference

Haitian proverb….

May we live to witness change, not just within our sight but in our hearts.

Haiti, I will see you again someday….

plane

Time and tide wait for no man

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

                                                                                                                                                                          ~William Shakespeare~

Like ants are we; a stream of human flesh winding effortlessly through pathways towards one common goal. The shoreline.  Its 0330 a mass exodus has begun. Not one person missed the 0300 wake up call, every bag has been transported by head, back or drag, they are all accounted for on the beach and now many stand in awe under such a brilliant night sky.

I stand alone, facing a blackened shoreline, no light outlining its many features yet I still stare, eyes wide open hoping to trap light, any light, so I may gaze once more into the heart of this village. Our time here is finished, no grand parade, no tear filled goodbye, no one to see us off, just 10 half-awake missionaries, 6 passengers, and 5 crewmembers lining the sides of a freshly built rock formation known as the boat dock.  My heart aches for the people I leave behind, the unknown in regards to the future of many and the state of being in a village run by tyranny.

As we begin to board a warm breeze covers my face, our boat is creaking with every movement of the tides, expanding then contracting under pressure from the water for which it lay.  Loading is done as many hands form a chain, ensuring all contents and passengers make it aboard without a slip into the water or injury from the sharpened volcanic rock from which we are perched.

A pile of suitcases fill the belly of this wooden albatross, a vessel measuring at least 16 feet wide and 5 feet deep.  It is the same sailboat that ferried us into Source a Philippe, therefore we are very familiar with its lack of substance.  Looking more like a gigantic canoe with a series of sails attached there are only a few locations for passengers to travel; so we sit lining the rails, bow to stern.  Captain Jackson fires up a 75 horse outboard motor, then directs crew members to slacken all lines and like a leaf in the breeze our ship slips quietly into the night.

He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.

                                                                                             ~Thomas Fuller~

Silently we glide under the stars, it’s would be shameful not to notice the brilliance of this night’s sky.  No ambient light to ruin its majesty a canopy of shimmering light from one horizon to the other is amazing. Looking around I notice people are chatting, some staring into the distance obviously half-awake and a few showing the signs of nervous stress, twitch about as the thought of making this journey again is more than they can bare. While taking account of all aboard I find Ms. Melissa half-awake; due to a combination of sleeping pills and anxiety medications she quickly has found her 6 foot by 2 foot piece of real estate aboard this SS Minnow and is drifting off to sleep. Looking at her peaceful demeanor one would deduce she has in fact found the only planks aboard this rotting vessel that resembled a sleep number bed! Eyes closed tight, slight smirk on her face, oh how I envy this mental state of mind.

Ten minutes into our journey the winds appear have picked up quite a bit.  Trying not to become overly worried, I do my best shrugging off many thoughts rapidly filling my head.  For you see if the winds are picking up here within the protection of this reef then out on the open water they will become much stronger, creating waves that I am sure will leave many aboard leery at best.  Striking up a conversation with Preston, hoping to squelch my thoughts, he asks what the men standing in front or on the bow are doing.  I reply they are using the stars to navigate us outside the reef.  Little do I know (but find out later) they are using the stars not just to navigate outside the reef, but in hopes we miss a giant boulder that lays just beneath the water’s surface?  A boulder that has damaged or sunk many a ship navigated by the inexperienced. Preston bluntly asks how I seem to know something about everything. Chuckling I explain that I really don’t, I am just one of those guys who clifffocusses on things no one else would normally pay attention too.  A mind filled with loads of useless information! I ask him if he’s ever heard of Cliff Claven? When he replies no; I laugh and suggest he watch an episode or two of Cheers, when he gets home, then all will become clear! He agrees; turning away I quietly take my potato that looks like Richard Nixon and put it back in my backpack as I now know Preston would never understand.

Gazing over the ships side, luminescence from plankton are brilliantly lighting up every wave that splashes from beneath the boats hull.  This sight is amazing! There are so many wonders of this earth I have not seen! I yearn for more and am saddened at a lack of being able to video all nature’s beauty surrounding me.

Water is spraying every now and again with the rise and fall of our ship’s bow.  Brent and Preston are taking the brunt as I only catch about a half of the water they are now wearing.  My wife who is sitting to my right has leaned in to tell me she doesn’t feel good about the way the ship is moving.  I respond with an understanding nod of the head, then in my simple honest way (which I hate and wish I could control better) tell her it’s going to get much worse! When she inquires as to how I know, I respond: I just know.  Great answer huh? In the end it’s much easier than explaining wind, tides, geographic shelter, trade winds, along with the lunar gravitational pull on earth.  When Preston hears this, he too inquires as to how much worse it could possibly become? My only answer is this; I have done a lot of fishing, and one thing I know for sure, if the wind is blowing here, the farther out we get the harder it will blow, for there are no land masses to slow any movement of air.  No one seems to like my answer as they both smile a nervous smile in return. Jacy is hoping I am wrong as she hates when I am right, and unfortunately I am almost certain I will be right once again. Judging from the looks of this group and the age of our ship, I pray really hard it’s one of those times I am wrong. Not just a little wrong but dead wrong! So very wrong that being made fun of for being wrong will feel right and eating crow will be my pleasure.

30 minutes aboard and our ship has begun heaving to and fro. No doubt we have cleared the reef as our ship now slides down the back sides of waves as opposed to riding high upon their crest.  Captain Jackson’s father is in charge and he calls for full sail. The crew scurries about rigging block and tackle, pulling lines and unfurling the main sail.  The waves have increased in intensity and now this wooden relic is not only fighting the pull of a half unfurled sail but seems to be unable to find its way out of the trough! Up and down, back and forth, side to side this ship is moving about as though it has been thrown around by a tub bound five year old! People aboard are becoming worried, we have hit pretty hard on the downslope of many waves.  Jacy nervously watches as our crew is bantering about! Leaning in their general direction she is hoping to pick up a misspoken word during the heat of the moment! She is not disappointed as suddenly crew members begin yelling at each other! Jacy sits up, leans into me and says; this is bad, very, very bad! When inquiring how she knows, she looks back and replies; because that’s what the crew just said! Astonished, before I can reply to this revelation our crew is tossing life vests to everyone within arm’s length. All of us now fully understand the dire situation we are in as no time is wasted putting these neoprene vests on our bodies. It becomes quite a challenge doffing these vests as our ship continues slamming down hard from bow to stern then rolling violently from port to starboard, resting mostly on its starboard side!  Soon a rhythm develops and just as it feels as though we may be evening out, the sail fully extends and we are hit very hard from the port side by a gust of wind! Our ship yaws hard to starboard with the mast almost touching the water! The crew is screaming and motioning for everyone on the starboard to side to get up and move onto the port side for ballast! Water is splashing overboard, people are terrified, and I have a death grip on Jacy and Preston! My butt is sitting on the side of this ship, not the rail, not an inside plank, but the outside of the ship!  My hands are locked tight upon the two of them and my foot has something hard underneath it for pushing against. We roll upright for a second and then are hit by an even bigger gust of wind that drops the boat upon its side once again.  My only thought is if the mast catches we three are going over the high side, not forward into the rigging. Then we can swim around and hopefully assist those who need help getting back to our boat! Looking around taking mental note of all aboard not everyone has a life vest and hopefully the boat capsizing will never happen, but ever the doomsday prepper I have mentally come to terms with what may or may not happen within the next few minutes.

The next few minutes turns into 10 as the ship continues riding hard over onto its starboard side?  It’s like riding a horse out of control, left, right, unstable for a moment then just enough stability to gather your seat! There is no Haitian coast guard here to rescue us, there is no distress signal to give, and there is no radio to send one.  No one will know where we are, no one will know what happened to us, no one will come rescue us; there will be no one! So what do we do? Jacy is praying, Alisa is praying, Preston is quiet, Brent is reciting scripture, Heather is quietly wondering what the Hell! Melissa is sleeping, oh to be Melissa.  Richard is terrified and holding Jacys leg while standing in the hull of the boat fighting the urge to vomit (which he loses valiantly).  Jacy has begun unravelling a little and starts yelling what do we do?? Who do we call? No answer is forth coming from many terrified individuals.  She leans over to Richard and yells even louder over the wind and waves; who do we call Richard, who do we call? Richard without missing a beat responds; GOD!

Alisa has pulled out her cell phone. Now there is no cell service out here, we have all tried many times during our tenure on and off La Gonave.  But strangely enough here, at this moment, somewhere past the reef, out in the open ocean during a particularly stressful combination of events, one cell phone has service.  Alisa quickly calls her husband Reuben per Jacy’s request! Reuben answers and Alisa spends the next few seconds telling him she loves him, where we are and what is happening. Then she tells him to listen carefully, explaining that if he (Reuben) doesn’t hear from her in 4 hours to call the American Embassy and report us missing.  He agrees, and through tears Alisa hangs up the phone.  That was the moment this situation became real for many of us.

Jacy quickly grabs the phone and tries reaching Sara at the guest house.  When Sara IMG_2181answers Jacy explains our situation to which Sara replies; Ya-all think you may need to get into the center of the boat? Jacy say no the boat is tipping over and feels the safety of its crew and passengers are in jeopardy.  Sara now grasps the urgency in Jacys voice. Jacy then repeats the very same request given to Reuben not more than two minutes ago; if you don’t hear from us in 3 hours please send out a search crew as we have most likely capsized and are in the water.  Sara says she understands and will pray for us, before Jacy can answer her back, the phone is dead, no more cell service.  Both women look at each other, Alisa looking nervous and Jacy still wondering what will become of us.  During this time on the phone our boat has pitched wildly several more times to the gasps of several passengers.  Some are beginning to vomit, others are holding one another, and the crew is still scurrying about.  Still frantic, Jacy is doing her best to ensure everyone is ok when Kristina yells from across the boat; Jacy! PULL IT TOGETHER! Perfectly placed at just the right time my wife straightens up, takes a deep breath and agrees to this powerful suggestion.

Rocking and tipping, rolling and creaking, our boat continues bobbing around like a cork in a washing machine.  This dance of hard wind gusts, our boat leaning all the way over, water spraying us from one end of the ship to the other along with heavy hits as we slide from the apex of one wave into the trough of another goes on for another 20 minutes to a half hour.  We are all beginning to feel exhausted from battling the hard movements of this ship, when suddenly we are in a sustained rhythm.  The boat seems to be gliding not bucking and our Captain has ordered full sail! We pick up speed as she cuts through the night air with less resistance from wind and wave.  A sigh of relief overcomes me as I feel the worst is over. The darkness has definitely been the hardest part of this excursion.  Not seeing a horizon line to focus on during the turmoil has indeed made this whole adventure more challenging mentally as it lends itself to those with a heightened sense of disaster. As IMG_2178the sun slowly rises Preston begins to feel the warmth of a morning sun.  This boy is soaked from our 30 minute adventure upon the high seas and his teeth have been chattering for most of the last hour. Leaning in to ask me a question; He wonders what I was thinking during that moment of near disaster, I simply reply; faith. One has to have faith.

There are still sudden slaps of the hull every now and again, Jacy is pressed up against me and lets out a tiny gasp.  Her nerves as with many others are a little frayed. She asks me if I was scared. If I thought we would die? I reply yes, for a moment I was scared.  She smiles and looks away, to check in on Richard between vomiting spells, the poor lad was not born to be a mariner.  Truth be told, when the mast almost hit the water my heart jumped, I felt the same panic as everyone else, but I had already devised a plan and when you have a plan, fear can be conquered, used to your benefit.  But overall, yes the whole event made me nervous and for a moment I was scared.  What strengthened my resolve during this moment of crisis?   Faith! A calmness overcame me at some point during the calamity, I remember it vividly as a warm feeling enveloping my soul. My heart rate lowered, my eyes opened a little wider and my breathing relaxed! It was as if I knew everything was going to be ok.  I had faith.

The next three hours or so are spent slowly spreading our bodies back across the hull.  Everyone soon has a new spot of real estate claimed as she (the boat) rides gentle, slowIMG_2176 and upright in the water.  An ocean filled with waves of the slow rolling variety await our journey, which suited this group much better than the previous encounter.  Melissa has come out of her coma every now and again, only to chuckle at our inability to stay calm and sleep through disaster! She definitely is the smart one in the group.  Richard is still vomiting but now spends more time curled up in a ball then actually throwing up in a bucket. Alisa joins him at one point but she also appears to be much better now.  I lay upon the deck marveling at this ships hap hazard construction and pondering just how many journeys this old battle horse has made? Before long, to our relief the shores of Petite Gonave are in sight.  Jacy picks up a cell phone to inform the guest house we are fine; A few chuckles, some banter and Jacy is off the phone.  Alisa calls Reuben, I can only imagine what this man has been thinking for the last 3-4 hours.

Gently we motor into harbor, the sails come down, and before we can count the number of crab pots passing by the crew drops anchor and a small skiff makes it way our direction.

Setting foot on hard ground feels great, if the terra firma wasn’t covered in bits of garbage I believe dropping to my knees and kissing it would have been appropriate! Standing under a coconut tree in a small courtyard the gravity of all we have encountered/accomplished begins to set in; there are the many people we helped, the pharmacy we stocked and surviving this final journey back to the mainland. It is mentally more than I can handle as delirium takes over.  Gazing at my friend, my face grows long and my heart becomes heavy at the thought of saying goodbye to Caz. It feels like yesterday we reconnected after a yearlong absence and I feel as though we barely spent any time together. Milling around we gather our bags, head to the street and begin loading the transport. It appears after our voyage on the high seas all any of us can think about is getting back to the guest house for a little sleep and possibly a relaxing swim. Exhausted, covered in salt crystals from the waves coming over the side of the boat and dirty the thought of riding inside our transport is not appealing in the least.  Please lord let this trip be safe and quick.

Driving through the streets of Petite Gonave, we are hot and sweaty, there is no air conditioning, the temperature is in the 90’s and humidity is at least 40%.  Add a few hundred cars, streets filled with burning garbage and pollution from unregulated vehicles that race up and down these tiny corridors making up the provinces we are passingIMG_2187 through and well our ride is interesting at best. Our driver swerves, then weaves, runs up to 60mph on side streets then sits gridlocked on thoroughfares. This reckless driving goes on for two hours until Preston needs to use a bathroom. Our driver slows down checking a few places until finally stopping at a little hotel on the beach. I find it to be a quaint little place with all the charm one can muster on a dilapidated road between Petite Gonave and Carrefour.  Once back on the road I have come to the painful realization my ass is killing me! It seems after four hours of sitting on hard wood in a boat, this jump seat I am currently perched upon is leaving my ass and lower back writhing in pain! Looking around the van it appears we are all in various stages of nodding off, the early morning has taken its toll upon the masses.  Looking over at Kristina  she seems determined to fight off any chance of an asthma attack by wearing a respiratory mask! A good thing too as it seems every corner we turn has burning garbage, rubber or plastic! It feels as though you can taste the air with your tongue.

Entering Carrefour and Ronald is on the phone in what appears to be quite the heated exchange. At one point Ronald hands the phone to Richard who also ends up sternly speaking to the recipient on the other end?  Confused by what is transpiring, Jacy leans in and whispers to me that Francois is on the phone.  Ronald has asked Francois (his father) where the tip money we left them is , Francois has responded by telling his own son there OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAis no tip money for him to have! Our suspicions have now been 100% confirmed. Francois is a greedy crook! As we stated earlier any father that would stiff his own son is dirty, rotten and untrustworthy! Our little ruse to flush him out has worked as planned! Although I feel sorry for Ronald, it really was the only option we had to flush out his father.

In Carrefour we also end up dropping Ronald off on a side street.  He politely says goodbye as we thank him for all his help during the week.  It is more than obvious he is dejected by what just transpired over the phone, but in the end it is probably better as hopefully Ronald will realize to become a great translator for these missions groups he may need to think about destinations beside his home town and working alongside his father.  I truly wish him the best as he slings his backpack over his shoulder and disappears into a very crowded street.  We are two and one half hours into this trip when low and behold we end up in a minor fender bender while doing some not so favorable jockeying through the market of Carrefour.  Our driver Johnny gets out and begins waving his arms about while yelling at the driver of the other vehicle! It appears from the outside as though two Italians have squared off with an astounding round of insults! At one point it also appears as though the two might exchange blows, but to those of us who have been in country we know this is a normal exchange between Haitian men that ends with a wave.

Four hours of winding through city streets and we have finally entered the guest house compound! Sara greets us as we stretch our backs and shuffle off towards our rooms. Tired and sweaty we quickly all jump into the pool for a much needed swim.  After an hour in the pool laughing through delirium about all aspects of our journey home, complete with aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA little Melissa bashing for sleeping through the entire journey, we crawl out and begin to go our separate ways. Jacy and I pull Tom, the guest house director aside to discuss some of the issues we witnessed and wrangled our way through in Source Phillip.

Tom is astonished at some of the things we tell him.  There had been some murmurings about Francois’ abuse of power but nothing had been confirmed.  We spend the next hour talking about costs, matching funds, paying the nurses, staffing the clinic and expired drugs in the pharmacy.  Tom suggests we meet with Pastor Jackie who will be stopping by this evening.  Reluctantly we agree as our mission will not be complete without some form of closure in regards to the issues at hand.

It is time to say goodbye to our interpreters.  Richard gives us all hugs, emails are exchanged and kind words are shared.  He leaves with many new clothes for the children he supports at a school he has founded back home.  Caz also gives hugs all the way around.  When he reaches me, we hug for a long time.  I love this man, he is seriously one of the kindest human souls I have ever encountered.  Last year I presented him with our department coin.  This was my personal challenge coin so I would have to earn a new one,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the coin cannot be given away unless a person has done a selfless act thus upholding the standards, morals and ethics befitting a firefighter.  He had done all that and more! It was a privilege to present him with my coin and earlier in the week he showed me he still carried it a year later. This man will do great things in his country, his love for all humans and God is very powerful and resonates when you are around him.  Caz and his family are in my prayers every night.

After a small nap and highly anticipated dinner (none of us had eaten since the night before.) we hold a debriefing with Sara where everyone’s feelings about our journey are OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAheard and processed. She is amazed by what she hears and offers good support to all who listen.  We have been at the guest house for only a few hours and this trip is already beginning to feel like a memory.  Jacy finds me sitting alone, I am cranky and I don’t know why, I really don’t feel like talking, I have heard all I need to hear, my brain is fried and emotions confused.  I am worried about the little ones we left behind, I am exhausted from continually playing this financial game of extortion with François, I no longer need to worry about the responsibilities associated with being an assistant to my wife, and my overprotective side is no longer worrying about the health of all associated with this trip. I’m tired and I just want to cry but I really have no reason too.  My insides feel as though there is no pillar to support me should I collapse emotionally. Trying my best to explain the way I feel to my wife I just end up sounding like a selfish jerk.  She says I don’t sound like a selfish jerk and she understands, but to me it’s just the opposite.  I am supposed to be the one who helps people, I am supposed to be the one supporting you when you are down or taking care of you when you hurt.  For me to feel as though I need help when I can’t even place my finger on one singular problem causing disillusion is unconscionable.  I say goodnight to all, kiss my wife and disappear to bed, sad and blue, wanting to cry but not knowing how.  Eventually I end up sitting at a table downstairs while everyone sleeps, listening to neighborhood dogs, feeling the cool moist air of a storm front rolling in and writing.  Even now at 2345 hours almost one month to the day as I sit in the comfort of my fire station, recalling this very moment my throat is tight, my chest hurts and it’s all I can do to keep tears from streaming down my face.  But why?

A question that I suppose will remain unanswered…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fini

sun

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 IMG_2130undetected 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.

IMG_2169

I promise

Well my children, as this Fourth of July weekend draws to a close, I find myself tired, sunburned and just a smidge dehydrated.
With the extracurricular fun coming to an end its back to the laptop I go! A new edition of our Haitian adventure will be up by tomorrow evening. I promise!
And we all know Betty would never mislead you!!!
(Insert Betty Rubble giggle here)

Eye of the storm

eye

Wednesday June 12th.

Entering the guest house this morning I am groggy, tired and my back hurts. Making my way through the entry it becomes apparent I am not the only one who is tired. Alisa hasn’t slept well, Heather is looking a tad worn-out, and everyone else is holding a thousand yard stare. Striking up conversations hoping to bring a smile into the house it dawns on me, where is my wife? Is she up? I didn’t pass her by the clinic? Looking around there is IMG_2121no sign of her! Making my way down the hall Alisa makes eye contact with me as I turn the corner to Jacy’s room. The look is that of empathy, and I quickly see why, Jacy is still asleep on her bed, and she is covered in sweat. Feeling her forehead, I find she is burning hot and wet. My wife slowly opens her eyes just long enough to explain how severely bad she is feeling. After a small breather she tells of the night’s escapades it doesn’t sound like much fun at all. Around three am Jacy awoke feeling strange with a tummy rumble that wouldn’t subside; trying her best to be quiet and not wake anyone she struggled but couldn’t find a flashlight (as there is no power from the generator after 11pm), this translated into her fumbling around the guest house attempting to make it into the bathroom. Alisa who wasn’t sleeping and really hasn’t slept since we arrived, found her first. Soon Jacy was also accompanied by Heather, then Doc and Gail, it eventually turned into the entire house helping her as she spent the next 2-3 hours vomiting. Before long whatever had a hold of her was working its magic all the way around and she couldn’t leave the bathroom for fear of bodily fluids expelling at any moment. This explains the exhausted look upon everyone’s face. After the full briefing, Jacy tells me she wants to get up, to which I say; No. She explains the need to get up, as team leader she doesn’t want to let anyone down. I understand this feeling fully and after explaining the ramifications of her not resting, the importance of taking her medication and the reality that letting us handle things for the day will be ok, she reluctantly concedes. I kiss her on the forehead and after tucking her into bed we all head out to open the clinic. Jacy (thankfully) was asleep before leaving the building and Alisa, Heather and I spend the better part of the morning checking in on our fearless leader.

After starting this morning while aimlessly staring at a wall it dawns on me that I’m feeling a bit woozy. My tummy is rumbling, my legs are quivering and my back is really hurting, but not in that “oh my back hurts, whiney kind of way” but more along the lines of someone really mad beat the crap out of my kidneys! Doing a rapid self-assessment I determine dehydration has taken over my body. Wanting so badly to learn as much about dentistry as I can, even with “water bomb” being yelled constantly I have OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAneglected my own water needs. Knowing this is very important I do my best to catch up without letting anyone know, push the pain deep down and proceed to ignore how I feel. There are three other people in worse shape than me and one Doctor with her fingers wrapped in bandages, shoved in two medical gloves, hoping this will cushion the raw flesh long enough to pull just one more tooth.

A while later I am looking around the room (spacing out really) and it occurs what a true blessing these college kids have become! These are full-fledged voting adults, but at my age any one of them could be one of my own children so calling them “kids” is really no sign of disrespect. These wonderful “kids” have saved this Haitian dental team of 10! Every OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAday since Monday at least one and as many as four of them have assisted us in the clinic at all times. Kaiti, whose fiancé is studying to become a dentist has gone from participating in behind the scenes work to standing at the head of our patients. Amanda stepped right in on the very first day, she did so with the caveat; she couldn’t take the sight of blood and (with a smile on her face) she may pass out! But this didn’t stop her, oh no! This young lady held trays at patients heads and whenever teeth were pulled she stared off at the ceiling, or over towards the wall, or down at the floor and she may have even fidgeted a little! But gosh darn it she was awesome! By Wednesday she would actually stand in front of a patient without looking up anymore! Ok more like off to theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA side, but not nearly as far to the side as earlier in the week! She was very brave and a complete sweetheart! Graham became Kristina’s favorite light holder! Tall and steady the light was always where it needed to be when it needed to there, regardless of how long the procedure took! Many held the light and only a few knew or understood how important this tedious job was! Kristina announced Graham and her would be Facebook friends! Of course this offer could be rescinded depending on the time of day and the level of performance from its recipient.

Ally was priceless with the children, just as we knew she would be! She is loved by all the kids in this village and an enormous comfort when it came time for pulling teeth! As fear of perceived pain loomed overhead one look at Ally and Ti-moun knew everything was going to be alright! Children and their parents trusted her implicitly and so did we! Andrew, Matt and John were assisting us in many facets throughout the week. But what our team was most thankful for was the countless time these young men spent filtering water! Without clean, filtered water there OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwould be operation, no clean instruments and no life for our exhausted dehydrated bodies! Reflecting back now I also believe these were the same lads helping Preston with many of the children when Heather needed to switch over to the medical side of our operation. None of them ever complained (at least not in front of me) and all of them were always willing and able to jump right in! I regret not remembering everyone’s name for they all deserve to be recognized. But if for some reason any of them read this posting I hope they all know how thankful we were for each and every one of these young selfless souls. God Bless you all…

Alisa and Heather have taken over the medical clinic with a vengeance, ensuring treatment of all who come is performed. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving only made it over to that side during extreme cases, I am not fully aware of the mental anguish placed upon these women. I have an inkling, after all part of what I have learned over the years is the ability to listen and observe, but not until tomorrow afternoon will I know the full extent of sorrow and pain left in the wake of their hard work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lunch time comes and Jacy has made her way back onto the floor. We are all worried about her stubbornness creating a situation where ultimately she will become run down allowing whatever made her sick during the night to rear its ugly head once again. Checking her status it’s nice to see the fever which had her burning up four hours ago has decreased and the medications ingested are doing their best to keep whatever she contracted at bay. Some of the team is talking and believe it to be food poisoning, but my argument remains the same; if one had food poisoning, odds are all would have food poisoning! This little observation continues to go unheeded and the argument rages on. My theory is she picked up a virus from one of the many OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchildren seen over the last few days. We are all wearing masks but at some point or another a patient or two has been seen sans mask. It’s wrong, but unfortunately it is the way things are when push comes to shove in a stressful patient after patient atmosphere.

As we prepare to head back into the clinic after lunch (or lack thereof), Jacy pulls me aside and wishes to discuss our financial situation in regards to services rendered in Source a Philipe. We duck out unnoticed and head back into her room where the topic of Francois comes up again. All payments are supposed to be made through François, but as we have learned over the week, Francois in most cases keeps the money for himself. Or so the assumption goes. We can’t prove this, and I am trying to believe in innocent until proven guilty, but the desperate look behind the eyes of those who have come forward tells a different story. Jacy and I discuss compensation for interpreters, nurses, cooks, the lady who tended our fire all week and of course the laundry crew who is currently washing our clothing. We also need to come up with a fair price for Ronald which would include a nominal tip. We hadn’t planned on Ronald, but he ended up being a big help and even though we determined through his actions and accounts of others in the community that he may have been spying for his father, he still deserves monetary compensation for his hard work during the week. Once the finances are solidified we return to another topic of great concern. Jacy reminds me of our obligation to visit “the twins” before we leave Source a Philipe. The twins are two OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAinfant children whose mother passed away not long after their birth. These two children were left in the care of their grandmother with no breast milk, powder supplements or baby food to sustain their little bodies. The guest house asked our team to look in on them, with malnutrition being of great concern, the fear is they won’t make it through the year. Jacy’s plan is to take Alisa, Heather and Caz later today to check on their wellbeing so she may treat them if need be and report on conditions back to the guest house.

With our game plan in place I inquire as to how my wife is feeling, she lies (I can always tell) and lets me know she is good to go! I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstill think she should rest but as per usual when it comes to my wife, she ignores my advice and heads back through the clinic doors.

Captain Jackson has returned to the clinic entrusting us to pull his teeth. So thankful is he in regards to our treatment of his wife that he now braves sitting in our dental chair for some treatment of his own. Captain Jackson has three obvious teeth in need of pulling but for some reason is only allowing us to pull one. We plead with him to allow us the opportunity to pull the other two but he refuses. He begins acting strange and we can’t figure out why, its odd really, the man who is all smiles currently sits, gripping the arms of a chair while the process goes off without a hitch. Then as quickly as this stoic statue of a man sat down, he is back out the door.

Our day is filled with more than a few patients returning, claiming we left portions of tooth still inside the gum line. What they are experiencing, feeling with their tongues is actually their jawbone. Some teeth have become so rotten (the associated gum disease is atrocious) the resulting effect being a gum line broken down exposing root and jaw, so when the tooth is pulled away this further exposes the inner jawline where the human tongue can feel it giving a false sense of a ‘broken tooth”. I feel sympathetic for these people as they wallow their tongues around inside their mouths trying to determine if what they are feeling is a good or bad thing. But the answer after inspection is always the same; take your medications, don’t swirl, swish or spit for the next 24 hours and good luck.

Being on a mission team is a little like joining the cast of survivor; Alliances are formed, friendships forged and somewhere along the way someone needs to be voted off the island! I am happy to report there have been no major blow ups between anyone leading to the inevitable knife in the back during tribal council. One instance led to a team member yelling at another during a tribaltrying moment late in the day and another incident was cured with nothing more than a walk, a breath of fresh air and some contemplation of events. This left our group pleased as any trouble ended right then with no outward hard feelings rearing an ugly head. Our group appears strong as I personally have witnessed amazing performances from all ten of these very unique individuals! By 4 o’clock, ten patients remain, our interpreters are exhausted, the team is drenched in sweat and I haven’t seen Jacy all afternoon; with her not feeling well I have become concerned. Nearing 5pm it appears as though no one will be turned away from the clinic tonight and that is a very good thing. Our people are milling about still cleaning up equipment, dinner is almost on the table and I am feeling extremely mentally exhausted. The sight of Francois lurking around every corner, watching, almost chronicling every one of our movements has me on edge! Feeling the need for a walk, I slip out the side door andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA disappear into the island air! We have been advised to never walk alone and always take an interpreter whenever we go away from camp. But I have no use for these rules and even if I did no desire to follow them right now. Wondering along street after street with nothing more than my thoughts, I am surround by some of the poorest living conditions I have ever witnessed! Shacks (and I mean shacks) lined up with holes in the ceilings, holes in the walls and in some cases front doors made of sticks or old damaged wood! In fact the word shack really sounds nice compared to the visual reality that currently surrounds me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Psalm 127:3 KJV

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

Up one street then down another, Haitian villagers are so friendly, greeting me with a hearty BONSWA, shaking my hand, smiling and waving! Why aren’t people this friendly at home? There are goats everywhere, dogs running freely and mules, plenty of weight carrying, people transporting, tired, withered old mules! ChildrenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA are also everywhere I go, some clothed, some naked, and for the first time I have a moment to stop, recognize their existence and actually look into their big beautiful eyes! Staring back at me with smiles on their faces, I don’t like what I see. These children are hungry, thirsty and looking for any tidbit of food or water you can spare! That “tidbit” is not reserved for just food, but love, affection and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe ability to play with the Blanc (us white people)! It is the definition of poverty, poverty at its worst, in my opinion a homeless person in the United States is wealthier than a citizen of Source a Philipe! Deeply saddened by what I am witnessing, it’s affecting me greatly and while pondering why things are this way; a light bulb shines bright overhead! Wrapped up in this new world of dentistry I have only focused on one thing, not allowing myself to remove the blinders and see what’s happening around me. In a village where Methodists have built the cisterns, providing free water for all why are these children thirsty? In a village where every team leaves behinds scores of clothing for all its needy citizens to distribute amongst themselves, why are these people naked? In a town where matching funding is provided by each team that travels here, where are the results of those monies? Becoming angrier at my lack in ability to answer my own questions I turn up the next street to see 3 well-built newer concrete homes with nice porches and scores of young Haitian men donning newer OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAclothing, laying about and trying their hardest at a tough guy vibe. These young men look like rappers with aviator sunglasses, bright clothing and converse shoes. I exert a hearty Bonswa in passing and in return get the thirty mile stare from them all. One youngster even goes as far as glaring over the top of his sunglasses, staring, watching every step I take. The whole village is struggling to survive, yet here sits these well dressed, well fed, fit young men, obviously better off than most, carrying a very machismo chip on their shoulders. I begin to wonder if I am looking at our matching funds in action.

Back at the guest house some inquire as to where I have been, not wanting to show my obvious distaste for what I’ve seen I simply tell the tale of a nice walk among the community. Inside, my minds reeling and temper seething, but I need to remember what OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI saw was merely an appearance as I have no concrete proof as to my perceptions. Thank goodness Brent is out front, deep in conversation, a little distraction is exactly what I need. After speaking with Brent for a bit I once again acknowledge my wife is nowhere to be seen. Wandering about I find her sitting on the steps of the school chatting with Kaiti. During their conversation it’s quickly apparent this discussion is focused on some shady practices put forth by none other than François and his band of followers. Having been here almost thirty days Kaiti has a real insight to some of the more serious problems in this village. We listen with open ears and before long everything I witnessed during my little walk about makes perfect sense.

During the week while walking around shirtless under the Haitian sun it came to my knowledge that many of the smaller children were following me around saying “tattoo” “tattoo”. Seeing an OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAopportunity to make new friends one day I stop, kneel down and allow them to touch my tattoo. One child in particular, a small boy who happens to be deaf from years of ear infections has taken a real liking to the large bird and cross on my back. Every day he stops me and points at my back, I kneel down and allow him to trace it with his finger. He smiles brightly and follows every line slowly and carefully until he returns to the starting position. After finishing his trace, he smiles again, taps me on the shoulder and walks away. He is adorable.

While talking with Brent and few others on the front steps of the guest house a loud commotion erupts from alongside the clinic. In a cloud of dust, filled with laughter, several young boys appear running our direction holding a giant bird! (Pelican) Others watch in confusion over the commotion as Jacy and I both start IMG_2248 IMG_2247laughing! These boys are bringing me a present! The present of a real bird they feel resembles the bird tattooed across my back. It’s flattering, it’s funny, and it’s freaking cool! We all laugh, the boys hang the bird up alongside my back for pictures and as quickly as they arrived the youngsters are gone, giggling, pushing, and I only assume by their body language praising themselves for a job well done. Funny how simple moments, arrive just when you need them most to change the course of a day.

After dinner a party has commenced in front of the school. Music, dancing, laughter and good times as many villagers are participating. Some of the College kids are present, Alisa and Heather are also in attendance. Alisa’s camera is working overtime while children jump up and down waiting for a chance to see a picture of themselves. Jacy and I stroll down to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAexperience the scene. Caz is in the middle of what some back home would call a mosh pit! The only difference being there is no “moshing” going on, but instead people are dancing up and down and everyone really seems to be enjoying themselves. These people are so pure, so honest and their love for one another is very apparent. All ages are present at this little soiree, and many of the women arrive donning their very best clothing. Caz cannot break from the group as he is loved by all. I envy his enthusiasm, his ability to show happiness and love for his fellow man at any moment. Rain starts to fall, it’s our cue to leave so we call it a night.

Arriving back at the guest house a young woman has made her way up the steps and lingers nearby, waiting, and staring, as if she has something to say. We instantly recognize her as one of three women who washed our laundry yesterday. Calling for Caz, he asks her if she is ok. She states no, she hadn’t been paid for doing our laundry! Richard asks her a few more questions and the picture becomes a little clearer. Now washing laundry is quite a simple business proposition in Haiti. You have dirty clothes, they charge a dollar an article, you have them wash your clothes and in return you pay a dollar an article to the Madame in charge. Simple process, simple math! Jacy explains payment was made this afternoon to the large woman (widow of the former associate pastor) who was in charge. She said yes she knew but this woman was refusing to pay her and the other woman for their work. She is distraught, hungry and very upset. Stuck between a rock and a hard place if we provide her with additional funding it will start a riot amongst our help. If we pay her nothing extra odds are she won’t receive a dime of the money owed her and continue to struggle without. In the end, we are told by our trusted interpreters NOT to interfere! We follow this advice tonight, but after this episode, our discussion with Kaiti and my walk around the village, it will be the last time we do so in Source a Philipe.

A long day has come to an end, wandering off towards my room, my head is spinning with uncertainty. Who is benefiting here in Source a Philipe? What will happen to these people when we are gone? Have we made the right choices? Jacy has done her absolute best! She is a solid leader, her people know this and trust her, and little does she know as she lays her head down to rest this evening, tomorrow will test her leadership ability even more.

On an up note? Kristina, with some prodding and the help of our leader, finally stepped ever so cautiously into the shower of doom! Praise be to God!

IMG_2249