Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 5: Bonswa!

Saturday 9th 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 3 Lets Ride..

June 8, 2012

Lets Ride….

Awoke at 0600, oh who am I kidding, I never really slept.  Between the dogs fighting on the compound, what seemed to be one hell of a party going on in the alleyway or house next door, anticipation of the days to come and the sticky, wet heat that encompassed our room, sleep never came. Pretty disappointed, because after what I felt was a long day yesterday, sleep would have been beneficial.  Came downstairs to the smells of breakfast wafting gently from the kitchen.  Shuffled my way over to some coffee and was pleasantly surprised by how fantastic it tasted.  Smooth, mellow, robust, nothing like any coffee that had previously crossed my palate!

Sitting down at a table outside, the smell of burning garbage rose over the compound and once again I began questioning my purpose for this journey.  After a while John C. and John G. joined my table, soon we were discussing upcoming events for the day and how things may play out.  Paul came down then Cody and slowly the rest of the team emerged, shuffling slowly, looking for hot coffee.  After several cups, we all began telling tales of a rough night had by all, apparently I was not alone in my suffering.  Joking about the chickens, anger for the dogs and laughter at our own silliness.  We had bonded fairly quick as a group, which usually is a sign of impending personality clashes. (watch survivor, you think everything is fine and then BAM your torch is being snuffed out)) But every time we all sat together I could feel the glue forming between us, an alliance of you will, this would ultimately prove to be the foundation for great new friendships and help us during our survival over the next eight days.

Breakfast was started with a prayer.  Three teams formed into a giant circle holding hands praying. It was a powerful moment, starting the morning off on a wonderful note.  After breakfast we chatted it up with several other members, slowly making our way upstairs to gather our things as departure time closed in on us all.  Funny thing about embarking on an unknown journey, nervousness does take hold of you whether you realize it or not.  The unknown is a tricky thing, it can paralyze to the point of inaction or spur you on to some of the greatest triumphs you may ever know.  In eight days we would all have an accounting for our performance.

After our luggage was gathered, we were introduced to our interpreters.  Caz and Marcinae (Im guessing on the spelling.) Walking directly up to Caz extending my hand he warmly accepted my handshake as I introduced myself.  I was very glad to meet this man for I already felt as though I knew him. John C. and John G. along with my wife had regaled us with wonderful stories of his caring attitude and generosity towards their group a mission trip last year.  He was an intern then, but handled himself like an old veteran.  We reminisced for a few minutes and after showing him pictures of my wife in Mellier,  he instantly remembered who she was stating; she was fantastic with the school children and a very caring person.  He then raised an eyebrow, leaned in towards me asking how I felt about a woman traveling to such far away, unknown places before myself? My retort; If you have met and befriended my wife then you learn very quickly once her mind is set there is no stopping her. He chuckled and said yes this may be true.  Five minutes with this man, my guard was completely down.  My first sense of safety crept in and I instantly knew we were in fantastic hands.

It was time to go, time to leave the Port-au-Prince Hilton.  The KIA truck was loaded with all our luggage and supplies for eight days, the Toyota was loaded with 13 willing and able bodies ready for an adventure.  The gate opened to the compound leading us out to an alley we had not seen previously, our eyes were once again opened to a strange new world of adventure and uncertainty.

The alley way was congested with people cooking food, grinding metal, fabricating gates and repairing stereo equipment that here in the United States we would have discarded like yesterdays newspaper.  The alley was no wider than a single car leaving us to squeeze ever so carefully through its bowels. As we made our way into the street (slowly) it was extremely congested, more so than the day before.  The previous day had been a holiday so many shops and businesses were closed.  The shocking moment for myself and some of the crew was the streets had been very congested the day before which left us in awe at the amount of people moving to and from their destinations today. In hindsight yesterday was merely a fraction of the population that now lay before our eyes.  Travel was slow, hot and bumpy. Once again there were times the smells became a little overwhelming.  These people moved about their day with a huge sense of purpose.  Constructions sites were a buzz, markets were humming and everywhere you turned the city felt alive!  My head hung to the glass like a voyeur trying his hardest to experience every moment without being noticed.  Traffic in Haiti still bewildered my sense of safety.  Horns honking, cars moving where they pleased, it was a very gentle ballet of automotive synchronicity. In America many of the movements  or automotive “bullying” that we participated in would have resulted with someone being on the end of a broken nose. Yet here people just waved you by, (and not with a middle finger in the air) waved thank you or stared blankly with no emotion at all.  All by the honk, beep or blast of a horn.

Our team had one stop to make before our final destination. We were hoping to acquire a few more sledge hammers for the work that lay before us.  Our van pulled into a large concrete fenced yard and to our surprise the place was not a run down dilapidated structure as we all had envisioned.  In fact the structure resembled that of a Home Depot! A home depot with parking attendants and an U.N. military vehicle with soldiers parked within its walls.  John, John, Caz and Paul went inside for a short excursion inside the man store.  Myself, Cody and the rest of the crew remained outside with our vehicle.  Personally in my humble opinion, once you have seen one Home Depot you have seen them all.  I was more interested in the heavy traffic of dump trucks (by the way we found out Haiti is where all retired Mack trucks wander off to die) tractors, excavators, and everyday vehicles whizzing by on the street outside.  A few more jokes were cracked, a couple of comments about the heat and before long we were off with our newly acquired toys.

The drive was long and hot. (have I mentioned it is relatively hot here?)  A combination of paved roads, dirt roads and just plain old pot holes left us feeling as though our kidneys were now no longer usable for transplant. (mental note, change donor card upon arrival home) Once out of the city en route on highway one we passed by several areas still heavily impacted from the quake.  We also passed by the largest tent city on the island.   Interesting really; tents, shacks scattered everywhere across the open plains, then an  occasional house under construction with a few completed homes scattered about.  Homes and shanties in desert/shrub like conditions where one would never think to build or create a homestead.  When John asked Caz about the housing situation, Caz stated the government had given away the land to residents looking for a new start and willing to build upon the site.  The site was hilly and dry but the upside was it overlooked the ocean.  Either these people were completely crazy or evil geniuses.  Genius in the fact that 20 years from now they will own beautiful homes overlooking some of the bluest ocean any human could ever lay their eyes upon. Once again being resilient is definitely not a Haitian weakness.

We arrived in Leveque almost two hours after departing the guest house.  Hot, tired and sweaty we all clamored to get out of the Toyota van.  We had parked in what appeared to be an alley.  A home on the right, a long white tin roofed 1950’s era building on the left with an enormous two-story, brand new concrete structure directly behind them both looming over the site.  We quickly learned the 1950’s era building on the left was in fact the very building we had come to demolish.  This was exciting!

We quickly gathered up, unloaded all of our equipment, hauling the majority upstairs to the second story of the new building.  This building was a new school built by a British team for the church.  The upper floor had not yet been put into operation, leaving it as our new primary residence complete with kitchen for the next eight days.  Our team had originally been scheduled to live at a new church built down the road in the town of Thomas. This would have left us commuting every morning to our job site in Leveque.  When the pastor discovered this plan he vehemently argued for our location change hoping a new team and project could meld into his community creating everlasting friendships while sharing the word of God.  He was wise beyond words.

Having moved into our three rooms. One for the kitchen, one as sleeping quarters for the men, one for the women.  We all gathered back downstairs, meeting the pastor while introducing ourselves to 5 construction workers, our new future Haitian friends. We traveled thousands of miles and there seemed to be no time like the present to get started.  Energy was high, we surveyed the building, 40x 100, cinder block with stucco/concrete overlay, tin roof, two small rooms leading into one big assembly area.  The building had several mid line cracks and a portico that had damage to three of its four columns.  We devised our strategy and came up with a plan of attack, a few of us could hear the sound of tools calling our names. Hats pulled down tight, work belts on, hammers and pry bars in hand.  Ten Americans in one foreign country with a single goal in mind.

Time for one 63-year-old earthquake damaged church to come down!

To be continued……