Saturday, January 19, 2013

Digging Through the Garbage of Life

There are some things that I don't know how to put into words... so I haven't. I've muddled them around in my mind, massaged them and tried to change the outcome and prayed for what was still to come.

 As I looked out the window of the Toyota on the dirt side streets of Cap Haitien, there was a pile of trash like all the others, black from charcoal and picked through by the pigs and goats looking for a bite to eat. I knew what was there - broken Prestige bottles (a local beer) and empty bottles of Barbancourt Rhum (local rum), some fruit peels and sucret (candy) wrappers from those blancos from the States. There was human waste and animal remains... you don't have to guess, the smells tell you all the same. There are few more familiar sights in Haiti than the garbage heap in every ditch, every corner, every road, but this one was different. I looked and say a young boy, no older than eight searching. At first I momentarily tried to protect my heart by convincing myself he was looking for a soccer ball kicked too far from a friendly game. But there was no game to be had. Or maybe he was searching for an old tire to push down the road with a stick, balancing it as a toy. But, you know as you sit in your safe comfy home with pantries filled with food that these were not his stories. He was searching for food. Looking in a place that even the pigs had left for waste for something to fill the aching hole in his stomach that would not be filled.

 These are things seen in India. These are images for National Geographic, not for my eyes. Even if my camera had been on my lap poised and ready for the shot, my humanity was not ready to look through that lens.

 Days earlier, a family rode into the clinic on a motorcycle, five of them on one bike over a long and bumpy dirt road that barely is. There was a drive and three older children and a mother too sick to sit up on her own. She was in the Clinique Esperance et Vie only an hour before dad called out "Emergency" and all hands flew to his aid. Tiny aneurysms in her eyes diagnosed by dad and the ophthalmologist told the story of years upon years of untreated hypertension leading to high cholesterol that took her life that day in Terrier Rouge. The first life lost in a clinic that serves a community that reaches beyond roads and mountains. A clinic that receives patients that walk an entire day for care. A clinic that built a mobile clinic to go to the outlands of Haiti to find those that couldn't find their way to them. They serve with qualified doctors and nurses, dentist and obstetrics. They have an operating room and a fully operating lab. It truly is the best of the best in northern Haiti. When I se this I think to myself, this can be fixed. It's the basics. We can fix this. Simple medical care years ago would have saved her life. But not everyone has a minute clinic around the corner or Blue Cross Blue Shield to help foot the bill.

 It's the basics. Kids shouldn't be searching for dinner in a pile of waste. There's enough food for everyone, I just don't know how to make it so. Lives should not be lost because basic necessities aren't met.

 Pere Bruno told us last year that wonderful scripture passage that says "If you have faith you can say to this mountain get up and jump into the sea... And it will." My heart, my faith, all of who I am says this is so. So I want to shake my fists and scream at the mountains to move out of the way. I want the Haitian government to figure it out. I so desperately want all of us to think a little less of ourselves and a little more of others. They are our mountains, but I guess we too have to search through the garbage in our own lives to find again the bread of life. And we too need to know that it takes time and faith and heart and God.

 As you can tell, it becomes painfully real in a place such as this. So there are some images that remain engrained in the images in my mind that no even words can explain the horror of such a life lived on the edge of survival. My prayer today is that as hard as it is, as many tears as it takes, whatever garbage I have to dig through... I must remember. Because only then can we start the doing.


There are many days in Haiti that all I can see is dirt and filth.

I look around and wonder how it is that people can thrive when your hands are always calloused and worn and your feet are barefoot and never clean. There just never seems to be a place to wipe off the dust of the day.

 Even in the rivers that flow through the edge of town there are animal remains and disease infested waters. And that seems to be where everyone gathers. They gather at the bank of the river to scrub their clothes and bathe their children. There on the roots of trees, the children lather up as mom scrubs away the bugs and week long grime of a life lived in Haiti. It is there at the watering hole, that the motorcycles are cleaned from the diesel and smoke of Cap Haitien, it is there that the women gossip and where the men relax. And yet, when I peer over the concrete bridges I wonder again if this is as good as it gets.

 At first glance, you can't see the beauty of Haiti. You see the struggle of barefoot men dragging hundreds of pounds of rusted and long broken auto parts on a simple handcart of wood and long worn tires. Women walking with stacks of American hand me down clothes piled on their heads in the hopes of a sale. There are children balancing forty pound buckets of water on their tiny little heads while carrying two more in each hand. A hundred and twenty pounds of water carried by a child weighing no more than ninety pounds sopping wet.

One can actually feel the oppression and sense of hopelessness in the air and all at once you realize the truth - they don't just live day to day, hand to mouth but they are on the very edge of survival. Homes on top of homes, filth upon filth, poverty of the like we in our American two story wall to wall carpet homes can never imagine. Yes, there are many days that all I can see in Haiti is the unending pain of a nation long on its knees. And in many of their eyes, surrounded by wrinkles and wisdom and life, you can read stories beyond stories of abandonment, loss and even resignation.

 But there is beauty. There is a strength that you and I can not comprehend. It is a strength that goes beyond muscles and is basic human will to survive. You see it as they pile 30 kids in the back of an old pick up truck to drive them to school. Or pack 5 children on a motorcycle with a driver mashed in-between. All of this to make sure their children have something more than all of this...So they will know that there is something better.... that there is something else beyond all of this. That there is more to life than survival.

That's the hardest part really. Finding the beauty in the midst of the grime, but it's there. You look to see mountains beyond mountains and you look into the sky to see stars unobstructed by lights and planes and cell towers, just God given sky. And the people. Oh the people, strong and silent, lost and found all at once. They wait for a better day to come, and it will. I don't know when or how or what exactly will change but I choose to believe that what we do down here is part of that greater plan.

Feed the hungry.

 Clothing the naked.

Healing the sick.

 Loving the lost and giving the rest to God.

If I have learned anything over the past 6 years, it is this... It isn't up to me, all I can do is my best and that I'll give with joy. Beyond that it is all God. With all my heart I believe that. I know that. And I see that as more and more hearts are open to the beauty of this place. As our circle of those willing to serve grows ever wider and wider. As Presbyterians, Rotarians and Warrentonians of all sorts step off a small little plane into a small little world ready to make small little changes that will last, all because in everything we give it to God. I can ask for nothing more than this, because this is good.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

He Found Her

How does one choose who gets to go to school and who stays home?

Who is it, in this crowded village full of faces that melt into the heat of the day, Who is it that finds the very lost and broken? And how does one choose?

Navaline lives in a one room clay packed home with 11 siblings and 7 adults. There is one room and no bed. Hanging in an empty corner are a few pairs of socks and underwear, strangely thin and past the days of being overly useful. Little three year old Navaline hurries out from the home while holding her pants around her waist, only about 3 sizes too big.

Her mother lifts her up to a old wooden chair sitting precariously in the uneven dirt in the dust of her small yard. A pristine uniform appears, as if out of nowhere and is tugged over her little head filled with red bows and the clips that tell the community "I am lucky enough to go to St. Bart's ."

Hiding behind the grandmothers skirts is a petite little girl wearing only an old pair of underwear now clipped together with a safety pin. Once they would have been a brilliant white, now they are dingy and dirty with large brown spots on the rear end.

As I walked closer her eyes got larger and larger and she moved further and further away. Haitian children have the most amazing eyes... The pupils against their gorgeous dark skin allow such contrast and suggests such innocence. At many times though, as was today, their eyes are just as dingy and yellow as that recycled underwear, and those eyes that demand medical attention that they no doubt will never receive.

As this wee one hid again from what was probably the first white woman she had ever seen I reached into my handy dandy trusty backpack to pull out a lacrosse ball. It perfectly matched the mango she held in her right hand. Stretching my hand way out in front of me, with my palm flat and the ball resting in my fingers I offered her the small gift. It was like yesterday when I fed the goats bean pods from the trees and they didn't quite trust me, they'd tentatively feel me out until finally they would snatch the treat and run away. With both our arms outstretched towards one another, she softly lifted the ball while never letting her gaze leave my eyes and slowly pulled it to her chest and she toddled away, still unsure of these strangers in her midst but pleased she had a new toy.

All the while, Navaline is being primped and prodded, wiped and straightened so no one would have a clue that this little girl, lucky enough to be found by Pere Bruno, lived in a one room too small home filled with little more than dirt and love.

We picked that adorable Navaline up and plopped her on Elmer's lap for her first ride in a car as she held on tight with wide eyes and a nervous smile.

And off to school she goes hand in hand with her spanking new sponsor from Warrenton - Isabelle.

Today, I do believe, both Isabelle and Navaline were found. Lost and found is a wonderful image. Throughout scripture we here of the lost coin, the lost sheep and of course the lost son and over and over again, each time one is found the whole company of heaven rejoices. After being here, after living and breathing this air and tasting the sweetness of Haitian life I know that God is here. I know that God uses so many of these dear people to go out and find those that are lost and even those that don't know they are lost. And He brings them home. Just as I know that God is finding me here as well.

Today I give thanks because I too get to join the company of heaven and sing with the 700 angels here at St. Bart's... "How Great Thou Art!" Dad shared a wonderful closing last night after devotions that I'd like to use now... May grace be with all those that God loves... And to those that ONLY God loves.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Never Enough

One of the hardest things has got to be getting used to seeing the faces of the kids, and even the adults, when it turns out there just isn't "Enough."

It happened yesterday as we gave 0ut bags of food. It repeated itself today as we gave out new underwear to the children and t shirts for the race this afternoon. It happens every time I attempt to hand out candy to the children and of course in a place like this it happens when not every child has a happy home to return to at the end of the day. Here, there never seems to be enough.

Never enough food.

Never enough medicine.

Never enough desks.

Never enough shoes or underwear or bicycles or ... Well just about everything.

The other day I asked my running buddy Davis what size his shoes are. He replied "I don't know, whatever I'm given." Never enough.

But then there are wonderful stories of sharing out of "Never Enough." Our fantastic friend- Iliador, whom I've known since 2008 just recently married a lovely woman. He came to take Bob and myself to meet his wife and see his home. And with great pride, this young man, that has always been polite, kind and welcoming every moment I've known him walked us through his two room house just 5 minutes from the school.

They have a beautiful hand carved solid wood bed and a small boom box on the bedside table. He guided us through with a small oil lamp to the front room that held a beautiful hand carved table and small black and white television. And on the front steps we met the woman who has quite possible raised the most handsome and respectful young men in all of Haiti. She was quietly ironing the clothes on an old table with a cast iron iron heated solely with charcoal.

As I was telling her ( or trying to) what a gift her sons are Iliador sent his new bride to buy us all his favorite fruit- mango batiste. And once again I thought to myself that out of what many would seem to think is "Not Enough" Iliador gave a gift that was more than ever before "Enough."

I'm pretty sure that's happend before... With loaves and fishes by a sea, with wine at a wedding, with oil in a lamp and with a God that loves so much that He gave His only Son. You may sit over there and say you don't have "Enough" but from my star filled and breezy night here in Terrier Rouge... I look around and know with all my heart that somehow through the work of one phenomenal Episcopalian priest named Pere Bruno and one amazing God... Somehow it will be enough.

Every Child Deserves to feel Special

I am a firm believer that every child deserves to feel special. This trip I've. had the wonderful opportunity to meet the student that Paul and I sponsor through Northern Haiti Hope Foundation. His name is really long and hard to spell, so I call him ( as do his friends) Bareney. He is four years old and has big ears and a beautiful smile, but he makes you earn that smile. We have his photo hanging on our door at home, to remind us all that our family, as does God's family, reaches beyond our own four walls. But in his picture he has the saddest eyes and he isn't smiling and he looks so alone. And he is. His parents left him here in Terrier Rouge to be raised by an aunt and by the grace of God he found his way to St. Bart's. I brought a present for him. A gallon size ziplock bag filled with toys, candy, a new outfit, socks and new underwear ( a big deal down here for a culture that lives and breathes and sleeps and eats in the worm soaked dirt of Haiti.) So we sat and chatted, best we could while Dominique translated. I told him I wanted him to study hard... Very important in pre school of course. I showed him pictures of my own kids back home and he looked at me with those beautiful big brown eyes that still seemed so sad and they sent him back to his class to put his goodies away before the other kids could see them. I all of the sudden felt all alone. I wandered over to the children eating their lunch (same everyday) of beans and rice. Without a peep of complaint those kids chow down on what is quite possible their only meal of the day. I walked around and did a few fist bumps and made faces until I came upon my Barenery's class eating quietly at the end of the picnic tables on the porch. I had a second chance. I fist bumped little Lulu, my buddy here on the campus and smiled at my Barenery, still nothing. So I taught the kids that wonderful " Boom... Boom... Firepower" from Night at the Museum. It always brings even the shyest kids out of their shells. All the kids joined in and others were peering around the corner without falling off their benches, at that crazy blanco making all the noise. Without fail, after a few "Boom. Booms" Barenery was cracking just the tiniest smile. So my trusty friend Isabelle took a video of how Pastor Carrie disrupted lunch and corrupted the dear kids of Terrier Rouge. When I took the iPhone over to show my Barenery it was as if all the candy in the world landed in his lap all at once. His smile lit up. His eyes started to sparkle and we fist bumped and it was if we had known each other for years. Right there, with about 50 little Haitian children crowding in and clutching the iphone Barenery and I took pictures ...we made funny faces and stuck our tongues out and laughed and even hugged. And as the teachers were lining up the kids and literally peeling them off of the two of us, Barenery and I laughed. The rest of his friends went on back to class and we sat together in a type of sacred silence as he finished his beans and rice, quickly forgotten once he knew he was special too. How many times have you seen those commercials asking for help for a poor child in Africa and thought. ... "Well, that'd be nice, but how can I know I'm doing something life changing?". Here, you can. How do I know? Because I'm blessed enough to be one of those people that is slowly changing one life. You can too!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Haitians Humanity

I want to write so much and still I don't. I want you to know everything ...but only the good stuff. I want you to love Haiti like I do and I want you to forget all those horrid things the rest of the world tells you. So tonight, I'll just write the truth and let you find your own way out of the weeds. It was food distribution day today, and that always tears at my heart. This year I couldn't keep my gaze from returning over and over to the feet of the dear people of Phaeton. Go ahead, look down at your own and mentally calculate how much your shoes cost. Take a visual tour of your closet and count up the shoes that make up your wardrobe. And know that you are blessed. Now transport yourself to the outskirts of northern Haiti to Phaeton, a 45 minute drive down roads that would quickly disappear with the slightest hint of rain. A town that once was busy producing and exporting sisal with roads and a generator until the market dried up and they picked up and left, taking their electricity, jobs and promise of any future with them. All that is left are the eldery and their families, hungry, impoverished and jobless... Stuck. As we prepared the food, an elderly woman was moving just inside the gate trying to find a seat over some rocks and as she moved she began to fall. I went to help her and once she was upright I looked down at her fett - swollen, barefoot, covered in callouses and dirt and at least 3-4 open sores oozing with puss. Pere Bruno called me back. I then couldn't take my eyes off the feet of these dear people. Our feet carry us everywhere. We spoil them with spa treatments and fancy running socks. We spend thousands of dollars on shoes and orthotic inserts so they won't hurt, ache or blister. And these people have nothing. They walk in dirt filled with hook worms and unknown funguses. Those feet carry them through rivers of mud and fields of manure... And they have nothing. So we were there handing out bags of fish, noodles, rice and beans. The basics of the basics and it seemed as if we were offering so little and yet everyone seemed so grateful. It's ok, we made a dent and for that I'm thankful. But next we went to Paulette. An extremely poor town further out into the boondox of Haiti. I've been there countless times before and I was never able to put my finger on it until now... But Paulette is not the Haiti I know and love. They are hungry and today we were the hands and feet of Christ, of that there is no doubt. But the question remains, how do you serve when those your serve seem so thankless? We gave food the the elderly first, as it should be. They were grateful and beautiful people and if I could I would sit and bake them a buffet to end all buffets. But there are those that came Expecting. And when I say Expecting , you know of whom I'm talking. Those people that Expect others to give to them, without cost, without question, just because. This is not the Haiti I want you to know and it certainly isn't the Haiti I want to remember, but it is reality and as much as it hurts, it is real. Near the end of our supply some young men came in, they were wearing soccer uniforms and they laughed at my dad when he moved the 65 pound bags of food from one place to another. They didn't offer to help. They laughed. And yet they had no problem walking up and taking food out of the very same hands. So how do we balance that? It's as real here as it is in the States, You can't convince me otherwise. It's humanity and it's ugly, but it is. One mother begged me to take photos of her child and then yelled at me when I couldn't give her food in exchange. "Pushy" is what Berry said, and the word fits. As we were getting ready to leave Elmer pulled out a packet of Mary Jane candy and I followed suit...bad move. The kids came running, the hands started tugging and quickly Elmer lost his bag and I was on my own, pinned against the car and using my best mother voice I could muster. I looked into the back seat and saw the look of "I told you so" on my fathers face and as I looked at Elmer he was laughing so hard I thought he'd bust. Mom came to the rescue, unlocked the door and I squeezed my way back in. Lesson learned ? Humanity is what it is and we aren't called to judge, question or even correct it at times, we are called to serve, and that we did.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Morning Runs and Mother Hen

First you must understand... I am not a morning person ! I can count on one hand how many times I've seen the sunrise and my alarm clock at home rarely sees an hour before 7 am. But alas, that is not the case in Haiti. They rise with the sun and sleep when it sets. The cool hours of the day are used for gathering water at the well, scrubbing the kids in a bucket for a full day of school, setting out items for market and beginning the long trek to put them to sale. The air hangs with a heavy charcoal smell and diesel fumes of tap taps taking those that have jobs to work. The business of the day was well underway as we walked to the edge of town to begin our run. However, it didn't go quite as expected. Jesse and Elmer were to ride bikes alongside as I ran a slow four miles to and fro from Pere Bruno's farm. We walked to the edge of town as we continually asked Davis " deux bicycles?" While playing charades with our hands. His answer was always the same " oui, est la..." Well "la" was never to be. As we got to the edge of town Davis looks at me and begins the countdown :" un, deux..." And we stopped him there and asked again using a bit more frantic charades this item " deux bicycles..." And his answer was once again "oui, est la." Again he looks at me and counts down..."un, deux..." And as I look at Elmer and Jesse they all of the sudden realize that they too, are about to run. This time we let him count to three and we were off. It wasn't like any run I've taken before (even discounting the early hour.) As we passed donkeys carrying women and mounds of charcoal they'd nod and wave. Many times I would puff out a " bonjour" to get a snicker and a " bonjour" in return. It went on and on like this as more people laughed at our wonderful Davis running with the crazy Blancos. I heard one woman point and say a phrase in creole and I mentally repeated it over and over again so I could ask Dominique to translate it. Children passed by cleaned and dressed for school, some four and five to a bicycle... And at this point Elmer and Jesse would have gladly jumped on. Men carried machetes to the fields passed and looked on in wonder as these crazy Americans huffed and puffed on by. Davis was quite the mother hen... Or cup bearer as JoEllen so poignantly said. As the road would narrow he'd direct me to the side and position himself between me and the oncoming tap taps or motorcycles speeding down the road. And when two vehicles came from opposite directions he would run in the middle of the road to assure me that they would not pass as I ran on by. Kind of like a tractor trailer holding off those cheating cars that sneak up the side of the road closures on I66, he'd stop them in their tracks. The road was all dirt and gravel and of course a significant coverage of animal droppings. When we stopped to turn around my legs felt the difference in the run, but once again, the perfect gentleman, Davis would hunt out the flattest path and direct me to follow along. Yet the road wasn't the biggest challenge. Unless you've been here and breathed the air I'm not sure you can comprehend the intense smell of charcoal that fills your lungs with every breath. Add in a run with that smoke and diesel mixture, I guarantee this is a run you'll never forget. As we made our way back to the school we saw kids pumping water and a small boy about age 6 walking barefoot wearing only a t shirt balancing a large block of filthy ice on his head. The various school uniforms from our St. Barts and the various other schools began to file out of the homes into the dirt street to make their way for a chance at a future. Through the back streets Davis quickly pulled me aside for what seemed to be no reason at all except to avoid tripping over a broom... Which I learned was a voo doo practice, all sorts of "heebie jeebies" happen to those who step over the broom. So.. A good start to a beautiful day here in Terrier Rouge. And I told Pere Bruno that he should add "running concierge" to the amenities at Hotel Bruno, I give Davis a five star rating. And if you are wondering what that phrase meant that I heard along the way... So am I! I think one of two things has happened, either I heard it wrong and it doesn't translate OR Dominique and Pere Bruno are too kind to tell me it means "look at the crazy fat blanco running down the road...." And for Jesse and Elmer...a little ibuprofen will go a long way today, they are pretty good sports and I gotta say, they held their own, Elmer even crossed the finish line first!