My Week As A Missionary Part 2
My Week As A Missionary Part 2
by Jerry Smith
Although this was supposed to relate to our time in the mountains, I need to relate two more stories from our stay at the Sisters. First- Her name was Augustina and she lived downstairs at the orphanage. Somehow she had made her way up to our "apartment" and one of the girls gave her a piece of hard candy. Then she found the Pringles and then it was dinner time so we invited her to stay and share some tuna and noodles. We gave her a Rosary which she immediately put around her neck with the words "Non papa, petit Lespri San Amen. Then she recited another prayer in Creole and made the sign of the cross. Augustina was 7 years old with the body of a 4 year old and the wit of a 21 year old. She was not supposed to have lived this long but she did and she brightened our day. I pray for her every now and then. I hope she is still bringing joy to others. The thought of her still makes me smile.
The second cute story involved my daughter, Karen. This was the first year she was away for her daughter Sophia's birthday. She was experiencing some terrible remorse over this fact. Karen had established quite a rapport with the Sisters in the short time we were there. On Sophia's birthday she asked if maybe one of the classrooms could sing "Happy Birthday" while Karen recorded it. I should point out here that this orphanage was virtually covered with signs that said " No Pictures, No recording". The sisters were quite adamant about protecting the children and not letting them be exploited for financial gain. Well, not only did Karen get her request granted, the Sisters had ALL the kids on the playground (several hundred) line up and sing Happy Birthday. It was very impressive. It was while lining up the children I was taught a valuable lesson. I made a comment to one of the younger Sisters that all this noise must difficult to handle on a daily basis. She looked me square in the eye and said, " Oh no, it's not difficult at all. That is the sound of Life." I felt about two inches tall.
Wednesday morning we were almost out of drinking water. We skipped coffee, brushed our teeth and went to Mass. After Mass, we said good bye to the Sisters. They gave us Holy cards and medals from Mother Theresa. We went up to pack and wait for our ride.
On to Despinasse
We loaded the remaining bags back on top of the Land Rover and Loll gave us the nickel tour of Port au Prince, one of, if not the poorest cities in the world. If I hadn't mentioned earlier I need to now. 8 million people live in Haiti. 4 million live in the crowded city of Port au Prince. We did stop at a neighborhood arts and crafts shop to get some souvenirs. As we left the shop we were surrounded by several street vendors, all trying to get us to buy their stuff.
As we began the long drive, we passed a lot of earthquake damage. Whole hillsides of houses tilted off their foundations some flattened completely. Why these house did not just all slide down the mountain is anyone's guess And this was two years after the earthquake. These used to be the homes of those crowded into the tent cities. Still, as we drove, there was no shortage of people, street vendors and lots of vehicles.
The trip to the mountains was eventful, educational, depressing, sad, death defying and beautiful all in one. The road curved this way and that. back and forth as we climbed higher and higher. We stopped at a bread store and then at a Top hardware store to pick up some electrical supplies and tools. One more stop for groceries. I wished I had a map so I could tell exactly where we were. One thing that was evident. The air was getting cleaner and fresher smelling as we got further away from Port au Prince. I don't know the exact elevation, but my ears popped three times on the journey to Despinasse. When we arrived at Loll's house, he pointed to a mountain range way off to the east and told us that just over that ridge was the Dominican Republic. The last 15 miles or so of this journey was over very rough and unpaved roads. We saw a lot of unfinished abandoned homes. Some appeared to be future stately mansions, some were plain and simple little shacks. I guess the people building them just ran out of money. I wondered how hard it would be to bring a dozen of those families up from the tent cities and offer them a new opportunity. Then we get to Loll's house. Approx 2,000 square feet with a lot of steps. A beautiful house that took him over 14 years to build. It sits on a hill and overlooks the CAM school and a valley of neighbors living in a variety of different sized homes. There was a concrete deck off the "boys" room and from this deck we could see all the way to Port au Prince. We could also see the gardens of the neighbors, growing corn, tomatoes, bananas, beans, lettuce and some luscious green pastures. Justin said it made him think of what the Garden of Eden may have looked like. I had to agree. The boys are in one room, girls in another. The roosters here are just as noisy as the ones at the Sisters, they just start earlier.
Dinner was fantastic! Chicken, rice, veggies and some potato like thing. I cannot recall the name. Went to bed at 10:00 after one more look at the stars. They are so bright here, you can almost reach out and touch them. Up at 5:00 on Thursday hoping for a view of the sunrise. Still dark. Good time to beat the gang to a shower. Two luxuries here: 1) When the generator is on we get warm water, and 2) since there is a water filtration system we can drink the water. The morning sun rises at about 6:30. Not a spectacular sunrise by any means, but beautiful none the less.. I have been watching families with their donkeys or hand carts heading to market with their produce or heading over to the spring to get their water for the day. The others are up now and we enjoy coffee and bread together.
Loll's son Olivie is the school principal. Students began arriving at 7:30. They raised the flag and sang the Haitian national anthem. At about 9:00 we head over to the school for a tour. The school take students K-6. There are three real classrooms inside the building and two more outside in what could be call a "lean-to" type structure. There is also an office and a small library. There is a kitchen (every student is provided a hot meal every day) and a couple of multi stool bathrooms. The school started with 7 students a few years ago. Enrollment is now over 250. The students are packed in here elbow to elbow and all appear eager to learn. They each had a song prepared for us and the nurses in our group handed out hand cleaner and gave the students a lesson in hand washing..
After our tour we took a walk to the "Spring" to see the water source for this village. It was at least two miles and the trail was fairly busy with people getting their water. Some had donkeys with four 5 gallon containers strapped on their back. Some just carried five gallon pails and others balance an array of containers on their heads. We make it to the spring to see 0ne 3/4" pipe sticking out the side of a rock wall. Someone had made a concrete structure with room for a foot washing station and another area for doing laundry. This is THE source of water other than rain. Every house seems to have some type of rain collection system in place. Digging wells here is just not done. It is quite amazing to see so many carrying water in so many different ways. One thing they have in common, no one spills a drop.
On the way back from the spring the girls go the short way home, the boys opt for the longer more scenic route. We saw more shacks, more fields and more people on their way to or from the spring. We saw one lot where a beautiful stone wall was begun, the traditional steel gate was in place, but no construction had been started. Justin says sometimes they just run out of money, time, or energy. Building the wall is the first item on anyone's construction plan. Once a truckload of gravel or rebar or lumber shows up, it seem everyone is in a building mood. So anyway, there sits this beautiful empty lot just waiting for construction to begin. Next door to this future mansion site is a friend of Justin's. He lives in a house built by CAM. Not sure where he used to live but this "new" house has two rooms each approx 6' x 9'. A blanket separates the two rooms, one appears to be for sleeping, one for sitting. They have a 200 gallon tank outside the house for water storage. It is fed by rain gutters. When it rains, they have water. No rain? It's off to the Spring. This guy also grows his own coffee. He is very proud of his garden and even more so of his coffee. Justin calls him Mr. Coffee. There are no tractors here, no trucks, no cars, except those that come from and go to town. There are motorcycle taxis going from sunup to sundown. They seem to do a good business.
After the walk we take a nap. Then down to the school to begin the project. Our mission is to bring 5 new lights to the previously mentioned "Lean to" classrooms. These will be enclosed soon and will need electric lights. Justin and the other Jerry seemed to know what they were doing. I fetched wire and tools and did what I was told. Soon we had the lights in place. I asked when we were going to test them to make sure they worked. The two Union electricians told me not to worry. It was built to code. it will work! Went to bed at ten.
Up at 5:00 again hoping for a good sunrise. Too hazy. Maybe tomorrow. Quick shower, breakfast and then we began to prepare for the food drive.. Yesterday while the boys were off playing electrician, the girls had been preparing bags of rice and beans and cooking oil. More specifically- two coffee cans of rice, one coffee can full of beans and a 12 oz bottle of cooking oil. 190 bags were prepared. We hauled them down to the school along the remaining clothes and shoes we brought to hand out. 240 people were in line at 7:30 for a food distribution that started at 9:30. After introductions and rounds of applause, we handed out the bags in no time at all. Those at the end got some "rice only bags or nothing at all. Loll politely had them put their names on a list guaranteeing them a better spot next time. The bad news is next time is May 30, six weeks from now. I hope they find some food before then. After we clean up from the food drive, Justin, Karen C, and Debbie go to Mr. Coffee's house. Other Jerry rode with Loll into Port au Prince. Karen Smith and I hung out at the house. I walked down the road a bit to get some pictures. While standing at the side of the road I was approached by several children with that "got any Candy?" look in their eyes. I gave them what I had. One lady was walking along with a well loaded donkey and a ten year old girl. The donkey just laid down in front of me, dumping his load on the ground. I offered to help upright him but the lady chased me away.
Up at five again on Saturday only to see a haze blocked sunrise again. Today is our last day. We had a nice breakfast, packed what little we were going to bring home with us and went down to deliver the last of seven donkeys we purchased for some lucky families. Loll took the long way back to town passing through several villages much like the one we were leaving.
If we had brought two million dollars with us we could not have fixed all the dilemmas we saw in Haiti. We only saw a small part of it. We hope we made a difference for those we encountered. Then again, maybe God chose us to go to Haiti, not for what we could do to change their lives, but for how they could change ours.
Our plane leaves for Miami at 2:00. Six very different people will be boarding that plane.