What to Do on My Day Off?

Many aspects of Haitian life are intense.  Sometimes Haitians drive their cars like maniacs.  Sometimes they worship the Lord like maniacs.  Today I had the opportunity to witness both.

It was technically my day off.  Last time I had one such it was spent sleeping through the entire thing (and the next night), getting in nearly 36 hours total, only arising to eat, the effort of resting having worked up a special appetite, as I recall.  This time I should have done the same… especially since I’m sick with a cold.  Instead, I decided to go a-visiting and a-exploring. I have my whole life to sleep, but who knows how long I’ll live in Haiti?

This morning I availed myself to the cultural experience of walking around downtown.  One nice thing about Port-au Prince is that, for the most part, people leave you alone.  Downtown here doesn’t have much tourism… which means not many tourists… which means the locals aren’t naturally tuned in to the “bugging foreigners” setting.

I kept an eye out for street kids, of which I saw a number.  I’ve heard that many of the kids who sniff glue live in the Port-au Prince cemetery, so I visited there too.  One of the friendly gate-workers gave me a tour.  I was proudly showed Papa Doc’s tomb, of which only a remnant of busted concrete remained.  No doubt at one point there was an imposing monument on that base. 

Around (and in) the cemetery are shopping stalls where one can buy long-wick candles and voodoo dolls and such.  A massive tree in the cemetery had a great number of just such dolls pinned to its trunk.  Not sure what the significance was, guessing to torment ones enemies in the afterlife with the tingly-winglies.  In retrospect, I should have asked my tour guide.  Instead, I remember telling him something like I’m a Christian and don’t believe in that pokey-needle-jazz.

Later, I drove onwards to Carrefour to visit my pastor friend Watson and his family.  Twas a pleasant afternoon getting caught up, the timing of my visit being particularly fortuitous.  For one thing, turns out he was preaching a revival meeting this evening.  I attended that, driving his family to the service, saving them tap-tap rides, for which they were grateful.  The service was lengthy, the worship was heartfelt, and when Pastor Watson got up front to speak, he first called me up to say a few words to the revival-ee’s.  Ugh, hate when they do that.  Don’t you love being put on the spot in front of several hundred people?

I’ve attended quite a few Haitian services now, in diverse locales and denominations, and though I haven’t understood a word yet (because I don’t speak Creole), I do notice most the sermons are delivered in the same emotional tenor: imagine Tony Evans speaking Haitian Creole.  Except that he’s on steroids. 

By the time all the hoopla with Church was done, it was night time, and I was still in Carrefour, a long way from home.  After driving Watson and Co. back to their ranch (think Silver Springs Apartments with none of the amenities, comforts, or niceties) which included navigating a few tight alleyways on a steep gravel road, I embarked on the pilgrimage home, which turned out to be eventful in its own right.

For starters, there were three police checkpoints I went through.  Two were relatively painless, but at the third I was forced to negotiate with the law quite some time. They were threatening to give me a ticket because one of my headlights was burned out.  I wish they would have been decisive, just giving me a ticket or giving me a warning. Instead, they hemmed and hawed around hoping I’d give them some money. Rather than money, I gave them my solemn promise to fix the headlight first thing.  One policeman began openly asking for a bribe.  Then another came up and wanted to throw the book at me, which I didn’t appreciate.  Then a third policeman came up and the question was asked, “So what do you want us to do to you?”  How are you supposed to answer a question like that from an officer of the law?  I thought, then replied something to the effect, “Just give me a warning and let me go.”  Eventually they did. Ask and you shall receive.

Crossing downtown Port-au Prince at 8pm is an eerie time.  The roads are clear enough of traffic you can move along, like 30 mph.  That’s just fast enough to jar your teeth out when you hit the potholes. However, tons of people are still out.  In fact, at one point I passed a mob of perhaps a hundred or so running down the street en masse.  They were yelling, and some were carrying torches.  I gave them a wide berth and kept moving. 

Another hazard are manholes missing the covers. I narrowly avoided rolling into several of these… though a car directly in front of me was not so lucky and may have wrecked its suspension. But the real road-hazard doozie for today was at one point on the way home I was surprised upon suddenly coming upon a concrete barrier across my lane!  As it loomed from the dark, I stopped just in the Nick of time, as is my custom.  If my attention had been diverted even a second, the 4runner would have been “totaled toast.” Never in my life has something similar happened in America.

There was more too, but I’m getting tired, and this is getting long, and tomorrow is another day, and I’ll try making my next post more spiritually edifying.  Just wanted to get a few notes jotted about the day before I forgot everything.

A Tale of a Very Steep Hill

Right now there is no water at the guest house because the well pump is broken.  And the generator at Heartline’s new Haitian Creation property bit the dust today too.  And tomorrow is the grand opening for their new property!

Guess it’s all par for the course.  Each day brings some new logistical challenge. 

This past week has been a busy one for me because Heartline is hosting a work team of 22 people for projects here.  The way it shakes up I’m essentially one of the leaders on the Haitian side helping host the group.  Many had never been to Haiti before (or overseas).  So this week I’ve been driving them around, working with them throughout the day, and interacting from sunup to sundown.  Today was the last day and some have already flown home.

This morning I took a large group to an orphanage to visit.  No doubt several blog posts could be written about that one event. 

What was supposed to be a 30 minute drive (6 miles) to the orphanage turned into an hour and a half as we kept hitting detours of construction road blocks.  Ended up navigating through a bunch of rough backstreets of Port-au Prince in our box truck (think U-Haul) which can be difficult to fit into small places. 

Canter

At one point in a back section of town we came to this steep hill made of rough dirt and potholes.  My heart sank.  I stopped to see if the Toyota pickup in front of me would make it up. 

The pickup got a running start and then… was stuck, his tires spinning out in the loose gravel.  So then he reversed back down and tried again, and in a spectacular demonstration of driving prowess began churning up the hill, shooting huge chunks of rocks backwards and fishtailing all over.  The steep part was only some 100 yards long, but by the time he made it to the top you could hardly see his vehicle with all the dust he’d created.  

I thought to myself, “There is absolutely NO way we can make it up that.”  But there wasn’t much choice, the road was too narrow to turn around and too steep behind us to back up.  We were literally stuck.  Did I mention our truck was loaded down with most the work team and a few Haitians besides?

Taking a breath I stuck it in first and gunned it.  Like I thought, we got stuck about halfway up, our tires spinning out.  We reversed back down the super steep section.  A Haitian guy come over and assured me we could make it.  So with another grinding of gears we pointed the nose of our truck straight into the air and hit the hill again… with the same result.  Again we reversed down.  The Haitian guy came over and once more assured us we could make it, if only we got a bigger head start. 

This was all quite nerve-wracking and I still had no confidence we could actually make it up no matter how big of a head start we had.  But, on the other hand, I figured this Haitian guy had probably been sitting there all day long observing who made it up and who didn’t.  There wasn’t any other option anyways. 

So once more I revved the engine and this time, in a mushroom cloud of road dust, and nearly coming to a stop at one point while the tires spun out and the truck careened around, we somehow crested the hill!  Everyone in the back started cheering like crazy!  They were probably just glad to still be alive. 

As I’m writing this now, in the background I’m listening to the group talk about their week and the conversation shifted to the interesting ride this morning.  Listening, I’m surprised they didn’t mention the harrowing event I relayed above.  Instead, I guess what really freaked them out was the time we did a U-Turn beside a 40’ drop off cliff in a tent-city village (there were no guard rails).  I wasn’t concerned about that one though, we had plenty of room.

So it’s been a long week.  Many things happened, including getting my first driving ticket.  It was for driving with people outside the vehicle.  To wit, some of our team was riding on top of our box truck because not everyone could comfortably fit inside. Not to mention the view is pretty good up there.  Why the police gave me a ticket and not every other vehicle on the road with passengers on top and hanging off the sides is a mystery.  The bad thing is they took my license away too, which the police do here for leverage against offenders for paying their tickets. 

Since then I’ve paid the ticket and now have my license back, though it was a bit of a process involving several days, as you might imagine.

That’s the long and short of things here. 

Thanks to everyone back home praying for me, I appreciate it much!

Info Nuggets versus le Livre Crème de la Crème

As a kid I used to always read books while eating breakfast and lunch.  And supper too if it had been allowed.  But it wasn’t.  We ate supper together as a family and were supposed to talk to each other instead of burying our nose in a book.

Sometimes one of us kids would try sneaking one to supper anyways, hiding it on our laps under the table, looking down between bites.

That was all before the internet. 

Nowadays I read a lot on my phone instead.  Even entire books sometimes, but more often just scanning RSS feeds, websites, Facebook, Wikipedia, and the news.

One feed I follow is Popular Science… who can resist spell-binding headlines like, “What’s the Half-life of DNA?”, “Build Your Own DIY Space Plane”, and “New Worldwide Network Lets Robots Ask Each Other Questions”?  Great lunch-reading material for sure.  A mile wide and an inch deep.

Though often my feeds don’t even hit an inch deep, like this recent one from National Geographic, “Ancient Egyptian Cemetery Holds Proof of Hard Labor.”  Yeah, no joke, I knew that just by glancing at the pyramids one day. (not to say I didn’t read the article anyways) 

But I’m wondering if it was better for my brain back in the olde days.  Back when I read a mile deep and an inch wide.  Even when they were fictional titles of Peretti, Tolkien, and Dumas.  Plenty of true stories mixed in too… about war, explorers, the Wild West, hunters, adventurers, more war, astronauts, and missionaries to the headhunters.  Not to forget religious works like, “Mere Christianity,” “My Utmost for His Highest,” and of course, The Bible. 

If I remember correctly, I’ve read the Bible straight through some six times, and individual books of the Bible innumerable times. 

Most stuff on the net is recent.  Yet isn’t there something to be said for reading old stuff? Like the stuff of the ancients?  Like Mark Twain?  Back when they had a flair for words?  Those dead people offer us a balancing perspective of wisdom from before the era of iPhones and dishwashers. A much needed perspective, I think.

Books I read as a kid stuck with me.  And influenced.  And had a smell too.  An old, musty smell.  The best ones did.  To me, Narnia holds a distinct aroma.  If you only watch the movies you miss out on that other-worldly smell, that grand scent of moldy paper.

What do you think?  Is it better for us to read books?  …or articles?

(like this one) 

When Helping Helps (maybe)

They say nothing we learn goes to waste.  In relation to language progress in Creole, I’d say that is true.  Every time I learn a new word I quickly find a use for it.

In the process of memorizing John 3:16 in Creole I learned the word for “eternal” (p’ap janm fini).  At the bank today I needed that word to describe the speed of the tellers: eternally slow. 

Then today I learned the word for daughter (pitit fi).  This evening a neighbor came to our gate asking for help with his sick teenage daughter who needed an operation, something wrong with her stomach.  The cost of the operation was US $70 and could I please help?  He had a stamped paper from the Dr’s office dated from yesterday with both diagnosis and cost listed.  I couldn’t tell, but wondered if the problem was perhaps a ruptured appendix.

People here often make reference to the popular book, “When Helping Hurts”  which lays out the basic premise that handing away free stuff creates unhealthy dependency and should be avoided.  It says our best intentions usually hurt people more than help people, especially when we try solving local problems through doling out cash.

In general, I agree. Nevertheless, each situation is unique, and requires wisdom.

As I listened to the father describe his situation, some advice came to mind I’d recently heard at a seminar here in Haiti.  A long-term missionary said when you move into a new neighborhood, undoubtedly a situation will arise where you are asked to give emergency medical aid to someone in the community.  He added that the manner in which you first respond will set the tone and precedent for all future dealings.  He laid out three options.

The first was to do nothing and turn the person away.  This is arguably the least compassionate response, though does certainly avoid the pitfall of creating unhealthy dependency. Some would argue this option is best for helping in the long run.  The result in reputation is having the neighborhood perceive you as seperate from the local community.  Not to mention a miser, because it’s no secret “white people” are loaded down with money.  I may not perceive myself as rich, but considering I have enough money to fly to and from Haiti at will, I’m far and away richer than the majority of people here.

The second option is to simply give the full amount of cash required.  At face value, this response seems most compassionate and even most Biblical as well.  After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Give to him who asks”?  Nevertheless, this does most certainly set up a patronage relationship.  The result in neighborhood perception is to be viewed as a pushover, a money bags, and worse yet, perhaps even a sucker (if the story wasn’t even legitimate). 

This leaves the third option of helping pay some of the costs.  The long-term missionary I was listening to implied this option is perhaps the best balance between compassionate and culturally appropriate.  It both helps the immediate need while at the same time defusing patronage dynamics.  The reputation hopefully garnered in taking this option is to be seen as one who stands in solidarity with the community, as a part of it.

As you might guess, I decided on option 3, but not before first discussing the situation in private with our Haitian yardman, getting his input into what he thought the validity of the actual need was. 

Giving the man some money, I also told him I felt quite bad about the situation and would be praying for his daughter.  His response was a thankful one and he implied he would ask others for the remainder, telling me that while he had some money of his own he had used it all on the doctors examination and tests. 

Anyways, maybe I did the right thing, hard to say, but I did feel bad because the entire bill was such a small sum ($70) it hurt to not just pay it all. What if he can’t raise the rest of the funds? What if, while he’s out collecting donations from neighbors and friends, his daughter dies of internal bleeding? All because I was following an idealistic principal of what would truly help more? Following a principal that is based, at least in part, on maintaining my own reputation in a certain light within the community?

I wrote this post to help process my own rationale for what’s best, and to get wise input from them what has more experience than myself (them what wants to share it).  I tend to over-analyze everything in life. Both a strength and a weakness. Feel free to comment.

Remember the States

My co-workers Ryan & Melissa are back in the States this week.  I drove them to the airport this morning.  Then my co-worker Barry went back to the States on Wednesday.  He’s now Facebooking pictures of snow from out the window of his 3,000-story hotel in New York City.

I was trying to remember what it was like back in America, back in the States.  Today I drove close to 4 hours around Port-au Prince and that wasn’t an un-typical day.  I haven’t been here long, but already my brain seems to filter out most the smog and litter and garbage and general mayhem.  Something has to be pretty unusual to grab my attention.  Like when those two people passed me today on a moto with the rear passenger having tucked under his arms the end of two looong wooden 2×4’s, letting the other ends drag way behind along the ground.  And they weren’t going particularly slow… passing me at perhaps 30mph.

I’ve always wanted to roller-blade behind a car.  You know, tie a rope to the rear bumper and have a friend drive while I skate behind holding on like water skiing?  I‘m thinking Haiti would be a good place to practice this without anyone telling me different.

The lack of road rules may even be wearing off on the UN. I thought this after seeing one of their massive trucks roll by with a cardboard box atop and, instead of it being properly fastened with a strap, a soldier was precariously balanced on high, leaning at a dangerous angle and holding the box from falling out while they drove through traffic.  Didn’t look safe, or what I imagined would be per official Policies & Procedures for safe cargo transport.

So anyways, I was trying to remember what the States looked like.  To that effect I pulled up my road trip pictures from 2011.  This did jog my memory.

Since I’ve never posted my State signs collection from that trip, I thought now would be a good time to pay tribute to what some of our wonderful States look like.  At least what their wonderful entry signs look like.  Though granted, the scenery and signs are marred by my presence in the foregrounds, backgrounds, and sidegrounds.

Nebraska (the Good Life) but No one Lives There to Enjoy it South Dakota

Wyoming Forever West (and Forever Freezing)  Idaho (Land of a Thousand Potatos) Look, here's one now!

Utah (Life Elevated) Arizona - (Grand Canyon State, Been There, Done That)

California Dreamin' Washington (The Evergreen State)

New Mexico (Land of Enchantment) and two-headed tourists Nevada

Texas (Where Everything is Bigger, Even their Signs) Oregon (Home of my Brother) Yipee!

Perhaps these pictures prove I was too bored on that trip…

Hoping the next “Grand American Road Trip Adventure” will be with someone more entertaining than myself!