Pictures

The village Ravine Seche. It sits in a small valley (ravine) between two sets of hills. I took this picture up where I sometimes walk to get good cell phone reception. A creek runs through town and out to the ocean. A Catholic mission came in several years ago and built new houses for everyone.

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The village of Ravine Seche

Fishing with the locals.

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Pulling in nets
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The blue Caribbean

A big catch. These fishermen came in one day with their boat nearly full of sardines.

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Lots of Sardines

Repairing a flat tire. I’ve had many flat tires. On this particular day it happened on the side of the highway. Someone stopped and offered to go find a mechanic for me. Later, the “mechanic” showed up with only three tools which he pulled from his pocket as he hopped off a motorcycle taxi: vise grips and two wrenches, each wrench having one side already broken off! But within about 60 seconds he had removed my back tire, and hopped back on the taxi and took off into the sunset to get it repaired. Needless to say, I was impressed.

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Flat
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Three tools to fix it
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Tire removed

Another flat. A nail went in and out the side, causing two holes. It was repaired with two patches, naturally.

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Food. Various Hatian dishes prepared at my house:

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Before. After.

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Staples from market
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Finished meal

A fish when I’m finished eating it. The locals eat the head too. In fact, with the little fish they eat the whole fish, bones and all, in two bites. One bite for the top part and head and one bite for the bottom part and tail.

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Eaten fish

Helping Darline buy some things in town.

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Buying stuff

A fun day for 200 orphans and restaveks (children servants) in the area.

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The kids singing
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Preparing food was logistical challenge
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Lots of rice and beans

A pretty sunset (with a sailboat out on the ocean).

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Nöe and I. My current roommate.

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Noe and I

At a local restaurant.

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(Written from my cell phone)

More at Home

(Also written a bit ago, but the basic thoughts still hold, though I still have ups and downs out here regularly)

I’ve turned a corner out here in my remote corner of Haiti. Instead of an outsider, I’m beginning to feel like an insider.

There were a number of consecutive weeks I didn’t smile or laugh much. But good ol’ Nick is returning. The way Darline put it, “Ou komanse kòmic,” that is, “You’re becoming funny.” She has said that more than once.

I’ve reached the point in the language I can sometimes communicate a joke. It’s nice to make a wisecrack and have people laugh, or tell a story about something that happened funny in my day and have others track along and think it’s funny too.

Another thing that helped my sanity was coming down pretty stern on a few of the teenage boys always hanging around for things they did which annoyed me. In one instance, one of the boys mothers heard I’d got her son in trouble and she beat him, for good measure, telling him he needed to always give me respect and obey anything I said. He’s greatly mollified now, which helps me.

I’m also feeling more comfortable just sitting around outside in the evenings with people here. Where it was nothing but pain originally (I suppose because I didn’t know them, I didn’t really like them, and I could only barely communicate with them), now I rather enjoy it, and don’t feel as uncomfortable. While I don’t sit out every evening, one night recently I sat out for several hours and enjoyed hearing stories, like one of the fishermen here, Antwan, telling me about trying to take a boat to Miami back in the 90’s. After six miserable days packed into the small wooden boat with many others, they were picked up by the US coast guard. He spent three months in prison in Miami, where he told me the conditions were excellent, the food was good (rice and beans), and they got to play football. His return flight to Haiti was the only time he had flown in an airplane. People were poking fun at Antwan for getting to see and enjoy America from inside a prison cell, and the conversation was pretty comical, but then I told him seriously I was sorry my country didn’t let him immigrate into my country, for all his trouble, (we are a nation of immigrants, afterall). I think I’ve even read Clinton regrets  his forced-deportion policy for the “boat people” fleeing Haiti during the oppressive regime of “Baby Doc” here in Haiti.

I’ve also made several friends. Nöe, the 20-year old orphaned fisherman I’ve mentioned before, has become a close friend. His life has gone from bad to worse, even while I’ve been here. He and his young wife split in the last several months over marital conflicts. So he moved in with some friends, taking a few things from his home. But then his wife took those things back while he was out working one day, even shredding all his clothes. Then his friends kicked him out of the other house, I don’t know why, but guess I might find out soon, because he is now my new temporary roommate. For now, I’m happy with the arrangement, he seems nice enough and is a hard worker too. Of his own initiative he cleaned up my “backyard” and hauled about 10 loads of fresh gravel by wheelbarrow from the ocean to behind my house to regrade it all.

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Another thing that is helping me feel more at home is learning how people are related to each other. Who is who’s cousin, brother, half sibling, aunt, grandma, etc? Turns out nearly everyone is related. In the houses surrounding me for instance, lo and behold, it’s all one big extended family. I think that has helped my immediate surroundings feel more “homey.” Now, instead of, “That old guy I find kinda intimidating,” I think, “That is Darlene’s Father – Darlene being his only child by his first wife, who is the gentle, kind older lady yonder who also happens to be a stalwart in the local church, and one of only six going on the Church’s annual weeklong evangelistic trip later this month, not to be confused with his second wife, who is more domineering, and lives in St. Marc.”

Perhaps “time” is helping too. I’ve been here almost three months, which is quite awhile. Nothing can be miserable forever, humans being so adaptable.

(Written from my cell phone)

Wedding

I attended this nearby wedding several weeks ago. I didn’t know either the bride or groom, but attended for cultural curiosity. And because Ironce, my landlord, invited ne. Here is a brief report, better late than never.

I’ll start with a couple pictures.  The first shows the bride entering the church, and the second her walking down the aisle.  Sometimes in weddings in Haiti the bride arrives in a vehicle and goes straight down the aisle after getting out of the car. In this wedding that is what happened, though she arrived in a tap-tap. Sorry I didn’t get pictures of the ceremony.

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As you can see, the church was still under construction. The inside was a mess, with bags of concrete lying around and even an overturned wheelbarrow at one side.

In fact, construction didn’t stop for the wedding! they continued pounding on the roof through the first part of the pastors message before I think someone finally told them to knock it off up there for a few minutes. I felt sorry for the bride having to get married in such an un-ideal setting…! I did notice they had hung pretty sheets up behind the stage which looked nice. About 100 people attended.

At the reception I was surprised to see my landlord was the DJ, or at least providing the sound equipment and generator, which I’m well aware of. This is the same generator that hardly works (some of my own hard cash has been invested into this clunker) and the same audio setup he pokes a knife into to get going. When I saw the generator at the reception, the first thing I asked Ironce was if he had checked the gas level because I tried using it last week and it was out. He told me of course it had gas. Later, I noticed people pulling the starter cord a lot of times – and It wasn’t starting. I stayed out of the situation, on the other side of the lawn. A few minutes later Ironce walked by me and I asked if the generator was broken? “No,” he said, “It’s out of gas.” Yeah, I figured so.

Several people took off on a motorcycle to buy more gasoline, but they must have got lost because it took them nigh unto forever. Not sure why, because there was a gas station right around the corner, but guests were already leaving by the time the music got started (and stopped, and started, and stopped, and started, as the stereo cut in and out).

One more candid observation: For whatever reason, at this wedding the bride didn’t look particularly happy. Furthermore, she would hardly look at the groom. The groom, on the other hand, was all grins. Afterwards, when they had several pictures taken together (several, as in two, and they were with with cell phones and a pocket digital camera) I noticed the bride didn’t seem excited about him then either. She didn’t smile big, and quickly drew away after the posed hugs. Perhaps it’s cultural, but it made me wonder if they had had a fight before? Or was she having second thoughts? Or was she being pressured into the marriage? Usually brides seem happier at their weddings, I’ve noticed, but if my bride were to be sullen towards me on the “big day,” it would be my worst scenario of things that could go wrong, though this groom appeared nonplussed. Or oblivious.

(Written from my cell phone)

A Long Wait

(written about a week ago)

I’m sitting outside by the ocean.

It’s evening and there is a brilliantly gorgeous sunset, the shimmering hues of pink and blues reflecting on the water. A sailboat is lazily rolling by, the gentle sound of lapping water soothing my ears, a slight breeze whispering ‘cross my neck and face.

Life is slower here, I think I’ve said this before…

This morning I went with the pastor to visit a family. After we visited a bit and I felt we were ready to leave, they offered to prepare and serve us food. I’d already had breakfast and wasn’t particularly hungry and told them so.

But I knew when they pressed the issue to offer us some, “Rice and beans,” we were in for a little bit of a wait.

Fortunately, their place was on the beach, so the pastor and I pulled up plastic chairs under a shade tree and waited. And waited.

After two hours, I saw three guys get in a boat and begin rowing away. I idly wondered where they were going? They didn’t have a net with them so I knew they weren’t fishing. Someone offered that I could go with them, but I declined because I was waiting for my rice and beans.

About an hour later the men returned and disembarked with several fish (not ones they had caught, but purchased from a nearby market). 

When I saw the ladies start scaling and gutting the fish, I knew we would in for an even longer wait!

Another hour later (four hours waiting, total) we were finally served lunch: Rice, beans, fresh fish (bonita) with a cold Coca-Cola. It was really delicious. And by then I was hungry.

When was the last time you spent four hours waiting for a meal to be prepared? I wonder if heaven will be slower-paced like this?

It’s kinda nice, really. When else would I have had an excuse to sit out by the ocean all morning? And I enjoyed visiting with the others during that time. For awhile I went over and watched some fishermen play a game of cards. But then they got tired of that and rolled over to take a nap.

Some days here I feel like Huckleberry Finn.

Here are a few pictures I took, one of the view, another of a new oar several fishermen worked to fashion together from a stick:

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The Other Side

Today a team from America came to Ravine Seche to do a medical clinic. I didn’t know any of them. Getting to see things from the “other side” was a bit disorienting. I suppose at some point I’ll become so discombobulated I won’t know which way is up or down.

For one thing, the pace of life between “them” and “us” was overwhelmingly different (with “us” including me and the villagers). We here are just quitely minding our business. Life is slow. Recently I was commenting to one guy that Haitian food took forever to cook. He laughed and relayed this message to his wife who responded with, “Well, Haitians have lots of time.” It’s true, out here nothing moves fast, and time can drag. The team blowing in and out today was like a small blip on their life.

While waiting around this afternoon, one of the kids told me he was looking forward to us making watermelon juice later (something we had planned on). I said, “Well, you want to go start working on it now?” It wasn’t like we were doing anything else. He said, “Nah, lets wait until after the blans leave.” (Blans being “white people”). No point in being hasty, I suppose. But that’s the thing: “Blans leave.” Even me, someday. Yet there are those who stay long enough for both sides to get into each others hearts. But staying for part of one day isn’t long enough for that.

In contrast to the slow life here, the team from America had an agenda and strong Judean-Christian work ethic to implement said agenda. They blew in setting up tables, opening a miniature pharmacy from suitcases, snapping pictures, etc. Wow, what activity.

First, let me caveat that the team was respectful, professional, and I think helped quite a few people.

But you can always tell newbies to Haiti because they’re dressed decked out for a safari. One of the first things I noticed were the hiking boots a number on the team were wearing. Were they hiking somewhere afterwards, I wondered?

Most people here in Haiti wear flip-flops, sandals, or a derivative thereof:

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Americans work hard. These ones did, even if they hadn’t been on the ground long (perhaps because they hadn’t been on the ground long). Two volunteer engineering students told me this was their first time in Haiti, and they just landed day before last. They looked uncomfortable, like fish out of water. I suppose they were.

There is an idea that if we are going to be here on a Missions Trip for only a short while (like a week), we need to squeeze as much “helping people” into each minute. Translate: ramp up the already fast-paced American pace a few notches, which puts the gap between us sleepy-eyed country folk and “them Americans” even more.

So while they were busy setting things up, I was under a shade tree nearby with a group of others. I was curiously watching who showed up. “Why is that guy guarding the front of the line?” I didn’t even know he was sick. “Oh, there is Noë’s baby, I know he has a bad fever.”  Or, “Ahh, they got George from church to help with the crowd, he is such a nice guy, wonder how he got picked?”

One person turned to me and said, “I have asthma and need a new inhaler, but I’m going to wait for the line to die down, it would take forever right now.” That seemed reasonable, this shade tree was pretty nice.

One of the team asked me what I do here. Well… you’re seeing it. Today I’m watching you guys work.

So the team leader came up to me as well in the morning and asked if I could help get lunch for everyone. I said, “Yes, my friend Darlene here can cook you guys up something.” There were 22 of them. I talked with Darlene and she agreed to prepare rice, beans, and chicken for $50US. I felt that was too low. Usually similar street food is closer to $3/plate, not $2/plate. So I pitched it to the group leader for $70US, I felt this was a more reasonable “blan” price, seeing as it was a group of doctors (who were no doubt wealthy?) and wouldn’t it be chump change for them either way? And surely Darlene needed the extra $20 more than they did…. plus, isn’t there a charge for “spur-of-the-moment” preparation? I told the leader the money would need to be provided up front so the groceries could go be purchased. This they did. The one hickup was that in the end it was fish that were prepared instead of chicken, which though more of a story for them, was probably less appetizing for many in the group, especially those who got the heads.

After I had arranged the deal, I felt a pang of conscience. Here I had perpetrated several annoyances frequently done to me: 1) when asking for a service, being taken to a friend of whom I asked instead of the person who can really do the job best, and 2) charging them more because I felt they could afford it, where if they had negotiated with Darlene directly they would have got a better deal. I felt bad enough about this to later offer the team leader the difference, but he wouldn’t accept it.

In my defense, Darlene does cook good food, and I think with her original quote she might have lost money; she not being regularly asked to feed that many.

Lunch for the 22 people ended up being served out front of my house, the food put out buffet style on the table inside my house. As they all trooped through my kitchen, were they getting the opportunity to see the inside of a Haitian’s house, or an American’s? I don’t think most of them knew I lived here.

It was really interesting watching how the Haitian’s responded to the team. Overall, I felt they were shy. Not suspicious, just very reserved.

I know it is easy when you blow in like this to only see everyone enmass and objectify them as, “Those poor Haitians.” But for me, knowing a number of them now, I know better: these are a tight-knit community of just regular, ordinary people. People who would react just like we would if we were in their shoes. Oftentimes I feel like I’m living in an Adventures in Oddysy episode. There will be some conflict, which is then aired out publicly, and the pastor or some other wise older person puts in his two cents, and at the end of the day everyone is happy again.

For instance, the spirit stuff last night. Today over lunch that was aired out. And pastor Yve gave a public denunciation to Darlene and all others who were living in fear of the devil, because the demon world couldn’t touch those who had Christ within, and he apologized to me for having multiple people pressure me into coming inside the night before. Darlene was nonplussed by all this, she is good friends with the pastor. I think at 40 years old though, she isn’t going to change what she is a-feared of.

However, on the topic of last night, there actually was a little more danger than I allowed. Because, come to find out (with more investigation today), what they were really saying was afoot were “chanprèls,” real people who are members of a secret voodoo society. On certain evenings they collect together and, after first becoming possessed by demonic spirits, go wandering around looking for something to kill… and sacrifice. Sometimes they do this to an animal, othertimes a human. Woe be to the person out on the road at night found by a group of stalking chanprèls. I asked if they usually went around making a lot of noise with drums and such, or stealthily. I was told both were the case. But the culmination of the evening seems to usually be a voodoo ceremony with blood sacrifice.

The theory of why I was safe from the chanprèls (as espoused by the pastor and two other Christian Haitian men I talked to privately) was that they were demon-possesed men, and the demons would know I was a Christian with the power of God behind me and would leave me alone.

Personally, I wasn’t confident that if a group of blood-crazed voodoo men rushed me in the dark they would relent upon discovering I attended church last Sunday. Nevertheless, I still think I was safe talking on my phone a couple hundred yards away from my own house. It would be difficult for them to sneak up on me in the open on the beach.

One man told me if any champrèls came to his house (and he suspected some were living right here in Ravine Sèche), he would give them a beating they wouldn’t forget (or something to that effect).

Ok, back to the medical clinic today……!

Several cases had particularly pressing needs and I was brought into the loop with them so that perhaps I could follow-up. So much for client confidentiality!

One little boy, perhaps seven, had a bad problem. I knelt down and asked him first where he lived. He told ne across the river. Then I asked him if he knew who I was. “Wi, ou se blan Mayse Nicolas.” My reputation precedes me, I see. After discussing his problem, which was more severe, he asked me why my toe had a band-aid on it? what had happened? Kids!

Ok, others much more to say, but I’m tired of typing for now.

(written from my cell phone)