Archive for the ‘Haiti’ Category

More Bank Fun

Friday, May 16th, 2014

At one point I was having a hard time finding change, and I went to the bank to exchange large bills for small ones.  I wrote a post about that.

Now I’ve been having the reverse problem: I have too much change and small bills and want to change them for large bills.  “This should be a piece of cake,” I thought.  “The banks are in a dearth of small bills, so this will be a boon for them.”

Wrong.

After waiting in line on my first visit, I made it to the counter.  I explained what I needed and began pulling out piles of small bills and putting them on the counter.  The clerk looked at me in horror and was saying, “No, no, no, we can’t change those here.”  What?  He then went and got a manager who also looked quite put out and re-iterated that they couldn’t change my small bills for large ones. 

“Why not?” 

“Because we don’t have any large bills at the bank.”  Yeah right.

“So where can I get this done in Haiti?  Where can I change my small bills for large ones?  What can I do?”

“The only thing we can do is let you deposit all that in your account.”

“Ok.  Let’s do that.”

“What’s your account number?”

“I don’t know, but here is my Driver’s License, just look me up on your computer.”

“We can’t do that on our computer, come back another day when you have your account number.

With that I was unceremoniously given the boot.

Bank Visit 2:

Armed with my account number, I went to the bank again.  There was the same resistance to help, and they showed much angst that they were going to have to count all these small bills, but after much discussion and persuasion they agreed to do it.  About twenty minutes later, the deposit had been put into my account. 

With a sigh of relief, the bank clerk said, “Fini!” as she handed me deposit slip.

“Not quite.  I still have one more transaction I would like to do today.”

“What?”

“I would like to do a withdrawal now, for the exact amount I just deposited.”

More looks of horror.  “No! You can’t do that!”  Once again the bank manager was summoned and she seconded the clerk, “It is against bank policy to do a withdrawal and a deposit on the same day.” 

I told them I didn’t need to wait for this deposit to clear, because I already had that much money in my account already.  They didn’t budge.  “Come back another day if you want to get money out.”

Visit 3:

After waiting in line about an hour, I was once again in front of a bank teller.  I had a withdrawal slip in my hand which had been dutifully filled out, including my bank account number.

“We’re sorry, you can’t pull money from your account with only a withdrawal slip, you must write a check to yourself.  That’s the only way to get money from your account.”

I was incredulous.  The only way to get money from my account was to write a check to myself?? 

“Where are your checks?”

Luckily I had thought to bring them, they were in my pocket.  Before coming to the bank I had grabbed them from my backpack.  Now, I pulled them out of my pocket and opened the checkbook.  To my dismay, only the complimentary transaction slips were in there, not any checks!  The check had fallen out in my backpack, which was back at home.

“If you don’t have checks we can’t give you money.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“Nothing,” she said curtly as she rang the little bell for the next person behind me to come to the window.

A bit depressed, I left the bank for the third time.  That was today.  We shall see if a fourth visit will finally yield what I initially wanted, “To simply change some small bills for large ones.”

I had about 1,000 small bills.  Thank about going into a US bank and having a 1,000 ones and asking for ten hundreds?  It wouldn’t be a big deal. 

Oftentimes there are frustrating situations here and it is important to keep things in perspective.  This isn’t a life and death scenario.  Everything will work out ok in the end.

My Brush With Hatian Healthcare

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

We were getting ready to start devotions when one of the young guys came in holding his hand and obviously in pain.  I asked what the problem was and he said his little finger had got stuck in the door of a van and had been “torn off.”  I was dubious it had been “torn off” because I could see there was a finger-like shape underneath the bandage on his little finger.  I went ahead and asked him to take the bloody wrappings off so I could look at it and clean it.

Turns out the end of his little finger was torn off on one side, but still connected on the other side.  I figured the bone was ok, though it was hard to tell.  I rinsed it out, applied some antibiotic ointment, then bandaged it tight with gauze and tape and told him it would heal on it’s own, just change the bandage daily.  He said he was going to go lay down.  He was in a lot of pain.  There were some tears shed (by him).

About an hour later he came back and the thick bandage I had tightly put on earlier was totally soaked through and blood was dripping off his hand on the floor. 

I applied another bandage over the old one, this time even tighter.  I told him we should probably have a doctor look at it.  He agreed.  I went to get my stuff ready, and when I met him by my motorcycle about 10 minutes later, the new bandage was already soaked through with blood too and dripping.  So I went and got him a rag and told him to press it on the wound while I drove him to a hospital.

Before leaving our property I asked where I could find the nearest hospital.  We live by Croix-des Bouqets, so I figured that would be where I should go.  One of the other leaders confirmed there was a hospital by the Artisan Market in Croix-des Bouqets.  I asked, “Is the hospital before the Artisan market, or after?”  “Oh, it’s IN the artisan market.”  I was skeptical, having visited that market a number of times and never seen a hospital therein. 

When we arrived at the Artisan market I started asking around.  I was directed down a side street.  Then another side street.  Then through a labyrinth of neighborhoods.  Finally we arrived at a two-story hospital building.  It didn’t look open.  I asked stander-bys when the hospital would open.  Not today, they said, because this hospital has been closed a long time.  They directed us to a St. John’s Hospital back in town.

After navigating through Croix-des Bouqets and asking more directions, we eventually found St. Johns.  It was a beehive of activity.  Long lines were everywhere.  I walked in with Kelson in tow and was told to go to the pharmacy window.  There we cut to the front of the line, seeing as we had an urgent, bloody problem.  The lady behind the bars peered out and asked Kelson to take off his bandage so she could see it.  He started by removing the rag.  That was all she needed to change her mind and say they couldn’t help us at this hospital, we needed to somewhere else.  Where?  She said try St. Damien’s in the nearby town of Tabarre.  I was annoyed, but we left.

15 minutes later we arrived at St. Damien’s.  We were directed to the emergency entrance.  At the emergency entrance we were finally ushered into an area that had a sign saying “Urgent.”  This seemed promising, there were people milling about in pain, so I figured that was a good sign we were close to help.  In the emergency room where were sheets hanging up partitioning off beds.  A lady came over and began talking with us and looking at Kelson’s hand, but not removing the bandages.  About then I got a phone call asking me if I knew any tricks to starting my pickup truck because they were having a hard time getting it going.  After I finished troubleshooting those issues, I got off the phone just in time for the nurse to usher Kelson and I out.

“What did I miss?  Why are we leaving?”  I was annoyed.  Kelson (who speaks only a little English) told me they couldn’t help us here today and he wasn’t sure why, something about they didn’t have surgeons.  I was thinking, “We don’t need a surgeon, we just need a few stitches and a band-aid, he just closed a car door on his finger.”

In any extent, we were directed to yet another hospital, St. Luc.  Unfortunately, from there we were directed to Doctors Without Borders.  You might think that Doctors Without Borders would be located somewhere on a main street, but that wouldn’t be true.  It’s hidden in some back neighborhoods where you have to go through flooded streets to reach. 

By this point I was a little annoyed.  It’s wonderful Haiti has so many hospitals, but what’s the point if they can’t fix anything? Through this entire search I had poor Kelson on the back of my motorcycle in pain with a hand covered in soppy bandages holding a rag over it which was now also soaked with blood. 

At Medicen Sans Frontiers, we were met with a less than friendly entry man.  I couldn’t figure out where to go and he wasn’t helpful, so finally I raised my voice at him and asked where we were supposed to go to check-in.  He absently pointed towards a building.  That building turned out to have an emergency room, and unbelievably Kelson was given a bed.  A pleasant nurse came in, took off his bandages, cleaned up the finger and applied new gauze.  I noticed that almost immediately the new thick gauze was already permeated with blood again.

She told us to go get a number and wait in the waiting room.  We went to get a number, but they were out of numbers.  The numbers went to 100.  We told them they didn’t have any more numbers, so they said just go wait in the waiting room without a number.  I looked in the waiting room and it was quite the menagerie of suffering people on crutches, etc.

I had other errands to do, like visit the bank, so I left.  The first bank I went to had a line of about seventy-five people.  The line was stretching outside.  All I needed to do was deposit a check, and I knew they had an expedited line inside for that, so I knocked on the door and when the guard opened it I asked if I could please go the expedited line because I just had one little thing to do.  He told me to stand back and then…. closed the door on me.  So much for that.  I left the bank and drove to another branch.

At the other bank branch the line was even longer, perhaps 100 people.  So I gave up and went back to the bakery to eat lunch.  After a few hours, I headed back to the Doctors Without Borders hospital to see how Kelson was getting along. 

Upon reaching the hospital, I was directed back to an “Observation” room.  Many patients were in that room on gurneys lined up along the walls.  I found Kelson in a gurney wearing a hosptital gown.  His finger had a temporary cast on it.  He told me they were going to operate on it in a few hours… I was thinking, “Operate!  That seems a little excessive.” 

Sometimes here in Haiti it’s either overboard or underboard.  The first hospitals wouldn’t even look at him, which seemed underboard, especially considering he was bleeding in pain when we arrived and they are a hospital so I would think they could at least do first-aid. Now this hospital wanted to put him under the knife, which seemed a little overboard for having just closed a car door on a finger.  I was thinking, “How about a few stitches?”

That evening Kelson called me to say they hadn’t yet operated so he was spending the night.  But they didn’t offer food so he was hungry.

The next morning he called and said they had done some work on his finger during the night, about 1am.  Apparently they stitched it up and put a finger cast on it.  He said he was ready to leave.

I went to pick him up.  After an argument with the guard to let me into the hospital, I finally located Kelson.  He was still in the back observation room.  He didn’t look ready to go, especially as he still had an IV in his arm.  I was told they were thinking of keeping him there a few more days.  After waiting awhile I was told they changed their minds and were releasing him now.

Then I was called back to talk with a doctor.  He said the tip of Kelson’s little finger had broken off.  He showed me the x-ray on his computer.  In order to re-attach it they would need to put a pin in the two bones, he explained.  I couldn’t believe there was actually a computer in the hospital.  He said it would be a few days before they could get Kelson in for the surgery, and they couldn’t keep him at the hospital because there wasn’t enough room.  No problems, I said, and asked how much this operation was going to cost.  The answer was about $20 US.  That seemed inexpensive.  Especially since they hadn’t charged anything for the work they’d done already: cleaning, x-ray, and overnight hospital stay.  Yah for Doctors Without Borders!  Too bad the Haitian hospitals couldn’t be a little more on the ball too.

So that’s the saga for now.  I’m getting an education in Haitian healthcare, if nothing else. 

Finger x-ray

Haiti Can Bring Things Down to Their Common Denominator

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

One thing about life in Haiti is that life often seems boiled down to common denominators.

Take food, for example.  Are not rice and beans two “building block" foods?  Are not beans supposed to be put into burritos along with guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, finely grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and 4 fire sauce packets from Taco Bell?  All neatly tucked into a warm, moist, flour tortilla?  And isn’t rice that thing we throw at brides and grooms as they run out of the church?  Or something Kellogg mixes with sugar and gummy paste to create the magnificent Rice Krispy Treats?

But not here.  Rice and beans are a common denominator to food, and thus are daily staples in Haiti.  Most days I have lived on this island I have eaten rice and beans for at least one meal.  And some days it has been for two meals.

Rice Beans

Take transportation.  What would be the most basic and cheapest way to transport people if we were to strip aside all comforts?  What could be cheaper and simpler than putting two wooden bench seats in the back of a pickup truck with a welded on cover, then packing said pickup truck chock full of people?  But let’s not forget to colorfully paint it!

Full

Opportunity is another one.  While populations of richer nations (including myself) have a good deal of expendable time to pursue self-actualization and recreation, the majority here work hard to put the next meal on the table.  Most Haitians won’t have the opportunity to travel outside their country, nor even visit one of their own beach resorts.  When we realize the area of Haiti is about 10% the size of Kansas, that puts things into perspective – imagine never leaving an area that small!  For most, opportunity here is boiled down to survival, a common denominator of human existence if anything is.

Many other things too are simplified.  Even the language is simplified, lacking many words and having hardly any written literature.

Every church I have visited so far in Haiti uses the same hymnal – the Chans Desperans.  The hymnal itself is simplified: there is no music! only words.  Tunes are passed on from generation to generation by singing.  Hymnals themselves are scarce here and few churches have enough for everyone.  Yet people sing anyways because they know the words by heart.

While life is often frustrating here, and I often say life in Haiti can be like playing a computer game on “Hard” setting; at the same time many aspects are simpler.  There aren’t as many options.  If I wanted to go out to eat at a nice restaurant at this moment, I would choose between two restaurants.  If I wanted to go out to a movie theatre this evening, I couldn’t.  There isn’t a movie theatre in Haiti!  There used to be one in Port-au Prince (Metropolitan population of 2.5+ million), but it came down in the earthquake and has yet to be rebuilt.  Or even something as simple as buying buy ground beef at the grocery store: there is only one option, and it doesn’t have a label telling what percent of lean it is.  It’s just ground beef, take it or leave it. 

As a foreigner, if I wish to go to an English speaking church, there are two options I know of: one more congregational-led and one more elder-led.  I go to the elder-led one.  People at this church come from all different types of church backgrounds ranging from conservative to charismatic.  We find common ground on the denominator that we’re all trying to worship God and obey Jesus Christ.  It fosters unity.  There isn’t the luxury to split over each small difference of doctrine and practice like happens in the States. 

Sometimes it can be hard to keep the main thing the main thing. It is easy to forget what the main thing was supposed to be sometimes. Living here in Haiti has the refreshing aspect of stripping life back a few levels. Sometimes things we think were really important turn out to not be really that important afterall.

A Few Frustrating Anecdotes from My Life

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Sometimes I feel like my life is one big computer game with the difficulty level set on, “Hard.”

Visiting the bank today felt that way.  There were around 50 people in line in front of me, and I waited there an hour and a half before seeing a cashier.  Cell phones were not allowed in the line, so there isn’t much to do except try not to pass out.  One of the guys in front of me kept kneeling down to try changing position. 

You know those little ropes they have to direct a line?  Well, they had them at this bank, and honestly I felt like I was a rat in a maze.  I tried counting how many twisty turns I would have to make before reaching the front counter, but it was like trying to count how many pews there are in a church: after awhile they all start swimming in front of your eyes.  I finally decided I was on the 7th twist back. 

All that to cash a check! 

The only thing to pass the time at the bank was a large television hanging up front.  Thankfully there was no audio, but the movie playing was called Old Dogs with Robin Williams and John Travolta.  It was kind of a pathetic movie, and I felt embarrassed for my country exporting this junk.  Here I am in a room full of Haitians and I’m the only white person and only American all rolled into one and nearly everyone is watching this movie of a bunch of American white people doing stupid things.  I felt there was some irony there.  Oh well, our movies may not be all that edifying, but at least our banks are more efficient. 

Oftentimes it is hard to imagine how things could be made more difficult in Haiti.  John McHoul says Haiti is the land of unlimited impossibilities.

There is also an element of reductionism here too.  What I mean by that is things have been boiled down to the least common denominator.  For instance, spaghetti here uses ketchup as the sauce.  If you think about it, ketchup is tomato-based, and makes sense as the simplest and cheapest option for spaghetti sauce.  And the meat?  Slice fried hotdogs.  And this is the dish I have for breakfast most mornings.  Nutrition, nutrition.

Modified Van

There is a Haitian guy I know who wants to start a tap-tap route with his ancient full-size Ford Club Wagon conversion van.  Unfortunately, the V8 engine sucked gas like a sieve, and gasoline being $5/gallon here, he swapped out the big V8 engine with a small 4 cylinder diesel and manual transmission.  Then he took out the rear seats, removed the windows, took off a door or two, welded in some benches, and told me proudly it would now transport 20 people! 

I wondered how well his van was going to operate now with the occupancy doubled and the engine size halved?!

I also pointed out to him it may be difficult for people to get in the back seats because the welded in benches went all the way across.  His response was dismissive: “This is for Haitians, they’ll find a way.”  I offered that perhaps people could enter through the rear windows?  The glass now having been removed, it made since, and I decided to demonstrate the feasibility of this maneuver, using alacrity I’d forgot I had, and afterwards proudly mentioned Americans could get in the back seats too.  The American in me did find it worth my breath to issue a caution about all the sharp corners on the angle iron as a safety risk for people cutting themselves climbing over the seats.  That ergonomic suggestion fell on deaf ears, I’m afraid.

Suped up Club Wagon

This afternoon I saw them taking off the side door, so I think the project is almost ready.  I was allowed to start up the van and the engine sounded pretty mean.  In fact, mean enough that it wouldn’t shut down when I turned off the key!  The trick to turning it off (at least for now) seems to be popping the vehicle into gear with the brakes on.

Buying some Bolts

Yesterday I visited the local hardware store called Eko Depot.  It’s a spinoff of Home Depot – even with the same colors.  However, it’s smaller than even Hupp Hardware back home.  I needed a few bolts and nuts.  I found these haphazardly sorted in about 20 small cardboard boxes that had previously been labeled with plumbing parts.  The boxes now had the plumbing writing scratched through and new writing denoting the sizes of the bolts and nuts supposedly inside.  It was all a mess, and I was frustrated by the time I found the few bolts I needed.

Taking them to the front counter I could tell by the look on the cashiers face this was going to be a problem.  And it was.  To start, the sizes were guessed at by holding the various bolts up to her index finger for calibration.  Then she informed me I couldn’t buy just one of each type, I needed to buy at least 6 of one type, 4 of another type, and 12 of yet the third type.  I told her these were some of the last bolts I could find and could she please have mercy?  No. 

So I went back and tried scrounging around.  After some success, I was still unable to find more of the bolts of the type I needed 12.  I noted the worker in the bolt & nut section wasn’t overly helpful.  Upon returning to the front desk and reporting my findings, she wasn’t impressed, and wasn’t about to let me checkout.  Apparently, if they only had one bolt left, I couldn’t purchase it, because I had to buy at least 12.  Finally I asked if I could please purchase 12, but they only give me 1?  With hesitation, she agreed.

Other Frustrations

Little things like that throw me off. 

Or like Noah coming back just now while I’m writing this with juice he bought on the street for me and Enockson (that was nice) but having all three of the straws in his mouth!  I understand his hands were full, but that is kind of gross.  Straws here are not packaged with paper like the ones in the States so they were kind of dirty to begin with from dust off the street, but at least part of them was clean from Noah’s mouth.

Little things that drive me nuts do tend to stack up.  In the afternoons and throughout the early evening there is a drum practicing session right out my back door and windows by the neighbors.  Multiple people hitting drums at the same time with no rhyme or reason.  It sounds like the drums are right in my room.  Unbelievably, I’ll more or less tune them out, even though the sound can be deafening.  But after an hour or two, I’ll notice I’m about to scream and ask myself, “Why am I so grumpy this time?” and then I’ll stop and notice the cacophony and think, “How have I NOT lost my mind yet??”  Here’s a sample I recently recorded standing at the sink in my kitchen:

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Today was the first time I yelled at a Haitian (maybe the second?).  I was having my A/C worked on and a pushy windshield wiper salesman came up.  After I showed initial interest (because I do need new windshield wipers), I changed my mind after seeing the quality of the new wipers, and given a high price he wouldn’t negotiate on.  I told him no repeatedly, but he wouldn’t listen, and kept trying to put his new ones on.  Finally I physically got in between him and the car and told him no firmly, but he kept trying to reach around to work on the windshield wipers me so I actually physically pushed him away and told him NO!

At this, he stepped back and I thought he had got the hint so I went back under the hood to see what mischief the air conditioner guy was up to, but when I looked back up a minute or so later Mr. Windshield Wiper had installed one of his new wipers on my car!!  I was furious and went over and told him, “No” again but as was just chuckling and not giving me any attention, pulled the wiper off he had just installed and threw it across the parking lot and yelled at him to get lost.  He stopped laughing after that and quit bothering me.  But there could have been better ways to handle the situation besides losing my temper.  I felt bad afterwards.

Conclusion

Being here in Haiti I feel like I’ve lost whatever veneer of holiness I used to think I had.  But the truth is I’m really the same person, but under frequent duress means I’m tested more often and, unfortunately, that allows me to see my true colors far more often than I did back home.  It’s humbling.

Ok, those are a few random anecdotes from my life!

Baptism

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Awhile ago, three of the guys in the bakery/discipleship program made decisions to follow Christ with their lives (Richemond, Wilson, and Manno).  As a result, they wanted to get baptized.

Moise and I started looking around to find a place where we could do a baptism.  Moise is the Bible teacher I work with. 

In the churches I have visited here in Haiti, I have never seen a baptisimal inside the church building, like is common in the States.  I think they usually do it at a river or such.

Moise knew about a park that had just such a river running through it with a pool where he told me baptisms are frequently done.  We went and visited it during a weekday, and it seemed like an ideal location.  There was hardly anyone there and it was quaint and peaceful.  The park even had a short walking trail we looked at.  Voodoo paraphernalia was littered about said trail and stuck on the trees, which took away from some of the ambience.  Moise told me that at night the park was sometimes used for voodoo ceremonies. 

Finally the scheduled day came. Yesterday (Saturday) a group of us went out to do the baptism.  I was surprised when we arrived and the place was packed out.  It was a lot more of the happening place on Saturday afternoon than a weekday morning. 

Nevertheless, we all gathered in a circle and had a brief service by the side of the pool.  We prayed over the guys and each of the three guys shared a few words of why they wanted to be baptized. 

The Three Guys Getting Baptized

Then Moise and the first person got in the water.  Imagine doing a baptism at a public swimming pool on a Saturday afternoon in July.  That’s kind of what the scene reminded me of. 

As Moise was getting ready to baptize the first guy, a rowdy fellow did a cannonball almost on top of him!  But soon some bystanders spoke up and told those being disruptive to stop and be respectful as we were doing something serious here.  By the time of the third baptism, many people at the pool had paused from their activities (swimming, bathing) and were watching us.

So it turned out OK afterall.  Baptism is supposed to be public, and this one was very public.  Everyone in the picture below was a bystander and you can see we have their attention! 

Bystanders

Moise & Manno

Please be in prayer for Wilson, Manno, and Richemond as they walk with the Lord. Mesi!