Hope on the line

Heavy rains continue to fall in Haiti, slowing the recovery of people in hurricane-affected regions. But there is hope.

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I’ve been back in Haiti less than a month, and already it’s been a whirlwind. With a lot of help from good friends, I moved into a new home, met Almand who is here to serve as “guardian,” someone whose primary job is to keep us safe and whose secondary mission is to become part of our family.

Paul Sinette continues to care for me — she has to be the best cook in Haiti, and she helps me navigate life. Her son Carlens is often here, playing Dominos with Almand.

They all teach me Creole, learn English from me and we take turns saying Grace.

It’s a good deal.

We welcomed a kitten to the house about a week ago. Kimberly, named by Paul Sinette, pretty much runs the place and brings much entertainment.

As you know, Hurricane Matthew did a number on several parts of Haiti, especially to the southern peninsula. The storm hit Oct. 4 and 5. The second weekend of November I was able to visit the South and Grand Anse departments that suffered catastrophic damage.

Fabienne Jean, coordinator of our network FONDAMA, and I traveled to Les Cayes and then onto Grand Anse to visit with partner organizations and also Luke Osikoye, international associate with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Passing Grand Goave on National Route 2, we began to see the damage Matthew left behind. The bridge at Petit Goave was washed out, and a detour was in place while workers replaced it.

Torrential rains have continued in the region, so beyond the obvious hurricane damage — destroyed houses, roofless homes and trees devoid of leaves and branches — we passed flooded roadsides, yards and fields.

Farmers who had access to oxen used them to plow fields. People of all ages walked the roadways carrying water, food and construction materials.

We passed a number of funerals — people wearing black and white, walking slowing in small groups. On the national highway outside of Les Cayes a beat up pickup carried a casket and followed a five-person brass band while friends and family of the deceased followed on foot.

In Moron and Marfranc, World Food Programme and USAID were handing out bags of rice and tarps. In both villages, people lined up in the hot sun to wait. We saw dozens of people carrying their aid home — many of them waste-deep through overflowing rivers.

The further we went, though, and the closer we got to the village of Chambellan located near the southern peninsula’s tip, I saw the bits of hope.

Clothes and sheets and underwear, washed in whatever water was available and simply hanging in the breeze.

Red blouses, green slacks, blue jeans, multi-colored sheets — waving as if a grand sign that in spite of it all, life goes on.

In clean clothes.

I will have more to tell you soon, including ways you can help. FONDAMA is working on a proposal through PDA to help people in these communities with recovery.

Please know that you are appreciated — for caring, for reading and for continuing to pray for all the people of Haiti and those around the world.

God bless.

Photo by Jackson

 

Jackson photo of teacher
A professor at the CODEP school. Photo by Jackson.

 

“Li pa bon,” Inez told me quietly.

He’s not good.

Jackson already had found me as a willing compatriot. He was eating fried fish from a small pink and white striped bag commonly used by food vendors on the street. The shape of his eyes and ready affection let me know he was not a student at the school.
“Oh, he’s good, all right,” I smiled at Inez who still looked worried.
No, he doesn’t speak much. And yes, he is intellectually challenged.
But Jackson is good. Jackson is great.
Realizing that I understood Jackson’s situation, Inez smiled broadly as the 13-year-old and I communicated through a few words and lots of gestures. Inez understood that I cared, that I wouldn’t smile at the boy then shove him away.
If you know what it is to be seized with joy, then you know my heart in Haiti.
It’s hard here. No doubt. The struggles of the people in this tropical land are well publicized. Very often, an American’s first thought when the word Haiti is mentioned is of pity. How can so much hardship happen on people who deserve so much more?
Government corruption leads to hunger, lack of schools and adequate housing. Drought and land grabbing brings misery to those who once were able to eat from their own gardens. Deforestation means dramatic changes in weather patterns, hotter weather, less rain and fewer chances for shade from the scorching sun.
And in it all there are so many connections made between people — people helping people. And in witnessing that, I find my greatest source of joy.
I was with Frank Dimmock, a colleague from Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission. Frank was in Haiti visiting schools as part of his understanding of education in the countries in which mission workers serve around the world.

We were visiting Institution Mixte de Duclo, a junior high school in the South of Haiti operated by CODEP, a community development project predominantly supported by Presbyterians. While the 42 students were busy in the classrooms, Jackson wandered around. He seemed very happy to greet us as visitors.

And having finished his meal, he asked me for money to buy something to eat.
“You just ate,” I teased him. He grinned and Inez grinned and Jackson’s attention quickly turned to something else.

Jackson taking a photo
Jackson taking a photo of Frank Dimmock and Marc Charles. With a little help from a friend.

My camera.
His first request, through gestures was for me to take a picture of him. But that wasn’t enough.
It was clear Jackson was ready to become the photographer.
With the strap of my Nikon around his neck and a few instructions, he was ready to go.

jackson frank shooting pic
Frank Dimmock taking a photo of Jackson taking his photo. Marc Charles, our friend and translator, in the striped shirt.

And he went, snapping photos of the students, then hurriedly stepping into the classrooms to show the girls the photos he had taken.
The students howled with laughter and encouragement. Jackson beamed.

Jackson photo of school
One of Jackson’s photos of Institution Mixte de Duclo, a CODEP school in the southeast of Haiti.

The leaders of CODEP who were with us grinned. And Inez laughed along with us.
That’s when it hit – as it so often does – the seizing of my heart with happiness.
In places like Haiti where surviving takes a lot of effort and thriving takes a lot of help, the Jacksons of the world are among the most vulnerable. Often they are pushed to the sides of the community, cared for, but not given the support we all need. The mentally disabled often are the “least of these” in poor communities.
But here in this small, very well built junior high school, a boy with challenges greater than many, is loved, cared for and a part of the community.
Let Jackson teach us again – the “least of these” is in no way connected to “lesser than.”

Jackson with Frank
Jackson and Frank.

Thank you, my friend, Jackson for sharing time with me on Friday.
And thank you, community of Institution Mixte de Duclo and CODEP for caring for our sweet friend.
P.S. While Jackson didn’t get any money for food that he was requesting from us, he found his way to the vehicle where he hit up our driver, Johnny. And he happily walked away with the cookies Johnny found for him. Photography is great, but cookies?
Well played, Jackson. Well played.

Priye a ap monte. Gras la ap desann!

Carlins, 9, hard at it. He spends a lot of time on homework, and his report card proves it!
Carlins, 9, hard at it. He spends a lot of time on homework, and his report card proves it!

WARNING: Big ol’ missionary confession coming.
The concept and practice of prayer simply confounds me.
Oh, I pray, don’t get me wrong. I often pray out loud. I pray in two languages now, adding Haitian Creole to my repertoire. And I pray each night before I sleep.
Mostly, though, it seems like talking to a friend. I mean, I pray for change: Please help the little baby in surgery today.
And I pray out of my own personal, sometimes ridiculous-seeming needs: Dear Lord, please help me get my work done tomorrow!
And I send out urgent requests: “Dear God, in the name of everything that is holy, please get that gigantic tap-tap heading right toward me back in its lane …. OK. Whew. Thank you, God. Amen.”
And sometimes what I’ve prayed for happens. And sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not like I go back and check. So, often, I’m surprised when things turn out well.
That’s the confession. Shouldn’t prayer and faith be more closely connected? If my faith is strong, should I ever be surprised?
Anyway, the other night, in the midst of several texts with a friend, I was surprised again. Enough to give me pause. My friend is a young guy. He’s a husband and has a 10-year-old daughter. He is starting a small tree nursery in his small yard. He works very hard, but his project takes a lot out of him. In Creole, he wrote that his nursery was doing well, but that it was a long way to the river and back, and he needed to fetch water for the small plants because it hadn’t rained in a while.
So, I, like a good missionary, wrote that I would pray for rain. But it’s not like I stopped right there and went through the motions and said the words. I just wrote that I would pray for rain for my friend’s region.
And in his next text, Givenson said that a gentle rain had started.
Right then. Just as I wrote those words. And you can call it is a big ol’ coincidence. Or you could call it God looking over our shoulders and reading the texts ….
Or, as I am doing, you could understand that rain very often is an answer to prayer.
Just like the ferocious looking tap-tap heading my way moving just in a nick of time, I felt great relief at Givenson’s news of rain showers.
It happened again this morning.
I had just posted on Facebook about 21 men and women who died when the boat they were fleeing Haiti in sank in stormy weather. More than dozen people still are missing. And this came a week after six people died in flooding in Port-au-Prince.
Where’s the hope? The people in the boat had lost hope in Haiti, so they set off in search of it somewhere else.
As expected, several of my friends on Facebook immediately responded, sharing the post, sending prayers. And, yet, my heart was sinking and searching for the hope.
That was when my friend and housekeeper Paul Sinette came in the door. As soon as we said “bonjou,” she pulled open an envelope and showed me what was inside. Her 9-year-old son’s report card.
Carlins has done well this session! His grades are improving! I shared her joy.
I share her pride.
And, so much more than that, I share Paul Sinette’s hope.
And like a prayer that went up, the answer came in the door in that little envelope, marked in little boxes and shining in the huge grin on this mother’s face.
And here’s the Good News!
Last weekend we yelled Hallelujah! Last Sunday, we sang, “Jesus Christ has risen!”
And today, and tomorrow and through eternity, He still is risen!
Such good news. Wrapped in hopes and sent in prayer, we find it every moment of the day.
As the Haitian proverb goes, “Priye a ap monte, gras la ap desann!”
The prayer is going up. The Grace is coming down!
The challenge, as always, is to recognize it!

Planting corn in Haiti, and the pebble in my sandal

ImageFour seeds, if you’re talking about corn. Two seeds if it’s congo beans. Those were my only instructions. The rest I figured out by watching Papa Luc as he planted one of his many gardens around Cherident.

Two men were working ahead, using pick axes to dig shallow holes about a foot apart. Our job, Papa Luc’s and mine, was to drop seeds in the holes and cover them. Papa Luc had a small stick to shove loose dirt back over the seeds.

I used my right foot.

I had a pebble in my sandal the rest of the day. I didn’t try to lose it. I wanted to remember that feeling — planting corn in Haiti.

I’ve been living and working in Haiti for 10 months now. It’s been a whirlwind. On my off days — when I’m in my comfortable apartment in Port-au-Prince — I remember and go through my many photos. And as I long to be back “out there”, out in the countryside with Haitian farmers not unlike Papa Luc.

But Papa Luc is special to me. I spent a month living with his family in Cherident, a small village along a ridge in the southern mountains, when I first moved here. My work is with FONDAMA, a Joining Hands network of grassroots farmer organizations. So before I began traveling the country to meet people from the 11 organizations, I needed time to live like a rural Haitian and study language and culture. And along the way, Luc Celestin and his grown children adopted me.

When I arrived for my month-long stay, it was early June. The cornfield beside the house was almost fully grown. We already were pulling ears of corn to eat – either dried and ground or roasted.

My first conversations with Papa Luc were slow-going. He doesn’t speak English, and I was becoming more comfortable with Kreyol. So we talked about a common subject — farming. I grew up on a farm in Augusta County. My father had what I was sure was the world’s largest garden. At least it felt that way when I was 8 and had to help plant peas, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, carrots …. Early spring was for plowing the ground. Then Dad would level it out and begin hoeing the rows. I would help drop the seeds, carefully, and then cover them over with the hoe.

For corn, of course, Dad plowed, then dragged the fields smooth and attached the corn planter to the Massie Ferguson tractor. I would go with him to Eavers warehouse  to pick up the corn seed. It was in huge burlap sacks. When I was a preschooler, I remember Dad taking days off from his day job to plant corn, and I would go with him. While he worked with the tractor, I’d crawl up on those sacks of corn seed in the open trunk of the Ford Galaxy and doze while he worked.

I remember the sun and the breeze and the look of satisfaction Dad always carried that he was working his farm.

He loved that work.

And so does Papa Luc. A garden means food for your family — and if you have the land and resources for more seeds, it can help feed the community.

During my month stay, Papa Luc’s eight children each spent time with me. Many of them speak English, so while I was taking a break from Kreyol lessons, they taught me about the community. We went on long walks across the fields and hills around Cherident. Just about everywhere we walked, one would say: “That’s Papa Luc’s garden there.” Miles away on the other side of the ridge: “Papa Luc planted this field, too.”

And that is how I learned — talking and walking.

On evenings after supper, Papa Luc and I often would be the only ones still at the table. I would ask him about the crops he grew (corn, black beans, congo beans, white beans, pumpkin squash). I’d ask about growing seasons (two for corn, sometimes three for beans). And I would tell him about my father. I was learning language, culture AND getting a basic education about my work with FONDAMA.

After leaving Cherident, I began traveling the countryside to visit with the organizations. I met people in formal and informal meetings. I walked with them through their fields and visited their seed silos. But these were quick visits — usually only three or four days. The way I learn about how crops grow in Haiti is by visiting Cherident. I want to see entire growing seasons. At Cherident in June, the corn still was growing tall. By September and October, the stalks were brown. I missed the harvest season, but I know how it works — stalks are cut and gathered into bunches, then the bunches are raised far above the ground by a rope and pulley.

This past week, I had another opportunity to visit Cherident. A friend from Arkansas was there with a church group that partners with a nearby school. When I called Papa Luc to say I was coming back, he said he was planting corn. He graciously agreed to let me help the next morning. Though I was staying at the rectory and guesthouse, I was eager to work in the cornfield early Thursday morning. The group wasn’t going back to Port-au-Prince until about 9:30, so after breakfast, I set out to find him.

Lucson, Papa Luc’s oldest son, told me his Dad was working in the field beside Madame Pepe’s house. I took my camera with me, along with a water bottle.

The road through Cherident is wide and dusty. It didn’t take me long to find him. Papa Luc was down in a field with two workers. The workers walked ahead digging small, shallow holes in the rocky ground with pick axes, while Papa Luc dropped a few seeds into each hole and covered them back over.

I thought of the many fields he plants. Every seed. Every tiny seed. By hand.

It’s difficult not to remember my own father’s garden when I am in Haiti. So much is the same.

There is a joy in the backbreaking work of tilling land and nursing seeds to harvest.

“Four seeds,” Papa Luc said, using his thumb to separate four corn kernels from the handful he held. With a gentle flick, he dropped the yellow seeds into the hole, then used the stick he held in his right hand to cover them with dirt.

“Four seeds.”

He handed me half his handful, and I set to work on the unplanted holes, covering the seeds with my sandaled right foot.

In the upper part of the field, we planted congo beans along with the corn. I’d drop in two bean seeds; Papa Luc carried a handful of corn.

We worked steadily. The morning was cool. A slight breeze fanned us. The soil felt moist, but I know many people are concerned about drought this year. The northern part of Haiti had little rain throughout the winter. The government has had to bring in food for families there. The FONDAMA organization in the North have few seeds in their silos — the last season’s crop burned up from lack of rain.

No food. No seeds for the spring.

It’s a little better in the South, but not by much. We will wait and pray and see.

When 9:30 came, the vehicle taking us to Port-au-Prince stopped at the field so I could leave.

I kept the pebble in my shoe the rest of the day. I look forward to my next trip to the mountains to watch the corn and beans grow.

Please join with us in prayer for rain for all of Haiti. So much work is done — seed by seed — all by hand to feed this country. All we need now is rain.