[Editor’s Note: On Friday, December 7, a Floris mission team returned from Haiti. Since there was no internet available while on their trip, over the next few days, we will be posting blog posts written during their time in Haiti. Read day one here.]
We slept restlessly last night at the Mission House in La Cay. It was a long journey from Herndon to Miami to Port-au-Prince and by bus transportation to La Cay. We were out of synch with our bodies and awakened all night long by dog barking competitions. Before we knew it, dawn had come and we were awakened by a loud bell to be up and on our way.
We helped to load trucks adding in 14 army cots, 5 gallon containers of fresh water, a portable gas propane stove, and all the pre-bought food and cooking utensils to be used over the next week. With no electricity or refrigeration, it’s amazing how our cook can keep things fresh and plan ahead so well. We headed out to Bercy. This Haitian village is in the mountains along the Cavilion River 7 kilometers north of the town of Cavilion. The first half hour of the trip was through city streets and paved roads. We then took a turn and the roads as we know them disappeared. There were ruts and deep water and obstacles everywhere as we bounced up and down, swaying from side to side. There was always something new to see as we were whisked back in time to the 19th century living.
The team was beginning to gel by this time also. Tracy was the head and Steve was the second in charge. Both had been to Haiti before but this location was very new to all of us. Two others had been to Haiti, but none of us had any idea of what to expect. For different reasons, we all took this trip to share our faith and assist the church. We had trust in our leaders and UMVIM but were also adults who knew that there would be surprises and that we needed to roll with them. There was no doubt that this group were troopers. We came together to share when our stomachs were rocky and/or shared anything else within the confines of our tight group of ten. Some of us were married with children and some single or divorced. We were spread out over almost 40 years of life experience. It did not matter – we were a group and we melded pretty quickly.
After 45 minutes bouncing over the roads, we arrived in Bercy. We were to stay on the grounds of the church’s keeper. We brought two large tents to erect under the trees. Three women slept in the groundskeeper’s home. They needed mosquito nets as window screens don’t exist in Haiti and bugs are everywhere. It took us most of the morning and early afternoon to get things situated. Our cook had now joined us and vRose was busy making a feast for us.
That afternoon, we headed over the worksite. It is located just a few houses down from where we could be sleeping. The existing church was smaller and had suffered significant damage to its roof during Hurricane Isaac. Previous groups had found large tree limbs to bolster it up, but it did not seem like it would survive the test of time. UMVIM determined that a new church be erected in front of the old. The foundation and sides were already built up when we got there. We were anxious to do whatever we could to help.
If you’ve been on an overseas mission trip before, you know that technically we are there to assist the current construction group. Our attendance with our funds and matching funds from UMVIM brings money to the project so the workers can be paid. If they needed buckets of rocks to go inside the church structure, we fashioned a bucket line and passed them one to another until we dumped the buckets inside. Then if they tell us to take all those same rocks back out, we do so. It’s their project. Some of us were in better physical shape than others but we all helped out in ways that we could.
School was out and the neighboring children were very curious about the new group of “blancs” that had arrived. They came with big grins and helping hearts. Danny spoke French and our interpreters were fluid in Creole, but sometimes you just had to use hand signals and smiles to get what you wanted.
One boy named Bolivar attached himself to me. He craved my work gloves and I shared my second pair of gloves with him each day at the worksite. He carried buckets of water for me from the well and my bag that was filled with water and treats to the site daily. Throughout the week, before and after school, he would be my constant companion. Shy but dedicated, I learned more about him over time. He was 11, and wanted to be a teacher some day. He was the oldest of 5 and so happy to be going to school at this time as school is expensive for Haitians. Hurricane Sandy supposedly knocked out 70% of the cash crops in this area just a few weeks ago, so money must have been tight. Bolivar brought his mother to a soccer game to meet me. Several of us had brought instant cameras and he wanted a photo of the two of us with him (what an honor). I was able, through the translators, to share how helpful he had been to me and what a great boy he was. The mother beamed with joy at my words and shared some details about how difficult their life was. She was not asking for help, but just wanted to connect with me and help me understand what life was like for her family at this time. One thing was clear to me – the Haitians are never without hope. They’ve borne many hurricanes, tropical storms, corrupt governments, and earthquakes…but they bounce back and move on. What a wonderful spirit they have!!
We worked for several hours that first day. It was in the 90’s and we took several breaks from the sun and heat so no one got dehydrated or sick. Many conversations were held with the crew to determine what the best days to assist them would be and how we could be of help.
Previous groups had bathed in the flowing Cavillion River that ran about ¾ of a mile behind our campsite. Several of us set out to find it and see about its possibilities. We crested a bluff and found that we might not be the only people bathing in this river and they were unclothed! The current was fast and animals also shared the water and we determined that bucket showers might be our best option. That consisted of filling a HUGE 6 foot container with well water, drawn by many trips to the well. Then each bather fills their own gallon bucket of somewhat cold water and does their best to get clean. It works but I can’t say that I ever felt 100% clean from head to toe until I arrived back home to Virginia.
The kids came over that afternoon and soon they determined that the women needed new hairstyles. Using the combs and ponytail holders we brought, our hair was fashioned into tight braids or small pony tails and we were transformed. We’d brought nail polish and immediately we all were given (and shared) manicures and pedicures. The children’s game of Duck, Duck Goose was a favorite and we learned the names in Creole and English to clarify what was going on. The pure sounds of laughter and giggles of the kids that night remains in my mind — they were so happy and anxious to learn more about us. Respectful of our belongings, they stayed out of the tents and buildings, but crowded around the gates, hoping that we would allow them entrances into our lives, if only for a little bit of time each day.
That evening, we shared devotions and discussed the topics afterwards. People were beginning to open up and share some thoughts about their lives. The group moved a step closer. Too soon it was dark. With no electricity, we started up a generator that would run for a couple of hours each night. Enough to charge ipods and cell phones (that were mostly useless this far away). Before we knew it, we were all drifting off to sleep knowing that the next day would hold more surprises and changes.