Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rash decisions

I've got poison oak.

I went out Sunday and cleared brush and limbs along the driveway and then piled them up to burn. I knew there was poison oak all over the place. I know the plant well, because this has become an annual event, or at least bi-annual. So now I suffer the itching, oozing, and distraction of this ridiculous reaction.

I don't know why this happens to me.

I blame Obama.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Haiti final

Haiti suffers from deep, abiding poverty. The reasons for the poverty are complex and beyond the scope of a daily post. I don't know enough to offer conclusions, but I can tell you that the poverty is not the result of lack of industry and effort on the part of the average citizen of Port au Prince.

Every street is lined with vendors selling everything. Fruit, vegetables, meat, corn. Some feature food cooking over charcoal, charcoal which is made and sold by other Haitian entrepreneurs. One could find almost anything one might want. It would just take a terribly long time to find it. In fact we hired Edward, the metal worker whose work shed was on our road, to make a gate for our chicken fence. Metal workers, wood carvers, furniture makers and other artisans sold their wares along the road.

T.J. told me that everything in Haiti took longer than I was used to. He was right. In fact, looking back on it, a great deal of our time was spent walking, which I learned is very therapeutic for the back. The few times we rode in a car we were on a mission to the newest building supply store in town, and to buy chickens, and a few other errands. Those trips inevitably killed half a day and almost killed us. Riding in the 4-Runner through the cratered streets and the chaotic traffic was far more taxing than the walking. One trip we had eleven people in the vehicle.

I am still processing what I saw during my brief stay in Haiti. Like so many, I feel urgency. But I also learned that care is required when trying to help another country or culture. The earthquake, which was horrific, left thousands injured. It was absolutely necessary for international medical relief to come to their aid. But the free medical clinics remain open even after the immediate disaster is over. So the people take advantage of the free clinics, which is good for them for their everyday problems. But the major hospital in Port au Prince closed a few weeks ago for lack of revenue. The fees for regular medical treatment disappeared as people took advantage of the free clinics. But you can't have surgery at the medical clinics.

One of the most consistent sources of economy in Haiti has been similar to what we in the south call truck farming, growing fruits and vegetables, picking them, and taking them to market. After the earthquake Port au Prince, the principal market for many farmers, was inundated with free food as a part of the earthquake relief, which is still available. The people took advantage of the free food, and the farmers business suffered greatly.

The help came with great intentions. But apparently it is necessary to be good stewards of servant hood. Sometimes helping can hurt if it is done without thought or for the wrong motivations. Sometimes our need to satisfy the urgency we feel, or our need to feel good about ourselves, or maybe even to diminish our feelings of guilt for averting our eyes for so long, can convince us that it is okay to act without thinking things through, without trying to understand as much as we can about the people and place we are trying to help.

The trip to Haiti was so full, but it is time to move on to other topics. I will be bringing Haiti up again from time to time, however, because half a million men, women and children are still living in tents, tents that are wearing out. I am thankful to Dan for inviting me to go, and to John and Curtis for their companionship, and to Corrigan and Shelly Clay for letting us be a part of their chaotic community for a few days.

Bon soir.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Haiti continued . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

A few more things about the Haiti trip.

John, our chicken coop foreperson, also brought amazing water filters. Such small, simple items that make such a huge difference to the people who have been displaced and live in the tent cities. It was a joyful thing to see the happy faces of the thirty five or so families that received the filters and the training. Clean water. It is the answer to much of the world's problems. John did a really good thing.

Emmanuel, a young man who grew up in Haiti, is the local representative for the water filter maker. He lives in City du Soleil, which has been a traditional symbol of poverty in Port au Prince. The tent cities now make it look a bit like suburbia, but it still is key to understanding the real problems of Port au Prince, because it has not been changed so greatly by the earthquake. It is not as threatening when the tin roof and sticks of makeshift dwellings fall. We took the greater part of a day walking the streets of City du Soleil with Emmanuel, hearing stories of where he grew up and now lives. Many people on the streets were busy, and smiling. Others just sat in the shade of their homes or shops and watched as the world walked by. Ironically the streets of City du Soleil were free of potholes. There were far fewer vehicles among this crowd. It was an oppressively hot and humid day, and the sun was brutal. We stopped into a small shop and drank cold cokes out of glass bottles, talking among ourselves. We also met Emmanuel's father. We visited Emmanuel's church, a huge structure with seating for about 1500. There was a medical and dental clinic operating as we sat on the back rows and ate lunch Emmanuel got us from a local woman. It was good, but I'm not sure what it was, other than rice. It had something like turnip greens in it, which was good enough for me.

We were introduced to tap-taps that day. Tap-taps are the primary mass transit system of Port au Prince. A tap-tap is a vehicle, usually a small truck, that is converted to carry passengers in the back, usually on benches built along the sides of the bed. A metal roof covers the passenger area with creative metal cut-out designs in bright colors. A favorite Bible verse or reference to Jesus is written in bright distinctive script across the front of the roof of the tap-tap. I heard that the name tap-tap comes from the way that a passenger lets the driver know when he needs to get off, by tapping the rear window of the driver's compartment with a nail, or a coin, or a pen. There is no limit to how many passengers can ride in one tap-tap, and afternoons, when people get off from work and schools let out, create a crazy atmosphere as people pile in or hang on to catch a ride. John held on to the very end of the tap-tap on one ride. It was a good ride until it started to rain. The top did not cover his spot. Meanwhile, on the inside, I became intimate with several strangers. We rode several different tap-taps that day on the way to City du Soleil and back, each one expressing the beliefs, character, musical tastes, and often the humor of the owner/creator. Riding the tap-tap was a great way to experience the real flavor of local life.

I hear the tap-tap of readers who think this blog is going on a bit long, so I guess it's time to stop. Maybe I can wrap up Haiti tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chickens and such . . .

Poultry seems to be a major theme of the week. Each day begins with the incessant crowings of the rooster men's chorus. And many daylight hours have been spent learning about chicken and eggs. Doesn't matter which came first. All that matters is building a suitable place for that eternal mystery to take place. Voila, the chicken coop, or coup, I'm not sure.

John is an experienced chicken cooper, having built one in his own yard. The setting and resources are slightly different, but his knowledge of the important principles has been the foundation of the project. As a result, today we will put up fencing around our cemented posts, add a bit of screen wire to the doors of the coop, and we will be finished. The backyard of the Clay's residence will have been transformed from a pleasant, cool place for drying laundry, to a loud, somewhat nasty, miniature barnyard.

It hasn't been easy. Building supplies are tough to find in Port au Prince. It takes at least half a day just to go get supplies, and that is when a ride can be found. And even then, it has been necessary to be creative and flexible. A bit unorthodox.

Why do the chickens cross the road? Around here, for no particular reason.

Anyway, it has been a fun and rewarding project.

But yesterday was the best. We found the place that sells chickens. Despite my suggestions that we just welcome chickens in off the street, we decided that it would be better to buy new ones for the Clays. So we did. Thirty young hens to be delivered to their newly opened spa this Saturday. It is sad that we won't get to meet them. But it is eggciting.

It is exciting that the dozens of eggs produced by these new hens will be given and/or fed to expectant mothers to address dietary deficiencies resulting in extremely low birth weight and resulting complications for infants.

Eggs, like most things around here, are hard to come by. And now, for a few families, it will be a little easier.

It's not much. But it is something. And that's the way it must start. Poverty is not waiting for us to make up our minds about what to do. It is moving right ahead with its devastating ways. Intelligent policy is necessary from the top down, governmental, charitable and religious. But good policy will never be enough.

Haiti has been assaulted and lies injured on the side of the journey road.

Will we tend to them, help them get up and walk, or will we walk on by again?

Do we have any neighbors? Have you been to see them lately?

Sorry bout that. Guess I was destined to get a little preachy this week after all.


Church, part 2

To finish the last post, I did not preach. But I did have a great seat for the service. Debs, a young preacher, was scheduled to speak and did so swimmingly . . .she is British. We were fortunate to attend the church on a day when the children's and youth choirs sang. There were three choirs: children, mid-highs, and older teens. Each choir sang one song, accompanied by the guitar player who also played for the congregational singing. Each group began tentatively. After all, they were children and teens singing in front of a tent-full of people, it was early in the morning, and it was sweltering. But as they got into the music and the crowd supported them with smiles and an occasional shouted encouragement or applause, their confidence grew. They sang louder, clearer, and harmonies broke out. They moved with the music. Sort of a parable of church, I remember thinking. There was a lot of time to think. We were there more than three hours.

The guitar player was the best. He played an old guitar of unidentifiable heritage, the finish cracked by the weather, the mismatched and worn strings stretching high above the neck and frets. The worship leader would start the next song without consulting the guitar player, leaving him to locate the key on his own, if such a key really existed, sliding his slender, long and obviously powerful fingers searchingly up and down the neck hoping for something that might match the leader's pitch. But he played on, providing accompaniment and rhythm, in that familiar Caribbean style, sometimes smiling, sometimes struggling, sometimes deeply moved by the music.

That is not to say the worship leader was not also great. He was wearing a dark grey suit, never removing his jacket. We would sing each song for about fifteen minutes, the worship leader exhorting us each time we repeated the verses and chorus. He would call out the words before each line. He began to dance, singing louder and faster as each song moved along. We sang about six songs. It was ninety plus degrees. We were in a tent packed with people. The guy was wearing a suit. He was a superman.

The preacher was not there Sunday, but his wife was. She was teaching Sunday School to the whole group when we first arrived. She was teaching from Mark 9, and periodically would insist that we recite a part of the passage. Over and over. She was serious and intense. I believe we all knew that verse by the time she finished. In Creole. She was a great teacher and it was obvious by the attention she demanded that she was respected by all ages.

Toward the end of the service we had prayer. No one led it. We all prayed out loud, our own prayers, at the same time. It was a beautiful thing, starting out as a complex, quiet rumbling, and ending as if it were a coordinated piece of music directed by an unseen hand. It got quieter without obvious cue, and then it ended.

And then we were done.

Merci Senor Jesus. Merci bon Jesus. Merci Mon Dieu.

Amen. Hallelujah.

Real Time Analytics