Saturday, August 1, 2015

"Please Duck," or "The Thriftshop Throne"

Daddy played the slide trombone.  If you were sitting in the front row of the small church he pastored in 1992, my husband Jim jokes that you had to duck when he started sliding wildly at the fast parts of a song.  The soaring vibrato from his trembley wrist as he pumped that slide with blatant enthusiasm to a crescendo of glorious notes, sparked fervor into the hearts of his straggly congregation.   The pianist bobbed her considerable girth in a dramatic and savage attack on the keyboard.  I always wonder why pianists think body movements enhance piano performance.   A few of the faithful leap to their feet and clap.  An Amen carries from the back row.

By then, all Daddy had left was a fringe of white hair around the edges of his shining earthly crown. The dominant feature of that face below the sagging nose was his wide smile with those big square teeth, a little crooked which I inherited. Adams apple moving up and down in preparation, he had a habit of pausing during the sermon for an interpreter to translate his Swahili into Nandi or Kikuyu, as if it was 1960 and he were still in East Africa.    Of course, the church was in Florida and he was speaking English.  He was paid no salary, and offerings were so small that he had to build his own small podium that I have today.   I use it for a bookcase in the bedroom.  “It could be Holy,” I have tried to explain to Jim.

My Dad
Rhett Butler

My parents bought the 10,000 sq. ft. former Alger-Sullivan sawmill office near the railroad track in Century, Florida for a song.  It had rich wood wainscoting throughout, weathered wood floors and ceilings reaching to 18 feet.   “It has possibilities,” enthuses Dad as he and Mom lean over the black iron fire escape in back.  They planned to turn this albatross into a southern mansion complete with four big columns out front and a winding staircase to the second floor.  They did actually hang a crystal chandelier, but the staircase never materialized. Mom always imagined that she was Scarlett from “Gone with the Wind” and Daddy,  Rhett Butler.  The only similarity was the mustache.  The sawmill came with a sagging hotel next door, the “Century Hotel.”  My sister and I still joke about who finally gets the fountain which was in front, a small boy, with water streaming forth.

After Daddy died and Mom sold the house, I chose the podium (see first paragraph), family pictures, the “Africa trunk” which is in the foyer of our home and the grand piano that has a cracked soundboard, but sounds good except for the three low keys.  The antiques, which Mom loved and “silver service” went to my siblings, the famous trombone to my oldest brother, incidentally, the only one of us that “turned out right.”  The rest, mostly remnants of Dad’s hardware store like books of paint samples and carpet squares, we surreptitiously tossed from the second story window into the waiting arms of a blazing fire in the side yard between the former sawmill house and the hotel, (not the fire escape side).   We saved some of their old letters from Kenya, back when people used carbon paper in the typewriter for every piece of correspondence.  They had been painstakingly hole-punched and put in big blue folders which had faded into an unattractive shade of splotchy purple.  Much, sadly, we threw away but I saved two boxes of their letters, in case I wanted to write a book.
We saved the leather football helmets and soiled uniforms from some team sponsored by the lumber mill years before, for the “antique road show.”  They have since strangely disappeared.
To get back to the point of this story; I’m drawn like a magnet to thrift shops.   I ducked into one along 9th Ave. in Pensacola last Thursday and there was a sawn-off pew the size of a wide chair with bright red upholstery between the rich wood arms, perhaps a small exaggeration. The hymn holder and round holes for communion glasses were still perched jauntily on the back. I showed amazing restraint pausing just long enough to sit in it quickly and surmise it was surprisingly comfortable.  It was large enough to accommodate a preacher the size of Hagee or someone important like Billy Graham.  Now in my eyes, my Dad far surpassed either of those men and skinny as he was in the end, I could imagine him in this throne-sized pew.  Who knows, it could be as holy as the aforementioned podium, now bookcase.  I showed amazing restraint plus the fear that Jim would kill me.  I did not purchase the pew-throne.
Yesterday back on 9th Ave., I found myself veering wildly into the parking lot of the “Teen Challenge Thrift Store” to see if it was still there.  It sat affixed with the orange sticker for $10.99 among the soiled couches and scratched coffee tables arranged in the glaring light of “today only” bargains near the front windows.  I sped-walked so as not to be obvious and let the cashier know I wanted it.  I was amazed no one else had snatched this treasure.  Feeling impulse-shoppery,  I spied the gaudiest oriental chest with brass hardware (well, it could have been) beside the checkout that I thought would be a great sewing cabinet instead of the cracked plastic green thread holder I use now. It used to be Mom’s, now that I think about it.  I asked for the manager and pulled out all my overseas missionary haggling skill and the price was dramatically reduced.  I am really not an impulse buyer, but I felt uncharacteristically and unflinchingly audacious.  I got those two words from the hardback Thesaurus they threw in for 25 cents.

Two previously “challenged teens” loaded the treasures into the Honda.  I could not close the trunk, but the pew-throne was so heavy, there was not a chance it would fall out.  I thought the young man with the blue tattoos and strings of greasy blonde glued to his skull was snickering, but I chose to ignore him.
Inching around the curves down Scenic Hwy. with the big red throne-pew hanging precariously from the trunk, a sizable parade formed behind me.  A white sports car screamed past on the left and I might have seen a hand gesture of encouragement thrust from his window over the roof of his car. 
Whitney, our youngest’s wedding was the next day and my only regret is that I didn’t have time to sand and poly the throne and put in a place of honor so that I could imagine Daddy was here with his Bible and trombone celebrating with us.  I know he is in heaven playing with the heavenly choir, shaking that wrist for a special vibrato, weaving his trombone in wide sweeps as the white clad choir members duck.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


It’s not there!  My head is buried in the bottom of the worn chest with the map of Africa burned into its battered lid.  Sweat drips from my nose splotching on the cedar.  I replace the heavy tray filled with slides, black and white photos and super eight movies grown brittle over time.  The lid thuds into place, and I pull metals hooks over the latches.  Dust swirls as I rummage through boxes not yet unpacked from our move, run my fingers along high shelves, sweep under beds.  I cannot find the blood-red fez.   I manage to lose it after it survives for 60 years.   Why does it matter? Husband Jim read that a fez represents the blood of martyred Christians.   He doesn’t understand what this particular one means to me.  
 Kenya, East Africa 1956
         Dark and silent as a shadow, a thin figure moves out of the fog which envelopes him.  The morning is still.  The smell of wood fires hangs heavy in the air.    The red brick house with its high-peaked corrugated metal roof looms over him like an apparition.  The shadow of a young girl disappears from the attic window just below the rain gutters.  He steps onto the concrete porch as a sliver of light falls through the blanket of clouds.  His stomach is a bag of nails. He takes a breath and knocks.
       He smells of sweat and soot, standing in his ragged shorts cinched tight over the knobs of his bony hips.  Bloodshot eyes gaze through yellow sclera, swallowed by dark sockets.  He lives like most Africans; in a smoke filled hut with goats, chickens and cattle. 

      A young missionary, green as grass, draws open the door expectantly.  A vivid widow’s peak introduces that striking coal black hair which frames a small delicate face.  Her eyes penetrate like needles but compassion bathes her diminutive features.  Daniel Chege, hardly more than a boy is not tall, but fine boned and austere.  He scrubs his shirt each evening on a rock until it is white as an elephant’s tusk.   Flashing a wide smile he blurts, “I cookie roastie.” He has practiced this phrase repeatedly as he walks barefoot along the dirt path towards the mission compound.  Memsahib Eby suppresses a grin and invites him in.
Chege's Grandmother
      There is an uneasy silence as they regard each other.  ‘Kuja hapa rafiki kidogo, come small friend,” Memsahib Eby says to put him at ease.  She leads him over the red-waxed concrete floor to a rough counter beside a wood stove that is radiating heat.  The warmth is welcome in the cool morning air at 5000 ft in the Kenyan highlands.  Washing her hands carefully, she instructs Chege to watch as she sifts ingredients, mixing, then kneading the dough with a fury. She has barely learned to make bread herself.  Isolated with her family far from Lake Victoria and any type of grocery store, she knows that if she wants bread she will have to make it.  Chege follows her tutorial, committing it to memory in the quick way that he had. He absorbs everything like a clay pot soaking up water.  No further instructions are needed.   Mom throws in another log and places the bread into the wood stove. 
        Chege makes bread two days later and it is every bit as perfect as the Memsahib’s.  She never has to show Chege anything twice. Chege’s grandmother brings milk each day in a dirty bottle with leaves stuck in the top.  Mom notices dirt in it so she shows Chege how to strain it through cloth and boil it until the foam subsides, hoping it doesn’t scorch,  It almost always does and is a far cry from American pasteurized milk.  I never grow accustomed to the taste.
      My sister Lydia and I hang around Chege like shadows coaxing him not to roll his Rs and he teaches us to roll ours amid roars of laughter.  Preceding his serving debut, Daniel Chege lifts the long white Kanzu over his bony shoulders, which rise like spikes against the rough material.  He carefully ties the red silk sash around his waist.  Gingerly, he places the red fez onto his shaved head and adjusts the tassel at a jaunty angle to the right of his round Kikuyu face just as Memsahib Eby shows him earlier that day. His small chest swells inside the flowing white.  His smile is blinding like sunlight on a tin roof.
      He pours the oxtail soup into Mom’s best china bowl, which survived the voyage in the hold of a freighter from Rotterdam called the Kenya Castle.   White robe swishing around his ankles, heart pounding, conscious of all eyes on him Chege stiffly carries the soup through the swinging door.   Bwana Eby, the memsahib with our baby brother on her lap, my sister and I watch as Chege sucks in his breath and ladles it into each bowl.  The bowl rattles against the saucer from his shaking hands.  A little slops out when he serves me leaving a dark stain on the tablecloth. 
       “Zuri sana,” I enthuse to encourage him rolling my r perfectly.  He manages a weak smile.  His breath comes in little whistles through his lips, a nervous habit that never changes in the many years he works for our family.  He loves us and we love him back unconditionally.  He whistles through every meal, that’s our Chege.
       Mom is a nurse so with Chege to help in the kitchen she can dress wounds from panga cuts, bandage the heads of babies who have rolled into the cooking fire during the night, and treat snake bite wounds.  She does this on the front lawn until Daddy builds her a small brick dispensary. 
Cleaning before suturing.
Each day she puts on a white nursing uniform and her stiffly starched nursing cap as if headed to the Mayo Clinic and swings her way purposefully to the dispensary to care for the sick.  Years later Chege will be the one to administer penicillin shots, malaria meds to the ill, many who have walked trails for over a day to reach the mission.
        Mom has a snakeskin belt, which she often cinches around her 22-inch waist. I find it in her attic years later.  Tall at 5’9” she has a way of walking that captures attention as she sweeps into a room.  Part of the reason for her thinness is the financial sacrifice that she and Dad make to pay for our tuition at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school 200 miles away over grassy plains in a sleeper car on the East African Railway.  This leaves little money for food.  She raises chickens and learns to chop off a head with amazing determination and precision. She dips the hen in hot water, plucks the feathers, passes it through a flame to singe and chops it into pieces.
Tomboi, the gardener and his two little boys.
      She has a garden in the back tended by Tomboi and his two little boys.  It once produced a tomato six inches across.  The soil is dark and rich in the Kenya highlands.  The entry to the mission station cuts through a large British Tea Estate that thrives in the fertile soil and moderate temperatures.
      In the evenings, we crane our heads towards the small black radio listening to the crackling news from BBC if it comes in.  A British newscaster reports news including that of Kenya, a British protectorate at that time.    Numerous stories end with a favorite phrase in crisp English, “No foul play suspected.”   Foul play is the norm after the MauMau rebellion.  Many in Chege’s village were strung up by their thumbs when refusing to take the bloody MauMau oath. This is mild compared to the 100s who were savagely murdered by crazed Kikuyu MauMaus.  
      Mom becomes concerned, as Chege seems pale, difficult for a coal-black African and thinner than ever.  She checks his blood and finds that he has extreme anemia and TB.  It becomes her furious campaign to restore him to good health.                          
         My father built a U-shaped Bible School, which Chege attended.  Chege later becomes a pastor and marries a young Kikuyu girl named Kedsia.  They will have 10 children. He eventually directs the mission work in Kenya for the entire mission organization… “our cook!” He was as fervent a pastor and administrator as he had been a cook.  He is now with the Lord who I can imagine saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” as Chege flashes that wide smile.
March 2014
      Searching for a wrench in the back of his truck, Jim notices something like a brown rat crushed under the tools.   It’s the formerly red, now brown fez!  I am disconsolate.  I seek out my Mom, (Memsahib Eby) who is 88 and resides at Bayside Nursing Home.  “Take it to the cleaners and have it blocked and cleaned,” she utters matter-of-factly through her gums.  She lost her teeth again.  Vick’s Cleaners makes me sign a release since the fez is now as stiff as a beaver’s tail and bent completely closed.  A week passes without a word. Worried, I call to check on it.  The attendant regrets that they are unable to clean it.  Probably no one can, she maintains.  I sob like a baby in the car wondering what in the world is wrong with me.  They package the fez in a little square box, like a coffin. True to my tradition of unconditional support of lost causes, I decide someone, somewhere, can fix Chege’s fez.  I’m going to find that person. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Riviting Nocturnal Story-unedited, illustrating the depths to which I have sinked, sunk,...sunken...arrived

4 AM I stumble to the bathroom for one of my frequent nightly visits. Pausing at the scale, I step on. I’m awake, why not? 107 stares up at me in glaring red which I can read even without my 300 strength reading glasses. A horrifying thought permeates my weakened mind. I address a remark to the scale. “Maybe I’m dying.”

Jim is out of town, doing God’s work, no doubt, without my unwavering support to bolster him. I begin to weep. As I reflect on my impending demise, my weeping escalates into heaving sobs. Anxious to share the heartbreaking news (I know how I’ll be missed), I make my way down (19 steps) backwards on all fours as is now my custom. My daughter Whitney, asleep downstairs will be devastated, I’m certain. Daughter, Natalie is in Peru.

I sink heavily “sort of” onto the side of her bed. The sobs emanating from my emaciated form are reaching decibels that would wake the dead, whose numbers will soon increase by one. Her chest continues to rise and fall as she enjoys a peaceful sleep.

Disappointed, I begin my painful trek to the kitchen, spoon instant coffee into a giant cup and add hot water. I pour a large glass of milk, gulp down a bunch of vitamins & meds and start the long process of getting up the stairs with the coffee.

I stop in my office halfway there and bring up facebook to which I rarely make a contribution, but this news really needs to be shared with my 50 or so friends, well maybe 100, some whose names don’t sound overly familiar, but I’m sure they are friends.

My fingers fly over the keyboard with my stunning announcement, this important “breaking” news.

Slowly I make my way up the remaining 8 stairs, down the coffee, and grab a legal
pad to share this story for those I will leave behind.

Later in the day:
At my computer to check e-mails. I see facebook open. Now fully awake and pretty sure I’m not going to eternal bliss today, I’m somewhat horrified by my nocturnal facebook post, even though I’m enjoying the verses and words of comfort from the very few who seemed to care one way or another. I am touched deeply by my faithful friends; somewhat small in number who seem genuinely concerned most likely for my mental state more than anything else..

I have gleaned wisdom from this small incident…….we all need to keep learning, I always say, even me. Never post in the middle of the night….or in my case at any time day or night. Apparently, I’m about the only one devastated that my razor sharp mind will not be contributing to the betterment of mankind much longer…(run-on sentence). I guess I’ll just stick around another 20 years or so. Also, don’t write on a legal pad at 4 AM and believe that it’s brilliant.

Please don’t be offended by my irreverence. I really am married to a man who is faithfully doing what God has called us to and trying to take care of me too.

I want to thank my friends who have provided me with endless prayer support, encouragement and real words of wisdom. I love you. My knees are much better after cortisone injections and I’m in much less pain.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What a surprise!! I won $100 for this story about my childhood in Kenya "Boarding School at Mara Hills"

Kenya and Tanganyika, East Africa, 1956

I never could eat that first week at school.  My parents had no choice.  The mission board under which they went to Kenya gave them no choice.  They had to send us to boarding school.  I was nine, and my sister Lydia was seven.                    
My sister, Lydia

My parents drove us in the old green pickup with the canvas-covered back that first time.  We rode behind the cab leaning against our luggage, the red dust thickening our hair as it seeped through the cracks.  Two others missionary kids rode with us.  After hours fighting rutted dirt roads, we were stymied by an impassable river rushing toward eager banks.  New to Africa, my Mom had on high heels but gamely took them off, wading through mud and streams those last few miles to Mara Hills.  My sister and I could hardly contain our admiration.  Mom was seven months pregnant.

My Mother
We walked five miles with our luggage watching the sun burn itself out.  The black impenetrable night was punctured by a vast array of stars as we arrived. We sat patiently waiting on a bench next to the flickering candlelight in the entrance of the u-shaped building while our beds were hastily prepared.  Lydia rested her weary head on my shoulder, her silent tears burning into my neck.  My dad was feverish and shaking with chills from his first case of malaria, one of many to come.  He still managed to get up at the first light of day and trudge back with two Masai men to push the truck out of the rising river.

How could I imagine what lay ahead?  There were bars on the windows, beds from twisted Zebra hides, flashlights boring a bouncy minuscule shaft in the night on our way to the outhouse, an eye out for snakes.  I routinely shone my flashlight down the hole in the rough wooden seat, prompting nightmares of slipping into the maggots swarming below.  “I suspect a slight infraction,” the housemother announced one morning, a smile playing around her thin lips.   We were supposed to use the potty under our bunks at night.

The hunt brought gazelle and impala for our meat, salted down to preserve it.  No fridge at Mara Hills.   We had little garden plots where we all competed, urging on our corn and tomatoes.  We fought to take out slop to the pigs, which were also butchered for meat.

We went barefoot to class, a one-room schoolhouse, grades 1-8.  I saw my first dead body, a man lying stiffly in the back of the school pickup right before class.  We popped green coffee beans right off the plant into our mouths, saving them in our cheeks, enjoying the sweet juice as our heads bent innocently over our books.

The Mennonite house parents were stern but kind.  I missed the daily hugs and kisses from Mama and Daddy that I had so taken for granted.  I wrote letter after letter begging them to come get us.  The letters were not sent, I learned later.

Meals were formal, our cloth napkins stuffed carefully in rings made from sliced Impala horns.  Dessert was often one cookie with a raisin in the center, as lonely as I felt.  A freckled girl with long strawberry braids tried to dislodge a guava seed caught in her teeth with her fork.  She got cleanup duty that meal.  Manners were important at Mara Hills.  Her Dad owned a diamond mine in South Africa.  She did not get one letter from home.

My sister and I clung to each other for security.  One day to my horror, she ran towards me, dark braids flying, one eye pinched shut with a shiny eyeball gracing her palm.  Panic gripped me as I realized I had failed to watch out for her and she had lost an eye somehow.  Convulsing with laughter, she opened her eye shouting, “pig eye.”  It was slaughtering day.

Semesters lasted three long months and then home for a month and so on.  Headed for home at last, Lydia and I leaned against the rail of the steamer as it inched from the shore of Lake Victoria in Musoma, Tanganyika headed for Kisumu, Kenya.  It was just too far and dangerous for Mom and Dad to fetch us by truck each time.   We turned towards our stateroom where two small beds would see us through the lonely night. 

Noon the next day, the sun like a scream in the sky beat down on the black skin of Africans swaying and humming softly to the throbbing of the engine.  Their night had been spent on the deck under the stars.

At sundown, we nosed into the harbor.  Two thin figures became clearer as we neared the shore.  Dad in khaki shorts and Mom, long legged and slim, smiling, holding the baby brother we had not seen yet.

Three months’ emotion let go and I sobbed with total relief at what seemed happiness beyond my wildest dreams.  I would be home in Kaimosi in two hours.
Probably Mombasa in front of Ft. Jesus. 
This picture got wet during the Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola.


Friday, July 13, 2012

July 2012 First Three Days

This is the short side of the property which is on the beach.

They stole the string,” Jim pauses to let his words take effect.  “I don’t get it, I say, fingering a mango string caught in my teeth.
      The day before, day two, he and Jasmine, the founder of the orphanage were able to identify the four corners of the 13 acre new property and stake out the wall and where the gate would go. Samaritan’s purse was working on the road as agreed and said they will help dig the footer for the security wall which was a mood lifter for Jim.
      Jim had hammered in the stakes and strung 3000 feet of string for the bulldozer to follow. I look at Jim incredulous.  He couldn’t mean what I thought he meant.
      He looks at me with a mixture of amusement and exasperation adding.  “Sadly some people thought they needed the string more than we did and took it right off the stakes in the night. The night watchman was there.”Does anything ever change in Haiti?
Just a few of the kids eating at Jasmine’s.
      Jasmine (story at the bottom of our website), is founder of an orphanage which is little more than a jumble of wood frame buildings arranged haphazardly in the dirt surrounded by a block wall topped with a foot of curled barbed wire.  The buildings, bleached and weathered two years after the earthquake are connected by 4 ft. strips of plywood that rattle when you walk, but keep your feet out of the mud in rainy season. The orphanage has been the victim of theft, stones hurled over the wall, and other indecencies too numerous to mention here. 
      There are 52 children, from babies to teenagers.  Jasmine’s husband Greg is currently in the US taking care of business so Jasmine and a staff of 11 Haitian women, care for the children.

      There is always a horde of volunteers at Jasmine’s.  There are about 25 now, mostly college girls cuddling and cooing at the babies, teasing and laughing with the older ones.  Most have hair stretched back severely and look drained from the unrelenting heat and humidity.  Youth triumphs, however: and there is still a lot of good humor all round.
       I sit in a square covered area with four benches that face each other.  I notice one small boy, face deformed from a birth defect wandering among the others, longing for attention.  A sunburned volunteer scratching her bites utters with a sigh that most of the children have small boils on their heads in spite of frequent baths.  I see what looks like a fungus that has cleared a patch of hair from a shiny black scalp on the baby she is cuddling.
       Most of these children are not orphans as Webster defines it, which was upsetting to me when I learned of it our first year working in Haiti.  Mothers give away their children because they simply don’t want them, perhaps can’t feed them, or prefer not to keep one that has a defect of some kind.  Orphanages have become an institution in Haiti, relieving parents of their responsibilities.  Adoption is a long drawn out legal process, but 30 are in the process at Jasmine’s orphanage.  She has the required license.  The Haitian government prefers this way over private adoption which is far more difficult.  It is a way for them to collect more money.

Back to arrival day.

 I sit on that plane with dread weighing on my chest like a cannonball waiting to be launched.  How many times have we done this?
      From my window, the terminal shimmers in the heat.  I give my packaged plane food to the graying Haitian lady seated next to me.  Earlier, she spills milk on her paperwork.  She and I blot it up with our napkins trying to salvage her customs form.  She cannot read or write so she must be helped with her forms.
       I pull my hair up into a ragged knot preparing for the heat, dreading the hustling, the shuffle of bodies, and the mad dash for luggage. 
       We file off the plane, walking a long corridor to customs.  I make a beeline to the bathroom through crowds of first timer volunteers, beaming with their high hopes, chattering to each other excitedly, decked in their matching t-shirts. I envy their enthusiasm and breathe a prayer asking God to give me the joy of a first timer.  I sit leaning on the wall on the first suitcase Jim pulls from the gyrating black conveyor belt.  My arm is asleep from the backpack slung over my arm and my knees hurt.
       One by one, Jim locates each piece of luggage, which I guard expertly, sweeping my eyes from side to side, trying to look like someone a thief would be afraid to tangle with.
        With luggage stacked around my feet, Jim negotiates with a policeman for one porter to pull two suitcases.  We will get the rest.  Negotiations complete, we have procured a porter with a wide white smile, merry eyes and a stiffly pressed shirt.  He grabs the two largest, pulling them behind us.  Jim and I lug two 50-pound cases heavy with food and tools, our carryon’s stacked on top and backpacks slung over our shoulders.
       Indian UN workers roam among the crowds with their weapons, some affecting a swagger as they keep the peace.  I wonder how they would walk without a weapon.  Many Haitians blame the Indians for the cholera attacks.
       Through the gate, Jim presses some bills into our porter’s eager hands and for once there is no arguing, just smiles all round.  It has been a relatively easy arrival.  They have made some improvements at the airport.  My mood is improving.
       We look hopefully for our driver, who is nowhere in sight.  Jim seats me on a low piece of filthy concrete on a flyer I find buried in the dirt.  Haitians press around him, offering assistance, encouraged by the prior exchange of bills.  I swat at flies and strike up a conversation with a narrow jawed man with a shiny pate, sallow skin, eyes rimmed in red.  His nose dips sympathetically toward his chin.  He is dressed in a dirty blue shirt and wrinkled khaki pants.  He gestures wildly using smatterings of Spanish, Creole, French and English, making a valiant effort to converse with me.   I manage to decipher that his car has broken down and he is waiting for a mechanic.  I nod with genuine sympathy. “ Lo Siento,” I utter.
       Two hours later, our driver appears.  He left the Haitian Queen at 12:30, ample time to make the airport run.  I suspect he took care of a little personal business on the way.  Jim grabs my hand and I pull myself to my feet, an exploit not as easy as it used to be.
       We drive through the bowels of Port Au Prince through a haze of dust, the same old sewage, tin shacks and men relieving themselves by the road in plain view.  The driver makes his usual financial appeal, to finish his house, he says.  He is one of the lucky ones, with a good job, volunteers that lend him a hand, a continual recipient of lumber and supplies.  I guess it never hurts to seed the clouds, a Haitian pastime.
       Smoke spews from trucks, cars and motorbikes, the traffic a gnarled, honking morass. Jim remarks that things have improved.  I crane my neck eagerly inquiring, “Where?”  I do agree with him though.  On the radio, a sportscaster shouts play by play a soccer game in French.
      After reunions at the Haitian Queen, we eat, push our luggage under wood bunk beds, tie up the mosquito nets and make the beds.  The cold shower feels welcome especially with the new shower head that I brought with me than takes weak pressure and makes it feel like more.  We fall into bed, only to toss and turn most the night.

First day…

         We eat a can of tuna with instant coffee, don hats and walk the mud road to the clinic to check on the large orange truck, our allotted vehicle and we need it ASAP at Jasmine’s orphanage.  Parked in high grass, it is covered in cobwebs which we beat off the doors and windows with a stick and pull open the doors.  The engine roars to life, but the brake pedal is flat on the floor.  The morning air hangs still and heavy as we trudge back to the house in quest of another vehicle.  It feels as if the earth is boiling underfoot.
Assembly line to bring metal through the wall and onto the property to stack.
Jim last on the line and the stacker.
       At the current orphanage, there is an urgent need to transport the metal framework for 27 bldgs. from the property next door to Jasmine’s property.  It will save a $700 charge for storage.  She plans to have us load the truck multiple times and unload inside the wall onto the orphanage property.  Since we have no truck, Jim suggests making a 2-foot square hole in the wall, pass the materials through to her property, form an assembly line of volunteers to pass each piece along and then Jim will stack in piles.  Everyone loves this idea since it will save time and energy and the wall will be easy to repair.  It takes about four hours.

Roadwork that keeps us detouring.
       Jasmine joins us as we drive over to the new property, on roads that seem like a maze.  Deep trenches are being dug on each side of the narrow roads leaving a sliver down the center for dump trucks of gravel to be unloaded.  We drive in and then back out of road after road, trial and error,  negotiating numerous dead ends filled with potholes, water and mud,.  We finally arrive at the site.  I ask Jim if he will remember the way tomorrow.
       The property is almost devoid of trees but has a fine view of the beach. (see top picture) The coastline is a mixture of the sublime and the wretched but the view is breathtaking from a distance.  The property is a long rectangle with the short side on the beach.  We walk the property, about 13 acres and chat with the bulldozer operator who has started the access road.  The property, formerly gardened is covered in trenches that will have to be leveled with a bulldozer.
Tractor and heavy equipment operator from Samaritan’s Purse

       Jasmine explains to Jim what she wants and where the security wall should be placed.  The pitiless sun rises to its zenith.  We are running short of water and head back for lunch.
       Next morning, I awake to the crowing of roosters and Haitian’s shouting over the fence, laughing uproariously over some inside joke.  There is a violent shift from shadow to light as the day begins.  I roll off my damp sheets, pad to the kitchen, fill the kettle and heat water for coffee.
Jim stretching the string between stakes for the footers to be dug
for the third time.
        The day pans out much as the one before with much accomplished and string stretched again from the stakes for the wall.  Heading back to headquarters, Jim accidentally hits a dog that runs in front of him.   Haitian’s drive with total disregard for the reality of death.  You have to drive the same in self-defense if you dare to drive at all.  Generally, dogs are not domestic in Haiti, but are small feral looking mongrels, with pointed snouts, all ribs and yellow eyes.  They are not wild, but don’t elicit much regard among Haitians.  Still, you don’t stop on the road in Leogane when something like this happens, lest a stoning or some unsolicited third world development occurs.
       Jim is rolling out more string from his stakes that were also pulled out during the night for the rest of the footer trench.
Standing on the new road into the orphanage on the property.
       We have settled into a rhythm and each day seems filled with hope and sometimes despair, but overall things are going well.  Below you can see that by Day 12, the road is in, the footer is 2/3 dug.
       Next week 20 trucks of cement, 20 of Gravel, and 3 trucks of sand will be ordered for the wall, also 3 of each for the columns.
Mario who broke his foot when his
motorcycle overturned.  He is from
Cartagena, Columbia and is staff.
 Every day is a series of events such as Mario, house staff from Cartagena, Columbia breaking his foot on Sunday when the motorcycle falls on it, vehicles stranded, a lady failing to give us change and me losing it completely…the frustrations piling up…the daily hurdles magnified by the heat, but some victories too, including attitude adjustments orchestrated by GOD.  

Jim loading everything to take back for the night so it won’t be stolen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Off the Bed and Out of the House

I sit low in the car and stare through the Florida haze. face taut with strain. I open the door a crack, lift my legs with my hands and pivot. My hands grip the top of the door; knuckles white and hoist myself up. My breath is ragged as if I’ve been running. The sliding doors reflect the afternoon sun. One foot in front of the other, I make my way over 100 yards of tarmac and through the yawn of doors. My eyes focus. They are on the left. “The riding carts.” I hobble over to the closest one with a hangdog air, grimacing from the tortuous pain.

Grasping the handles, I slump into the seat. “How do these things work?” Press the on/off button….nothing happens. The machine is plugged in so leaning way back to the side, legs in the air, I yank the plug. Sitting on the cord, pushing the button with my right hand while clutching the lever, I jerk forward, slamming into some shopping carts. Heads turn. I smile awkwardly and stammer, “My first time.”

I have sunk to new depths. I rode a cart around Lowe’s today. Yes, the ones I see at Wal-Mart, and often smugly and unkindly remark to Jim that “the rider” would be healthier walking.

Unrelenting, mind-numbing pain humbles you. Pulling myself, literally from bed each morning groaning and moaning, my knees feel like thumbscrews are being tightened by some invisible force. They pop, swell, and throb. A wimp through and through, I huff and puff like a woman in labor.

Gone are those perceptions of myself as the strong woman striding through the jungle while others fall by the path. Medicare is just seven months away and all those MRIs, PET scans and other acronyms will be possible….. Old is something to embrace… “JUST GET RID OF THIS PAIN.”

I have arthritis. “That’s all?” you say. “There are people far worse off than you.” Sadly, my tolerance for pain is not as tolerant as previously assumed.

A nurse practitioner with a smoker’s voice prescribed Celebrex and something only temporarily for pain, not that addiction tops my list of concerns at this moment.

In the midst of my depression, I started to call a friend that is older by a few years, knowing she would be sympathetic and offer good advice. Turns out she had fallen and broken her femur and is in the hospital. That put things into perspective.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bashful Renter

The picture on the right was taken in Haiti. Jim is probably telling me the error of my ways again....or could it be words of endearment?

Sooooooo....We have this old house built in 1960, blue and white frame with patchy grass, a repo we bought for about $40,000 years ago. The meager rent supplements our support when and if a renter feels obliged to pay it. In the hurricane of 2004 a tree fell on the roof demolishing it and rain soaked most of the house. Jim let some people he found living under the bay bridge, a family of six from Oklahoma live in it and fix the roof in exchange for free rent. Needless to say they stayed quite awhile.

The history of renters in the house has been colorful, most of which I cannot relate to you and remain a godly person. The family currently renting it is three months behind so Jim thinks… “I’ll give him a little work.” Jim is swamped with paperwork on some Haiti projects so it makes sense. “Win Win” right? The man’s a “tree cutter downer” so Jim hires him to cut down some brush on the hill behind our house.

Meanwhile Stan, a genteel man at our church gives us some winter clothes…nice stuff; said we could use our own judgment about how to disburse it. Thinking of the heat in Haiti, I call the renter’s cell and ask if they need winter clothes. “Oh Yes,” he says….”Me and my tree crew sure could use those shirts.” I hear buzz saws in the background and think… “He’s working! Maybe some rent!” Hope springs eternal. Jubilantly I ask, “Could you call your wife and let her know I will drop off the clothes?”

I wait a reasonable length of time, in case the wife wants to spruce the place up a bit. The clothes are on hangers and in boxes and my car is sagging from the load. My kids even throw in some clothes of theirs in case there are girls in the house who are needy.

I pull into the drive…count three cars and a pickup truck. I’m wondering…how many people live here? There is an old washer and dryer stacked out in the carport, trash everywhere. The new blinds I bought at Wal-Mart are gone and a faded United State flag blanket is pulled over one window and varied and sundry things drape the others.

I knock at the door which used to be white and is now blotched with mildew and filth. A squirrely dog and a pit bully type dog growl and go into a frenzy of barking and clawing at the window sill Jim had so carefully painted months before. Didn’t the lease say” No PETS?” I’m seething inside at this point.

I hear the woman inside shout “Shad UP” to the now hysterical dogs. I wait expectantly at the door. After 10 minutes, I decide she is not going to open the door, so I stalk back to my car and pull open both car doors. A pile of long sleeved shirts spill onto the driveway.

I hope she’s watching as I pick them up carefully and struggle pitifully under my load up the driveway to the porch. It’s 30 degrees and the wind is whipping my hair backwards into my glowering face.

I remind myself…what good is it to help the poor in Haiti if I can’t even help here? I will invite this lady and all the other people who are apparently living with her here in this little 912 sq ft house to our church. I’m at the bottom of the driveway due to all the junk cars parked haphazardly ahead, so I trudge back and forth, stacking the clothes in neat piles on the chairs on the porch and on top of a log, no doubt a leftover from one of the tree cutter’s cuts.

The love of Christ is not really flooding my heart and the freezing wind does not help. I want to tell the woman that no matter how poor you are…you could clean up your yard….that I would starve before I would “not pay the rent,” how I had lived in tiny little trailers and a small apartment with the girls in an 8 x 8 room with Whitney on the floor, how I’d slept in hovels in Africa but managed to sweep and have some pride in my abode.

I didn’t say any of those things, however. I meekly leave everything, go home, complain big time to Jim, ask God to forgive me for my bad attitude which is still creeping up even now.

Truth is…I would like to evict them and all those folks living with them…but I have


Perhaps God will honor that and they will pay the rent once in awhile.


Karen-Missionary Meany

PS Our tickets are booked back to Haiti to work on two projects at opposite ends of the island. You are welcome to join us!