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.