Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Familiar Faces and Places

Joe, the painter who forever mummified small lizards and spiders by coating them with a layer of paint in the doorjambs of our house, is not dead. This is in direct denial of the most recent report I'd received about him, in which I was notified that he could not be found after the earthquake and was assumed dead. Apparently everyone had been notified that he'd suddenly shown up healthy and alive. Except me... I was totally unaware of this. So when Joe popped his head into the library on the Nazarene campus where I'd grown up to briefly greet me, I pretty much sat there in shock with my eyes watering after he left and for a lack of better ideas of how to respond when dead people show up to shake your hand. Joe has always been one of the most cheerful people I know. I went back to working on the computers in the library.

I got to see lots of familiar faces on the Nazarene campus, including Mari who now called me "good man" instead of "good boy." The yard outside our house where I'd caught a tarantula hawk for a bug collection in science class was now speckled by a few tents that students were currently living in. Yvette, who used to help us around the house, was still around, and was very excited to see me. Thankfully, Edwidge gave me a ride back to Delmas 75. I had no way of getting myself around, so I'd been hitching rides, walking, and taking toptops all week. He took me out to lunch in our old Montero, which apparently he'd slept in every night for a month after the earthquake.

I got to stay with my good friends (and now coworkers) the Williams. I met new members of the MAF team working there in Haiti, including Todd and Jennifer Edgerton who had us over for a delicious meal one night. Everyone has their earthquake story... many of which include begin with... "man, if it had happened just a few minutes earlier...", or "if I hadn't picked the kids up early from school like I usually do..."

a few years ago

a few weeks ago

One of the major highlights for me was getting to ride along on an MAF flight up to Anse Rouge to visit my classmate Judy. Apparently MAF employees are regularly granted the opportunity to ride along on training flights in Nampa, but no one had notified me of this well-kept secret, so this was my first chance to fly MAF since I'd joined... well, for the first time in over a decade, really. Seeing the land of Haiti drift below me was a surreal experience. Such a beautiful country. I only got a few minutes to catch up with Judy and meet her beautiful little girl, Ani, but I was lucky to make it up there at all. The 11-hour trip was only 43 minutes by plane. Judy has a blog up about little Ani's adventures, and Jason Krul, the pilot who took me up to Anse Rouge, has some interesting stories on his blog as well.

on course for Anse Rouge

Jason doing all the piloting and me getting to wear the headset.


and Judy!

I got to see my old school, QCS, which is looking great. Some teachers and friends I remember were still around. The computer lab was awesome, well-equipped with 25 classroom computers and flat screen monitors, all running Edubuntu, which was of particular interest to me because I'm a nerd and into that sort of thing. I walked home with Kristie Mattenley to see Shane and the fam again (he was my youth pastor from back in the day).

QCS's outside wall covered with Wyclef Jean slogans.
I wonder which teacher is such an avid supporter

One of my main reasons for visiting was to check in on a project MAF has had with the STEP seminary in Bolosse for the past few years. STEP has extension courses in workbook format for a few pastoral students outside the city. We've been working with them to get their extension courses into a digital format so they'd be more easier to distribute, more accessible for those with computers and an internet connection, and cheaper to produce. I explained once in my blog why I feel committed to working in educational solutions in countries like Haiti. You can read the article I wrote here. I was wrestling with this sense of urgency I feel to meet the needs of country's afflicted by natural disasters, poverty, and political unrest. It is tempting to me to be drawn more the "disaster response" approach, but on further reflection I concluded that perhaps for me, education is the right field to be in. Situations like Haiti has are not brought on in one fell swoop, and they are not solved in one frenzied stinger operation either. Not at all am I trying to belittle the tragic reality of the earthquake in January, nor discredit groups that were able to make short-term relief trips. But 6 months after most of these groups have left, I see the schools, seminaries, churches, Haitian businesses, and orphanages that are in it for the long haul, working not just for a temporary balm but training Haitian leaders to direct the future of their country, I am encouraged. Even as you read this entry, be sure to keep Haiti's November elections in your prayers. It encourages me to see seminaries like STEP and STNH investing in people as long-term responses to the corrosive oppressiveness that weighs Haiti down. It is good to be a part of that solution, as well.

I went to Haiti quite uncertain as to whether I would come back encouraged or with a feeling of despair. Let me just share a few thoughts on that topic. Firstly, the resolute urgency with which Haitian Christians and foreign missionaries serving there plead for God's intercession and guidance is quite moving. People are committed and working for things to improve. It is unclear about how that will happen, however. The second thing I noted was that many foreigners in Haiti trying to help are on the verge of throwing in the towel. I think it is easy for a visitor to leave Haiti with a burden of despair and hopelessness, and I began to get a feel for that from many of the ex patriot workers in Haiti. However, despair is certainly not the sentiment I got from any of the Haitians I talked with. I finally concluded with a sweeping generalization, which I normally try to avoid. In this case, though, I concluded that despair and hopelessness is not a native Haitian trait. If anything it is imported from the outside; it is far more prevalent among foreigners working in Haiti. We ought to be careful not to spread this particular ideology in other countries we work in.

I left with a heavy heart for the tragedies Haiti faces and the challenges for its future. But I also left with the words of hope from many of my conversations and visits with Haitian friends. I realize how pathetic and superficial my faith is when I talk with people in Haiti, and the best I can manage is to listen and learn from what they say, as people who have lived it in a way I will probably never know. I think the video I posted in the previous week's reflection sort of expresses that.

Marc and me

Pernier falls

Haiti has at least two wonderful well-kept secrets that remain mostly hidden from foreigners coming expecting a trauma tour. Marc Williams took me to visit a feeding program he helps at and introduced me to some of the kids he's gotten to know there. Children have always had a way of piercing through all the pretentious walls I can put up and making all my years of training and formal education seem quite trivial. The kids in Haiti, with their carefree playing, stark honesty about both the good and the bad, and determined earnestness, are one of Haiti's best kept secrets. Another secret carefully hidden from most visitors is the land. Flying up to Anse Rouge at a lower altitude and seeing the coast and mountains stretched out before me, speckled with small huts and a few trees, was an awesome experience. And the day before I left, I hiked with Marc and his friends up a chain of waterfalls less than 30 minutes from where I used to live. I lived in Haiti for 9 years before Edwidge showed me these waterfalls that were buried in the mountains so close to our home. Many people in Haiti have never even seen these waterfalls, and have no idea they are so close to where people live. By the time the water from these waterfalls crosses the road, it is a gully-wash spreading out rocks, trash, and soapy muck onto the highway (in beautiful multi-color example of a "delta formation" if you payed attention in geography class). But if you follow the stream up past where people are washing their clothes and bathing, up past where there is a congestion of trash and pollution, you come to parts of the valley that are clean, peaceful, and serene. It is in these places that you can get a glimpse of what Haitians know about their country that few of us ever get to see.


Kathie said...

You always make me think. I love that. Thank you :)

Chelle said...

One: Is that waterfall up on Montagne Noir? There was some great hiking up there when I was younger. Up past where Clifford used to live.

Two: Isn't Ani adorable? I so want to go spend some time with Judy and her family.

Three: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stories, I know that barely scratched the surface, but it was a good synopsis. I wish I could have seen more people and places when I was there. All the more reason to go back.

Four: It is so easy to despair. Oddly, when I'm in Haiti it's easier to have hope, perhaps because I can be there and be a part of doing something about it.

Five: I didn't know you were working with STEP! That is so cool. That is the same seminary that my parents teach at.

Six: I understand your draw to work with impoverished people. I think that's one thing that feels so odd to me here in Okinawa; a lack of visible poverty and suffering. I miss working with and helping people who have nothing. And I miss learning from their Incredible faith.

bboy said...

Hi Michelle!

The waterfalls at Montagne Noir are quite amazing... the ones we actually went to are down in Pernier, I think it's called, out by the military base at the end of Tabar.

Haha, and yes it was interesting for me when I figured out we were working with STEP. I realized how little I knew of what my friends' parents did :) I never really thought about it before!

Thanks for your comments!