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Working My Way Through the Week

May 18, 2012

Last Sunday, I sat in the yard with my Bible on my lap, reading some of the passages closest to my heart, my “centering” passages, those that bring me back to what is important in life.  Again, Jesus talked to me through the Sermon on the Mount, about what it means to live in the kingdom of God in the here and now.  The more time I spend in this sermon, the richer it becomes, the more “possible” it becomes.

Moving to the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, suddenly a single verse jumped out at me:  “I was a stranger and you took me in.”  This is exactly what Yonese and her family did for me.  When I suddenly had no home, and no plan, they opened their home to me.  I was certainly not a stranger to the family; I met Yonese and Evens in on my second day in Haiti.  They soon became good friends.  Adlene, Yonese’s daughter, is one of those studying to be a nurse at my school.  As Yonese has no oven, I baked Stephie, her youngest daughter, a cake for her last birthday.  But what is not apparent in the English version of this text stands out to me in Creole, for in Haiti, the word for ‘stranger’, etranje, also means foreigner’.

Olivier, my sometimes taxing friend in whom I invested a modest amount or money to help him establish a small business, told me on Sunday that he wanted to return my money.  He has done well, and earned enough to cover the loan in his first month of operation.  However, I told him to keep the money for now and reinvest it to make the business grow.  When I asked what had prompted his thinking, he said, “I don’t think you have enough to money for the things you need.”  I assured him there was no problem, and had a long talk with his mother to be sure they understood that it is my desire that Olivier be able to build a business that can support him long term.  I was touched that he was willing to sacrifice his future to see to it that I was alright.

Evens regularly invites me to view the progress on the home he is preparing for me.  I am delighted; the home is going to be beautiful.  It is obvious that he takes pleasure in knowing that I am pleased with his work.  I realize that there are significant benefits for him in our arrangement, but isn’t that almost always the case when we give?

Can we ever give anyone anything as an unconditional gift?  Aren’t we always at some level looking for something in return—a reciprocal gift, the recipient’s affection, the good feeling we get from giving, the knowledge that we are “pleasing God”, the expectation of approval from others for our generosity?  The list could go on and on.  Can we ever give ourselves as a gift to God, unconditionally love Him purely, just because He is?  Or can we only do that out of hope of salvation, to win God’s approval , to seek His aid to get things—prosperity, a better/easier life, healing for ourselves or others?

The charger for my laptop has been dying a slow death for many months now.  The first ‘hiccups’ appeared not long after my arrival in Haiti, but being very sporadic,  didn’t cause me a great deal of concern.  However, the problem grew increasingly frequent and troublesome, and of late it has taken a ridiculous ritual to get it to work at all.  When I finally would get it to work, my success was not long-lived.  Finally it quit altogether.  There is an ample measure of speculation in my analysis of the problem, but basically I believe Apple’s designers never anticipated the rigors of the climate and environment of Haiti.

When I purchased my MacBook and the AppleCare service plan to go along with it, I was very clear that I was going to Haiti. I asked whether that would present any problem.  The salesman assured me that Apple provided customer support worldwide, and that help would never be more than a phone call away.  However when my problem first occurred, and I made that phone call, I was informed that Haiti is not part of Apple’s world.  However, if I could mail the faulty charger to the US, they would check it and replace it if it was found to be faulty.  I explained that mail service in Haiti is non-existent.   Even if I could get something here by mail, what would I give as my address?  Near the south end of the village, around the first curve after the Pierre Payen sign, up the gravel path alongside the fourth house on the right?  The person I was talking to then suggested FedEx or UPS.  I explained that these were not options; those companies ship to Haiti, but not from it.  I pointed out that there are other courier services that do, but I was informed that Apple would not use them. There must be some way to ship it, they insisted.  Yes, I could find someone who was going to the US, send it with them, and have them ship it to you, then wait for them to return in a month or two or six.  Haiti is a different world.

My laptop is very important to me.  But without a functional charger, it is a nothing but a very expensive paperweight.  I don’t want to use the word crucial, as in reality I could survive without it, but it is certainly very important to me.  My life would be more difficult in many ways if I didn’t have it.  It is my primary means of communication with others.  It is a tool for my work on which all my documents and records are stored, and on which I attempt (unsuccessfully) to find funding sources.  Through the Internet, it is my source of information on every subject in which I take interest.  It is virtually my only source of entertainment here, providing my music, my movies, a few games, and far more importantly, my ebooks.

Mike, a friend from Montrouis, told me that he knew someone in Port-au-Prince whom he was sure could find a replacement charger for me.  He couldn’t.  Apple has no presence in Haiti.  People bring the latest technologies to this country, but the support systems rarely follow.  There simply isn’t enough money to be made for high tech companies to bother.  My friend and ophthalmologist, Kerry, had traveled to the US about a week ago; perhaps he could bring a charger back for me.  I tried calling his wife, but the number was not working.  I called a few other people, and they all had the same number for her.  So early Tuesday morning I stopped off at their house, but she had already left for the school she operates.  So I went there.  Joy called Kerry, and I told him exactly what I needed.  He will try to bring it back for me when he returns to Haiti in a few days.  When I told Joy, who is one of the most explosively effervescent people I have ever met, that her number wasn’t working, she remarked, “I wondered why nobody has been calling me!”

On Monday I spent several hours talking with my friend, Rioll, who has been in Haiti on and off for several years.  He is from the Bahamas, but his mother is originally from Haiti.  Rioll is a successful entrepreneur with business interests here in Haiti, the Bahamas, the United States and Canada.  He owns an electronics store and Internet café in Saint-Marc, and I have done business with him for some time.  We have become quite good friends, and we often spend time in intense and lengthy discussions.  Last week he informed me he is leaving Haiti and moving to Alberta, as he has some oil interests there.  The reason he is leaving is because life here is too hard for him.  As a foreigner in this country he is often victimized.  He finds the only way to survive is to be nasty to people, and he doesn’t want to do that.  He hates that he has become someone he doesn’t want to be.  I understand completely.  I hope we will see each other from time to time in Canada.

I am trying to learn some of the Creole idioms, things that when literally translated make absolutely no sense.  I told Dr. Felix that I couldn’t  find a translation for the word ‘care’ as in ‘care about something’.  He told me there isn’t one.  Why does it not surprise me that in this country where I see so little ‘caring’, there isn’t even a word for it?  In Creole, the phrase used to say “I don’t care”  literally translates “I don’t look at it”.  That fits my experience exactly.  It reminds me of reading about George Grenfell, a missionary in the Congo, who found that among the people with whom he was working the whole concept of forgiveness did not exist.  They had no word for it.  The Moravians who came to evangelize the Inuit found the same thing.  They had to create a word in order to explain the Gospel.

As I walk through the market in Saint-Marc, I watch as used clothing from the US and Canada is unloaded from large trucks.  This clothing, donated to thrift stores, is sold to contractors who sort it and pack it into huge cardboard boxes and ship it to Haiti and other third world countries.  Here it is sold to businesses that haul it throughout the country and resell it to ‘wholesalers’ who unpack it and in turn sell it to street vendors.  This is not charity.  This is business, capitalism in one of its vilest forms in my opinion, profiting from what people donated believing their donation would benefit the poor.  The used clothing sold in the market is priced beyond the reach of the very poor here.

In Port-au-Prince I travel past the tent cities, the tarps now faded by almost two years in the tropic sun, weathered and tattered by the wind.  Many have been forcibly evicted from these camps with no where to go.  Despite this, the Red Cross is considering using a large tract of land it owns in Port-au-Prince to build a “business class” hotel and convention center.  From this refuge in the midst of hell, people will be able to ride in the air-conditioned comfort of luxury SUVs, behind dark tinted glass, to “see Haiti”.  But the only Haitians they need see will be those who carry their bags, clean their rooms and mix them those delicious fruit drinks in the bar.   I doubt if this is what the Red Cross’ donors had in mind when they signed their cheques.

Not everyone arriving in Haiti since the earthquake came to help rebuild.  Mining companies have been frantically prospecting.  Recently it was announced that a $40 billion gold vein has been discovered straddling the border between the north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic .  “If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward,” said the Bureau of Mines Director for Haiti.  Who wants to lay odds that neither of these conditions will be realized?  Yes, I am a cynic when it comes to these things.

Rioll told me of being in Gonaives in the aftermath of the flooding brought on by the four storms of the devastating hurricane season of 2008.  He told of seeing truckloads of rice in bags clearly marked identifying them as food aid.  A few were distributed to those in need.  But then bales of rice bags bearing commercial labelling arrived, and men began to fill these bags with the food aid rice.  It was then taken to be sold.   The bulk of the rice never reached those for whom it was intended.  I have, and I’m sure you have as well, heard stories similar to this from war-ravaged countries and disaster areas throughout the world.  The love of money truly is the source of unthinkable evil.

I wondered why Rioll hadn’t said something, done something.  But I had no need to ask the question.  I knew why.  To incur the wrath of those with power in Haiti is to invite a lethal response.

My heart cries out in anger and in pain, and I join the voice of Isaiah:

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,  making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.  What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?  Where will you leave your riches?
  Isaiah 10:1-3

Where is the justice in this land?  Where is your mercy?  The answer for Haiti is from my perspective simple.  Haitians must respond to God’s promise in Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  But somehow the simple answers are often so difficult to accept.

On Thursday I once again travelled to Port-au-Prince in search of my Permis de Sejour.  This time it was ready, and the passport-like document was handed over to me at last.  But I was informed that now I will need to take another letter from Dr. Felix certifying that he is my guarantor and another photo to the police to register my Permis.  No doubt there will be another fee to be paid.

I have noted a much more visible UN presence in the last few weeks.  I rarely am in Saint-Marc without seeing armoured personnel carriers rolling down the streets manned by troops in full battle gear.  In Port-au-Prince I saw many UN vehicles, and troops seemed to be everywhere.  I sometimes have the feeling of living in an occupied nation, which in reality is the case.  The peacekeepers appear anything but friendly.

I am currently working on preparing a full course outline for our nursing program.  When completed, this will be about a 75-page booklet, in French, detailing all the modules in each subject.  The Ministry of Health requires that the school submit this document to qualify for permits to place our students in hospitals for the practicum elements of their studies.  At COPSA-Haiti Nursing School and Laboratory we use the National Nursing School curriculum, which hasn’t been updated in 20 years.  Bringing it up to standard will be a huge job, and I have only a few days to complete it.  I then will have to visit hospitals to negotiate agreements to place our students.  As Principal, my role is rapidly expanding.  I thank the Lord constantly that He is with me, as the world has not prepared me well for this.

It is morning.  I am awakened by a foraging mouse rummaging around amongst my things.  It’s funny how traffic and blaring horns doesn’t disturb my sleep, but the sound of mouse jars me into consciousness.  I reach for my flashlight to check my clock; it is 5 AM.  The house is quiet.  No one else in the house is moving yet.  I lie back on my pillow.  It is only slightly damp; the nights have been a bit cooler since Saturday’s downpour, so I haven’t been sweating as much.

My mind wanders through the events of the past few days, the images, the impressions, and the feelings they evoked.  I think about some of the misery, tragedy, and injustice amongst which I live.  I am exasperated at some of the things people from within and without this country do to its people.  I think about how I often feel alone in what I am doing here.  And I thank God for my being here, and for the people with whom I share my life.  I would wish nothing different.

It’s 6 AM.  I know it is already quite bright outside, but in my room there is only the vaguest hint of light.  I hear movement, the family beginning to get ready for their day.  The strains of Majesty float from somewhere in the house.  I marvel that even though they understand almost no English, somehow worship music transcends language barriers.  My mind shifts to my “to do” list, the things I want to accomplish today.  “For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

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