Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday. It is still Tuesday, right?

Today (Tuesday) felt like three days packed into one so I'm really not sure.

We left at six thirty this morning as planned...I wanted to get an early start since I knew we had a lot to do and also knew that Haiti has a way of disrupting the best laid plans. We got home just after eight o'clock. Here's what happened in between:

The list of people that wanted to go along on today's adventure kept growing, so I had to trade trucks with John M. in order to have room for all eleven of us. Once we made the vehicle swap and finished loading it up at the hospital, our traveling crew consisted of myself, Paige, her friend Natalie, Geronne, Tipap, Dr. Jen, Jessica (one of my very favorite Canadians), Emmanuel, his niece Yvonne, Patrick, and Samuel.

Here were the day's goals: visit potential sites in Leogane (the epicenter of the earthquake) for building some 'Paige houses' (as they are being called) and see Tipap's family there, stop in Grand Goave to see some of Jessica's friends, spend time with our friends the Yonkers who are living in Petit Goave and overseeing the ongoing Ebenezer ministry (Pastor training/discipleship/and now home building), visit future sites for more houses there in P.G., and take Emmanuel back to his home and family in Miragoane.

Sounds simple enough, right?

The Leogane sites all looked great and we will start coordinating the delivery and construction of the first six houses there soon. It was fun meeting the families that will be blessed by your generous contributions and care in their time of need. One of the families includes Miselene/Wiselene. (a former employee that recently had a baby...still unnamed of course...and yes, we are still unclear what her actual given name is since everyone calls her something different...)

The visit to the last site was skipped because during each stop I became more and more uncomfortable due to the onset of an intestinal disorder that we at Heartline refer to as "Haitian Happiness". (It is called that because everyone else is always so happy that it is not presently affecting them.)

The drive from Leogane to Grand Goave (and a working...ahem...toilet) has never seemed farther. I think they are relatively close to each other but I felt like I was trying to drive across a pothole-filled never ending expanse. Along the way I scoped out many sugar cane fields trying to find a semi-private spot and smooth-looking cane leaves just in case. I found no such thing. I also found it impossible to engage in the conversations going on around me and really started thinking that this day/plan was going to be a bust far too early.

After approximately forever we arrived in G.G. and Jessica's friends house and I'll spare you the rest of those details.

We carried on to Petit Goave and had a great time catching up with the Yonker family (and Tiffany Gates and Bossimus and Pastor Marc and other friends there) and seeing all the progress at Ebenezer. They had their own sewage problem there last night, but again, I'll spare the details and ask that you pray for them and the great work they are doing while living in some tough circumstances. Five of the ten houses that will be built for people in the Ebenezer community have been delivered, with the rest coming tomorrow. We worked out some plans for getting the houses built and saw some of the families receiving them and what is left of their former homes. I was blown away by the destruction in the city of Petit Goave - it is as bad as anything else I've seen. The charming historic city is gone. The streets are filled with tents and tarps and rubble. The ocean receded and rose and the shoreline collapsed in places taking homes with it. I still can't get my mind around it. The people we visited were still filled with hope and joy and love, which made it all the more difficult to bear. It will be a great encouragement to them and to us to see new homes constructed so they can continue to move on with their amazing and challenging lives.

During our time in P.G. some of the passengers that tagged along for the ride got restless and were in a hurry to complete our journey and head home....if only they knew what was coming they probably would have preferred to stay and relax at Ebenezer.

Next up - take the amazing Emmanuel back to visit his parents and other extended family (that have not seen him since the quake and assumed he had died for some time) living (supposedly) in Miragoane. I hope you have some time available, because this is where the story gets long and interesting.

Quick review of Emmanuel's story...
Emmanuel moved to Port au Prince as a young boy to attend school. As is often true in Haitian families, their hopes and dreams were pinned on the education and potential future of this young man. He has six siblings, all living in a remote rural village in the southern peninsula of Haiti. A cousin took him in and provided for him and sent him to school (until the equivalent of tenth grade). Then the earthquake came. The cousin was killed. The school collapsed. Emmanuel had been at home - and found himself trapped under that collapsed home together with a cousin that he watched die a day later. He stayed trapped there for a total of three days. Eventually he ended up at Heartline's hospital - his leg had to be amputated and many painful procedures including skin grafts followed. More of his story is here.
He has made amazing progress and we have seen our hope restored as he has grown in his hope and strength and confidence. Heartline will continue to help him reach his full potential and dreams that would make you cry if you heard them right now. And I'll cry too but this story isn't done so I'll move on and you'll have to wait.

Emmanuel has always told us that he and his family are from Miragoane. That is where we planned on taking him today. We did not know that 'Miragoane' was a very loose term applied to a very large area including a lot of mountainous terrain. (I should have known - but I've been gone too long and forgot to clarify with a lot of questions to make sure my assumptions were correct about where we were headed.)

We arrived in the city of M. in good time, and Emmanuel told us 'nou preske rive' - we're almost there. In Haiti this term can mean anything from five minutes to five hours. Consider yourself warned. As we took the turn towards the harbor and crept through the bustling traffic I wondered which little house his family would be in here in this crowded 'metropolitan' area. I should have asked more questions. We kept going, kept creeping, and kept hearing 'nou preske rive'. Then we were out of town...and kept getting more and more out of town. We all started teasing him and asking how much longer and kept hearing the same response. Then he said 'only about an hour more' and I hoped he was kidding. He was all smiles so I assumed he was. I should have asked more questions.

At one point he said we'd arrive 'apre nou monte yon bel ti mon'. Literally - after we mount a beautiful small mountain. That's not actually what that means, though - the 'ti' part means small - and we drove up and down part of a mountain that was anything but. It was bel (beautiful) as far as the view, but I have a lot of other words to describe parts of the road that won't be shared here.

I should have asked more questions.

One question I did ask was this -
'Emmanuel, will there be any gas stations once we get out of town here?'
To which he replied -
'Yes, either a tank to fill from or at least plastic gallons to buy.'

This set my mind at ease even though the fuel gauge was already hovering over the big 'E' as 'Big E.' (as we call him) was totally making stuff up about the availability of fuel around his home which is most certainly NOT in the city of Miragoane but IS certainly high up in the mountains near a village called Paillant down a road that most vehicles could not travel...regardless of how much fuel is in the tank.

I don't know what Paillant means, but when I saw the name on a rickety rusty sign dangling from a tree on the rocky path I thought in my head that it might mean something like 'Idiot who did not ask enough questions'.

We watched rain clouds roll in and knew that if they let loose for five seconds the road we just tumbled down (partially with the truck off to conserve fuel) would be impossible to drive back up. The area is known for and covered in deep red clay that I'm pretty sure turns into the slipperiest substance on the planet when wet. The second we arrived I negotiated with someone from Big E's family to go and search for two plastic gallons of diesel, and even remembered to say that I wanted the ones that had not been watered down or cut with other substances. (That is the danger of buying by the plastic vegetable oil gallon containers on the side of the road.) I wasn't sure if we'd see him again during daylight, or even this week. I started scoping out a spot to sleep on the red ground under the old trees next to a tiny cornfield.

The arrival and reunion with Emmanuel's family and community was absolutely heartwarming and beautiful, and we quickly forgot about all of the stress leading up to that moment. We took pictures, laughed, heard and told stories, shared roasted cobs of corn and sliced abricot. Emmanuel's parents and siblings were there and I know that it was an honor and blessing for me to be there as well.

The two filthy gallons of diesel actually showed up after a while, and we put them in the tank using a plastic soda bottle converted into a funnel while watching the clouds darken and saying our goodbyes.

Emmanuel will stay for a few days with his family and then return to Heartline for ongoing care and love and fun and all that goes with the community there.

The rest of us headed back up the mountain slipping and shifting and getting out of the truck to check the road and tires and lighten the load so we could pass one spot, still laughing at the crazy day we'd enjoyed. We were jostled and jarred and rained on during the way home but it sure seemed to go by much more quickly than the trip out.
Just when we thought the excitement was over, we were following a large overloaded dump truck through a river crossing when it started tipping over on the opposite bank in front of us...while I shifted into reverse from the middle of the river I watched one back tire lift into the air while spinning and spitting mud...the whole thing nearly toppled onto the broken down truck on the bank next to it. Once that was backed up and out of the way...upon our second attempt to cross the river there was a showdown for the right-of-way that ended in a stalemate and a lot of arguing between both vehicles and bystanders. All the while I just calmly waved my hand at the other driver to back up since I knew that I had flashed my lights at him first and therefore claimed the right-of-way and that is the way it works here. Eventually he conceded and I counted it as another victory near the end of a very long and very successful (even if very crazy) day.