Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 10-13, 3/21-24: Patience... more Patience


So immediately after my last post I left for Church with two of the Haitian volunteers who had sheepishly invited me. Central to the Haitian life is the spiritual life (tap taps all sport Christian slogans), so I figured why not stretch my faith practices and attend. Tourism quickly transformed into immersion as all of the other non-Haitians bowed out, and so I joined up with three of the locals for the long walk to the Labor Church of the Resurrection. I looked downright ratty in my skinny jeans, wrinkled button up, overgrown beard, and worn choco sandals. The rest of the 'brothers' more closely resembled a starched-white reenactment of 'Tombstone' as we walked side by side on our way to the Church.

The service was held in the Narthax, though I was lead also through the sanctuary to look at the earthquake damage. Painted on the wall were the words in English and Creole "Being Patient makes you more Patient" and "Being Strong makes you more Strong." This made more sense after the 4.5 hours of service in which I sat in a position of honor right behind the Pastor's podium (which had a fan!), introduced myself to the congregation, and clapped and sang
in half-comprehension. They seemed to look to me when they played 'Give thanks with a Grateful Heart,' and I have to say, it was a burning 15-minute version featuring trumpets, trombone's, and alto sax, and a very tight groove from the drum and bass. Even though it was in Creole... hearing the melody to this Contemporary'Christian standby, was comforting- in the way that anything based on the progression to Canon-in-D is bound to be.

Julmice was kind enough to try and translate during the sermon on I Timothy 2:9-10 (and thankfully did not dwell on :11->>), Jon 2:15-17, and then a few passages from the Old Testament. There was so many things said, and so much haste in translation that I would hesitated to make blanket statements about one group of Haitian religious belief, but I
will confirm that earthquake (known here as 'the event') is believed by many (or atleast this Pastor) to have been a spiritual reckoning. ...it hurts and shocks me to think that some Haitians would internalize this catastrophe as a reaction to dressing immodestly (I Timothy), or from worldly greed (Jon), which is almost laughable for one of the poorest countries in the world. Otherwise, the congregation could not have been more welcoming or generous in spirit. They thought I was a pastor from America! I was invited back for another round of prayer later in the afternoon, but I politely declined. I probably would have fainted, not that it would have raised any eyebrows.

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The next day I found myself looking at a strangely familiar face. And no, it was not another Haitian friend around town or at the market, but the picture of a missionary (Pere Reiser?) that I had seen in a framed picture the day before at Church. On this Monday I signed up as the second person on a team to be a handy-man at a senior center/school. There were 13 projects ranging from the small (fixing bookshelves to the walls), to the medium (constructing cement ramps for the handicapped), to the intimidatingly large (reconstructing a 25' x 50' building with a teetering roof and precariously damaged columns). This was complicated by the help of 5 hired Hatian workers and loosely managed by a Phil (from the UK) who worked for Johannister (a German medical NGO) funded by a Church in Michigan, USA. So... upon arrival, we were looked at as the foreman that we weren't, and expected to deploy circuitous capitol and get multiple balls rolling. However, further boiler-plate structural projects dramatically whittled down the scope of the project and I was able to schedule engineers to evaluate building damage later that week, as well as bring in an experienced demolition expert that afternoon to plan the most technical deconstruction.

Related to the senior-center, and the school, however, are the conversations regarding the scope of HODR, as well as those of other agencies. Above all else we/HODR try to take on projects that are feasible, and assess fundamental health, housing, safety, disease intervention, education and disaster preparedness in the devastated City of Leogane. However- there are also qualifying limits for those projects that they be the result of the earthquake. Sure, fixing electrical sockets may not be earthquake recovery, but it would more efficiently put children back in classrooms (as opposed to planned activities to build shcools!) Rehabilitating Haiti to January 11th, is simply reconstituting a chronically poor and unlivable nation-state. Who cares about technical scope when there is the opportunity to transform an area with higher and more legacy-oriented approach?

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After the slow day in Gracia, I hopped onto a rubble-project within walking distance. Again, though, I found myself at odds with the approach of some other team members (teams are typically 6-12 people in an evolving organization of over 80), as I sought to disassemble walls where others wanted to smash, sledge, and demolish. As sad and futile as it seems, the reality is only the shelters from Oxfam, CHF, Habitat etc. utilize wood, steel, and aluminum, while most of the rebuilding is still done with cinder-blocks and rebar. (Though understand these are the physical resources on an island without forests). With this in mind, for families that had invested and subsequently lost their savings in their homes, I am extremely focused on carefully disassembly, separation of cement, and organization of those surviving cinder blocks so as to facilitate reconstruction on a subsequently cleared slab. By working through the breaks I was mostly able to keep pace with the more adrenaline-junkie 'rubblers' and save a few pallets worth of blocks for the next house, and our whole team was happy to finish by lunch.

In the afternoon I headed back towards a rubble-site close to Gracia, which unlike much of the oppressively hot and sun-exposed sites of downtown Leogane is located in the shady country and more sparse agricultural neighborhoods. It seemed almost unfitting to pick our way down through these small green lanes, past white horses, piglets laying in the mud, and puppies (yes puppies) chasing each other through the bushes-- to then come to then see a half-fallen house with a roof pinned between trees and foundational walls. However, it was a great opportunity to see Bear (Brian) carefully strategize and attach pull-ons and ropes to carefully and safely fall the roof in stages. That, and I got an excuse to climb trees and tie sailor knots.

Cuban Salsa and Casino Rueda capped off the evening, but was the sweatiest salsa I had ever participated in. Lots of open position!

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Seeking a little relief for my lower back (being a musician, read: amp mover, = bad back), I opted to do 'house cleaning' for a day... what fun! My partner in crime was Brian- one of the small group of volunteers that is particularly interested in Haitian history, language, and politics... as opposed to the equally complementary but generally ever-present do-gooder types. My full-immersion approach to buying an AM/FM radio and only listening to Haitian music cracked a few seams when we powered up his laptop during breakfast dishes. Oh how I missed some of my more regular diet of music- and was delighted that he had Feist's 'Let it Die' album on his computer. Great compositions, lyrics... but what makes it for me is its production. As an example, the title track features some sparse but tasty vibraphone backing parts that are made all the more intimate through the faint sounds of its paddles vibrating in perfect subdivision to the BPM. Loved it.

However, every high must be followed by its low, and the realities of the base are not always pretty. The men's bathroom, no problem, but the women's.... ewww. Multiple courses of scrubbing, sanitizing, and bleaching were rewarded with a disesel fueled bonfire of the mountains of toilet paper mixed with kitchen trash. So be it. Even so, I enjoy checking in with my hyper-tidy side, and had a few opportunties to be creative. Lack of soap holders? Cut up old peanut butter jars! Shower-faucet buckets flooding the bathroom? Raise the buckets on bricks! I think we even came up with a new recipe for scrubbing the dining tables that restored them to their shiny-granite(like) lustre... rather than the molted brown that most had become accustomed to.

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I can't believe it has been only, and already two weeks. One week to go... and I'm already having cliche but true feelings of belonging to such potent experiences here with Hands-On. Thanks for reading friends...

3 comments:

Gwen said...

another great blog Andy... the church story was a hoot! Thank you for the sweet BD ecard...

Pam said...

Your writing, Andy, is so vivid I (almost) feel like I am experiencing what you are. If you are looking for another line of work.......this could be it! Your experiences are life altering. You are an extaordinary young man......

Tommie said...

Loving your blogs, Andy, and look fwd to hearing stories in person! See you Easter we hope.