On the way I was stopped by Johnny, a new mechanic at Haiti Outreach and asked to give him a ride home. So we bounced our way to the far side of town to his house, four mud walls and a tin roof. He insisted I stay for dinner. At the offer flashes of nights spent sitting on the toilet or vomiting passed through my mind. I decided to accept the offer despite the risks.
Under candlelight we shared a meal, me choking down as much as I could of the charred rice tasting much like it was burnt then scraped off the bottom of the pot. His family was amazing and superbly polite. Then as we neared the end of our meal perhaps the purpose for his hospitality surfaced. Johnny said his father-in-law was a pastor. I said there are a lot of churches in Pignon, he agreed, many, many. He said churches are a business and pastors the businessmen who run them. Then he asked if I would connect his father-in-law’s church with one in the States that would support them.
I explained that I believed in Christ and that the first priority of churches should be rooted in faith. I said money given to the church should largely be used to support the poor and not to build new houses and buy vehicles for pastors. I further said that my father taught me that money is the fruit of labor and should be worked for and not begged for. I tried to be respectful in my rejection of his request all the while aware of the crushing damage charity has done to Haitian mentality.
Pignon is a “ruined” community. It is on the receiving end of buckets of cash charity pouring in from the Sates every week. Whatever the intent of the money was I believe a bulk of it goes to support the lifestyles of an upper class wholly supported by charity.
Most of the residents of Pignon are hard-working lower class citizens. They don’t see hardly any of this charity. But their children watch it pour into the castles of the pastors and hospital staff. They learn that wealth is achieved through begging from white people.
The children in rural villages of Haiti are usually very polite, hard-working and fun to play with. But the children of Pignon, the ruined ones at least, are of the nastiest, most disrespectable variety I’ve ever encountered.
Today they tried to scam me, I called their bluff and they made me pay for it like a swarm of killer bees. Today we poured concrete in the base of a water tank, to replace a floor that had eroded away. Yesterday I had Haitian staff of Haiti Outreach with me to negotiate with people to help us buy and haul sand and gravel. But today was Saturday and it was just me and my three local plumbers.
As I drove up with a small pile of gravel and 4 sacks of cement in my truck I was met by 4 teenagers who offered to haul it down the hill for me. I said how much? They said 700 gourdes ($US 22). I said no way man, you hauled twice that much gravel for us yesterday for only 300 gourdes.
Then I proceeded to haul it down myself. It was a wet, rocky and muddy slope down to our worksite. I recruited Edris and another Haitian to help me. The guy I recruited hauls 5-gallon buckets of water up the hill all day for less than 2 gourdes a bucket. I offered him 100 gourdes to haul 8 buckets, more money that he would make in a whole day of work and still a fraction of what the other guys wanted. But when he arrived at the water tank with his first bucket of sand and told the other guys of his deal there was an uproar. The group of teenagers are of the “ruined” variety. They don’t see money as a reward for work but rather as something to be swindled from dumb white guys.
The three of us hauled the sand and I hauled the 95 pound sacks of cement myself. Then the group of 4 “ruined” guys proceeded to make the rest of my day a living nightmare. They assembled 20 of their buddies and stood right on top of our work all day pretending to help but all the while heckling me and making a big mess.
I’m generally a tough person to make mad but today they drove me to my breaking point. After 7 hours of exhausting labor, no lunch and incessant heckling I had a meltdown. Luckily it was only in front of Temelon and one leach of a kid when we were driving in the pickup to get a trowel. I told Temelon that I’ve had it with the disrespectful attitudes of his fellow residents. I told him I’m done working with Pignon. I’ll go to other communities that are willing to work for their water instead of belittling me with constant cries of “I’ll help you if you pay me, give me a gift, give me your gloves, give me your backpack, give me, give me!” I took Temelon back to the work site, made sure they knew what to do to finish the job that was nearly complete and retreated to my house. I spent the next hour eating and holding my head between my hands. I felt terrible that I’d lost my cool, exactly what the jerks wanted.
There have been so many good, hard-working citizens who have given me so much encouragement in the past weeks that it’s hard to turn my back just because of a few jerks. I wonder what Temelon is thinking tonight, my good friend. It’s hard to know exactly how I’ll resolve my feelings for the community of Pignon, a community ruined, not initially by Haitians, but by Americans who think they’re helping.
I think I know how I’ll resolve to continue, I’ll see one more incident of an old woman carrying water with all her might or a child malnurished and full of worms that he got from a contaminated glass of water. I’ll walk by the polluted, nasty, trash filled river where everyone goes to bathe every day and it will remind me why I came here. I’ll have to drive the memory of the hecklers to the back of my mind and put the needs of those hard-working Haitians front and center.
Thanks everyone for your prayers. Please pray that next time I’ll keep my cool and smile in the face of the hecklers knowing that I’m not working just for them but for a much more deserving kind of people.