Friday, March 19, 2010

Ninety bucks and a motorboat ... unforgettable

The day began at the Nazarene seminary compound in Port au Prince. Roger and I would be tour guides for April and Mustafa of the organization We've got a proposal in to them to fund some work we've been doing to repair wells damaged in the earthquake. We drove out to Leogane where Roger and I had scouted the previous Friday. Back to Philip’s house where a fight broke out at the well. A young guy took a girl’s bucket away from the well before it was full. She pushed him and he punched her square on the chin. It was a rude beginning to our tour with the folks.

Phillip is our local contact for the area. He introduces us to the people of influence and shows us where the wells are. Our HO technician has trained him to repair wells, a worthy skill for this 3rd year college student studying civil engineering.

The fight well had been damaged in the earthquake and repaired by a Haiti Outreach (HO) technician. We visited another well repaired by HO before heading up into the foothills, away from the chaos of the city. I’d requested a well that had not yet been repaired where we might see a situation with work potential in it.

Driving on a little rutted dirt road Phillip mentioned to a few people working on the road that we were going to visit the well. Within a few minutes of our arrival at a dry and inoperable well there was a crowd of 40-50 people. We learned that the owner of the well had become fed up with the local people not taking care of it, took the pump and threw rocks in the well so nobody could get water. It now sat as a 3 inch PVC pipe open to the sky with a busted concrete pad around it.

Nearby the well was a pile of rubble where a house once stood, destroyed by the earthquake. A hundred yards or so further was a tent city where a few hundred people now lived.

Roger, the HO lead community organizer, sang his song of how they could organize the community to prevent the social problems that caused the collapse of this well. He used little stories to get his point across. One went like this: here we started with a bag of rice. Every day you came to get a cup of rice. Then one day the bag was empty. The empty bag of rice looks much like that dry well over there. We’re going to show you how to replenish the rice as it’s used before we fix your well.

Roger would ask them: can you form a water committee to manage the well? They answered yes. He said, can you elect the committee so everyone trusts them with a bit of money given by each house every month? They said yes.

Roger said, everybody always says yes when he asks those questions. But now he stands on a soccer field ready to play ball. Will you, the community step up and play with him?

I looked into the faces of the crowd assembled before us and tears welled up in my eyes. These were hard, hard working people. They don’t need another obstacle in their lives. But yet here I stand backing a system that asks them to work just that much harder to eke out an existence on this busted island. It was hard to stand my ground and smile at them but I knew it was the right thing to do. Sometimes to show love, you have to do what hurts. This was one of these moments.

After the 3 well visits we headed back into Leogane to meet with the Mayor. The meeting started in French so Mustafa could understand but apparently it became too much of a struggle for the Haitians to explain themselves because all eventually began speaking Kreyol. I gathered most of what was being said and translated for April and Mustafa.

I was impressed with the no-nonsense attitude of the mayor’s staff. They seemed, at least in words, ready and capable of serving a people who desperately need their leadership.

After the meeting we met up with a few German guys who had been told to contact Roger by the Haitian government about the work they were doing. We called them, met at a gas station and followed them back to their compound, a collection of tents set up in a school yard.

Turns out they had a very sophisticated water testing laboratory set up and were testing all the wells in the area. They were using the GPS coordinates HO had collected to find each well. Their results were showing that about half of the wells were contaminated. I thanked them profusely for their work. It will be a great learning opportunity for me to teach the HO staff about water quality and contamination sources. Leaving the meeting, Roger was so excited he was on the phone with his technician to begin making plans to treat the wells.

By now it’s almost 3 PM and time for me to get a move on. Jean Wodle was supposed to get my motorbike insured, licensed and drive it out to me so I could take it to La Gonave for the rest of the week. But his two days already standing in lines was only enough to get the insurance paperwork done. So Neil arranged for a motorboat to take me to the island. Only I had to leave now and fast to make it before dark. Roger started driving, but at 30 mph and trying to eat his dinner while driving was enough for me to insist I should drive. I got the needle up to 50 mph and it felt as if we could go careening off the road at any moment. 90 minutes later we arrived at the port in Miraguane.
My little motorboat on the left...

Here’s where I paid the 3,600 gourdes, $US 90, to Fritzner, the boat taxi driver. At 5 PM we left the port for a supposed 30 minute journey. For some reason I had a great calmness about me. I wasn’t worried in the least, although perhaps I should have been when Fritzner asked if I was afraid of dying. I said no problem, but that was before the boat launched off one of the first great waves of the open ocean and came crashing down with such force that it made my ears ring.

Soon it was dark, we were both soaked and Fritz would occasionally stand up to see over the bow to take a bearing on who knows what. All we could ever see was a dim profile of land way off in the distance. At one point we came upon a big ship crossing our path. I though Fritz might ask for directions but he steered clear of them.

We eventually caught sight of a single light flickering amongst the island profile and Fritz looked at me with the first smile I’d seen on his face. He said “Afum” which means “we’re all good man.”

I was greeted at a small dock by one Haitian who took me up some stairs, through a house and out onto a dirt road. We walked in the pitch black darkness until we met another guy who the first guy handed me off to. One more handoff and my guides brought me to one of the only houses in town with lights, powered by a generator. And that’s when I found all my big white guy buddies. I’d brought mangos for them and they offered crackers and canned salmon in trade. Neil, Stuart, and Jim were all there with two Clemson University Engineers.

Neil, Jim and Stuart would sit in on a community meeting the next morning before heading back to the mainland. The Clemson engineering students and I would conduct a survey for a water system to serve the community of Pwent a Roquette over the next 2 days.

Today was a day for the record books. It was full of adventure, purpose and emotion. I felt like I was cradled in the palm of God’s hand all day. Love comes in many forms and today I experienced a good many.

1 comment:

  1. The Lord bless you. You and the people you are serving are in my prayers. His hand guides you in all ways and I praise Him for you and your gifts. Thanks for listening to His call. Sharon Nelson