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Communiqué #017


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

August 24, 2005

It has been a long time since I have taken a road trip on the highway between Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince! However, a long standing invitation to visit Jacmel changed all of that. The road, it seems, was in the worse condition that I have ever seen it, in part due to the still evident ravages of Hurricane Dennis. I was traveling in the school bus that was so often used by Pastor Israel when transporting mission teams from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes. On this trip the driver was none other than Pastor Israel’s son Ezechias. The skills of his father were evident in Ezechias’ handling of the many challenges he met on the road to and from Jacmel. Thirty youth and their chaperones were headed to a weekend youth event for the choir of Les Cayes and the choir of Jacmel. Initially, the road heading away from Les Cayes is in relatively good condition. Then comes the part where the asphalt areas are far outnumbered by the potholes. Does one follow the route of the vehicle ahead assuming that they know the smoothest route? Or, does one venture in a different direction gambling that this route will be the smoother of the two?  Deep, muddy gorges filled with water would present a slippery challenge. How deep was the gorge, how mucky the bottom and how miry was the clay? Will we head in with all four tires or enter on a tilt with two tires remaining on the ragged slope bordering the gorge? Time after time, Ezechias made the right choice and planted his passengers on the other side of the obstacle completely intact! At times, young boys could be seen standing knee deep in the middle of the gorge pointing to the best entry point for taking the bus to the other side. When there was only one good way to attack the road ahead, invariably a huge tap-tap (a grossly overloaded public transportation bus) would be barreling down the mountainside heading at the exact same time for the exact same piece of turf that we were headed for. Side view mirrors touching side view mirrors (and worse!) is a common occurrence when one vehicle does not quite get out of the way in time for the other. Added to this dilemma were the pedestrians, and goats, and bicycles, and dogs that fearlessly walk on the edges of the road! Not unusual was the sight of a toddler playing in a mud puddle on the shoulder of the road, without an adult in sight! Some stretches of road have completely disappeared under the recent avalanches of mud and rock that have come down the mountains in the heavy rains of the hurricane. Local men and boys can sometimes be seen with buckets and shovels. The buckets are for seeking donations of coins from those wanting to get through and the shovels are an attempt to show the motorists that they are working hard for their money by clearing the mounds of mud and rock from the buried asphalt or, in some instances; they are just scamming the motorists for their loose change. The biggest challenge on this trip would occur when we reached Grand Goave. A huge section of the large bridge collapsed during Hurricane Dennis during the month of July 2005. See photo! Repairs do not happen quickly in Haiti. Thus, an alternative route has been plotted out that takes all travelers through narrow unpaved and uneven roads through the remote areas of the village, down a steep bank, through the erupted river bank littered with displaced boulders and receding water and then heading through the swiftly moving river to an ascension on the riverbank on the other side. Cars can be seen being pushed through the rushing waters, by persons in waist deep water. Cargo and passenger laden tap-taps can be seen struggling (and sometimes getting stuck) through the rocky riverbed. See photo! Our skilled driver placed us safely on the other side, complete with our luggage, drums, keyboards, sound system and all passengers intact! Thankfully, when we turned off the highway onto the highway leading to Jacmel, we were greeted with pothole-free asphalt. The biggest challenge ahead was the multiple mountain-winding curves on the road that we would travel for the last hour of our seven hour, 120 mile trip!

On Saturday, I ventured with a few of the ladies to the public market in search of the food for the weekend. The sights, sounds and smells are quite interesting at a Haitian open air market. The area is crowded with people who are shoulder to shoulder. Each vendor has their specialty items uniquely displayed in a small confined area. Shoppers squeeze through narrow passageways between people, produce and puddles smelling of urine at your feet. Refrigeration is unheard of where the fly speckled meat is displayed, complete with the remaining parts of the animal’s carcass. See two photos! Produce is displayed, with the sellers’ feet as a means of letting buyers know that “these are my vegetables; those are hers….please buy from me!” See photo! A fortunate few vendors are out of the hot sun by being under the old rusty roof of the ready-to-collapse building. Others have mounted an umbrella to provide shade for themselves. Still others squat, all day, in the heat of the sun with hopes of selling enough steel wool, or bars of soap, or any number of other miscellaneous items to bring home enough money to feed their families on that day. When all of our purchases were made, we had carry-out service!!! See photo! A man, beaded with sweat, loaded all of our items into a dented and dirty wheelbarrow and brought our items right to our car! It doesn’t get better than that!

Meanwhile, the youth were enjoying a spiritual gathering at a beach in Jacmel, followed by swimming, soccer and a feast of rice and beans and chicken with fresh squeezed lemonade! The evening was set aside for rehearsals for both choirs.

Sunday morning, we would mount several steps to the second floor of a home that has been donated rent-free for two years for a meeting place for the worshippers of the church in Jacmel. The talented choirs of both churches, along with the musicians, presented our Lord with their special gift of music. When I was asked to say a few words, I could not help but comment that their gift of voice had brought goose bumps to my arms. I had almost forgotten what goose bumps were in the steamy temperatures of Haiti, until the sheer thrill of the loud and vibrant singing of praises caused my skin to erupt with the memory! My choice of topics for my short speech caused quite a stir after the service. People eager to expand their English vocabulary kept coming up to me wanting to hear more about the curious words “goose bumps!” I hope my other words, speaking of their wonderful ways of praising the Lord, were not lost in my unique two-word selection!

In the afternoon, Pastor Marky Kessa (brother of Leonie Izidor) took me out to a property that will hopefully one day be home to a church building and a school. A larger place for worship is definitely needed! On this particular day at the morning service, small children had been asked to give up their seat for the many adults who were standing in a small confined area. Many of the children ended up going home because there was simply no room for them to sit on the floor. The property that we looked at is owned by a member of the church. It is this same man that is allowing worshippers to use the second floor of his home. Pastor Marky has received a pledge of $10,000 from someone in the states who will give the money if Pastor Marky will find people for a matching donation of $10,000. Although the property is worth more than $20,000, the owner is willing to settle on this amount for the work of his Lord. In essence, the property is where the man had been running a concrete block business and he was planning on one day making his home there. Instead, he is allowing the church to use the concrete blocks to begin the church structure and will give the property to the church, if they will purchase a similar property on which he can build his new home. See photo! To the right of the property is a small plot that the church would also like to purchase. It would double as a parking lot for the worshippers and a basketball court for the youth. To the left of the property is another small plot that the church would like to purchase for the building of a school. The digging of a water well is under way! This beautiful property is on the hearts of the worshippers in Jacmel. They are praying for God to provide this place of worship for them!

When leaving the property, we paused so that I could take a photo of a home that was destroyed by the strong winds of Hurricane Dennis. The home was occupied by eight people, some of whom are members of Pastor Marky’s church. In the photo shown below, you can see the home was not of concrete and mortar. You can see that the separate structure used for cooking the family meals was left standing. The family returns to this site every day to spend time “in their home.” At night, the family scatters to various homes of friends and relatives for a place to lay their heads. Their plight is another prayer that is on the lips of members of the church in Jacmel. They are praying that somehow God will provide a new home for this family.

Sunday night was the culmination of our trip to Jacmel. The two choirs held an evening concert. The concert was scheduled to begin at 6PM, but in true Haitian fashion, the event actually began around 7:30PM after additional chairs and benches were hauled in for the audience and after the musicians tuned and re-tuned their instruments and all of the microphones were tested and moved and re-tested. No one seemed to mind the wait! After all, this was a festive social occasion in which one could visit with friends and family. Once underway, the songs were electrifying – a beautiful evening of praise!

Following the concert, the teens were invited to Pastor Marky’s house, where his wife and some helpers had baked several cakes and where ice cold soda would be served.

Monday came none too quickly for the chaperones that had spent long sleepless nights with the high-energy teens. The bus headed out once again to that adventurous highway. We would not be disappointed!

On the outskirts of Les Cayes, the choir and musicians had their last hurrah! With drums beating, whistles blowing, and voices singing we filled the streets with lots of sound! A joyful sound! Onlookers could see hands clapping and people dancing in the aisles. Among the dancers was Leonie Izidor – a joyful sight just a few short months after the passing of her dear husband. When we arrived in the church yard, there was no doubt that we were home and that the whole neighborhood knew it! The bus continued to bounce, long after the engine was turned off. A joyful trip for kids who don’t often get a chance such as this! God’s name was praised!

Nora Nunemaker

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic

Until next time ………….

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