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Communiqué #037


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

February 9, 2007

It should have been just another ordinary day when I set out to visit a little patient in the hospital. Today was the day that I would take the mother and father to apply for a passport for their youngest child. It would mean a day of sitting and waiting while necessary forms were typed on a manual typewriter. It would mean a day where I would stand in line to have photocopies made and in another line, at another building, to pay the fees for the passport application. It would be a day of going from building to building to building in an effort to accomplish one task. But through it all, I expected it to be a routine kind of Haitian day. Arriving at the hospital, I learned that the little patient was being released. After several long months, she was finally able to return to her home. I looked at this news as a chance to offer the family a ride home and at the same time give me a glimpse of where and how they lived. The family proceeded to gather their belongings. The clothes for the child and her parents had been neatly tucked under the mattress of the hospital bed, as a makeshift clothes closet of sorts. The lone stainless steel bowl and cup that were used for mealtimes for the entire time of the patient’s stay in the hospital, along with her pillow and sheets, were all stashed into a plastic bag. The father’s bicycle was placed in the cargo section of the van. It seemed to me that a ride home in a van would be welcome by this family of three who would normally travel the long distance to their home all straddling on that one solitary bicycle. And so it was! We set off to apply for the passport and then to head for home! Minutes stretched into hours as we determinedly accomplished the goal of getting the passport application process completed.

Leaving the city of Les Cayes, we headed for the countryside of Torbeck. I had traveled the main road many times, but the side road where we would turn off was one road that I not traveled on before. When we turned onto the dirt path, I looked at the father and asked him if the road was suitable for a “machine” to drive down. He assured me that it was. Although the road was narrow and full of ruts, we progressed with little effort. When the path started narrowing and the choices of do I go through the mud? OR do I tilt the van on a grassy slope? started being debated in my mind, I questioned if the way to the home was much further and how much longer do I dare venture. On our left, I now saw mucky rice fields and on the right, a forest of rozo plants (a small type of bamboo plant) appeared. It crossed my mind that if I were to get stranded out here, I would never be able to explain to anyone where I was. No one even knew that I was traveling here, except for me and the 3 people riding with me. I was relieved when the father finally told me this is the place we would stop and walk the rest of the way to the family home. I carefully maneuvered around a cow staked in a muddy patch of grass and the border of the rice patty, turning my van so that at least it was pointed in the right direction for my return home. We then took the foot path through the rozo forest that now was on both sides of us. It was as if we had been swallowed by the long flowing reeds and within that forest the noise and busy-ness of the city were totally blocked out and only the sounds of the insects in the heat could be heard. We passed several small homes where everyone called out warm welcomes to the returning little girl. As we walked, her weak little stride picked up with anticipation of finally going home. A smile broke forth when her home came into view. She was so happy to see her family and her home territory! I took photos of her with her siblings and photos of her sitting in front of her house on a reed-woven chair. I took photos of where the family went to get water. Saying my goodbyes, the father informed me that he would ride back with me to the city where he had work to attend to.

We boarded the van and the engine started on the very first try. No problem! I had come in this far with no complications. I most certainly could get out just as easily! Wrong! Almost the minute I started down the path, I made the wrong choice of going on the grassy section, rather than the section with ruts, only to find that the grassy section was actually the trench surrounding the rice fields – a mucky trench disguised by overgrown grass. I saw the father shake his head and then I knew my fate was sealed. One side of the van was embedded in muck, while the other side was high and dry on the little path. I tried to go forward. I tried to go backward. Nothing worked! The father got out to assess the situation. All of his attempts to get me out failed. It was then that some young boys came offering advice. They warned me to roll up my window as muck would be flying into the van. But their efforts too failed. The father offered to walk back to his neighborhood to summons help from some men. The heat in the closed up van was stifling. I decided to get out and stand in the shade of the rozo reeds until more help arrived. People began gathering and staring at this white women with the white “machine” who had gotten herself into a fix. As panicked as I should have been, I remained calm. I had seen enough such occasions in my time spent in Haiti to know that help ALWAYS arrived and many willing hands would be there to accomplish the task! After what seemed like too long of a wait, reinforcements arrived in the form of older and stronger men of the village. They all came with their ideas of how to get me out of the mess I was in. I climbed back into the van as they all called out directions to me. Of course, all of the directions were in Creole and I could only understand about 10% of what was being said. Go to the left, go back, go forward, turn the wheel, step on the gas were all undoubtedly being hollered at me. Finally, I young lady who knew only about five English words emphatically said “STOP!” It is then that men, women and children starting packing clumps of dry mud and shoots of rozo reeds under my right tires. Here again, I should have been stressing out, but if you could have seen me, you would have seen me smiling ear to ear and chuckling as I watched this whole drama unfold. It was so totally cool watching everyone working together to find the solution to my problem. Some men were caked in muck from head to toe. Some women were packing mud clumps under my tires right along side the men. The kids were joining in by either helping to push or by laughing at the sight of all of us. I knew it was just a matter of time before I emerged from the bog victorious, with the help of an entire village. When I was free at last, there was laughing and clapping and rejoicing – especially by me! Thirsty from the long, hot ordeal, I took a long swig from my water bottle that had been sitting in the sweltering hot van during the whole ordeal. As much as I hate hot water to drink, the wetness was a welcome relief to my parched throat! I pulled the van to a safe place and stopped to ask the father to come inside. I had watched Pastor Israel enough to remember that he always gave some coins to those who had turned out to help. He had told me that they did not expect much and would greatly appreciate the little that he could give. I couldn’t help comparing the price of this rescue to the fee that I would pay to AAA Towing Service back in the states. Also knowing that a little riot could take place if not everyone got a little something, I decided to have the father handle the matter. I gave him the Haitian equivalent to $8 U.S. and told him the money was to be divided among everyone who helped. He wisely chose the oldest and most “muck splattered” man to distribute the money evenly. The people walked away satisfied. I began driving away, only to be hailed down by the sister of the father telling me to wait as she ran home for a clean shirt for her brother to wear. I drove ahead to a spot in the shade and waited yet one more time! When the clean shirt arrived, we were once again on our way!

Back at the church compound, I had one more story to tell, a very dirty van to be cleaned and yet ANOTHER HAITIAN ADVENTURE to my credit! Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Nora Léon

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time ………….

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