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Communiqué #065


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

August 25, 2009

Decisions that need to be made continue to be hard. One mother came to me hoping to send three of her children to school. They had not attended school last year and she was hoping that this year it could be different. Her situation is desperate. One of her teen-aged daughters died recently because she had no money to get her to a doctor. The mother is too sick to work. The family rarely eats. When I can, I send rice to the family, but it is not something that I can do every day. Essentially, the mother has no money, no food, no life for her children and no family to help her. She was hoping that at least she could find someone to help give her children an education. This year, I tried to add some new students to the tuition assistance program, thinking that perhaps I could help this mother. Unfortunately, far too many children came for me to help each one. I do not want to add new students if I cannot continue helping them in the following years. What good does it do to send a child one year and not the next? Thus, after looking at all the names that I had received for assistance and looking at the money that I had to work with, I had to make some hard decisions. I turned many children away simply stating I had no more funding. I gave partial funding to some whose families could pay a portion of their child’s educational expenses. I decided that I could help only one of this woman’s children. Even if I were to give a little to help each of her children, the mother has no money to pay the balance. The choice was to help one child completely or to help none of her children. I needed to explain this to her. It was thought best to send the oldest daughter to school. She would be attending a school to receive training to become a teacher and in two years she could possibly find a job. This would eventually enable the family to have a meager income! Seems like a cut and dry decision, doesn’t it? But the next day, after I had discussed the decision with the mother, I learned from her next door neighbor that she had heard the mother crying all through the night. Can you imagine wanting an education so badly for your children and knowing that you could not provide it for them??? The USA is blessed with free education and children are required by law to get an education. In Haiti, it is not a right! It is a priceless privilege, a sought-after treasure, and for so many, only a dream. (As no school in Haiti is free and the average personal income is about $1 per day, most parents face this same dilemma.) Nonetheless, I still feel so bad when I hear of the gut-wrenching pain my decisions have caused.

In the midst of sad choices, I am able to derive a little joy too. Just this last Sunday, I was godmother at a darling baby girl’s dedication at her church. She would wear a christening gown and matching bonnet that I have loaned to more than one baby in Haiti. The gown was given to me by a lady living on the northwestern coast of the USA. When she was younger, she had lived in England. There she purchased a beautiful white, eyelet lace christening gown and bonnet in hopes that one day a baby of her own would wear it. After she returned to the USA and was married, she found herself childless. When we met, she asked that I take the gown and have little Haitian babies wear it for their baptisms. What a joy it has been to share this special gown!

I first met the baby’s family in 2007, when they brought to me their skinny, critically ill infant son. Their baby boy was in need of life-saving heart surgery, a surgery that is unavailable in Haiti. God opened doors for him to receive the surgery in New Jersey. In a few short weeks, the baby returned to Haiti and quickly began to thrive. He rejoined his family consisting of a father, a mother and two older brothers. When a new baby arrived in their family, they were thrilled that it was a girl. They came to show her off to me and to ask me to be her godmother at her dedication.

Traveling to and from the dedication was quite an event. We were able to find a ride out of Les Cayes with friends who had a car that was heading in the direction that we needed to go. We had called the baby’s father ahead of time to let him know to wait by the side of the highway to show us the way to the church. We arrived in a market area. Our driver dropped us off and we found the father there. He was carrying the baby and his three little sons were tagging along behind him. We crossed the busy highway and headed into the village on foot. I was amazed that so much of the road was paved. We walked quite a distance, in the hot 90 degree sun, until we came to a place where the road turned into rough, rocky terrain. The father suggested that maybe I could not walk the remaining distance to the church and maybe we should wait for a taxi (motorcycle). We waited and waited, but none came. We decided to forge ahead. By this time, the 3 year old’s little legs were having a hard time keeping up, so I decided to carry him. The father continued carrying the baby and the two remaining little boys walked alongside Léon. Eventually, I traded children with the father. I carried the baby, who promptly fell asleep on my shoulder, and the father carried the 3 year old. The footing was difficult and I finally decided that indeed a taxi would be a wonderful idea. Two taxis happened upon us at the same time, both carrying passengers. A mid-road discussion took place and one passenger got off one of the taxis and doubled up with the other passenger on the other taxi. Then, I climbed on the back of the passenger-less taxi with the baby in my arms. It made no sense to send a “half-full” taxi on its way, so, the 3 year old was plopped on the back of the motorcycle too. Here I am holding the infant in one arm and tightly holding the arm of the little boy whose arms were snuggly wrapped around by waist. We traveled quite a distance over hills and around the large rocks in the road before we arrived at the church. The three of us got off and the taxi traveled back to transport some of the remaining walkers to the church. When Léon arrived and went to pay the driver, a small dispute broke out. From previous experience, I could tell that I was the source of the problem. Because I am white (and assumed to be rich) the taxi driver had tripled the price of the fare. 

Sunday School was finishing up and the church service began at 9AM. Apparently on the walk to church, the father has asked Léon if he would deliver the Sunday morning message. Léon has gotten used to similar last-minute requests, so he now keeps previous sermons that he has written in the back of his Bible. During the song portion of the service, he was able to pull out those old notes and select a message for the day. The congregation was a small one, but as is usual Haitian style, they sang loud and strong with enthusiasm and full, rich voices. The mother of the baby to be dedicated arrived at church. She had toted a small cooler containing a cold bottle of 7-Up just for me, presuming I would be hot and thirsty. She was more worried about me and my thirst than that of her own after walking a long distance in the hot sun to church. During the service, it was explained how I had come to be named the godmother of the baby being dedicated. It was really no surprise then, that after church, two hand-carved wooden chairs were placed in the shade under the mango tree in the front yard of the church. Léon sat in one and I sat in the other. Many people gathered around. They started talking to me about children who needed medical care. One little boy had a cyst behind his left ear. A man talked to me about a young boy who had a growth on his abdomen. A young man of twenty, whom I had noticed in church, came with a severely deformed spine. It seems that he was injured playing soccer 8 years ago and had received no treatment to alleviate the pain or correct the problem. He was told by the original doctor that he saw that he would need to travel to Jamaica for the needed surgery – an impossibility for his family. I took photos and wrote down information about each ill child who was present, stating that I would see if there was a way that I could help them. In an instant, it was clear that a medical mission team would be of great service to this community.

It was then time to walk to the family home where a celebration was held with family and friends. We started out to the road and once again a taxi was suggested. Léon was wise to the fare scheme this time and asked the price before we got on the motorcycle. We drove a long distance and were again let off at a marketplace. We waited in the shade of a vendor’s stand for the father to arrive and direct us the remaining distance to the family home. We walked once again over rocky roads and then along the busy, main highway. When large buses would whiz by, we had to be certain that we were well off the road, as vehicles stop for nothing or no one! We crossed over the highway to walk in the shade of the roadside trees. I was very happy that I had thought to pack walking sandals. I have to estimate that it was three miles from the church to the family home. (I cannot imagine people in the USA walking three miles to church each Sunday, especially with four little people tagging along.) We crossed the busy highway once again and headed down a gully to their home that was tucked back behind the homes that lined the street. The yard was shaded with several banana trees and the rock-hewn home was nestled in their shade. Once again, two wooden hand-carved chairs were brought out into the shade and ice-cold pop was served to us in beautiful crystal glasses. The children had already changed into their everyday clothes (or lack of clothes) and family, friends and neighbors gathered around to watch this mysterious white woman who had come to visit. Taking digital photos and showing them on the camera to the adults and children was a big hit! We were then invited inside to take photos of the baby sitting on the beautifully quilted bed covering on the parent’s bed – a source of pride in every Haitian home. The home consisted of only two rooms – a dining room and a bedroom. The bedroom had two beds – one for the adults and one for the children. We proceeded out back to the “kitchen” were a multitude of women were huddled under a lean-to of grass fronds preparing chicken and plantain and rice. They proudly displayed their cuisine. We were then issued to the beautifully laden table in the dining room. A hand-embroidered table cloth, fancy dishes, crystal glasses and finely bottled homemade alcohol adorned the table – another source of Haitian pride. Léon and I, alone, were served as everyone gathered around to watch us and to be sure we were enjoying the food that they had prepared for us. Cold beverages from glass bottles with ice hewn from a large block of ice were served to us, the special guests. Beverages (in plastic bottles of the less expensive variety) were later consumed by the family. Once the family was assured that we had been fed well, they again placed our chairs outside for the cooler breezes of the day.

Our time of farewell arrived. The father escorted us to the highway where we would await a passing tap-tap for transportation back to the city. A tap-tap is a colorfully painted pickup with a short bed that has a wooden bench on each side of the bed and a cap overhead to shield its riders from the sun. When one wants to get off, you “tap-tap” on the metal sides to alert the driver that someone wants to get off. We waited and waited and waited. It was Sunday and few tap-taps run on Sunday. The father insisted on going back to the home to again provide the wooden chairs for us to sit in. Just as he returned with the chairs a tap-tap arrived. The father stood in the middle of the road and made the customary hand motions that signaled the driver to stop for us. Much to my surprise, there were NO passengers on the tap-tap. Ahhh – no crowded ride back to the city! That comfort did not last long. After several stops, we had at least sixteen hot, sweaty bodies nestled into the back of the truck. Once we were back in Les Cayes, we were dropped off at the “end of the line.” From there, Léon and I took separate taxis back to our home. A cold shower, a cool drink and a stretch out on my bed were very welcomed! Sunday clothes, ninety degree weather, walking in the sun, and traveling in crowded transportation resulted in one hot mama – ME! Whew! The ice cold water tasted good! A nap in front of the fan was even better! But you know what???? I would not have traded that day’s experience for the world. I feel privileged to have been asked to be the godmother to this precious little girl. May she grow up to be a fine Christian woman! God bless you little Ruth Sophia!

Nora Léon

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

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