Tuesday, July 26, 2011

HAITI: Reflections

This homily was given by Marie Conger on July 17th 2011.

Bonjour.  Mwen content way-oo--- Mwen relay Marie.  Mwen visite Haiti en juin et Fuk retourner encore.  Mwen rencontrais ampil haitiens:  Kek bon et keke mal.  Mwen voyait ampil choses kek bon et kek mal.  Mwen content entrer ici.
Hello,  it’s nice to see you--my name is Marie.    I visited Haiti in June and I need to go back again.  I met a lot of Haitians both good and bad.  I saw a lot of things both good and bad.  It’s good to be here.

  *As a member of the Haitian Network of the Bluegrass---I was invited to be part of a small group to visit Haiti in June.   Our sgroup of 5 planned to work together to distribute clothes, shoes and school supplies.  Each of us also had our own personal “mission” and agreed to help each other to realize them.
*Molly and Steve (the HNB Leader and spouse) had a personal project of caring for an orphanage in Port au Prince.  They spent the last year sending money every month to build and maintain this facility.  They also have a connection to a sweet boy, Jean-Paul, who they brought to this orphanage last year—(his mother was killed in the quake).  They would like to adopt him but have met with obstacles so far.   --They were anxious to see how the orphanage –and Jean-Paul --was developing.
Molly also continues to aid her uncle and his family in Port de Paix.  Pastor Dervil leads a small church on a mountainside outside of Port de Paix.  Uncle Dervil is committed to his congregation and is the only member of Molly’s parent’s families to remain in Haiti.  Molly and Steve have helped them in many ways over the last 2 years.  Port de Paix is where we were to do most of our work.
*Clydia travelled to Haiti a year ago.  Her mission since then has been to collect shoes and clothes and raise money for Kreyol Bibles.  She also wanted to do VBS for the kids.  Clydia is a very fundamental, passionate Christian with a heart of gold.
*Dale is a factory employee and pastor of a Georgetown church who felt called to spread Gods word through Bible study and church services.  Dale had never travelled out of the country.
*As many of you already know, my own personal mission included making educational connections, satisfying my Geek-fancophile curiosity about Haitian culture and distributing solar lights.

I’d like to share a highlight video that Bobby Jones edited for me.  …………………………………….

Processing my experience has been very difficult.  Was it “successful”?  Yes.  We accomplished what we as a group, and as individuals, set out to accomplish.  It was merely a drop in the bucket, and a leaky bucket at that--- but even that should be enough, right?  Not really.  My opening statement about meeting both good and bad Haitians and seeing good and bad things, was an intro into what I want to share with you.  The contrasts, and opposites, that I witnessed were striking and seem to be what keeps my recounting of the experience conflicted ---and incoherent.  I believe what I observed was representative of the best, and worst, of humanity.

*The trip began in Port au Prince where we flew in and out with 100s of other well-intentioned people (from the US and elsewhere).  When we arrived, Molly had already been in country for a week and was heartbroken.  She had found that the  caretaker of the  Port au Prince orphanage and school, Pastor Achetul, was a dishonest “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  The children got little benefit from Molly and Steve’s monthly money---but the pastor's church was rebuilding nicely.  The school had nothing more than it did last year ----in fact there is no "school" as we would define it; this "school" consists simply of an area of dirt floor with some ragged tarps overhead to provide some small protection from a relentless tropical sun. This "school"-just an area really- sat next to that same church that was rebuilding nicely.   Little Jean-Paul had ringworm like the other children and like the other children was barely clothed and was malnourished.  Molly had realized before we arrived that she was going to have to take Jean-Paul away and cut all ties with this pastor.  We took Jean-Paul with us, the next day, when we headed to Port de Paix.

*Everywhere we went we found that, even this long after the earthquake, the streets are in most places still choked with rubble on top of rubble-much of the debris from the quake has not been removed, but rather just pushed out of the way to allow traffic to get through as best it can. Often it is like negotiating an obstacle course.  These streets are filled with both the naked and the extremely clean and well dressed.  Our hotel was a beautiful little hide-away in the middle of absolute chaos.

*Port de Paix is a city 90 miles north of PaP.  It was hurt very little by the earthquake although they did feel an influx of people fleeing PaP after the quake.   PdP is essentially a 3rd (or even 4th world) city----Extremely primitive and far behind the rest of the modern world but in other ways, they are modern---using Cell Phones and Facebook to communicate.  The absence of a reliable energy source and the brutal elements keep them so far behind that it is hard to imagine they can ever catch up.

*Molly’s Uncle Duval is the antithesis of the PaP pastor.  He is a gentle, honest, god-loving, man.  His wife and children were happy to see us and introduced us to his congregation on the mountainside.  Our distribution of clothes, shoes and school supplies was met with smiles and gratitude.
I met with our school connection where, almost immediately, I came under a verbal attack from the director, demanding money.  It seems the only help wanted is cash—and they see a white American teacher as a source.  After a lot of back and forth, the director allowed the teacher to answer my questions about HIS needs as a teacher re: resources and development.
*Supplies were not appreciated at this school where they insisted that they would take them and distribute to the students at a later time (Uncle let us know they would more than likely end up in the black market).  We insisted ---either we gave them directly to the children or we took them elsewhere.  ---Very unpleasant experience for me but the group said the children were very happy with the supplies.
Conversely a church/school that we dropped in on unexpectedly greeted us with singing, asked us to speak and gratefully encouraged us to put something in EVERY child’s hands.

As a UU, I witnessed the BEST and WORST in religion.
*The faith of many Haitian People is what gives them hope and purpose to survive.  Being in that tiny church on the mountainside was a heart-warming  experience and I could feel that their love of god sustains them.  Seeing the joy on their faces as they received Clydia’s Kreyol Bibles was incredible.  They believe.
*In Uncle/Pastor Duval’s church,  Dale led his Men’s Bible study and I helped Clydia with Vacation Bible School.  The people, and their practices, were so earnest and true---Their reaction to us was so sweet and lovely.  
*At our hotel, I was honored to be allowed to slip into a Haitian late-night church service being held in the dining area.  There was  hymn-singing and praying and then dinner was served at midnight!  Up until that point the service was much like an american gospel service might be ---with dancing and singing; a pastor and his deacons leading it.  After dinner it started up again and we were asked to join the circle (up to that point, we were on the fringe just observing).  Again, I felt honored as we were outsiders and I the only  “Blanche”, or “White”  in the room.  But then things took a turn…if you don’t know it, catholicism is considered the state religion but years ago it was mixed with the old Haitian voudun/voudou practices.

The pastor started speaking in tongues (his deacon translating in Kreyol), the dancing stepped up a notch or two as did the volume.  Then two girls supposedly possessed of evil spirits were brought in the circle.  They fell on the floor, were anointed with oil, touched by many hands, held down.  They screamed, fought their handlers and tried to run away.  One of the girls seemed to be free of her demons but the other was not.  That was when I left as I was overwhelmed by an uneasy feeling.  I looked at Dale who appeared to be feeling the same and we agreed to leave.
I knew that corruption has plagued Haiti forever, but didn’t know how that might be within the church.  I couldn’t believe the outright deceit displayed by Pastor Achetul in Port au Prince who slipped when he told Molly when she asked about the daily lives of the orphans “Lets wait til the Americans get here and we’ll set things up to look like the children are studying…”
Finally, as a UU, you can imagine how travelling with 2 American Baptist Pastors would be like.  I used it to my advantage by using it to practice patience, tolerance and biting—I mean holding my tongue.

*The cityscapes and countryside revealed just as many contrasts….in my eyes, the city of PaP is beyond repair.  Port de Paix is a city that seems to be moving forward – in 3rd world terms—but with no infrastructure, no systems, no real law and order---it is trashy, smelly, noisy, chaotic and ugly.  BUT…roads are being widened and improved as new hotels are being built, with their own generators as well as solar panels and wind turbines.  But electricity is SO valuable (and gas so expensive) that at our hotel,  guests only have it from 8p-6a.
*You might have noticed on the video beautiful countryside and a stunning beach.  Some UN workers (who I thought were the good guys but many Haitians see as the bad guys) told us that Nouveau Kiskeya (New Haiti) was a must-see and after the long bumpy drive and getting stuck twice in mud and sand,  I believe they were right.  It was truly beautiful…everything that Pap and PdP were not:  lush, clean, sweet smelling, pristine---the water was clear and the beach was clean.  There were manicured gardens and beautiful buildings of tile and concrete.  This is a planned community for retired Haitians living abroad and tourists being built on 11,000 acres with 15 miles of beach front---building their own airstrip and port for cruise ships.  A NEW Haiti---and like other planned resort areas in the carribean, an economic boon for the country.  It all seemed wonderful until I asked about the plans for the workers and those plans didn’t seem as clear or well thought out.  Much less space and development is slated for that community ---so as I fast-forwarded…I saw yet another contrast:  an overpopulated, undeveloped slum on the outskirts of New Kiskeya.
*So what can I learn from this experience in contrasts?  And what might you take from this reflection?  I really should not have been surprised by the dualities --- It is by seeing, experiencing and appreciating ugliness that we can see and appreciate beauty.  A positive is only positive in the face of a negative.   Opposites and dualities create the fabric of the world and we see our lives, and the lives of those around us, in that fabric.  It is our experience of these opposites and these dualities which color and move the threads of our lives.
There are always opposites at play in our life and what can we do to achieve peace of mind during this war of opposites and dualities? Peace of mind doesn’t come only as we experience the so called good side of the opposites or dualities. It weathers the storms of life.   When what we do not want to happen begins to occur... the magic opposing it begins to work as well.
There is always another sunrise to counter act the sunset. The light will always follow the darkness and the day the night.  There is always another hope when all hope has failed us.  I’m going to remember this the next time I come to the end of my rope and can see no way out.
I found an appropriate quote by one of our favorite UU Ministers:
“We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action”.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or take away this:  My efforts were a drop in the bucket (but in the words of KY songwriter, Mitch Barrett “What becomes a mighty ocean started as a drop”.)  Thanks to those of you who made contributions of money and supplies to the HNB.  Many people benefitted.  And thanks to all of you who gave money for my purchase of the solar lights.  I knew they were special---I’m only now realizing how so.
I’m very pleased to report to you that Molly and I had an epiphany that perhaps these bulbs could not only provide light to the families  we worked with but that they might represent a way out of Haiti’s misery---Molly has approached her employer, Sylvania and it’s parent company Seimans about the bulbs and the possibility of building a Haitian community around their production and distribution.  Guess what, they love it!!  I would love to share more of that story with anyone interested!

Drop in the Bucket.  (Mitch Barrett)
It’s a crazy world we live in, Bad news all around
Brothers and sisters, if we’re gonna make a difference
We’re gonna have to stand our ground.
Be a drop in the bucket
And a bucket in the pond
And the pond fills the river
And the river rushes on
And the river swells the river
‘Til the power can’t be stopped
What becomes a mighty ocean
Started as a drop

Comments about the Solar Light Bulbs  from Pastor Duval:
Amazing..at church,   before, they would take offering for money to buy gas…in generator for evening service—it was never enough—they ended up finishing the service in darkness.
Now they don’t have to buy gas to run generator for light
People would come and bring cell phones to charge off the generator—using gas.  Now that’s not an option!
Caused a problem because those who didn’t pay for the gas would use electricity
People are coming to the church and praising god and giving thanks for the missionaries who brought the lights and praying for a return visit.  They are so happy that they don’t have to buy gas for their lanterns at home.

Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa.
Speaking French doesn't mean you are smart.
Famn se kajou. plis li vye, plis li bon.
Woman is like mahogany, the older the better.
Men anpil chay pa lou.
Many hands make the load lighter.