03 April 2014

To Jerusalem and Back

Sometimes a story isn't ready to be told for a long time...but this one's worked its way out. It was almost a year ago, but it still holds power for me, and I hope it will for you, too. Thanks for your prayers as we prepare to return to Haiti on April 10th. 

Thorns. The sound of rusty tin rattling in the wind. Soul-scorching sun without shelter. Standing on the side of a mountain of dry, dry dirt, looking across makeshift tarps and half-finished concrete construction towards Port-au-Prince. That's what I remember about our trip to Jerusalem, even now.

I'd been out to Bon Repos with a friend before, but this was even farther out. Three of our Haitian MAF staff lived out there, and I was excited to see it. Armed with snacks, sunscreen, and skirts, we piled into the Montero with David's mom and dad, our yard guy O, and of course, Pete. We weaved and wobbled our way through unfamiliar parts of Port-au-Prince, until we hit the countryside. (There were absolutely no arguments over the navigation, and Google Maps never failed us...in case you were wondering.)

The speed picked up and we continued our trip toward the brown hills in the distance. "Stop!" O cried. Unsure of what was happening, David quickly pulled over in a gravel turnout area. O hopped out and waved at a man standing some distance away. "This is my buddy, he's gonna come help us." We should've known. Offering rides in Haiti is just normal...even if it's not your car. The buddy jumped into the sideways seats (sans belts) in the back with O, and we were off. I recognized him from our church, so I asked about his family. A little further down the road...."Stop!" Another pick up, two guys this time. At this point, I'm hoping we wouldn't have to strap anybody to the roof.

We drove...and drove...David is glancing at me, and I'm picking up his nervousness. Aside to me, he says, "Do you think these guys have passports? I swear we're almost at the Dominican border." I think this is a fabulous joke, so I translate it and call back to O. The back of the car erupts into loud laughter. One more pick-up, and we finally turn off the pavement into "town." There are houses. There is a place to buy water. There is a small store.

That's it.

The road is not built for the heavy rains, and it's deeply rutted down one side. We squeeze by it, trying not to let the thorns scratch the car, but trying even harder not to lose momentum and get stuck. "Turn here," he says, and I think we must be getting close. (Insert laughter here.)

A hand-painted sign says "Jerusalem."
"O, is that what they call it here? Jerusalem?"
"Yes," he says, "the city of God."

This is where they came, by the thousands, after the earthquake. If your life was ruined, if you had nowhere to go, if you wanted to start over, this is where you came.

We turned again and drove up a mountain. Not a hill, a mountain. The view was incredible.

At this point, I suppose I should tell you why we came...O is building a house here. Where he currently lives, there's no room for his wife and five kids. He's lived apart from them for years, in order to support them. But no more. He's not an emotional guy, but as we got out of the car, I could feel his joy.

He'd rather live on the side of a mountain with his family than be apart from them. 

He'd rather live in the middle of nowhere and get to be a dad than have comfort and security. 

O and his friends got right to work marking out the foundation for his house. We stood in the sun and watched them for a while, but I realized that Pete was probably going to burn. We were ushered into the church, which was sticks thrust into the ground with tin tied around them. Poorly.

The church
It was shade, and I was grateful. They found chairs for Kathy and I. We were drawing a crowd, as usual. Kids were peeking in through the tin, and seeing Peter, they began chatting with us in Kreyol. "Are you an American?" "Do you have any soccer  balls?" "Who do you work for?" "Where do you live?" I tried to subtly breastfeed Peter as I talked and joked with them.

One of the boys kept repeating everything I said, giggling to himself. At first, I thought he was just being obnoxious...but watching the other boys interact with him, I soon realized that he was mentally handicapped. Handicapped isn't the right word--but he wasn't all there. I wondered how it'd happened. Once we got on his wavelength, Kathy and I both really enjoyed his joyful personality.

Then the pastor of the church showed up. He slipped quietly into the back, Bible in hand. He started a discussion about generosity, if I remember right. I just love that he couldn't resist a crowd in his church, even if they mostly wanted to stare at the white people and see if we had anything for them.

I left Peter with Kathy and edged down the hill in my skirt to see how it was going. (Yes, pants would've been more practical...but culture is seldom practical.) "How's it going?" O shook his head. "The contractor thinks you're with a house-building organization and he's trying to charge me more." He snorted. "Typical." I felt terrible. All I wanted was to see his land and rejoice with him. He could see that I was upset, and he grinned. "Don't worry, madam. I'll wait him out. I can wait. He'll see that I'm not changing my price, in time."

I offered to talk to the contractor, but he gently refused. I went back to the church to wait until he was done, figuring that I'd done enough damage already. As we left, a few people followed us, asking us to build their house next.

Bumping home, I passed snacks back to our Haitian friends, who had brought no food. They politely ate them, though I'm not sure they really enjoyed it. They thanked us profusely, for the ride, for the food, for the help we were giving O to build. It meant a lot to them.

We were all quiet. He would make that trip many more times, via tap tap, and it would take a lot longer that way. He would walk those roads on foot to come to my house and to church. But he drove home with a rare smile on his face.

He didn't seem to mind.

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