Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ouanaminthe #1

As we drive towards the airport, I nervously glance in the side view mirror. How much further can we go with the rear tire so low on air? I wonder. I have already stopped at two gas stations, but no one seems to have any way to pump it up. The road we are on is full of deep ruts and I'm sure it's not helping the situation one bit. Across from the goat pile I suddenly spot some tires on the side of the road. As I slow down I notice some hand pumps, so I roll to a stop. No one is in sight, but within a minute a man comes running. "Kawoutchou mwen bezwen van " ( My tire needs air) I tell him, and he immediately gets to work pumping it up.

It seems like forever before the tire is inflated again. When the man is finished he starts to walk away and I quickly give him 120 Goudes (About $3.00 USD). Seeing the money he grins broadly and waves us off enthusiastically. As I turn onto Delmas 33 the traffic slows to a crawl. An hour later we've only driven about a mile further. As we approach one of the main roundabouts in the city we notice that half of it is closed off due to construction and this is causing a major traffic jam.

When we finally go through the roundabout the opposite way there is no way to get back onto our lane since there's a giant barrier separating the four lane road. Having a line up of cars driving directly into oncoming traffic causes everything to slow down even more. As the afternoon sun beats on our black vehicle I'm thankful the A/C works. What a relief when we finally reach the airport!

Since Jason's flight took a little longer than planned as well, we both walk through opposite doors of the airport at the same time. Our many suitcases of food and clothing to hand out is carted to the awaiting airplane and the next tricky job is loading it all in.

When the airplane is loaded to the maximum allowed weight, checklists are complete and we're all safely strapped inside Jason taxies to the active runway. Before we can take off we have to wait for American Airlines and Spirit Airlines to land. It's really neat to watch them land right in front of us.

Flying north to Ouanaminthe thick gray clouds start rolling in and I wonder if we will be able to get into the small dirt airstrip.

Managing to fly under the clouds we land just before the clouds descend down even further. Hugh Bastian, our contact there, is already waiting to pick us up. As Jason parks the plane a flock of children surround us.

They stare at us inquisitively with their dark eyes. MAF planes are the only ones that fly into this remote airstrip and even then they don't come in that often.

Seeing their poverty my heart breaks.

When the airplane is finally unloaded and the truck is ready to go we all pile inside. This is my first visit to Ouanaminthe and I notice that the tropical storm last week has left the town brown and muddy. With no time for sightseeing now, we head straight to the school for the feeding program we've organized. 50 excited children meet us inside the giant gymnasium, their faces freshly scrubbed, wearing their Sunday's best.

Even their best clothing can't hide their poverty. Their red tinged hair, skinny arms and legs and distended bellies all tell their story.

However, the excitement in the room is contagious. All 50 of these children have been specifically selected, because of their poverty and have been invited to a Christmas feast! Delicious chicken, rice, salad and macaroni are all part of the menu! What's even more exciting is the juice and pop and the small bowl of ice cream for each child as well. Not to mention the bags of food they get to take home for their families, and the toys and clothes they get to choose for themselves! Before long the children are all nicely seated at the tables where they sing for us and Hugh prays with them in Creole. Since lining up is foreign in Haiti, it takes a minute to get organized, but before long each child gets their plate of food. We all spread out through the room and sit at different tables to interact with the children. They seem to enjoy this and ask us various questions. As I sit across from two girls, I wonder why neither of them are drinking their bottled juice or pop. When a call rings out that water is being served in cups, many of the children jump up and run to get a cup. Later on I find out it's because they want to save the special treat of juice or pop for their parents. How touching. Plates get scraped clean and some children even go as far as to eat the chicken bones.

Once the meal is complete it's time for games. In order to decide who gets to choose their toys first we have an airplane flying contest. Everyone gets a paper and we help all the children make airplanes.

Once everyone is finished each table gets to come up on stage to throw their airplane. The one who throws the airplane the furthest gets to stand where the airplane landed. The children think this is great fun and burst into applause and cheering every time a winner is announced for each table. Once the game is over and we've determined whose table gets to go first it's time to start picking out presents. At first total chaos ensues, with more and more children crowding around the tables, but after a few minutes we manage to get everyone organized and things go smoothly. They first get to chose a toy, then each child gets an identical large bag, containing a sack of rice, a sack of beans, a toothbrush, soap, cookies and candy. After that each child chooses or is given a T-shirt, pencil case or hat, and a package of crackers. The children are very excited with their treasures and as soon as they have everything they start trying things on. The funniest thing I see is some boys wearing their pencil cases as hats! They are very serious about it, and apparently believe they are starting a new trend!

When everyone is finished they help each other place their bags and gifts on their head, since they have been taught from an early age that this is the best way to carry anything!

When the night is finally over, the children get a special ride back home in a big yellow school bus! We follow them in the truck so we have an idea where and how they live. The parents are already waiting for their children and are extremely happy to see everything they brought home for their families. One of our last stops is at the house of a couple that has 17 children. The family is so poor, we are told by Hugh Bastian, that they don't even own a cooking pot. Hugh has been helping this family by sending five of their children to school. What a sad situation. I hope tonight, with the food and gifts the children take home there will be some happiness in their home. That night, too exhausted to sit outside on the screened in porch with the others I climb into a strange bed once again. Having slept so often in beds other then my own, I don't even stop to wonder whether the sheets are clean or if there are cockroaches under the bed. As I try to massage my aching shoulders, still sore from carrying the bags of rice the day before, the bright moon peeks in through the slats. Seeing the moon comforts me, knowing that it's the same moon wherever you are in the world. How different my life is now. Before I doze off, I pray and thank God that no matter where I am, He is everywhere present.

1 comment:

  1. I always read your blog, but have never commented before. I was really touched by your comment , when you saw the moon, you were reminded of God's faithfullness ,where ever we are. Even though it was not your own bed, probably not too clean, but a place to lay down your head. We take so much for granted here. We wish you God's blessing as you work in His Kingdom each day.
    Jeanette Wierks