Thursday, February 2, 2017
I imagine most of you know that on October 3rd hurricane Matthew arrived in Haiti as a category 4 storm. The southern peninsula as well as the south coast of La Gonave experienced damaging rain and high tides, 120 + miles per hour winds, and extensive loss of livestock and crops. While as yet uncounted, La Gonave can add names to the list of more than 1000 people who perished through drowning or when trees and homes came down. I finally got up to Bwa Chandel on October 29th and have been up many times since then.
Every time I ride up to Bwa Chandel I say to myself that the way (I've stopped calling it a road) is terrible and it can not ever get any worse. And every subsequent trip up is in fact much worse. They say that you know you are crazy if you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result each time. And so crazy I must be. However, since Matthew the route really is, but I mean really is, worse because it isn't even there anymore. Where there was once inches of deep, fine, soft dust which always turned to dangerously slick, thick mud after a rain, there is now only bare rock. The rock face of the route is made more difficult to navigate by the hundreds of loose mini boulders and steep chasms cut by the floods. With all the dust, mud and garbage washed away by the deluge the whole track appears steeper than usual. Going up there are places where I feel I'm leaning so far back on the motorcycle that I'm perpendicular to the mountain and I'm certain we can't make it. Coming down we're dropping off the rocks like water over Niagara Falls. It rattles my teeth and shakes the piss outta me. And of course there is still the same amount of traffic of people, donkeys, goats, cows and motorcycles all vying for the now diminished amount of travel space.
But in spite of the condition of the route and damage to the island, the little school in Bwa Chandel looks very good. It suffered absolutely no wind or water damage thanks to having the money this past summer to properly finish the roof and ceilings. I looked at it amazed, but Wismy, the contractor, just smiled and shrugged as if he knew all along the building would be fine. In fact he had no doubt the school would be intact because 1) he knows he did not skimp on any material and that he built it right and 2) he is a young man of very great faith.
This week and next the school is being painted and I'm having some new furniture built for students and teachers. Each class has a set of books, which is a first, and so it seems appropriate to go ahead and plan the dedication. We've set Sunday the 15th of January as dedication day and you're all invited to the party. No kidding. You've all been on this journey with me and I think you should consider celebrating along with the rest of Bwa Chandel. Besides, it's MLK weekend and I know a lot of you have Monday off! (Pictures and story from Dedication Day coming soon.)
Joy in spite of trouble--
La Gonave faces some serious food shortages in the near future. That will be on top of the usual struggle against hunger, disease and unemployment. But there are many moments in many days that are full of joy--soccer matches, basketball games, singing on Sundays. And swimming lessons. In July the second year nursing students asked if I would teach them how to swim. All 17 of them. We had a lesson the following Sunday that was a real success. We have continued them this fall, and last Sunday I invited them to come out on our boat, the Wesleyana, for their first deep water swim. Now to a Haitian it defies common sense to jump out of a perfectly good boat into the sea. But this group was ready, and without hesitation over the side they went. To their great delight the sea at the reef was clear and warm, full of wonderful things they had not ever observed up close: starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins. There was a lot of splashing and singing--and one screamer. Dancy was afraid. We put a life jacket on her and coaxed her over the side. She immediately threw her arms around my neck and held on, white knuckled, for dear life. Little by little she came to realize that the jacket would keep her afloat and she eased her grip. Ti Met, the captain of the Wesleyana, kept yelling at her to let go or she would kill her teacher. Eventually she was floating on her own and waving to me from a few feet away. Back on board, I saw Ti Met take her aside and gently lecture her. When we were back at the mission I asked Ti Met if he was angry, either at Dancy for being afraid or at me for taking her out on the boat. I told him I didn't want to misunderstand the situation. It was my turn for one of his gentle lessons. He said no, he wasn't angry at all. But he wanted Dancy to understand that it was important for her to learn to swim. That if she was afraid she would never learn. And she shouldn't try to kill her swimming teacher! He said the sea is a beautiful thing, but that it's "fragile." I think he meant that the sea can be dangerous or beautiful depending on our relationship with it. Knowing how to swim, he said, makes all the difference. Have I told you yet how much I love and admire Ti Met?
It's been a long time since I've written. It's been good to catch up. Miss you all. Avek afeksyon, Nancy