Friday, June 20, 2014

Days 7½ and 8 in Haiti

Day 7 had its share of patients that tugged at one’s heart, particularly one of Joyce’s. She had cervical cancer that was very advanced and there was no way to treat it. Joyce says it had to be at least 3 years late. I kept thinking of Dr. Paul Farmer’s concept of the “long defeat”. He says, “How about if I say, I have fought for my whole life a long defeat. How about that? How about if I said, that’s all it adds up to is defeat? I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory.

Sara Groves who took inspiration from this wrote a song called the long defeat. She makes the point that we are “so conditioned for a win, to share in victors’ stories, but in the place of ambition’s din, I have heard of other glories.” And “I can't just fight when I think I'll win; That's the end of all belief; And nothing has provoked it more than a possible defeat.”

I think of the cross, a criminal’s death, so much what seemed then a long defeat, and yet the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, and it ends in victory that will last. And we know that the Christian faith wears the resurrection on its sleeve clearly for all to see. But this doesn't come without the terrible darkness of Good Friday. Again, quoting Dr. Farmer responding to his classmates at Duke and Harvard who frequently challenged his faith, "“You want crucifixionYou ba----ds, I’ll show you crucifixion.

We spent the evening of Day 7 on the rooftop, and shared our one big takeaway from the trip. We went around in a circle and I was towards the end. For some reason my fevered brain kept thinking of only one thing- how cool it would be to have a zipline from the rooftop to Port au Prince. I wasn’t thinking much, so I said some things that came to mind. On more sober reflection, I think the one takeaway is the same I experience when I come across great acts for God- seeing Christ in the lives of people who are committed to Him. In these days of scandals involving priests, evangelists, megachurch pastors and other ecclesial or various leaders of faith, we need a Pauline (or Petrine if you are Catholic) figure towering above the rest to look up to. I’m glad to say that I have seen many such living saints, and this has been a rampart for my faith. We sat there on the rooftop against the darkening sky and I heard distant drumbeats eerily floating to us from the forests below. Dave told me those were voodoo drums. There is a lot of voodoo around the area. It felt strange to hear them with the mountain silhouetted against the sky in the night on one side and the glimmering lights of Port au Prince against the Atlantic Ocean downhill on the other. One of those moments when I think to myself, “Where have I come?”

We woke early in the morning on Day 8 and packed up our things and waited for the bus to Port au Prince, which was magnificently late. We often joke among friends about Indian Stretchable Time. It has nothing on Haitian Time. Clearly due to the non-existent infrastructure, the concept of time here is different from the world of our workaday world. The only way to deal with this and maintain one’s sanity is to relax and take on a laissez faire attitude towards unimaginable delays and unforeseen circumstances such as a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we did not suffer from the latter problem this time around, but Tom shared that it happened last year on the way back downhill.
A local bank on the way downhill

Prior to leaving we said goodbye to everyone. The kids were the most difficult to part with. I have never seen more trust, more smiles, or more innocence anywhere else. I took pictures with some of them- Jonathan who lives with Father Roosevelt at the rectory, little girls Missena and Gyn (?) both aged 9, a year younger than my daughter Emma. As the bus drove off, I felt a hollow feeling in my stomach, which I realized was not hunger, but an indication of how much I missed Alma and the kids. I kept thinking of these kids. It is no wonder that these missionaries broach the question of adoption each time they come. As I looked at the little girls when we drove away, I thought to myself: When I return the year after next, if HART will have me, will they retain their trust, their smiles? Will they suffer much when they, as they undoubtedly will, go through chikungunya, HTN and God forbid, the terrible ailments we saw? My thoughts turned to how it would be if these girls were with us at our home in Wheaton, playing with Emma and David, how wonderful it would be. People who know me well know I almost never tear up, but as these thoughts raced through my mind I couldn't hold back. Thank God I had my sunglasses on.
Missena and Gyn

With Jonathan (right) and his friend 

We drove through Port au Prince and stopped at Patrick’s home because his daughter was sick. Joyce examined her and thought it must be the beginning of chikungunya. While Joyce was with the patient, I talked at length to Dr. Carol about Paul Farmer- she said she will read it and ask her kids to read it as well. I never tire of recommending it to people, though I give them the disclaimer about slightly colorful language, especially if they are Christian.  

Then we stopped at a store called 'The Apparent Project' ( where we bought arts and crafts created by local artisans. I bought a beaded necklace for Alma made out of clay. They make these necklaces because Haitians eat clay from the acute hunger. It is a reminder of this horrendous plight. I bought similar other things for the kids. We ran into a blonde girl working there and talking in Creole to the Haitians working there. She said 5 years ago she had come to explore, didn't know Jesus, and had now changed and working there in marketing. Tom, to my surprise, jumped in and said, "We are Catholics." He let me know he does to surprise non-Catholic believers and to see their reaction. The girl kept smiling but I think she was surprised. Then Tom pointed to me and said, "We are all Catholics except him- he is a Wheaton boy. We decided to take him with us." She said they get a lot of people from Wheaton. I wonder who.

We then drove to our hotel, a Best Western, the only one of its kind in the city. This area of town is called Petionville, the wealthy area of town. Sean Penn has a home here. That is not saying it looks like it could belong in Hollywood, much less in Bollywood. But it does have the consuls and diplomats’ residences. We entered the hotel, and let out a collective gasp. It was very much like a US hotel. Tom and I are sharing a room. Looking out our window it felt odd to see the dirt and grime of Port au Prince and the clean order of our hotel room. It is a 4 ½ star hotel. I looked at our bags which traveled downhill separately from us, in a pickup truck. They were covered with thick grey dust.

Later today we plan to go to a local orphanage to distribute rice, beans, medicines and candy. 

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