If hard work is good for the soul, I had my share in Haiti. I’m back now almost two weeks and just starting to feel rested.
I visited Father Ron Joseph, formerly of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, April 29-May 5 on behalf of the newspaper, at the House of Presence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The guest house is owned by the Bradenton nonprofit, Ministry of Presence, for which Father Ron volunteers in Haiti.
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On Sunday, May 1, we were up early for coffee. No electricity, but a gas stove, and soon Junior is awakened to start the generator, because the inverter batteries are run down.
We all have chores. Father Ron is washing the towels dirtied by 10 male guests. Junior is fixing the AC in the van.
I was thinking “What to do?” with about on hour remaining before we take a trip to Megamart for bottled water and some other items. And I’m lusting for a fan. I saw one at Megamart, but assuming it was less on the street, I didn’t check the price.
There’s peanut butter and jelly for lunch on Ritz crackers. And always there are dirty dishes that accumulate whether you cook or not.
Off we go to Megamart. But it’s a heck of a ride. We encounter a traffic jam and take an alternate route, where there’s another traffic jam of massive proportions. And a traffic jam in Haiti is like no other you’ve seen. Trucks, tankers, semis, cars, United Nations vehicles, police and all, cram into imaginary lanes, ride up on sidewalks, drive into opposing traffic, and clog the entire area.
We maneuver — a lot.
We finally arrive in the heart of town, drop off the electrician and make it to Megamart, but there’s no bottled water.
Next stop: a street vendor with fans. I was armed with information from the Internet on prices of similar fans, and the street price was, indeed, a good deal. Junior made the purchase, which worked out to be $23 (U.S.).
We no sooner arrive back at the house before we must make a run to the airport to collect five new guests. We then take them to the little gasoline station/sandwich shop near the airport for lunch and the women want to shop at Megamart, so we make another visit before heading back to the House of Presence.
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It’s late afternoon, and there’s one more trip to town, this time to collect Junior’s mom, who comes to cook for all of us and take care of the house. No one goes anywhere alone, so I offer to go while Father Ron visits with his longtime friends.
And, after maneuvering yet another traffic jam and taking a detour, we soon encountered quite a downpour, and, surprise. No lights in Haiti after dark. None. It's very, very dark there.
The rain is running down the hilly roads so hard, so fast and so deep, it carries with it so much garbage, that I watch in amazement. People are still on the sidewalks selling cooked chicken and other goods. Dogs are rummaging in piles of trash. And I wonder how anyone under a tarp is faring. I closed my eyes part of the way home to keep from being terrified.
We arrive to see it’s barely rained at the house, and everyone has already eaten dinner. Junior, his mom and I joined them at the table. There’s an hour of chatter among the nine women, including Mommie to cook, and two young Haitian women who came to help her clean.
On Monday, we had made a nightmare of a task for ourselves in the afternoon sun, yet the neighborhood people were thrilled with our yard sale — eight tables of free clothes and many pairs of shoes — thanks to the Island community and especially the kids at Anna Maria Elementary and King Middle schools. We constantly replenished, and 200 or so people took turns at filling a shopping bag with apparel and shoes. Kids first. We included some children’s wear and helped the kids find what could be useful to them.
It was a wild success.
Along with the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Maryland, some nurses, all with unlimited energy, there’s a decision to continue our clothing giveaway a second day. We clearly have many boxes remaining marked men’s and women’s clothing.
Our attention turned first to the truck, and the remaining items outside under tarps. We worked on sorting, and loading much of it back into the truck for storage.
That night, I took some time to check e-mails, and a little light bulb went off in my head…. Sisters, let’s put items on the tables and then put them out. We’ll start our second sale with everything in order, just like Filene’s.
It took half the morning and buckets of sweat, but we were ready again for our giveaway. We had set out all the adult clothing that remained.
I especially remember one disabled young girl with an elderly woman, and while I directed human traffic in front — about 200 or so people waiting and pressing in line — the elderly woman was provided a shopping bag to fill and the sisters set about filling a bag for the girl and fitting her with sandals. No one has time to remark on it, but we’re all pleased we could help. And all the others.
It was mayhem. We handed out numbers, and those people waited patiently in line, but others pressed, hoping and appealing to us for a turn. We had four-five men helping with “security,” including an off-duty police officer and our own security guards. And we had Father Ron, directing the crowd to be patient in his native Creole language, me with very limited French. I could have used a loudspeaker.
We note a team of men working on the generator and our sale security team, Mommie and her helpers are keenly interested in the boxes of clothing. And they also found useful items among the clothes and shoes.
The sale wound down with little remaining to give away.
Everyone then took a break. Showers. Cool drinks. A bite to eat. But again, no electricity.
Dinner, darkness and bedtime can’t come too soon. We all wish for air conditioning, but the breeze on the upstairs verandah is a soothing substitute.
We also address preparing the future clinic for clients. Some of the sisters have made many trips to the House of Presence, and they carry clinic supplies every trip. Some supplies were on the truck, too, so we look upstairs at Sabon, the two-story business on the roadway adjacent to the gate.
We study the layout for the best use of the space, settling aside one area for private doctor exams, another area for multiple chair exams, and there’s a waiting room that can also serve classes on such things as birthing and nutrition.
Some of Mommie’s helpers are sent there to clean. We have a plan to carry all the supplies stored in the house and the truck to the clinic, but that won’t happen while I’m there. It’s a plan for another day.
On Tuesday, over coffee, we learned from phone calls to Ron that yesterday there was another quake. It hit Carrefour (a hillside city southeast of PAP we passed on our trip to Leogane) and Sunday night a fire had caused evacuation of a tent hospital at the airport. Every disaster here causes havoc to spread in an outward spiral. I saw the smoke from the fire. AP reports this morning no damage reported from the tremor, but Ron has word on his coconut telegraph that more buildings fell and more people are crushed.
Junior and I make an early trip to the airport to pick up Josh Sato and his friend, Ryan Quigley, a former Islander now living in Fort Myers. It’s Ryan’s first time in Haiti, but Josh is a pro. He visited the house a year ago and helped put on lots of the finishing touches.
They’re looking for work, something hands on, and they will surely get it.
They are assigned to clear out and organize a storage trailer (the body of a previously shipped truck) and Josh (formerly with FedEx) is the man for the job. We withheld some supplies and food for the orphanage, because living in 25-30 tents doesn't allow them much storage.
I wish we had a tent big enough for a dining room/ classroom. They have one large canopy, big enough for a table and chairs for 8-10. But none of the buildings are in service.... One is flattened, the other is very badly damaged and looking like it will collapse momentarily. I was taking pictures and they warned me, not to get too close!
The good news is that the Sisters of Charity dig in and work hard. We organized stuff for the clinic; food; orphanage clothes, shoes, etc.; tents and sleeping bags; and items for the House of Presence. And we put some things to deliver to other people, some nuns in Leogane near the orphanage (two hours east), and others in Gonaives (four hours north). Lastly, we reloaded the clinic at the back door of the truck, ready for helpers to carry there.
We’ve had no electric since about 11 last night. The generator was down. The inverter batteries ran out. So we must make ourselves comfortable or busy.
Busy it is. A self-appointed mayor for a little village behind the house — and by village I mean a very small cluster of very crude shacks — has come to see the sisters and tells us his people need help.
We load the van with bags of Rotary Club-contributed food, small bags of rice and other ingredients to feed a family of six. Josh, Ryan, the sisters, mayor and the police officer who helped at our sale and his wife, who live in the village, all climb in the van for the short ride down a dirt road.
We arrive to much curiosity, and we part in two groups to deliver food door-to-door to women in their homes.
It was unreal. So many kids. Babies. Absolute poverty. Overwhelming gratitude. Tears. Kindness. Joy.
Some of the babies screamed at the sight of us. Some elders were ill and received attention from the nurses. And the young children were giddy with delight at the sight of us.
My final afternoon in Haiti couldn’t have been more gratifying.
We should all feel very good about the delivery and the supplies on the truck. Everything is so badly needed.
We did a very good thing, and I'm very happy to have been able to see it first-hand and report the results to you.
And I thank you all for helping to make it possible.
And Father Ron, Junior, and a few hundred more people in Haiti are grateful. Very grateful.
You can help
Funding is needed to ship more food and supplies to the House of Presence in Haiti, to recover shipping costs, and repairs to the house.
Your tax-deductible donation to Ministry of Presence can be delivered to The Islander, or mailed to MoP, P.O. Box 784, Oneco FL 34264.