Thursday, October 29, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
As some of you know, I spent the last week in Haiti with our team from EMI. We returned to our homes-away-from-homes in Costa Rica late last Sunday night. Speaking for myself, I was exhausted, but very reflective of our time in Haiti. I'll do my best to share my experiences with you of Haiti.
I have so much to share about Haiti, and I know this post will again be very long. As much as I’d like to share everything with you, I realize that you have lives, too. I’m going to try to organize my thoughts and experiences into sections, so that if you care about one thing more than another, you don’t have to read the whole thing. Here we go…
The Country of Haiti
First I want to share a little information about Haiti. Someone told me that Haiti is among the 5 poorest nations in the world. When poverty gets to a certain extreme, it's hard to say one country is worse or better off than the other. My point, though, is that Haiti is one of the poorest and most oppressed nations in the world. Haiti used to be a French province that was very involved in the slave trade from Africa. Therefore, Haitian people look African and speak Creole, which is a combination of French and several African dialects. I was amazed at how similar Haiti seemed to Africa (people, the heat, carrying stuff on their heads, etc.), yet how close we were geographically to the United States.
Haiti is a very small country, but a very dark place. The religion of vodou is very popular among the people and has mixed with the Catholic Church. I don't understand how these two can mix because it seems to me that the Catholic Church and vodou have very different agendas. One of the members on our team, named Junior, is an English-speaking Haitian, and he spent a lot of time explaining vodou to us. From what I understand, because of the poverty and oppression, the Haitian people are extremely superstitious. According to Junior, many people believe in God, but claim He is too slow. Therefore, they worship many spirits and perform many rituals in hopes of receiving "prosperity." Sometimes the rituals can be as extreme as human sacrificing. Junior said that many people make some sort of contract with spirits, where they'll receive "prosperity" for a short time, and then that spirit receives their soul. I certainly don't understand it very well, but I find it very interesting. In the context of my own beliefs and experiences, I also find it very, very sad.
Anyway, my point is not to scare or depress you, just to present my own understanding of the facts of Haiti. We did see several vodou temples, but my experience of Haiti was actually much different than how I described the country above. We met some fantastic people, and shared many great experiences.
Our Project and Mission in Haiti
The goal of our project is to help a missionary who lives in Haiti. The people we are building the project for are Bill and Marilyn Fair (from the U.S.). They have a vision to serve and help local Haitian pastors and the Haitian people in any way they can. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving out clothes or food, and other times it’s supporting a local church or teaching. One thing they like to do is train Haitians how to be pastors. Many Haitians are Christians, but don’t seem to understand simple things like they shouldn't steal. Bill and Marilyn have a vision for a church and housing complex to be located in Arachaie, Haiti. It will consist of a church (which also will serve as a school), their house, some houses for Haitians, and a small “Bible College” where they can train Haitians to be pastors. This will be our job to design a simple, affordable, yet practical solution for them.
Our Week in Haiti
I was surprised that the first thing I noticed about Haiti from the airplane was the absolute beauty of the landscape. While traveling and preparing for Haiti, I tried to get my head around the poverty we were about to see, and meanwhile failed to realize that Haiti is actually a very, very beautiful country. If it wasn't for the intense poverty, ever-present trash, and lack of trees (Haitians cut down all their trees), then I think Haiti would be one of the most scenic places in the world. Maybe that's just me.
Bill (the missionary living in Haiti) picked us up from the airport in Port-au-Prince, and we stayed at his house in Bon Repos. They are staying in a simple house now inside a locked gate. They had enough room for all us to stay. They cooked us some good American food, which although strange for Haiti, tasted quite good to us. We had two very cold showers, which actually felt great because of the heat. We were able to work in their living room area. Other than the heat, we were comfortable there.
We arrived to Haiti on a Saturday, so the next day on Sunday we went to one of the local Christian churches. This was one of my favorite experiences of Haiti – just seeing the people and how much they cared for each other and the church. The people that attend this church are the people that will use the new church we design. Right now, they are meeting in very small outdoor room from someone’s house, which only has a grass thatch roof and is not very practical for the people wishing to attend. The new church we are designing for them will be a very simple building, but will be able to hold almost 200 people, and will offer them the shelter and the place they need. As of now, Bill and Marilyn have enough money raised for this building, so this will be the first to be built in the complex, hopefully sometime next spring.
We immediately fell in love with the people at the church Sunday morning. Many of these people don’t have much as far as clothing, but they wear the absolute best they have on Sunday mornings, regardless of the heat. I found it fascinating that men would wear ties and sport coats and women would wear these huge dresses, and then stand out in the 100 degree heat for hours. At church, kids would run up and pile in the back in Bill’s truck for Sunday school, and then everyone would cram into these small benches for a church service. Throughout the service, different people would get up and sing. Many are very gifted singers! Everyone is so loving and caring for each other. Like I said, I think we all fell in love with the people there!
The next few days we traveled from the house to the site (about an hour drive) for the afternoon. The only mode of transportation we had was Bill’s truck, so we would all ride in the back of it. The breeze felt great! At the site, the architect’s worked with Bill to get a handle on the project and how best to lay everything out. I worked with one of the project volunteers to survey the site (to basically make a simple topographical map of the site). All the people from the area thought this was the coolest thing. They would follow us around and look at all of our crazy equipment. They would offer to help in any way possible.
The latter part of the week was spent working on the design at our “office” (Bill and Marilyn’s house). There we worked with one another on different aspects of the design. We also argued – over things like who was hogging the fan (it was very hot!). We also spent a lot of time with the Haitian family that lived next door. They had 4 kids that always wanted to play in one way or another. Sometimes it was play fighting or singing or throwing a Frisbee, but it always involved lots of laughter. I really admired their continued happiness and joy in the simplest things.
On Friday night, we presented our design (so far) to Bill and Marilyn, and they offered a few constructive comments. To this point we have a layout of the site, including the buildings and bus routes, etc. We also have the layout and preliminary design of most of the buildings. Some of the buildings are to be completed when more funds arrive, but for now we are working on a more complete and technical design of their house and the new church. The church will be a large rectangular room, with a patio out front for Sunday School. There will be plenty of windows and a vent at the top of the church, which should allow for good ventilation in a very hot climate. This church will be used as a school during the week, so I really feel like it will be put to use in a great way!
To wrap up my overall experience in Haiti, I’d like to share a few thoughts. First of all, based on all the statistics and information about Haiti, I expected it to be very depressing and just an overall evil place. Fortunately, I was surprised. The people of Haiti are very beautiful and loving people, and for the most part they really do care and love one another. We experienced genuine happiness and laughter when playing with the kids. I told the group that I saw a certain joy in some people there that I can’t explain. Even though they have so little, they are completely content with the simplest things. They have plenty of time for each other, and families seem stronger because of it. I think in the United States we continue to try to fill a void in our minds with more and more material things, which really don’t make us any happier. I think the same depression in Haiti from having so little can be found in the U.S. for having so much. I’m not telling you to go and sell all your stuff, I’m just explaining a little bit of my confusion.
Anyway, now that we’re back in the office in Costa Rica, we have lots of work to do. Another team from our office is working on a different project (also in Haiti). We hope to finish both by December. I’m sorry again for the long post, but I feel like I can’t cut any out (but I could add a whole lot more!), since we experienced so much in our short time there. Until next time, hasta luego!