the following collection of pictures, thoughts and reflections is from my trip to Ouanaminthe, Haiti, with Tower Hill Pres. Church in Red Bank, NJ, march 15-21st 2009. as i've found in the past weeks, it is difficult to translate my experiences into words. so, as usual, i'll illustrate it a bit through image, along with some thoughts provoked by the images.
i haven't been to a developing country in about 7 years. my previous experiences were two trips to a small crossroads-town in Honduras called La Entrada. these were two of the most humbling trips of my life. and this trip to Ouanaminthe was the third most-humbling week of my life. we read and hear about developing nations once in awhile on the news, and get a fraction of a sense of life there -- but, as i am an advocate for all-things-experiential, there is nothing that compares with EXPERIENCING life in a developing nation. esPECially with haiti being one of the poorest nations in the world.
we flew into the Domincan Republic (if, like me before the trip, you have no idea of haiti's geography, haiti and the DR form an island SE of cuba) and commenced to drive 3 hours west to a town just over the border into haiti: Ouanaminthe. on this drive, departing a large city (Santiago, DR), and driving toward the border through sequentially poorer areas, i was struck wtih this question: what does it mean to LIVE in a place like this? a little philosophical, yes. but really -- what is the goal of a person who lives on nothing? as the picture above represents, a lot of people 'just sit around' most days. i know they are not lazy -- that's not what i illustrate. but there are a lot of people who seem to be 'waiting' for something. and this made me wonder what life is about for a poor person in the DR or haiti. we americans have our 'american dream' that we continually strive after because our country is 'economically viable' as they say.
youth entitlement doesn't seem to be an issue in haiti. this is something i struggle with in the US, with gaudy over-indulgence as seen on 'My Super Sweet 16'. as illustrated above and below, as soon as they are able to walk, children are assisting with family chores and duties. i found myself wondering what would become of these children as they grew -- would they live to see adolesence? would they get an education? would they invest themselves in trying to make their country a better place?
to financially sustain themselves, most haitians seem to simply try and sell things - as the next few pictures illustrate. truckloads of this and that fly down the roads. people at every major intersection (in the more 'urban' areas) try and sell items to stopped cars. men and women line the streets - paved roads as well as back alleys - with various items to sell. all with the intent on attempting to continue supporting themselves as well as their families.
we were able to experience 'free-trade day' - where the DR and haiti open their borders (twice per week) to allow mass commerce to occur. this was a scene to behold. MASSes of people coming and going, many more planted on their plot of ground to peddle whatever it was they had to sell. the picture below illustrates a freshly-butchered animal of some sort that is spread out for the choosing. close your eyes and imagine the smell...
it's STILL amazing to me how much we as americans take for granted. take me for example. as we arrived at our house in town where we would be staying, i gathered up a bit of trash that i had accumulated from our travels, as well as some from those i had been traveling with. when i asked where the 'garbage' was -- i was instructed to 'throw it over the back wall'. i was puzzled for a moment, until the realization sunk in that 'oh yea, there's no trash service in a place like this.' so i walked up the steps to a landing at the top of the back wall - to behold the open lot that you see in the picture below. in poor areas of developing nations, there are no services to take care of things that we would presume - like trash management. in a place like Ouanaminthe, trash is either burned or it is tossed on an open piece of land. it's things like this that remind me of how much a country like haiti is up against in order to make it a 'better place'.
words like 'simplicity' and 'humility' came into my mind a lot during my week. simplicity, because most people did the best they could with what they had. it's pretty impressive. in our daily lives, availability and resources have become so close at hands and seemingly-unlimited, that i don't think we appreciate simplicity anymore. this is why i enjoy the outdoors so much -- it FORCES simplicity. but see the picture below for haitian 'laundry facilities': this is simplicity. a small tub and a water source. we had a local woman staying at our house who did our laundry for us in this manner. let me tell you -- my clothes have NEVER been cleaner. i would argue that simpler is always better.
the image below always evokes an interesting response in me. i saw it in honduras as well. topping most concrete block walls built around houses or compounds, is broken glass and barbed-wire (and in this case RAZOR-wire as well [!] ). while it is a simple security mechanism to prevent theft, etc., i can't help but see this as something deeper -- as some sort of reaction-of-fear. these sharp objects meant to slice and mangle -- separating one from an other. there's something about this that grates against me and i'm still not sure what it is. i'm not going to get all deep and weird trying to tease out the symbolism. i'll just leave you with the image.
this has happened everytime i've been on a mission trip to another country -- local folks always seem to join in to help with whatever you might be doing. on this particular day, we were moving a huge pile of rocks. yes -- MOVING A PILE OF ROCKS. BY HAND. awesome. did i mention there are tarantulas in haiti? and they typically live in dry, rocky conditions? [yes, we found TWO TARANTULAS in this particular rockpile] anyways -- this picture below makes me smile for a couple reasons. 1) the little guy in his spiderman underwear is carrying two of the same sized rocks as the 9-foot tall guy next to him - and DIDN'T STRUGGLE WITH THEM. 2) the 9-foot tall guy was laughing at me the entire time because i would roll any rock that was bigger than a volkswagen, and he would then come over and pick up a rock BIGGER than a volkswagen and carry it non-shalantly to the spot 8 feet away where we were making the new pile of rocks.
we had lots of time to just head out into the street in front of our house to spend time with kids. if you've never experienced being an american in a poor, foreign culture, locals kids will FLOCK TO YOU. and NEVER LEAVE YOU ALONE AGAIN. it's really fun. in the picture below, heather thought it would be fun to blow bubbles for the kids. the kids decided it would be fun to blow back at heather. heather ended up wearing about half the bottle of bubble solution.
a few of the ladies decided duck-duck-goose would be fun. it was REALLY funny watching kids not-quite-get the idea of running once around the circle. some would run around MANY times -- some would run way out into the field to avoid getting caught. some of the onlookers would get to close and get CLIPPED by someone running around the circle. it was really fun.
one of the boys in the street initiated the hand-slap game. i placidly complied -- and this kid was GOOD. AND he slapped with authority. the backs of my hands were red for hours.
another example of one of those 'assumed' things here in the US -- school. there is opportunity for schooling in haiti. there is a public school system, as well as other privately run schools, such as those setup by missionaries. but staying in school is a fight for a lot of children growing up in haiti - as in any developing nation. with such a poor economy, along with the possibility of one-parent families or no-parent families, and often many siblings, there is often a strong pull on kids to drop out of school and get jobs in order to help support their family.
we went down as a team to work with a group called Aslan Ministries - based in NJ. they began building a ministry presence in Ouanaminthe many years ago. one of the issues i have with 'americans' being missionaries in developing countries, is the whole notion of white americans trying to 'fix' other countries in the name of jesus. i didn't know anything about how Aslan does things until i arrived and met joseph. joseph is the man in the picture below standing up front in the red-striped shirt. joseph is a local man who has grown up in Ouanaminthe, and is highly respected there. Aslan has built a relationship with joseph over these many years, and support joseph as their 'primary ministry presence' there. Aslan is thus less of the 'white americans' trying to fix haiti in the name of jesus, and more of a support to the town and the people of Ouanaminthe as followers of jesus. and this, in my opinion, is good missional theology.
[joseph leading a weekly sunday-afternoon bible study and gathering at Aslan's property]
Aslan supports a number of local young men - in the hopes of helping them through their schooling and on to a viable and fruitful career path. we worked alongside a number of these guys during the week, as well as interacting with them while at the house where we were staying. one these guys, junior, had a younger brother who - alongwith a group of friens - were into acrobatics. junior took us to a private performance on the saturday we were departing. the picture below was the finale' - the guy in the red shirt is flipping BACKWARD over the willing assistants.
and this is evanson. evanson is 16 and is one of the guys that Aslan supports. evanson always had a smile on his face - and even taught me a secret handshake. he didn't really speak any english, nor i any creole - so we mostly just enjoyed each others' presence. it was pretty powerful - hard to explain really. there was one day i remember just sitting next to each other against a wall - never said a word. just sat. evanson suffers from a bit of a disability in his legs. he limps pretty significantly. Aslan has been trying to get him evaluated - but, along with other things we may take for granted, medical attention is a difficult one in developing countries. even major hospitals in major cities are not what we have access to here in the states. so evanson's evaluation has been slowgoing -- they think he may have muscular dystrophy. but regardless, it was a blessing to get to experience a connection with him. and i'm glad to have the photo below to remind me of that.
so that was haiti - as told through the experiences of a few photos. i was blessed to get to share this trip with our team journeying from the states, as well as those who we got to serve alongside in Ouanaminthe. this trip opened my eyes a bit wider than they had been in awhile, and i am thankful for that. God is good - and God is at work in all kinds of ways.
peace and blessings --