Sunday, May 30, 2010
Pa gen problem
Today is thursday. Aisha and I were invited to Joseph's community for the day. Our plans were to visit the school, Joseph's aunt who needed some health support, to check on a baby that had recently been born into the community, to visit the garden, and to see our little homebirth family. All of this would make for a long day, but as we learned to say in creole "pa gen problem," "it is not a problem."
Joseph picked us up on motorcycles and took us on a very bumpy ride to the church and school in his village of 5,000. Aisha and I were on the same bike, sitting behind our driver, going up pot hole covered hills and coasting down the other side. a couple times we had to get off and walk, but our driver kept telling us "pa gen problem." I heard and said that phrase a million times and I wonder what would be a problem?!
The school is a long shack, probably the same length as many living rooms, that has been divided by chalk boards into four rooms. We handed out pencils and I talked to the head professor about the school, it's needs etc. The children learn math and writing, philosophy, Latin, reading etc. Culturally everyone is good at memorization, but seem to be less so with critical thinking. And despite the access to education there are no jobs. So getting an education doesn't help many people get ahead. When I asked the head professor about music education, he had the children sing us a creole song. It was sweet and the children were thrilled about sharing. The song was about seeds blowing in the wind.
The grandmother that I saw last Saturday when we had the mobile clinic was there, which made me very happy. She is eighty and sweet with her missing teeth. We had a little printed photo of her as a gift and a dress. There are people that we just connect to instantaneously in life and for me she was one of those souls. She called me her daughter and we kissed and kissed each other on the cheeks.
At the end of our day we went to Joseph's house and met some of his family. There was a baby there that he wanted me to see. While I was holding little baby Jennifer, Joseph told me brother Michael had been asked to be the child's godfather and that I was to be the little one's godmother. It was very sweet and I didn't know what else to do but agree, which made Joseph very happy.
During that conversation I realized that the father of the baby was the son of the little grandmother I have fallen in live with. So she is sort of my grandmother now and I like the thought of that. My first act as godmother was to give the little baby girl a doll, the second was to make sure her family will recieve the first brood of chickens (we donated a coup and chickens to the community.)
After we had toured the school Joseph took us to the garden. The community has purchased three acres of land down by the river. A group of Portland midwives that came in the early spring donated enough money that they were able to buy PVC pipes and a pump for an irrigation system as well as two oxen and a plow.
The garden is lovely, surrounded by mango trees, and seems to be thriving. They are growing eggplant and corn, peppers, basil and fennel. I gave Joseph a bunch of seeds for squashes and spinach, basil, and some other herbs. I was pleased to see the promise of prosperity here because of the generosity of the Portland community! There were maybe ten people out working the garden that morning, including Joseph's father, who was drivind the oxen and breaking the soil with the old plow. It is amazing what dedication can create. The hope with the garden is to provide food for the community and to sell produce in the market so that more seeds etc can be purchased for future crops.
Aisha and I were both very moved by what we saw and what the goals of the community are. I had $250 left over in donated money and between that and what Aisha had to contribute we were able to help purchase a chicken coup and chickens for the community. We discussed with Joseph and brother Michael that our hope is that as the chickens breed they will be distributed throughout the community so that each family will eventually have chickens and eggs. Who knows how the money will truly get used (although Joseph is giving receipts for everything to brother Michael and Joseph hopes to send us photos as the project progresses). It feels rewarding to help a larger community help themselves. It isn't any easy thing to accomplish.
One of our translators, Gladious, told a story about Haiti. He drew a little stick figure of a man and explained that the man was a representation of Haiti. Then he described a chain of hands creating a "rope" that extended to this man. He said that the role was all the help coming to Haiti, but "it is sad," he said "all these hands reach towards Haiti and Haiti stands with his arms crossed. Haiti does not help himself. It is a sad image and yet it seems true.
Aisha and I had a long talk with Joseph about the same thing. He talked about how difficult it is to get his people to see the bigger picture. Everyone is in a state of survival and that means it is everyman fir himself. To me that makes the Joseph community all the more special, for the association created to oversee the village truly has a grander dream and sustainable goals. When we get home Aisha and I hope we can find a way to support the community further, especially in the building of a school.
After the garden tour we were wisked off to the famous cursed waterfall, about a thirty minute bumpy motorcycle ride away. I couldn't get the full story on why the waterfall is cursed--but it sounded like multiple white people have died trying to swim in the pools and Joseph would not let us near them! I am glad he kept us safe, but definately wished we could swim in cool water. It was clean and blue and I imagine it would have been refreshing. I am sure the water demons made it enticing for good reason!
As we walked towards the falls children seemed to appear out of nowhere to escort us. Aisha and I had a little hand in each of ours and we were guided up a narrow and slippery path toward the top of the falls and the voodoo cave. The little boys waded throught the water telling us to step here and there to avoid falling in. It was sweet and everyone seemed to be enjoying the little adventure.
The cave was much larger than I was expecting. Full of bats and swallows; walls covered in names and carvings of faces and stick figures--a bit creepy actually. Joseph informed me that people in Hinche still come to make sacrifices and perform black magic. People still believe that siknesses and deaths occur because of spells--I had to demonstrate to one of the villagers that the salve I was giving her for her excema wasn't poison. It's a strange little world.
Overall it was a magical day--vacation from the hospital and deaths and people who seem to be missing their radiance. It was wonderful to be handed healhy babies to hold and examine. I don't know how everyone knew i was the femn-sage...
Joseph has asked me to come back and see his people again. And I hope that it will be possible. I know Aisha would also like to return and I am curious to talk to the traditional birth attendants in the area. We need to get a grant to build them a school and just help expand the resources of the Joseph community.
At the end of the day Joseph took us to see our little homebirth family. Only
Betchi Love and Rosamine were there. Julmanise, the little girl that Aisha fell in love with was off washing the laundry. So we waited and I played with Betchi Love and the little neighbor boy, and talked with Rosamine about her recent trip to the hospital. They told her that all was well and that hopefully she would wait to have her baby. Joseph has promised to send me an email when she does.
We left them more linens and food and one of the kick balls we brought along. I also checked in on the mama who live in the section of the house behind Rosamine. I gave her supplies for when she has her baby in three months and a three month supply of prenatals and iron. We felt like we were Santa Clause and I hope that the distribution of so many gifts causes no problems. Pa gen problem. I hope that baby Rosamine comes out strong and healthy and that Joseph looks after our little family.
The day ended with a long drive backto Maisson Fortune, the orphanage and a discussion with the motorcycle drivers (one who looked like he was eleven) about how much we owed them. The initial response is "however much you wish to give" and thus begins a sligtly disturbing cultual experience. We make an offer, they act insulted, we ask again how much and they refuse to say but make a drama that what they have done for us is so much. So we offer more, they throw up hands and pretend to drive off. Aisha and I get flustered and offer them ourfinal amount, shoving the money, which is more than generous, into one of the driver's hands. "Pa gen problem," I tell him. The other, older driver, leaves in a huff and Joseph gets teary, saying that it is a problem that we have just spent the day helping his people (and the motorcycle drivers are part of that village) and he is ashamed and embarrassed. I tell him that it is not his fault and that he is still in my heart.
The days spent in that community made the biggest impact on our hearts. I feel like my soul truly opened up to the plight of Haiti. As Joseph said to me many times "you are now one of us. You are one of my village." I am not sure yet how to process that. What does it mean to be part of Haiti of it's sadness and bleakness, of it's tragedy and loss. There have been moments of joy each day--coming home to the girls at the orphanage who want to sing "shante, shante," they say, "song, song." And so we shower and sing with the girls, let them do our hair and fall asleep with the children playing and the dogs barking and the roosters crowing at 230 am and in the morning we step forward to face the unknown one more time, knowing that the day may be better than yesterday or it make be worse, but most likely the sunrise will bring with it another tragedy and little hope.
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