By Hal Eisenberg
February 16, 2014
Today was another beautiful day of cultural blessings and filming. I am currently beyond exhausted (seems to be a common theme within this blog), even though we have stayed put in Carre Four Sanon. I woke up and took a cold shower. As a matter of fact, it is my 2nd day of cold showers. Hot water is a luxury and water supply is limited. Due to the fact that many have to shower, you have to wet your body, shut the water, lather up, and then rinse. It has to be quick, which you actually do not mind because it is cold water and the weather is hot and humid as well. It is Sunday morning and there was a big mass today where we were to be introduced to the community. Overnight there was a much-needed rainstorm, which was apparently needed because there is a drought here. So, I ran to the church prior to the mass. My first thought was concern because the roof was not complete yet and how I saw the workers and cleaners yesterday preparing feverishly for this service. I felt bad that they worked so hard to get the building ready and the rain must be inside the building and ruining all their plans for the morning. When I arrived to the church I saw this older woman who apparently walked up the hill barefoot and her feet were all muddy. She washed her feet clean in a puddle just outside the rear entrance to the church. The surface below her feet was not concrete but more like hardened clay. There was no frustration on her face – no signs of fatigue (though who knows what she was truly feeling), but rather there was a joyous appearance that she had made it to church. I then realized that the workers came back in to prepare the building and there was a sense of resiliency as there was no doubt that church was going to happen. I felt as if rain, hurricane, or earthquake just doesn’t matter. It shakes you up a bit but then you move forward. Pun intended.
I later discovered that many of the people at church, which was mostly populated by youth (which is in total contrast to most American churches), come from far away. Some have to climb 8 or 9 hills. They have 3 sets of clothes – church clothes, school clothes (both which are usually uniformed), and play clothes (which are regular clothes that usually look muddy or dirty.) The church and school clothes get hung up immediately when they get home. We spent the service filming and I was told that in our honor the youth choir was singing, which does not happen weekly. The name of their choir was “Echo of the Angels” which has a beautiful and spiritual ring to it. They truly sounded like angels. One of the youth members was the conductor and it was explained later on that with each service the choir members take turn in who the conductor is so they each get an opportunity to have the leadership empowerment experience. How powerful is that? I think it is genius and not a bad idea to implement somewhere at Windows of Opportunity. It goes along with the concept that we are all leaders. As we were filming I got a clip of this 2 or 3 year old dancing and once she realized the camera was on her, she froze in fear. It was so adorable. We decided that the message of our documentary film is breaking the stereotype of “poor Haiti” and finding examples of this is not a challenge at all, especially in the smile of a child, or the words of the Father, or the faces staring on in hope. As a matter of fact if we had come down here with the intent to do a movie on “poor me I suffered from the earthquake” we would have a much more difficult time finding footage. The spirit here is engrained in everyone I meet. Their gratitude for a tee shirt or a piece of candy is tremendous. Kishner, who is from Haiti and then came to the US, looked as if he was being transformed back into his childhood as he became elated with hearing old songs and watching the youth perform.
After the service, Kishner and I hung around the church and did what we do best. We connected with the kids. Somehow we turned our hang out session into a film workshop and we taught the kids how to pose and shoot, as if it was a Saturday at a Shortstack photo shoot. The kids were thrilled to hold the camera. I did not speak their language of Creole but we somehow connected, with many of them holding my hands in a gesture of respect or perhaps admiration. Then came my sunglasses. This was so great. Apparently, I learned that sunglasses here are considered a luxury item, and all the kids wanted to pose with my sunglasses. Of course, I obliged and it was so great to see their excitement. I want to go and collect a bunch of sunglasses and send them here with their picture watermarked with the Windows of Opportunity and From Here to Haiti logo. That is going to be project #1. The ideas in my head for Love in Action are so overwhelming and I know I have to put the brakes on and rebuild the infrastructure of Windows of Opportunity first and foremost. However, there are some very easy things we can do back home that would have a tremendous life changing experience for the youth here. Hindsight is 20/20 and the truth is perhaps this should have been the plan from the beginning. Perhaps the goal should have been for me to come to Haiti, scout the projects, meet people, troubleshoot, get ideas, and THEN bring it back to the team and the world. I think that is going to be the Windows of Opportunity/ Love in Action model moving forward. Myself, and maybe a Board member/Love in Action Directors will go scope out the area and project first, brainstorm what is needed and who the team should be, and then plan very carefully. This trip has been amazing and it is only Day 3 and it is pretty much NOT what I expected. It’s so much more and being here I can even assess what leaders of mine would be impacting here. I’ve learned so much today.
The youth here took a few minutes to warm up to our presence but then they would not leave our side. I found here that the grades here are opposite than the United States. Their grade 12 is our 1st grade and they count backwards. Once they reach the first grade, because their education is more intense, it is considered equivalent to an Associates Degree in the states. Then they can come study in the states and some do desire this. There are colleges in Haiti, but there is an underlying question on the quality of the teachers and their training. The teachers in general are extremely underpaid but I think there is still satisfaction that they have a job and purpose. That’s my opinion from observation but I could be wrong about that. In the private schools, which we are visiting 2 tomorrow, there is a rule to “pay what you can” weekly. The idea behind this is that as parents you have to pay something to send your child to school, but when your child graduates the parents in return have a sense of pride that they paid for, and were instrumental in, getting their child an education. I love the fact that their tuition is not a set fee and it comes more from a place of love and empowerment. Does this sound like a “poor” country to you? It is almost as if we can learn some things about values, love, and our youth from Haiti. It is hard for me to stand here and think about their philosophy and not feel some shame about our education system in the United States. Their philosophy drives these families, whom live deep in the mountains, to work in order to gain pride and love. If you have $10, great. If you have $5, fine. Your kids get educated. There is a flip side to this of course. The love is real and the values are deeply positive and hopeful, but it is a “financially” poor country that is rich in spirit. Where we are now there are no doctors. If one of us was to get injured or sick it may take 2 hours to get a car up the bumpy roads to us and then down to Jeremie to a hospital that is not well equipped. I guess that makes me somewhat nervous. Especially since I agreed to help the workers on the roof tomorrow. Lol. I am excited about that. I want to speak to Danny Davids and his family for advice and suggestions because I was told if we did a medical mission here that 500 people from all around would line up prior to sunrise in order to receive assistance. We could do it at the church (that we fundraised to rebuild – see how far our efforts can go) and stay in the parish here.
Father Samedy, who we interviewed today as well, has been completely gracious and the hospitality is amazing. We are getting a wonderful varied experience in Haitian cuisine – Plantains, snapper, sour sod, some awesome banana like drink, and so much more. There are 3 sit down meals a day with all of us and it feels like a sense of community and family when we eat. The truth is I do not have 3 meals a day back home, and definitely not sitting down for valued conversations, unless it is some kind of meeting or work/counseling related. This was kind of nice, and reminded me of my early childhood – another deep feeling of how I take different aspects of my life for granted. Breakfast and lunch here are very heavy. It is not a shock for pasta to be on the breakfast table. Dinner is very light, but to be honest by the time it comes to dinner I am still full from breakfast and lunch because there is so much food. I am enjoying trying their way of cooking. We are being well taken care of at St. Francis of Xavier, and I wonder if I could even consider this “roughing it.” There are not the amenities we have like hot water, water pressure, and electricity, but its kind of nice. Patricia at From Here to Haiti said that we are lucky for this and that our next stop will have a much different cultural feel to it, and possibly closer to what we originally thought we would experience. She explained that you never really know what accommodations you are going to get on these trips, but the fact that there is always somebody there to put you up is nice. This is all ok though as I am prepared for anything and it just doesn’t matter. I am here to learn and I am open for the full experience, no matter how rough it is. The impact so far is amazing to me so I am just trying to be present in the moment. Tonight at dinner, Dafna did the grace prayer in Hebrew and we ended the meal with a prayer in Creole. I love the fact that we are in a Catholic building and they are respecting other cultures and opening arms to the other nationalities and religions we brought on our trip with us. There is a beautiful ongoing lesson here in acceptance.
After dinner, out of nowhere, Canaval – a Haiti wide celebration that I believe marks the beginning of the Lent season – is celebrated in many ways. A marching band came through this “one horse town” (literally) dancing and celebrating. I got out on the street and danced with them – which was obviously a very funny site that is unfortunately on video. It is one of the things I love about Haiti. It seems to me that people just break into song or dance on cue and out of the blue. You never know when some cultural outburst or celebration is going to happen. My attempt to dance was an effort to join in this feeling of being free – a celebration of life no matter what obstacles lie in your path. I feel like I am in a musical sometimes. There is something truly beautiful about this piece of their culture. It happened at church after the service was over with the kids. It was in the airport, and now tonight. I cannot help but get this warm feeling inside when it happens.
As this night comes to a close, Kishner and I, who are staying in the “male” room of the rectory, are dumping footage onto the external hard drive we brought with us. We have over 300GB of footage already and it is only day 3. I am exhausted but totally engaged in this miraculous experience, but I would be lying if I did not admit that there is a piece of me that is yearning some Starbucks and a nice cup of tea. I am definitely detoxing the caffeine, as my headache is bad, but that is fine. A good detox is needed in my system. We live like kings though. We should never complain again. We do not know what we truly have… and I feel like people here do know what they have and more. When you have almost nothing – what is left – – our spirits and our souls – and maybe that is where the problem lies. Maybe we just need our spirits and our souls — and the “rat race” is not necessary. Maybe if we get back to basics, within ourselves, we will find the celebration that is life. So much less, can be so much more. Interesting thought to lay my head down to.