By Hal Eisenberg
February 17, 2014
I am taking a break from a very extensive and exhausting day. Finally there is some tranquility to search my thoughts and process these moments as I am hiding out in the back of the rectory and sitting on these stone steps. Through the palm trees and looking far down the mountain side and out into the crystal blue Caribbean Sea, one may think for a moment that we were on vacation or at a resort, but if we rewind the day, you would surely see that this is far from a luxurious getaway. Our day has been a fast paced grueling adventure full of heart-felt moments that we came to Haiti in order to experience. I have not taken a shower yet as the day started full force at sunrise. The rooster crows (though that did not happen when I lived in Texas and always thought it was a myth about roosters crowing at dawn – but in Haiti they seem to be trained to notify the residents that it is sunrise) and the town is up and moving. There was another bad storm last night and I am hearing chatter of roads possibly closing. On one hand the sounds of the storm on this mountain is so very peaceful but it is debilitating to travel. The talk is that there is a chance this can compromise the flow of the trip and we may not get out of here or to our next destination. It feels odd to me to not have that option and ability to leave when we want. We awoke this morning to still not getting 2 of our bags from Tortug ‘Air, which in my opinion is a horrible airline. One of the bags is Shannon’s and I feel so bad for her as she has not had clothes in 3 days. The other bag had all our gifts, donations, and tee shirts to give out, so that is a bit frustrating as well. The bags are being held hostage at the Jeremie Airport (if you want to call it that… It is literally a dirt path in the middle of nowhere) for luggage tags we do not have because Kishner’s brother has them in Port Au Prince. He was going to bring the bags up when he flew over to meet us, however Tortug ‘Air messed up his ticket as well. Travel here is so difficult and it is truly hard to explain. I completely understand now experiencing it why Patricia was telling us to get our tickets from Tortug ‘Air far in advance. Once you live through this experience, you do finally get it. If I ever come here again, I will travel and plan so differently. You need to have a “go with the flow” type of personality, as well as be able to relinquish any control issues you may have, to absorb and appreciate the challenges here. You have a terrain here that is difficult to drive, and there is one flight per day from the capital to this region and back. The airline was in trouble once with the department of tourism and went almost bankrupt. Couple all of this with the storm making the roads treacherous, and we have a possible issue on our hands. Truth be told, the story goes on and on, and gets quite complicated, and honestly this could have all been considered negative energy and destroyed our trip. However, very quickly we are learning that there is a positive spiritual resolve throughout this entire team that overcame the challenges we faced at the beginning of this trip and turned every “negative” into a beautiful blessing and learning experience.
Today, as I self reflect, has had a tremendous influence on my own values, on who I am, as well as how I want to carry myself and Windows of Opportunity here on out. I do not know how famous people who are in the spotlight do this all the time. Today I feel like a rock star and Patricia complimentary stated for all intensive purposes we are. The day was an instant explosion of what felt like stardom as all the kids in the nearby hills and schools knew whom we were. It is Monday here, and all of a sudden this quiet small village was swarming with kids. I could not believe how many children came to this small place. There are 2 schools nearby. One belongs to the Sisters, and one to the actual church. I awoke to so much happening all at once. We had to prep all the film stuff and meet up with the workers at the roof to help finish that project. We rushed over there to discover that this 2nd storm caused so much water damage that the roofers were delaying their arrival until the sun was higher and things could dry up. We met with the person in charge that I called the foreman. We discussed how we would help, what to do, and we made the brave decision to get up on the roof to assist in finishing it. Since there was a delay in this happening for a few hours, we decided to walk down the hill with our team and meet all the grades in the school. At first, we stopped at their original school building that was destroyed by a hurricane. It was then that I realized that Haiti is not just about the earthquake that we automatically associate it with, but they are often ravaged with multiple storms. As I looked at the fallen cement and worn out beams, I daydreamed about rebuilding that school with real Internet access and then running our Love in Action program through Skype. It is a huge job though that would run us about $60G so I will not go there. It is not feasible, reasonable, and out of our range, but perhaps one day. Seeing this structure in the ruins that remained left an aching in my heart and a wish to have more financial resources. A school here, a school in Kenya, our leaders in New York, developing leaders in Canada and the UK – leading to global conversations and solutions just seems so possible to me.
Anyhow, as I came back to reality, we got to their new improvised school and all the kids in every grade were so well behaved and so responsive to us. They stood when we walked in the classroom and all said hello in unison. It was so great to see “Windows of Opportunity” and the money we raised for the church written on their blackboard. Their classrooms were in these little wide-open huts, with makeshift desks and underneath their feet were nothing but the soil of the forest. The students there seem eager to learn and were excited to say in unison ‘Windows of Opportunity” and “From Here to Haiti” as they were learning English. It was in this very instant I felt a tear well up in my eye because even though we did Nigeria, Vancouver and England, this was the moment of realization that I knew in my heart we were truly a global entity. Father Samedy later said to me in Creole “Wherever I go I will not forget Windows of Opportunity.” I felt his words in the depths of my soul. I felt the harmony of the youth echoing “Windows of Opportunity” fill me up with joy. This is the right direction for our agency. I just know it, and yet I still think there may be some more magic to come. Haiti has been full of surprises. What could top this?
The time we left the school coincided with recess for the youth. The kids first started to interact with Shannon and wanted her bracelets. She eventually, after playing with them, threw them up in the air, and they all went diving for it. Then they followed us back up the hill to the rectory and we ended up teaching them how to play 2-hand touch football. The education was mutual as they taught us some Haitian playground games. There were moments I made sure I stopped and looked around, soaking it all in, especially the amazement I had with my team. Dafna was playing catch with the kids, as was I, Kishner was playing some game I think was called “We-Wa” that reminded me of duck duck goose, and Shannon had several children attached to her side while coddling a younger girl in her arms. The kids would all hold onto us. One particular child was amazed by my tattoo, and others would grab our skin and stare at it, or pet it slowly as if they were in amazement with the different tone. None of us felt uncomfortable and none of us denied the youth their curiosity. We communicated not through language but through the concept of fun and play, which I see now as a universal language across all cultures.
The youth eventually returned back to school from recess, and we headed directly to the church to finish this roof once and for all. The girls worked on churning cement and I climbed a ladder that was hand made from wood. I have to admit I was nervous starting with the climb, as the ladder was splitting and did not look very safe. Getting up on that roof was very scary. I honestly do not know how I made it up there. Balancing myself was very difficult as you can only walk on the nails hammered into the beams. There is a video of this that I am sure is going to make it into the movie, or at least the bloopers, because it is very funny. This is not a work site that would pass OSHA regulation, but this was not about being official. This was about hope and blessings. The workers were barefoot. They walked on the roof as if it was nothing, and worked with passion and pride. They wanted to finish today for the Bishop’s visit tomorrow. Everyone pitched in and the job got done!
That would have been enough to call it a day, but we are not done yet. Our bags finally arrived from Jeremie airport (and I still do not how they got up here with the damaged roads and not having the luggage tags, but what I do not know will not hurt me, and I am just happy they are here) and in the nick of time because once the students were released from school they headed straight towards us, wanting to spend more time with us, and excited to extend that recess play. They found us and even brought us a gift of fruit that had been picked from the trees (which is such a sweet and adorable gesture that steals your heart). We returned the gesture with candy (what is wrong with that picture – they give us healthy and we give them unhealthy… seems contradictory to our purpose there) and they were extremely happy! We spent a long time with them and had long talks (almost as I would do with any group of youth in any school I am in) and we eventually had to disappear into the rectory and try to hide, or they would not leave. We spoke to them at great lengths, and worked on their English, which they seem eager to participate in. It is nice to see youth enthusiastic about bettering themselves.
As we were forced to “retreat” I wondered if this was the rock star lifestyle… retreating into the safety of a gated community where the people eager for a few moments of your time cannot get in. The youth here were truly great and we spent as much time with them as possible. The rest of the day was consumed with taking pictures, filming, and great conversations. Now it is time to meditate on Windows of Opportunity and my future.