These are our last days in Haiti. The time has gone quickly. We have mixed feelings about going home. We’re not tired of teaching our students. Most are highly motivated and eager to learn. In Bob’s class today one of the students wanted him to continue teaching beyond the regular 4 hour class period. Bob thought 4 hours was enough. They also have a great sense of humor and like to play tricks on Bob. They take advantage of the fact that he can’t understand Creole. We don’t mind being in Jeremie, either. People are friendly, although they sometimes stare at our light skin. We are starting to long for some of the creature comforts of home – chocolate, drinkable coffee, gin and more variety in our diet. The food here is generally good, but the menu is limited. This week there have been no critter encounters for Rita, although she avoids the dogs and their fleas as much as possible.
In the past week we have had some interesting adventures. We visited the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) clinic. It was started by a Connecticut dentist, Jeremiah Lowney, and his wife, Virginia. He asked Mother Teresa where he should go to serve the poor and she suggested Haiti. We met Sr Maryann, a Franciscan nun from Missouri and Marty Mescher, a nurse from Maria Stein, OH, which is the next school district east from St Henry, where we grew up. They were our biggest rival in sports. Marty and Bob graduated the same year. It was a small world moment. HHF is the largest provider of health care for the Jeremie area and is highly regarded. They support Jeremie and about 100 villages in the nearby mountains.
Saturday morning we went to the Jeremie market – hundreds of small stalls with narrow walkways in the middle of the street. We saw a great variety of products for sale – clothing and shoes, school supplies, electrical parts, toiletries, fruits and vegetables, rice and salt, meat and fish. The meat market was interesting. They were cutting the fresh meat on tables in the open air. Rita didn’t want to go there, it could easily have converted her to vegetarianism, but we did walk through the fish market. We are afraid to ask if the little meat and fish we eat at the house comes from there, but we know the answer.
Jeremie is a contrast between the middle ages and the 21st century. While Renate ran some errands, we walked around the central square and Bob took some pictures of the cathedral and other buildings. Then we stood at an intersection and watched what went by. In just a few minutes we had pictures of women walking with baskets of fruits and vegetables, among other things, on their heads. Two men were carrying lumber on their heads. Two women walked by leading donkeys loaded with bags of some unknown products. We also saw a large truck-mounted crane, a large Caterpillar end loader and an SUV belonging to CARE, plus many motorcycles, sometimes carrying as many as four or five people or pieces of lumber. There were two cell phone stores on the corners and most people were wearing modern clothing.
Sunday morning we walked a distance up the mountain to Mass. The priest was an Italian who spoke French and Creole. We sometimes think Holy Family’s Masses are long, but this one went on for about 2 hours with mini homilies at the beginning and end of Mass and a long one in the usual place. We could make out enough words to know that the homily was about marriage and family, but we couldn’t understand much. The late-teen age choir did a good job with music in a mix of French and Creole.
In the afternoon we went up a very treacherous road on the mountain to see the housing project run by The Haitian Connection. They build small houses, about 260 sq ft, with 3 rooms – a living room and 2 bedrooms. They cook outside in makeshift shelters, which work in this hot climate. There is no bathroom but the project builds a latrine near the house. The houses have concrete floors and walls, with a wooden roof support structure and corrugated steel roof. They are built under the supervision of a local lawyer and a manager who volunteer their time. The construction is done by local workmen who are paid.
The house we saw was reached by a long footpath through the forest. Every bit of building material must be carried on peoples’ backs from the road to the site. The woman who owns the house lives there with her five children. She was easily the proudest homeowner we have ever seen. She was very excited for us to come in and see each room. It was kept neat and spotless. Her pride showed in the stone walkway she created to the entrance and in the flowers she was growing around it. Her original house was still standing behind it and she was using it for storage. It had woven plant materials for the walls and leaky tarps over leaky metal for a roof. The floor was dirt with no foundation or barrier to keep rainwater from running through. The owner referred to it as her house of misery.
While we were at the house her son used a machete to chop holes in coconuts so that we could drink the milk.
We sat in on a meeting of a micro-finance group. Several women talked about their small businesses and the difference the income makes in their lives. It helps some of them keep their children in school and the women say it gives them some autonomy from men and leads to more respect from them.
The past few days we are spending preparing and giving our final exams. Ayiti has presented us with a few challenges, but rewards to last a lifetime. No words can describe the experience we have had. We will definitely want to share more with you, but for much of it “you had to be there”. Each day we hug each other and thank God for all we have, for each other to share this time and for the awesome opportunity to be here.
Our next post will be from home.