Updated: Mar 16, 2022
I set my alarm for 1:45 Friday morning. By 4 o'clock I was shivering in the KCI parking lot waiting to be shuttled to the airport. By 10 I was at "that end" of the terminal in Miami... surrounded by black faces and Kreyol. And then 12:40 came and I stepped out into the Port au Prince sunshine, with its noise and dirt and distinctive smell that just felt like home. I gave Dani the biggest hug ever and we jabbered all the way back home to Fonds Parisien in the back of Fre Jantzy's van. I wonder if Se Wildor knows, when I walk in and greet her with a kiss on the cheek, how much I admire her for all she has done for Daniela. And her husband Fre Wildor... all his experience as a minister, his kindness and wisdom... He reads the Bible for 3 hours most days, Daniela says. He knows 4 languages, loves to learn, and I have never seen him without his long-sleeved shirt, slacks, and black shoes. Dani has the best room in the house. It's upstairs, where the wind blows in from the saltwater lake and blows the curtains at night, and the birds chirp, and the stars shine thru and make your heart feel at peace.
We planned on waking up around 3 Saturday. The bus was leaving at 4, but suddenly at 2:30 Dani's phone was ringing. "The bus is leaving at 3 actually! We need you at church right now!" Well, the moto guy was supposed to take us to church at 3:15, and of course we couldn't get a hold of him in the middle of the night. But we stood out under the stars for awhile with our bags, and finally there were headlights and we caught a ride with someone, I don't even know who. We met the bus by the road and the driver almost hauled off while I was trying to get in, all the while muttering something about the white girl making them late. Soon we were at Ganthier, and Gario and Maggie, Ilomy and Lacey, CSI youth, and some more from the congregation clambered on, looking as sleepy as I felt. At Croix des Bouquets we stopped. Where were the Fonds Michelle people? Turned out they were still in Fonds Michelle at that point! A little over an hour and quite a few rude comments later, we started off again. The bus was full... an old school bus with around 70 people in it. I held a beautiful girl on my lap for a few hours. Then later when she was sitting beside me, she fell asleep with her head on my lap, and I looked at her perfect skin and hair bows and loved her. When we saw the ocean for the first time her eyes lit up! "Oh, I would like to bathe in there if I had a bikini!" she said. (That's the Haitian term for any type of swimsuit.) All day we meandered west. There were many pee stops, with people clambering clear from the back of the bus to the front, and the ones that didn't have to pee making rude comments. Sometimes a guy selling food would clamber on, we would buy, and when everyone finished, he would open the door, wait for us to slow down a bit, and hop off. We sang. The lady beside me got out her book so I could read the words, and then someone in front of me started picking songs. He took great delight in starting off the song really loud with me before the people in the back could start the song they had picked. Twelve hours later, we were in Chambelan. We had traveled clear across the country of Haiti.
Chambelan is green and beautiful, with a river that flows right beside the main road... perfect for washing clothes, skinny dipping (after dark if you're a white girl), butchering... one morning I saw a man killing a cow with the blood running down into the river. An hour later he had made great progress in cutting up the meat. (Ya, I didn't want to brush my teeth in the river after that.) People take their burros and other livestock across every day for pasture or to work in gardens. Children carry things downstream by paddling rafts made of bamboo. The breeze blows all the time, and the fruit is fresh and cheap.
The church is up a little green path with young trees in the middle... just enough space for a line of cars... the privileged few who hadn't come one the bus. Meals were made in the school... I pitied those women!!! They expected about 700 people someone said. I didn't see the inside of the kitchen but I know I couldn't have done what they did. Church was packed with benches and school desks. The ministers had school desks actually... probably 15 of them on the rostrum I'd guess. The focus was the youth. They had a few men that were supposed to kind of police things and make sure all the youth sat in the church instead of outside. One time I had a horrible stomach ache and one came and tapped me on the shoulder because I was leaned over and he thought I was going to sleep! I was extremely embarrassed. I had a hard time with some of the sermons but wow. The one on technology was amazing. I felt like he needed to come to America and preach. There would be some squirming I tell you. One thing he said about pictures and even sharing texts was that every time you take a picture or send something foolish, you take yours and that person's mind away from God. And God is a jealous God. There was so much good singing. I never get tired of Group D'Homme, they're big men's group. Each church has a choir, and everyone got a chance to sing over the weekend. My favorite was the Chambelan school children. I didn't know the song... hardly anyone did... but those kids sure did! Even the 3-4 year old kindergartners! They must have an amazing teacher!
The first afternoon during break Isaac (he lives in Hythe, Alberta now with his wife Heather but they were back visiting) came and rounded up the English speaking people to sing. He had a big fat folder of songs he was translating and wanted his Haitian bros to learn them so they could help. I used to love singing with Frantzy's and them and wow, nothing has changed. Fre Samuel from FP has translated a lot of stuff too... He has an amazing bass. Then of course we had Elder, all of CSI and the O girls... probably 20 people with one copy. How would you like to try learning a new song in a language that wasn't your own when you could hardly see the words? No problem for them! They would try singing the words for a bit then just start off seamlessly singing the notes! And fast!!! No stumbling along, slowing way down, or singing quietly so no one would hear you mess up! We sang for probably over an hour, and I was so hoarse.
Do you think you could host about 50 people in your house with no electricity or running water? The place where we stayed pulled it off quite well! After dark, we trooped down through a cornfield to the stream to bathe. Then we came back and they rolled out the carpets and blankets to sleep. Lots of fun talks... some that I only half understood of course.
The breaks between services were spent hanging out by the river, swimming, sitting under a tree talking to friends, just relaxing. One morning we skipped church altogether to go to market with an lady from Blanchard that Dani has worked with. Her family had been missionaries there years ago and everyone knew her still. Dani and I hung out on some rocks in the river while she bought stuff, and washed some clothes for a guy. One night after dark some kids started jumping rope, and soon it turned to youth jumping rope. A few little flashlights here and there... Some guys showing off... Good times!
There were reports of trouble in Port so they thought maybe they should shut it down sooner. A man got up and rallied everyone... "Who made this retreat possible? GOD! Do you think he would let us get hurt? NO!" That was met with great enthusiasm!!! But they did decide we needed to leave Tuesday night instead of Wednesday morning. Church was finished a little after dark. Lucky Cazeau and Blanchard got to leave at 10:00 P.M. Not us... we left at 2:00 A.M. It was so cold out on the grass in the church yard. I tried to sleep and was so cold I couldn't think straight enough to go inside the church. Someone had hooked their phone up to the microphone and so old recordings of church songs were blasting over the yard. Some folks were not impressed but no one stopped it. 2:00 came, and we stumbled onto the bus. I had my backpack on my lap so it was a soft pillow, and a couple people took turns sleeping on my lap for hours. Someone jumped on at one point and was selling some medicine of some kind. His sales pitch was kind of fun to listen to. Another guy told riddles and gave candy as prizes. "What is the animal with the most secrets? The mosquito... he whispers them in your ear!" At noon, we were finally back in Fonds Parisien... 10 hours instead of 12, thank goodness!
To be continued...