Updated: Jan 11
Discouragement can look like a lot of things. It is a sink full of dirty dishes while I take the third nap of the day. It is a sunflower, wilted like my spirit, losing petals and leaves because I do not have the energy to throw it out the door and wash the vase. Much less to water the still living plants outside. It is hunger turned to lethargy… because… spaghetti again. It is finally joining my husband in the car as he listens to more bad news almost in a stupor for hours at a time. It is a dirty bathroom, clothes left unfolded, and me staring at the wall. Consuming hours worth of audiobooks and podcasts just for the sound of something in my ears. An appetite that desperately wants something to eat besides rice and spaghetti. A mind that desperately wants something to occupy it, but will not stop scrolling my phone to do something useful.
I fought the lethargy yesterday and went to the weekly Group Dame (ladies group) service, walking halfway with my mom-in-law and then catching a very expensive tap-tap ride down the dusty Route Barbancourt lined with sugarcane fields waiting to be made into rum.
The meeting started at the church, talking about the 3 upcoming weddings in December and January. The youth girls have started putting on bridal showers for girls getting married - lovely simple parties with pink balloons, good food, a table full of gifts that the bride-to-be takes home to open in private, and an hour and a half of sitting on church benches under the palms listening to marriage advice. That is the best part in my opinion!
But one of our "brides-to-be" just joined the church a few months ago, and she has a child already. She's not the same age as the youth girls and Group Dame is her friend group. So a few people are wanting to organize a bridal shower for her also. Frankly, to organize a party in Haiti right now is like pulling horse teeth. No one has the energy, and especially not the money. The fact that everyone is supposed to bring gifts and also food is concerning to most. There is a lot of talk and smoothing over, promises that we can just have popcorn and boughten crackers, (I can't see my mom-in-law actually following through on that promise. She likes fancy food too much.) and my heart feels heavy. I know they all love their friend that is getting married. Why does this have to be so hard? One grandma maintains she wants nothing to do with the ordeal and she'll be giving an envelope with some money and that should be good enough without any party.
And all the while I'm thinking of the centerpieces and candles and rounding up lanterns and cake plates and fake flowers from Hobby Lobby and ordering color coordinated plates and napkins from Amazon because Party City's color choices were too ugly.
The service is at the house of a young couple about our age that just moved back to Blanchard from another congregation. They're having some personal life issues right now, and she also just had her second baby boy. We climb uneven stairs to a tiny apartment on top of a family member's house. It takes awhile to rearrange furniture and pack enough chairs in for the 15 of us to have a place to sit. I share a bench made of 2 high-backed wooden chairs with 2 other people. They pull back the curtain-door for some air movement and light, and I can see palms, plantain plants, and blue sky. My by-sitter has claimed the new baby. He is sleeping, waving his perfect, tiny arms once in a while and making little baby grimaces.
These services usually last almost an hour, with singing, the reading of Psalms, a special prayer for the household, and a little talk or "words of encouragement." And today, the prayer for this household makes me cry frustrated tears. Haitian prayers are long, and full of supplication, and this lady (which happens to be the bride to be who may or may not be getting a party) starts praying for the country. A few people have already asked me about the kidnapped missionaries... these kind Haitian mammas shake their heads and say "But the little baby? The one who is only 8 months old? How can your government just leave them this long to suffer?"
And I don't know who to feel the most sorry for, the little missionary baby that is 8 months old, or the equally perfect baby beside me with the black silken curls. The single white girls that could be facing horrors right now that we don't even know, or this newly engaged single mom that is praying for her country. "We were born Haitains. This is our country. And now we are in a terrible crisis. We don't know what to do God, but it is you that has the last word. Say a word for Haiti."
Her fiancée came back to Haiti from another island country to join the church again after leaving it for several years. And now he is getting married with nothing. She has been supporting herself by doing commerce in a dangerous area of town, and she told us how just last Saturday she had watched the driver of the vehicle in front of her get shot dead... apparently just randomly!! And she was just in stuck in the back of a tap-tap in the traffic jam of other drivers trying to get out of the area.
Maybe that is why her prayer makes me cry. I just want her to have the peace and joy and excitement that a young American girl would feel as she's about to get married. I want the young mama of this house to have the comfort of good food and unlimited water to bathe her baby and cute clothes that her friends gave her to dress him in. I want her face to be peaceful and healthy and happy and glowing.
And the prayer goes on. I peek around the room - and see ladies with their arms lifted, and other lips moving as people pray along with her.
Before the closing of the service, they give time for testimonies. Another lady explains how she gets this strange sickness every November. One side of her body hurts. She has terrible headaches, and it's hard to walk and talk. She is young - under 40 probably, but her husband left the country years ago and it hasn't worked out for his family to join him yet. She and her sister-in-law are basically raising their children as single mothers. And now this strange sickness for her to carry too? I can see why she is crying. She keeps repeating, "I just can't see how I can keep on taking all this from the devil anymore."
They share more burdens - stories of sicknesses and scary experiences in hospitals, nightmares of being kidnapped and stabbed that make them wonder - is there some meaning to be taken from this? And they remind me of more stories - the sister that we went to see last week who said she had cried that morning because she was hungry. Her husband who had a stroke over a year ago and is laying there in the same bed on the porch every time we go to their house. He can't be even 60 years old yet. Another man who just had a stroke less than a month after his wife died - we met his daughter in the street. She says the therapist says there's nothing they can do for him. He is completely paralyzed and can't even sit up. All of these are God's children... my brothers and sisters! How can this country make everyone suffer this much?
I look out the curtain-door at the palms, each with their cluster of coconuts at the top. The sky is so blue. And my heart feels so exhausted. For everyone in this room. In this town. On this seemingly jinxed Caribbean island.
Later on, at home, my husband is in the vehicle - listening to the news again. I take him a plate of fried plantains, with a huge blob of Hidden Valley Ranch. From a bottle! Not the kind made from powder mixed with runny Haitian brand mayonnaise and evaporated milk.
How did I get that bottle of Ranch, along with a bag of vegetables, A-1 steak sauce, and chocolate syrup? The mission where I taught last year temporarily closed down last week, and mom-in-law shared her loot from the fridge cleaning out. I'm thankful for the Ranch dressing, but I feel sorry for my displaced friends, and for the Haitian people that depend on all these American missions for wells, schools, and medical care. Our Mennonite CSI has been gone for more than 2 years now, and people still ask when they are coming back so they can get their neighborhood water pump fixed. The orphanage children still have no one to show them love and affection, and are slowly being farmed out to other places in the country. And my cousins in Oriani were forced to go clear to Dominican Republic just for gas and supplies to keep the clinic going. How long will they be able to continue that if this country can't put gas in the pumps and protect the population that is out on the streets trying to make a living?
I take a shower to wash away the dirt of the streets. I find myself crying, and I'm not sure why even. But I feel like it's for every pregnant woman that's about to bring a child into this country. For the 3 couples engaged at Blanchard and for every couple that's about to start a family with no money. For all of us with our hopes and dreams and futures that we thought at one time seemed completely reasonable. For a friend who is re-doing his house to try to begin again after the death of his wife.
Mom-in-law says, "You need to put ceramic tile in the bathroom. You need to do this. And this." She names off half a dozen improvements, as he gives us a tour. "Your new wife would love it and so would your children."
He just smiles and says, "I think I'm about finished."
And that little dark house that is finished makes me sad. Maybe when I first came to Haiti some of these things looked "picturesque." Like you hear Americans say after they visit a third world country, "Those people understand the simple life. They know how to be content with what they have."
Maybe that is true.... or maybe they are just finished. Because their money is finished. Their job they had been counting on is finished. They've run out of ideas and energy to fight.
I try to be careful about what I put on the world wide web. I don't want to write anything that would make a Haitian feel embarrassed or ashamed, and I don't want to seem like I see Haiti as an inferior place. But sometimes maybe I give a skewed picture of what life is really like over here. Yes, we love this country. It is full of brave and courageous people. But we are all so tired right now. There is so much suffering. My husband said one time when I was commenting about the beauty of this island, "Any Haitian would have chosen to be born in Saudi Arabia where it's ugly but there is money." And it's true. There is nothing romantic about true poverty and lack of personal safety.
And so I echo the prayer of my sister. "The last word is yours, God." Say a word for Haiti. Because we are discouraged.