Thursday, August 19, 2010

Feminism Has Not Yet Reached Haiti

Day 3 (Tuesday, Aug. 3)

Leogane, Haiti

The heat and humidity is stifling this morning. My shirt is soaked through within an hour. By 8 a.m., I stopped twice to rest and drink lots of water. Most Haitians go through on a daily basis for half the year. I realize how difficult it is to accomplish anything in the heat of the day.

We finally finished hanging the gate by mid-morning. Just as we finished, some Americans in green construction helmets stopped by for a visit. Two of them were structural engineers who came to help rebuild homes for The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee ( With them were two Haitian men learning carpentry skills in the organization’s nearby trade school. The group leader said the ministry trains Haitians in such skills as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders. These are all skills the locals will need in order to rebuild their devastated country.

We asked them to play a joke on our leader, Jonathan, who is a computer tech guy by trade but struggles with construction lingo. We asked them to tell him they were there to inspect their cement beams. It fell for it hook line and sinker.


Feminism has not arrived yet in Haiti. Each day, I see the girls go fetch water from the neighborhood well about 100 yards away. One of the little girls grabbed my hand today to come with her and I went, teasing everyone I had just been asked out on a date. Off we went, holding hands. I grabbed the empty bucket from her hand, and she smiled. Perhaps no boy or man had ever performed such a gesture for her.

The well has an old-fashioned hand pump with a lock on it. I don’t know who has the key or if it is ever locked up. Perhaps 100 families draw water to drink and to perform daily necessities around the home, such as cooking and washing clothes. The engineers said the well is dug 150 feet deep in order to provide fresh drinking water year-round, including during non-monsoon season times, roughly half the year.

The little girl had a two-gallon container, which, by my calculations, is about 16 pounds. She insisted on pumping the well herself, but I grabbed the bucket in one hand, her hand in my other when it was full. Together, we walked slowly back to the compound. When we got to the front gate, she promptly grabbed the bucket from me. I let it go, trying to understand this antiquated custom. Throughout the day, the girls would grab one or two water containers from a gallon to 5 galloons and fetch water for the orphanage. We drank strictly bottled water all day, but the children drank from the well. We were told to not let the children drink from our water bottles, because other children would feel left out. Sanitation and health issues also were involved, from Haitian lips to ours.

Many of the children simply want to be held. They either walk up to you and grab your hand or put their arms up, implying for us to pick them up. It is easy to accommodate their always friendly faces. Some of them lost one or both parents in the January 12 earthquake. Some parents simply dropped their children off, because they no longer could care for them. Our main task during our week here is to love these children.

This morning, one of the little boys who has taken to me, Oligas, came to visit me while I was working on the gate. I walked around with him, holding his hand, I picked him up and walked around some more, and I sat down in a chair in the shade and put him in my lap. Oligas speaks no English, and I know about four words in Creole. We make do as best we can. Love knows no bounds. Children feel love even without spoken words. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he told his followers not to hinder a child’s love for his Father. Our love shows them God’s love for them.

Oligas comes to visit me a couple of times a day. I have grabbed his hands and swung him 360 degrees until we are both dizzy. I have hoisted him onto my shoulders, suddenly making him a giant among his peers. His smile is his way of thanking me. I hold him in my arms and rock him while my co-workers go on without me.

As we watch the work, he grabs my eyeglasses and puts them on. He figures out how to remove my sunglasses from my eyeglasses. He grabs my PGA golf cap and puts it atop his head. He cares not that the gap between my head and his is immense. I start to stop him, then think better of it. He is simply curious about things he has never seen. None of the orphans wear eyeglasses.

A choke cherry tree sits next to the front gate, and the children often come by throughout the day and pick a few red berries to eat. Oligas points for one, then another. Before long, he is loaded with more berries than he can possibly eat. He points again. I tell him “fini.” His continued pointing tells me we are not finished. I pick another. After the third “fini,” my shoulder hurts and we really are finished. He stops asking and eats his prizes, one by one.

Oligas tires of me and walks the 100 yards back to the trees, where the other children are playing with members of our kids’ team. The two giant mango trees is their haven from the sun during the day. It projects an enormous amount of shade. The temperature is at least 10 degrees cooler than the direct sun. Forty people always seem to be hovering under the trees.

Our gate has flaws, and we discuss how to fix them. Finally, we make a decision and finish the job. One of the Haitian men who helped us begins conversing with another in Creole. I joke with Paul that they are talking about how the gate is worse off than before. We laugh. We have earned the right to joke with the locals by being here and working side-by-side with them.

I tease Bill and Paul that my limited carpentry skills limits my good ideas to one a day. My one idea a day is enough affirmation to keep me going. By mid-morning, the gates swing freely without touching the ground, our main goal. And I helped.


I should have been fired from my second task, assisting Doug L in the building of a large tool box to house our battery-operated tools, spare parts and children’s knick-knacks. I keep getting pulled away by kids who want to play. After a few “careful” measures and cuts, our box is nowhere near plumb. Fortunately for me, I am given much grace.

Paul stepped in and quickly fixed our boo-boos. I don’t feel bad. As we inspect the situations, we realize that Haitian 2 x 4s are different than American 2 x 4s, which are actually 1 ¾ x 2 ½ inches. It’s a given in America. No one told the Haitians: Theirs are actually 2 x 4s. Unfortunately for us, most of the wood is severely warped, partially from the rain, partially from the humidity.

Something wonderful happened today, and we all could see God working in the lives of the Haitians. Paul, the son in the father-and-son team, began teaching carpentry skills to several of the Haitian men. Before long, all of us were teaching, even me with my limited construction knowledge. I taught painting skills, though I never could quite convey stroking the paintbrush with the grain. Sometimes, the extent of my teaching is to exhort the men. They soon come to understand what “great job” and a high 5 means. Encouragement, like love, is a universal language.

In a two-hour sequence, Paul taught the seven men how to use a skill saw, a hand saw, a power drill, a power screw driver and how to measure. These are skills they will need to get jobs in the changing Haitian economy. These skills can help these men put food on their families’ tables.

Watching the Haitian men learn new skills was worth my failure as a carpenter. Clearly, this was God’s intent all along. That’s how God uses us sometimes. We must let go of our prideful ways and humble ourselves so he can do his work. Throughout the week, Paul and Bill’s teaching became the focal point of our days.

Perhaps these men will one day show other Haitians the same love we gave them.


Our team is the only occupants in our hotel. Yesterday, Doug L and I were asked if we wanted to move to an air conditioned room. It took us all of 2 seconds to say yes and begin moving our stuff upstairs.

The hotel is a work in progress. We leave by 6 a.m., and the construction workers are already trickling in to begin their day. When we arrived, only four rooms had air conditioning. By Monday, two more rooms had air conditioning. Jonathan, our leader, tells us the manager promised the rest of the rooms would be air conditioned. We remind him that the manager didn’t say when. Haitian time. The air conditioning never came for our other two rooms. The five remaining people in un-air conditioned rooms sleep in the air conditioned rooms on sleeping pads. John, one of the twins, pops in our room every night around 10 after playing cards with his sister and brother.

The air conditioner has a habit of just pooping out at inopportune times. We soon realize that the city’s power grid has its limits. When the power grid is overwhelmed, it just shuts off, and there goes our air conditioning. The hotel has a small generator that powers the air conditioning much of the time. It is off all day while we are gone. We notice that when we meet in the evenings for Bible study that the air conditioning is shut off to save the owner a few bucks on the diesel bill.


Each night, we pray for specific needs. Sometimes it is something simple – yesterday, we prayed for a tent to cover our tools – whereas other days are more complex – such as the health of the children. Today, our tent prayer was answered. I tease Jeannine, who made the request, that the tent was twice as big as we asked. The tent was sitting unused on the other side of the driveway. After two days of looking past it, God opened our eyes to see it, just when we needed it.

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