Thursday, April 29, 2010

Literal Siblings

Did you see the moon last night? AAAA... it was sooo magnificent!

As you can see I’m having difficulty understanding that a blog is not a novel. So please let me know if you prefer short and simple or lengthy and detailed entries. If not, I’ll try to find a happy medium.

O and another thing before we begin… I decided (with Mami’s help) that out of respect to the dignity of the people who I include in my writings I will replace their real names with, hopefully, equally lovely names. (Unless, I've asked for permission.) It’s a bit on the late side over here and I want to think of worthy names so for now, I have left letters to replace the names. I hope it does not make the stories less personal, if it helps, you can make up the name as you read.

Tuesday, I woke up with bags under my eyes and not as peppy as usual. There was smoke in the air which played with the sun’s rays flowing down to tickle my nose and rub my eyes. I’m not sure if it was my drowsiness or not knowing how to interpret the awe of being in the presence of such wise women, but doubt of my worth in being here crept up on me. I wrote an email to Mami, unlike my blogs, short and sweet (or bittersweet), telling her to pray, because I knew I was where God wants me to be, but I lacked joy. After sending the email I decided to finish with my pity party and go out and be present to the now, and love, love, love and simply be me.
From there I went walking to Kay Pob - I spelt it wrong last time, Kay is house, Pob means poor- where Zaloa’s preparations for manicures and pedicures awaited. We squatted on rocks under a tree who loves us tenderly with her branches, creating shade and singing a duet with her leaves and the wind. Tending to the hands, feet, and especially the nails of A, D (her husband), T (the woman who may be schizophrenic), the paraplegic, and S humbled and filled us with such empathy and love. While Zaloa tended to D’s feet who feel the surface of the earth all day, his hands with his broken finger, and his bare-fleshed sores, I pampered A. A’s cataract eyes, light blue in appearance, looked up at the sky, her strong cheek bones seemed even more dominant with her peaceful grin. What she did not know was that I was cleaning feces deeply seeded in the bed of her nails. The great length of time since her nails had received attention allowed her skin to develop some type of parasite. My eyes would constantly glance up at A to see any reaction to pain, and there was pure beauty. The end of her lips trying to reach her cheekbones. What beauty.
After their pedicures and manicures we would rub their backs and massage them a bit. Songs of joy were sung once again: W, a man who speaks English quite well started singing, “I feel good,” D sung Alleluia, and A simply hummed with me. Following A’s request to lie down, we walked in each other’s arms to her room, guiding her to her cot. Before lying down we embraced one another and after many deep breaths and sharing of heartbeats I separated for a kiss and saw that her eyes were filled with tears. She pulled me back to her, letting me know that it had not been time to let go. We stayed interlocked until her legs were too weak to stand and she lay.
T and Zaloa developed a rough and sacred relationship. T allows Zaloa to bathe her and allowed her to clean her hands, feet, and nails. Seeing the two react is seeing the art of love. In one of T’s fits when she went running off in a crazed laughter with my chair, I saw something magical. T’s laughter reminded me of Daniela one of my students in Brazil and her laughter. I realized that the term “sisters and brothers” is literal. We are literally one another’s siblings; we just decide to forget sometimes.
During the evening’s reflection with Nazareth, Rose, and Zaloa God answered the email I sent to Mami in the morning. The song filled our ears with encouragement, telling God, “we limit ourselves and You lift up our heads.” The reflection was on the story of the jug with a hole in it (if you can, look it up). It is a story about how flowers grow from our lack of perfection or our shortcomings. Aaaa... I love how God loves me. As we reflected lightening bugs fluttered around us flashing their life in the dark, around the four wise, worthy women filled with holes.

With you,

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What blessings...

My first full day: morning, afternoon, and evening in Jean-Rabel. The bells start ringing at 5:30 in the morning and then at 5:45, they are the wake-up chimes for daily mass that starts at 6. We have the good fortune of hearing the bells loud and clear since we are right next door to the church. Exhaustion won over the noise and I stayed in bed until Zaloa got up, which was probably 6:15. The plan the night before was to do exercise together at 6. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs (we live above an elementary school) Zaloa had finished jogging 25 laps. I started jump roping until Rose passed by me coming out of church and ready for breakfast.
During breakfast one of the drivers called Nazareth asking to borrow one of the cars, Zaloa and I agreed to go with him and we were on our way to towns nearby. We passed banana trees below us, cacti above us, and saw the blue sea in front of us. On our way if any people were in the way Rico, the driver, would honk them out of the way, by the time we reached the periphery of Jean-Rabel the horn stopped working and I was praising God for that. My heart would break every time a woman with something on her head, or a child, or an elderly with a donkey would be scared out of our way. We finally reached our destination, a school with 7 rooms, one for each grade starting with first. We (Zaloa, a man from the school and I) unloaded the rice, pasta, cornmeal, and tomato paste from the car. Rico watched. After unloading, Zaloa and I went into a classroom where the students had all walked out of the classroom to look at us. We walked in and started figuring out the math problems on the board with them, while their teacher spoke with Rico outside.
Following our visit, returning to the center of Jean-Rabel, we filled a water jug with water at the nearest water pump and went to “Kay Po,” the house of the poor. Zaloa visited Kay Po the week before and saw the inhumane conditions the people were in a bathed seven people on her visit and changed their clothes. Kay Po is a place where the unwanted of the city stay. There is a blind lady (Analise) and her cripple husband with an opened wound filled with little creatures, an elderly lady with dementia who may weigh 60 pounds maximum (Sylvani), a paraplegic, a blind man who can get by with English, a psychologically instable lady for may smile at you one minute and the next yell at you and leave running, and more. They have rooms with entries ways with a two and a half foot step as an entryway with thin mattresses, a latrine, and a cup by their mattress to use as a toilet if they cannot make it to the latrine. Needless to say, their necessities were everywhere, and the flies accompanied them more than not.
We set up two stations, one next to the other since we only had one bar of soap. We had two big plastic bowls, one for each. We took one at a time each and helped them reach our little station in the shade. The area is completely inaccessible, for any of them, especially the weak and blind. We took off their clothes and sat them on a rock and squatted next to them to begin bathing their beautiful, soiled skin. What beauty. What pure beauty. The cataract-eyes full of wonder and peace, the wrinkle skin suddenly with goose-bumps because of the gratitude felt, the songs sung to us as we scrubbed their armpits, the tears that streamed down in silence as we allowed them to wash themselves. A lady who is supposed to work there helped us by filling the container of water twice, down at the water pump. After each washing we would put lotion on them and give them massages. Zaloa brought clean clothes that she bought in the market for each woman. (She bought clothes for the men her previous visit.) Before taking them back to their corresponding room we went into the room and emptied it of all the garbage and more. We used the leftover water to scrub the floor of the room with a broom made of palm leaves. We asked the lady who is supposed to look over the place for clean sheets and she changed two beds and told us there were no other sheets to change the other beds. After we cleaned the bed as best we could it still smelled of urine. We will try until the room smells of the breeze that occasionally passes through.
Since we noticed that the clothes Zaloa had brought for the men last time was still on the men and their previous attire was still filthy and thrown on the floor, we decided to go to the river and wash the clothes ourselves. At that time three women came to help us: Tata, Diane, and Frosina. Sr. Nazareth sent them to help us. We left Kay Po with the dirty clothes on baskets on top of our heads, headed to the river. On our walk down I started humming a song Immacula, a friend here in Haiti, taught me last time I came and Tata’s face lit up with joy and began singing it with me. We both were walking to the river with the soiled clothes on our head and the same joyful song flowing out of our lips. What joy. We needed soap so we stopped by our home and Nazareth told us it was time to eat and that we could go to the river after we ate. Tata, Diane, and Frosina decided they would wash at the river and we could meet up with them after we ate. So up we went to wash our hands and arms for lunch.
Rose made a fantastic Irish stew with goat and a touch of “pike,” or hot chile. Finished with a fruit salad with mango, banana, and a type of grapefruit that is in season. We left with full bellies and grateful hearts to the river. The women had told us around what area in the river they planned on meeting up with us. We walked through the river, passing by: the bathing people greeting us with “Bonsoir,” women squatting and scrubbing all colored clothes, some taking off the clothes worn at the moment to clean them as well, the pigs on top of the trash bordering the river. The sun on top of us burned while the river below us refreshed, the little goat belted out their misery as Zaloa and I walked and shared on our search for the ladies and the clothes. After about an hour of the sun adding freckles to my nose and cheeks, we returned to Kay Po and didn’t find any evidence of their return. We walked through the market, speaking our broken Kreyol and smelling all types of smells passing by the salted fish, the goat heads, the chickens, fruit, veggies, and tobacco and flies to adorn them all. We passed by Antoni’s house and checked beans for rocks while sharing stories. Four generations of Antoni’s family surrounded us: her son, Lulu, her mother, and her grandmother who just turned 90 (a blessing in any country, rarely seen in Haiti). The laughter and songs helped us forget about our thirst and sweat. After a while it was time to return to see if the women had arrived. As I tried to balance a DVD on my head we ran into Nazareth who told us the women arrived with the clothes half an hour after we left to search for them.
Zaloa went to tutor two young ladies and I went home to wash some clothes. As I washed my clothes and later my body, the children’s voices filled my ears, singing voices fill the house from 3-5pm. What soothing waves to flow into our ears, full of strength, joy, and pain.
My shower was one of the most refreshing showers I have taken. I beat any add trying to show someone fully enjoy a shower. The dust of the streets Jean-Rabel clung to my hair (which had been under a bandana) and in my nostrils. What blessings. What a blessing to have water to cleanse us and to quench our thirst. It is amazing how water gives life and sustains it.
Right after my shower, Zaloa came and we decided to do exercise (a WOD) and stretch our bodies. Nazareth and Rose watched and had their week’s worth of entertainment. After watching us exercise Nazareth expressed her excitement, suggesting I give classes here, as I did in Brazil. Gymnastics for the little ones, dance for the ladies, and most importantly Theater of the Oppressed for anyone interested. We will see. I came with an open heart, willing to do what the Spirit moves me to do, so we’ll see.
We heated our lunch leftovers and made a tomato salad and enjoyed our meals. We shared a reflection by candle light, fighting to keep our eyes open. Nazareth went off to bed, while Zaloa, Rose, and I played two rounds of Sequence (a board game with cards) while the mosquitoes feasted on us. By 9pm we were in bed, grateful for the day’s obstacles and miracles.

With you,

My beginning in Jean-Rabel

I arrived Sunday afternoon to Port-de-Paix in a plane that fits about 11 passangers. Sr. Rose was waiting there for me with a lovely small and warm hug. We sat in the frontseat of a car with Wissman, the driver, and journeyed through the dirt roads dancing through the crevaces of Earth. We bumped along and shared stories as we passed by women and their donkeys and laughing children. After about an hours drive we dropped Wissman off and Rose drove through the town to our home. On the way she explained that over 16,000 refugees have come to Jean-Rabel since the earthquake. Since many are not used to rural life some went back to Port-au-Prince and little by little have all been returning to Jean-Rabel, because living in the country is safer than camping in tents.
Following a marevolous welcome and lunch I was off to a women's meeting with Zaloa, a 31 year-old volunteer from Bilbao, Spain. This is Zaloa's second time volunteering with Nazareth and Rose, and has been here for a week now. Her passion is for women's rights and began working with a woman in the community, Antoni, to organize a place where women can gather and share safely and openly and learn more about our rights. We walked over to the school where the gathering was to take place and were recieved by blasting music that did not allow you to hear the person right next to you. A rumor also went around town saying that women had to pay to come to the meeting. (One obsticale, met by another.) Zaloa and I left to start gathering others, especially the prostitutes, so they could feel equally invited as women to the gathering, because we all have gifts to share and lessons to learn.
Although the music drove us out to another location and the rumors dismotivated others, women came from all the region and packed the room, there were at least 50 women gathered at the meeting. The women's gathering was ment to be lead by women obviously, but 4/5ths of the meeting was lead by Antoni's husband instead. He was telling the women about their rights and they quietly and respectfully listened, once the women wanted to voice their opinion he excused himself and allowed Antoni to listen. The meeting itself exemplifies the chavanistic reality and the oppression lived by Haitian women. We sang and ate and laughed and shared with the women. I mixed my French with the 10 words I know in Kreyol and laughed as we tried to communicate, one woman to another. We arrived before 8pm because since there is no electricity in the town it is hard to get around in the dark.
Nazareth, Rose, Zaloa and I ate and went to the little chapel here in the house for reflection. the song sung to welcome me was "Pescador de Hombres/Mujeres" or "Lord, You Have Come." A song close to my heart since I was about 4 years old. Papi was part of the choir in Christ Our Redeemer and would occasionally let Norely and I sit with him. I remember this song in particular because Papi would sing it with such strength and in the language I was used to him speaking to me in. What a perfect welcome, for I have seeked other shores.

So that was my first day in Jean-Rabel.

With you,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baptism in Rain

I'm still in Port-au-Prince. I am with the Sisters of Jesus and Joseph. We went to visit some friends that used to be neighbors who they haven't seen since the earthquake. Driving through Port-au-Prince you see people walking, sitting, working, and continuing life, but there is no way to ignore the devastation of the quake. Collapse buildings still create detours in the streets and tents are seen everywhere, not only in the refugee camps, but also in the streets infront of people's houses. The trauma from the earthquake and the cracks in the infustructure leave people with fear, so even if their house is still standing they sleep in tents outside. Which is where we sleep here. With this new way of life has come a new term, "Men of the Night," who take advantage of the insecure abodes and rape women. So a number of women, come to sleep in the security of the walls protecting the sisters' property. Falling asleep I listened to the music, the laughter, the dogs, the birds, and the pigs and then came the rain. A rain that cooled the air enough for all to sleep through the night.

With you,

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'm home!

I just wanted to write a quick note letting everyone know that I have arrived to my new home. I'm in the CRS office in Port-au-Prince with Farid, an amazingly generous soul who has offered his time and attention to pick me up and drop me off and pick me up again, during my time here in the capital. There is much to tell (and I will as soon as I have a chance).

Blessings to all of you.

With you,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:22

Before starting the blog I felt such anxiety about it. I knew it was part of my mission, but dreaded sharing my writing and my experience in such an intimate way with the great (or small) unknown (or known) audience. My ego was behind this too, since I have this warped idea that everything I write must inspire and transmit love and humility, and that I control the outcome.

The day following my mini-break-down about the blog with Mami, I went to mass. God had fun with me and said, “Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards” (Rev. 1:19). Laughing, I smiled and grabbed Mami’s hand. The Holy Spirit will be with me and is with me as I write you this letter, as I learn Creole, as I walk with you and our brothers and sisters in Jean-Rabel.

May we be present and embrace our journey.

With you,