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.