The sound of the small hand bell ringing from downstairs. It's 8:04 and Danyis is letting us know that breakfast is ready. Grab the water bottle and a green tea packet, update our @fumchaiti twitter account about the day's plans for our scouting team, and carefully trot down the tiled, unevenly measured pink stairs. It's oatmeal, yesss. Some days it's eggs with hotdogs for breakfast. In past trips we've had spaghetti with hotdogs for breakfast. Today, it's oatmeal. They make it with half-and-half and cinnamon here, glory glory. There are only three of us instead of the usual fifteen per team, so we can fill our bottles up half-way with ice and still have plenty. Sarah Marsalis-Luginbill and I dropped a dollop of homemade spicy mamba a (peanut butter) in the middle of ours and watched it swirl around in the heat. Fresh juice from the trees behind the guesthouse sits in a pitcher beside the white thermos of cinnamony hot chocolate which sits beside another white thermos of Haitian coffee (either, a smart choice). Pray together that our food helps equip our bodies to be tools to help liberate and provide for those without food, as we're more reminded of their number while here. And nou manje (we eat).
Get our backpacks with our US dollars, our Haitian goud, our phones, our water, our hand sanitizer, our cameras and notebooks, and get ready to head out with the driver for our morning at the market. Go back upstairs and wait for the vehicle to get fixed. Get ready to head out once again. This driver has a no-nonsense policy with our Creole skills. We will speak Creole and if we don't understand his, he will just repeat it louder, no problem. And louder once more, what's wrong with you people. But no complaints...this is how you learn a language, by not having your own enabled. First stop, the Supermarchet for Haitian Coffee and sugar cane coka cola to bring back to a lucky few. Weave in, weave out of scooters, tap taps, and second-hand vehicles. Needing the windows down for the breeze to aid the ever-growing stickiness in the car, but catching all the black exhaust from the 20 drivers surrounding your own machine at the one stop light in town. Second stop, Pharmaci. We need malaria pills, he gives us eye drops. Non, non, malaria pills. Not enough at that one. So two pharmacies later, we roll our windows all the way down as to be able to stick our hands far enough back to open the door from the outside, look both ways as to find the perfect .3 seconds to get out without getting mauled by traffic. Determine that there may never be a perfect .3 seconds to, so you open the door with confidence and speed. A guy on a scooter honks at you, but that's ok because he also winks at you. You've done something bad and something good, apparently. Two boxes of malaria pills, please. That'll be $3.50 US. Mental note: never, ever buy malaria pills in the states again.
Third stop, church book store. These three please. 750 goud a piece or total? The driver tells me again, and louder. So 750 total? No, no, I can't pay $20 US per book (not walkin' all over this blanc). Oh, oh ok, $20 total. I gotcha. Pardon mwen, I was confused, but luckily the fourth time you repeated it louder, I finally understood. My apologies. Mental note: never, ever skip another Creole Class when you get home.
Fourth stop, Project Espwa. The acre beyond acre of inspirational orphan care. It is a village founded by a Catholic Priest and funded by a nonprofit called Free the Kids. Over 600 kids live there, mostly boys as the "girls are more useful for restaveks (slaves), so the boys get left on the streets." The compound reflects its name (Project Hope) as it cultivates an atmosphere of respect and possibility for the children it is raising. We're given a tour where we're shown the place where they make over 3,000 meals a day for orphans, community students, and staff. Then they show us the new dorms and dining area that are being built with new construction methods where metal is built along with the concrete making it much cooler than normal Haitian structures on the inside. A clinic is there, offering services at very little fees to the community. And children are in their uniforms in classrooms with maps on the walls. When they turn 16 they are asked to decide what they want to do when they "graduate" from the place, then Project Espwa puts them on a track to become more trained and educated to accomplish their goals. They have wood shops, craft training, metal work, and higher education tracks that have led some of their students to medschool. The children and the workers (some who are children that have graduated and been hired back into the system) walk around the place with a type of pride that is healthy for humanity. One that rests in an identity that says, "I can. And I am." Make this the contagion, Lord. We can all learn from this type of orphan care.
Coast back into the guesthouse driveway for lunch. Then an after-lunch nap. We head upstairs to our beds that have open windows at their heads and lasko fans at their feet that go on and off depending on the city's power and the generator's attitude at the time.
Wake up and stretch, turning a sweated-upon pillow on its other side and pulling our sticky knees apart to drop my feet back to the floor and put my toms back on. Let's go for a walk and see what we find. Sarah, Hu and I grabbed our backpacks again and stuffed our phones into the most inside of their pockets because grey clouds are laughing at our excursion. We laugh back and open the gate. We go left and through the anniversary arch and down a rock path, thinking the whole time, "It's really unfortunate that I have to watch my every step, because this scenery is beautiful." And, "I would pay an arm and a leg to go back for one day to see the Island and its indigenous people before Columbus got here." Lush rainforest infested with the appropriated animals of that climate. Little glimpses of what the land was and could be if cared for are everywhere (sounds like a broken Kingdom that throbs with resurrection). We found a goat on a tomb, a room of people singing "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" in English, and two little sisters who couldn't stop laughing at us. An infectious laugh that we recorded on Hu's phone as his ringtone now. Can't have a bad day if that kind of joy is calling you. Back to the highway. Down another side road. Too many puddles. Back to the highway. Down the road that leads to the American University. Don't the Maxos live down here now?
The Maxos were the family that once worked for the guesthouse where we stay, and I was afraid of how long it would be until I would get to see their faces again. The cook had mentioned that they were down the road (at least, that's what I thought she said). Walk, talk, think "please be outside, kids...", walk, talk, walk, look, talk, look, look. "BRITNEY!!!!"
"Where'd that come from?....."
A tiny, round face slowly peaks over the balcony. "ANGAEL!!!! Ki kote ou mama!?!?! (Where's your momma??)" She disappears and then reemerges with her sister and Mama Lis who give us no time to say hi before they pull us into the gate, down the side path, and up the back stairs into their upstairs home. We hug and hug and get the tour and keep pretty decent half creole/half english conversation and sit in white lawn chairs around a plastic flower arrangement in their den while she tells me about life and is patient as I watch and think about her words slowly to recognize them. Her kids are all in school. Her husband, Maxo, is driving some for the Methodist guesthouse in Port au Prince. He comes home tomorrow for a few days. I comment on how much beautiful space she has, and she drags us into her room to show me how big it is and to tell me that she and the kids all sleep there when Maxo is gone, but when he's home, the kids are out and in their own rooms. And then we laughed and laughed. I mentioned something about her wonderful peanut butter and barely got it out of my mouth before she sent Liznael to get three freshly ground jars. But when she found out Mama Virginia was in Haiti and at the guesthouse, she said, "When you come back with Mama Virginia, I will give them to you:)!" Smart lady. So, we are going back with Mrs. Virginia (who runs the guesthouse) Wednesday. She showed us the kitchen, the kids rooms, the bathroom. All concrete and with no lights on, but spotless. Then she showed us a back room where she proudly said was "Mama Virginia's!" And that we could sleep there too if we ever needed it!
God's people make room for God's people as God made room for God's people. It is not charity when it is family. It is not family when there are "us and them." It cannot be "us and them" when love is the root and Jesus is the Lord...the final say of all decisions, the shifter of the selfish, the challenger to the comfortable, and the reminder that there is more (and more outside of me) and that it's good to listen and jump and laugh and give. If life is not full and done alongside one another, it is not how it was meant to be. Liberate us, Great Offerer of extra rooms. :)
She took us up the last set of stairs to the roof where we all five stood and watched the sun setting over Les Cayes. A chicken coup and laundry lines make the rooftop perfect and I tell her that this is where I'd like my room, sivuple. I think I've found my favorite spot in Les Cayes, second to under the mango tree at Bighouse. We hugged and kissed-cheeks goodbye as it started pouring outside (you win, weather). Mama Lis gave us umbrellas and told us we could bring them back when we came Wednesday. Some more security ensuring we'd come again. How could we not:)
Carefully navigate the rocks to the main road, then through the gate, and up the guesthouse stairs to change for dinner and take our soppy shoes off. Eat chicken with the magic sauce, dreaming about a vat of it with a ladle and promising audibly that I'd drink the whole thing. Then shower/online-story-reliving, finishing this blog just in time to see my mom's public facebook request for me to get on skype.
Sitting on my striped sheets by the lasko fan, feeling solid in my soul for this moment thinking about family here, family there, the thrill and challenge of thinking creatively and efficiently for the sake of the orphan, Shreveport, Haiti, and the God who loves all and gives all. Whose hospitality is radical, who gives another option when life is neither full nor done together, and whose kingdom peaks through in the moments when we know, suggesting a glorious and purposeful order to what once was, and the hope and possibility of what can be. There is a reason Jesus went backwards from death to life...to show us that nothing has to stay buried. Even hope on an island of deforestation, fallen buildings, and rampantly spreading Cholera. The empty tomb is the audacious declaration by the only God to the oppressed country, the single mother, the addict, the criminal, the starving, the businessman, the wanderer in transition, and the person who seems to have it all together but is truly tired.
But this country can't catch a break....The tomb is empty.
But I've tried everything....There's a bigger truth here.
There is no hope. There is no option.....There was a man who died, and he is no longer dead, not even now, and his public victory over the final, final word is the reason why this statement is no longer valid. Take your words to someone who is content with accepting the stone as the deal sealer. I want to be among the crowd that remembers, in all challenges and transitions, in all losses and world-shaking-catastrophes, these words...
"He is not here...He has risen..."
Take us somewhere wonderful with each other for the sake of each other. Give us hope that makes a bigger family, that changes the world.
And thanks for today:)
Tomorrow we go to Dasmas for November-Trip construction project planning.