Headshave for Haiti

"let the oppressed go free and break every yoke"


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Twelve baskets full OR Where the money went

IMGP2871It is hard to see how we could have gone to Haiti with anything other than an apology for the terrible legacy that white people have left the Africans of the diaspora. I don’t believe there is any other entry point than that of humility and recognition of the wrongs of the past – admitting what “our people” did and not pointing the finger at what “your people” did in return. Reconciliation and healing do not happen any other way. So even if it seems ‘too little, too late’ or a foolish and dangerous undertaking, at least it was better than doing nothing. We may have made a difference to a few individuals and planted some seeds of hope for the future but of course it remains to be seen what grows.

I don’t think I could have gone to explore Haiti simply as a tourist, enjoying the Caribbean sun and ignoring the plight of the population. We did enjoy the beauty of the island and the mountains and we did stay on after our 2 extraordinary weeks of travelling to take a shortFile0148 holiday, which was wonderful and gave us a chance to recover and to invest in the local economy, albeit the southern mulatto economy. There are some lovely hotels in Haiti, in secure compounds – of course, everything has to be in a locked and guarded compound to separate the rich and the poor who are likely to try and take what the rich have. We had breath-taking views of the  idyllic Caribbean Sea: tourism is obviously an area that could bring wealth into the country, as it does in the Dominican Republic, if there was sufficient infrastructure in place… I don’t know if that can ever happen, but there has to be hope and vision and possibility.

How to give and who to give to?

All we did in this entire venture was bring our 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude. For me that was giving up my hair to raise the money – the £7000/$12000 I collected – and going to set foot on the land with aWe are together message of solidarity. Being able to tell the Haitians we met that our words were backed up with a sacrificial action to help them was actually quite helpful: Martin was always taking my hat off and saying, “Look, my wife shaved her head to raise money for you!” It became an even more weighty responsibility, an even more precious charge, as we travelled around and saw the huge need. How could we sow this small amount of seed to make any difference at all? There are innumerable charities working there – mostly American and many Christian, but we were looking for relational connections – we wanted to support and encourage the Haitians working for their own people and country.

The message of reconciliation has to go beyond the tit-for-tat mentality of reparations: ultimately it is always about being able to soften our hearts to one another and forgive the wrongs that have been done. Yes, of course it is important that is backed up by practical help given by those who areExchanging hats responsible for Haiti’s condition, but as ordinary citizens of our various countries we were not in a position to distribute millions – nor make sure the Haitian government spends the cash that has been donated for the benefit of their population. We can canvas and petition as activists, but our role was not primarily political: we wanted to bring a personal touch. Reconciliation is about being enabled to see things from a different perspective and work together for solutions. To give the Haitians all the money we have would not solve this key issue – in fact greed is the underlying problem that led to this state of affairs in the beginning, and no man is immune from the damage that can do… Not that we wealthy whites have the right to say that to the poor… how dare we?

The distribution of my sponsorship money

What happened to the cash you so generously donated?! Actually it has taken all this time to get it distributed – we have had no end of trouble trying to transfer funds to Haiti as if the banking system itself is biased against them! Everything financial seems to be in the hands of the Americans, but my attempt to use Western Union’s online system ended up with a 6 week delay, for some reason, which must have been incredibly discouraging for the young man who was turned away by their local agent 7 times!

Photo of poster

“Money raised will be used to cover team expenses (NOT our own) and to make donations to Haiti Hospital and any other needs we encounter there.”

This was my commitment from the beginning and we sought to honour it. Joseph ZintzemeBack in October as the planning got underway and initial donations came in, I was able to give  an initial £2000 to Joseph, our African team leader, who is a missionary in the US, first of all to enable Pastor Maula to buy fuel to travel round and set up our itinerary and accommodation and thenMaula makes way! the ‘gift aid’ portion of our collection was allocated to Joseph himself to pay for his travel and associated costs, like making the team tee-shirts and leaflets. He would not take any of the “sacred seed” but the UK government was allowed to subsidise him!

Team expenses

Although we were constantly short of money for team food and accommodation during our trip – especially after the pickpocketing in theJacques Vigoreaux crowd at Cap Haitien – I was careful to guard the headshave money to give to the poor.  It was in the same charity account in the UK, but £5000 was tightly ring-fenced! However, we were able to raise the further funds we needed when the 2 Frenchmen shaved their heads on the first day and other team members found those who would sponsor them for that. This paid for the 3 Haitians who had joined us – Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed – because they obviously couldn’t afford to contribute their share to the journey. There were also several others, eg the slave descendants from Columbia, Team buswho could only afford a partial contribution so looking back it is miraculous that we were able to pay for the bus and all our other expenses atTeam breakfast all! There were daily visits to banks and ATM machines, whenever there were any in the vicinity, those with cards and accounts drawing out what they could. I know and I had known from the start without the money I had raised it is unlikely this expedition would have happened at all.

Haiti Hospital

I had promised to give a large donation to Haiti Hospital in the north, Haiti Hospital Appealnear Cap Haitien. You may notice, if you have read through all the posts, we never got there! It was far too difficult to travel and we couldn’t have separated from the team: our schedule was too full. Martin and I thought about going north again at the end of the trip, but we were too tired to attempt the gruelling journey or even pay for a plane flight.  So on returning home we made contact with them and apologised – they understood perfectly! – and sent £2000 toward their amazing work with mothers, children and rehabilitation. Haiti Hospital Appeal is a home-grown UK charity that is always worth supporting – and some day we may even manage to visit it!

Independence Soup

January 1st is Independence Day in Haiti. Throughout the island the people share in a feast and the soup they eat is a deliberate celebration of Joumoufreedom: it is apparently what the French slave-owners used to eat at new year and the slaves who made it were not allowed to have any. See this link. In his preparatory travels around the island, Joseph had met a lady who was planning to gather communities across Haiti to a feast on 1st January 2014, and although we would all be at home by then we felt it would be appropriate to make a contribution as an act of reconciliation and to promote unity around the table between the different groups who would be there. I sent $1000 of ‘hair’ towards this, which was gratefully received :-)

 

Seeds sown in Gonaives 

Pastor Maula and his wife Elda run the church, school and orphanage we visited in Gonaives – see Independence City. As we travelled with this man A new generationand he served us in so many ways it was not difficult to realise he was going to be a reliable and worthwhile recipient of a good proportion of my precious headshave money: it is exactly these native Haitians who are working so hard for their people that we most wanted to sow into. We know their vision to build an orphanage – and more than that to network with others across Haiti who want to see change brought to their nation through investing in the children – is the most effective way of spreading hope. It is a privilege to have sent them $3000 towards this work.

Mole-Saint-Nicolas

It was wonderful to find an equivalent person to connect with in the place we felt most drawn to on our travels – the small town of Mole-Saint-DSCN0230Nicolas on the NW tip of Hispaniola.  Pastor Wisler Portillus is also a member of the city council and has been working with 2 other pastors to improve the lot of his townspeople since 1979. He and his wife run a church and radio station and try to help as many of their local families as possible. We have had a lot of communication with him since coming home and sent $1000 of the headshave money to help the hungry children we encountered in that lovely place.

Investing in young people

Meeting the localsIt became very clear to us in Haiti that any investment in a young life is not wasted – not just in a country like that, but anywhere in theSchoolboy world! As well as the many children and youths we met in the towns and villages we were living in close proximity for 2 weeks with 3 prime candidates on our team, whose lives had been changed by our visit and who had to go back to managing without us when we came home: Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed.

It is so hard to know how much money to give when everyone is in need: I had to feel my way and it took a while to decide what was the wisest course Kedler, Doggy, Sergeof action. We felt so attached to Kedler in particular and Martin warned me about a ‘holiday romance’! It was important to come home and cool off and pray before doing anything. But it was obvious Kedler’s main need was to have his own computer. At 27 years oldKedler he had become stymied in his development and education through lack of money – unemployed, living with and dependent on his mother, yet a very gifted and intelligent young man with leadership qualities who was keen to continue spreading the message of Lifeline among his countrymen. Kedler eventually received $1000 of the money and has been in constant communication by email and facebook since then, telling of his adventures, sending photos and news in a mixture of French and Google-translated English. We love Kedler.

Jonel is younger – 23 years old – and has had the benefit of having trained for a year with Youth With a Mission. He speaks reasonable English and Jonel & LovensheSpanish and has some US sponsors for a mission he calls ‘YouthinChrist Minstry’ based in a village outside Saint-Marc. He is also in regular contact via facebook and really impressed us when he took a 3 year old malnourished boy who had no-one to care for him into his home as his adopted son. So Lovenshe got $300 and we are continuing to support Jonel as he educates and feeds another 88 children every week in his ‘youth club’. Well done, Jonel!

Finally, Shmeed, who had worked with Kristian from YWAM making a resting!film about our expedition – watch this space!?! – was in need of some fees to pay his way on hisShmeed course and in danger of having it terminated if he didn’t find sponsorship. When you have a specific need like that which will make the difference to a young man’s future it is obvious to help if you can. My last $500 went to Shmeed.

I am gratified to have been able to give my hair and your money to such varied and appropriate people and projects: to me it feels like collecting 12 baskets full of leftovers from the tiny portion of loaves and fishes :-) Not that my sense of satisfaction means much when faced with the magnitude of the problems there. But at least seed has been sown that otherwise would not have been and now we have some specific places and people to focus on and invest in as we look for a harvest in Haiti.

THANK YOU!


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Saint-Marc sans chaînes, mais Jacmel dans la joup

HaitiWe left our delightful base in Gonaives on Tuesday 26th November to drive all the way to Jacmel: this was a long journey to do in one day (I heard some locals express doubt that we could actually do it!) It took us all the way from the northwest region to the south coast and inIMGP2828 addition we had a scheduled stop in Saint Marc, half way between Gonaives and Port au Prince, to do our 6th walk. Maybe this is why I lump the march in Saint-Marc and the 7th one in Jacmel together in my mind – they were at least superficially similar enough after all the previous places that had been so individual that they could almost be on different islands!

Similar – but different

Alternatively, maybe I just connect them subjectively because Saint-Marc was the onlyIMGP2824 place we walked that we didn’t also stay overnight – though we did enjoy some lunchtime hospitality at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base there, courtesy of our team film-maker, Kristian’s, white American family. But then we boarded our bus again and went straight on, over the incredible southern mountains – though we couldn’t see them on the way as it was dark! – to another kind host family in Jacmel.I felt that there were other similarities between the 2 cities, though – a more prosperous Centre of Saint-Marcfeeling, cleaner streets and better buildings, apparently thriving businesses, building and trading going on – the city centres certainly seemed less down-at-heel than the places we had been to in the north. Perhaps we were sensing the north/south divide between the poor, mainly black, north and the prosperous mulattoOld Jacmel building population in the south and a transition from former to latter as we neared the conurbations around the capital city. Or maybe it was simply that we were well over half way through our expedition, on the ‘downhill slope’ of our trip now and the end was in sight after the difficult beginning with the cultural clashes of the initial weekend, exhausting terrain and having so much to get used to.

At that point, of course, we still thought we would have a big finale in Port au Prince on the last day, so there was some nervous anticipation about that. But in fact Jacmel ended up being our last march in chains and the fortnight ended with a gentle wind-up in our hotel, safely locked away from the anti-American demonstrations that threatened to make the city unsafe for white people – see Write Out  from 8th January for more about that. 8th January? yes, it has really taken me that long to process and document this life-changing trip beginning to end! And I’m planning another photo gallery next and finally the information about where the headshave money has been given before I am done. Phew!

IMGP2781Whatever the similarities – whether real or perceived – there was one big difference between these 2 places for me, as my French title suggests: in Saint-Marc, for the only time apart from Port de Paix, I was not walking in the chains but alongside the coffle, supportingIn the yoke those who needed water administering and giving out leaflets – which meant I could see more and take more photos (good) but also had the challenge of speaking to people (more challenging). In contrast, the following day in Jacmel I was not only back in the procession, but for the first time in all the years of Lifeline 2 women, Fiona and I, shouldered the yoke (joup). Both these experiences took me even further out of my comfort zones than before! Here are some comments from my journal about those days:

Saint-Marc

This march had a strange and rather intimidating start with us trying to find a space to crushedlay the chain in the dirt next to a parked lorry and being pressed hard by the crowd. It was very hot. There were a number of men closely alongside on motorbikes who were either being threatening or escorting us! Meanwhile I was running along onescort the opposite side of the road giving out leaflets to the onlookers: “Explication! Partege!” (explanation – share) and stopping to take some photographs where I could. I remember many frowns, eagerness, urgency and sweat, having problems getting back across the road and being left quite a way behind. I had to run to catch up, which apparently was a terrible sight to behold – a wobbly, old white woman with a red face! 

Then we reached the central plaza, a beautiful new park, empty of people, with a locked IMGP2784gate! But the workmen were willing to let us in and we found very welcome shade in the central gazebo/bandstand. A crowd followed – there motorbikes were NOT allowed! – and they gathered at the foot of the steps so Joseph had a natural stage complete with acoustics and an attentive audience. Those in the coffle all knelt down and it was a particularlyIMGP2787 meaningful exchange: a retired senator stepped forward to speak for some time, asking where the Spanish representatives were (we didn’t have any, only Columbians) and giving the crowd a history lesson. He then graciously spoke forgiveness and released the white people from the yoke and chains: the crowd surged forward in response, smiling and hugging the team. 
Meanwhile I just lay down in the shade behind the coffle, truly spent and grateful for the IMGP2793shelter and security of the covered area! Martin was talking to groups of people around the back and he called me to join them, so we missed what was happening, but around the back of the gazebo friends were being made. As the crowd dispersed we had to waitIMGP2816 for such a long time while the team went to the bank again – they had to go every day to get enough cash to pay our way. Patience is one of the things we’ve really have to develop on this team, through long meetings and debriefs and translating and waiting to travel and eat… In San Marc I was so very hot, tired and dehydrated – at the end of my tether physically. It was a profound relief when our bus took us to the YWAM base for Coke and chocolate  and rest – but we left behind some very thirsty children :-/
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Jacmel
Throughout our trip Fiona had felt especially burdened by the statistics of children from 8-15 years old who were transported to Haiti in the latter years of the slave trade. Children were easier to fit into ships, easier to intimidate and less likely to rebel en route and would give many years of service :-/Jacmel was the primary place in Haiti where children had been landed. As women on the team we had been seeking to identify with the pain of the slave women – hence my headshave. Here was a new level of pain, that of mothers whose children were torn from their arms, and we wanted to do something more to honour their memory and mourn for the young lives that were ruined:
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I remember the faces of the team and their sadness as they put the yoke on us and the terrible things white men did to the weak and vulnerable hit home once again. The yoke IMGP2868really did rub my neck and it took all my concentration to keep carefully in step with Fiona so as not to jar and hurt ourselves. Once in the square after all the explanations and translations we knelt down to make our apology and we ended up down on the hard ground for a long time until the man who took on the spokesman’s role got to the point where he was willing and realised we were waiting for him to set us free. It was also very difficult because there were quite a lot of TV people and reporters that accompanied us in Jacmel and they were so focussed on pressing in to listen to what was being said that they nearly stepped on us down on the ground! There is nothing you can do in that position other than try to shift the weight off the pain in your knees. Then we had to wait some more while the local man tried to work out how to undo the yoke… all very humiliating and it makes you realise just a little of whatIMGP2873 people have gone through all those years ago. 
Trying to speak to strangers after all that is even harder and more vulnerable – all you want to do is go and hide somewhere! I hate not having the language, not knowing whether to smile or look sorry, the heat, the chaos, the waiting. In the park in Jacmel there were many schoolchildren and vendors who came past after the event and one very angry girl who probably missed everything we said was shouting that she would never forgive white people for what they had done!
 


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Independence city

Gonaives

The top picture shows the devastation caused by hurricanes in both 2004 and 2008

As my clip from Wikipedia notes, Gonaives has it’s own particular claim to fame in Haitian history: it is known as Haiti’s ‘City of Independence’. It was here that Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the former Saint-Domingue, independent from France on January 1, 1804 by reading the Act of Independence on the Place d’Armes of the town. This is where we would end our afternoon walk and address the crowd, in the grand paved square in front of the great mural of the revolutionary generals.

But first we were to experience the welcome and hospitality of the people who make up the community to whom our host is the pastor. Arriving at the Jean-Marie building – a school, church and orphanage rolled into one – and clambering out of our tap-taps we were welcomed into a clean and colourful hall, full of well-dressed families and beautiful children in bright matching tee-shirts all sitting in disciplined rows. These people were gentle, affectionate and respectful – and the 24 small children sitting together on the left were clearly those that had been taken in by Maula and his wife when they had been turned out onto the streets when their old orphanage suddenly closed down. You cannot help falling in love with the beautiful Haitian children!

This was a joyful morning as we were introduced to the church, stood up to share our stories and give greetings and watched the groups of young people performing their dances.

The message we brought to the church – and especially the children and young people – is that they are the future of their country, the hope of Haiti. Education is clearly highly prized and these are ambitious and confident young people. Those who can pay go to school from the age of 3! Maula runs a school for some of those who cannot pay. But after secondary education, without sponsorship or outside help there is nowhere else to go. We met several wannabe doctors, but they can’t get to university. One of the saddest things we encountered was the many men in their 20′s and 30′s with no jobs or energy after being knocked right back again: no wonder they are angry!  The young men on our team were in the same position, really, spending their time as they could trying to do what came to hand, but living off their mothers’ market produce in family huts. There is no lack of ability in Haiti, but a lot of disillusionment and hopelessness.

Gonaives, the city of Toussaint Louverture and of the Declaration of Independence has been a hotbed of revolution in the past. We prayed to plant seeds of a new revolution among this rising generation, mustard seeds of faith and hope and a vision of young leaders growing up to lead their nation out of the cycles of poverty and corruption. Big prayers!

In stark contrast to the colourful morning of celebration, our afternoon walk took us once more through the hot dusty streets, where we encountered beggars, refuse and thirst in the scorching sun. When it came to my turn, I knelt on the steps of the Independence monument to address the crowd and afterwards the team had many good conversations with the local people. There was one white face in front of us – a tourist from Germany – so at least I was able to go and explain our purpose to him! I found the times of talking and explaining very hard and was grateful for those team members who were more confident in French and sign language. This was another reason I gave myself to my role in the chains and the identification with the historic slaves – but more about that in the next post.


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Gone to Gonaives

FarmingWe travelled from Mole-Saint-Nicolas back to Gonaives on Saturday 23rd November. This area of the western coast is low-lying and has suffered many floods and there was some evidence of barren hillsides caused by deforestation as the trees have been cut down to use in the commonly-used charcoal burners. Although so much of the island seems very fertile and farming is widespread the problem of loss of topsoil was becoming more apparent as we headed south toward the urban centres and the mountains appeared gaunt rather than covered in trees and vegetation.

Gonaives is the home-town of our host, Pastor Maula. He had found us some wonderful Garden refugeaccommodation in a compound that was like an oasis in a desert – and we would be enjoying a day of rest there on the Monday. The owner was a local woman who had trained in agriculture in Canada and with her architect husband come home to help her people by developing this hotel and garden. They had lost it all twice through the severe floods and were in the process of waiting for finance to rebuild once again! This lady was an inspiration, showing what Haitian people can achieve if they are educated and resourced. LambigShe also had a call from her daughter in Paris soon after we arrived, saying she’d seen white people in chains in Cap Haitien on the internet and it must surely be a spoof or a joke? She was able to respond that these same people were now under her roof! It was another place of refreshment for us with a peaceful atmosphere, a pool and good local food. They sold hand-made Haitian jewellery – another great encouragement to see what people are capable of to improve their lot: we all bought many Christmas presents there as an investment in the economy!

Lovely bedroonOnce again this was such a contrast to life on the streets outside in the dust and heat: it is hard to be happily enjoying such comforts, knowing others are hungry and poor not far away. However, that is true of our Western lives all the time and being in places like this actually made it bearable for those of us who are not used to such a lifestyle. Also we were aware we were being looked-after and shown some of the more prosperous side of Haitian life, which is also part of the island’s story. Although we would never get into the centre of Port au Prince in the end we saw tourist magazines about nightclubs and restaurants there – President Martelly himself was previously a famous Haitien musician in what is a very lively Hotelmusic scene – and as we were soon to discover the south of the island, dominated by the mulatto population has a lot more obvious wealth and successful businesses.  All this discovery and the adjustments we were having to make was like a journey of conscience going on at the same time as our physical journey! When you are faced with the poverty on a daily basis there has to be some way of finding a response in order to cope with the feelings raised – unless you simply become hardened to it. The message seemed to be that we might not be able to do everything, but we can all do something. This dilemma is beautifully put in an ancient quotation from the Talmud (Jewish writings) which a friend showed me on return home:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Our reconciliation walk was our way of doing something – and meeting real Haitien people that I could later give my head-shave money to, knowing they would use it wisely – and so we woke up on Sunday morning anticipating a rather different day with even more personal human contact as not only was a walk planned for the afternoon, but in the morning we were the guests of honour at Pastor Maula’s church. As in many African cultures, Sunday is a very special day in Haiti and we were expected to dress the part for this occasion, so the shorts and tee-shirts were put away in favour of shirts, ties and dresses! On the way to the service we passed this group parading and celebrating the Lord’s Day in their very finest clothes: I cannot imagine how they manage to be so well-turned out all the time with such basic accommodation and laundry facilities!

Sunday best

Sunday best


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Mole-Saint-Nicolas

You have probably never heard of Mole-Saint-Nicolas (MSN for short? Maybe not – perhaps Mole is better!) but if things had gone differently it could have been as notorious as Guantameno Bay. TheMole-Saint-Nicolas Americans seriously considered making use of the wonderful natural harbour at Mole and building their naval base on the west end of Haiti, but in the end they opted for Cuba. The two places are directly opposite each other on either side of the channel that forms an important crossroads where the Atlantic ocean gives access to the Caribbean sea – a channel the US definitely want to keep an eye on. It’s strategic position is probably the very reason why Columbus found it and landed here in 1492, claiming the island of Hispaniola for Spain and starting the years of bloody colonial rule. It is the ends of the earth and the beginning of the nation.

Our road from Port de Paix was along the north coast this time, via the town of Jean-Ocean viewRabel. You can see from the map that Jean-Rabel is a larger settlement than Mole, which isn’t even shown: this trip was more to do with the historical importance of the place than it’s size. But even in the short stop in Jean-Rabel we could feel the rural atmosphere of the area and the wildness and beauty of the countryside only increased as we made our bumpy way west. Although I didn’t know when I took it, this photograph shows the ‘mole’ – the natural harbour providing such safe waters.

It was 21st November and – as I said last time – after 5 gruelling days I was pretty tired and fed up, especially after yet another 4 hour trip over unmade roads, even though travelling in daylight did help a lot this time. None of us had any idea what was ahead and we were feeling a lot more cautious after our reception in Port-de-Paix, but as we headed towards the sea and turned into our hotel compound a wonderful surprise awaited us. As the bus turned the corner and drew to a halt the view that met us was refreshment itself and I breathed my most heartfelt response aloud, “Thank God! We have arrived in the Caribbean!” Mole Saint-Nicolas was just what we all needed and before many minutes were up we were throwing ourselves in the water.

FootprintsMy journal entry reads: “WHAT a beautiful place – and we have 2 nights right by the sea! FreshSunset swim air – straight into the sea :-) Sunset over the Atlantic ocean – amazing. Very basic accommodation – apparently an unfinished and abandoned resort – but we have the run of the place. Went to a local restaurant for a Haitian fish supper – they have a paved main street and proper buildings: it’s such a relief after the city squalor”. It really was a God-send – I think it kept me going!

So not all of Haiti is ‘impossible’. This place seemed much more manageable somehow. Ayiti (‘land of high mountains’) was the indigenous Taino name for the island, but they Fishing boatsalso had a name that meant ‘cradle of life’ and we could see why. Martin and I with our love of the sea and beaches were instantly attracted to it and through the course of our short time there found ourselves wondering if this might be somewhere we could make connections for the future. They even had painted boats used by the fishermen drawn up on the beach – a great attraction for my sailor husband – and  while swimming the second time we saw a stingray jump right in front of us! What’s not to like? ;-) To add to the holiday feeling just along the beach was a French-run hotel and restaurant which proved cheaper to have our breakfasts and dinner at than the local place – and we needed to conserve what funds we had. I was really happy…

BUT. The history of Mole gave us much pause for thought – the entry point to settlers who went on to enslave and massacre the Taino Indians as well as killing them with European diseases, and when they were all dead started bringing Africans to work the land. In time the western end of Hispaniola was over-run by French buccaneers – hence the pirate city of Port-de-Paix and infamy of Tortuga – and in 1697 the treaty of Ryswick between the Spanish and French divided the Dominican Republic from Haiti. And so on under the French…. The weight of this history cannot be ignored. Being at the starting point, what could we do but pray for a new beginning and a future hope?

Even choosing to forget all that and focus on the beauty the reality is that of course once you leave the protected compounds you cannot just be a tourist and ignore the localMen met at Mole population – the hungry children and the men wandering up and down the beach. They would approach us as soon as they saw us anyway!  No wonder most tropical tourist resorts keep the whites safe behind walls and barbed wire. But we were actually there to meet Haitians and after visiting a couple of IMGP2518schools in the morning to talk to the children whose families can afford to send them there our afternoon walk took us from one fort to another, where a crowd gathered to hear what we had to say.

We had many conversations in Mole, team members making friends with young girls, holding hands with little children and even the exchange of email addresses. DespiteFort at Mole the availability of technology it was obvious many people were struggling – fishermen who couldn’t catch any fish to feed their families, unemployed youth, children with obvious malnutrition, families living on the hillside in shacks. Yet there were also men actually building houses in the town centre and the city official who welcomed us told of the 10 year development plan that was providing funds for the work we had seen. The Frenchman’s place was also part of that development – though when I challenged him on the last morning about throwing away his leftovers rather thanBreakfast giving them to the hungry he only seemed able to cope by giving a Gallic shrug and saying he was doing his best investing in the local economy. Compassion is a sacrificial emotion and I don’t know how I would feel surrounded by poverty day after day. No wonder the richer people keep inside their boundaries.

Of course, we were only passing through and still reeling from the things we were encountering. Though many of us wanted to carry bread and water to give out when were were out and about we couldn’t really organise it – it was hard enough having enough clean water for ourselves! By now I had realised that any spontaneous responses we made were actually only salving our own consciences and not providing any kind of long-term help. Although I took the leftover spaghetti from our final breakfast to give to someone, I could only find 2 local women and ask them to pass it on to the hungry orphans we had encountered before we had to board the bus again – and the women were more interested in my plastic coloured water bottle than the food!

And so we drove away from Mole-Saint-Nicolas with more questions than answers – clutching the contact details of the city official who is also a pastor. If any place has lodged in our hearts since then, it is this one – and you can see why!

Glory in the highest!

Look – there’s Venus!


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“Peace, peace” where there is no peace

It’s all very well telling you where we went and what it looked like, but how did it all feel? In faithfully recording the events of our visit to Port de Paix – probably the most difficult of all 6 places on our walking tour – I must go back to the journal I took with me to record impressions. To be honest I haven’t wanted to open it until now: there are all sorts of conflicting emotions returning home from such a place and my way of coping has been to try to forget about it all! This hasn’t helped the flow of writing, of course and it continues to hang over me like a cloud waiting for the wind. Until I get this report fully written I won’t really be able to move on, so if you’re up for delving a bit deeper I’m taking the plunge. This is how I felt on the morning of our visit to this decidedly non-peaceful port of peace as scribbled angrily in my notebook, with a few photos to assist the imagination:

20/11/13  City of Pirates
“It feels longer than 4-5 days since we’ve been here – more like 2 weeks actually!   So many sights – IMGP2375and sites: Monday was amazing and Tuesday’s bus journey excruciating (go figure!) This place by the ocean, with Tortuga just OVER THERE, is like a dream. A morning off to rest is more than welcome – even essential. 
 
So it’s Wednesday. Already I’ve had enough of basic living, clothes on the floor and hunting through suitcases, but was grateful for the beers last night when we arrived in Port de BedroomPaix after the bus ride from hell!  There are so many things I don’t like! I am being very grumpy. I must apologise to Martin. He is cross that I lost 200 gourdes – maybe I did but I think he spent it. It doesn’t help that I accused him of losing a bankcard we didn’t even bring with us!  (Later he found the money in his pocket!!)
 
The truth is I am not coping. I have gone beyond caring. I am powerless, disconnected and frustrated. I feel ill and terribly Viewtired and miss home where all is familiar. This place is beautiful, but alien. Through numbness and sadness I journey without interest or passion, just putting one foot in front of the other. Martin and some of the others in the team feel like masters not comforters. I know I am reacting, and of course there are those who help and care and give encouragement. The team are great really – and it is of course very early days for us all – but I feel withdrawn and isolated in my own world within. I feel trapped in this situation and to cap it all I don’t think my texts are getting through to home – at least no one is replying! I feel cut off! I am not good at adventures!
 
YokeIt is very sobering to think that this must be a little of how the captive women would’ve felt – sick unto death and sick of heart – traumatised by the tearing, loss, physical abuse and whole new enforced culture and demands. The only way to cope with such trauma is to go numb. My husband’s experience is clearly 1,000,000 miles from mine. In some ways it would be easier for me if he weren’t here, because I want him to comfort me but he can’t! He is dealing with his own reactions to what we are seeing. 
 
I am sure this will all come out in the wash and we’ll manage to communicate with each other at some point…which reminds me I wish we were somewhere long enough to do some washing and drying! meanwhile, I must remember that I chose this! No one forced me into it: I decided to identify with the African slaves and make this journey.”
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Which is the truth! Who has ever decided to do something brave and discovered the reality to be costly? There was nothing for it but to keep going, and thankfully the support and listening ear of the team leader and a bit of marital communication helped me feel better before the afternoon outing – when we faced a whole lot of new challenges!
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Tap tapOur walk started at the city gates and took us into the central square by the town hall. From the start we attracted a crowd, pressing round, curious to know what we were doing as we laid the chain in the dirt and began our liturgy in French. The words had been put together from various Bible verses declaring that we were actually free people choosing to put on these chains and in no way slaves to anyone but God. It always proved to be important to make that distinction – as I say, a totally personal choice – because the feelings of identification and even a sense of victimisation could be quite strong. In some places white racist groups have accused Lifeline of spreading a message of ‘white guilt’ and it is very understandable that people could take offence if they don’t understand that this is a choice to identify and not what we think everyone should do. Our attitude as a team was to be like Christ was carrying the cross, an individual identifying with suffering that was not His, and showing compassion. The root issue behind slavery is not actually racism anyway – it is greed! 
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So we walked alongside donkeys and past people standing in doorways, through dirty streets with traders on the pavement, carrying our symbols and bowing our heads. Unfortunately we still didn’t
Into town have our leaflets in Creole to hand out and were hoping to explain it all to the crowd and the deputy mayor who would meet us in the square. I was particularly moved by one old lady who looked at me with appeal and rubbed her stomach, “I am hungry” - but I carried no money or bread, even though I wasn’t in the chains this time: it is very hard to be a rich, white person in such a setting – we couldn’t help standing out! If it were not for being with the team we wouldn’t have felt able to walk down these streets at all, and we had to keep telling ourselves ‘this isn’t what we are here for today’. I was continually glad I had the money from my headshave to give out later – but that didn’t help that old woman :-(
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crowdThere was a large crowd in the square as the young city official came out to meet us and hear our Town squareapology. Though Joseph tried really hard to explain what we were about and that our snake on a pole is a symbol of healing, as seen on pharmacy signs and ambulances (based on the story in Exodus after Israel came out of slavery in Egypt) without amplification most of the shouted words didn’t reach very far back. The language barrier also made things difficult and the Haitians and French speakers were always at the centre of things. People asked us many questions and there was not a little anger: one man pointed out in English that although we could travel to Haiti he couldn’t even get a visa to travel to the US.
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In responding to our messages the mayor then gave some kind of City officialpolitical speech about the problems of Haiti and what the current government is doing to help and the grumbling could be heard to start! There are many Haitians dissatisfied with their government and it’s reputation for corruption. We were graciously released from the chains and embraced, which is always a wonderful moment, but as in other situations in Haiti, the point was made that words are not really enough and economic reparations are the issue: all we can do is agree and pledge to help as much as we can as individuals and campaigners! Lifeline is not a political movement, but is constantly challenged by the social needs and practical responses: this was another reason we were so glad to have my shaven head to demonstrate that we hadn’t come empty-handed.
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As the crowd grew our team were ushered into the mayor’s office for further discussion and conversation. The crowd was getting quite rowdy by now… it was only afterwards that we discovered
Voodoo?we had probably been less than culturally sensitive when some young Haitians informed us that the snake is a voodoo symbol, the square is used for voodoo ceremonies and Martin’s hat looked like a voodoo priest’s hat! In the absence of proper communication some of them thought we were bringing some kind of white voodoo to town!  Just being white was provocative enough as one (white) team member discovered when he went outside to see if another (black) one was alright – there were what he described as ‘waves of hatred’. It is not often that white people encounter racism like that!
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ConnectionWe made our getaway safely enough and had a long debrief session that evening deciding whether provocative symbolism is really a good idea or not ;-) We may know what we mean, but it is not much use being theatrical if others don’t get the message! Thankfully the leaflets turned up before we had to walk with the snake again. There was also a massive thunderstorm that night to clear the air, during which the deputy mayor and his bodyguards came to visit us and find out more about Lifeline. A connection was made with one of the team who hopes to invite him over to Scotland to investigate sanitation projects that could be helpful in Port de Paix, which seemed a good outcome on a practical level.
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As for the rest, and if you believe in spiritual realities, perhaps there was some sort of clash in Port de Paix: it is certainly where we hit the issues of voodoo the most strongly and we felt a little bruised by that, but on the other hand, we learned a lot about Haiti’s culture and what we had got ourselves into!
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