I find myself, when people ask So. How was your trip? feeling a little conflicted.
I search my prodigious vocabulary for the appropriate adjectives.
And none come to mind, so I use a few lame, generic ones like Awesome, Amazing, Great.
And then I feel as filled with angst as I have ever been, because I spent a wonderful week in Haiti.
And then I got to come home.
While the Haitian people, who this was all about, have to stay there, with all of the poverty and hunger and ignorance and disease and corruption and crime that was there before.
So then I am sad.
Let me tell you a few things that I learned, although I don't claim to have any answers.
The Haitian people are beaten down. Many of them are trying to better their lives, but so many factors are working against them. The earthquake and hurricanes just make a complicated situation worse.
Most Haitians see foreigners as a way to get something. I mentioned in an earlier post that any interaction with a Haitian will usually include, at some point, a request for something.
Let me tell you a story.
Late one afternoon, I decided to move the pile of topsoil that was in the vegetable garden over to a different area so that we could plant in the vacated space. I started filling up the wheelbarrow and lugging it to the other side of the yard. After a few trips, Junior, Jason's son, came over and helped me. I shoveled, he lugged. We had a lot of fun, laughing at each other and he teaching me the exact pronunciation of sa bon and a few other necessary Creole phrases. Creole is mostly a spoken language and Haitians are very picky about the pronunciation. I thought to myself How nice that he came to help.
About two thirds of the way through that pile of dirt, Junior started saying laptop and making typing actions with his fingers. I wasn't quite sure why he was saying it, so after a minute or so he gave up and we got back to work. A little while later, Lucien came over to talk to him and I asked Lucien to ask him why he was talking about a laptop. Lucien and Junior has a short conversation, in which I was not included, and that was it. I was none the wiser and we carried on and finished the job.
The next day, it dawned on me that Junior was asking me for a laptop and that Lucien probably read him the riot act for doing so. I was disappointed that there was more to Junior's kind act than met the eye. It wasn't the last time that I would be hit up for supplies by our Haitian workers, even though they live in a veritable lap of luxury compared to most people in the area.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this problem. On the one hand, I understand why they do it. Their problems seem to be insurmountable; the fact is, there is no other way for them to get certain things. The clinic has to have almost all of their supplies sent from the US. Everything is expensive, from food to conveniences like toilet paper ($2 a roll), but many needed items are just not available for sale in Haiti. On the other hand, it does no good in the long run to just give handouts, because it intensifies their dependence.
So here's what I think.
Haiti is a beautiful country, in spite of the strife that has been visited on its mountains by natives and foreigners alike. Some of the best people in the world are in Haiti. People like those who are working at MamaBabyHaiti and Mercy Corps, who have long-term strategies to help the Haitian people towards financial independence. Please read Doctor Sarah's latest blog post here. If you have loved reading about MamaBabyHaiti, would you take a few minutes and go here to donate to the cause? Mercy Corps is also doing good work in the south part of Haiti and you can donate to them here. It doesn't have to be a large amount to make a difference, if we do it together.
Also, if you blog, I would love it if you could somehow pass this along. Feel free to copy any of my content on the topic. My contribution in Haiti was tiny, but together we could become a formidable force for good.
So that, someday, all of the babies in Haiti will be as fat and happy as Carjioly.
First, some housekeeping. You might notice that I've added a little "like" button at the end of the posts. That way, even if you're too idle to make a comment, you can click the little square and I can get all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings about my readers.
It keeps me going.
So, Miss Lisa, who considers her powers of navigation to be far superior to mine own, led the way as we searched for the Mercado Modelo. It took a while for us to find it. Finally, two sweet little girls took pity on us and led us down the last couple of streets.
We had been told that this was the place to buy art. Dominican and Haitian art have a distinctive "look", primitive and colourful. The Mercado is a market hall, packed with vendors who sell every kind of Dominican handcraft imaginable. It was inaugurated in 1942 by the dictator Trujillo. I suspect it began as a farmers' market and has transformed into the biggest tourist trap ever. Go here to see a picture and short description.
As we entered the market, we were accosted on all sides by vendors, all determined that we should enter their stalls. I would have been easily distracted from my purpose, but Lisa made sure that we followed only the art vendor, who lured us up some narrow stairs to his establishment.
That girl really hates shopping, did I tell you that?
It was tough to choose from the plethora of art pieces, but I finally settled on two of them and then began the hard work. I paid a little more than I was planning, but much less than he asked, which seems to me to be the sign of a good bargaining session. There was much mi amor-ing and shaking of his head, and I had a great time mi amor-ing him back, not believing at all that I was breaking his heart. He removed the canvases from their frame and rolled them up. I insisted on his giving me my change (oh, mi amor!) and off we went, with nary a look to the left or right.
Our next destination was the Alcazar de Colon, built and occupied by Christopher's son, Diego. It houses a museum, and by golly, a museum was what we were after!
So here we go, walking down this street and that, admiring the sights.
Really old buildings and a really new Hummer.
They're everywhere, they're everywhere!
After a lot of walking down some very scary streets (Hey Lisa, Jeff would be really unhappy if he knew that I was walking in this neighbourhood) and a lot of really bad directions from people who, I think, were deliberately trying to mislead us, I spotted a handsome policeman-type dude. He was wearing a very fetching blue uniform and carrying an efficient-looking gun. He was chatting on the street when I rudely interrupted him and asked him how to get to the Alcazar. He motioned us onto the sidewalk and we conferred for several minutes over our pitiful map, which had so far done us very little good at all. He spoke fairly good English (yay!) and finally realized that his map-drawing skills and our understanding of his directions were not coming together. He smiled good-naturedly and offered to walk with us.
Walking with Victorino Amado was a completely different experience than walking on our own.
He stopped traffic for us.
He bought a coconut pudding (his favourite kind) for us at a little store.
Which we shared with him.
He shepherded us across busy roads.
We walked a lot faster.
He told us that he was a guard at the Vice President's office.
And that his last name is the past tense of love, which he makes sure to mention to the girls.
And that he learned English at school but practises on his own because he wants to come to America some day.
We chatted and laughed and hustled all the way to the Alcazar.
Which was closed.
So the guard (no taking pictures of guards in the DR) took a photo of us.
It was a bit awkward after that, not quite knowing how to go our separate ways.
Lisa and I decided to walk to the road that borders the sea, so Victorino walked with us some more.
Finally, he went his own way, but not before exchanging email addresses and giving us each a heartfelt kiss on the cheek.
Memo to self: Cross that one off the bucket list.
Is Jeff reading this?
So we walked...
...until I thought we would never reach the ocean.
And then we did.
And then I had to have a little sit.
And then we walked along the beautiful ocean...
...you know how it goes...
...but wasn't it gorgeous?
Except for the odd landmark here and there...
and the auto fumes...
and the heat...
and my tired, aching feet...
and the trash on the shore...
...and then we turned inland and walked a whole bunch more, zigging and zagging until we finally got back to the temple.
Except for the brief stop at the little ice cream store, just before we reached home, where we each had an ice cream bar and it was the best thing we had ever tasted.
That's about it. We spent most of Tuesday in temple.
This is the flower arrangement by my talented friend, Julie, that decorated the podium at church today. It gave me something on which to ruminate while I daydreamed through some of the sermons, thinking about my own answers to prayer.
Many of you have heard this story before, but I like to tell it.
It reaffirms the meaning of my life.
Many years ago, I was engaged to be married to the "love of my life".
And it wasn't Jeff.
He filled every corner of my heart and none of my thoughts existed without him in them.
Yet, when I prayed for confirmation of the rightness of the relationship, there was none.
With no answer.
He eventually dumped me, rather unceremoniously and with good reason, by cassette tape from the Philippines, where he was serving a mission.
I was devastated for a long time.
During which I dated quite a few worthy men and a few rascals.
And, after a while, when nothing seemed to work out, I started to pray that the Lord would let me know when I met my husband-to-be, so that I could be done with all the uncertainty.
Well, the moment I met Jeff for the second time (I know, but it's a long story) I knew we would marry.
That was it.
He knew it too.
And it has sustained us through many a rocky stretch of this road that we call marriage.
So, this weekend, we are finally getting away for our 31st anniversary.
Every few days since the beginning of the year, Jeff has been asking When are we going away? and I feel like a bad wife.
I've been planning my Haiti trip and now a trip to New Zealand in April, so the myriad details of a weekend trip have escaped me.
So this week I buckled down and booked hotels and planned outings.
We began our tourist stint, as do most visitors, at Parque Colon, or Columbus Park. At the centre of the park, just to the right of this photo, is an imposing statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon). As you can see, lots of clever tourists are taking photos of this wonder.
I, apparently, did not.
But, behind me, you can see the magnificent Catedral Santa Maria, the oldest cathedral in the Americas. Built between 1514 and 1540, the cathedral is believed to have been the (almost final) resting place of the great explorer. His supposed remains were moved to the Columbus Lighthouse about twenty years ago.
We sat for a while on one of the many benches in the plaza, after being accosted by several tour guides and vendors wanting to relieve us of our pesos.
Before we started on our Monday adventure, we had given ourselves a little pep talk. Lisa hates to shop and didn't want to buy anything. I love to shop, but all I wanted to buy was some Haitian art.
How's that for irony? You can't find Haitian art in Haiti, you have to go to the DR to find it.
So, we urged each other to be strong and brushed up on our bargaining skills. Which was just as well, because the plaza abounded with shoe-shine guys, taxi drivers, tour guides, necklace and music vendors, and solicitors for the restaurants and stores that edge the square.
There must have been a European cruise ship in port, because none of the foreigners were speaking English.
I love this tree.
It didn't ask us to buy anything, just offered its cooling shade to our already overheated bodies.
On the left of the photo is a cigar factory.
We managed to resist the temptation of a tour.
But only just.
After succumbing to the purchase of some CD's of Dominican music (for which I am totally blaming Lisa) we entered the cathedral.
Which was surprisingly and thankfully air-conditioned.
Oh Jenny, you would have died for the arches and the buttresses.
I cannot even imagine how this domed ceiling was built. The photo doesn't come close to revealing the height and size of the structure.
More arches and whatever for those of us who swoon at such things.
They were rather impressive, even for such an architecturally-challenged person as myself.
The edge of the building contains many small chapels and shrines to different saints and religious figures.
Inhaling all the cultured air made us hungry, so we decided to eat before embarking on our mission to find art and ancient edifices. Walking down Calle El Conde, we were enticed by many stores displaying art, but Lisa kept me strong until we found a likely-looking restaurant...
...where our table looked right at, you guessed it, an art store.
And on the menu, you guessed it again, el pollo y el arroz.
After lunch, which was very tasty, I asked the concierge of the hotel if the Alcazar de Colon was open on Mondays. You see, we had discovered that museums owned and operated by the government aare closed on Mondays. She assured me that it was.
So we set off down the Calle with two remaining missions on our minds.
1. Find me some art work, which meant finding the Mercado Modelo, a huge building containing all kids of vendors.
2. Find the castle.
And that story will have to wait for later, but let me tell you, it involves scary streets and our very own Dominican gigolo.
So, till then, may your breath be bated and your imagination work overtime!
Monday was our only day to play tourist, so we set off on foot in the morning with a vengeance. Our destination was Zona Colonial, or Colonial Zone, for all you Gringos.
Christopher Columbus landed in Hispaniola on December 5, 1492. The native Tainos are believed to have numbered around 600,000 and to have migrated to the island by canoe from South America. They almost disappeared in the next few decades. Some were massacred by the Conquistadors, some fell prey to disease, and some were worked and starved to death. Although there are some who claim to be descended from the Taino (who interbred with the Spanish and African slaves) there are certainly no full-blooded Tainos left today.
The DR, because of its strategic location, has been invaded and controlled at different times by Spain, France, England, Simon Bolivar's Gran Colombia, Haiti, and the United States. It became an independent nation in 1844, when a group of revolutionaries seized power from the ruling Haitians.Seventy-three percent of the population is of mixed race, combining Spaniards and other Europeans, West African slaves and natives. Sixteen percent is white and 11 percent black, including Haitians. The mixed ethnicity gives Dominicans an interesting diversity of skin colour and facial characteristics.
Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and was founded in 1496 by Don Bartolome Colon, the younger brother of Christopher. It is the oldest city in the New World. As we entered the Zone, the streets became narrow and walking on the paths somewhat perilous.
One gets a feeling of history and immense age; these houses and streets must be several hundred years old.
The closer we got to the centre of the Zone, the more picturesque and winding the streets.
The walk to the Zone took us about an hour.
Lucky I had my Skechers Shape-up sandals on my little feet, or I'd have died.
I still have some photos and a few stories to tell you about our Dominican Republic adventure, but I wanted to tell you about a slightly freaky thing that happened to me yesterday.
There has been a lot of talk lately, in the circles of my universe, about the tender mercies of the Lord. I think the following incident may have been one of them.
I've been trying to build up my music therapy business with elderly groups, so I was in Canby, a small town about 20 miles away. Upon leaving for home, my mind wandered a little (not an unusual occurrence) as I was negotiating the streets of Canby and I missed my turn. I switched on TomTom and started following his commands. He took me through some tiny residential streets and it didn't seem like I was getting any closer to my goal. One last turn into what looked like a cul-de-sac and I began to silently curse my Cockney friend.
As I approached what I thought was the end of the short road and just as I was thinking Oh, I guess it curves to the right, a white Jeep-like vehicle careened around the corner towards me. It was going much too fast for the narrow road, maybe 40 or 45 mph, and the car was obviously out of control. Brakes screeched and the car veered around the outside of the corner and smacked into the back of a small red wagon that was parked about ten feet away from me. The sound of the crash reverberated through the formerly quiet little street. The white car's hood crumpled and flew open, glass shattered and rained onto the road. The red car's rear end took a mighty dent from the impact. The whole incident took less than two seconds and I didn't even have time to think Help, he's going to hit me!
I stopped my car to see how the occupants of the car had fared. There were two or three 20-something-looking young men in the car and they quickly exited the car to inspect the damage. Within seconds a young couple ran out of the house, to see their poor car looking decidedly totaled. I started to drive slowly away, all the time watching them in my rear-view mirror and figuring that they had it under control. Then I stopped, because I realized that I was the only witness to the accident. I backed up and asked the young woman if I could do anything to help. She walked over to me and I could see that she was distraught and trembling. She asked me how fast the car had been going and I told her Very fast. We talked for a few seconds and I gave her my business card and told her to call me if I could help in any way. Then I left, as I had to get back to Newberg for piano lessons.
As I drove home, a tad subdued by how close I had come to being the one with the totaled car and perhaps some major injuries, I thought about serendipity. How did I just happen to be victim of a TomTom distraction so that I was turning that corner at the exact moment that the crash happened? In my book, it was more than coincidence. I may never get a phone call about the incident, but the drivers of that car know that there was an eye witness and that they will be held accountable for the truth. So maybe I was God's instrument for taking care of the young couple who owned the red car.