It’s been a busy crazy week in Pignon. I had heard that New Year’s is one of their biggest celebrations and I found out why: yes, it’s the start of a new year, but Jan 1 is also Haiti’s Independence Day. In 1804 the slaves revolted against the British – the world’s only successful slave rebellion resulting in an independent nation.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is VERY LOUD: they built a stage a block away and blasted music fro dancing every night – LOUD music. And then the churches around here all have song – LOUD song. So that, along with the donkeys, roosters, motorcycles and excited children, starting about 5am and lasting late into night, felt like a week-long party. With lots of food, especially soup. I finally Googled Haiti Independence and soup – turns out that ever since the revolution, soup has symbolized the overthrow of the white masters – slaves used to be forced to cook the soup but were never allowed to eat it. So now everyone enjoys a number of special meals with soup over the weekend.
I spend most mornings and later afternoons with the timoun – we all lay low during the heat of the day – it’s been in the 90’s. We play with all the fun things donations provided: cards, creole/english picture dictionaries; jump rope, hackey sacks, bouncy balls, coloring books and crayons, braid bracelets, futbol, and we look at their photos. I brought photo sheets with all their pictures, names and ages – I have a difficult time “hearing” creole pronunciation and it helps if I can have them point out their pictures so I can read their names. I brought extra copies, thinking they’d enjoy looking at them, and they do. It’s funny how they go over and over the same sheets, or picture dictionaries, especially the younger ones. The teenagers, typical teenagers, are too cool to join in lots of our activities – but they’ll go off in small groups with each other to look at them or braid their bracelets. A 17 year old, Jerry, asked if I could leave him one of the dictionaries when I leave, as did one of the house mamas.
But even the teenagers are appreciative. They are also very nurturing to the younger ones. It always warms my heart that when a little one stumbles and cries, there is usually an older one, even if they’re only 10 or so, who comes over to soothe, usually pulling the bebe’ onto their lap. And they all will bring the younger ones to me and point out a sore or rash. One of my “activities” is to set up a 1st Aid station – the children love to be attended to – sometimes there’s no apparent scratch where they point- so I’ll just wipe it with alcohol, show them some sympathy, and send them off with a “finis.'” Donations have gone toward stocking the medicine cabinet – I wish I would have taken a photo of it when I first arrived – it was empty besides some piles of acetaminophen and some bandaids. See the photo of it now! I’ve got Gerby taking cough medicine after he pantomined having a sore throat and hearing his cough. And an older girl has some infection from a sore – she’s on antibiotics now (no prescription req in Haiti!)
We walked through the children’s home to see what’s needed – donations will go towards some new mattresses – many are still in good shape. There are 40 bunk beds now for the 58 children – “no problem” the house mama says – the littlest timoun like to sleep together which I understand – there’s no mama or papa to tuck them in, so they nurture each other. Loving Haiti has provided 2 house mamas at all times, but as we know, 58 children presents a challenge nevertheless.
My primary goal while I’m here is to give the timoun all the individual attention and affection I can. Easy job for me: as Pastor says, “Just you be a good Gramma.” So I basically play all day (in-between resting up!) And there’s lots of being sat on, clung to, hanged on – LOTS of touching. There’s one little boy who will sit next to me and just lay one finger on my arm. If I ever wear my hair down I am in for tugging and braiding also. But funny because the girls get so frustrated with my fine, fly away hair – they can do nothing with it.
If I ever need to go into “town” for anything, it’s a fun excursion for 1 or 2 timoun, along with an older boy (mainly for haggling prices 🙂 Son and Jerry are expert at this, and for weaving us through the masses of townfolks buying and selling. I enjoy the colorful chaos of market. I’ve been measuring timoun feet and will take Jerry with me tomorrow to buy sandals for timoun, and school shoes for him.
I’d like to let you know more about Pido – a remarkable young man (36) with a huge heart for his village. Whenever I ask how I can help him, he ALWAYS asks for help for the poor. Esther and I met Pido on my first visit to Pignon in 2012. He came up to us and offered his help while we were trying buy treats across the street from his shop. Over the years he has acted as friend and tour guide on strolls through Pignon. He shows us areas we typically wouldn’t see. When I try to reciprocate with money, he will take me to a destitute family, living in a shack, with the father sick or crippled, to give my money to them instead. (Pido has received micro loans through Loving Haiti to aid his business. He is very proud and responsible about accepting and repaying loans.)
I brought along materials for Pido’s children ministry which he runs up in the hills, accessible only by motorcycle: school supplies, coloring books and little toys – and from your donations I also gave him money for his Christmas food giveaway in the community.
Again, it has been SUCH a blessing to have all your support, both financial and emotional this trip. It has been a joy to SEEK OUT needs to spend money on, rather than stretching funds to meet immediate crises.
The Childrens’ Home has progressed dramatically since pre-Loving Haiti days. In just 6 years they now have: solar power and electricity, reliable water (new pump and well), lights in the children’s’ home, along with running water for drinking water, toilets and showers, House Mamas on duty at all times, a visiting nurse twice a week, nutritious food every day, bunk beds with mattresses and more. When Denny and Abby first met Pastor Francois 6 years ago, this is how it looked: when night fell, the older children would grab a younger’s hand and walk them up to their dark home to sleep on sheet-covered plywood. They were dirty with open sores, fungi and infections, only seeing a doctor in emergencies. They would wait for a small bag of water, not guaranteed a daily meal. They had no level area to play on.
The simple reality is that 58 children in Haiti have a better life now. As do the workers and Pastor and Madam.
Their gratitude for small gifts, for the basic necessities of life that we take for granted, is humbling. As is their deep faith. Their contentment in the face of daily hardship. Their minimal expectations and abundant joy.