Communiqué #108

Communiqué #108

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

October 5, 2013

F R O M    H E R E    T O   T H E R E

I have said it many times before and now I am saying it again, “Nothing in Haiti is easy!”

For many months, we have been hoping for and praying for a new motor for our boat that we use to transport building materials, food supplies and missionary teams to Ile-a-Vache.  The ancient motor that we have has been resurrected to life on a number of occasions when finding a part or coaxing it to run “just one more time” seemed an impossibility.  At long last a suitable used replacement motor was found in Michigan and the journey of getting it to Haiti began.   The motor was crated up by the dealership, transported to a storage warehouse and then loaded onto a sea container bound for Miami to await the final leg of its journey to Haiti.

Upon my return to Haiti, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the motor had arrived in LesCayes before I did!  That in itself is a miracle!  The motor was tucked in a Haitian warehouse waiting for missionary friends to arrive from the USA to sort the entire contents of two sea containers.  The shipments had brought needed building supplies, food supplies and a myriad of other items including our boat motor.

I made arrangements to arrive at the warehouse at a designated time.  I drove my car so that I could haul a few of the smaller miscellaneous items and I hired a tap-tap (a pickup used for hauling people and goods) to transport the heavy motor and larger items.  Fortunately, I brought three strong men with me.

Arriving at the warehouse, we learned that the motor was indeed there, but it was wedged in the furthermost back part of the warehouse pinned in by multiple rods of heavy duty metal rebar.   The heavy rebar needed to be moved at least a foot in order for the men to free the large box containing the motor.

One must understand that there are no forklifts in Haiti.  A heavy box easily moved in the USA, can barely be budged by four men who have only their muscles to move an item that arrives here.   Now the men’s dilemma is that the box not only needs to be moved, but it also needs to be lifted into the bed of a pickup and then later moved from the pickup into a boat bound for Ile-a-Vache.   The only choice of moving the box was to tear open the box and remove its contents heavy item by heavy item, the motor itself being the heaviest item of all.   The lightest items were removed first.   In the steamy confines of the warehouse, the now four men stooped in an unsafe manner, straining their backs to the limit, to lift the motor and walk precariously over the shifting rebar towards the front of the warehouse.   Once in a cleared area, the men set their heavy load down for a breather.  Beads of sweat covered their body and trickled down to soak their clothing.  Whew!

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It was discovered that a tire on the tap-tap had been punctured by a nail.  “Nothing was going no where” until the tire was changed.   It was so fortunate that a used spare tire was in the bed of the truck!   Once the tire was changed, the boat motor that was mounted on a wooden frame was lifted into and loaded onto the truck.  The remaining items were wedged around the motor and a trip down the mountain back to my house was the next leg of the journey.

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We parked the tap-tap inside our gated yard.  A motor is a hot commodity in Haiti, so it was important to safeguard it while we checked out the condition of the wharf.   One of the men remained behind as security guard, while I proceeded with the remaining two men to the seaside.

Our hope was to be able to use the large private wharf.  It is the easiest, most efficient place to load items into a waiting boat.  But alas, a huge vessel bearing cement had arrived in Haiti from Venezuela. The entire wharf was jam packed with trucks and people and bags and bags of cement.   Small boats were sent out to the large vessel to get cement from the ocean liner.  Waiting on the wharf where people unloading the small boats and transferring cement bags into waiting semi trucks.  There was absolutely no way for us to use this wharf.

Our remaining option was to use the public loading area, which has no dock.   This area is a dumpsite.  It is muddy and smelly and overcrowded with people selling things, people arriving and departing the island and people just wanting to watch all that is going on.  There are children & adults, motorcycles and trucks, wooden pull carts, a variety of goods, animals and more.   First on our agenda was to hire someone who would unload our vehicles, place our items on the shore, wade into the water to place our items in a small boat and then row the boat out to our bigger boat where the items would be transferred to its final water taxi!

We used a cell phone to call the driver of the tap-tap to let him know where he needed to come with our items.  When he arrived, he had to wait his turn to back into the narrow alley cluttered with everything imaginable.   A larger truck finally pulled out and our driver backed in trying to avoid running over a kid or two!  While the vehicle was unloaded a wooden pull cart arrived containing the desks that we had made for the teachers or our school on Ile-a-Vache and wooden planks that would be used to make school benches by an incoming missionary team.   There is no sense in using the boat for just one purpose.   Those items too were unloaded onto the shore and then eventually ended up on our boat floating further out in the sea.

Desks are loaded onto the little ferry boat that will take them to the bigger boat waiting further out in the sea!

Desks are loaded onto the little ferry boat that will take them to the bigger boat waiting further out in the sea!

Next it was my turn to back in.  I started the car, edged my way back while waiting for one of my guys to guide me in.  Unfortunately, my guy had disappeared and a huge truck barreled past me and beat me into the alley.  Alas!  Now we would have to wait until bag after bag after bag of cement was unloaded from his truck.

One quickly learns that patience is something you need to develop when living in Haiti.  Things just never happen in the time frame Americans are accustomed too!

Oh well!  I was having a grand time taking photos of all the events unfolding in this unique environment.  I re-parked my car, grabbed my camera again and headed back out for an extended photo shoot.

Eventually the truck left, I rounded up my guy again and finally backed my vehicle as close to the shore as I could without running into a motorcycle or two that was weaving near my vehicle in its quest to either get into or out of the alley.

The contents of my vehicle were items for the incoming missionary team – cases of beverages, huge plastic jugs of water and some much-needed fans!   No use waiting until the team arrives to try to take these things with us, when this earlier shipping option was available.

This bigger boat will proceed with all our supplies to the tiny island of Ile-a-Vache!

This bigger boat will proceed with all our supplies to the tiny island of Ile-a-Vache!

Finally, all of our items were off the shore and safely shuttled from one boat to the next.  The saga would continue once the boat and its contents reached Ile-a-Vache, but for me … my part of the action was complete!  It was time to head out.

A really cold bottle of Coca-Cola had my name written on it!    Ahhhh!  Life in Haiti!

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic            Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #107

C A N     Y O U     I M A G I N E ?

 

Can you imagine what must have been going through the minds of five boys from our orphanage on the tiny, primitive island of Ile-a-Vache when they had their first chance to take a boat trip to the mainland to visit the big city of LesCayes????  They were coming to shop for tennis shoes for school. Most of them had never seen the house where Manmi Nora & Poppy Léon live. 

A visit to Manmi Nora & Poppy Léon's house!

A visit to Manmi Nora & Poppy Léon’s house!

They excitedly watched television while coffee was prepared for them and served with bread. (a typical Haitian breakfast, even for small children) They giggled as they tried ice-cold water for the first time!  Some had never ridden in a car and did not have a clue as how to open or close a car door.  None of them knew that Manmi Nora could drive a car and that she would be taking them into town.  They learned about all of the things that were seeing on their way to the public market … there was a hotel, a funeral home, a barber shop, a perfume factory, several churches, many many motorcycles and lots and lots and lots of people crowding the roadsides and the marketplace for the last minute things needed for school.  They did not know how to watch for traffic when crossing the street.  They had a hard time staying together and not getting lost in the crowd. They did not know how many Kennedy shops (street-side vendors who sell second-hand goods) they would need to go to in order to find five pairs of shoes in just the right size.  And can you imagine their excitement when they returned to the car and got to show Manmi Nora their awesome pairs of tennis shoes? 

Wenshel displays his new shoes!

Wenshel displays his new shoes!

They were so excited they could hardly contain themselves.  Even after returning to Ile-a-Vache they could not stop talking about their experience. Sadly, the two boys who didn’t need new shoes were really jealous that they did not get to join in the fun.  Next time boys! Next time!

 

It is these simple pleasures in life that give me reasons to smile!   Thank God for little boys having big experiences!

 

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic                 Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #106

Communiqué #106

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

 

September 28, 2013

 

 

 

N E E D E D      &     A P P R E C I A T E D  !

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I am asked what a typical day in Haiti is like for me.   I have to answer that there is no typical day.  Each day brings surprises of it’s own.

 

 

After spending an extended number of weeks in the states, I returned to Haiti expecting a steady stream of people, eagerly awaiting my return, stopping by to ask me for things that they needed.  I was well aware that a number of families would be coming to me for money so that their kids could go to school (especially since school is scheduled to begin in just a few days).  I knew the urgency of all the needs would play heavy on my heart as it usually does.  And I also knew that at some point, I would grow weary of all the asking, all the needs and all the times that I would not be able to help everyone with a request.  It did, however, surprise me that on one of my busiest “request” days God turned my weariness into joy.

 

 

The day began with a reminder of how God’s timing is perfect.  I had been trying to locate a friend of mine.  We had promised this father of five a position as a teacher in our school, but school is scheduled to begin in just a few days and we have no idea if he is still interested.  I had not seen him in months and since I did not have his current cell phone number, I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to drive to his distant community to try to locate him.   With an already busy schedule, spending half a day or more locating him was really going to make for a challenging day.    As I was preparing to head out for other tasks of the day, I was informed I had a visitor.  Much to my delight, it was the man I was going to go search for.   I had to look twice to be sure if it was he.  He had lost so much weight since the last time I saw him that I could barely recognize him.  He carried with him a little mite of a child.  I learned that the child was his last-born daughter who I had never met.  He told me that she was a year old.  Upon holding her, I have to believe that she could not have weighed more than 12 pounds.  She was wearing a once-white dress and bonnet and even though she had a mouth full of teeth, she was the size of a five or six month old.  The man held her with pride as he told me all that has been going on in his life.  He had been employed as a teacher, but had received no pay for several months because the school ran out of money.  His wife had developed a life-threatening heart condition while she was pregnant with this last baby.  Currently she was hospitalized at the Missionaries of Charity Home, where people who have no money to pay can go to get the care they need.  His other four children would not be able to go to school, because they had no money.  And worst of all, it was extremely obvious that everyone in the family was starving, even though he made no mention of his need for food.

 

 

If that part of the story was not sad enough, it tugged at my heartstrings even more because of my relationship with this family.  Six years ago, the father and mother had come to me with their weak baby son in their arms.  He was a scrawny little thing with a big problem.  The baby needed heart surgery and since there is no heart surgery available for anyone in Haiti, they came with a plea for help.  By the grace of God, I was able to find a surgeon in the USA who would “fix his heart” at no cost to the family.  The baby traveled to the USA for the lifesaving surgery, returning to Haiti a few short weeks later.  An incredibly more-healthy baby was reunited with his family.  From that day on, this family found many ways to thank me for “giving their son back to them.”    They would visit often so that I could see his progress.  As poor as they were, they never came back asking for anything else.  In fact, they usually came bearing gifts, such as bananas and oranges and mangos from their garden or a live chicken.  They asked me to be the godmother of their first daughter.  And to this day, they call me “Manmi Nora”, as they consider me their son’s “other mother”.   I was reminded what a privilege it is to call this family my friends!

 

 

I gathered up some things that we had in the house to give to his family – a little dress for his daughter, some hygiene items, some school supplies and a few toys for the older children.  I talked about some possible solutions for his children’s education and found something for the baby to eat.  Throughout the whole conversation I was amazed at how many times he continued to thank me for saving the life of his son so many years ago.  More than any other family I have encountered during my time in Haiti, they have always gone out of their way to thank me constantly.   I find that kind of gratitude so touching!   It is so uplifting when someone goes to this extent to say thank you!

 

 

The following day, I was able to visit his wife outside the gates of the hospital.   She was able to come out to see me, even though visitors are not allowed on the grounds of the facility where she is receiving care.  With great joy we embraced and she repeated “Oh! Manmi Nora! Manmi Nora!  Manmi Nora!”  And once again, she thanked me for saving her son.   She laughed when she told me that when her son is being disciplined he says he is going to go away and live with Manmi Nora.  We have a unique bond and my heart aches for this family who is now living in such desperate times.  I am reminded how insignicant my problems really are and am grateful that God used this family to place my troubles in perspective.

 

 

For this family I am now praying that the father’s teaching job will help make a difference in their lives.  The father will need to leave his family behind to take this teaching job in another locality, therefore, I also pray that good health is restored to the mother so that she can care for their five children in his absence.  I pray that God provides food for their table, education for their children and that He meets their many other needs.

 

 

Upon his departure, my day would continue with the visit of another friend, this time a teenaged friend.  Over the years she has looked to me for guidance and friendship.  This day, she was coming to bring me a gift and to welcome me back to Haiti.  She knows that I love to collect sea glass, and so in my absence, she had gathered several pieces of a variety of colors and she came to give them to me as a surprise.  She arrived mid-day and complained of a splitting headache.  It became clear that her headache was because she had not eaten for a long time.  She, too, would not complain or come begging for food, but she graciously accepted and eagerly devoured the meal that was placed before her.  I would give her a pain reliever, allow her to take a nap on my bed and feed her a second time before bringing her home.  Have I ever known such hunger?  No!  Does it again put my problems in perspective?  Yes!

 

 

While my visitor was present, a plumber was working on a leak in our bathroom.  He had spent several hours on the project, when someone alerted me to the fact that he had cut himself badly.  I rushed to see what had happened and found the man with blood spurting from the base of his finger.  He had cut himself on a sharp piece of broken ceramic tile.   Being thankful that some medical mission teams had left me with supplies, I quickly searched for wound cleanser and antibiotic creme and bandages and gauze.   My teenaged visitor assisted in cutting gauze and helping me apply a pressure dressing.  The plumber returned to work with his bandaged hand inside a vinyl glove for protection from the dirty environment in which he was working.  Before long, however, he sought me out with his blood-saturated bandage.  The dressing process was repeated, but the blood did not want to stop flowing.  I warned the plumber that if this last dressing did not work, he needed to go to the hospital for treatment.  At that point, he knelt on the floor and began to cry.  In part, he was crying from pain.  In part, I think he was crying because he would have no money to go to the hospital.  I gave him some pain reliever and sent him home with the rest of the bottle and strict instructions to go the hospital if the bleeding did not stop.  During the night, I could not get him off from my mind.  Each time when I would awaken, I would say a prayer for him. 

 

 

The next morning, I went out to my car.  There, much to my surprise was the plumber who had arrived on his bicycle, kneeling by a pile of sand in our yard as he started making mortar for his repairs to the ceramic tiles in our bathroom.  When he saw me, he smiled a big smile and raised his hand to show me that the bleeding had stopped and that he did not need to go to the hospital after all.   He expressed his gratitude and then turned to me to ask a question.  It wasn’t the one that I was expecting.  He remarked about the fact that he knew that we had an orphanage.  He asked if he could give his children to us.  I learned that his wife had died and left him with children he did not have money to care for. 

 

 

Like I said – not a typical day!  I am grateful that on this day I was able to be of some help.  I felt needed.  I felt appreciated!   And oddly enough, I felt joy!   Thank you God for reminding me that you have faithfully met all of my daily needs, even when I do not deserve the blessings you give me.  Thank you for reminding me that I am placed here in Haiti to be your hands and feet to those whose basic needs have not been met.  Thank you for helping me to put my “pity-party” troubles in perspective!   

 

 

And by the way God … I am a slow learner … so please keep teaching me these lessons!

 

 

 

 

Nora Léon                    

 

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic                 Until next time, God willing …………

 

 

 

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Communiqué #105

Communiqué #105

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

June 22, 2013

J U S T    A    P A R T    O F    L I F E !

 

I feel compelled to let you know right upfront that this communiqué is not for the weak-kneed or the faint-of-heart.  This event occurred in my unique life in Haiti and may seem too gross for anyone who has never lived on a farm, or worked in a slaughterhouse, or lived in a third-world country, or did not live in the early 1900s when things like this were more commonplace in America!  Be forewarned!

 

The arrival of a goat in our front yard, tethered to the corner of our house by a fraying cord, brought my first laugh of the day.  I had gone out to the car for a trip to the bank, when Léon pointed out that the goat was there.  I knew he was coming, I just did not know he was already there.  I smiled at the goat as I greeted him with a silly “Hello there!” and that’s when it struck my funny bone.  I decided right then and there that I would not make friends with the goat because soon we would be having him for lunch!  I did, however, want to get a photo to etch that funny moment in my memory!

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I ran my errands in the city and returned home to barnyard smells!  Oh ya!  I forgot about that!  Manure smells also come with the territory of having a live farm animal in your yard.   Thankfully, I knew those smells would be short-lived as soon as the goat was gone!

 

The evening came and went and the goat remained.  Our search for someone to butcher the goat had not been successful.

 

In the early morning hours of the next day, I woke up to some disturbing sounds.  The usual roosters outside my window had not even crowed yet.  Instead, the pitiful cries of the goat startled me into reality.  I could tell that the butcher had arrived.  Having witnessed this merciless sound various times during my stay in Haiti, I knew that the goat was strongly protesting his imminent demise and unfortunately, it was all happening right under my bedroom window!   When the sickening cries of the goat silenced, I knew the act had been done.  It was then that the metallic smell of blood came wafting through my windows.  I swallowed hard and tried not to lose it.   More familiar sounds took place.  The hollow thumping on the carcass to prepare the goat for skinning, the metal sound of the machete scraping across the cement as it was laid down, the clatter of metal pans being put into place to receive the meat … all these things and more accosted my sleepy awareness of all that was being done.  I decided there was no way I could go back to sleep after all of this, so I rose to have my morning devotions.

 

I do not think it was a coincidence that the assigned verse for the day was Psalm 116:17, which read  “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord!”   How did God know that the sounds of the morning had brought a vivid thought to my mind about the horribleness of a blood sacrifice, especially when Jesus had paid this kind of sacrifice for me!  Jesus’ dying was not a pretty sight!  It must have revolted those who stood at His feet and witnessed it all.  And to think … he did this willingly… for ME!  He did this IN MY PLACE.  Who but an Almighty God would face a death such as this to save a sinner like me?

 

I re-read the verse a couple of times.  I tried to understand what the words “sacrifice a thank offering” really meant.  I do not think of the words “thank” and “sacrifice” as words that go together.  I have never felt I was making a sacrifice when I said a thank you.  It seems, however, that God has been pressing me to think on that thought … as several of my previous mornings’ devotions have been about how one must thank God even for the seemingly bad circumstances in one’s life.  Maybe that’s what “sacrifice a thank offering” is all about.  Even when I do not want to thank God for the unpleasant events of my life, He is asking that I praise and thank Him for how He is going to use those circumstances in my life.  He wants me to use those times to bring glory to Him and to be a witness to those around me that my God is greater than any problem that I may be facing!  Well God, if that is true … you are really going to have to help me on this one!  My sinful nature just has not found this to be an easy thing to do!

 

The lingering smell in my bedroom of spilled blood, prompted me to get dressed and go outside for a breath of fresh air.  I left the first floor of my house and headed upstairs to the porch on the second floor.  Another surprise!  It seems that the goat had been tethered in the gated and locked stairwell so that our dogs or some other predator did not attack him during the night.  What remained was a myriad of goat droppings on each and every step leading to the second floor.  The aroma alone was enough to gag me, but the multitude of “goat pebbles” was astounding!   How does one medium-sized goat possibly produce that much waste in one single night???  Yuck!   Short order was made of sweeping the pebbles off the steps and mopping each step with sanitizing water – a task not out of the ordinary for the Haitian people, but certainly not in my normal daily activities.  I am SO THANKFUL that I was not the one that completed the chore!

 

Heading back into the house, I was greeted by our housekeeper who informed me that the butcher needed to be paid.  What price would you put on the labor and skill of someone who just did what I had only witnessed through the walls of my bedroom?   Unbelievably, his fee was the mere equivalent of $3.49 U.S.   Amazing!

 

The preparation of the meat by our cook was just not on my list of things to watch!  The cook labored throughout the day cutting the meat from the bone and preparing the meat for later consumption.  It was a daylong process.  I only caught glimpses of her squatting over big metal pots removing bones and excess fat as she cut the meat into appropriate size pieces.

 

I have said it many times before … “Nothing in Haiti is easy!”  The people here are HARD workers.  What should take only minutes, takes hours and sometimes days to complete.  Most Haitian people have no modern conveniences to make their difficult jobs easier, but nonetheless, they do what they have to do with what they have to do it with, with NO complaints.  In Haiti, this is just a part of life!

 

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic           Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #104

Communiqué #104

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

June 10, 2013

E N D    O F   A N   E R A !

Today marks the end of another era in the Léon family lineage!   Léon’s 110 year-old grandmother, the sole survivor of her generation, was laid to rest in an above ground crypt near the Caribbean Sea. She was a thin woman who, at our wedding seven years ago, could still walk without a cane and who proudly displayed a few teeth that had stayed intact throughout her many years of life.  It is a rarity indeed for someone to live such a long life in a country where life is so difficult and the average life expectancy is only about 50 years of age!

Léon was blessed to have spoken to his grandmother only a few days ago.  He knew after that conversation that “her time was near”, nonetheless, he was saddened that on his birthday he would learn that she had passed away in the wee hours of the morning.  Later in the day, however, he chose to look at this in a symbolic way – perhaps his grandma was blessing him with a birthday gift of a long life.  Only God holds that knowledge, but it was a fun way to reflect on a day of mixed emotions.

Plans were made quickly, with the funeral being held the very next day.   The service took place in a small Catholic church outside of the city of LesCayes, in a rural seaside community with a bird’s eye view of Ile-a-Vache.  Léon’s grandmother had worshipped and prayed and received communion in the Catholic church throughout her entire life, so it was fitting that the service would take place in this setting.IMG_0771

Every poor family in Haiti must struggle with the cost of burying their loved ones.  The poorer the family, the simpler the event.  Only rarely is an elaborate funeral seen here – and usually only when a pillar of the community is laid to rest.  In this case, the casket was a simple one – a locally made wooden one, in the tapered shape that is common here – wider at the shoulders, narrower both at the head and foot end.  A shiny, coral-beige lacquer gleamed under two bouquets of white and pale-blue artificial flowers which were nestled on the cover of the coffin. The choir sang many songs during the service, scripture passages were read, a short message was given, and holy water and incense were administered. Nearby a rooster crowed and the church cemetery was visible just outside the church door.  About 100 people attended including a mentally handicapped young man who came in late in a rumbled shirt and bare feet to pay his respects.  The service seemed to end abruptly and loud wailing began – lead primarily by the distraught only remaining daughter, who herself was of an advanced age.

Pallbearers proceeded out of the church with the casket, where on the porch steps they were greeted by the traditional “Dixieland Band/Louisiana” style instrumentalists who would lead the funeral procession down the road to the gravesite.IMG_0783

Most mourners walked on foot, a few were on motorcycles and a couple of cars also followed the vehicle bearing the deceased.  Bystanders watched the procession with curiosity and respect.  The band lead the mourners, playing upbeat songs like “One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus!” as the procession headed to the family plot just a short distance from the church.  Recent rains had caused an area of flooding, thus mourners needed to walk through a stream and the casket needed to be removed from the vehicle to be hand carried through this same stream and then up onto a narrow strip of seashore and finally up a hill to the final resting place.IMG_0778

Because much of this area is at sea level, bodies here are buried in above ground crypts, which are later colorfully painted and are a common sight everywhere, sometimes in people’s front yards and places where often times children can be seen playing or goats can be seen resting in the shade.  When we arrived at the family plot a newly constructed crypt, with one open end was awaiting this dear family member.  Cement had been mixed only minutes before, ready to be used to immediately seal the crypt.  As mourners watched, the casket was quickly inserted and cement was applied, concrete blocks were set into the cement and the process of sealing the opening was done in quick order.  The band continued to play, as some mourners wept, some lingered and talked and others started to file away.   Thus, this life’s final chapter on earth came to a close.IMG_0781

God ultimately knows if Heaven is this loved one’s final destination!  Our hope is that she is now with Jesus!   Not all of us will have 110 years to prepare to meet our Maker!  May we all be ready NOW!

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic           Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #103

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 11, 2013

S A V O R     L I F E !

 

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone.  For those of Mexican heritage it holds one meaning.  This year for me, it held another.  It was on this day, less than two weeks after my return from the USA, that I discovered a lump in my breast.  Quickly, one can start looking at life in a whole different light!  I weighed the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario and started thinking about how this could suddenly change my immediate future.  Knowing that both sides of my family have a breast cancer history and knowing the health care system in Haiti is not equipped to treat cancer, I started formulating some plans.   Restless sleep that night found me at my computer sending out emails to start the wheels in motion.  My first step was to see if my Haitian doctor was in the country and if he could see me in the upcoming week for an initial exam.  His reply was “yes, he could” and “no, there is not a mammogram facility in LesCayes”.  My next email was to the Betty Ford Center in Grand Rapids MI to connect with the nurse, who has so compassionately cared for me for the last several years, to see what kind of time frame there would be for state-of-the-art technology to best evaluate what was going on.

Knowing that my first step was to have an initial exam by my doctor here, Léon and I left for our scheduled trip to Ile-a-Vache the next day, where we would remain for the next three days.  I welcomed this time away to reflect and pray.

I marveled on the boat ride over how quickly I started to see everything in a new and different way.  Suddenly, I was looking through eyes that may be seeing these sights for the very last time or not for a very long at the least.  I savored the various moments, reflecting on how this is really how I should have viewed life all along …. Savoring it! Drinking it in! The glassy, smooth sea seemed especially calming to my soul.  The craggy stone cliffs and cliff-side caves seemed to be even a more beautiful work of God’s hands!  The pale aqua island water and the yellow-white sand of the beaches seemed even more majestic.  The welcome of the school and orphanage children seemed even more precious.  The feelings of what a privilege it has been to have worked in this “back in time” community for a number of years resurfaced. The awe of the simplicity of life displayed itself when I walked past grass homes and when I visited a home where a one month old baby lay on the floor on a grass woven mat in a room that’s only other “furnishings” were a couple of sticks, a broom and a machete. The evening sky jam-packed with a myriad of stars shining in through the open doorway of my guesthouse bedroom held even more awe than before.  The brisk ocean breeze whisking through the guesthouse gave an even more refreshing result.  I thanked God for yet another chance to experience all of this!  I bottled up these memories in case I needed to pull them out on an especially difficult day in the future.

Home on Ile-a-Vache

Home on Ile-a-Vache

 

1 month old baby girl

1 month old baby girl

I had time on Ile-a-Vache to have leisurely devotions and to pray.  I did not pray for the final results to be negative, but rather I prayed that whatever the results were that God would give me the ability to deal with the results gracefully and to bring praise to Him through it all.   I so admire people of faith who have been able to do this and I wanted to be able to mirror that amazing attitude!

The time on Ile-a-Vache went quickly, but it had given me time to call my daughter to discuss the different steps that needed to take place.  It also gave me time to think about what things needed to be put into place here in Haiti if I were to be absent for several months.  The work here would need to continue, with or without me.

We returned to LesCayes midweek and on the first morning after my return, I went in to see my doctor here.  He recommended that I go for a sonogram at the General Hospital right here in LesCayes.  Haiti does have some perks to offer in the medical field.  As it happens here, one can see the doctor, get a sonogram, receive the results in one’s own hand and return to the doctor for a final diagnosis all in the matter of less than three hours.

When I arrived at the General Hospital, I had to first appear at the cashier’s office to pay the fee for the sonogram.  I then walked to the building where I would be seen and was directed to the location of the office, but was told that I would need to have a seat until the technician arrived for the day.  As I sat in the open air waiting area, I had to chuckle when a chicken flew (Yes! Flew!) through the middle of a section of chairs where I was sitting.  Certainly this is not something I would see back home in Michigan!   After a bit of time passed, a woman appeared, she unlocked the heavy metal door and went in.  Another patient who was waiting moved from the seat behind me to the seat in front of me.  I have learned in Haiti, waiting your turn is not protocol, so I immediately got up and went right into the office to assure that I would be seen first since I had been waiting the longest.  Alas! The woman explained to me that I had the wrong office and the woman I needed to see would be in shortly, a few doors down from where I had been waiting.  I repositioned myself in the waiting area before I noticed that the office door where I was supposed to go was ever so slightly ajar.  Hmmm!  I decided to check it out.  To my surprise the technician was there and I had no idea how long she had been there.  I was pleased to find that the room was actually air-conditioned.  The beautiful young Cuban woman greeted me with a smile.  We would soon discover that our conversation was going to be very interesting.  She spoke a little Kreyol, even less English and lots of Spanish.  I speak some Kreyol, even less Spanish and lots of English.  We laughed and muddled our way through our conversation.   I could figure out that she wanted me to get undressed and to lie down on the table.  I learned a bit about her training in Haiti and her upcoming return to Cuba and a little about her family.   The exam table was covered with a clean, but stained cloth drape.  No tear-away disposable tissue covers here.  The technician fiddled with the machine when the paper recording tape jammed and ended up needing to be re-filled.  A short time later, a small black and white photo printed onto the paper tape.  She tore it off and handed me part of a scrub gown to remove the exam gel from my body.  While I stood next to her to get dressed, she hand wrote the results on a piece of paper and neatly folded it.  She searched for a larger paper to “make an envelope” out of and inserted both the tiny photo and the report into it and handed it to me.

Sonogram photo

Sonogram photo

With the report in hand, I returned to my doctor for his diagnosis.  He stated that he believed that I had an inflammation of the tissue and a possible infection.  I was given a prescription for two medications and an appointment to return to him in 10 days.  He was quite certain that I was not dealing with cancer, but would do a repeat sonogram if he still had reason for concern.

I proceeded to the pharmacy where my prescription was amazingly filled at the first place that I tried.  So often, one has to visit two or more pharmacies to find either the medicine or the quantity of medicine that one needs.

I ran two more errands while I was in the city before returning home to tell Léon the good news.  It came as a relief to both of us.  It was only then, that Léon tugged on the tag of my blouse.  It seems that ever since getting re-dressed at the hospital, I had been running around town with my blouse inside out!  Oh brother!  I guess I needed another laugh for the day!

Haiti definitely has its health care challenges.  The USA definitely has an array of technologies far beyond the comprehension of those living in third world countries.  But again, I need to chuckle when I relay to you the cost of my “day at the doctor”.  Doctor Visit $14.   Sonogram $12.  Two Medications $8.

A few days have passed, as now I reflect back on the fragileness of life and how quickly one’s life can take a turn.  I pray for those whose challenge with cancer is reality!  I pray that I can savor each of life’s moments more than I have in the past … for I am truly blessed!

 

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic            Until next time, God willing …………

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Communiqué #102

Communiqué #102

TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY

to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 3, 2013

S U C H   I S   L I F E !

He did not even notice that I was watching.  He was just one little boy doing an ordinary household chore in a Haitian-sort-of-way.   I love when I can just observe without being intrusive on the event unfolding!  The chore was to dispose of the family’s trash by the seashore.  The two five gallon buckets of gross, smelly gunk was more than any little boy should be expected to carry, but nonetheless, this was his job.  “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a common saying and in Haiti inventions of necessity abound.  The boy had somehow come upon a tiny two-wheel bicycle.  The seat was long gone, as well as the tire that once was on the front rim.   The handle of each bucket was draped over one of the handlebars, while the bottom of the buckets just barely missed dragging on the ground.  Over bumpy road and through uneven grass and areas of mud, he came ‘porting his load.  At first glance, I thought the buckets were filled with charcoal and that the little boy was trying to sell his goods to make a few pennies.  It was not until the heavy buckets up righted the bicycle that I saw him remove the buckets and carry them the last few feet to a “suitable” place for dumping.  He made sure each bucket was completely empty and then he found an old insole of a shoe to “clean” the outside of one of the buckets that had gotten too dirty.  That chore being done, he returned to his one-tire bicycle, remounted the buckets on to the handlebars and with a joyful little sidekick in his step he headed back for home.  He never looked my way.  He was just intent on doing what he had come to do.

I am not sure why scenes like this intrigue me.  Perhaps it is just learning more about how poor Haitians live their everyday lives.  Perhaps it is because I marvel at what chores little ones in Haiti are required to do.  Perhaps it is because complaining is not part of the equation.

On another day, it was joy that I found!   I was in my car on the side of the road waiting for traffic to clear.  I noticed three little royal blue, gingham plaid uniformed girls nearby walking home from school.  One of them broke out into a grin, waved and then shouted the word “Blan!” (white) when she caught sight of me.  I greeted them with “Bon swa!” (Good afternoon) and they came bolting towards me.  Without hesitation all three pairs of hands reached through my open car window and thirty little fingers ruffled with delight through my hair, which feels so very different from their own.  They giggled with glee.  When I asked them if they were finished with school for the day, they nodded and giggled some more.  Just as quickly, they continued on their way, leaving me with a happy heart!

On yet another day, I witnessed a traffic accident.  It happened so fast, I am not sure who hit what, but it resulted in a man who was pushing a wheelbarrow being thrown onto the asphalt of the main highway coming into town and the contents of his wheelbarrow being scattered on the muddy roadside. As he lay stunned and motionless, men immediately appeared from every direction to check on his wellbeing and to help him up and out of harm’s way.  Without thinking twice, bystanders up righted his wheelbarrow.  They rearranged toppled sheets of stiff cardboard to stand up around the inside rim of the wheelbarrow so that the contents of the load would once again be kept from spilling over the rim.  On the ground lay a mound of pebbles of rock salt – the man’s entire wares for the day.  Without these goods, the man would certainly go home penniless.  One woman across the street tossed a broom through traffic, so that helpers could sweep up what could be salvaged.  Another man produced a large tin can and started scooping up the mounded portions of the salt and reinserted it into the wheelbarrow.  Every possible pebble of salt that could be salvaged was returned to its original location.  The crowd remained until everyone was certain that the man was able to go about his business.

Again, I was intrigued.  The livelihood of poor Haitians is so fragile.  One accident like this could easily result in a family with no food to eat at the end of the day or worse.   Those “first responders” know all too well that their help was not just a nice thing to do, but it was vital!   One day it might very well be one of them needing similar help to preserve the fragility of their family’s livelihood.  If such a day should ever come, I am certain that a similar display of Good Samaritan-ship will occur.

Such is life in Haiti, as seen through my eyes!

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic            Until next time, God willing …………

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