Wednesday, November 13, 2013

HAITI :: Beans, rice & everything nice

Blanda, Bousiquat, Sonya, Danika and a snippet of Sandee!
Coordinating a meal for 77 people is challenging in the states, but even more so in Haiti. Our team met that challenge last week, bringing another nutritious meal for the permanent residents and staff of St. Vincent’s: all 70 of them, plus our 7 person team.

What a feast the talented cooks from our guesthouse prepared! Riz national (Haiti’s national dish of savory beans and rice), crispy chicken, sos ti malice (a delicious tomato and onion sauce), banan peze (fried plantains) and a medley of root vegetables graced the menu. We were ready to break bread with the kids!

The usual bumps in the road slowed the process to a crawl: our driver got caught up in the airport chaos, a new driver and vehicle had to be secured, and the Port-au-Prince traffic was typical – slow and rough! But our desire to introduce this new team of folks to St. Vincent’s kids prevailed and we were soon knocking on the gate.

What fun it was to be mobbed by dozens of beautiful smiling faces. Like much anticipated family members after a long absence, hugs abounded for Sonya and Hana as they introduced the new group to St. Vincent’s. The food was brought in and everyone assembled in one of the classrooms. Our team was both humbled and honored to serve the meal. 

As the food supply diminished, the concern on our faces grew. Would there be enough for everyone? A quick head count determined that there were at least 10 more people than expected. When every morsel was served, we found that we had just enough—every child and staff member had eaten—but not a scrap remained for our team. We had skipped lunch in anticipation of the feast with the children, but instead, were left with growling stomachs.

So we went without. 

We pushed our hunger and disappointment aside and enjoyed every minute with the kids, getting to know them, sharing stories, painting nails, playing games, doing artwork, and taking 100s of photos!

Camera? Did you say camera?

Silmithe, Rose, Dieumene, Samantha

Going home hungry

As dusk quickly set in, our driver anxiously asked us to wrap up so we could return to the guesthouse before dark as it is not always safe going through the city at night. 

It was a humbling experience, going back to the guesthouse with growling stomachs, parched lips and growing headaches. We felt for a short time what many Haitians feel on a regular basis – gnawing hunger and exhaustion. We passed countless soaking wet street vendors selling mangos, avacados and other food as well as small bodegas on every corner. We even passed two substantial grocery stores and multiple glitzy restaurants that cater to the Haitian and NGO elite. 

But we didn't stop. 

We imagined what it was like knowing that food was right in front of us yet there was insufficient money to purchase it and quench the rumblings in our stomachs. We lived it, even if only for a short time.

The driving rain and dark streets made the drive worse than expected. Waves of muddy water pushed trash swiftly down the steep streets. People walking on top of garbage heaps to stay out of the rushing water. Women wore plastic bags on their heads to keep their hair dry. Compact fluorescent flashlights replaced many of the oil lamps traditionally used in the evening.

Drenched people stared in at us, sitting comfortably in our van with ample space, covered from the rain, on our way to a safe, dry environment where food would be waiting the next morning. Through the open window, someone tried to grab a team member’s phone right out of his hand, a brush with the crime we hear about on the news. 

Understanding, empathy and compassion

That evening the group talked about our hunger pains, the people on the street in the rain, and the man trying to steal the phone. These circumstances brought us greater understanding, empathy and compassion for those who live this life daily. 
We went to bed asking ourselves 
“what would we do if we lived in their shoes?” 

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