Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 10 - A New Friend

I arrived about 30 minutes early to the Food Cluster Meeting. I use the official UN terminology for no other reason than to impress you incredibly with my new breadth of experience. "Food Cluster" - you see, if I just left it hanging there you’ll think "man, I should know what that means, shouldn’t I?" Oh, but you shouldn’ when I throw it out there you become so much more impressed ‘cause, gosh, Steve must really be important to be invited to this Cluster of Food thingy. OK, so the sad reality of it is that anyone can go to these meetings and about half the stuff they talk about is so far over my head that I just nodded my head the way I did back in Freshman philosophy class.

I headed into the meeting tent early because the "UN city" is literally nothing more than a massive dirt field covered with tents and trailers. It’s been over 90 degrees outside, I’m tired of eating dust, and inside the "Food Cluster" tent I found shade. While there I struck up a conversation with an highly knowledgeable woman, I’ll call her Sara, regarding the challenges of feeding the poor in Haiti. I do my best to sound intelligent, throwing around words like "sustainability", "unsustainability" and "kind of sustainability". Come to find out she’s the International Executive Director of the largest food distribution program in all of Haiti. What an honor to have 30 minutes with her.

Then the meeting was led by a Frenchman, the World Food Program’s head of operations. I sat next to an American woman, across the tent were military personnel from Canada and Argentina, questions came from the head of NGOs from the UK and Germany...and then there’s me—yes, like I belonged there! In any other setting there would have been so much to divide us, but at this time in history and in this place in history, all had gathered in this small army tent to exchange ideas on how to better distribute food out to the Haitian people.

As I talked to Sara I had a question on my mind. "Sara" I asked "I’m new to Haiti. Why, on this tropical island with wonderfully fertile soil and perfect climate, why is it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? And for the people, is there a way out of dependency and into sustainability?" She responded by talking about the resiliency of the Hatian people, the spirit of the people, but the fact that they’ve suffered under constant corruption and regime changes. But as she talked about the Haitian people, she had nothing but praise. On Sunday, at church, a relief worker commented about the strength of the people, the heart of this people, the unmistakable joy of this people...even in the midst of tragedy.

And to help put a face to the Haitians I’ve come to know over the last 10 days, let me introduce you to Charles. I had hoped to not have to tell my wife how I met Charles until AFTER I was back in the US, but I really wanted you to meet my new friend and so here goes.
With the power outages and tremors and, yes, danger at night, my colleagues and I have been told to be OFF the streets before nightfall. Well, when I arrived in Haiti there were delays at several points and it was well after dark when my group made our way through Carrefour, the epicenter of the quake and one of the more dangerous parts of town. I heard an all too familiar noise and it was confirmed that a tire was flat. The car was full of Americans with a donation of over $5,000 in cash for an orphanage, laptops, cameras and ipods...and, well, you get the idea. A couple nearby kids began to laugh and pointed fingers toward the car. In the shadows people moved and OK, I was just a little bit nervous.

Then, all of a sudden, a van pulled up behind us, out jumped this huge guy and with a look and a few words the danger was gone….and in that instant, Charles was my new best friend! He stood guard over our car as we changed the tire and I found out that Charles was headed to the same church compound we were. He just happened to be behind us and was all too glad to help. You see, Charles has been a police officer, second in command of the local force in one of the neighboring cities. He donated his time to church, volunteered to escort groups like ours, when needed, and he just happened to be behind us at the right time!

The next day Charles used his day off to travel with a team of relief workers to Cap Haitian, 5 hours away! A day later he returned and went out with those ever present doctors from Singapore as they traveled through a part of PaP most devastated by the quake. Twice, he has taken the day just to travel with me and I've had hours to talk about him and his family (no one killed in the quake), his faith, his joys and his hopes. He’s written a book, a personal account entitled "Testifying to Hope" where he dreams for a day when his hope for this nation will be realized and they will live out their awesome potential. I was honored that he gave me a copy.
Today he traveled with yet another group of relief workers, but incredibly, he called as the day ended to make sure that my colleagues and I were safe and had had a good day.
He’s fluent in French and Creole and speaks enough English so that he and I have traded stories. Charles and I spent the afternoon yesterday riding around in the back of a pickup truck. At one point, with traffic snarled and two drivers yelling at each other, Charles, the Police Commander, was out and order was restored immediately. Oh, and have I mentioned that I’ve yet to see him without a big ’ol smile on his face (OK, maybe that first night when he jumped out of the van and scared everyone off...yes, maybe then!).

I am privileged to call Charles, who has lived joyfully every day "Testifying to Hope", my new friend.


Angus said...

Steve, MAN THANKS FOR BEING REAL, and just sharing your heart in an IMPOSSIBLE situation. May our LORD keep you in His arms only allowing you to think on what HE in you can do. We are not required to answer the infinity of questions or need. They are His. We can only do what we can. I am inspired by your heart. People at our church are beginning to think about going. I will encourage them to the max. God bless you, bless you, bless you! Angus McDonald

Deb M said...

Thank you for continuing to post the events you are living and the photos. It is so helpful to us in praying for you. God bless all of you.
Deb Marley
Valley Church
West Des Moines, IA