Haiti trip account part 3: Tuesday

Tuesday was our first full day in Plaine Mapou, and also our first day of work. We began work at 5:30am, and we were divided into three teams: roofing, painting, and making benches. I was on the bench crew — cutting boards, cutting corners, routing, sanding, varnishing (two coats front and back), assembling the bottom boards and the legs, assembling the top board and the legs), for 93 benches in all.

We took a break for breakfast at 7:30am, and by then many of the community members were there at the church already having been there helping in various ways for the past hour. The roofing crew was mainly composed of people from our team, the leaders from the college (Frantz and Steve), and a few other Haitian men that Frantz had hired to come work with us on the project. However, the painting and bench crews both were swamped with more help from the community than we knew what to do with. It was amazing and somewhat overwhelming all at the same time.

There were some difficulties in working on these projects through cultural and language barriers, one of which resulted in both of our sanders we brought ending up burned out because we couldn’t get it communicated to those helping that they couldn’t press down so hard on them while sanding. Luckily, Haiti seems to be the land of creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and it rubbed off on us. Soon Destiny, who had been overseeing the sanding operation, had a whole team of little haitian boys helping her sand with small wood blocks with sand paper nailed to them. I’m pretty sure they ended up going through the boards even faster this way than with the power sanders anyway.

Just after lunch, we were beginning to do our second coat of varnish on the first side of many of the bench boards, and our first girl to come help with the construction came and held the paint tray for Lizzy and I as we walked along the side of the building where we had propped all the boards to dry. Her name is Ociana, and she is 20 years old. Once she appeared, it seemed like she never went away again until we left. Soon another girl, similar in age, named Jalin came to help as well. She would refill the paint tray from the varnish can, and help to flip the tall, 10-foot boards so we could varnish the part that was out of our reach. They spoke as much english as we spoke creole (Hello, How are you, my name is, etc.)so we worked in some silence together, occasionally playing the point-to-something-and-say-it-in-english-then-hear-what-it-is-in-Creole game. By the end of the day, though, I found myself keeping an eye out for both of those young women — eager to spend more time with them– even though I had nothing new to offer them in the way of words they’d understand.

The long and exhausting day of work was really a beautiful thing. There were a few times where young men would come up to help with what I was doing, but then they’d help so efficiently that I could walk away and they’d continue to do the job, so I took the opportunities to wander around the church, seeing how everyone else was working together, to see how the project was coming along, and to hear from haitians and americans alike about what they thought about what was happening there.

As I walked along the side of the church, the wall was filled with haitian men painting– cream colored paint splattered on their dark faces and arms and hands. One of them had attached a paint roller to the end of an incredibly long stick that would allow him to reach the top of the tall 15-20 foot wall with ease (ingenuity at its best).

I was interviewing one teenage boy, Kentor, and in response to my question of what he does in the town, he said he came to Church because he loves Jesus. I asked why he love Jesus, and he looked at me like it should be obvious: “Because he loves me, so I love him also.”

The younger people there all very much enjoyed having pictures taken of them, but anyone over the age of 7 or 8 posed in what they thought were extremely cool stances. They loved the sunglasses that the team members brought to wear while they worked, and most team members ended up giving their pairs away to various people in the church.

By the end of the first day, I had been asked countless times “You have children?” “No.” “You have boyfriend?” “No.” “How old are you?” “21.” “Oh… I am 16.” and they would relate to me fairly well.

Though, I did receive one serious proposal of marriage before I’d been in the town for even 24 hours. A guy named Whiskey asked all of those same questions, except in his case, he was 21 years old also… a fact he was VERY excited about (surely a sign from God). I felt bad for him as I was giving him instructions on how to help me varnish, interrupting his profession of crazy love for me. It was comical and also difficult to maneuver myself tactfully in the situation. With respect but firmness, I tried to explain to the young man with broken English about how he surely didn’t love me because he didn’t even know me. He looked crushed when I said I did not love him, and tried to explain what I believed about love. He assured me he wanted to be my boyfriend and become my wife (I also tried to teach him the word husband was for a man, but I don’t think he really caught what I was trying to say).

Before we left the college, Amanda, the wife of Steve, the leader that went with us, told us that Haitian boys loves american girls, and that some teams decide to pre-set who will be their “husband” or “boyfriend” for the trip, so that when they are asked this question, they can simply point and try to get out of the situation.

And as simple and innocent as it sounds, I found myself conflicted about lying about any such thing, especially in a community where we are really trying to come together as brothers and sisters. If I can’t tell the truth about simple things that will cause somewhat awkward situations, how much harder will it be to tell them the truth about the depths of my story, or to enter into a conflict with one of them later on in grace and truth? I found it necessary to be truthful about the small things like not having a boyfriend because I want to be all-in in this partnership. I want to be able to speak Creole and communicate better and to grow together not as two churches who kind of know each other, but as one church who just happens to live in two different places.

And, of course, it’s never a horrible thing to be proposed to, even if I didn’t agree.

By the end of the first day we had knocked out some SERIOUS work on the whole church project, and almost completed the benches in total, and the painting was nearly done as well. The community had been such a help in making all of that happen.

Before we left the college, Steve and Frantz had told us the amount of time we’d be spending in Plaine Mapou, and we were planning on working there on the project MOnday afternoon, all day Tuesday, and half the day Wednesday and then have the dedication service later Wednesday afternoon. But when it took us until almost dark to get there Monday, at least for me, I began to worry about whether we’d be able to finish the project, and about whether we’d be able to do both that AND form relationships in the community. But by the end of Tuesday, it was clear that because of the open-hearts of the community that welcomed us, and the willingness to work that they had, we were able to do both without any problems, and to do them better than I had ever imagined.

Everyone slept well the second night. The exhaustion couldn’t be fought.