– Written November 17school

I imagine most of you know that on October 3rd hurricane Matthew arrived in Haiti as a category 4 storm. The southern peninsula as well as the south coast of La Gonave experienced damaging rain and high tides, 120 + miles per hour winds, and extensive loss of livestock and crops. While as yet uncounted, La Gonave can add names to the list of more than 1000 people who perished through drowning or when trees and homes came down. I finally got up to Bwa Chandel on October 29th and have been up many times since then.

Every time I ride up to Bwa Chandel I say to myself that the way (I’ve stopped calling it a road) is terrible and it can not ever get any worse. And every subsequent trip up is in fact much worse. They say that you know you are crazy if you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result each time. And so crazy I must be. However, since Matthew the route really is, but I mean really is, worse because it isn’t even there anymore. Where there was once inches of deep, fine, soft dust which always turned to dangerously slick, thick mud after a rain, there is now only bare rock. The rock face of the route is made more difficult to navigate by the hundreds of loose mini boulders and steep chasms cut by the floods. With all the dust, mud and garbage washed away by the deluge the whole track appears steeper than usual. Going up there are places where I feel I’m leaning so far back on the motorcycle that I’m perpendicular to the mountain and I’m certain we can’t make it. Coming down we’re dropping off the rocks like water over Niagara Falls. It rattles my teeth and shakes the piss outta me. And of course there is still the same amount of traffic of people, donkeys, goats, cows and motorcycles all vying for the now diminished amount of travel space.

But in spite of the condition of the route and damage to the island, the little school in Bwa Chandel looks very good. It suffered absolutely no wind or water damage thanks to having the money this past summer to properly finish the roof and ceilings. I looked at it amazed, but Wismy, the contractor, just smiled and shrugged as if he knew all along the building would be fine. In fact he had no doubt the school would be intact because 1) he knows he did not skimp on any material and that he built it right and 2) he is a young man of very great faith.

This week and next the school is being painted and I’m having some new furniture built for students and teachers. 1stgradeEach class has a set of books, which is a first, and so it seems appropriate to go ahead and plan the dedication. We’ve set Sunday the 15th of January as dedication day and you’re all invited to the party. No kidding. You’ve all been on this journey with me and I think you should consider celebrating along with the rest of Bwa Chandel. Besides, it’s MLK weekend and I know a lot of you have Monday off!  (More pictures and story from Dedication Day coming soon, like this one of 1st grader Naika on moving in day).

Joy in spite of trouble–

La Gonave faces some serious food shortages in the near future. That will be on top of the usual struggle against hunger, disease and unemployment. But there are many moments in many days that are full of joy–soccer matches, basketball games, singing on Sundays. And swimming lessons. In July the second year nursing students asked if I would teach them how to swim. All 17 of them. We had a lesson the following Sunday that was a real success. We have continued them this fall, and last Sunday I invited them to come out on our boat, the Wesleyana, for their first deep water swim. wismyNow to a Haitian it defies common sense to jump out of a perfectly good boat into the sea. But this group was ready, and without hesitation over the side they went. To their great delight the sea at the reef was clear and warm, full of wonderful things they had not ever observed up close: starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins. There was a lot of splashing and singing–and one screamer.

Dancy was afraid. We put a life jacket on her and coaxed her over the side. She immediately threw her arms around my neck and held on, white knuckled, for dear life. Little by little she came to realize that the jacket would keep her afloat and she eased her grip. Ti Met, the captain of the Wesleyana, kept yelling at her to let go or she would kill her teacher. Eventually she was floating on her own and waving to me from a few feet away. Back on board, I saw Ti Met take her aside and gently lecture her. When we were back at the mission I asked Ti Met if he was angry, either at Dancy for being afraid or at me for taking her out on the boat. I told him I didn’t want to misunderstand the situation. It was my turn for one of his gentle lessons. He said no, he wasn’t angry at all. But he wanted Dancy to understand that it was important for her to learn to swim. That if she was afraid she would never learn. And she shouldn’t try to kill her swimming teacher! He said the sea is a beautiful thing, but that it’s “fragile.” I think he meant that the sea can be dangerous or beautiful depending on our relationship with it. Knowing how to swim, he said, makes all the difference. Have I told you yet how much I love and admire Ti Met?

Ydson’s new ride–


Ydson’s new ride began with a trip to Charleston, WV. I’d been looking for a good kid’s wheelchair for him for a while. Now that his medication keeps him alert all day in school, it seems like a good idea to have him sit up higher where it might be easier for teachers and classmates to interact with him. I looked at “kids karts” on line, checked with local hospitals, and finally connected with A Rosie Place in South Bend, Indiana. A Rosie Place is a respite home for kids who are medically fragile. The tradition is that families leave equipment no longer needed by their kids for others. So thanks to nurse Beth Bailey and A Rosie Place, Ydson had a new ride. Beth and I met in Charleston, WV for the handoff. Now to get it to Haiti.

I left Myrtle Beach airport with it on January 9th. It weighed in at about 50 pounds all collapsed and gorilla taped together. But the gentleman at the curbside check in took it and my other luggage, printed my boarding pass, checked everything in and sent me on my way. I didn’t have to handle a thing. Fort Lauderdale airport was a different story, Still reeling from the baggage claim shooting, the airport was mobbed and chaotic. In order to get it checked for free as a piece of handicapped assistant equipment I had to pretend it was mine. And, God help me, I did. But didn’t I need it for the airport, asked the baggage clerk? No, no–it’s too complicated to fold and unfold. I’ll just walk slowly. Would I like a wheelchair for the airport? No that’s OK. I’ll just hang onto the wall if I need to. My MS is under control. ( Can you believe I pretended to have MS? ) I really just need it for Haiti. Don’t fuss; I’ll be fine. I felt a little guilty about the big front seat I got on the plane. Two more weeks in purgatory.

Once in Haiti the next step was getting Ydson to the wheelchair. I went to Cap Haitian to celebrate his first birthday at school. (He is very likely 4, but he has never had a birth date before.) We had cake and songs and played hot potato with beach balls. Then we boarded a bus for the south where we’d catch our boat to La Gonave. Ydson is a very good traveler. I, however, was praying all the way. The tip off on just how dangerous the road is was when the bus company had someone come on and pray for us before we left. Then we wound our way up the mountain switchbacks along Route National 1. Great sections of the “highway” were missing from recent mudslides and I was grateful it was not raining, Though our journey was only 90 miles, it took five hours. By the time we got to the boat, Ydson and I were both crying.

But on La Gonave Ydson, Little Y, the Greek i, was a rock star. Doctors, nurses and friends were overjoyed to see him. In his own quiet way, the little boy who neither sees, hears, walks nor talks, ministers by his very presence to his many friends. I’ve never seen any one individual provoke such compassion and gentleness in others. A visiting occupational therapist got him comfortably set in his chair and we were off about town. At night he slept peacefully next to me, and in the mornings it seemed to me that Pinocchio’s beautiful blue fairy had come and made him a “real boy.”

Our five days went fast. yontheplaneI got to be on the receiving end of coos, smiles and even a few belly laughs. And he knits his little brows together when he’s not happy! I see how far he’s come and count it a miracle.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. It’s been good to catch up. Miss you all. Avek afeksyon, Nancy

Pictures are of the school in Bwa Chandel on Dedication Day, 1st grader Naika on moving in day, Captain Ti Met, Ydson getting comfy in his new chair and with me on our great flight back to Cap Haitian last Thursday.