huit jours au haiti


 it was inevitable that i to go to haiti, given all the news reports in recent years of natural and political disasters there

 that, and the rich history of a liberation movement led by toussaint louverture defeating napoleon's french troops to form what in western terms was the first black republic

 perhaps the greatest allure was the will of a people who persevere through great hardship and travail in a land written-off it seems by the offspring of the former colonists and slave-holders who control today's world economic order

 it should be noted that haiti's impoverishment can be traced to today's equivalent of $21 billion dollars it was forced to pay france for, well, defeating the french in the 1800s. an unwise payment indeed, yet typical of post-colonial rulers with umbilical psychological ties to their former masters. president jean-bertrand aristide had the nerve to ask for the money back in the late 1900s. well, he got deposed a year ago

 yet, haiti is a land very much blessed by god. and its people love god, as one cannot help but see as folk go to and from worship on saturday or sunday. the evidence is there monday through friday as well, as the populace goes about its work and affairs in private transit buses and on pick-up trucks prominently emblazoned with inscriptions such as "dieu est amour," "tela jesus" and "fil de dieu"

 yes, haiti is widely known as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. but although it is not taught these days, at least not in this country, i remember reading somewhere "the meek shall inherit the earth"

 the people certainly exhibit a god-given ingenuity, a make-do-with-what-is-available. this often translate into hand-me-down cars, buses, trucks and clothing from the united states

 while some of the old vehicles get paint jobs and religious slogans, others are put to use as is. such as the school bus being used for commuting with the original owner's name, holmdel (nj) public schools, intact. a truck still emblazoned with the o.k. towel co. of elizabeth, nj, was on its last wheel, broken-down along a dirt and dusty road that constitutes a highway. a tow truck was nowhere to be seen during my time in haiti, and the rusting carcasses of vehicles are left to lie wherever they die

 the most heartening thing about haiti is the lack westernization and its accompanying capitalist system. bartering is common among the subsistent food-growers, who are more gardeners than farmers. there is no mcdonald's or burger king, which makes for a sense of heaven. there is a natural, earthy as in real, feel; with great simplicity and practicality. alemtsehay and lete said photographs of haiti reminded them of their homeland in africa, ethiopia

 first i thought "primitive" and "primal" in regard to haiti. then i rethought, and realized this is the better way of life and the world. one in which people are connected to the land, and to each other. where, at least among people of like social status, there is more cooperation than competition. where each day is meaningful to survival or prosperity, and life is not so dulled or days rendered so void of significance that people seek escapes

 sure, there is television, and a fascination with a spanish soap opera that's translated into french. but television has less significance when periodic brownouts in electrical service limits its use. collecting water in buckets for the lack that accompanies power disruptions becomes more important than watching some show. meanwhile, outside the cities life goes on without running water and electricity, and tv's

 occasional service stations with food shops, scattered small shopping centers and numerous cyber stores, along with several luxury hotels, are the primary examples of capitalism. they primarily cater to foreigners, being of use to only a small percentage of the population        

  what's most impressive about haiti is the energy of the people. dawn breaks about 5:30, and by 6 o'clock the streets are full of traffic and the sides of the road (sidewalks are only in downtown port-au-prince) lined with people walking to work or school

 the buzz of activity continues well beyond dark, with people reversing their commutes and vendors selling fruits and vegetables, prepared foods and beignets, second-hand clothes, paintings and crafts, toiletries and medicines, water and ice, bread and live chickens, virtually anything essential until 9 and 10 pm

 there are few vagrants and homeless, and cathy explained drugs are not a problem because who can afford them? alcohol is a scourge, however, she said. and yes there is squalor, especially in the capital. what was a river, and may again become one during spring rains, in winter is a channel full of rock, debris and trash cutting through the city

 in neglected parts of port-au-prince, like cite soleil, roads stay underwater even in the dry season, making passage an adventure that conjures the outback more than an urban setting. garbage pick-up occurs at street corners rather than along each street, with rubbish and all sorts of waste swept or dumped there for collection

 don't get sick, unless you have the money to afford a private hospital. public hospitals, located only in the capital, are short on staff and medicine and the families of patients must bring food for the sick. you may see medical students at the facilities, but there are no paying jobs for them when they graduate. if any healing goes on, it must be through prayer

 schools are primarily church-sponsored -- catholic, baptist, methodist, seventh-day adventist or jehovah's witness. students wear the uniform of their respective institution, and while uniforms within a school bridge economic differences, among such a conflagration of private and parochial schools they  create a tier system based on family income

 reflective of its colonial past and current turmoil, and the gulf between the bourgeoisie and the masses, well-to-do haitians live and work behind walls and locked gates. meanwhile, the poor inhabit shantytowns erected communally, attached like row houses only haphazardly, on formerly vacant and  neglected property connected to main roads by paths only they venture up and down   

 it was only dutiful for me to report on relief efforts in new jersey and new york to aid haiti following the deposing of its elected president one year ago, and then tragic mudslides in the east that killed thousands last spring followed by flooding in the north killing thousands more in early autumn

 thinking back, the seed to travel to haiti had been planted several years ago. perhaps travel to jamaica and the cuba made haiti a natural next step, as a glance on the map shows they form a triangle where people struggle against odds made greater by destabilization tactics of their great northern neighbor -- once the self-proclaimed policeman of the hemisphere and now the world

 i had planned to travel to haiti with betty and her family as they journeyed home a couple years ago, but i did not follow that road because of the political turmoil and widespread warnings regarding travel there

 i discussed going there a year ago with asgapar, a fifth grader i met covering the closing of a catholic school in elizabeth, and her family, who told me of beautiful beaches in their homeland

 and a slightly more than a year ago i had talked with ania about going there. a union high school student and haitian american, she had just traveled there for a week with her family and hated it, saying she was ready to come back home a day after arriving


day one


 air travel is certainly not what it was, in these days of cost-cutting and competition in fares. but at least flying is more accessible to the masses. i learned long ago to forgo the food, and bring my own entertainment. or work. i have not watched everything from "harry meets sally" to even worse movies with titles i cannot remember on planes. on the flight to haiti "the president's daughter" was avoided, and i can't remember the title of the movie on the return flight; only that it was bad and about some military-action hero

 i did not talk during the flight except to say "no" whenever the flight attendants (i learned older women are assigned flights to haiti, so it was easy to say "no") asked if i wanted something, until i moved to look out the window on our descent into port-au-prince

 there was a guy by the window who is originally from haiti but had lived in darien, conn, and said he ultimately was headed to french guinea to join his fiancee after a couple weeks in port-au-prince.

he talked a lot, and offered to show me from the airport and around town, warning otherwise i might get robbed

 i had been so warned by mike, the concierge in my building who has not been to his native haiti in 30 years because he is afraid to journey back, and cathy, the leader of the humanitarian group on which i was to report. so, i listened to the guy although suspicions soon grew about whether he was a potential "boogeyman"

 i had only a carry-on bag, at cathy's suggestion not to bring much stuff. i even had left behind the digital camera purchased a day earlier expressly for the trip, because of warnings not to bring anything expensive and after learning that night cathy and enide, the other volunteer, may not make the trip because thousands of dollars in storage fees had been incurred as shipping containers of donated food, clothing and medicine remained at port through several months of persistent violence that kept them away

 so, i arrived in haiti alone and without a sure mission. i was on my own, in the full sense. well, god and i

 there was not even a plan, except to make do, like all those around me were doing. i had tried to make hotel reservations on line, but the process was cumbersome and all but one place was listed as booked.  i had called that hotel, but phones rang unanswered. i had e-mailed a guesthouse operated by a minnesota-based lutheran church group, helping hands in haiti, but had not received a reply before my departure. so, i arrived with only the phone numbers i had collected

 the guy on the plane offered to give me a ride to a hotel, so i waited for him to retrieve his three or four huge, cheap suitcases -- the type common in travel to africa and the caribbean, and perhaps asia. the process was lengthy because one of his bags was missing, and after he collected the three that were there he asked me to push a cart with our bags through the customs line

 i recoiled and said, "i will carry my bag, and you push yours." as we reached the end of the line, he was called over for his bags to be inspected, and i never saw him again

 it was an hour after the flight touched down (oh yeah, there was a pretty girl in a sexy black dress picking up bags from our flight. she was with a woman who the guy i waited with began talking to, and i told the woman i would like to meet the girl, who had rushed ahead with her bag in a stroll that acknowledged the eyes of all the men present were on her... in that same stream of consciousness, there was a girl with a pretty face at the passport-check counter that i kind of locked eyes onto. before leaving the airport, i even went back to the area and found her talking to a co-worker. i spoke to her in english and french, but she only spoke in creole. i did notice the symmetry of her face was not matched on her body, something i also would find true of judith at the hotel. so all was not lost, i guess), and i had attempted to get a sims card so i could use my smart phone in haiti only to be told such technology is nonexistent there but that i could leave a $150 deposit and rent a cell phone. i opted not to, and neared the airport exit unsure of my next step

 there was a policeman near the door, so i approached and asked how to find a hotel? beside him were two registered guides who offered to provide the service. the lead guide called the helping hands guesthouse (first on the police officer's cell phone and then on his own, explaining he was saving his minutes), confirmed there was a vacancy, and got directions. i saw their badges, decided i could trust them and followed one out the airport terminal. we walked past taxi drivers who beckoned at me, with one saying "i am a taxi driver" to let me know i was not bound for a taxi. however his appeal had none, for cathy had warned that even taxi drivers rob

 the guide led me past rental cars and a familiar yellow hertz sign. i gave pause, but decided they were not an option after seeing the much-used hyundais and mud-covered four-wheel drive vehicles and considering i knew nothing of the driving conditions. a van pulled up on cue as we reached the sidewalk. the guide got in the front-passenger seat, and i hopped in the backseat with my bag

 promptly after leaving airport grounds the driver turned down an alley, and my guard went up. "where are we going?" i asked firmly, and the guide explained it was a shortcut. minutes later the guide, gilbert st. louis, suggested he would take me to a hotel that he knew and i became really suspect, telling him to "stop the van and let me out"

 "you said you would take me to the guesthouse, so let's go there," i insisted. he agreed, and said "i'm not the boogeyman." i explained attempting to change the plan and not take me where i asked to go made me suspicious. we soon arrived at the guesthouse, and he asked for $30. realizing he provided a crucial service, i gave him $40. he gave me his phone number, and asked me to call when i needed transport again

 helping hands was a retreat, a safe and secure haven, in a place that i had been led to think was dangerous, and i am sure has been to some on occasions. but i eventually found the warnings to be overstated and exaggerated. haiti proved safe, although surely you can find danger wherever if you go looking or happen to be some place at the wrong time

  i was welcomed by frankie, director of the guesthouse, and mrs. darfur, the manager. but a total stranger and unknown entity, it would take them a day to warm to me and feel comfortable. in the end we would hug and kiss

 frankie had lived in montreal, and is familiar with new york and new jersey from trips there. we talked a bit, but i never could get a handle on her type-a personality, as her body and mind always seemed to be  racing

 i was the only guest on arrival, with shaun, a former new englander, at his job-site training people to make prosthetics. he would arrive later, and we had dinner together while talking about politics both in haiti and the united states. he has learned creole, which has endeared him to the guesthouse staff and i am sure all his contacts

 shaun explained in haiti there are four divisions: the bourgeoisie, former military personnel, the lavalas party that supported aristide and the masses who simply want a better life. he said much of the current strife is between the ex-military who returned from exile in the neighboring dominican republic and with western support deposed aristide, and the lavalas who still support the former president. we speculated whether it's true the bourgeoisie paid students to organize campus protests that ignited the 2004 uprising against aristide

  my dinner was rice and peas, salad, a roll and grapefruit juice, the latter which i would become fond of during my stay. as i would each evening throughout the trip, i supplemented the meal with handfuls from a pouch of dried fruits and nuts purchased at the grove snacks in nyc

 the walled-and-gated mentality, a necessity i guess, was present at the guesthouse, and i felt almost like a prisoner. armed guards manned the gate, and shaun and frankie warned me not to go far if i went out

 but, i needed to feel the pulse of the people, some connection to life on the other side of the wall. so, i  coaxed the guard to let me out, and stood on the street watching people and vehicles go by until i felt i had inhaled too much auto exhaust and seen too many beige trucks emblazoned with un (united nations) being driven windows-up, air condition-on by uniformed europeans and canadians


day two


  i went farther up and down john brown avenue from the guesthouse, looking down on a shantytown on one side and up at a former hotel on the other. at the guesthouse i stayed connected with the world, albeit intermittently, via a wireless network and my notebook computer

 i tried to run, but settled for walking, along grounds that featured a terraced, stair-cased landscape with a swimming pool but a nearly dry brook

 the phone in the guesthouse was out, and i was directed to the administrative office as i sought to  make calls to family members and friends of cathy. the administrative phone also was out, but i did see a pretty girl, the most naturally beautiful woman during my stay, at the clinic next door who took me to the office

 a guy whose information technology office was nearby and who remembered meeting me the evening before, told me of a disco at nearby orhloff's hotel that night, and i thought he said he would come by to take me there. however, i would spend the night alone writing and listening to music on the computer, with the grave-shift worker, a young woman with whom i could only communicate by gestures during a dinner of potatoes and broccoli (the staff having adapted to my vegetarianism), probably locked in the office to be safe from the american stranger upstairs

 there was good news, however. the guesthouse phone was working that evening, and i called the  number for cathy's brother-in-law, bellegarde, and spoke with her. they had obtained additional donations to gain release of the humanitarian relief and arrived in port-au-prince that afternoon. they were to pick me up in the morning. suddenly, the trip had purpose again      




day three


 cathy, enide and bellegarde arrived about 10am, along with a driver/church member i would befriend. actually, everyone i met became friends. i said goodbyes to the friends at helping hands, content i had exchanged mine with the pretty girl when she came by the guesthouse the evening before to see mrs. darfur. there was a hand-off, in a sense, and i would be in the hands of cathy and enide and cathy's family for the remainder of my stay in haiti

 the group traveled in an extended van that can accommodate 15 people purchased to meet the needs of the ministry and also used to aid the seventh-day adventist temple one in port-au-prince, both a supporter and benefactor. i was assigned the front-passenger seat for the duration of the trip, so i could see the sights and learn from observation

 the first stop was an internet shop, where cathy and enide checked e-mail and made phone calls. i stayed outside instead of in the air-conditioned office cathy suggested to me. i first stood in the sun, winter here is not so hot, then sat on a stoop in the shade with the driver and people who lived or worked nearby. the national stadium was just across the street. it was liberating to observe the varied life around, with women carrying baskets of bread or produce on their heads and men pushing carts made of wood planks and a car tire, some hurriedly transporting ice in them. other men even carried ice on their heads, or sold water in hand-sized bags and juice and sodas in bottles

 next i was given a tour of the national palace area, including monuments, an amphitheater filled with schoolchildren and souvenir stands with t-shirts, clothing, carvings and paintings. then we stopped at the public hospital, which i was reluctant to enter because doing so without knowing anyone there seemed invasive. but i was coerced by cathy. someone her sister knew was there, and there was a group prayer for that patient before leaving

 by late afternoon we were at temple one, where preparation was under way for sabbath service and a public feeding the next day, saturday. women were cooking food in a routine that cathy and enide's group, jefferson park ministries in elizabeth, nj, supports with food and cash donations. they sampled the food; while when caught up in the sunshine and every moment being a new experience i never really got hungry in haiti. eating was more a social requisite, and enide probably would say i was not always sociable

 we stopped by the professional and business school of cathy's sister, judy, after leaving the church, and then proceeded to the house of her brother, maxo, where i would spend the night. en route cathy and enide had beignets from a vendor at a road-side stop that i declined but would wish i too had sampled later as subsequent attempts to find the doughnut-like treats were unsuccessful. i did try sugar cane juice, purchased in another stop. enide, like cathy born in haiti, was in her element. but i expected to be able to drink the juice. the cork of the cane became meddlesome in trying to suck the nectar, and i would give up        

 maxo's house is in a new development in the hills near where the duvaliers (papa and baby doc) once lived. he is building an addition that is quite modern and impressive. his son is most impressed that the addition, built atop the current house, will have hot water

 the area was quite picturesque, and enide and i were drawn to leave the house to walk up the hill to other homes being built. even inside them. inside one we were so moved by the view that we walked down the hill to retrieve cameras and came back. i don't know about enide, but having left new york 24 hours after valentine's day it suddenly was like spring and i felt romance in the air

 earlier in the day a suggestive cathy had asked me about marriage, and with no other reasonable retort replied "that would depend on enide." the dialogue was not carried any farther, but enide would remind me of it the next day

  as it became dark enide and i made our way back to maxo's house and joined the others for dinner. the food was quite good. enide, a demi-vegetarian who eats only fish in "flesh foods," and i had vegetable stew and rice. and ubiquitous grapefruit juice, which i never liked before but enjoyed haitian style with water and sugar and will write for the recipe

 shortly after dinner, enide, cathy, bellegarde and judy, left for judy's and bellegarde's house. maxo and his haitian family, his actual family is in canada, abandoned one of their two bedrooms for me. i felt bad about the imposition, but grateful to spend a night in a home to observe how the people live

 i worked on the notebook computer for a while, ate a handful of nuts and dried fruit, showered and then retired about 10 o'clock with a schedule to be in church by 6:30 in the morning


day four


 i got up about 6am, as the others were stirring in preparation for the day ahead. eventually i made my way to the bathroom only to discover there no water. it was a near-daily interruption, and there would be none that morning. the family was prepared, and used water that had been collected in buckets to wash

 i did not impose, not knowing just how much water was available. i dry-washed my face with my hands, got dressed, brushed my teeth with chewing gum, and then joined the others for the drive to church after a breakfast of a bread, passing on a chocolate drink only to learn the grapefruit juice was all gone

 maxo drove me to a seventh-day adventist satellite church to join enide and cathy, and he and the  others then went to temple one. i came to understand from cathy that it was not the time for her to go to temple one because when one returns home from the united states gifts are expected and she was not ready for that role. however, we would spend much of the afternoon following the main service at temple one

 the smaller service, which began about 7:30, was led by a lay minister who is part of combatants pour christ, a group which cathy and enide work with in delivering aid in haiti. a leader of the group, gaby, sat with a woman, his wife or girlfriend, in the same row

 i was able to imagine being a husband and father as i sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the woman, with the baby interacting with me as if he was my child. some things are better left to imagination, i affirmed

 i was observant of enide throughout the day, and learned that evening she had observed me, too. enide has a tendency to go private or personal, and drift off to another world. elegant and radiant. and mercurial. spiritual characteristics that made kerry so alluring, if incomprehensible

 both enide and cathy were reading the former best-seller "the purpose-driven life," and sometimes enide's escape was into it. i will ask her for a synopsis, or her take on the book

 after sitting through one service and standing outside talking to church-goers during another, we went to temple one and sat through much of a third service. also there, i sat-in on a meeting cathy and enide held with supporters of their group at that church. board members, i thought, as i fought off being bored sitting there for an hour with little idea of what was being said

 yet, i could tell it was a good meeting and that cathy was winning them over with her humor, charm and personality. that enide was being complementary with her straightforward reason and conviction

 speaking of convictions, our departure from the church was delayed by a prison break, or a let-out by disgruntled guards, nearby in the downtown. when we did leave, un troops were in the streets trying to recapture the escapees

  after having "brought in" the sabbath with prayer and singing at maxo's house with his family, the sabbath was "brought to a close" with cathy and enide at judy's house, with the housekeeper, a shy girl with a bright spirit praying beautifully and touching my soul even without me being able understand the words. cathy, guardedly modest, had explained "in haiti, even the poor can afford servants"

 after the sabbath ended with sundown, enide lit into me, asking why i sat like an old man with back hunched and chest in? she then brought up the comment about marriage made a day earlier in response to cathy. i was rattled, but told her perhaps my posture was to protect my heart and to stay centered. i said a light response was only appropriate regarding the baited marriage question, which surely cathy asked specifically with enide in mind

 i went on to tell enide she was difficult, and that she reminded me of an old girlfriend in jamaica. kerry. i did add that was a compliment

 about 8:30 pm bellegarde arrived home to take me to the hotel montana, and enide and cathy for ice cream and to a service station-store hangout, all in petionville, a suburb in the hills above port-au-prince 

 i had told maxo thanks for the hospitality, it was a great experience, but that i would not impose on him and his family a second night. and i had explained my stance to cathy. it was the right thing to do for all affected. i would unsuccessfully try to persuade enide and cathy to stay a night at the hotel, to have more room and to free space for judy and bellegarde

 what a relief to get to the hotel room, to wash my face and take a shower. in the lobby enide and i held a discussion in which she said she wanted to come up and see my room. i told her she should stay, and initially she took me to mean in the lobby. that eventually led to a word-fight, as she accused me of hitting on her the day before and me noting that i just had again. i explained i was only being light and easy

 i tried to convey that not to express my thoughts and feelings would be burdensome and calculating, with the silence leading to selfish motive, manipulation, opportunism and the seeking of an advantage. enide then told me even if we were engaged, she would not stay in the same hotel room with me. "a holy roller," i thought

 enide and bellegarde did come up to the hotel room, and unfortunately she left with him and the bellhop

 i had dinner of spaghetti marinara with haricot vert and a fresh mango-papaya juice. there were no guests to speak to, to speak of, so i ate alone while chatting with the staff. and then the quest for beignets that i had seen on the restaurant menu in my room but could not locate on the menu i was handed led to a conversation with the manager

 the search would eventually lead to judith, who manages the dessert bar at the hotel. she's cute, but remember the girl at the passport check counter? yet judith spoke english, and was someone to talk with, so i did. of course she wants to come to the united states, to study diplomatic relations. she had no beignets, either

 after eating i went to the computer room to read about the university of north carolina basketball game that day and news from the rest of the world. there were news reporters and photographers there, using the internet connection to transmit stories and pictures to offices in miami and elsewhere of the prison incident downtown that afternoon

 sympathetic guards apparently let out certain prisoners of the lavalas party jailed simply for speaking out against the current, non-elected government. some who gained freedom were recaptured that day. we would see one of the escapees taken off a bus the next day at a police checkpoint on the road to gonaives


day five


 enide changed somewhere between the adventist sabbath and the other sabbath, saturday to sunday. early into the change i was going to tell her that cathy must have asked her to be nice to me so i would write a positive news article, but as time went on i realized the transformation was real and we had warmed and become comfortable with each other

 she had affected me momentarily the evening before, reminding me of what it was like being with kerry. kerry was narcissistic, yet not very secure in it and would attack first whenever she felt vulnerability. enide's admonishment about my posture injured me, causing me to wonder if there was some flaw

 then i remembered everything i had learned from kerry, everything she had taught me just by being herself. her greatest characteristic is a willingness to be an original, no matter what others may think

 kerry left me no choice but to become more self-confident by routinely provoking my insecurities in order to hide her own. she helped engender a slaying of my ego, transforming me to be more a spirit than a physical entity with the shell having far less significance than the soul it protects

 i determined that i am who i am, and if enide did not like that, could not appreciate that, then life and love goes on

 of course i am ever the provocateur, and did provoke enide. all year, partly from spending christmas with my brother who considers himself a pseudo-vegetarian (jarrel is a pseudo everything) god had been placing on my mind that man's fall from grace was the killing and eventual breeding-slaughtering of animals as food for no other reason but to satisfy his own craving for blood. that jesus has said "what you do to the littlest of me..." and philosophers have noted you can judge how a nation treats its people by how it regards its animals

 so as the sabbath closed, i had told enide and cathy things that surely rang as blasphemy to their ears. yet, everything was said in love and with respect, and because i felt they were to hear

 first i noted the irrationalism of thought that has the bible considered to be god's word, as if god spoke to some men eons ago and then shut-up forever. also, i noted that the writings of men who felt they were inspired by god have been translated and retranslated, edited and revised, embellished and lost over the years by men of both good and ill repute, yet we regard mere ink and paper as "god's words"

 i stressed god cannot be so limited, so relegated, to something that can be picked up and put down at will and used to justify a host of injustices from slavery and servitude to taxes and capitalism. that god is constantly speaking to us, and we need only to listen and obey god's words

 i stated there are numerous obvious mistranslations and mistakes in the bible that dumbs-down our perception of the purpose of life, and that the errors perhaps start in the garden of eden. man's fall from grace was not in eating from the tree of life, an apple, but in being tempted by the snake and eating flesh. they got it wrong, i insisted, noting that it would be difficult for men writing and translating genesis who ate meat to leave intact such a fundamental condemnation of carnivorism

 cathy shook her head and changed the subject. enide was her usual calm and collective, but urged me to ask god to show a presence to ensure i was leaning on the heavenly father and not my own understanding, or misunderstanding

 i think it was then i told enide, or at least thought to, in regard to her having stated earlier, maybe during our walk up the hill, that perhaps god would send her a husband… it was then that i suggested she look for the qualities that she associates with god in that man

 god's presence became more evident to both us. from the next dawn there would be not more fight or spite, only peace and love. from where judgment had come, only compassion flowed for the remainder of our time together. we became sister-brother in the spirit, and love was not a human passion but a spiritual reality    

 sunday is a work day for adventists, and for us it was a travel day to deliver goods to people victimized by september flooding in gonaives, about 100 miles to the north. a half-dozen boxes of food, clothing, books and medicine were loaded in a pick-up truck, and 15 of us climbed into the van for the trip that proved to be a three-hour adventure

 the group packed plenty food, with the staple being peanut butter. cathy and enide brought a breakfast that i found interesting -- salmon and plantains. meanwhile, i was in heaven with grapefruit juice that judy had prepared

 the group totaled about 15 men and enide and cathy, all adventists. we saw members of other denominations going to church as we left the city for the highway.

 i maintain that spirituality is a solitary matter, with every individual having her or her unique role, expressions and understanding. if organized religion could change the world, well after all these centuries the world would be changed. however, through spirituality the world is changed by individuals developing a greater oneness with each other and all creation and seeing divine perfection amid earth's imperfection

 jesus did not form a church or start a religion, and he was our example. jesus called disciples, a derivation of discipline, which is key to spiritual development, and showed them the faith, humility and compassion we are to emulate. he did not give doctrines or institute rituals, but said no man comes to the father but by me. which was mistranslated and of course means no one can come to the father but by going within himself or herself  (we are the "me")    

 for god so loved the world he gave his only begotten son (of course we all are children of god), that whomsoever believe in him (...self or herself as being one with god) should have everlasting life. john 3:16, free-mind translation

 we are taught to accept "on faith" the hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo in the bible and spewed from pulpits on saturday and sunday mornings. one example is the concept: the father, son and "holy ghost."  of course, what is really being described in that trinity is: god, all creation and love

 spirituality is dumbed-down into a children's story about ghosts. and a holy figure who in one sentence we are told to emulate and in the next held up as a superhuman we cannot approximate because we are "sinners born in inequity" who cannot approach holiness; but should pay our tithes, come back week after week, and have faith that despite the hardship and darkness in this world we will be rewarded in the next

 god gave us minds for them to be utilized. of course lucifer and "leaning on one's own understanding" are christianity's primary examples of why we should accept its doctrine as absolute. then again, lucifer's fall was his ego, putting himself before god. freeing the mind is slaying the ego and giving one's consciousness and soul to god. becoming at one with god, and through prayer and meditation allowing god to control our every thought, word and action

 organized religion thrives on people holding onto their egos, and in a vain manner the particular faith or doctrine becomes a god. dividing people for other people, and breeding bigotry and judgment. my religion is better than yours... god is on our side… they cannot be saved because they do not believe this or that. how childish

 the line in the sand between adventism and other faiths is the saturday sabbath. much of the faith is based on that difference, or distinction, with those who do not observe condemned to a life without salvation

 we attempt to make god as petty as we are, rather than to rise to accept our divinity and view the universe in all its awesome wonder and possibility. we are taught god created the world, and on the seventh day there was rest. the principle stemming from that parable is that we should take every seventh day as a time or rest and to honor and reflect on creation

 god does not care whether we observe that seventh day on a saturday or sunday. or friday. if we are to be so strict, given the nature of time and the inherent vagaries in measuring it, can we even be sure that our saturday or sunday is the saturday or sunday of genesis

 sixth days with seventh-day adventists felt like being a guest in a cult. before the trip to gonaives there was prayer. we stopped along the highway at noon, for prayer. on arrival at our destination, there was prayer. before feeding a queue of children who had waited for us to get there, there was more prayer

 on the way back to port-au-prince the group sang church songs, of course in creole. finally, it was time to disconnect. i pulled out my notebook computer and earplugs, and listened to michael jackson. "man in the mirror," make that change, etc

 there is safety in numbers. i mean it's easy to be religious when around like minds or at least like aspirants. it's often called fellowship, but it comes down to just being comfortable. it's easy to adopt the expression of a group or mass, but is it following a herd instinct rather than god

 fellowship should be associating with whoever god sends along our path, not just associates of a particular doctrine or church. jesus, after coming upon the woman at the well, said, "i did not come to preach to the righteous, but to those in need of hearing the gospel"  

 jesus had his wilderness experiences, and sought solitude with god up to the garden of gethsemane. the alone-with-god experiences are vital to spiritual transformation. they are how we praise god. god does not need to be praised by us making a joyful noise and reciting how great god is. we praise god by listening to the words we inevitably hear when we turn off all the noise around us. and we praise god by obeying the words

 haiti was a wilderness experience for me. one in which i had no choice but to relinquish control and just be. to observe and absorb, and greater learn patience, understanding and the oneness of all humanity and creation. i would come away with an incredible lightness of being state, of having seen heaven where many see hell. and i hope to ever maintain that state of being in this country that many elsewhere call hell

 i called alemtsehay from the hotel saturday night, and had tried to call my mother. initially there was a busy signal, then on subsequent tries the phone would ring and ring. that was highly unusual, because my mother is virtually always home, and certainly at night

 so this morning, just before going down to meet bellegarde, i phoned home again. the phone still rang and rang. i resumed thinking from the overnight, that perhaps my mother had taken ill and been hospitalized, or worse. i quickly dismissed the latter thought, because i have always known i will go before her. it is said the worst thing on earth is for a mother to see a child die. however, it is worse for a child to see a parent die

 amid such, i left the hotel thinking that this might be the day i die. i would cringe when i saw the automatic rifles and shoulder belts with thick rounds on the international peace-keeping force. and there would be guardedness when surrounded by dancers with red eyes in the street during a carnival parade that cathy condemned as voodoo

 getting to gonaives was an adventure, along a highway with police and military checkpoints, huge potholes and crevices (some manned by men purportedly making repairs who would demand a "toll" for passage), and dust storms from the white volcanic ash that constitutes soil near haiti's massive central plateau

 it was along this road that enide spoke to me most deeply, and although i did not understand a word of the creole as she spoke it, i quickly came to comprehend the magnanimous of the words

 there was a man, scarf around his head, walking along the road during the dust storm that turned a drab gray everything around, stationery or passing. noon came just as we were about to overtake him, and gaby, the driver, stopped the van for group prayer. we resumed after a few minutes, and again were about to overtake the man walking on the side of the road when enide said something to gaby

 the van stopped alongside the man, and he got in. we would give him a ride to the next town. enide was behind me just to the left, and i looked back at her without making eye contact and nodded my head to confirm that she is very compassionate

 i was able to confirm my humanity to enide when we arrived at a church outside gonaives, in opoto. there was food, and i was obligated to eat. the vegetable stew and rice was very good, so i ate a second helping. that proved my manhood to enide and cathy at least for a day

 two very modest homes were beside the church, and a couple families still displaced by the flood were taking shelter with the residents. gaby's group travel there weekly to serve a hot meal to children living nearby. i would witness that the next day

 this evening the group took the boxes of donated aid to seventh-day adventist temple one in gonaives. god is great, and has a marvelous knack for humor and serendipity. people were dancing in the street as the aid was being delivered, however there was no direct connection

 carnival is observed every sunday evening during lent, and we ran directly into one of the parades both going to and leaving temple one

 "don't look," warned cathy. "don't look into their eyes. it's voodoo."

 of course i looked and took a few pictures, before quickly becoming bored. there were a lot of women and girls doing revealing things with their clothing and dancing in suggestive manners, but there was no allure because they did not look attractive and all their eyes were red.

 cathy, naturally, would have me believe the red eyes stemmed from devil worship. however, i reasoned it was a product of all the dust swept up by winds in the volcanic ash region. certainly, i thought, there must be adverse health effects

 quite par for the course, another church service had to be endured before retiring that night. enide and cathy slept in one of the houses, and most of the guys laid out inside the church. one of the brothers and me slept in the van, perhaps the most comfortable option


day six


 after running around a hotel tennis court for exercise sunday, i finally got to really run this morning. in fact i lost myself, or surroundings, in running. first i ran in one direction from the church, then reversed my course along a rutted dirt road. however the church was not there, or so it seemed, running the other way and after a half mile i was really puzzled. i thought to run back in the direction i began, but doubted i could have passed the church without noticing it

 i continued on until i met members of the group returning to the church when i was almost to the main road in gonaives, about a mile from the church. exhausted more from losing my bearings than distance, i walked back with the group still not understanding how i missed the church

 i am no good with video cameras, and find them to be of no real use. i used them on european vacations in the 90s, and viewed the results once before stashing the tapes places where i would never find them again. gaby asked me to use his video camera en route to gros-morne, but i gave up after a short time

 enide, who was using bellegarde's digital camera, and i took pictures of children walking to school on the way to cathy's hometown. i am not sure, enide also may have lived there, or nearby

 in gros-morne we visited a seventh-day adventist school where enide and cathy stayed during a relief mission a year ago, and where cathy's cousin works. cathy also visited her brother-in-law, and family gravesite at a cemetery along the highway into town

 gaby stopped at a trucking company with which he has affiliations, and met some soil engineers trying to launch a conservation program in the area, where deforestation is blamed for flooding

 upon arrival back in gonaives, gaby dropped off humantarian aid rice from taiwan (we observed rice growing and drying on land and in lots on the road between here and port-au-prince) at a school and we observed schoolchildren having lunch provided by his and cathy's groups

 children were lined up when we returned to the church in opoto, and the feeding took on a business-like manner without a loving, human touch. that was later discussed by the group members, and it turned out we had arrived late and the cook had other obligations he needed to address as soon as possible

 yet the scene was touching, with the children's spirits buoyant. i hope to share a sense of it with you through photos. that people are the same everywhere, with personalities and characteristics that remind us of other people we know or met in other places, was reaffirmed. a girl arrived with her bowl, or pot, and was accused by one of the no-nonsense, all-business men minding the line of returning for seconds

 the girl lit into a creole tirade, making all the gestures one would associate with a black woman who had been insulted. hand on hip, vocalizing indignantly, and, oh those eyes. she gave the man a piece of her mind, and when she got her food walked away with the pot swaying with her every stride and much of the food oozing out

 we would leave the area for port-au-prince about mid-afternoon, and the journey back was not without incident. there was a peace-keeping force checkpoint not far from gonaives, and we were told to pull over and ordered out of the van at gunpoint

 we were ordered to lean against a wall on the side of the road, with arms and legs spread for a body search. the others were compliant, but i am a stupid american-bred malcontent. i stopped midway the road and the wall, and was very superficially searched there. cathy and enide were not searched. i talked with one of the soldiers, who wore argentine flags, about football (soccer). he said he was uraguayan

 as we continued on i asked gaby and the others if the church ever takes a stand against the government, or speaks out for social justice. he referred to the bible verse in which jesus said to "render unto caesar what is caesar's" and said there is an intrinsic separation between church and government

 "hmm. what about when jesus chased the money changers from the temple?" i asked. gaby said scriptures have jesus feeling remorse, and repudiating his behavior, afterwards. "hmm," i thought again

 gaby earlier told me he was compelled to do his humanitarian work after reading of a young boy being mauled and killed by one of the international relief agency trucks "throwing food at people" immediately after the flooding

 "i felt we can do a better job, because we know and understand the people," he said. "we are not trying to be seen by television camera like the big aid agencies. we do this out of love."

 i see the aid work as intervention in a traditional government role, although g.w. bush would say otherwise with his faith-based social services push of a term ago. i did not press the issue, but wondered how politics would not be viewed as integral to bettering the lives of people. aristide, a former priest, had seen it and tried to effect change. why not other men of the cloth or those inspired by the word

 i was the last drop-off once back in port-au-prince, and got to the hotel just in time to say "hello" to judith. in fact, we talked so long i am not sure i ate dinner. i don't think so. while we were talking i heard "americanese," african-americanese to be exact, coming from the hotel news bar were a computer is linked to news-only web sites

 i went over and asked the woman if she is american, and we talked for a good bit. she has been in haiti three years working with the u.s. center for disease control and prevention's haitian aids mission, and grew up in boston. she gave me her card, and i would briefly see her the next day

 there were more americans in the hotel computer room, where i connected my notebook to the internet. they were a group, however, and a bit loud and uninviting. so, i said nothing but did speak to a brother who was with them and who connected his notebook next to mine

 in my room, i snacked on nuts and dried fruit





a sabbath


 i was writing on my computer in the room when the phone rang and bellegarde was downstairs. there had been no warning, so i hurriedly showered and dressed and did not try phoning my mother. it took a while, and when i reached the lobby cathy was leaving a note saying they would pick my up later. when i got in the van i realized why. judy and bellegarde's children were inside, and they were en route to school. i felt bad. cathy said she had been unable to find the hotel's number to call me and say they were on the way

 port-au-prince traffic is worst than new york or any u.s. city, with two-lane highways and few traffic lights. i saw one, maybe two working traffic signals, during my stay, and congestion was worst in those spots. cathy noted the lights are rendered useless during frequent power outages, but then added the latest are solar-powered

  i am sure the children were late for school, and i was sorry about that. of course, we were late again in picking up them after school

 the time in between was spent at the seventh-day adventist health and redevelopment agency headquarters in haiti, unloading the contents of a cargo container onto a truck for delivery of aid in an around port-au-prince

 cathy and enide considered staying at the hotel, in their own room, tonight, our last in haiti, but there was no vacancy until after 8pm. when i called then they had already settled into staying at judy's another night, and were unable to come to the hotel for dinner

 so i ate along again, except for luaze, my waitress. i saw the aids worker talking to others on the way to my table, and had the salad bar and french fries. the latter kind of went with the atmosphere, pomme de terre frites, but were just as bad and choking as those at mcdonalds

 after dinner i talked with judith for so long, with the manager stopping by and saying "hello" to me and security guards staring, that i told her i had better go before i get her fired. she said "thanks," and had given me her address and phone number asking me to call (i did try, a month later, but only got the hotel desk)


jour huit


 i was not ready to leave haiti, but that did not really matter. and perhaps one cannot really leave haiti, maybe it just stays with you. in my incredible lightness of being state there was no time, events simply happened. packing had become a daily routine, but this time it had more of a sense of finality. the trip, in its last hours, finally afforded me time to open christmas cards that had been waiting when i returned home from the holidays. i am not big on cards, because uniformly they only have hallmark lines and a signature

 i am always looking for more, but was mostly disappointed again. my way of returning them was buying and sending post cards during my last demi-heure at the hotel. when i arrived at the hotel desk to check-out, bellegarde promptly walked into the lobby. in a few minutes we were on our way to pick up cathy and enide and go to the airport

 the airport was hysterical, with people having packed everything imaginable to take to the united states in the huge, cheap suitcases being exposed at the baggage-search tables. cathy followed the routine,  sneaking fresh sugar cane through customs at both airports

 luggage was checked twice, by haitian security and then by american airlines' security, and both times the removal of shoes were required. i protested, but it only got me a seat to use to remove them

 it was my turn to sit behind enide and cathy on the flight to new york. i ate the last of the fruits and nuts, and worked on the news article, frequently asking them questions

 at jfk, we were at the baggage carrousel after clearing immigration when i noticed a cute woman nearby. "weren't you wearing a black dress on the flight from new york last wednesday?" i asked. she smiled and said, "i like that dress." i said, "i did, too"   

 she was undeniably sexy although far from beautiful and only a little pretty. she lived in the outback in haiti, and much the same here as a resident of rockland county, n.y. she looked good, and other guys around would talk to her with more lust than allure in their eyes, but obviously was not too smart. not a woman with whom to spend a day

 i decided to let her be, without asking for a phone number, so as not to embarrass myself in front of enide. and cathy

 to help her meet airline regulations, i had checked one of cathy's bags. i figure because of her and enide, the customs agent waved us all through. and the sugar cane

 it was cold in new york, but i did not really feel it as we left the terminal and looked for sabine, enide's sister. she was to pick up enide and cathy in cathy's minivan. after about 10 minutes of waiting and looking, enide said "i have an idea" and left us. she returned shortly and motioned for us to follow her

 "i remembered from another time that we had parked there," she said, and we lugged the bags rolled the luggage cart to the vehicle where mary alice waited instead of sabine. then we said goodbyes. i now have two new sisters in the spirit, and one with flowing compassion and perception who i miss not seeing all the time  

 what i remember most of enide came as i apologized to her for perhaps causing friction by challenging the speaker at the early sabbath service for saying the tsunamis that devastated southeast asia late last year were predicted in revelations, giving chapter and verse

 when i promptly checked in the bible i had brought from maxo's house, any connection would have to be considered a very liberal stretch

 the speaker, a friend of gaby, had not directly addressed the lack of a clear connection when i asked for his basis. instead, he spoke of the sabbath, and asked when did the disaster occur? his rationale was that christmas fell on the sabbath, saturday, last year, and the tsunami victims were punished the next day for not having observed the holiday as the seventh day of the week

 enide supported my questioning of the speaker, adding she does not accept everything people say without referencing it and utilizing her own mind. in my journey in the wilderness, enide was my angel

 i would tell friends there was balance during the trip, as is always the case in life. one night sleeping in a van, the next in a luxury hotel. one day without being able to watch my face, the next with kisses from beautiful people

 we must realize that the little pains we endure become big joys, as any mother can attest. we are to affirm that when we truly know ourselves, we know everyone and everything and see the world as a very perfect place. for when we really know ourselves, we go beyond the ego and the individual to know and be one with god

 i told enide and cathy heaven and hell is right here, right now, not after we die. and that we choose in which we live. to go with the ebb and flow of society, allowing the ego to have us compare ourselves with others and look out only for "me and mine" makes for a hell of a world. one in which it is always "me against the world"

 heaven is when we step outside the shell of our own body and mind and embrace the intricate connection that makes all of creation one. then there is cooperation rather than competition, as we see everyone as "another part of me." as another manifestation of god. there is sheer joy and a real faith, not a book or pulpit indoctrination, in knowing that we are children of god and as we live our divinity our every need is provided and we receive by giving in unconditional love