(Note: this post seems so old to me now…we visited Mombin Crochu from April 14-17 – only a week, but seems like a lifetime. No internet for several days.)
Rough roads have new meaning for me. After leaving Limbe at 4AM, we picked-up Liz, Ossé and our rental truck in Cap Haitien then headed south to Mombin Crochu in the mountains. The road wound through an assortment of villages along a river valley, then climbed steadily higher.
We had bounced and rumbled and inched over raw, sharp, bone-jarring rockface that was more donkey track than road – around gaps you could lose a cow in – for what seemed like hours when the truck came to a dead stop at the bottom of a gully.
The front tires were cross-eyed.
“We’re done!” Rick informed us. “This is the end of the road.” The tie-rod bolt had come loose and fallen off. We had no tool kit, no cell coverage and certainly no replacement parts. We were in the middle of Haiti’s mountains. 1-800-come-rescue-me does not exist here and, even if it did, this region would be out of the question. We piled out of the truck and waited for a miracle.
Shortly, an angel on a motorcycle stopped and he and Rick began taking bolts off the motorcycle, trying them on for size. Incredibly, one fit. Our elation was short-lived. The battery was dead and we had no jumper cables. The motorcycle battery was not strong enough. Can I explain the meaning of helplessness? Powerlessness?
What else could we do? We stood by the open hood and prayed.
Within ten minutes, a big delivery-type truck rolled down the hill. We stood there, stunned. This was highly unusual so far up the mountain. The guys took the battery out of the truck and used it to start ours. Check out the sign emblazoned across the windshield.
Couldn’t have said it better, myself.
We arrived at our destination – Gwabari – at 1:30PM, dusty, tired, thirsty. We’d been on the road for nine hours by then. Fourteen people had walked miles from four surrounding villages for this training; they had been waiting patiently for us since 10AM.
We apologised and after a quick bite to eat, launched in the much-shortened training session.
We watched as they laboured over their task, concentrating on their writing, oblivious to all else around them. On their own, they began to talk about the possibilities this new skill presented.
During a free-write about storms, they wrote with great detail and description about a disastrous and deadly storm of 2008. How people and animals were washed away in the floodwaters. One man wrote of his fear because he knew his house was not strong.
A woman wrote of the helplessness of having lost so much that they could not even help their neighbours who were worse off than themselves. She wrote how the sorrow and suffering in her life often brought her to tears.
All we could do was sit there receiving the words so brutally-earned.
Then in her very special, compassionate way, Rhonda quietly shared a scripture that came to her mind – Psalm 126:5 “Those who plant in tears, will harvest with shouts of joy.”
The woman smiled, “My heart is now leaping in joy,” she said.
These people brought me to my knees with their responses and eagerness to learn. They depend so wholeheartedly on their faith in God; it makes them strong, open and genuine and enduring. I have no words to describe how they blessed me. Was it the way they shared with us, or the strain of the long day? I don’t know, but the tears rolled down my cheeks when I heard their words (my tears made them laugh).
One older gentleman read of the blessing of a magnificent mango tree, which provided him shade and a place to rest as he spent long, hard, hot days working in his garden. Small joys recognized and spoken aloud.
Later, he told us that he had felt so strongly in his heart that he needed to attend this workshop that he hired someone to plant his garden so he could come. In a region where the smallest expense is a sacrifice – where someone may purchase an inch-square piece of bread at the market or where fresh-roasted peanuts are carefully measured out with a bleach cap – each day brings its own suffering and worry. His desire to attend cost him dearly.
But, he was happy he had come. He felt the “training had helped us write the things that were previously hidden.”
My heart breaks in half as I relive these words.
Rhonda sees the things I miss. She saw the lights came on in their eyes when these hard-working farmers and mothers suddenly realized that their thoughts have value, and that they have permission to write them down. And more importantly, that they should write these stories for their children and for their communities.
Afterwards, Ossé quietly let out a sigh, “Oooohh,” he said. “They left with great joy and happiness. They were so patient, happy to be here. They waited all day for us.”
It was one thing to give such a workshop in the city, but to come to this remote rural place…we didn’t know how they would respond.
When you come from a culture where words and writing are taken for granted, how could I ever imagine what a gift permission to write might be?
I read a quote in a book before coming to Haiti…words that rose off the page and slapped me in the face:
“When you are illiterate, you think all the same thoughts as a writer,
you just don’t know how to write your thoughts down.”
These same words linger in me…they drive me forward, they sustain me, they break me in two.
While the people I’ve been meeting are not illiterate, no one ever suggested that they might write their stories. What freedom…what joy this very idea brings them.
In the mountains around Mombin Crochu, Haiti is learning she has a voice.