My apologies to all of my faithful readers for not adding any new entries in the last two months. Sometimes the monotony of everyday life and work takes over, and I don't take the time to write or I feel that I have nothing interesting to write about. Sometimes, it takes an event - something out of the ordinary - a moment in time that really impacts you and encourages you to write it down. I had one of those moments today.
Work in the clinic started out as usual...just another Monday morning. I was checking my emails, which I had neglected over the weekend. I was in my own little world, but soon I noticed a buzz around the clinic. The nurses were standing at the door talking to some of the other orphanage workers who had congregated outside. I could tell by their tone of voice and facial expressions that something was amiss. The more excited the Haitians become, the louder and the faster they start to talk. Therefore, the harder it is for me to understand. When things didn't seem to be calming down after a few minutes, I went to ask them what was going on. They told me that Ernest's house was on fire.
Now, in order to understand the rest of the story, you first have to know a little bit about Ernest. Ernest lives just down the road from the orphanage. He has a wife and two daughters. The oldest of which is in her mid 20s. She currently works in the city during the week and goes to college. She comes home to Kenscoff on the weekends and visits her family. The youngest daughter is around 14 years old and lives at home. Ernest's brother and his wife and their children also live in the house. They have a small shop next to their home where they sell beer and coca cola and other small items like bread and powdered milk and vegetables once in a while. The family is always sitting outside in the afternoons. I frequently see them when I go for walks after work. They are usually cooking together, laughing, talking about the weather. They are always so welcoming and happy to see us. Every time I walk by, I make a point to stop and greet them and ask how they are doing. They are quick to greet me with a hug and a kiss. They always invite me to stop and have a drink or just take a rest. It is so nice to be so welcomed in a community where you are the outsider.
But back to Ernest. Ernest is probably in his 50s. He is a small, soft-spoken man, and one of the hardest workers you can imagine. He works here at the orphanage as a night guard. During the day, he works many other small jobs as well, such as gardening. He frequently brings us broccoli from his garden because he knows how much we like it. One night, when I was walking up to the clinic to go to sleep, Ernest was on guard duty. He walked me back up to the clinic and we had a discussion about life, in my limited Creole. He told me how difficult life in Haiti is. He told me that he wanted his daughters to have a good education and that he was currently working three jobs to keep his oldest daughter in college. He told me that sometimes it's just not fair here, and he wished it wasn't so hard to provide for his family. He never once asked me for a dime, knowing that I'm a blan (a foreigner), and so I must have money. He wasn't looking for help or handouts, he just wanted someone to listen. At the end of the conversation, he said "That's life in Haiti."
So, needless to say, when I heard the nurses in the clinic saying that Ernest's house was on fire, I was worried. We asked if there was anyone in the house, but they seemed to think that all of the people were safe, and that no one was in the house. The nurses decided to go for a walk to see how bad it was. I, of course, went with them. I was overwhelmed at the sight when we arrived. This is Haiti, there are no fire trucks or emergency teams to come to the rescue. What I saw was much more astounding. The whole village was there, or at least it seemed. The huge water truck from the orphanage (which we use to haul water up from Kenscoff village to fill our cisterns) was on the scene. There was a long hose attached to the water truck. The hose typically fits into the top of the cistern while it is being filled. Today, the hose was being used to extinguish the fire. I recongized the men on the roof that were handling the huge hose. They weren't firemen. They were locals from the area. A few were orphanage workers, one was the local town welder, and many were neighbors. Others on the ground had buckets and were helping to haul water. The women were helping to sort out the singed clothing and few belongings that were salvaged from the house when the fire was discovered. Everything that was pulled from the house was just strewn about on the ground. I recognized Ernest's sister-in-law trying to dig through the piles of clothing to see if anything was going to be salvagable. It looked like most was not.
The scene brought tears to my eyes. Not because Ernest's house was on fire, which is very sad, but because of the way the village came together. Everyone in the surrounding area gathered to help their neighbor. They were all pitching in to help in any way possible. Isn't that what life is about? Isn't that what the gospel teaches us to do? Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Helping others in a time of need and asking for nothing in return. It was a very meaningful moment for me. And, perhaps most importantly, it was a reminder of the overall amazing character of the Haitian people.
As we were leaving Ernest's house to go back to the orphanage, I saw him sitting near the side of the road. The other men were still working to put out the last of the burning embers. Ernest smiled and waved to me, almost as if saying "hey, thanks for coming over" despite the circumstances. One of the women I was with looked at Ernest and said to him in Creole, "Ernest, you know if you need..." Ernest just nodded and smiled. Then he turned to the rest of us and said with a smile on his face "bon apres midi tout moun!!" (Have a good afternoon, everone!)