There are three “drivers” for me in this quest to complete the MR340. One is to prove to myself that I can do it. The second is the support I’m getting from my friends who’ve taken the time to subscribe to this blog and let me send them updates. The third is the people in the villiage of Boileau, Haiti. So, this post won’t be about paddling. Instead, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to reflect a little on the gifts I have received from these wonderful people.
In 2003 when I was out of work and consumed with finding a job my wonderful wife arranged for me to join a group visiting Haiti. As I mentioned in a earlier post it was the most rewarding trip I’ve ever taken. Understand that this is the fourth poorest country in the world; the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There isn’t much in the way of a functioning government and most social services are provided by charities. The unemployment rate is something like 80%, infant mortality is 13%, 66% of the people can’t read or write and most people don’t live beyond 55 years of age. The average income is about a dollar a day, so when you factor in the few people who are wealthy that means that the people at the bottom of the ladder are very, very poor indeed. It is poverty on a scale we, in this country, simply can’t imagine.
I saw the slums of Port au Prince where the population lives on and in the garbage dumps with no running water or electricity. The sewage runs through the streets and canals. Everywhere I looked I saw people moving, always doing something to make a little money and get a little food. Yet even in the midst of this grinding struggle to exist the people of this country were some of the most gracious I’ve ever met.
The village of Boileau is out in the country, away from the huge slums of Port au Prince. We were there on a Sunday and went to mass at Ste. Therese Catholic Church. The church was, at that time, unfinished. What little money the parish had was being funneled into a school that our group was helping with. So, the mass was outside. It was a beautiful service and we were all humbled to be accepted by the parishioners. After the mass, people were visiting outside the school and slowly drifting away as they walked home. As I stood looking around two little girls came up to me. They each took one of my hands – and started leading me down the road. Not knowing what else to do I followed them, listening to them talk to each other and the other walkers in creole.
We walked down a path, through the trees, for a few miles. The sounds of the people at the church receded, and I was beginning to get a little worried about what I might be getting in to. But soon we came to their home, if that’s what it could be called. These two girls were dressed in their Sunday best but the home they led me to was one-room with a thatched roof, no windows or doors, and a mud floor. Outside, their little brother was playing in the yard with no clothes on. Their mother came out and smiled at me, and though I couldn’t understand her, made me understand that she wanted me to come in and join them for a meal. A family with almost nothing was eager to invite a stranger in and share the little they had.
This was not something isolated. The other people who’ve been to Haiti over the years tell similar stories. And none of us have come back from that place unchanged. We have all been given a better perspective on lives and what’s important to us. The people of Haiti gave me the gifts of gratitude, openness, trust, and humility. Over the years I’ve frequently misplaced these gifts but I always try to find them again. This is my attempt at finding and keeping them.
Take a few moments to click on the link to the Haitian Pilgrims website and look around. Read some of the stories. Then reflect on how blessed we all are and our many gifts in this Christmas season.