Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tony Visits the Poor

There is a boy up here on the mountain named Tony. He is one of five or six siblings, and his father is gone. Tony’s house burned down a couple years ago, and he and his family have struggled to rebuild their lives after the loss of almost all their possessions. Just as things were looking up, Tony’s mother suffered a massive stroke. She is paralyzed and can no longer provide for her family by taking long walks to Port au Prince to sell produce from their garden. Still, the family struggles on and the older boys try to provide for their younger siblings.

A few days ago Tony knocked on my door and explained to me that he had been going from house to house in an area called Lagade, telling people about Jesus and praying with them. As he was on his walk, he came upon several poor people. Those were his words. “Poor people…very bad off”. When he said this, I gave him a strange look and thought to myself, “and you’re not one of them?” He seemed very touched by the “poor” people that he had met, and he insisted that I take a walk with him one day, and take my camera, and write down their stories so that I could tell my friends about them. I was interested to see what kind of person Tony would label as poor, since I labeled him as one of the poorest people I know. So I said yes, and last Tuesday we took off on a drive and a hike.

The first woman we met was in her late twenties or early thirties, but looked ten years older. She was very skinny, clothed in what appeared to be her only dress and sweater, which were ripped and soiled. She was squatting on the ground, nursing a baby who was also clothed in a ripped, dirty shirt. I couldn’t imagine that the milk the child was getting was more than a drop or two. As we began to talk with the woman, another child ran up behind her, screaming. She was perhaps four or five years old, but looked like a scrawny two year old. When she saw us, she figured the “white man” had come to eat her, and she went running off barefooted and bare-bottomed into the fields. I asked the woman to tell me her story, and, with a vacant expression on her face and no inflection in her voice, she told me that her husband had died last year… she didn’t remember exactly when. He had had a cough. He left her a field, but she couldn’t afford the seeds to plant anything in it. She lived with her three children and her mother in the cornstalk house nearby. We took a look at the house, and could see that even for a cornstalk house, it was meager. The dimensions were about five feet by five feet, the stalks of corn that made up the walls were thinning and rotten, letting in what I can only imagine is a great quantity of rain and wind, and there was nothing inside… no pots or pans or clothes or bedding. One shirt hung out to dry in the yard. That was the only possession I could see that she owned, besides what she wore. I have no idea what she eats or how she cooks it, but from the looks of her and her children, eating is something that only happens every other day or so. After listening to her tell her story, we took pictures of her and the house, gave her some beans and clothes, told her we would try to help, and prayed for her. As we walked away, I wondered if I had the emotional energy to visit another of Tony’s “poor” people.

The second woman we met lived in a house that looked much better than the last house we’d seen. It had a thatch roof and wooden slats for walls. When Tony called “hello”, a short elderly woman with a high voice and a hand-sewn blue dress groped her way out the door. Her left eye was sunken and damaged, and her right eye had a huge cataract, so she was blind. She ordered a neighbor to go get chairs for us to sit on, and she told us her story. She has no children or husband to care for her. Sometimes neighbors come and get her and lead her to church (she converted to Christianity just a short while ago), and sometimes they cook food for her so she can eat. She is often hungry, and often cold. When I told her that she might be able to see again if she went to Jacmel and had cataract surgery, she said, “well, there is no one to take me and no money to pay for it.” I determined inwardly to help make the surgery possible, but gave her no promises that day. We prayed with her and moved on to our next home visit.

The third house we were scheduled to see was about a forty minute walk from the road, according to Tony (which meant about an hour walk for me). Just as we were starting to walk, the woman we were going to see came trotting down the road to meet us. Tony reproached her for not staying at home to wait for our visit, but I was secretly glad we could avoid the walk. I didn’t get to see her current house, but I did stand with her in a field and listen to her story. Her name is Marie, and she is in her forties. She didn’t look me in the eye as she spoke, but looked off into space with a set expression that made me think she was trying hard to hold back tears. She is the mother of six children. Her husband is a polygamist, and has another wife besides her. He splits his time between his two families, and takes very little care of her or her children. She accepted Christ a few years ago, and goes to church every Sunday. Three of her children live at home with her. The older three children she had to give away, because she couldn’t afford to feed them. They live as child slaves in Port au Prince and Jacmel. Last week, her cornstalk house caught on fire, and burned to the ground. Her children escaped, but everything they owned was lost in the fire. She seemed most distressed by the fact that she had no blankets to guard against the cold mountain nights, and no pots or pans to cook with. We prayed with her, told her we would try to help, and went home.

It was a solemn ride home. Ginnie, the American nurse who was with me during this hike, seemed shocked and pensive. She said that the children she saw give new meaning to the term “failure to thrive”. I felt a weight on my shoulders during our drive home… the familiar “weight of poverty” that often plagues me here. Tony, however, seemed to be very happy. He was hopeful that these hurting people could be helped. He left to walk home with a lighter step, and a promise to “show me more poor people” when I had the time. A small, selfish part of me hopes that I never find the time, because the burden is so huge.

I plan on using funds that my supporters give each month to help these three people, and I will keep you posted on their progress. Please pray that God would touch their hearts with hope.