The first full day on LaGonave. What a place. How to describe this coral mound? Absolutely beautiful. Absolutely impoverished. One of the guesses of its habitation origins is that it was a prisoner’s island. Once inhabited only by pirates, the island became a sort of Haitian Australia. The outcasts and criminals were sent to LaGonave.
Now, the bustling village of Anse a Galet boasts diesel electricity supported by an ice factory that makes blocks of bagged ice that vendors buy to cool their wares of soda pop and ice cream. Since only one in a hundred homes have refrigeration, mostly vendors buy the ice, but it’s enough to pay for 70% of the diesel costs for electricity per year. This is all run by the Wesleyans who have a 50 year presence on the island. They also have a Moringa farm, with 25 year old trees that they harvest, dry, grind by mortar and pestle and sell to the orphanages, hospitals and schools to combat the orange hair and swollen bellies of malnutrition. But as nutritious as Moringa is, there is a cultural stigma attached from the “Great Hunger” when people were eating trees and mud cakes to survive. Eating leaves means you’re poor. Irony. Plus, the large Moringa leaves are bitter, full of tannins and poor in nutrition. So, the “yuck” association is there. Hopefully education will show that small Moringa leaves taste good, like spinach, and build healthy bodies being 40% protein.
Speaking of food, Haitian cuisine is delicious! Seasoned with nutmeg, with a bit of heat and full of fresh, delicious and organically grown veggies, it is as food in the US should be! How Madame Fifi does what she does, I will never be able to comprehend. Each meal is an event, with no less than five platters full of food and creatively arranged. There are theories that she doesn’t sleep, just naps where she can. As I write, she is asleep in the floor of the hall, because her bed is occupied by a hodge podge of things. I’ve never seen someone work so hard. Not only is the table is absolutely laden with food at every meal, plus she packs a hot lunch for her guests, complete with china, to be eaten al fresco from the back of a truck on a potholed dirt road. Electricity provided by the Wesleyans only lasts a few short hours a day, then Fifi runs a generator and an inverter that hasn’t been properly charged in months. Therefore, all cooking is done outside over a charcoal fire or a propane oven. Her kitchen is behind the house with a hose for the water source, also provided by the Wesleyans brought from wells in the mountains by gravity. No pumps around here. So you would think, primitive means, primitive food, but the first night she brought out a HUGE gateaux, cake, decorated with pink piped icing. Around the side it said, “Welcome to the house of Fifi!” And had a huge heart in the middle. Homemade cake with lemon flavored frosting…unbelievable. Tonight she brings in the biggest pot pie I have ever seen in my life, with beautiful latticed crust, golden brown and spicy filled. Fried chicken, rice with hand shelled peas and a spicy sauce, lasagna of some sort, fried plantain, a plate of fresh veggies…beets, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes…seems to be a staple at her table, but arranged differently each time. So, I’m reconciling how we can be eating so well in a starving nation, but what I’ve learned is that Fifi has several young girls who she hires to help her cook. The boy who brings ice from the Wesleyans is hired by Fifi, she buys fresh fish from the man who brings them to her, bartering behind the house in her kitchen, she buys her vegetables from the local vendors, and then if her chairs are not full, various people come in, pay her a fee and eat and fellowship with us. Then all the leftovers (lots and lots of leftovers) she feeds to the hungry at her gate. Invites them in, offers them a seat in her courtyard and piles their plates.
So, there is mission work being done by eating well in a Haitian boarding house. Local economy is supported, relationships established and the people are glad to have the Family Baugh here. Contrast with other American organizations who turn up their noses and refuse to eat Haitian food, instead bringing in American cereal and macaroni and cheese. I pity them as I pile my plate with Fifi’s good food and begin to understand what it means to the people of LaGonave to be made to feel like people and not outcasts. Eat their food, sit at their tables, talk with them. Jesus did these things.
We went to church today in Gran Lagon (Big Lagoon). The main industry there is charcoal production and we got to see some of this work as Ones drove us through some surprise rain. It takes an hour from Anse a Galet to get to Gran Lagon, and the road makes Arkansas red dirt roads look like paved boulevards. When it rains, the dry river beds become flash flood relief, washing the precious topsoil out to sea. Most of the rain on LaGonave comes so quickly that it simply washes off and out to sea, making it one of the most water impoverished places on this side of the world. The Haitians don’t drink nearly as much water as we “blans” and their kidneys can attest for it. Their bodies acclimate, but at the cost of a shortened lifespan. Today, though, the rain is light and steady, knocking down the dust and settling into the soil. Thank you, Jesus for rain during the dry season.
Church is a neat experience! Cladel translates the sermon to John, but I can’t really hear, so I enjoy just watching. I end up with a baby in my arms, she touches my face, my hair and then instantly falls asleep. I know that malnutrition makes them sleepy and I see the little baby fuzz around her hairline turning orange.
I learned later that part of the sermon was on staying the course. Because of their location and proximity to the ocean winds and floods, this church has had a concrete slab and a roof donated. Their part in the building project is to put up walls. I look around and notice that we are really meeting in a stick and tarp structure within four block walls. The church wanted the permanence (and possibly status?) of having concrete block for walls instead of sticks or woven palm (which would be cooler, easily replaceable and less costly), but they haven’t finished the walls, so no roof can go overhead. The rain drips through leaving puddles and the tarps must be lifted to drain the water and prevent collapse. I guess building campaigns are the same everywhere.
My favorite part of the service and by far the most humbling part: when it is time for corporate prayer, many people drop to their knees in the gravelly dust beneath the tarp roof and pray aloud. Many voices, crying to Jesus. The woman in front of me, with her young children all around is quite emphatic with the Lord, and I wonder what burdens she is laying at His precious feet. How many times in my comfortable life have I been desperate enough to ignore the faces around me, fall on my kness and cry out to Jesus? How dependent upon my Savior am I really?
After church, “Madame Bahbawa” and “Madame Suzan” pass out vitamins and gather information from all the sponsored children who are present that day. I visit with a little boy who D’umerle has concerns about. He is struggling to learn and after a short visit with him and some modified testing, I realize that he has a learning disability at the very least. A seizure as a baby has left him with issues that could likely be resolved with occupational, speech and physical therapy. The sweet smiling child will never receive these things that we feel entitled to receive in the US. I grieve for the hard life ahead of him, and then I console myself by remembering that God has a purpose for THIS child, just as he is. We plan to return to Gran Lagon on Wednesday so I can meet with the teachers and visit with this child’s mother and teacher about his education. Lord help me.

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