Thursday, April 19, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

View of the Citadel from
The Easter long-weekend had started out as a trip to see the Citadel, a 200 year old castle that is one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.  A crew of adventure companions assembled and loaded into the school’s cage truck.  We were laughing as we took our seats on the bench—our friend, Amber, and I had both just had conversations with respective family members trying to describe the trusty vehicle.  Amber told her mom, “It’s like a prison truck, but with grates on the sides.”  After struggling to describe it to my sister, she finally seemed to get the idea and said, “Oh, like what you’d use to transport livestock.”  Yup, that’s the cage truck.  Not particularly luxurious, but it’s good at hauling a big group of people and their stuff from one point to another.  We settled in for the bumpy ride, played games, passed around snacks, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Photo by Amber Epley
Our plan was to drive northeast about 4 hours to Gonaives and stay the night with some gracious friends at Much Ministries who were willing to host us.  The next day, we were to continue north through Cap Haitian, then around and back down to the Citadel, at least another 4 or 5 hours.  We’d hike up and around and then do the whole thing again in reverse.  It may seem like a long drive for just a few hours of hiking and sightseeing, but, from everything we had heard, it was worth it. 

View of the Citadel from
But, before we even got to Gonaives, the truck (remember, the trusty cage truck) broke down.  Robbie was in the process of accelerating past a slow-moving car when the motor died and lost all power.  Thinking fast, he decelerated and pulled off to the side of the road.  Our group was flexible and easy-going, as usual, getting out to stretch their legs and look around. 

We were just outside of a little town called Estè, not even a dot on the map.  Estè is nestled in a wide valley with bright green rice paddies edged by distant mountains.  The late afternoon sun illuminated the cumulus clouds above the hills, and white egrets flew low over the fields.  We had passed occasional groups of people gathered together on flat patio-like floors to thresh the rice, dry it in the sun, and prepare it to be bagged and shipped.  The road was dotted with little houses, mostly cinder block walls and corrugated tin roofs, suggesting the relative prosperity of the village.  The more common, less well-to-do alternative in most rural areas was mud-and-straw walls topped with thatched roofs.

While I was taking it all in, Robbie and a couple others poked around under the hood.  In situations like this, everyone is a mechanic—a couple guys came from their spot on a nearby porch and offered their help, for a price.  Robbie gave it a go, as did they, but still the truck wouldn’t start back up.

By this time, the sun was setting, the car still wouldn’t start, and we needed to figure out a plan.  Robbie and I already had one in mind.  Just a couple miles down the road was LaCroix Haiti Mission, where we had come for a short-term trip about this time a year ago.  We have friends who live in the village.  We know Pastor Pierre and Madame Pierre, who operate the mission and guest house.  And the team that we came with last year, from northern Virginia, happened to also be there again that same week.  Robbie and another friend, Nathaniel, hopped on a mototaxi with a driver who agreed to take them down the road to LaCroix.  We were hopeful that they’d be able to give us a lift and let us sleep on their roof or in their yard. 

The rest of us stayed put, chatted with some of the people from the neighborhood and told stories to a few boys.  It wasn’t too long after that that we saw some headlights and a pick-up swinging around to us.  Rescue had come!  We pushed the truck into a yard, and loaded up again.  LaCroix Mission extended a warm welcome to us.  Appalled by our suggestion of sleeping on the roof, Madame Pierre and some of her helpers rushed around to make beds and prepare rooms.  Laying my head on the exquisitely comfortable pillow that night, I was still feeling a little uneasy for imposing, but fell asleep so grateful for the welcome we received. 

Jill enjoying the really really comfy bed.  Photo by Amber Epley.
The next morning, while we were waiting for the school's wonderful and kind mechanic to stop by on his way to visit family, I was spending time with Marietta, my friend who lives in the village.  She welcomed me into the tiny house she shares with her mother, who is ill.  The dirt floor was neatly swept, and her belongings arranged just so within the mud-and-straw walls.  The entrance way had a curtain over it, but not a door, and the curious goats that tried to peek in had to be shooed away.  We sat side by side on her bed, with a few of her nieces and nephews also sitting around us.  I was recounting to her what had happened the previous day, and how the truck had broken down in Estè.

“Irene, why didn’t you call me when you broke down?  You didn’t want to stay with me?” asked Marietta, a little hurt.

“Oh, of course I would have been so happy to stay with you.  But we have so many others traveling with us—9 altogether.  I didn’t want to inconvenience you,” I tried to explain.

“Don’t be silly.  Of course we would have found a place for everyone.  Next time, call me.”

And for this very genuine offer, too, I was also so grateful.  I thought about times in the past when unexpected visitors stayed with us, always leaving a special blessing behind.  And I realized that, this time, I was the unexpected guest.  I was the weary traveler.  I was the one who didn’t have a place to lay my head for the night.  I was the one who was dependent and needy, with nothing much to offer in return.  And, even so, I was welcomed.  I was taken care of.  I was extended the warmth of Haitian hospitality, a bed, and an offer to come again.  And for all of these gifts, I am deeply grateful.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. Haitian hospitality is wonderful and humbling.


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