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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Following the Water Trail

100211 Following the water trail

Today was simply delightful! I got to give away presents, hung out
with Brother Jim, got a hug and a kiss from Gary Cagle's nine-year-old
daughter Rachel (via a small pillow pre-loaded with 1000@ hugs and
kisses), and generally did a bunch of miscellaneous and hopefully
useful stuff. The day's focus was on proceeding forward with the
refugee schools, but mostly what Jim and I did was hang out and drive
around, which was just fine with me. He's been doing sustained
disaster relief ops for 30 days, so getting stuck in traffic for most
of the day might have been a welcome change of pace. (Of course, he
was stuck in traffic with ME, so by tomorrow he will probably be
begging to get back to gangrenous wounds and mortuary transport.)



First thing this morning we cracked open the hundred and fifty pounds
of school supplies donated by my Dad, prior to the Jesuit school
coordinating team's morning meeting. Dad's hundred and twenty five
composition books, fifty pairs of scissors, rulers, pencil sharpeners,
erasers, plain and colored pencils, plus the portable whiteboards,
"miniature school" kit, and numerous other supplies for teachers and
students were met with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for
Godiva chocolates or a new video game. Jim and I, and the coordinating
team, also discussed a very interesting idea. The schools will feature
English-language instruction, which is one of the most marketable
skills in the world outside the US. However, learning to SPEAK good
English is based just as much on HEARING English spoken clearly by
MULTIPLE English-language speakers. Any idea where we might be able to
rustle up a series of native English-language speakers who would be
willing to sign up (with plenty of advance notice) to come down here
for three or four days of speaking good English to students in refugee
schools in Port-au-Prince? More to follow on this idea as it is
developed...

Anyway, after our early Christmas and morning meetings, our first
field activity of the day was chasing Mormons. Jim's comment on the
matter was that "It's the first time in my life I've ever tried to
catch a Mormon," and needless to say my species proved appropriately
difficult to track down. It was all in a good cause, however. The
Jesuit goal is to set up camp schools for seven THOUSAND kids in
Port-au-Prince. Obviously, we were going to need some serious
firepower on this mission. So, figuring that my fellow Mormons would
have a lot of good ideas on how to organize this sort of thing, we
went looking for them. Jim had seen some LDS Emergency Services
representatives at some of the UN meetings he attends, but we didn't
know where their base was. I figured that we should start at the local
meetinghouses, whose info I had scribbled in my little notebook a few
hours before leaving home. We had gotten as far as the US Embassy when
Jim yelled, "Look! There they go!" A vehicle with a magnetic <<LDS
Emergency Services>> placard had passed us going the other way in
traffic. Like any good driver, I reacted instinctively: flipping a
combat U-turn, running up alongside the marked vehicle, and leaping
out to engage my target. I tapped on the window, which the startled
front-seat passenger unrolled. "Pardon me," I said to him, "...do you
have any gray poupon?" He confirmed that he did not, but I admitted
that we actually wanted to talk schooling issues, and he invited us to
follow him to the LDS Emergency Services HQ, which we did. There, we
met with Brother J. Patrick Reese, who is supervising the LDS
Emergency Services educational activities here. We explained that we
were looking for guidance on how to assemble and equip three schools
for seven thousand students. Brother Reese was obviously interested by
the unscripted meeting with Brother Jim, and as an interesting note,
Brother Reese himself pointed out something that even I wouldn't have
had the chutzpah to ask: that the local model of a good education in
Haiti for all able citizens, including good Mormons, has always been a
Catholic education, and that he and the LDS Emergency Services were
glad to have this linkup with Brother Jim as an on-the-ground
representative of that educational system. While Brother Reese and
Brother Jim both seemed completely familiar with this pre-existing
fact, it was not something that I had thought it politic to ask, and I
am glad that Brother Reese had brought it up, even if only for my
benefit. Brother Reese also informed us that LDS Emergency Service
ALREADY has a container full of unassembled school kits here on the
ground in Haiti. He explained that he couldn't promise anything, but
said that he would look into whether those supplies could be made
available to Brother Jim's refugee schools. Brother Reese finally
mentioned one more item for consideration: that eventually, LDS
Emergency Services may be able to assist in rebuilding some portion of
the schools that were destroyed or damaged in the quake, regardless of
their religious affiliation. When we left the meeting, Brother Jim
looked very thoughtful. "I've never run after a Mormon before today,"
he told me, "but if something good comes of this, I will chase Mormons
MUCH more often!"

Since I was driving, we of course got lost heading home from the LDS
Emergency Services HQ. We found ourselves wandering through a warrenof
twisty little streets (no two alike) in the hilly and rubble-strewn
neighborhood of Peguy-Ville. We probably would have been there still
had we not been passed by a water tanker straining its way uphill to a
refugee camp. After we got back on the road, Jim made a simple
observation. "The truck had to come uphill by the most direct route,
and it was leaking water. Why don't we just follow the drops of water
DOWNHILL, to get back to the main road?" In no time we were back on
track and headed back to the novitiate.

We had been asked to locate some pediatric anti-seizure and other
medications which the doctors from LDS Emergency Services badly needed
to care for some of their patients. Finding the meds at the novitiate
was fairly simple. Finding the mobile Mormon medical teams in the
shaken city was quite another story. As we texted back and forth with
the moving doctors, getting hung up in traffic and barely missing them
repeatedly as they moved (Rubicon-like) from location to location. We
were grinding our way uphill through traffic yet again when Jim said,
"Hey! There they are again!" A different LDS-placarded truck was also
stuck in traffic, inching its way DOWNHILL in the opposite direction.
Again I sprang into action: I drove up onto the curb, set the brake,
and leapt out, shoebox of meds in hand, to dart through three lanes of
traffic and tap on the window of a very startled local LDS driver. I
have no idea what he thought of the sweat-stained, bearded Caucasian
popping out of the median like a jack-in-the-box. I attempted to say
"these medicines are for your doctors", but it probably came out as
"medicate -- doctor -- you -- eggplant!" Needless to say traffic
rolled onward at that critical moment, but as I jogged alongside the
truck, the driver plucked the box of meds neatly from my hand, and we
had made our delivery.

When I got back to our van and back into traffic, it was clearly time
to celebrate with some yummy MREs. So, as we made our way downhill, I
broke open a packet of spaghetti with meat sauce (my all-time favorite
entree). We pulled up at a stoplight, and as I prepared to chow down
on this treasure, I sensed movement out my driver-side window. To my
horror, I saw that we were being approached by the one street-beggar
combo I really can't refuse: a young boy, about eight or nine, holding
out his hand beseechingly as he led an older man, perhaps fifty or
sixty and obviously blind, through traffic towards our vehicle. I gave
up, rolled down the window, and handed the boy the spaghetti and a
spoon. I looked over at Brother Jim, and said, "I just can't eat when
a hungry blind guy is watching me." He sprayed water out of his nose
and laughed uproariously as he passed his own unopened lunch to the
startled pair standing by the van. The light turned green and we
rolled off into traffic. It took us over an hour to cover two miles
back to the novitiate. We laughed the whole way there.

It felt good to see the city bustling with life again after
thismorning's 2AM quiet. It also felt good (though a little bit odd)
to make contact with real aid workers from my own church, although I
certainly feel like a country cousin in comparison with these
well-organized, well-resourced, and quietly competent
professionals.But for me, the best thing was being reunited with my
brother Jim. I hope that I am doing good things for our brothers and
sisters here in Port-au-Prince. I know that this return trip is doing
good things for me. I'm glad that I'm here, and I'm SO grateful for
all of the support from back home, that allows me to come here at all,
and that enables me not to come empty-handed. But I still very much
feel that by being here, I am receiving far more than anything I have
been asked to give. It's humbling, and it encourages me to do my best,
to be of use while I am here, and to be a good representative of my
family, my church, my country, my co-workers, and my friends. Thank
you all for giving me this opportunity to make a second effort so soon
after the first. I will keep you posted on how it all continues to
unfold.

2 comments:

  1. We are praying for you and Jim. I can totally see that entire exchange of laughter taking place in the van. In the midst of all we see and do there, laughter is a much needed commodity. God bless you both and we look forward to hearing of your continued selfless efforts.
    Gunny and Dee

    ReplyDelete
  2. re: english speakers for refugee schools

    Please let us know when this takes shape.

    Thanks.

    Jennifer. <-- trying to think through school during rainy season. eek.

    ReplyDelete