Stepping from the airplane, I knew this was an altogether different place than I had ever visited. On the outskirts of the city, the rough roads were unlike any other entry point. Short, squat, cinderblock buildings with tall, wrought-iron fences, fearsome gates and metal roofs lined the streets.
The main road was flooded. Sanitation workers shoveled to clear ditches so that the clogged water could flow. Even though they steadily scooped, emptied and scooped again, it seemed that it would take weeks to clear the mess.
Most people walked. Children played with sticks and sang at the top of their lungs. Colorful buses and trucks, called “tap-taps,” rumbled up and down the way. Horns beeped constantly.
We drove past a community water source not unlike hand-pumps at rustic campsites. Children and women had 5- and 10-gallon containers they filled to carry to their homes for cooking and drinking. Fresh water did not flow via pipes into most homes. Collect and carry was the only option.
Men and women alike slapped their wet laundry on stones creekside. In some neighborhoods, children yelled in a tone that sounded almost like a curse, “Blanc! Blanc!” In others, children smiled widely and waved as they ran alongside our 15-passenger van.
We arrived at the mission. It was half of a former monastery compound. The monks now lived in the dormitories. The half where we gathered had become a retreat center for missionaries serving across the Haitian countryside.
Within a few hours, a group of college students from a large university arrived at the compound. After a simple supper, rain began to fall. We watched as these students, who would return to the United States the next day, danced in the rain. They grabbed bars of soap and washed themselves— hair, faces and bodies — while still fully dressed. We wondered if there was something we didn’t know or understand.
We would soon learn.
Memories of my experiences in Haiti circa 1996 came rushing back yesterday. We have not felt rain in six long weeks. The dry earth aches and heaves. In the eventide, clouds gathered. The blue sky grayed. Drops began to sound on our roof. I couldn’t help myself! I shouted with glee and ran outside to dance in the rain and praise God.
We have spigots, pipes and hoses. So does Haiti. But in the mid-1990s, the water of Port-au-Prince was turned on only at certain times. Residents would collect what they needed to get through the stretches of hours without.
On the day we arrived, the water main for the city had broken. Water flowed nonstop for three days. In response, once shut off, the water did not run for an equal amount of time. Without warning, the people would suffer. It was difficult to understand.
Even now, I know the explanations we received 23 years ago were oversimplified for a first-world audience. We were in a sheltered, supported area. Meanwhile the slums of Cité-Soleil struggled with immense poverty in their homes of concrete, metal, cardboard and scavenged stuff.
We went to help. I wonder now how our helping helped. It surely brought funds to an impoverished place. We were to build a church, but we could not get permits from a corrupt government. We helped instead with a mountain church and a city orphanage. The people and lessons of the land helped us.
By the end of our week, we knew what it was to be so very dry. We had learned about consuming more than our share of stored water. And we learned why those college students danced in the rain.
On our last evening in Haiti, it rained. In the downpour, we danced. With bars of soap, we washed every bit ourselves, unconcerned that we remained fully dressed. We blessed God for the water and prayed for the people who needed renewing Water of Life.
Where do you find replenishing? What is dry and aching? Where have you seen deserts spring to life?