The van is full to the gills with of our luggage, food for a week, cost for 12 people, shovels and water. We receive our last minute briefing from Tom about safety, customs and procedures, and we circle for a prayer and leave with anticipation. Passing through Port au Prince and then on to the highway to Mellier we witness the swirls of market day, women with large bundles of goods balanced on their heads, scores of beeping mopeds, Tap Taps and autos speeding past thousands of blue tarped tents and temporary dwellings , home to thousands of displaced persons in the quake zone. We will come to know the constant dust, debris and animation of the Haitian life. Noises are everywhere, barking stray dogs, skinny and disliked; crowing rooters, chiming in at 4:30; strange sounds in the night of birds or who knows what. It is a scene which will be repeated throughout our week when we venture forth from the Mellier countryside. We will also come to know the constant warmth and welcoming love of the Haitian people and their children. We pick up our trusted interpreters, Jean Claude and Caz in Carrefour, who are well known from the prior VIM trip in February, and with good cheer we rumble on towards Mellier.
Arriving at the site, we see a small work crew shoveling dirt into the stem wall foundation of the new church and are greeted by young children who run to our prior VIM team’s members, bursting with animated greetings. Setting up our "camp” in the temporary school rooms and unlading supplies takes several hours at which point we break for a light lunch and are introduced to our loving cooking/ support team of Dina, Betty, Claudie, Michelin, and Marlene. We bring water to the workers and visit the temporary church/schoolhouse.
A light rain begins to fall mid-afternoon and an impromptu recreation session starts in one of the school rooms. We assemble crayons, color paper, paste along with a session of UNO and reading and 20 or so children of all ages along with several parents sit around the desks as we color, play and get to know each other.
It is a warm and loving introduction to these wonderful children of Mellier who glow in the attention and laugh at out bad French and silly jokes. For the first of many cycles, our tiny tape recorder is put to good use as we listen to one the two tapes of kids’ music we have brought: Cajun Boogaloo. As with many things in Haiti, we lean to improvise, make do with what we have and to slow down time to relish relationships and the simple things in life, held together by the palpable sense of common caring for each other that is thick in the air.
Later in the afternoon as after the rain has subsided, Jean Claude and Caz take us on a walking tour of Mellier. We amble down the rutted roads of the village, past vast sugar cane fields until we arrive at the local river, brown with silt erosion from the mountain, and a large gravel digging site, in which 40 workers and several large dump trucks are busy digging grave
l from the river. We pass by the homes of the villagers: clusters of three of four temporary tents, with outdoor charcoal fires for cooking in front, surrounded by the few possessions they have. We pass several of the large mapou trees known for their spiritual power in voodoo ceremonies, and we stop at the one bar in Mellier for a well-deserved cold Coke and reflection.
After a wondrous supper of goat, fried okra, beans and rice, plaintines, banana and mango, we have our evening reflection. We share our first thoughts on what God has put before us to understand: widespread poverty, endless displaced persons, damaged homes and amongst it all, the Haitian people, survivors, making the best of a desperate situation, bound by family, friends and a powerful sense of the Sprit. After dark we gather outside under the stars for the first of our evening Creole hymn sessions, led by Caz and the women of our team who know each of the hymns by heart; they are sung with a deep devotion and rhythmic repetition, showing the powerful soothing powers of these hymns for all of us. Our Creole is bad but we sing the hymns with gusto, and interlace English versions that are also known by our Haitian friends.
Our evening ends with the sounds of the Haitian night arising around us, a cool breeze and a sense of anticipation for the remainder of the week.