I got the call early Tuesday morning to pack my bags; I was going to Gonaives with my friends from Much Ministries. Gonaives is a city that lies on the coast of the bay, about 3 hours north of Port-au-Prince. I have visited it several times to run clinics for friends who live there. Gonaives was unaffected by the earthquake, but it sits in a valley that floods every few years when hurricanes hit. On my first trip to Gonaives, the city was literally swamped in mud after 3 hurricanes hit it back-to-back-to-back in 2008, creating a wall of water 14 feet high that rushed through, destroying many of the homes and claiming many lives. Since September 2008, Gonaives has been flood-free and it is steadily recovering. It is remarkable to me to return to a city that I first knew as a bog and see the streets clear of mud and trees growing on what was once mud flats.
The team from Much Ministries consisted mostly of teenagers, many of whom are new to Haiti. I acted as a translator and guide sometimes, but I also got to help with the feeding program, run clinic for one day and do some teaching with the Haitian nurse who runs their little clinic. One morning, I had the opportunity to lead a Sunday school program with 40 small children from a local church. Of the 4 Americans assigned to this group, I was the only one who spoke Creole fluently, so I was completely hoarse by the end of the day. We had a great time though, singing songs in English and Creole, acting out Bible stories, and playing Kabrit Kabrit Zwazo (my Haiti version of Duck Duck Goose). The kids could have played that all day!
I had one of my best laughs in a long time when a group of little boys led us down to the waterfront on the edge of the ghetto. My friends Sam and Kevin stripped to their boxers and jumped in the ocean with the boys. When they came out of the water 10 minutes later, I turned the other way to give the guys some privacy as they pulled shorts over wet boxers. Behind me I heard the Haitian boys begin to whoop and laugh and over their shrill voices, I heard Kevin yelling, "Stop it!!" I looked and there was Kevin, yelping and jumping backwards, trying to keep half a dozen little boys from looking down his boxers. They wanted to know if he was indeed white all over!
My favorite part of the week was visiting the homes of several children who live in the slums of Gonaives. I go to the slums of Port-au-Prince regularly, but the neighborhood of Jubile in Gonaives takes it to a whole new level. The people here have less than nothing (if that's possible) because the little they did have was lost in the floods. They showed me how they gather driftwood and salt from the sand flats to sell in the market, one huge basket of salt for only 15 American cents. It is hard to not be able to do more to help them, but simultaneously, it is incredible to see how much it means to them to have us visit their homes and hear their stories. All I can do is listen and then offer to pray for them but just that little gesture puts smiles on all their faces.