Going to the Dominican a few weeks ago has stirred all kinds of memories from my first trip to Hispaniola. Memories of my home church back in those days, as well. Flashbacks, if you will. Good ones. I will probably share a few, at the risk of sounding like an old person talking about the good old days. Lol!
I need to tell you first that Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean and consists of two separate nations. You are entering another country when you pass from the Dominican Republic to Haiti or back again. The Dominican is the larger of the two, and Haiti is the poorer. Very, very poor.
The average annual per capita income is $15,200 in US dollars in the Dominican. In Haiti it is $1,500. That's annual. That is today. I'm not kidding-- I just looked it up.
Two different languages are spoken in the two countries. Spanish is spoken in the Dominican, and Haitian Creole in Haiti. Creole is a form of French. Two different worlds.
My first trip was when I was twenty-two and we went with a group of teenagers to Haiti. We spent our first day there traveling to a town far into the country where we were going to help our missionary with the construction of a church building. Here in the states what we helped build would not be considered a building at all, but the Haitians thought it was wonderful.
When we arrived at our destination the girls were presented with a hut that would be our home for the week. It was just that-- a hut. Dirt floor, straw roof, and not a stick of furniture. A makeshift kitchen was set up outside. And there was an outhouse. A brand new outhouse, built by the missionary who we were there to help. It had been built just for us. I'll tell you something about that outhouse another day. :)
So, the girls were to sleep inside the hut. We had brought sleeping bags, I think. We couldn't have slept in them, but would have slept on top of them, as it is very, very hot in Haiti. Even in late December. The boys were to sleep outside the hut. Not in clusters, but in a circle, surrounding the girls. Again, I'll tell you later the reason why.
So we have the girls inside the hut, the boys encircling the outside of the hut, the makeshift kitchen in the front, and the brand new outhouse off to the right. And a goat, tied up out back.
Yes, in this poorest of poor places, where the entire time I was there I didn't even see a stick of what we would call furniture (and we girls went visiting, hut-to-hut), we had a pet. A goat tied up on a rope. The kids were so excited. (Pardon the pun-- I couldn't resist!) The girls named the goat right away.
Now, you don't see a lot of animals roaming around in the countryside of Haiti. Not even cats and dogs. What animals don't get eaten by starving people get killed in vodou worship services. We'll talk about that later. :)
But we had a pet goat. The kids loved that goat. The girls especially. During our downtime if the kids got a little bored or sick of each other you would find them out back playing with that goat. I wish I could remember his name.
So during the day the boys worked on the church building while the girls visited and invited local folks to church the best we could without speaking the language. A few of us spoke a little French. For me, very little. We had services every evening. It was hot. Very hot. Over one hundred degrees every day and very humid. We drank from the creek. We bathed there, too. So did the locals. They washed their clothes there, as well. And sometimes you'd see someone with a beast of burden, watering it there. Ha!
And we dined on beans and rice every meal. A wonderful local Haitian woman cooked for us in that makeshift kitchen. Beans and rice. That's all they had. That's all they knew. Beans and rice. Then rice and beans. There was some homemade peanut butter too. But mainly beans and rice.
The first couple of days the kids ate very little. But even the pickiest eater got over himself and learned to eat beans and rice. You get really hungry working in that heat.
Long about day four or five our group of exhausted, hot, sweaty, dirty kids came back to the hut for dinner only to find the aroma of a delicious smelling stew. Everyone was so excited. Real food! And just in the nick of time! We were all just about to starve!
Someone said grace and hungry kids began to chow down on our first real meal since we'd been there. I've got to tell you, that stew sure was delicious!
That was until one of those girls went around back to pet the goat. But all she found was the rope.
Oh, the weeping and wailing! Now, I got why they were sad. I wasn't all that happy about it myself. But I was a little embarrassed about the way the girls were behaving. I had to reign them in a bit.
I knew they were hurting the missionary's feelings. He had gone to great trouble and expense to provide this special treat for us. He looked hurt and confused. He was not a young man. Perhaps he'd been in Haiti too long to remember the thinking of a bunch of American teenagers. Perhaps he had forgotren that in the US, everything with four legs is not considered food. :) But he tried.
I don't have a spiritual application for this. I'm sure I could think of one, but I'll leave you to come up with one of your own.
For me it's just a sweet and precious memory. :)
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