Monday, May 28, 2012

Hot Sauce in Haiti

Everyone expects that if you're a missionary you will have some really gross food stories.  And with 25 years of mission experience under my belt, yeah, my stomach could tell you some stories you'd rather not hear.  But this blog entry by Barbi Boots, a physician assistant in Haiti, far surpasses my story-telling abilities, so I will let her do the speaking. 

By the way, this was all triggered by a recent meal in which David couldn't make out the taste of the meat chunks, and it being Haiti, I volunteered that it was likely goat. 

And to think I used to believe monkey brains were the worst thing I ever ate for the sake of the Gospel.  Silly me!

As always, praying before my meals,
               Menudo-eating Melinda (but only when I have to) and David

I am so immature.

I stare down into the bowl of brown meaty chunks floating in a greenish brown watery chum, littered with specks of this and that, surrounded by a slick of swirling oil. I have a sudden flashback to the Louisiana gulf coast, and the BP oil spill catastrophe. The meat bobs like so many slimy, contaminated pelicans in a sea of sticky black crude.

Stew. Oh, no. Please...not stew. No no no. Not stew.

I stand in the dinner line and tap one of the brown floating blobs with the ladle and watch it momentarily sink, then bob resiliently back up to the surface. A strange, stringy, brownish floating leathery substance.


This appears to be Estelle.  The goat.  Last seen tied by a short rope to an overturned toilet out in a distant corner of our compound.  Looking a little different now...her brown fur coat, elongated pupils, little goat smile...all stripped away.  Literally.  Oh, Estelle.  Mwen regret sa.  You have become a stew.

It's not that I'm a picky eater with stringent criteria for meals such as flavor and nutrition.  I eat my own cooking for heaven's sake. And it is a rare day when my culinary efforts contain both items simultaneously.  I learned long ago to be grateful for any food that is put in front of me.  So, though I have never been a fan of most meat, and turn pink and wheeze at the thought of certain shellfish, I will rarely push away a meal that has been prepared for me. At least outwardly. Inwardly, however, there is sometimes a whole lot of resistance going on.

There was that great dish "slaninia" when I lived in the former Soviet Union. That's raw pig fat with skin and, yes, coarse spiky hair still attached. A favorite of the locals, especially fresh from the slaughter. (Sometime, let me tell you the story of a disease called neurocystercercosis... from a 10-plus foot tape worm acquired from eating raw pork. But that's another story for another day.)

Ah, yes...nothing like the sound of a screaming pig as it is slaughtered deftly in a neighbor's yard, hanging from its hind legs from a tree. As it exsanguinates into a bucket from its recent machete slice to the carotids, there is also -- unfortunately -- nothing quite like the sound of a thoughtful, neighbor, generously hacking off a slab of warm fatty flesh and skin, and calling out to you over the fence, "Friend...friend....would you like some slanina?"

I can't say that I ever "liked some slanina."

Thanks, "friend."

But, would I blankly turn my lips upward into a pseudosmile of pseudothanks, force my hand into extension, take the proffered still-warm, hairy, rubbery pig fat between my index finger and thumb, slowly lift it towards my reticently parting lips and shove it deftly at my clenched teeth until they reluctantly parted, then chewed wide eyed with an "mmmmmm..." sound that, depending on one's interpretation, could equal either pleasure or a suppressed whimper?
Yes. Yes I would.

The dance of cultural culinary acceptance.

When I lived in an Alaskan native village, did I similarly extend my hand to the generously proffered dish of raw seaweed, raw sea snails, and some sort of pea-sized raw fish eggs collected in honor of the coming of spring?  Did I pseudosmile as I chewed, each fish egg popping like a small eyeball in my mouth, squirting out a gelatinous sharp fishy ooze that simultaneously caused sweat to pop similarly from the pores of my brow, a reflexive gag in my posterior pharynx and sharp tears to sting the corners of my widely held, unblinking eyes as I whimpered internally?

Yes. Yes, I did.

And, when my friend -- a native Alaskan -- grinned knowingly as she watched me slowly chew and pop with a watery-wide-eyed "mmmmm," pseudosavoring the fishy slime, then quietly reached over and wordlessly scraped the remainder of the mix into her own bowl...did she become one of my heroes for life?

Yes. Yes she did.

Like the Native Alaskans and Native Americans that I have known, I am an omnivore sometimes out of necessity.  But, as a not-avid meat- and living- creature eater, I acknowledge the sacrifice of the creature that gave its life for mine.
So, I will quietly eat what is lain before me...and be grateful for its generosity.

Or, so I try to tell my so-called-noble self.

This intellectual challenge to the palate is far more acute when one spends the day staring at malnourished children. Ten pound 2-year-olds. Young teenagers no taller than a first grader.  Mothers who grab at my arm and say, "Dokte...I cannot feed my children. They are starving.  Can you please help me?  Can you give me food?"  Orange-haired Haitian children...with scaling skin, bulging bellies, protruding ribs...evidence of protein malnutrition.  Marasmus Kwashiorkor. Starvation.

I am lucky to be eating.  Even luckier to have protein.  I am so overtly well fed. Overly fed.  More than fortunate.  What a hypocrite I am, I think, as I balk at the proteinacous floating bits before me.  Hungry sunken child eyes and flaccid skin and bony ribs flash behind my eyelids.  Selfish hypocrite.

And so, I take a deep breath and face the bobbing oil-slickaceous goat stew.

Thank you, Estelle the goat, for the days tied without dignity to the toilet, fattening yourself up for this day.  That can't have been an inspiring life for you.  Thank you cooks, who raised, slaughtered, skinned and slaved to prepare this stew for me today.  Because you are honoring me as a volunteer in your clinic and a guest in your land with this gift of meat. Because you take the time to caringly cook for me.  In a land where so many go hungry every night.

Thank you for this food today. And for the contrast of my lot in life...with those that I meet every make me realize how fortunate and comfortable I truly am.

Don't let me forget that.

And, well, in a flash of extreme immaturity, here's a shout out to Louisiana Hot Sauce.

You are the ambassador of the international food ingestion challenge. The peacekeeper.  The great leveler of the experimental palate.  Creating peace, understanding and culinary tolerance wherever you set your beautiful red-orange glass-bottled self.

Glad to have made your acquaintance here in Haiti.
You single-handedly retrieved the shards of my wavering idealism while effectively suppressing my overly zealous goat-induced gag reflex.

Today, you -- in your uniquely fiery, spicy, distractingly vivacious nature -- are my hero.  Perhaps, starting today, I will endeavor to be more like you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I will be telling the 'miracle' story of Wendy soon, but since I haven't had time to write it in it's entirety yet, wanted to pass on this recent blog entry from John McHoul of Heartline because it is a clear reminder why your prayers do indeed matter to us:

"...ministering in Haiti can, at times, be rather difficult. We daily can encounter situations, heartache, sadness and unjustness that can seem overwhelming and which, at times, can seep into our beings.

Just this week among other situations we had the bio mom of a child that went through our adoption program come to our house to see me. I had seen her about two months ago when I gave her money sent by the family that adopted her child. She told me that on the day that I had given her the money, she left our house and got on a public transportation vehicle to go home. A man who got on the vehicle with her, confronted her, and demanded the money that she had received. It seemed that he had seen her when she counted the money while standing on the street in front of our house. He grabbed her purse, and when she wouldn’t let go, he pulled out a gun and shot her three times. All the other people in the vehicle fled and the driver took this women to a hospital where she spent three weeks. She by God’s grace survived and now she stood before me, showing me the three bullet wounds and wanting to know how I can help her.

This week, as well, the sister-in law of one of our dear, long-term staff members was kidnapped by men that broke into her home at two in the morning as she, her husband, and six month old child slept. The men cut the electricity to the house, broke in, made her and her husband lie face down on the floor, and forcibly removed her, leaving her husband and child. This is not a rich family, but rather a young couple who are trying to make it in a country that often seems inhospitable to those that are trying to build a better life for themselves and for their children. The initial ransom price is two hundred thousand dollars American. A ridiculously absurd amount from a family that perhaps takes in five hundred dollars a month. The family has yet to speak to her to verify her condition.

Today I received a call from a woman, that I had last seen at the funeral service of her daughter who had died of AIDS. She’s coming to see me this week.

Today I had a Haitian policeman come to the office to see me. I have known him and his family for a number of years and consider him a friend. Three weeks ago he was on a moto taxi when the driver lost control of the motorcycle. The moto hit a vehicle parked on the side of the road and my friend in the collision sustained broken ribs, and a broken arm. He came for help with his hospital bill and to know if we could help his family with food.

As I believer I firmly believe that God’s word is not just good advice to help us through trying times, but rather, it has the power to strengthen us in times of weakness. It can empower us to hold on when holding on seems the most difficult thing to do." 

Matthew 11:28
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Galatians 6:9
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heaven in Haiti

Today I had another slice of heaven in Haiti. Some people who have been here find that hard to imagine, yet others who see beyond the rubble, grime, and poverty understand completely, because those who have eyes to see know that the treasure of Haiti is it's people. 

Today's 'slice' came in the form of children.  Not so surprising for those of you who know me well. Actually, those who don't know me deeply still discern that pretty quick.  So yeah, though I and almost 200 other kids were crammed into a space about the size of two American  master bedrooms,  I was happy as a looney lark. These children all live in what the world would call a slum, but every Saturday afternoon, they forget their environment and focus on Jesus.  They come running, smiling, dressed in their finest, just so they can be embraced by Jesus' love that we carry to them.

I had to walk 2 or 3 miles over uneven garbage-covered dirt roads, to get there, but it was worth every step.  I kind of relish walking such roads where I see chickens, pigs, cattle, goat and lots of people. On one small rickety bridge we had to make room for both motorcycles and cattle to cross before us.
Though I don't speak much Creole and was mainly there just to help my two  Haitian friends with their 200+ participant kid's club, I marveled at the fact that the children hung on me afterwards like I was their best friend.  These children are so eager, so hungry (physically and spiritually), and so open, I wonder why there aren't armies of Christians here seeking them out.  They certainly aren't hard to find.  

Nonetheless, I thank God for the opportunity to participate in what He is doing here.  It truly is amazing and the fact that the local voodoo priest, Jonas Joseph, came to the meeting underscores that fact.  We met him on the way in, shook his hand and prayed for him.  He was curious and spiritually hungry and admitted that the only reason he was a voodoo priest was because he couldn't find work in any other business.  

If you want to help this work continue, please contact me.  The two Haitians who run it do so at their own expense, and neither of them can 'afford' to do so.  Their hearts of compassion though tell them they can't afford not to, so they move in faith for the sake of the children, Jonas Joseph, and Jesus.  I personally know that the 35 year old man who started this has no money in a bank or in his pockets.  In fact, we are staying with his family and we'd have no food tonight if we hadn't brought some packaged food from America.   Haiti is recognized as the third hungriest nation in the world and that reality was highlighted once again  as I walked the roads and strangers greeted me time and time again with, "I'm hungry."
Thank you to each one of you who has prayed or contributed.  It is humbling to be here amongst His servants and I couldn't do it without your support.