Wednesday, March 07, 2012

First Impressions...

Someone said that first impressions set the tone for all later encounters.
Actually, I think I just said that. Or wrote it.
First impressions last.

Here are a few more images and stories of some of my first impressions of Bayonnais, Haiti.

Arriving at OFCB, this is the first view of the school, the back of the school building. A simple cinder block structure that serves almost 2000 students, from pre-kindergarten through 13th grade. The elementary students arrive at 8 am and leave at 1 pm. The older students arrive at 1 and leave at 6 pm. For many of the students, the meal of rice and beans they eat at school each day, is their only daily sustenance.

Our sleeping quarters were simple, rustic, and active. And by active, I mean that roaches (one was described as "mouse-sized") scampered about, as did ants (oh, how I love ants!) - even a scorpion was captured on the bunkbed of one of my travel mates. God, in His great mercy, allowed me to be in other rooms or outside or otherwise distracted when the heretofore mentioned critters were spotted, captured, and dealt with. Glory be!

For Thold, the man in the green shirt, this was his fourth or fifth trip to Haiti. (The same was true for my dearly beloved friend, Gibbs.) As soon as he stepped off the bus, Thold was surrounded by students, teachers, and pastors alike. He spent most of the four days we were there in meetings, talking, walking, and neck deep in relationship-building with the Haitian people. He loves that place and its people. It was impressive to watch.

The rest of the team was set upon by critters of a different sort: children. So many beautiful, funny, winsome, polite, energetic, inquisitive, affectionate, loving children. You might be wondering why I didn't choose a better picture. I'll tell you why - this is the best picture I took from that first moment of meeting the children of Bayonnais. They flittered, fluttered, ran, jumped rope, gestured, laughed, played catch, and otherwise wiggled nearly non-stop for four days.

These two boys, Stenson and Phito, caught my attention that first afternoon. They both speak excellent English, introduced themselves to me, and sought me out each day thereafter to talk and get to know me. I have several photos of myself with Stenson and Phito, and in a private moment I gave each of them a small silver cross as a gift. I suspect that we will not soon forget each other. I will miss them both terribly.

Aren't their uniform shirts beautiful? Apparently, former students of the school were taught to sew and made the shirts for all 1900+ students. Actually, the pre-K students wear different uniforms, but all the plaid shirts, for the boys and girls, were made by graduates of OFCB.

For six months in 2011, Thold and his family hosted Pierre, the young man in the blue shirt, here in Charlotte while he underwent extensive surgery and treatment for an infected and deeply degraded knee - an injury he sustained after falling from a donkey. Pierre returned to Bayonnais this past December. On the first night of our visit, we walked from the school grounds to Pierre's house and were all moved to weeping by their tearful reunion. This photo was taken as Pierre translated his family's words of thankfulness to Thold.

As soon as these little girls saw my camera flash, they turned to me and, almost in unison, said, "Photo? Photo?" They posed nearly a dozen times and asked to see the image on my camera each time. For this photo, they decided to stand still.

Despite the drought, the poverty, and the widespread hunger, we were fed like royalty. And we were deeply grateful for the work that was done on our behalf to procure food at a market over an hour away and to prepare three meals for us every day. I cannot imagine what the aroma of that food must do to the hearts, minds, and bodies of the people just outside the windows and doors of the building every time a team comes to visit.

After we finished dinner on Thursday night, Pastor Amilor, in the dark green shirt, welcomed and greeted us with a song. Amilor has a wonderfully deep and expressive voice. Thold told us that when Pierre would send messages to his family from Charlotte back to Bayonnais, he too would sing his greetings. Singing is a spectacular way to make a first impression, I can assure you.

Pastor Eddie is a native Haitian who now makes his home in Charlotte. But he returns to Haiti three or four times per year for six weeks at a time to oversee activities, growth, and programming at OFCB. He is an avid storyteller who calls himself "a man on a mission for God." Both Amilor and Eddie shared some of their life stories with us that first night and over the following days of our visit. Eddie returned to Charlotte on the same day that we did, but will go back to Bayonnais when the next group from First Presbyterian Church heads down there in the middle of April.

My first impressions of that tiny mountain village, its school, its children, and its open-armed hospitality will last me a lifetime. I understood within a few short hours why Gibbs and Thold and Eddie and Katie and so many others return to Haiti as often as possible.

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