Interior Haiti missionary trip by Clyde Wehrle to build a medical clinic in 2001 .
Port Au Prince , Haiti Riding in the back of a two ton truck
Truckload of Hatians passing us Loaded truck of Hatians
Sawmill. The hand saw is the black object in the center. A man stood Canoe Porter on top of the log and aonther stood under it to saw the lag in half.
The Medical Clinic View from Medical Clinic
A Hatinn child and Blah watchers The Voodoo Doll
My friend who traded clothes with brother and sister. Kids did a selfy
Haitian Hut Government road crew repairng roads with their hoes.
Hatian Saddle Our dinner being cooked
The girl with the blood clot riding to the hospital which refused to help her. An old lady riding in to the medical clinic
Charlie the nurse and partner in building the clinic treating the old lady The stream I bathed in
The national bird of Haiti is the Humming bird. It took me 3 days to figure out why. It was because it was the only bird left which they could not catch and eat. The critters of the jungle had all been replaced with people. Everywhere you looked there was someone.
My father had invited me to join his missionary group going deep into Haiti to build a medical clinic which was a vision of a friend and his. When we arrive we were almost frantically hustled out of the airport by the nervous missionary guides. The journey started in a 2 ton flatbed truck on the best but still horrible road through port au prince. It was dangerous enough that there was no stopping or lagging until we cleared the outskirts of this city. For the most part ,the city was nothing more than a mass of sheets of tin and cardboard covering acres and acres to make homes for the extreme poverty. We then continued up the mountain. Our personal sympathy of being tossed around in the back of the truck by the rough road would diminish a bit every time we passed a bus or truck coming by us. They were all loaded to the breaking point. Buses had half of their passengers on top of the bus. After hours of bouncing in the back of the truck we came to a stream crossing in which the rains had damaged. As we inspected it people in the village came over. We needed them to help us remove the rocks. As we bartered every suggestion had to be passed to the villagers which created a roar of input. A sum was eventually reached and they removed the stones. Rumor has it that every time it rains the village wait until someone in a truck arrives to remove them like a little toll pass.
At the second stream we realized we were going to spend the night there. Everyone stretched out over every possible inch of the truck to try to sleep. A few Haitians built a fires and sat by it. I did not want to do either so in the dark I picked a spot on the ground and slipped into my sleeping bag. Though I was exhausted it was sort of magical. The small flickering flame of the Haitian fire blended with the poetic Haitian discussion and the most overwhelming night sky I had ever seen. A lesson you learn in sleeping on the ground on the first night in a 3rd world country is you are not the least bit hesitant to get out of the bag every hour and shake the critters out . As the night went by I realized the Haitians knew to visit all night by the fire rather than to sleep on the ground or limited space on the truck.
After the second stream crossing was cleared we made it to the last town the truck could reach. From there we had to back pack a couple of hours to the river, cross it and another hours walk to the clinic. Dad had something he had to do which was out of the way so he sent a Haitian missionary with me to go ahead to the village. They made it clear there was an agreement with the canoe porter to not charge us over 2 dollars. We did a lot for them building this clinic and they should not over charge us. The Haitian missionary and I made to the ½ mile wide river. The canoe porter was ready and waiting. I gave him the 4 bucks and he wanted more or he would not take us. I had made a huge mistake. The night before I left, I stayed up all night partying. I never realized it would take almost 2 days of flying and two days of driving and walking to get there. I was exhausted. I was also pissed that my father had sunk so much money in helping these people and they wanted to double charge me. There was little argument when he asked for the doubled fare. I clearly stated for him to fuck off and die. I then laid down to nap. I was done and done in. A few minutes after I closed my eyes the Haitian missionary woke me and told me he had paid the fee to cross. We then hopped into a 20 foot wood dugout canoe and crossed the river. A few days later the head missionary took me aside and scolded me. The @@@@ off and die was inappropriate language for a missionary. I had no idea the Haitian missionary who had accompanied me spoke any English. oops.
After an hours hiking we arrived at the small interior village. There is a lot of missionary work done in Haiti. Most of it was in the city. Every mile that we got from port au prince there was less missionary work until finally there was none. The best way I can describe where I was at is it was 4 hours from the last deserted missionary structure and 8 hours from coke a cola . When you get this deep into Haiti you experience blah watching. This means every move you make is observed by at least 5 people. Blah means white in Haitian.
The clinic was open for business and we had a nurse with us to work in it. It was located on the edge of a small village of about a 100 people. To receive treatment you must first sign up and go to a short worship service. It was heartbreaking treating a lot of the people, especially the children. There were far too many pot belly skinny kids who bordered on starving. I think one in three didn’t make it. One of the mothers had made a second trip from over the mountain to the clinic because her child was dying. The nurse realized they had given the mother powdered formula on the last visit and she had drank it instead of feeding it to her baby. Her baby was probably not going to make it. One girl about 16 had a horrible blood clot in her leg. Her leg was extremely swollen . The clinic could not help her. On our way back to port au prince , she rode a donkey 5 miles to a Haitian hospital. There were reasonable odds the clot would break loose on the jarring ride. The hospital refused to treat her because she did not have any money.
Our wood had to be ferried across the river and then portaged, board by board, for miles through the jungle. One man, one board. It was easy to stay ahead of the supply so I had a lot of free time. I was supposed to stay on the clinic ground but it was impossible for me to do. As I wandered the village the children would follow me. I had brought several bags of tootsie rolls, so after the kids would follow me for a while we would all sit down and have a tootsie roll. I quickly felt like the Pied Piper. Everywhere I went I had 10 children tagging along. There were so many children in such bad shape. A few of them would beg very hard. There was one quiet 8 year old girl who would always follow me and smile. I had her take me to meet her family. She had an older brother and sister. They only had 3 pairs of clothes so each day they traded. They had one dress, so every third day the 8 year old boy had to wear the dress. Their only toy was a rubber ball which they used with stones to play jacks. The hut their family lived in was sufficient yet I saw some families in which the hut was so small they could not have all laid down at the same time.
A boy of about 7 constantly begged. I couldn’t shake him off and he would not let up. He was starving. I tried to talk the children into going to the clinic but they never went. I wonder if some families were afraid of the clinic.
I wanted to see my children who followed me live. I had no clue on how to help them. One day while we were parading around I starting singing the Elvis song, lonely street. I am not sure how I rationalized my decision but I felt if they could sing this song it might be the difference between life and death if they met a “blah”. So we marched around all day singing “ sins ma babah let ma , etc. I once again got taken aside by the missionaries and ask why I was teaching them rock and roll instead of Jesus songs. I knew they could walk into the clinic for help. Elvis was for a small chance in hell that someone in the rest of the world would find enough interest in them to help them at all. I sort of suspect that years later someone will walk into that village and hear a strange Haitian song about a blah which sounds a lot like rock and roll or the blues.
Possibly the most dangerous thing in Haiti is the water. It contains deadly parasites. I needed a bath and decided I would try to go to the stream and bathe. I shoo’ed all the children away and found as close as I could, a private place to bathe on the stream. While I was bathing the little starving boy that begged too much slipped up and sat by my clothes. I realized he was guarding them. He certainly was persistent. I had hopped in the water in my underwear because it is almost impossible to find privacy and when I started to get dressed I realized I had a bunch of tootsie rolls in my pants pocket which would get wet if I put my pants on over my wet underwear . I unloaded a fortune of tootsie rolls and gave them to the child. He was now rich, very rich. I started back to the clinic. He tapped me on the back and gave me a tootsie roll. A Haitian child can chew a tootsie roll all day. I chewed and swallowed and he kept tapping me and giving me another until I had devoured his fortune. When I left the village I took everything I had brought and gave it to my friends. I looked him up that day and took him behind a hut. He happened to have clothes with lots of pockets. I filled all his pockets with change. It was a hoot.
The biggest aid package to Haiti comes from the Christian church missionary work. Haitians are 50% Christians and 100% voodoo. There are only two things you hear at night. The voodoo drums playing in the distance and the roosters signaling the break of morning. Out of curiosity I had a Haitian take me to a voodoo temple. It turned out to be a little shed which was locked. The priest eventually showed up and opened it. I asked to see the voodoo drum. It was whitewashed green and about 3 feet tall and a foot wide. A friend had given me a watch which he told me was a knock off. I offered it to the priest and he gave me the drum. When I later told my friend about my good fortune he grimaced and admitted it wasn’t a knock off watch. The drum barely fit in the army duffel bag I had.
Our group had taken a long walk to a site. On the way the missionaries had pointed out a tree with voodoo dolls on it. There was special interest in one voodoo doll which had blonde hair. It was certainly a voodoo doll of us. The night before I left I decided to take the voodoo doll. I waited till sunset and headed out. I found the voodoo doll and started back. It was dark by then and I felt a little nervous packing a swiped voodoo doll. The path went through deep woods and there were bolts of lightning lighting up the jungle. You are never alone in Haiti and every time the lightning lit up the jungle I could see the eyes of people watching me. Eventually I realized I was lost. There I was swiping their voodoo doll and lost in their jungle being watched every step I took . There was no hope of anyone understanding English and I was alone on the path except for the jungle eyes. Walking in the dark I almost stumbled head on into a person. I followed them sort of hoping they were headed for other people instead of deep jungle. After 15 minutes of walking I found myself back at the clinic. It took me years to realize probably someone from the village knew I had walked off and had come looking for me.
I was hanging out in front of the clinic people watching. A lady approached me with her one year old child. I showed interest and tried to make all the motions so she could understand I enjoyed meeting them. Then I realized she was trying to give me her child. I do not think you can predict what you are going to feel when a parent try’s to give you their child to save them. Haitians had a very tough life. I have often thought about the mother wanting me to take her child. Would a child be better of living in another world or dying in their mothers arm. Haitians celebrated life more than comfortable people. It would be a tough call for me.
I had slipped out of the village early the morning we left to say goodbye to the children. I passed out my bedroll and anything else I had to part with. I was late getting back and missed my breakfast. After hiking for hours and porting the river, I was starved when I reached the first town . I bought a burrito like thing from a vendor. After a bite or two I realized it had chunks of meat in it and threw it away. There is no refrigeration and meat is dangerous. I was sick for a couple of months after I got home. I never figured it out if it was the burrito or it was The confusion of seeing people more alive living close to death. The Haitian had worked hard all day. They went to Christian church in the evening and voodoo partied all night. They had sunken eyes yet could see the value of life clearly. In ways they were happier than I could be.