Mission: Haiti – Third World Time Management

by John Cummings on March 12, 2010

The Air France flight attendant hovering over me asked again, perhaps for the third time, if I wanted water.  “Monsieur?  Monsieur?”  I woke abruptly, in a light sweat, unsure of my surroundings, thirsty.  In a moment, I recovered from the startle, realizing I was on a plane returning from my mission trip to Haiti.

In the dream I had just awakened from, I was hearing the same call, “Monsieur!”  But in my dream the voice was one of alarm and had been coming from the lips of a beautiful young Haitian girl standing over me as I lay in the dirty rubble of a broken, dirty street.   Madeleine.   The girl (how did I know her name?), was trying to shake me awake, her yellowed eyes showing grave concern that I wake up. I resisted.  I was unable to move.

Madeleine renewed her plea, speaking in a tongue that sounded vaguely familiar but in words I could not quite figure out.  “Ede mwen!  Ede mwen!”   Help!  Help!  She was asking for help but she was speaking in Creole.

I was lying on the ground next to a collapsed building in a Port-au-Prince slum, alone.   Except for Madeleine, the streets were desolate.  Dust and the acrid smell of decay and death surrounded us.   Although her height and weight were that of an 8-year old, Madeleine’s face was double or triple that in years.  She had already seen too much, experienced too much for a girl of any age.  My heart ached for her pain, but I felt cold inside.

A black bird of impossible size flew overhead and I turned my eyes away from it though I was unable to move otherwise.  The girl looked hungry and thirsty, her bare feet covered in dried blood and the filth and dust of the street.   Her outstretched hands reached for something that I was holding but she wasn’t really reaching at all, her arms lifeless, limp as she hung over me, somehow, almost suspended from a rope.   The large black bird drew near. It was bigger than I had even thought possible now that it was closer.  And I smelled it, as it took Madeleine in it’s enormous talons and took her away.  She was already dead.  Why had I not seen it.  The bird was death.  “Monsieur!  Monsieur!” Madeleine cried out to me, her voice filled with urgency, but from motionless, dry lips as she faded into the fog of the dark, sunless afternoon.

I am awake now, heading to safety in Florida and back to my beautiful family and home.  My brief descent into Haiti is behind me physically but I am changed, forever.  My perspective on time and space and reality is out of whack like a broken compass.  But I have never felt so alive.  The city of Port-au-Prince, incomprehensively demolished by an act of God.  Town after town, seemingly God-forsaken, reduced to rubble.   People living in conditions not fit for animals, yet able to smile and laugh and sing with us as we attended to their immediate medical needs.  (photos of Haiti)  My nightmare, perhaps a product of the common side effects of the anti-malarial prescription, perhaps a side effect of the graphic images that I saw, won’t likely be my last.

Our accomodations in Haiti, although 100 times better than anyone living in the cities and towns we visited, were bare and surreal.  We had running water but ice cold.  We had electricity but the sound of a generator was the norm most of the time.   We slept on cots and pool floats in damp, albeit spacious quarters, struggling to sleep, although exhausted, because of the constant cry of frogs and roosters that screenless windows did little to muffle.   As I lay awake at night, I prayed for guidance, or a vision or an explanation of what the meaning could be of all of this, of my part in it.    Could I really change any of this?  Could any of us change any of this?

I’m still searching for answers to those questions.  But one thing is for sure.  Most Haitians have all the time in the world, but no money.   Most Americans I know have more than enough money, but they don’t realize it.  So they slave away at the grindstone, putting off their dreams until “someday” comes.  When most Americans die, their wish list still lies out there on “Someday, I’ll . . .” in the middle of nowhere.  What are you waiting for?

Are you one of them? Wishing you could make a trip to Haiti, or Africa, or Israel?  Or that you could find time to learn to play guitar, speak spanish, visit your Mom or your friends in California?   Make time.  Literally.  Make time.  You have the power to get the nonsense that you call work every day done, in so much less time than you’re spending.  And when you stack up the hours you save by eliminating nonsense, you’ll be able to spend it doing amazing things, like a missionary trip to Haiti.

Don’t miss your chance.

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