Katie wrote about how kind the Ackermans are to us. I am finding John to be an awesome tutor about all things Haiti. John is also one of the funniest missionaries I have met and he likes M*A*S*H. He owns the whole series on box set. I wonder which character he identifies with most?
Today John told me he had some errands to run and wanted to know if I wanted to go along. I jumped at the chance. I had not left the school since I went trespassing on the airport in the borrowed school truck so I was anxious to leave. But I was also hopeful that it would be less adventurous than driving across every UN member nation's camp site.
When you drive down the roads in Port you see things like this:
We are headed to Tabarre. John needed to visit another missionary, Animal, who is his best friend. They have some business dealings that must be sorted out. John, Animal and others are the kind of people I want to be likein this country- able to find anything, and knowing of just the right people to make anything happen.
It is a long road to where Animal is working right now, so we pass a lot of this:
Buildings that have collapsed. I have no idea how all of this rubble will be removed. I have only seen heavy equipment at a few sites. Most of those are ones that were heavily reported on immediately after the quake. This country has little in the way of tools. I think that piles of rubble will remain for many years.
After driving for about 30 minutes, during most of which John lectures Haitian drivers on their terrible judgement and motor skills, we arrive at the "house" where Animal is.
Animal is not his real name. But when I saw him I immediately thought of the character from the Muppets. I think it was the hair. Animal is a missionary from Boston. He speaks his Creole with cah's and ah's. He has long wavy red hair that looks like a wild mess. He is short and stocky but he clearly is the center of wherever he is. The nickname fits- Animal.
The house Animal is at was a women's clinic. In this small Port-au-Prince suburb it is now a hospital. One of the nurses there (a Texas Tech Grad! Wreck 'em!) tells me that in this modest home the have done a few amputations, a C-section delivery, and treated a gunshot wound, amongst other earthquake-related injuries. When I asked her where they did all of that work, she pointed to the porch and said, "Right there!"
She was full of great energy for the task at hand, but others were worn out. While John and Animal talked, I snooped around the clinic.
On the balcony a volunteer grabbed some much needed shut-eye.
John finishes swirling around the house/clinic, encouraging the staff and checking on supplies. He stands in a doorway and motions for me to follow him. We walk back outside with Animal and another missionary, get in Animal's truck, and head off.
Money is the issue at hand. Haitians are only selling things in the local currency and us blans are buying a lot of things. Most of the cash we have on hand is in US dollars. John gave Animal some money to get exchanged but it has not been done yet. Apparently we all are going...
John and Animal sit in the front seat and howl with laughter. They give each other a hard time about past offenses and Animal even suggests that he spent John's money so John will need to give him more. They laugh like old friends. I sit sheepisly in the back seat wondering what bank we are going to... I know they are all closed and have heard many different time frames about when they will open up.
We pull up to the Tabarre market. An open-air market bustling with people. Everywhere. Everyone shouting in Creole. People selling everything from hot dogs and soda pop to jeans and cell phones. Apparently they also exchange money here.
Animal walks in like he owns the place. He sees the man he wants and fires off quick sentences in Creole with big hand gestures. We leave the open space and walk into a row of stalls next to a woman selling toiletries, soap, shampoo and hair extensions. Very quickly large wads of cash are produced by both parties and the haggling starts.
I am overwhelmed. There must be thousands of US dollars and tens of thousands of Gourdes out right now. High rollers in Vegas do not carry stacks like these two groups of men produced. I ask the other missionary, whose name I never learned, if it would be impolite to take a picture. He quickly says yes. They argue about the conversion rate. Before the quake it was 42 Gourdes to 1 US dollar, but now there are no banks and paper money is in short supply. They settle on a rate of about 38 to 1. A good price, I am told. Now both sides are counting stacks. At one point our Haitian friend actually runs out of money and pulls up his pant leg, revealing in his tube sock an even larger roll of cash. He continues counting. There is some good-natured joking and all the money changes hands.
As we walk out of the dark aisle between stalls and back into the open air of the market, Animal stops and speaks to a woman in Creole, then takes her bottle of soda and has a long swig of Haitian Coke. John starts cracking up. Animal walks five more steps, takes a bite of another woman's hot dog, swallows, then declares, "I love this country!" At this point John is laughing so hard I am worried about his surgically repaired heart. Animal has changed just under several thousand in cash and shared an impromptu meal with total strangers.
We get back in the truck and go home.
I wish there was some moral to this story or something to say to wrap it up neatly. But there isn't. These missionaries need big-time cash to keep their work running, and sometimes they have to go to crazy back-alley places to get it in the right currency.
Please know that while this post may sound humorous, we in the city are dealing with the devestation around us every day. Nothing is ok in the city.