It is a short journey across the river, through the maze of people vehicles and animals congregating on the border navigating the haphazard passport and immigration posts with multiple forms filled and money changing hands. It is a short journey but everything changes. Even the climate seems to change from the balmy late afternoon warmth on the Dominican side to the intense heat of Haiti. It is difficult to understand why this is so marked but the long term effects of deforestation must have something to do with it. There are other changes too: language, culture and race,from Hispanic Latino to black. But the biggest change, the biggest shock is the experience of descending into a new level of poverty. I have seen poverty before but not on this level or on this scale. “Prepare to be shocked” people said. But how can you prepare to be shocked? It is impossible unless you could temporarily cut yourself off off from your emotions and resolve to feel nothing.
Having a job to do helps. There was a site to survey, dimensions to take and a project to discuss with the pastor. Later he took us to visit some of the people he cares for. In the tight packed lanes with dogs sleeping in the baking sun, chickens and hens scavenging among the rubbish, and the smells of cooking, pigeon coots, and smoking rubbish, naked children and donkeys, we called on a number of homes. In our world these would be garden sheds that we never got round to demolishing to make way for a better one. Here they are homes for six to ten people, a mixture of concrete and timber houses with tin roofs, often lined inside with printed polythene sheeting and decorated with the odd mirror, a gigantic trade calendar and a few small family photographs. In a tiny little outdoor space an enormous battered but still alive PA speaker is testimony to the one thing it is possible to own -sound and music and noise.
The last family we visited had a harrowing tale to tell. They were gripped with fear. Their neighbours wanted their land (what could be no more that 6x4m) and were threatening to kill them for it. Voduo signs were scrawled on their door and they would wake to find dismembered bodies of cats and other animals at their door in the morning. We stood crammed tog.ether in their tiny home and heard their story and did the one thing that we could do. We prayed. Hugh led, us calling on God in heaven to protect this home from evil and to bring salvation and blessing to the community including to those who were the enemy.
When it was time to leave we called on our taxis (motorcyclists) and sped through the dusty streets to the border. Sitting in the relative calm and luxury of a street cafe tucked behind a filling station with Dominican palms swaying in a light breeze and a monument draped in Christmas lights, I was trying hard to make some sense of what we had just experienced and I kept trying until sleep eventually took me.