Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Been there, done that, made it home again

It is the week before Christmas and that means I’ve just returned from my annual trip to the exotic island of Haiti. This year’s trip was a little different from most in that we only had one long trek back into the mountains and that was easier on my old goat ass. All in all it was a different type encounter this year and yet was very uplifting. The poor folks of Haiti are just as poor as always, maybe even a little worst for wear as a result of four major hurricanes in the early fall. Since that time there has been practically no rain and many of the river beds are dry from the coast way up into the mountains. An interesting fact is that, in the area that we have worked for the past 12-15 years, there was almost no erosion and things have faired much better than in other watersheds on either side. Last year our collective efforts resulted in the planting of 970,000 trees and the fertilizing of about 55% of them. Work like this over a period of many years has firmed up the mountainside and erosion is no longer washing the mountains into the ocean. As we drive from our secure coastal retreat into the mountains and view the hillside there is a clear difference in the planted areas and those where no activity is going on. Visually it’s the simple difference between green and brown, or planted and barren. The barren areas are still washing away homesteads, gardens, roads and lives and the planted areas are holding firm and promoting new activity, fruit and coffee trees, tree nurseries, fish ponds and a clear way for future generations to survive. The difference you can see is all the motivation one needs to go back each year and do what you can to help in this life altering effort for these deserving people.
This year our group included three young college kids that got their first taste of what life in another culture was like. Needless to say, there were some wide eyes and disbelieving stares as they rode thru the streets of Port-Au-Prince and saw open sewage, crowded streets, dirt huts, straw roofs, no electricity or running water and filth to an extent they didn’t know existed. The smokey haze of tens of thousands of charcoal cooking fires and as many diesel powered vehicles will scorch your eyes and literally take your breath. I’ve been back three days and my eyes still burn. The visual impact of hundreds of barefooted, malnourished children (1 in 8 die before the age of 5) will stay with you long after you’re back, safe and sound in the States. Another image that stays with me is what I call 3WD’s. Third World Dogs are the same world wide, with their distended bellies, protruding ribs and sunken eyes. When I think of my beloved Border collie, Maggie, and her contented look, sleek coat and full belly I feel a sense of sorrow for all the animals that don’t have the privileges our pets do.
This year we trekked into the back country and put the finishing touches on three water cisterns. We attached the PVC guttering (made by splitting long ways a 20’ section of 6” pvc pipe) to the eaves of houses we had covered with metal roofing and then channel the rainwater into smaller pipe until it is dumped into a 500 gallon fiberglass tank. In most cases this is the difference between a water source outside your back door or walking 2 miles or more up and down a path that would challenge a sure footed goat. The single effort of providing a source of clean water can change the lives of people in more ways than you can imagine and I would encourage anyone reading this to play any role you can in efforts of this sort.
This year our permanently based missionaries had paired each of our group with a Haitian teenager who became our charge for the week while we were there. These are all kids from the beach ministry program, which is made up mostly of orphaned children who live in the sparse wooded areas along the coastline near our compound. A year ago these kids could not read or write and were accustomed to existing off of what they could scrounge and eat from the native fruits. The price we pay for a Big Mac would feed them for a week and a fine steak dinner would keep them fed for more than a month. We treated these kids to a trip into Port-au-Prince to the museum, a picnic dinner in the park and caped it off with an evening visit to the symphony hosted by the School of Music at the only university in the country. The looks on their faces as we exposed them to these sights would make you feel real good about what you were doing. Our group consisted of three accomplished musicians and some real good vocalists and on our last night there we treated the local community of a hundred or so folks to a concert made up of Christmas carols and religious songs. It was amazing to hear the loud voices of the “beach kids” as they sang along with us. The missionaries have been teaching them these songs for the past month or so and they really belted them out.
Our accommodations in Haiti are in a walled in compound about 2 hours outside Port Au Prince. The property is owned and controlled by the Presbyterian Church and is the “base camp” for the 20 odd groups that make this pilgrimage each year. By our standards it is pretty primitive, with only cold water and electricity only by generator from 6-8 am and again for two hours in the evening. But we have one good cooked meal, a soft bed and a secure place to rest each night. Our days usually start early, since it is a 45 minute ride in the back of an open truck up to the area in the mountains that we work and then the hike from the road that can sometimes take up another hour or so. Our work includes making upgrades to the 6 schools that we sponsor, the never ending chore of installing water cisterns, damming up and stocking small fish ponds to grow fish, both for sale and consumption and building small houses (12x24 is room for at least 6-8 family members). Houses we build are concrete if they are within a mile of a road and wooden if they are further in. There are no Redi-Mix trucks in Haiti so concrete is mixed by hand by finding a flat spot on the ground and then shoveling in sand and rock and mixing in bags of cement. Water is brought from the nearest source by 5 gallon buckets perched atop the village women’s heads. The final mix of crude concrete is then moved to the work site by a bucket brigade. This is back breaking work that will make you eager to get prone and close your eyes.
For the last 2-3 years I’ve said “this is my last trip”….but the worst part of the ordeal for me is the airport crowds during the holiday season. I’m not a fan of large throngs and crowded spaces. Physically this trip didn’t beat me up as bad as last years and that was my main concern. The MRI I had earlier this month shows an S curve in my lower back that I’m pretty sure should not be there. My doctor told me that to fix it he would have to render me impassable thru an airport metal detector. I haven’t got my head completely around that yet but I fear there are screws and pins in my near future. Oh well…anyone know where I can get a 4x4 wheelchair?? Crookedpaw

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Latest from the old goat

Well its been a spell since I felt moved to fill this space with any thoughts and as I sit here in the early morn I am even now at a loss for a topic. How 'bout a recap of recent events and adventures on the horizon for starters. Coming up soon for me (Dec 12th) is trip number six to the impoverished country of Haiti. Many of my friends question my sanity when I make this annual trek which truly does physically kick my old goat ass, but it ain't all about sore muscles and lots of Tylenol. Somehow about the first of December each year I begin to see in my mind the faces of some of the skinny little kids that make their homes in the patches of scant woods along the beach front near where we stay. Our compound is fenced in and I can hear them out by the gate calling to us to come out and play and bring treats. As a general rule I don't even like kids but these little buggers kinda get in my heart and I look forward to seeing them each year. Whatever trivial little gadget we have brought from the states will surely set them off with glee. The missionaries at our site have taught them a little Christmas play and has made costumes for them all. Its a real hoot to watch these little black faces make a baa sound when its time for the sheep to play their part. We will no doubt make several trips back into the hills to work on a house or build a cistern or do some chore that the locals can't do without our help. But....they are there to help in great numbers and the level of appreciation on their faces is undeniable. Doing for others is my number one favorite pastime but nothing makes me feel better than the warm fuzzies I get in Haiti. When we finally board the bus for the trip back to the Port Aux Prince airport I am more than ready to be home with my bride, my Maggie dog and plenty of Coldbeer but there is no doubt in my mind that next December I'll be making these same kind of plans.

On a local note I must confess that last Monday night I got a real surprise when my bride Katie shocked me with a birthday celebration the likes of which I was not prepared for. All day long I had moped around, not feeling the best and dreading the thoughts of even going out for a birthday dinner. I even stopped at the supermarket and bought 2 nice steaks and some baking taters so that, if I could get away with it I could just cook and stay home. Under the guise of taking some equipment to a friend that runs a small eatery so that she could use them in a catering the next day, I was lured downtown to have one beer with her and her husband who works with me. I was surprised by about 45-50 good friends and family and suffice it to say we all had a large time. In lieu of gifts everyone had brought items off the list of what we needed to take to Haiti and by nights end we had a truck load of much needed supplies for that trip. My two sons were there, one having driven in from 3 hours away, only to leave afterwards and return home, my new #1 grand boy Davis, some good friends and most all of my best church friends. My pastors wife Sarah, who is a mission mate of mine actually had written down some sweet words about me that she shared with the crowd. Its been a very long time since I felt this loved.

If I don't get inspired to write again before Christmas I hope all you'al have the very best of holidays. Crookedpaw

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Every Third Friday Ritual

If it’s been a while since you got some warm fuzzy feelings in your heart let me make a recommendation. My church, Peace Presbyterian, is responsible for feeding the folks at the homeless shelter the third Friday night of each month. For the past year of so I have been the coordinator of these events. It’s really not such a big deal to do this and if you do it in the right spirit you’ll get some of those “warm fuzzies” I mentioned earlier. Our local shelter is not that large, I think it houses about 100 people. Generally we only have about 70 mouths to feed on cold nights and about 55 during warm weather. Some of the faces you see are the same each time we are there but there are always some new ones. There is a good mix between young and old, black and white and male and female. Some faces show the lines etched by years of hard times and others look like they should be in a booth at Applebee’s. The thing that strikes me the most is the level of politeness shown by them all. I know this is the south and everyone says Sir and Ma’am but it goes beyond that. They will wait patiently for everyone to be served before coming back to the window to ask for seconds. We are supposed to stay in the kitchen and not mingle but I like to break that rule and go out and “work the crowd”. We usually have extra salad or cookies and I take the containers and go around heaping food on their plates. It’s a rare thing for it not to be eaten. I find myself wondering what happened during their day. What do you do all day when you’re homeless? My days are ‘wide open busy’ chasing from one job to another and time seems to fly by. When you’re homeless and unemployed how much time do you spend thinking about where you will “do lunch”? Think about this and then find a way to volunteer at your local homeless shelter and treat your heart to some “warm fuzzies”, you’ll be glad you did. I found this verse somewhere about 10 years ago and read it for the first time during some hard times in my life. Since that time I have carried a laminated copy in my wallet and every so often I take it out and read it over again. I learned that Saint Benedict wrote it many years ago. I’m sharing this simply because I think it is worth reading and considering…..interpret it any way that suits you………Crookedpaw

A S i m p l e R u l e

Live this life and do whatever is
done in a spirit of Thanksgiving

Abandon attempts to achieve
security…they are futile

Give up the search for wealth
it is demeaning

Quit the search for salvation
it is selfish

And come to rest in the certainty
that those who live
this life with an attitude of
Thanksgiving, will receive its full promise
Give unto others as you would have them give unto you

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Man’s Gotta Do, What a Man’s Gotta Do

Recently a distant acquaintance of mine made a really hard decision. I’ve never seen this dude face to face but have read his blog daily for the last year or so. He’s also shares the same occupation as my son, Lenslinger, so naturally I have an interest in his take on things. To say that this guy calls a spade a spade is putting it mildly. He tends to refer to these kinds of implements as a “f---ing shovel”. Therein lies the problem. Sooner or later this kind of behavior will come full circle and rare up and bite you in the ass. Some of you will realize by now that I’m talking about Rick Portier, much better known in the bloggersphere as the “Turdpolisher”. I first learned of Rick by reading “Viewfinder Blues” and seeing this strange name listed as a blog of interest. About this same time I made half dozen relief trips into Louisiana and developed a liking for some of the more colorful Cajuns that I came into contact with. I think Rick knew all along that sooner could come anytime but “Turdpolisher” was his horse and he was going to ride it `til it dropped. When the word came down that his every word was being monitored he wisely pulled the plug and started shopping for a new horse. “the turd had finally dropped”. I mean after all, “bis’ness is bis’ness” and someone’s gotta put some rice and beans on the table. I’m hopeful that he will come out of this mess with his meal ticket still intact and in a position to scan the horizon for a way to share his colorful take on life in a way that keeps him out of trouble. Maybe his new blog could be “Excretion Enhancer” or something like that. Crookedpaw

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mr. MRSA is a bad dude

All of you folks out there in blog land need to keep a sharp watch out for this bad news dude, referred to as "MRSA", (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Growing up we boys liked to make up sayings about how hot is was, or how cold it was, or how bad, etc. MSRA is as bad as a junk yard dog, it's as strong as battery acid, it makes Chuck Norris look like Twiggy. This stuff will make you one miserable, fever ridden, chill having, aches and pains a plenty, pill and IV recipient. The definition says it is resistant to methicillin, amoxicillin and penicillin. The bottom line is it doesn't respond to many common antibiotics. Once you get this bad bug it seems to hang around in your system just waiting for you to screw up in some innocent way, and then it jumps back on you and kicks your ass all over again.
Last March I managed to hook up with Mr MRSA and subsequently spent a week in the hospital, had to have my wound site surgically purged and then came in daily for 35 more days for a hour long dose of IV antibiodics. Don't even ask what all this cost. But at the end of it I seemed all healed up, was feeling good again and the sawbones declared me "well". I now know that all those positive comments were just bullshit. Mr MRSA had just grown weary of messing with me and had gone into hibernation. As soon as I screwed up he came back, and bit me in the ass again.
While I was in Haiti just before Christmas I managed to slip while coming down a steep mountain path and scrapped the hide off the palm of my left hand and my lower leg. After a spell of cussing and being embarrassed because several aged Haitians were trotting along where I was crawling, I poured some bottled water over my wounds and continued on out to the road (1 1/2 more hours of crawling up and down the hills). I was not seriously hurt, but at the same time I knew the local conditions were about as unclean and germ laden as a cesspool. For the next few days I kept it clean and wrapped and thought all was well.
W R O N G !!!
On day three while bandaging it I caught a unusual odor that I associated with something I had smelled back in March. Guess what......Mr MRSA was out of hibernation and was getting ready to dump another load of "kick ass" on me. There was little I could do. There ain't no "doc in a box" places in Haiti and we still had four more days to trek around the hills before we headed for the good old U S of A. I had some Cipro pills that we always take along to stem the unpleasant effects of the "barnyard shits", should they come along. I made a command decision to start taking them on the spot really doubting that some drug this typical would even faze Mr MRSA. By the time we loaded up in Port Au Prince and headed home I had what looked like a third nipple growing on my chest. Every day it got more and more angry and continued to swell up. I mean I was a A cup on the left side and a B cup on the right. It felt like a pissed off hornet was stuck on my right teat and was gnawing at my chest. As soon as I made it home I went straight to the infusion center that had treated me before and pleaded for some relief. They immediately put me on what they described as a "very powerful oral antibiotic". It should have been powerful since a week supply of 14 pills cost $272.00. Well....guess what. This just made Mr MRSA even madder, so he then treated me to another eruption on my left wrist. So now I'm in a real mess. I'm walking around favoring my right side looking like there is a corncob in my ass and now I can't even pick my nose with my left hand. I'm surprised I didn't get arrested for impersonating the "hunchback of ECU".
I had to attend an out of town funeral on New Years Eve at 6PM. Even though it was a 4 hour drive from home when it was over at 8:15PM, I loaded up and put the hammer down headed back to my own crib. You see, Mr MRSA had whispered in my ear, earlier that day and said, "you ain't seen nothing yet, dude". Something told me to listen to him and I knew I needed to be close to an ER when 2008 dawned. First thing on January 1st, 2008 I presented myself to the local ER. A pretty young doctor took a quick glance at me and started honing her scalpel. Soon I found myself in the supine position getting ready for some good old fashion torture. After "opening them up" she commenced to squeeze them like a dry lemon for a while, and then "packed them". I'm not sure but I think she used a mixture of sawdust and gunpowder. This experience was kinda` like getting your nipple pierced with a chain saw. Then she prescribes another dose of an even more powerful antibiotic, and recommends that I pay another visit to the Infectious Disease Guru as soon as normal office hours start up. So.......the next day I make another visit to the Infusion Center knowing full well what was in store. You guessed it....some more IV antibiotics.
The good news and the end of this long story is, that after a week of the IV meds and now another 9 days of an even stronger oral antibiotic I am finally better. My wrist and my third nipple have receded and I'm back in my training bra with the same size cups. I have one more days dose of the new and improved oral meds and hopefully this encounter with Mr MRSA is over....wish me luck. Did I mention that the last oral stuff makes you feel like the Tasmanian Devil has moved into your guts and is constipated. I'm telling you, don't yank Mr MRSA's chain....he will put out your lights. Crookedpaw