Monday, February 4, 2013

Sunday, February 3rd
Day 9 in DR, Day 5 for Rotary

Breakfast is an hour later than usual today, because it's Sunday. At 9:30am, we leave in a bus to go to Haiti - which means that we are going to church in a batay. The batay is called Baraca, or sometimes Kilometer 6 because it's just off the main highway from La Romana to Santo Domingo, 6 kms outside of La Romana. This church is the reason Dr Bob first came to the DR 22 years ago, and it is closely associated today with the Good Samaritan Hospital. The school supplies that have been donated are destined to go mostly to the school next door to this church.

Haitian church on Sunday is a joyous, friendly and loud affair. A band is playing music to accompany the hymns, and the singing is heavenly. But it lasts over 2 hours. I have to leave periodically to go outside to give my ears a rest, not because it's bad (on the contrary) but because it's so loud. After the service, the original pastor's wife Elsa, guides us on a tour of the school. The church was opened in 2000, and the original pastor, who was loved by all and whom Dr Bob knew well, was killed in that Airbus crash in the suburb of New York just 3 months after 9/11. His son is now pastor, and Elsa is the sort of dowager Empress of the place.

We bring into the school about a dozen huge suitcases that Rotarians brought with them, full of school supplies. Some of the suitcases are too heavy to lift, and would only move thanks to their wheels. The school, at least the ground floor of it, was completed just 3 years ago, and it's really quite good - simple, but good. Of course, groups other than Rotary have been supporting the school, and it shows. The school is well- equipped, clean and neat. The second floor concrete structure has been completed, but extensive finishing needs to be done, when funds allow. The ground floor has 5 classrooms and very nice washrooms with ceramic tile, flush toilets, and even a shower.

Elsa, the school administrator, the pastor and his three assistant pastors, are with us the whole time and express their gratitude at every opportunity, not particularly because of the school supplies but because we are representing all the groups who have supported this beacon of light.

We leave the church and school to go further out along the highway from La Romana to Santo Domingo, to a place called Cave of Marvels. This was discovered only about 40 years ago, but its historical and archeological significance only realized in the last 15. This eastern part of DR is ancient coral reef, now above water. Rain water has slowly dissolved its way into the coral limestone creating sink holes and caverns, all but invisible because the vegetation. The original Taino Indian inhabitants of the island used this particular cave system for ceremonial purposes and as a burial site, and one of the attractions is the cave-paintings that can be seen on the cavern walls. Analysis has shown that the Taino used a mixture of blood, animal fat and carbon soot as their pigment. The caverns have been very well developed by the authorities and it's well worth seeing. Bats still inhabit the caves, which the women weren't happy to hear about, but they sleep during the day (the bats, that is) and so did not bother us. Dr Bob has arranged for us a guided tour, which is very helpful in understanding the significance of what we are seeing and of the geological points of interest. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, so I have no pictures of the stalactites, the mirror pools and the glittering columns.

We eat our packed lunch in the parking lot. Moises has arranged for the distribution this afternoon of the last of the Boots n' Bikes inventory, at batay Brasdor (Golden Arm). He has arranged this just for me, holding back that last bit of inventory, and I invite along Duncan (Hampton club) and David (Fredericton club). Leslie Van Patter (now in Toronto, but District World Community Service chair when Chris Dunham piloted the first Boots n' Bikes) wants to see this too because she witnessed the distribution of the very first B n' B container two years ago.

So, we return to town to join the mini school bus that is already loaded with the last 3 bicycles and a large box of assorted footwear. It turns out that batay Brasdor is very close to another batay where we have been doing the construction of latrines last week. Everyone at the batay is expecting the bus, and the kids are shouting greetings. Pastor Martine of the batay's church, and Ariel who drove the bus and is also one of the filter installation technicians, have a system to control the process and prevent a riot. A clown came with us, by the name of David, along with his son, also called David, and the kids know this clown and love him. He leads them into the church where he starts his routine of leading the kids in song, making balloon animals and doing magic tricks. He has the kids' undivided attention. Meanwhile, we are able to unload the bus and bring the stuff into the back of the church without the kids even noticing. When we are ready, Pastor Martine and Ariel organise a lottery: each bike has been given a number, and 50 or so numbered bits if paper are put into a basket. The clown then goes around making a big show of picking people at random (adults too) to take numbers out of the basket. Even when people don't win, they seem happy and everyone is having a great time.But you should see the jubilation and reactions when someone picks a winning number. Pandemonium. But everyone still stays neatly in their places on the church benches. Remember the tricycle that was loaded into the container in Saint John? I saw it won by a woman who went almost berserk when she won it!

Then children were selected, more or less at random as far as I could make out, to come up front and be fitted with a pair of shoes. Of perhaps 30 children there, I guess that maybe only a half-dozen already had footwear - usually Crocs. Because it was clear that we did not have enough shoes for everyone with just the one box, Pastor Martine and Moises announced that Moises would return with more boxes another time and that the distribution would continue at that time so that everyone would receive a pair of footwear. No-one complained and everyone seemed happy with that. I don' think he fibbed, and I think he must still have a box or two of footwear left in the basement if the hospital. There would not have been room in the cargo area at the back if the bus to put more than the box we brought.

Then Ariel brings-in a huge cooler of fruit punch along with sandwiches, and everyone leaves with something - babies, mothers, children, teens and seniors. It was all cleverly thought-out and fair. Moises tells me that there have been about 50 such distributions for the contents of that container. He is so grateful for Boots n' Bikes, and he urges me to send a container every year, more if I can.

After leaving the batay, Ariel is driving the bus at about 65 mph, and who do we see coming the other way down the road but one of the boys who had won a bicycle. He is trying out his prize!

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