Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Going Gets Rough

The first night in our house was a miserable one.  The only reason we were able to sleep at all was that we were completely exhausted.  The house we are renting had been vacant for almost a year.  And, although we were beyond blessed to have been greeted by the housekeeper with a simple Haitian supper, it was clear that we had a lot of work to do to get the house in good shape.  There was no electricity.  There was no running water. It was August in Haiti and temperatures in the hottest part of the day were hanging somewhere around 95 degrees.  Our house is constructed out of concrete, which holds in heat kind of like an old-fashioned stone oven.  

Haiti is close enough to the equator that we don’t experience changes in when the sun rises and sets each day like we do in the States.  Here, the sun comes up at about 7 every day.  And, it sets at about 7 every day.  That first day, there was a heavenly breeze that kept us cool as we unpacked our high-priority belongings.  But, as the sun went down, the house quickly became very dark and that cool breeze went still.  We used baby wipes to clean up, got the kiddos in their jammies, and tucked them in with their most precious loveys beside them.  They somehow fell asleep quickly, and Mark and I Iaid on our bed, whispering in the dark.  I got up with a flashlight to go check on the kids and noticed movement on the floor.  


Cockroaches.  Scuttling about on the floor in the dark.  


I think I did actually sleep at some point that night, but it was not for long.  Somewhere nearby, a rooster crowed repeatedly and woke me up... but it was still dark.  Dumb rooster.  It’s 3 am!  Aren’t they supposed to crow as the sun comes up?

Once I was awake, I was running through a list in my head of things to tackle first: 
  1. Hook up generator.
  2. Obtain gasoline to run it.
  3. Once we have electricity, turn on the water pump.

I had a knot of anxiety in my gut.  Yep, that was fear creeping into my thoughts.  Before kids began to stir, I let some tears flow as I prayed...  “God, I know this is where you want me.  And, I know this is gonna be hard.  I can’t do anything on my own here, Lord.  Take control. Please. Show me you’re here.”

Then, the sun came up and we jumped in. If we could manage to get electricity and water, we would be making big progress!  The thing is, nothing is easy in Haiti.  Putting together a generator takes tools.  But, our tools were in a box that would arrive in a couple days. So, now what?  God sent us Romain.  He’s the grounds guy for the house we’re renting.  He does not speak a word of English, but he knows what a generator looks like.  He dug around in a small shed and produced a few tools and Mark was able to fully assemble the machine.  Meanwhile, I fed our children a delicious breakfast of pretzel sticks and peanut butter and helped them get dressed.

As Mark tightened the screws on the generator, Romain (pronounced “Ro-mah”) looked at him and said, “Gazoleen?”  

Yes! We need some!  

After a 6-minute conversation (if you can call it that--it was all body language and gestures) we figured out that Romain would go get the gas if we gave him money to buy it.  It took another few minutes to figure out how much he needed and he was on his way.  

As we waited, we worked on unpacking boxes.  It wasn’t long before a few of us needed to use the bathroom.  So, what do you do with a toilet that doesn’t have running water?  I had never really thought about that.  If you can get some form of water from somewhere, you can pour it into the toilet tank and it will flush.  But, when there’s no water coming from your faucet and the spigot outside at the water well produces nothing, what do you do?  Well, you tell your kids to go ahead and use the toilet and you go looking for water.     

I didn’t have to go far.  Celine, the housekeeper (who also does not speak any English), arrived and realized we needed water.  She rounded up some big buckets and we walked across the street to a working water pump.  We filled the buckets one by one and returned to the house.  All I could think about was people I have read about in Africa who have to walk miles during dry seasons to get water.  Thank you, Lord, that I only had to walk 10 feet.

Soon, Romain was back with gasoline and if we had had more energy, we surely would have been jumping up and down as the generator fired up!  We hooked it up to cables that run to the house and TA-DA!!!  Electricity.  

Woo-hoo! Just turn on the water pump and we’re in business, I thought.  

Well, the pump turned on alright...and blasts of smelly, dirt-brown water came gushing out of the spigot. Oh, my.

A couple more of those strange, half-English, half-Creole conversations later, we understood that the well would have to be completely emptied of the water that had been sitting in it for about a year so that fresh water could then fill it back up.  For over two hours that brown water poured out into the yard around our house.  Slowly, it began to get more and more clear (and by clear I mean that when you stick your hand in it, you can still see where your hand is--not the sparkling, crystal clear we’re accustomed to back in the good ol’ USA).  Finally, we were able to close the discharge pipe and let the water start to fill the well and pump into the reservoir tank that sits up on top of the house.  We waited as the tank filled and late in the afternoon, we tried the faucets...  

What a relief to see water trickling from the faucets and into the toilet tanks!  What a precious gift to have running water!!  

Unfortunately, the pipes from the well to the house and to the reservoir tank were not in great shape after not being used for a while.  There were several big leaks and for the next three days, we had water on and off again.  Eventually, a plumber arrived and made some repairs and cleaned out some pipes... and for the last 7 days we’ve consistently had running water.  We’ve even been able to do laundry (which is an interesting story in itself--I’ll have to do one whole post here about how differently household chores are done here). 

The water that comes into the house from the faucets is not drinkable.  So, every other day, Celine brings in drinking water for us.  

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I thank God for Celine at least 12 times each day.  We would not make it without her.

And that’s the story of Day 2.  Our second night was a little more restful.  It was still hot.  But we were all able to bathe that day and the noise of the generator drowned out the scuttling of the cockroaches and the crowing of the rooster. 

By the time my head hit the pillow, my anxiety had lifted.  God had been present that whole day.  He was there beside me and I knew He wouldn’t leave me. I was confident that each day would get a little better.  

Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”


  1. Wow! Quite the culture shock for everyone, but I certainly can see God's hand providing and protecting you! Sarah, You are learning more about trusting the Lord in several days that some of us will in a lifetime! May the Lord bless you richly as you serve an Almighty and Awesome God!

  2. ...but the tough keep going! I love reading your posts!

  3. I'm having flash backs of some of the same things we "got" to experience when we were there in March. Praying you through each step of the way.


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