The Garden at Rest
On our first full day in Haiti we visited the future home of Lespwa Timoun, Carmel’s nutrition and health clinic. The building is up but incomplete and the well is drilled but there is no gas to run the generator that pumps the water. The wall is high and topped with rolls of barbed wire. Inside the wall there is a large gazebo, cows grazing, rows of congo bean bushes, a papaya tree laden with fruit, and a garden at rest. January is the dry season in Haiti and is a time for non-irrigated gardens to rest. Carmel said that the garden had produced spinach, corn, and okra. Some okra was still standing, pods drying in the late afternoon sun and Carmel said that they were leaving it so that they could have seeds for the next garden.
Since then, as we have driven in and around the city I’ve noticed that several taptaps (colorfully painted pickup trucks that act as taxis) and a car wash (meaning a wall around a vacant lot with a hose) had Exodus 14:14 painted on their sides. I looked it up, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” My brain wandered back to those okra seeds, safe in their pods, waiting for the next garden. There is surely a time to be still and wait on the Lord and that time will be followed by release and fruitfulness, the waiting, the stillness, will not last forever but it is surely part of growing, part of changing, part of creation.
Many taptaps have the word “patience” painted on them in big colorful letters. Despite these mobile reminders I have found myself tempted to be impatient with some of the things I’ve seen in Haiti. Why has it taken three years to build simple houses for people living in tents? Why is construction stalled on the second story of St. Simeon’s school? Why can’t all the people without jobs find work fixing roads and building solutions to problems? Why do good things take so long? I take a deep breath and think about bread dough rising for a second time. I think about training a horse, where rushing for a result will only cause problems and prolong the process. I think about really wading through a book instead of skimming it (I just finished wading through Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith). Certainly good things often need to take time.
Tonight after dinner, Carmel brought a photo album to the table. Inside were pictures of the children who have been treated in her nutrition clinic. Each page had before and after photos. The before photos were heartrending. Carmel explained that there are two types of malnutrition, one from lack of vitamins which results in impossibly skinny children with no muscles. The other kind from lack of protein, results in children who are swollen all over, eyes swollen shut, legs so swollen that their skin bursts. The photos were difficult to look at, but each was accompanied by an after of chubby cheeks and glossy skin. The amazing thing was that the after photos were sometimes only a matter of weeks or months after the initial photo. An enriched peanut butter called Plumpy-Nut and AK meal made from ground beans and rice are Carmel’s answers to malnutrition, but her biggest solution is education. She teaches parents about proper nutrition and they in turn teach their neighbors and encourage other children in need of care to show up at the nutrition clinic for help. In Carmel’s album I could see that change need not always drag its feet. These children were healthy in a matter of months and Carmel pointed out further pictures of them in their school uniforms, healthy and ready to learn.
At the back of Carmel’s album were single photos that had no after shots. Carmel’s voice lowered as she told me that this one had died the very day of the nutrition clinic, this one died the day after, this one made it to the hospital but died anyway. In the face of those single photos, words and actions seem a paltry offering. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still,” because for a moment stillness is the only response to children suffering and dying for lack of peanut butter, rice, and beans. It might be easy to be paralyzed by that moment of stillness, to let your heart become set in inaction because initially no action seems like enough. Right after Exodus 14:14 the sea is parted and the Israelites walk through on dry land. If any had clung to line 14:14 and stayed still they would have been left on the wrong side of the sea, they would have been left behind in Egypt. The okra pod is drying for a purpose and preparing for a time of fruitfulness. The next garden will be full of many young okra plants from each pod, and that okra will feed the next children who come to the nutrition clinic at Lespwa Timoun (Creole meaning “Hope for Children”). My question now is how we as people can make sure to be like that okra, how can we make sure to be patient enough to do things properly but also be ready to take action and be fruitful when the time is right? I think the answer is twofold. First is the stillness, if we are always rushing around like a taptap weaving through traffic, the necessary actions, the things that really matter, will get lost in the blur of everything we’re passing along the way. Second, it is significant that the okra pods were left in the garden to dry. They will be there when it is time to plant again. No one will need to rummage around in a drawer to find them. They will be in the right place at the right time. I hope that we will be too.