Roger, Gary, and Lifrans got caught at sea in the stormy weather we have had this week. They were trying to get their little wooden fishing canoes to the beach where they store them when the waves really kicked up.
Roger and Gary made it to our house but could not get past the reef to the area down the coast where they were headed. We managed to pull their canoes ashore and secure them in our yard. Which Jaxon loved because he thinks he owns them anyway. He climbs in everytime they come up with fish. Then I have to pull him out screaming and covered in the tar they use to water proof them to try to cut down on some of the leaking...I can't tell that it helps any. So we stored Roger and Gary's canoes for a couple of days until the storm passed. Lifrans was not so lucky.
As he tried to manuever past a point through the shallow reef that he had passed hundreds of times before, a large wave caught him and crashed him into the rocks. His little wooden canoe shattered into pieces. All of his lines and jugs and fishing equipment was tossed into the crashing waves. Lifrans was picked up by another fisherman trying to get his canoe to safety as well. Everything was lost. Two days before the fishing season officially begins and he is at ground zero.
So that is the story I learned of yesterday as everyone gathered for our weekly meeting with our 12 fisherman and 1 scribe in our economic development program. We wanted 12 fisherman but none of them could write so we had a scribe join the group. I spent the meeting talking about the things were we doing and the challenges and the great things that were happening. I thought everyone was really getting into the depth of the business potential and how this was going to change the economic stability of Montrouis and the overall quality of life for their families. But at the end of my sharing I asked for questions. Finally Roger asked when I was going to follow through on my promise I had made several weeks ago to start teaching them all how to write their names... They all agreed and wanted me to start this week so they could all learn to write and sign their names and asked if I thought they could be taught to read a few things. I was humbled beyond words. How do you say no to a group of friends asking if you could take the time to teach them to write their names?
After the meeting was over the discussion turned back to Lifrans. Everyone was disappointed to hear about the loss because they all could relate and they knew the implications. But Lifrans, one of the most likable and hard working guys in the group, already had a plan. He had found a guy who had a piece of wood for sale and had negotiated a good price of $1300 haitian (or $165 USD) for the wood and talked to Pierre who was not a "boss" canoe builder but had dug out canoes for several of our guys in the group in the past. Pierre agreed to "dig" the canoe for $1000 haitian ($125 USD) So nearly $300 was going to be needed just to get the canoe. Then Lifrans has to find jugs and buy lines and hooks and everything else to get ready to fish. And due to bad weather, no one has been able to catch any fish in over 2 weeks. So that is where I came into the picture. As Lifrans was telling his tale, eventually all eyes turned to me. They all wondered what I was going to do to help Lifrans get his fishing business back in the water. Finally, Lifrans asked if I would at least go with him to look at the wood.
Today we had all of the guys in our group meet me at The Mission to pick out shoes for all of their kids that start school Monday. These 31 kids are not in our sponsorship program because I know their fathers now have an income. Instead I am just helping them get everything done on enrolling and buying the books and uniforms. It was a great time. After the shoe fitting party, the entire group joins in on our trip to see the wood.
I had in my mind a little guy sitting in front of his little haitian shack on a big piece of mango log in his front yard ready to argue over a price. Instead, Pierre, the carver, takes us into one of the few remaining patches of forest left in our zone. After a brief walk through a familiar area of woods, he stops and points to a large mango tree and says "that's it". That was not what I wanted to see. One of the 2% of mango trees left standing in the entire country and now they are asking me to buy it so they can make a canoe. The alternative is to say no and explain how mango trees are precious to the Haitian ecosystem and that conservation efforts are never going to succeed without making sacrifices...
Now let me tell you...to all of you tree hugger hyper-conservationists reading this...I ain't into that. I can get on board with saving babies but not baby seals or spotted owls. I never have been the activist type. I would actually love watching the guy cut down the tree with a machete and then meticulously carve out a canoe day after day. It is not about the "karma" or the feelings of the mango tree or making the spirits of nature angry.
This was different. I see the huge importance of mangoes to this culture. You don't dare steal someone's mango. It's like a capital offense. Mangoes are called God's gift to poor people. People plan their lives around the mango seasons. But they have not seen that cutting down the mango trees is bad. I have tried to fight the cutting of the trees to make charcoal. That is the main reason the trees are cut down and the roots dug up. It is to make charcoal for cooking. That is the main issue. Not cutting down a few trees per year for canoes. BUT, now that most have been cut down for charcoal, the canoe issue becomes more relevant.
In my gut I want to buy the mango tree... don't let them cut it down... then lend Lifrans the money to buy a fiberglass canoe- through my contacts in the U.S. and ship it down on the next container that comes in. But there are several problems with that plan. First, then EVERY guy in our group wants a fiberglass canoe. Second, the container has weeks before it gets here and the season starts now. Third, every person in Montrouis will try to sell me their mango tree that they are about to cut down if someone doesn't buy it quickly. I could see me ending up with a whole forest of mango trees with little brass plaques that show the date they were saved from destruction. I would be known as the nut case doctor with the mango tree sponsorship program.
So as I sit here tonight trying to come up with the best plan for tomorrow, I think I will try to find someone who has a wooden canoe for sale and help Lifrans get it. That at least buys me some time. Then maybe we do try to start a system of getting canoes shipped down for the fisherman here. Each mango tree canoe only lasts 5-6 seasons if it is a good one. Many only last 2-3. Who knows. But I am glad that I am here to get to help Lifrans figure it out. He is my friend. He is a quiet guy with a firm handshake and I know that tonight he is thinking that tomorrow I will have the answers to help him out of this dilema. That is where my faith comes in. I don't have all the answers that these guys think I have. I don't always know what to do. But I know my God has a plan and that He is never confused by rocks and mango trees.