REPLACING THE ROOF OF MARIE REINE IMMACULEE – February 2011
By Patricia Brintle
The team consisted of: Joseph Brintle, Eddy Leveque, Danny Chang, Christina Santucci and me. We rented a car as soon as we arrived in Port-au-Prince and after a tour of the city to give Christina, our journalist, an opportunity for photo shoots, we headed to Petion-Ville where we were to spend the night.
We took the road early the next morning. The passage through Carrefour was painful; the poverty, smell, disorder and filth were almost unbearable and we breathed deeply when we could finally accelerate. We made good time to Les Cayes, but then became nervous during the mountain climb and subsequent descent toward Jeremie; driving under the rain on very narrow gravel roads with a deep precipice to one side is not for the faint of heart.
We stopped at Chardonnette to assess a repair request for St. Gerard Church. The pastor, Pere Emmanuel, showed us around and Danny, our engineer, quickly assessed the damage and advised us accordingly. We gave Pere Emmanuel a few gifts of church items and continued on. We stopped briefly in Jeremie for dinner then proceeded to Les Abricots under the cover the darkness and a light rain.
At a juncture, instead of turning left, we went straight, a choice which, unbeknownst to us, would prove unsafe and risky. The rain, the ravine to one side, the crumbling mountain on the other, the narrowness of the road, and the gigantic holes made this one of the most dangerous roads we had ever traveled. We were glad when we saw some lights ahead but perplexed when we did not recognize Les Abricots. A young man walking his goats told us we were in Anse du Clerc. This meant that we had to maneuver the crossing of a crested river, go up the mountain, then back down again to Les Abricots. We were petrified but so utterly happy to finally arrive at our destination.
We headed for the presbytery where we were to live for the next week. Pere Claude Lavalas, the pastor, welcomed us with open arms and showed us to our rooms. Our accommodations were very modest but flowers and freshly pressed window curtains showed the care taken to welcome us and make us feel at home. On the doors were sheets of paper decorated with our names and words of welcome. It was apparent that they had gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable in their modest abode. We were tremendously grateful. The sisters at the convent had prepared for our arrival as well so we shared our stay, spending half the week at the presbytery and half at the convent.
Cock crows woke us early on Monday. The day was cloudy with intermittent sprinkling. We ate breakfast and headed for the church. On the way we met the Mayor who welcomed us to his town. He told us that his wife, our architect/engineer of record was detained with the reconstruction in Port-au-Prince and would not be joining us. Danny then became the engineer of record for the week.
The church was empty and scaffolding already erected in the center. We welcomed 40 workers and after the roll call I said that the work had to be finished in a week. They looked perplexed and some even scoffed but they all accepted the challenge. We distributed work gloves to all on the list and asked those without gloves to leave the construction site. We gave a small pep talk, stressing the importance of punctuality, that no job was better than the other and that we were all working toward the same goal. Working hours were from 8 to 4 with a one hour lunch at noon.
We then proceeded to bring into the church all the materials that had been delivered the week prior. From that moment on, every all the workers were always on time, rain or shine, and ready to work with a smile. There were no power tools. All the work was done with a few hammers, two hand saws, one crowbar and a few machetes. The masons had trowels and we were so glad that we remembered to bring measuring tapes and carpenter pencils. Danny and a few workers climbed to the roof and although he spoke no French or Creole, we could see him in lively conversation using a lot of hand gestures.
By the end of the day, half the old roofing had been removed and a fourth of the framing was in place. Two scaffolds were built to support the columns and another scaffold was built to work on the right aisle.
Tuesday had intermittent rain. Since it was February 14 so we celebrated Valentine’s Day by sharing small candy hearts from the US during that morning pep talk. New roofing was installed on the front nave; old roofing removed from the right aisle. Any wood infested with termites were removed from the site at once and sprayed with insecticide. We built an additional scaffolding on the left aisle and the masons started work on the columns.
Wednesday was rainy: We worked intermittently. Mid-morning the rain came heavier and we called the crew off to shelter. After five minutes the men requested to continue working in spite of the rain assuring me that they would be careful. At the 4:00pm quitting time they requested to continue working until dusk. I thanked them for their initiative and they worked until 7:00pm. They then requested to come earlier the next morning, so we made a date for 6:30am. By day’s end, the left aisle was covered, half of center was covered and they started work on the right aisle.
Thursday was sunny: This was the first day without rain. Work moved quickly. At lunch time, I invited the entire crew to join us at the convent for a communal meal. The school children to put a show for us and presented us with a gift. Some of the workers spoke and we learned that many were not Catholic but totally enjoyed working on this project. They all expressed their joy and enthusiasm at working hard, knowing that the project had a definite goal. It was very moving. At 1:00pm we all walked down to the church and worked until dusk. Christina and Eddy drove back to Port au Prince to return the car.
Friday was Sunny: All the workers met Danny at the site at 6:30am and started working to finish covering the sanctuary while I worked at making plane reservations; our flight back to New York was for the next day. Evening came too soon and still there was a small portion of the sanctuary uncovered. I explained to the workers that they would get paid that evening for their labor including overtime but that I was hoping that they would come the next day, Saturday, and finish the work pro-bono. They promised to return but many were skeptical. The workers got paid and we exchanged phone numbers. I then distributed sandals that were donated by the Fiel Company through my friend Mauricio Bouzas to ladies throughout the town.
Saturday morning Pere Claude and Soeur Veronique drove us to Jeremie. The 45 minute flight to Port-au-Prince was smooth; we took a taxi to the international terminal where we met Christina and headed to the Delta waiting room. While reminiscing about our week, my phone rang; it was the Mayor wanting to let me hear the sounds of hammer at the church. They all came back to finish the work; I was thrilled. We all flew home with hearts full of emotion. We had achieved so much in just a week. The roof was done, the columns were repaired. our mission was accomplished. The community that was formed just to work on this project was surprising and special. There was not one fight, not one injury, not one bad feeling. We were very tired but our hearts were so very light and joyous.