Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two Favorite Memories

I've had two favorite moments in the last five days (and please, forgive us our absence, dear blogfriends).

One moment was last week at a "welcome home" potluck for our friend Shelley. After the quake, Shelley and the kids had gone to the States while Corrigan stayed here to continue teaching at Quisqueya. (Rabbit trail: there are three families we are close to who are still in this tough separation time where the wife and kids are in the States while Dad stays here to keep teaching. Special prayers for the Herseys, Days, and Bleshes, please, as they're all going on 3 months apart). After many weeks and weeks apart, Shelley, Keziah, Zebedee, Jackson, and Ember all returned home to one joyful husband/dad.

This family runs a women's program where very poor mothers create jewelry that is sold in the US, and all the ladies in the program were there with their (many!) kids, including an 8-day-old baby who Corrigan pretty much helped deliver (the mother was in labor at his house!). As we surveyed the food table and compared it to the growing crowd on the Clays' rooftop dining area, we could see it wouldn't be nearly enough for everyone. I had made salsa, and, let's be honest, I was really hoping none of the Haitians would like it so I could eat a good bit/most of it myself. Also, there was pizza- a treat. Also also, I was really hungry.

Ben followed my gaze, coming to the same conclusion- not enough for this growing crowd. He turned and said to me quietly, "hey, let's not eat dinner here". I was totally in love with him. What a good man I'm married to. I admire him most when he's Jesusy.

Favorite moment two:
This afternoon we had a staff meeting. Afterward, B and I went upstairs to our apartment to cool off. I was reading and he was checking email when we heard a child crying. Not unusual. The Haitian kids who live on campus are always running around, usually screaming, and we have three walls of windows in our bedroom- lots of kid noises 24/7. But this kid was really screaming, and it sounded like a small child, and it kept going for awhile. I asked Ben to peek out the window and see if the crying child was being attended to. He said, "I think it's Sarah."

Within 3 seconds both our shoes were on and we were out the door. We walked down the stairs out of our apartment, and there was no child in sight, crying or otherwise. We waited a minute, and there came Sarah bounding around the corner. She ran up to us, jumped in my arms. Bliss. No tears- must've been another kid. We talked to her for a second, and then she ran off. Bummer. Where'd she go? B and I stood there for awhile, and she ran back from the direction of the art and music building, where our Haitian staff members are living. She had a black small trash bag tied in a knot. After some creative point-communicating (our specialty), we figured she wanted us to untie the trash bag.

Inside was her little pink baby- the one we gave her last week. All the pieces were there- the baby's pink hat, the magnetic pacifier, the bassinet, the baby's pink blanket. Much dirtier- much loved.

She couldn't get the hat on the baby, so Ben helped her. She layed the baby sideways in the bassinet, so Ben helped her lay the baby straight. She motioned for Ben to put the blanket on the baby, which he did. She pursed her lips, made a "tisk, tisk" sound, and repositioned the blanket, spreading it out just so, as if a silly boy couldn't possibly do it right.



Trying to process a weekend spent in a beat-up Toyota

Our time the last 5 days has evaporated like water on the ground in the afternoon sun here in Haiti. We had an exploratory team in from the church where we attend small group in Dallas. I really enjoyed seeing some familiar faces and liked sharing what limited knowledge I have about my new city. But at the end of it I felt poured out. I was dehydrated (but better fed than I have been in months), and exhausted.

I have been thinking about the next few blog entries for awhile. I wondered how to tell the story of what I had seen in a way that makes sense to anyone. I feel an obligation to communicate what is going on in Port-au-Prince, but it is my biggest fear that I am an ineffective storyteller.

The Weekend:
My companions' flight was late. I got to spend some real quality time at the airport and at some point I will write a blog just about picking someone up from the airport here. It is one of the more chaotic, yet memorable, experiences in PAP.

The team had a schedule that was cute, really. They had meetings scheduled roughly one hour apart, in parts of the city that were at least two hours apart with light traffic. We quickly accepted that timing was going to be off all weekend and just went with the flow.

Their itinerary meant that we would be criss-crossing PAP for two days. I was interested to see some areas that I had not visted yet like Carrefour and the epicenter, Leogane. Thinking about this afterward I wonder what I was excited about. Right now, everything in this city looks the same to me. Every block looks like the last. Standing houses, fallen houses, tents on streets, inquisitive stares. I went to Leogane and saw the same things I have seen off Delmas. The only thing that changed were the street names.

Every time I go out, I see more clearly how vast and colossal the problems are here in Port-au-Prince. Every time I think I have my head around them, I end up on another drive around the city and get a reality check.

There is great local leadership, but no national leadership. There is little communication regarding how to implement goals made at meetings in Miami, New York and Washington, DC. I have thought a lot about New Orleans lately, and how after Katrina it took years to get that city in a condition that was acceptable and even now it still shows scars. That happened in the richest country in the world. This quake happened in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. How can things get back to normal, how can Haiti rebuild at a pace that is acceptable to us when the USA strained to rebuild one of its most culturally rich cities? I do not have the answers after this weekend.

Good News:
In some positive news late last week we were notified that we have received a grant from WMU's HEART Fund. We will be using the fund to build a house for one of our schools workers. Expect to see some pictures and learn about what life was like for this family since the quake.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

People cannot contribute to the nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check. So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we’re also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, from his speech, "We Shall Overcome," given to Congress on March 15, 1965, after racial violence broke out in Selma, Alabama

There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.” - C.S. Lewis
Just for fun:)
Last week was what Ben refers to as "his ethnic holiday", St. Patrick's Day.
Elias took the occasion as an excuse for creative hairstyling.
Ben and I took the occasion to invite our students to bring snacks!
Including really Irish tranditional snacks, like guacamole. Oh well, it was green.
The students have really weak language skills- they only speak an average of 3-4 languages each. To make up for this deficit, Ben worked on their Gaellic.
I also took the opportunity to read my classes Seamus Heaney poems and limericks. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find G-rated limericks? Finally, we listened to some traditional Irish folk songs and practiced our Riverdancing. We closed with a few songs by that most Irish of bands, U2 (at which point several students looked confused and said, "YouTube is from Ireland? And has a band?")

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gone Askew

The best laid plans of mice and men
often go askew.
-Robert Burns

Katie and I love Haiti. We really like it here. One thing we especially like are the Haitian children who are living on campus. To recap, QCS is hosting the families of some workers whose homes were destroyed on January 12th. Some of those families have beautiful precious adorable children. I will un-ashamedly admit that Sarah is my favorite. If she can, she runs up and demands a hug and to be carried when she sees me. I always oblige. I think she is the most beautiful child I have seen since the last time I saw the Bowlin children.

My Creole and her English are on the same level. So our conversations are like this.
Me: Como ye?
Sarah: Byen! and giggle.

I imagine that she thinks I am a curious creature. She always tugs at my arm or leg hair. Today while I was holding her she was tugging the few chest hairs that were showing from underneath my shirt collar.

In a post a few weeks ago we showed a photo of her playing with a very dirty white baby doll with Barbie-like blond hair. My tender mother-in-law took exception to this, went to the store, and bought some toys for the kids here. She cleaned out the store of all the black baby dolls they had (4) and sent them to us. We were very excited about sharing them with Sarah and her friends.

But very quickly we had some problems. 1, there were a few more kids than toys. 2, we didn't have enough language skills to effectively communicate- that we only had a few toys, that they needed to behave, share, and be nice and blah blah blah.

We were so excited that we broke all the rules about how to do things in Haiti and we just tried to hand out the toys in front of our apartment. Utter, complete, total disaster. Unequivocal chaos and an epic fail.

Katie's turn:

This post falls under the heading of "let's get real, people". When the toys came in, we were ecstatic. We unpacked the bag, set them all out on the bed, and took a dozen photos.
We had originally asked for just two babies- one each for the two littlest girls on campus, Sarah and Larisa, who are probably about 3 or 4. Then when more toys came, we didn't know how to distribute them. Also, no one has a good count on the number of kids here (lots of moving around, changing), or their names, ages, or genders. So we waited, trying to get this info.
But I didn't want to wait. I see Sarah every day, and I just wanted her to have her pretty new (and scented- slightly creepy) baby doll, a baby who is clean and looks like her (ie, not blond). So last night we went outside our apartment and saw her playing. I made a snap decision and just grabbed the bag of toys and called her over.
It was a very, very sweet moment. She was delighted. She made little motions like "for me, really?" and very tenderly looked at all the parts of the baby- her little blanket, her little hat, her little pacifier.
She really loved it. We were on cloud nine to give it to her. Another little girl ran over when she saw Sarah's new toy. That girl started digging in our bag of stuffed animals. We didn't have a translator (big mistake), so we just said "no", and then we gave her a stuffed animal (that was the plan- to give the other, older kids little Easter bunnies). Then some boys ran over... and things started to get out of control.
This is a face of a kid yelling "gimme, gimme". That's not really how I imagined this sweet toy distribution working.
But it was just two little boys, and after they picked a Hot Wheels car each, they were very cute.
By now we had given toys to Sarah, her friend, and these two boys. They ran off to show off their new toys, and within a minute we had a swarm. About ten kids jumped on us, digging through the bag of stuffed animals, clawing at us, begging, screaming. It was the opposite of fun. It was the opposite of touching, or sweet, or tender.

One girl dug through the bag of stuffed animals, which by the this time I was trying to retrieve, and pulled out the other baby doll, the one that was meant for Larisa. Just at this moment Larisa walks up, and Sarah has already told her (we communicated this to Sarah through pointing- sort of) that the other baby doll is for her. Ben tries to put the baby doll back in the bag, and this older girl- probably ten or so- starts trying to jerk it out of Ben's hands, throwing a wall-eyed temper tantrum. Screaming, hysterically, pulling the toy, falling on the ground. Larisa is now grabbing the baby doll, too. Ben is yelling at me, I am yelling at Ben, and Larisa is now equally hysterical. The girls pull so hard on the doll they rip her blanket.
Please note the children sprinting around the building, coming for toys. The swarm grows, and it is completely out of control. Quincy (remember our broken-femur, traction-on-campus little friend?) gets a Hot Wheels car, then immediately puts it in his pocket and starts crying to Ben that he hasn't gotten one yet and wants another. They're lying, they're begging, they're screaming, crying. At this point we're backed up against the door of our apartment, which they're trying to get in. Three ladies, probably in their 20's, come over and start demanding stuffed animals.

We retreat. We go inside, shut the door. I am shocked, and really, really angry. I feel the way I felt last year on a Buckner mission trip to Honduras when the kids in a government orphanage- the ones I had been praying for by name, paid a lot of money to fly around the world to give presents and love to- were hitting me, pulling my hair, telling me they wish I would die because I made them stand in a line to get pizza (I don't even have the advantage of understanding any ugly comments here, due to my lack of Kreyol).

We were stupid to do it that way. We should have learned the lesson of our food distribution with Ryan and Adam- you get the local Haitians to do the distribution. It keeps you from being White Santa, and it allows the people who know each member of the community to keep order. They can say, "Quincy, I know you already got a toy".

I was so very disappointed. I had been dreaming about this for two weeks. God is teaching me about the actual reality and actual cost of loving your neighbor. For a long time, I cried at Oprah and CNN about "the least of these", heart bleeding for the poor. But my heart only bled for hypothetical, abstract children, not real ones with dirty hands that stain my shirt. My heart wept "for the nations", but only for a romanticized nation of idealized people, not ones who break your camera or lie to you. I thought I loved orphans, but the kids in Honduras and the poor kids on my campus (my literal neighbors, for the first time) are real kids- ones who get hysterical and ugly, especially when there's something (literally) up for grabs in a nation of deprivation.

Ben comforted me (after I apologized for rushing in and disregarding our plan), saying he knew my heart and that I should just hang on to those sweet minutes with Sarah, who was actually grateful and tender and delighted.

This morning I walked over to chapel to begin our school day. Madame Jean-Charles, an elementary teachers, was outside talking to a Haitian girl named Kimberline who was snuggling a blue Easter bunny. Madame Jean-Charles told me the girl had been given an Easter bunny and she loved it very much. Kimberline had told her that she had named the bunny Annaika, and that she slept with it, and that the bunny kept her company. Mrs. Jean-Charles said she was so glad the girl had been given a toy, because most of those kids had probably never been given a gift before, no Christmas presents or birthday presents, ever.

Then I was ok.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Ideas On How To Help

This is an article from Inside Higher Ed. While they are specifically talking about education, I could not agree more with the authors thoughts about how to get involved: focused, local, long-term.

If you are interested in relief work then I think it is a beautiful blueprint. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

To the Victor...

Sometimes two things cannot coexist in the same space. The Romans and Barbarian tribes, the Hebrews and anyone else in Canaan, Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner. Add to the list "rats" and "me".

We cannot do it. We cannot live in the same apartment. One of us has to leave, and, since I have moved 3 times since January, they have to go. Also, I promised my wife I would make them leave. I can't let her down. We are living in a war-like state against the rats.

The conflict between us hit a new high this week. Thanks to a recent gift from my the Director of my school I now have roughly 10 old-school traps. The kind that snap shut with guillotine-like efficiency and have a very unique sound. Also, the kind that can take off your hand/fingers if you are not careful. They are like rat land mines- they cannot distinguish friend from foe, so you have to watch out.
Earlier this week we loaded one and put it in a cupboard where rats were getting in from the attic. Not 10 minutes later there was a very distinct sound, and Katie came running to me, very excited and with BIG eyes full of joy. She is coldblooded towards rats; it was her idea to take no prisoners. I just follow orders.

With the help of our roommate Kirby, we opened the cabinet. Kirby looks at the rat for a minute while we are bombarding him with questions then says, "Oh, he is still alive". What? What? WHAT?!!! Will nothing remove these vermin from our apartment and satisfy Katie's bloodlust?
I hand Kirby a broom stick and tell him to finish it off or to push it into a trash can before Super-Rat decides to shake off the effects and fly away. Kirby procrastinates. In his defense, Kirby might not have understood that this was a war of attrition and the stakes are very high. However, because he procrastinates the evening changed completely. This wouldn't be a quick ambush- this would be an epic battle. The rat got his second wind. He was alive.
(What is my arm doing?)
The rat sprang to life. He jumped six inches into the air (see above- he is levitating!), then frantically ran round the cupboard searching for his escape. We tried to strike him down, but, like Neo in The Matrix, he dodged our blows. Then he turned. He squared himself to us and jumped out of the cupboard, then charged Katie and Kirby's wife, Danielle. The ladies who had been so giggly as their husbands worked were now thrown into the battle.

The rat raced through our living room, trying earnestly to save his rat-life. We chased him with broomsticks, swinging them like Roman Centurions. The Rat was fast- he would be under the TV stand, then sprint under a couch. Kirby started hurling his shoes at the rat like a Marine throws grenades. In the background there were squeals and laughter from Katie and Danielle accompanied by shouts of "he ran there"! They were our spotters.
Our enemy ran back to the kitchen, behind the refrigerator, then into another sitting area and under a bookshelf, all the while dodging our blows. You could say that we had bad aim. I would say, Shut up, rats are fast and you weren't there.

We cornered him under the bookshelf. We jabbed and we poked, and I am pretty sure we scored some blows. I tightened my grip on my broomstick and told everyone to back up. I wound up and swung the broom stick. I certainly hit something, but it was more likely the tile floor, because my broom stick snapped in my hands. Like an MLB pitcher had sawed off my bat. I dropped the short piece and grabbed the longer piece, now even more enraged by our inability to end this rat's life. As Katie was shining a light under the book case and Kirby was attempting to spear Templeton, I bear-hugged the bookcase and tried to move it so we could have more access.

The rat finally ran out, charging us again, but he must have been disoriented from battle and blood loss. I scored a direct hit across his back. Two more and he stopped moving. Just like that. We were all sweating, panting and deliriously happy. We posed for pictures with out victim.
Unlike our government during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am keeping a body count. Currently it stands at 3 rats (hat trick?) and 1 mouse. This is a war of attrition, we are in it for the long haul. Keep calm and carry on.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


“The irreducible facts about each brother or sister are that Christ died for them and that the Spirit wants to give something through them. To cling to unity is to cling to those convictions, especially when everything in us cries out for separation. Or, in plain words, unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard/ Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion; when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful and those we think are stupid.” -Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

"But pacifism is so impractical!" As if Christian ethics were utilitarian, as if there were a calculus for shalom! -Kim Fabricius

Our long-time Haiti missionary friend John, who runs a rural clinic outside PAP, has been very gracious in letting us accompany him on various adventures around Haiti. This weekend we headed downtown, much nearer to the epicenter of the 7.0 quake. Just after the quake, most of the international reporters were in that area, so some of these images may be familiar. I can tell you, however, that no TV report can ever quite capture the magnitude, the sounds, or, especially in this case, the smells.
A very Soviet-looking monument created by Aristide. It was supposed to be an "eternal flame", but was never lit, according to Tour Guide John.
The Port-au-Prince version of Central Park (loose comparison) is a giant park called Champs d'Mars across from the National Palace. It is now the largest tent city in the country. It's ironic to see dozens of flags and several elaborate statues on tall pedestals sprouting up between such devastation. This tent city is also the most well-outfitted one I've seen, even having rows of port-a-potties.
Imagine if this was your National Palace. Imagine if it was the White House. Even if you have never been to Washington, you identify with that building. I remember on the day of the quake, a lot of the kids only started freaking out when the news trickled in that the National Palace and National Cathedral were down.
National Palace
This building, directly next door to the National Palace, is famous for its green roof and green paint. It's also the Ministry of Finance. THE MINISTRY OF FINANCE IS A PILE OF RUBBLE. Imagine the psychological effect of that on a people, a nation.
US soldiers outside the back end of the green Ministry of Finance building. The back end of the building came down completely in an aftershock a day or two ago. There had been people inside, scavenging useful materials like wood, when it fell completely, so the soldiers were keeping people out of the building (for further scavenging/looting) while a Search & Rescue team tried to find any survivors.
Seal of Haiti on the Ministry of Finance building.
All around the National Palace/Downtown area are the giant tent cities of Champs de Mars. There was a big crowd gathered, probably a hundred of so, watching the US soldiers guard the Ministry of Finance building while the Search & Rescue team worked. I stood directly across the street, behind the crowd, and noticed that all the people were standing in a stream of open sewage. Some of them were barefoot, and all who had shoes wore dusty sandals like this little girl.
Outside the tent city, gathering corrugated material that will be used for roofing.
The dust was heavy in the air. It was blazing hot. This man was just chillin on some sort of homemade cart, probably for moving scavenged useful items out of the rubble. I'm using the word "scavenging" instaed of looting because, frankly, I don't think what they're doing is wrong. What's wrong with looking through a pile of unattended trash for something useful? It'll just be carted off in a few days and dumped in the countryside, so if you're homeless, why not pick up a little wood to make a new shack? It's utilitarian.
A street vendor. All the books were in French.
US soldier with a Haitian policeman, I think. They were guarding a street where a bulldozer was clearing rubble in order to keep people out of the way to let the trucks work faster. This soldier was from Texas, so we struck up a conversation. Turns out he went to Prestonwood Christian Academy, a private Christian high school about ten minutes from where I grew up. I asked when he graduated to see if we might play the "name game" since I had several friends from PCA in college. His answer? 2009. A baby with a giant gun!
Just like the pin-up girls of WWII, right?!? Haha, no. Big giant humvee helping to block the road to keep people out while the bulldozers cleared rubble.
This was one of the crumbled buildings on the street where the bulldozers were clearing. John told us this building used to be the only school for disabled children in the entire country. Now? Flat.
Imagine if this was your house? Your hallway?
A beautiful Methodist church downtown. The sanctuary was relatively spared, but the education building next door and offices are deeply cracked and will have to come down. John had sung Christmas Carols there once or twice before and knew the pastor, who was sitting in the courtyard.
Across the street from the Methodist church was a wooden structure. Port-au-Prince had, many decades ago, these gorgeous "Gingerbread" houses, made of beautiful painted wood, in a kind of New Orleans-ian style (or perhaps the New Orleans style is actually from Haiti?). Almost none were surviving, even before the quake, due to termites I believe, but I did see a few wooden structures downtown, albeit leaning perilously.
This damaged photo studio had its windows blown out, but you can still see the green screen. "1 Heure" photo.
Police car. Typical.
Louisiana Shop Electronic!
The National Cathedral.
Used to be something beautiful. Now, graffiti, broken.
 John antagonizes begging ladies:) I say this with all love and respect- John has been in this country 25 years, and I will take his advice on how to do things here, include what to do when people ask "give me one dolla" 24/7. He is the second person I've met in Haiti (the other has been in the country 17 years) who think the best way to respond to begging is to communicate with the beggar, and, if possible, make a joke. For example, when kids beg my other friend, he tries to strike up a conversation. Where do you live? he'll say. He's trying to be relational. John makes jokes. If a kid comes up and says "Blan (meaning "white person"), give me one dollar", John will say "I'm not white, I'm pink!" in Kreyol. John has a lady come up with a newborn and say she had no food for the baby. He, as a nurse who does an extensive amount of prenatal care, responded in Kreyol, "yes you do, right there- breastfeed your baby!" She laughed and walked away. 

I'm undecided. For now I mostly just get awkward. Some missionaries here carry little baggies of rice to give, which they feel more comfortable with than money. Maybe I'll get organized enough to do that.
 National Cathedral damage
Markets totally fill the streets downtown as you get within a few blocks of the Caribbean Sea (the blue in the background is the ocean). 
Little shacks line the streets in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The bells of this destroyed church read "John Taylor & Co, Founders, Loughborough, England".
Next we left downtown, drove straight through the valley that is Port-au-Prince, and went straight up the mountain.
There's a place, high above Haiti, where the cell phone towers crowd together like a little digital forest. It's called Boutillea (misspelling likely), and John calls it his favorite place in Port-au-Prince. He took us up there to end our day-long trip. 


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