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.



  1. Oh man. I SO know what you are talking about. I have been there many times. Thanks for writing about it.

  2. Rookie mistake, we learn by failure right?

  3. this post is so heartbreaking and so real. still praying for y'all.

  4. Hey Ben and Katie,
    Sorry it's been a while since I've commented. I HAVE been reading every day! And Leon especially enjoys the rodent saga. :)

    Once again, thanks for sharing this difficult story. It's good for all of us who are not there to get these glimpses, and learn along with you the realities of life there.

    I'm so happy these kids got new toys! I know that toys aren't in abundance in poverty-stricken places, but it's still so hard to imagine that they have never (or rarely) had these kinds of toys - ones my kids have in abundance and easily toss aside!

    But it's also a sad reflection of the mindset they have to be in - that it's perfectly acceptable and quite expected to fight and beg and grab for what you can because it may be the only chance in your life to get what is there. It's a survival mentality that we just can't really grasp. Our (my) world view is just still so narrow, I suppose. And it's because of the injustices and imbalances of wealth and poverty that they are this way... so really we are in part responsible for that awful experience you had. I am deeply sorry. I would have most certainly been in tears myself!

    Do not be discouraged. Do not be overwhelmed. Keep focusing on the sweet relationships with precious souls you are pouring into in Jesus' Name. You're doing such an amazing job! And I love reading about it all!

    I continue to join you in prayer for all that God is doing through you both there!

  5. Those pictures of Sarah holding the new doll are beautiful especially the first one where we "the viewers" can almost FEEL the pure joy in your heart and Sarah's excitement. Thank you for sharing this story.

    Frisco, TX

  6. Your blog is so amazing! I cry (today's blog), I laugh (Ben trying to kill the rat) Everytime I need a little pick me up...I read the rat story! I shared it with the whole office! We were all rolling in laughter! keep it up! kate, keep your head up! I know your sweet and precious nature and don't let this get to you! keep prayin! thats all you can do! love you both and miss you very much!

  7. I had the same problem in Mexico when I gave a little guy a pen. The hordes that arrived after that were amazing, and I too didn't know what to do. Always more of them than what you have. Thanks be to God that He can handle all of us somehow.

  8. Made me miss you guys ... and all the unplanned chaos! Not much changes in humanity ...God gave us Jesus and they ripped him to pieces!!

    Love you guys!!


  9. I have been reading your blog since the earthquake and continue to be astonished at your growth and faith as you follow Christ's example of how we should care for the poorest of the poor. How easy it is to love and comfort our romanticized versions of the "suffering children." And how difficult to truly devote ourselves to the dirty faces and smelly bodies and runny noses, the tantrums and grasping and ugliness all children (and indeed all people) are capable of.
    You exhibit your devotion and your deep love of Jesus by staying with these little ones who need you so much, not as the great white Santa with all the gifts and all the answers, but as servants who listen and learn. As we approach Easter, I think of Maundy Thursday and the foot-washing services I love so much.Each time you hold a child or wipe a tear, you embody this ritual in a way none of us living safely in our prosperous homes will ever know. I pray for your discernment and safety as you do God's important work.

  10. Hi Ben and Katie!
    Reading your story made me think of SO many of the same experiences on mission trips.

    When I was in Ethiopia, a granola bar poked out of my bag and one small child asked if they could have it. I reached in to pull it out, ripped off the top to share it with him, and then there were four children. So I started dividing the bar into pieces to hand out to the four children, and when I started handing out pieces the four sets of hands became 10. Then 20. Then an entire mob of children were pushing me, yelling and screaming at each other as they fought over a few crumbs of a granola bar. It's really hard to understand what it must be like to never get anything special, to never have a gift, to always be hungry. But that moment taught me a lot, as I'm sure your moment taught you. And yes, it made me angry too. And I probably cried about it later.

    Thanks for being real about your experiences. Praying for you guys ...



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