Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nuts and Bolts of This Week

This is one of those posts for the grandmothers. "The deets", as the kids say.

Here's my update:
This week I am teaching about writing research papers in MLA format (9th and 11th English), and Brazil + rainforests + income gap in Latin America (World Cultures). World Cultures has spent the week debating, and feisty discussions get heated between the juniors and seniors. Speech & Stage consists of ten sophomore girls who could not be more diverse, and I absolutely love watching them grow and challenge themselves. I secretly like when the shy girl randomly draws the screaming monologue from Talledega Nights, or when the Palestinian-Haitian girl gets the one from Steel Magnolias, and then knocks the Southern drawl out of the park.

Tomorrow I'm having a sleepover with my discipleship group and Brittany's at her house. There's a pep rally after school and then a basketball game, neither of which have happened at Quisqueya in the last year. Afterward, it'll be pizza, movies, snacks, games, the works. I visited their home for the first time tonight- a lovely home that whose upstairs windows literally hang over the tent city next door. There are a dozen wires coming out of their electrical box, where tent-dwelling neighbors have "borrowed" their power.

On Saturday is a service day at Quisqueya. B and I will supervise students helping teachers and working on the grounds, while other groups of kids are heading off to serve at the TeacHaiti School and a rural school.

Next weekend is staff retreat, which is a free trip to the beach! Haiti's beaches are so lovely. Soon after, we'll celebrate Ben's birthday & Valentine's, which happens to be on the night that Student Council is holding a staff appreciation dinner. No more romantic way to ring in the big 2-7 than to spend an evening with your students :)

We finally figured out, 6 months later, how to turn on our gas oven, so we're making nachos nonstop as well as popcorn on the stove. We keep literally almost all of our food in our tiny fridge (which is shorter than I am) because of our ant infestation. They eat through the foil of Pop Tarts, and they even eat our laundry. Grossest place I regularly find ants: on my toothbrush.

A final thing I want to mention is long overdue. Ben and I are chaperoning some high school students from Quisqueya on a history trip to Washington, DC in March over our Karnival Break. The 10th-12th graders went through a huge application process including writing a research paper, and they are so excited. They are all wishing for snow; many of them have never seen it in person. They've been raising money, designing a tshirt, and asking constantly if we've been approved for the White House tour (we find out in late February).

This week's happy thought: Ben is buying me my overdue Christmas present tomorrow. There really is no word for this item, either in Kreyol or English. It is a fairly common item here, but we all describe it by its function: "tennis racket that kills mosquitoes". It's a plastic tennis racket, but the strings are electrified, like a handheld bug zapper. Marchans sell them on the streets. Mine is coming tomorrow, once we can figure out how to say that in Kreyol. Vengeance shall be mine.

Keep praying for our students, friends! I pray tomorrow will bring fruitful conversation and a chance to love on our discipleship girls. A special prayer request goes out for one student who has confided about facing some heavy depression issues.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quisqueya Families

Let's start with the most important things first. Number of mosquito bites currently visible on my arms, while wearing a tshirt:


And it's the dry season.

Now that's out of the way. On to the most fascinating conversation I had with a Haitian parent today.

As I sat by Quisqueya's high school building watching a student vs. teachers/alums/parents basketball scrimmage with Ben, I struck up a conversation with a father. We made small talk and chatted about the high school boy's classwork in history.

Then the conversation turned to travel. I asked the father where he likes to vacation. He replied that he usually traveled to where he had family. He has a cousin who has lived for 15 years in Madrid, a Haitian cousin living in Mexico and married to a Mexican man, and his wife's sisters in Florida.

He said it's really fun to get together with the family, and very "colorful", since the cousins all speak different languages- some kids speak Spanish, some Kreyol, some English, some French. But mostly, all the kids speak all of those languages.


Every member of my close family lives in Texas. There is no second language in my family, much less a third or fourth. How cool and, indeed, "colorful", would that be? And that's typical among my Haitian students- spending summers with an Arabic-speaking cousin in Syria, or a French-speaking aunt in Montreal. So fascinating.

Secondly, the father mentioned that he and his wife's best friends live in the Dominican Republic, just over the border. He told me they are very close, like family, and that that is where he sent his boys after the earthquake. His sons lived with these dear friends in the DR for eight months.

This got me thinking. Imagine for a moment that the city where you live was hit- tomorrow- with a natural disaster that rendered the city incapacitated for the next eight months. Groceries spotty, power and water spotty, maybe no schools open, most of your friends evacuating.

Where would you send your kids? Your spouse? To whom would you trust your children at that time, for many months? Would you go with them? Would just one parent go, and one parent stay, to take care of a business, perhaps? Now, imagine you need to make that decision in the next 24 hours. Really, think about it.

Those are the kinds of decisions made by our Quisqueya parents last January. I have a senior girl who went last January from 11 years in Haitian schools to living in Madrid with an aunt, attending high school-level classes in Spanish. I have over a dozen students who went from an exclusively French schools to Florida, dumped in a giant public Miami school in a language they barely knew. I imagine moving, all of a sudden, to a foreign country by myself, attempting to take high school-level coursework in a language I've only just begun learning, like Spanish, or, Lord help me, Swahili (which I did study every day for 2 years in college, but in which I could now hardly get through an airport, much less a science class).

All this to say, the families here have made very difficult choices, not too far in the recent past. Parents have spent months away from their kids, children have started all over at new schools, only to leave a semester later to return to Haiti, which was entirely different from when they left. I've had stability my whole life- 12 years in one church, one school system, one house- and today my eyes were opened to another degree of respect for the families at Quisqueya.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Politics, schmolitics. It's too confusing.

These are really interesting times to be in Haiti. I have always been a current events junkie and being in Haiti is a very nice front row seat to everything that is going on. "What is going on?" You ask. Oh, let's recap.

There is still no resolution to the election disputes. The OAS has made it's recommendations and the electoral council has thumbed it's nose at them. The current president's term is up on 7 Feb and the US, France and Great Britain are suggesting that they will suspend aid to Haiti if a plan to resolve the elections is not in place by then. No matter what happens there will be demonstrations.

In fact, Sunday, Katie and I were driving to the store and traffic was really bad. We realized that there was a small peaceful demonstration coming down the mountain as we were going up. I was clued into the fact that something significant was happening because there were 3 foreign photographers jogging down hill to keep in front of the mass of people. A quick turn and we avoided the masses and made it to the market. Nothing can stop the Izzo!

Also, a week ago Haiti's former dictator Baby Doc came back. Why? Yeah, no one knows. He might be the second most polarizing figure in Haitian politics after Aristide. Baby Doc's status is nebulose. Is he going to be prosecuted for his crimes? Is he a free man? Is he going to rejoin national politics? No one knows. And if anyone tells you they do know ask them about the real estate they are selling... I bet it is on a lovely swamp.

All of this is interesting because of how it effects my students. One day last week my government class shared their thoughts about Baby Doc's return. It was very interesting how different their experience with him have been, even though these students were not alive when he ruled Haiti he has made a strong impact on them.

One of my student's family is very close to Baby Doc. They have visited him many times since he has returned. Listening to a student describe eating caviar with a former dictator like it was dining with royalty can make your hair stand on end and your stomach fall to your knees. In the same class two other students shared how under his government their family suffered; ones dad was imprisoned for opposing his government and another lost an uncle to the feared Tonton Macoute. Many of the students shared all of this very matter-of-factly. Like they had read it in their textbooks the night before; including another student who shared with us that her uncle was a Tonton Macoute. Like it wasn't anything. Don't you talk to someone everyday who has a relative who was part of a former secret police? Stasi, KGB, Gestapo, Kempeitai. Sure.

I do not write about Haitian politics because I am an outsider, a blan. Politics is not why I am here, I am not a reporter. I am here to teach. I am here to mentor. However I feel passionate about communicating to my students that democracy is good and their voice matters and if it is not then they should make sure that it does matter. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to whisper over an orchestra of lies. We are talking about serious fraud, the likes we have not seen in American since Rutherford B. Hayes and infamous dictators who have the kind of impunity all Latin American strongmen dream of. The implications of being passionate about democracy are much different here than in the States.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Earthquake Memorial Service

 On Tuesday afternoon the 7th-12th graders held a memorial service. We did not have school on Wednesday, the 12th, so each family could do their own thing for the anniversary of the earthquake. You can see Steve, our director, speaking to our kids. On his podium you can see three photos of the only student we lost in the earthquake, a 6th grader named Coralie. Her friends, now 7th graders, spoke about the moment when they heard she was trapped in her home with her mother, and how they cried like they had never cried before. They talked about how much they loved Coralie.

Bianca, a 12th grader, also spoke. Bianca was one of the only two 11th graders left at Quisqueya last spring. She was the only girl in her grade, and as it ended up, I ate lunch with Bianca almost every day last spring. When there are only 24 kids total in 7th - 11th grade, and only 4 teachers, there aren't really "lunch table cliques"; we kind of all mixed together, which was special. Bianca and I spent quality time together on the Senior Retreat to Seguin, and she's in my discipleship group now. She spoke about last spring- sharing the campus with the army, having English class in my apartment living room, the Snack Shop operating til midnight to feed all the doctors coming and going at odd hours. She confided that last spring at Quisqueya, while being a great time of personal tragedy for her, was one of the greatest times of her 12 years at QCS.

She ended her talk by saying that one teacher was a great friend to her last spring, who had been there for her and was like a second mother- Mrs. K! It was the most incredibly affirming moment of my year of teaching. I want to treasure it, to capture or seize it. Then I can conjure it up and roll around in it on those days. It was the warmest of warm fuzzies.

I mention this on the blog not because I want to wave the "I'm awesome" banner. I mention it because there are people in my life who don't really understand what we're doing here. There is an organization that has concerns about funding us because we're "not doing evangelism". A person close to me recently heard that some kids at my school have Blackberries, so therefore we're not doing missions because my students "aren't that poor".

I guess I just want to justify to myself that the students here have deep wounds, and that they are my flock. We talk about how to make an MLA Works Cited page, and we talk about their dates on Friday. Teaching here is very enmeshed- I live and eat and work here. My colleagues and I watch movies in our pajamas together. My whole class comes in my house sometimes. I see them at the beach, when I'm out on a date with Ben, and every single time I go to the grocery store (Steve jokes that a trip to Eagle Market should count as 4 parent conferences). They need adults to love them, and I do that. They need adults to bust their chops sometimes, and I do that, too. And sometimes - I hope every teacher, and parent, can relate to this- I feel like I suck at it and I'm not making a whit of difference and they're all sitting in the same place they were in August, not having learned anything from me. But last Tuesday, Bianca said different.

Maybe one day I'll be more secure and I won't need that kind of affirmation. I'll just do the best I can and be fine with that; I'll never question whether I'm good at my job or ask silent existential questions when I'm locking up my classroom and walking out of the building. Maybe it's lame to get affirmation from teenagers; certainly living for the approval of teenagers is a good way to be a horrible teacher, or parent. My colleague Art says we should be the kind of teachers they'll appreciate in ten years.

But last Tuesday, what Bianca said meant the world.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Few Random Observations

Please forgive me if this is a near stream-of-conscious blog.

I love reading the blogs of the other people I know in Haiti, but I am thinking about stopping. I have blog-insecurity. Reading Corrigan's, The Livesay's and Goat Path I am struck by how others focused their blogs are. And how ME focused my blog is. Am I arrogant and self-centered in my blogging? Is blogging anything other than being arrogant and self-centered?

There is something crazy going on with the stray dogs in our neighborhood. They are barking or fighting every night around 10. I wonder if this is seasonal. I remember this time last year thinking, "Man there are a lot of stray dogs out at night and they sure are LOUD." I have not thought much of it until recently. But I am prepared to act as a volunteer dog catcher... or um... exterminator.

Something stinks in our apartment. It smells like rotten broccoli and something else. Something dead-and-rotten. But there is a definate scent of moldy rancid broccoli. Which is really strange because we do not eat broccoli. I hate it even when it is fresh. So I am none to thrilled to have the scent assault me now.

Today was a very sober day at QCS. We had an afternoon chapel service to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of the earthquake. I swore up and down that I would not write the same, "Look it's one year later" pieces that I have read from most news outlets. No problem if that's what you want to do, it just didn't feel sincere to me. But this moment at QCS was sincere.

The place was heavy with mourning. Two seventh grade students shared memories of their fallen classmate, the only student from our school to die in the quake. One was so overcome with tears that she had to stop and gather herself midway through.

One of our parents, widowed a year ago today, sat on the back row. Her friend comforted her while her daughters sat in front of her. I cannot help but wonder how they were feeling. I pray for that family daily.

Another student talked about how meaningful being back at Quisqueya was for her after the earthquake and how she felt like it was one of best times for her. She thanked Katie for always being there for her last spring.

A pastor struggled through memories of lost friend and eased tension with a perfectly timed and appropriate joke. Then reminded us that His grace is sufficient for us all. He delivered what was a perfect ending to our time and one of the most honest reflections I have heard.

Media outlets want to talk about what isn't being done and point blame all around. However, this is what real right now- sorrow and hurt so real. A tightness in your chest. An indescribable agony at the utter magnitude of loss. A slight comfort that you know that everyone in the room is feeling it too.

Tomorrow we will be fasting and praying for this nation. We are also going to church service near the Champs de Mars to hear Mark Driscoll preach. Should be an interesting day. Viv Ayiti.


Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like

There is a great deal of truth and laughs awaiting you at

Like our other favorites, stuffwhitepeoplelike and stuffchristianslike, stuff expat aid workers like makes fun of all the things we've seen here in Haiti, especially post-earthquake.

If I were to add to their list, I would include that expat aid workers like:

-magnetic signs for car door displaying your NGO logo
-checking out at the grocery store with only cigarettes, wine, and a snack food
-looking dirty
-scorn for short-term missionary teams (with their matching tshirts and bug bites)
-Toyoya Hilux trucks
-white Nissan Patrols
-jewelry made from paper beads
-vests (one extra point for each additional pocket)

You will notice their list of "field cred" diseases, and I am happy to report Ben and I can check off bedbugs, ringworm, and giardia. If only we'd get malaria or dengue, then we'd be so legit.....

 Oh, what interesting people this past year has brought into our life.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Want to Serve Abroad?

Before I came to Haiti I worked at a large non-profit in Dallas called Buckner that serves vulnerable kids and families around the world, through programs like community transformation centers, foster care, and transitional living for teens aging out of orphanages. Buckner also has an adoption ministry and sends mission trips to many of the countries where they work.

One of my favorite Buckner opportunities is their international internships, now called Project Go.

You can serve for one month or a full summer in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, Peru, Honduras, Dominican Republic and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Heck, come to the DR and you can hop the border and visit me! I think there also might be opportunities for semester-long serving as well.

Academic credits and scholarships may be available.

Get all the details at or check out this video:

Do it!


PS 1) We know of an organization here in Haiti accepting interns as well. Email me if you're interested in their contact info. 2) If you're interested in teaching at Quisqueya, my husband wants to talk to you! Email us (see right).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Fast for Haiti

Next Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of the January 12th earthquake that changed everything in this country and the lives of so many.  Already newspapers and blogs are rolling out their one year retrospectives: very canned, though true, news pieces on how nothing has changed here. I do not think you will see any of that on this blog.
Such stories are for people for whom the earthquake is a news story and not real life.

My heart breaks for Haiti and the people here: my friends who lost their homes, my students who lost their parents. My soul aches for a country that, despite all the work and money put into, it is still dysfunctional.

This Wednesday, January 12th, Katie and I will not be recapping all of the struggles Haiti has. We will not be asking for donations. We are simply asking you to join us in fasting and prayer for the country of Haiti.

We are fasting to show our helplessness and ask for healing from emotional wounds from the earthquake, for resolution to the many problems obstructing rebuilding and for the grace to handle this difficult anniversary.

There is a biblical mandate for fasting, but our God is not someone who can be cajoled into doing as we please. John Piper wrote, “[Fasting] is not first offered to God that we might be paid back because of it. It is first given by God that we might benefit from it and that he might be glorified through it...[rather] God rewards fasting because fasting expresses the cry of the heart that nothing on the earth can satisfy our souls besides God." (A Hunger for God)

What Haiti needs is healing, and I know only God can bring that. We invite you to join us in this day of fasting and prayer.

We aren't pros at this, it is uncharted territory for us; Katie has never fasted and I haven't fasted since high school. It is unfamiliar act for most people. If you have never fasted or need to be refreshed with the healthiest steps to take I found this reading very helpful.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Funeral Wear, and Boys and Girls Are Different

A Quisqueya alum passed away over the holiday break. He was in a car accident driving on the beach road, around sundown on New Year's Eve. According to one of our students, his car had been acting up. He was 20.

Yesterday several of the seniors were absent, attending his funeral. The day before, one had told me that the "dress code" for the young friends was a white shirt and jeans, since that was his favorite outfit. Some who had gone to the funeral were at school in the afternoon. All 3 girls had ballerina-style buns. I asked why. Rudayna replied that it's a Haitian custom, that you wear your hair up to show respect, since "it's not a party". You also wear closed-toe shoes. I then noticed all three girls had those on instead of the normal ballet flats or Chucks our kids wear. How interesting...

That custom makes total sense. Very respectful. It's just brand new to me.

I have no profound commentary on this. Just another piece of my Haiti education.

Another piece of my teacher education, one that should NOT be brand new to me:
boys and girls are different.

This semester we have split 9th grade English into two halves. Schedule-wise, it just worked best to split them girls/boys due to PE being girls/boys also. So we did.

And let me tell you. As a human-observation-experiment-peoplewatching kind of gal, it is stinkin hilarious to teach the same class twice in a row (once to the 9th grade XX's and once to the XY's) and observe the differences. My scientific observations so far:

1. The 9th grade girls have requested to sit in a semicircle instead of the normal rows.
2. The 9th grade girls have requested to all share colorful sparkle pens.
3. The 9th grade boys have requested to go on more field trips and play more games.
4. The 9th grade boys have requested a 5-minute stretching break in the middle of the 55-minute class, with the stipulation that if anybody falls asleep after the stretching break that he will be forced to stand up for the rest of class.
5. It was very difficult to start class on the first day with the 9th grade girls because all 13 of them wanted to discuss my slight change in hair color, what Mr. Kilpatrick got me for Christmas, the fact that I'm wearing heels for the first time in Haiti, the fact that I now have a clipboard with a ribbon on it, the fact that I am sick (as evidenced by almost-gone voice and coughing), and that I "look tan".
6. One week later, not a single 9th grade boy has noticed any of the above items.

I am loving it. It is so great to have smaller classes. Less fussing, more teaching. I can see almost everybody's notes at once, and I can definitely see all their desktops. More "at-bats", as my favorite teacher book would say.

I showed off a big stack of new books I'm adding to our classroom library today to the 9th graders, and I'll show them to the 11th graders tomorrow. Several of my pals (Lauren, Aunt Steffie, Stephanie, Belinda and more!) gathered books from their friends and closets to donate to my students as I've searched for excellent, meaningful books for my students to sink their teeth into. I was so happy to bring back such great works for them. And there are even more waiting in Texas for me to bring back next summer! Thank you, thank you.

One final thing today: our school is officially taking the day off next Wednesday, January 12, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. My word, one year. We'll have a memorial service with the secondary students on the afternoon before that.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ben's One-Year Observations

A year seems like a long time, when so much likely could happen. What will be filling up those 365 days seems full of promise and mystery. When you live a year, it flies by. You're sometimes amazed that so much actually happened, because it seemed like nothing was going on.

This marks the end of our first year in Haiti.

Katie provided the narrative recap of our past year. The frenzied craziness of the past year has been well documented on this blog. But what, if anything, has been learned?

We have learned that if there is a earthquake, you don't go huddle in the bathtub, you get in doorway. Everyone got that? Good.

Some people still haven't learned that Haiti is NOT in Africa. Someone asked me last night, "So, how is Africa?" I told them I didn't know, I had never been there. The awkward silence was heavy. Haiti is in the Caribbean sea. East of Jamaica and Cuba, west of Puerto Rico, next to the Dominican Republic.

Also learned: our school is pronounced Kiss-KAY-uh Christian School. Not "Quesadilla"!

I have learned that I love working and living abroad. After getting married and having a relationship with Christ, it is the best thing I have ever done. If anyone is in a stage in their life where they are mobile, go somewhere. America is a nice place, but go- see other countries learn about other cultures. You will be a deeper, richer person because of it.

I have learned that Haiti requires patience and dedication, like the long-term attention that New Orleans deserved after Katrina. If you wonder what is different in Haiti now, if anything has changed or improved, I would say mostly no. To me, Port-au-Prince looks the same as it did in April; it is too depressing to talk about regularly so I avoid it. In the meantime, governments delay sending their pledged contributions for earthquake recovery and the Haitian government is in deadlock over November's presidential elections (still no winner). All of this leads to a feeling that nothing is changing. The feeling that people are not moving out of the tent cities. They are not finding permanent solutions. What we will learn in the coming year is if the Haitian people are willing to tolerate this much longer.

I am learning how to help. I watch plane loads of blan (white people, or foreigners) fly into Port-au-Prince, then read stories about how $2 of every $100 in some rebuilding contracts goes to a Haitian company, and I wonder how this place is going to get better. All the things we seem to do to help appear to end up making it worse.

I have learned that people actually read what I write. Which blows me away. I thought that after the attention from the earthquake died down, readers would move on. However, I am being told by people that they checks our blog for updates every day. Really? I do not know all the names, but thank you.

Sometimes that requires you to readjust your comfort zone. Like when someone examines your face and tells you your ringworm "doesn't look that bad". Sometimes it devastates you with how cared for you are. Like when old friends tell you that when you do not write for a few days they start to worry about you.

This blog was supposed to be for family and friends to keep up with us. We never thought more than 20 people would look at it.

2011 is here. Our second year at Quisqueya School and Haiti is here. We have more to learn.



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