Monday, February 28, 2011

Footwashing and Not Playing White Santa

I washed our gate guard's foot today.

Not with a basin of water and a towel, but with a sterile wipe and latex gloves. Big Stan hurt his foot. His boot rubbed his foot raw just below his big toe. It's a big toe. Big Stan is big- 6'2'' ish and an easy 225 lbs. Big for a Haitian.

I asked Stan if he had socks. He shook his head and said, "m' pa gen." I don't have them.

It is then I noticed his pants had busted at the seam and someone sewed them back. Days ago I had commented to Katie that his boots had looked completely worn through in some places.

After I bandaged his foot up I stormed into my house. Christ's words about being cursed for not taking care of the least of these assaulted me. I felt like a huge jackass. I had just read this blog by John the Baptist's stunt double. I knew I had to help. I wanted to help in the most practical way...

 This is where you would expect to read about how I made a commitment to sock every Haitian man, woman, and child. I would tell you that I personally socked 200 people and am asking for a commitment to help sock thousands more. But, that didn't happen.

I went across to the street to talk to my expert on all things Haitian, Miquette. I asked her about Big Stan, knowing she had given him some antibiotics for his foot. I wanted to know where one could buy socks in Haiti. She asked why. When I recounted my conversation with Stan, Miquette's athletic frame, which had previously been very still, got very animated and passionate.

"Socks! Oh, he knows here to get them! They are so cheap! Socks are everywhere!"

I asked her why Big Stan did not have any, suddenly seeing my plan of dominating the charity sock market and earning a MacArthur Genius Grant unraveling. (Are the puns too bad? Sock market?)

Miquette can read white peoples' minds. She knows when a blan is scheming and she knows when a blan is being played. She straightened up and wagged her finger at me (unaware that her biceps were flexing in a very intimidating way too). "You will not buy him socks, Ben. Give him food or anything else, but I cannot let you give him socks. He has been irresponsible." Miquette hypothesized that Big Stan has not prioritized well with his paycheck.

I then began to totally downplay even the mere prospect of buying socks, despite the fact that I had already decided on my fundraising (sockraising?) slogan, "Put a sock in poverty!" for my charity sock drive that every PTA in the greater Dallas area was sure to jump on board with. I agreed and sulked home. No milk and cookies for this White Santa.

There are a lot of reasons to give in to a savior complex and play White Santa (the charitable white person who disperses goods and services like a jolly 'ole man on Christmas Eve night without understanding unintended, and possibly damaging, consequences). The chief reason is a misunderstanding of the purpose of Christian charity, lovingkindness, and mission work (second is probably some sort of white guilt). Though they often are rooted in the right motives, White Santa actions can belittle the recipients' value as a human and contribute to dependency on hand-outs, creating the international aid equivalent of a welfare state that is so prevalent in developing countries.

To be sure, there are times when it is necessary to provide people with the basics of life, like right after a natural disaster. But setting up systems of handing out goods without thinking about why it is missing in the first place is dangerous. It treats symptoms (not root causes), can create inappropriate incentive structures, and does not teach responsibility. Imparting responsibility is sometimes more important than giving immediate happiness (as any teacher or parent can attest). God does not give us everything we ask for or meet every little whim. We suffer the consequences of our poor decisions.

Katie and our neighbors do many things for our guards. We feed them home-cooked meals and bring them burgers when we go out. We do not pay them directly (they are contracted through the school), but we, along with our neighbors, paid them a "13th month" Christmas bonus.

Big Stan is around my age. He has fixed up the guard hut nicely. He used to bring a tv with him to work. He recently outfitted the guardhouse with a mini-fridge. He street clothes are Haitian-trendy. But he has not made sure that he has the basics. None of the other guards' uniforms are tattered or their shoes worn bare (Ceyab has the coolest camo-print boots). I learned that it is much more loving to talk with Stan about being responsible than it is to fix all his problems for him.

I guess I will have to get that Genius Grant another way...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

One Week to DC!

On Friday, Ben and I are leaving for our long-dreamed-of trip to Washington, DC. And we're taking these 17 hooligans with us!

We are so excited.

In exactly one week from this minute, I will be in the White House, taking a tour.

(Unless, of course, the government shuts down. Come on Boehner, make it happen.)

All the kids are wishing for snow! Current forecast for Friday: high of 48 F. Brrr!

Will you pray for us?

Biggest fears: government shutdown cancels 75% of our itinerary, closely followed by customs/visa/passport issues.

Biggest dreams: Inspiration, spiritual transformation, bonding, sparks ignited in souls and minds, healing, and discovery.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Haitian Medical Procedure: Check

Friday night I'm eating soup. Hot and sour SOUP, of all things, not Jolly Ranchers. I feel something weird in my mouth.

That's my crown.

Yep, it is supposed to stay permanently cemented to its place on my molar, but alas, I drove home past the Place Boyer tent city with it in my pocket. I wanted to do nothing; Ben made me email my dentist back in Texas.

Very long story short, it turns out you have to get crowns re-cemented prontissimo, and it turns out one of our Quisqueya board members' wives is a dentist. I made an appointment for this afternoon and tried to figure out how I would get downtown to her office. "Downtown" Port-au-Prince is not a particularly secure area; US embassy employees are forbidden to go there. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine finding one dentist's office in a place where many streets don't have names and all businesses and homes are covered up behind large cement walls topped with either "democracy wire" (razor wire, as it is known locally), or the homemade equivalent (broken bottle pieces stuck in cement).

We arranged with Miquette's brother Dan to drive Ben and I, and it only took us 5 or 6 phone calls plus 3 or 4 stops to ask a marchan (lady street vendor) for directions to find the place.

Doctora Diaz, a Dominican dentist, was amazing. In less than five minutes I heard her speak English, Spanish, and Kreyol to various people in her office. The waiting room magazines- all in French. The intake forms- partially in English, part in Spanish. Haiti is so much more multicultural than my little corner of Texas.

Ben and I get really excited when we have the opportunity to speak Spanish anywhere. I think it's because we speak about 15% Spanish, whereas we speak about 1% Kreyol. It feels like an accomplishment, next to the awful I'm-a-failure feeling of sucking all the time at Kreyol.

Doctora Diaz re-cemented my crown  in the flashiest of flashes, and sent me on my way. It only took us an hour to wind our way through the hills of PAP back to Quisqueya again.

Things I saw and heard on the adventure:
  • Doctora Diaz said they have to mop four times a day in her office lobby. It's the dry season here, and especially with all the unpaved roads and ubiquitous piles of busted-up concrete, it's a dust bowl.
  • Dozens of schoolkids walking home. Haitian private school uniforms all involve some sort of plaid.
  • An elementary-age girl studying a textbook, still in her school uniform. Literally sitting on top of a pile of bent rebar, which I can almost guarantee has been removed from a kraze'd building for reselling.
  • Several twenty-something young men, sleeping in the middle of the afternoon on a pile of tires.
  • A business I had never seen before: House of Pain Gym
  • Dozens and dozens of roadside shops: folding table covered in random grocery store items like condensed milk, V8, diapers
  • Many people in line at "banks", which are brightly-painted little roadside kiosks for gambling
  • The neighborhood around the clinic appears to have been much harder hit than where we are, a little further uphill. House after house after building after church after school is half-fallen, cracked and perilously tilting. The hills are covered in what my students call bidonvilles, stadium-style homes, one roof on another's floor like a great swarm of drab concrete dominoes. The only nongray color is blue- blue for the UN tarps, the Samaritan's Purse tarps, the World Vision tarps, and so on.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Liv Yo

Books, glorious books.

Last fall I asked some of my Dallas friends if they had any spare books to encourage, inspire, instruct, or engage high school kids in Haiti. My students are almost all English-as-a-Second-Language (or third, or fourth....). They can speak fluently, but in terms of vocabulary, many are behind the breadth and depth of an English-in-the-home kid in the States. On top of that, they're teenagers, and many don't have a huge passion for reading due to all the distractions around them. I want them reading amazing books.

So I asked a few friends. Well, I got dozens upon dozens of amazing books. I could only bring a tiny fraction to Haiti this time, though I plan to bring more each time I return.

The kids are eating them up. I am overflowing with joy to see Haitian teenagers walking around with Crazy Love, Blue Like Jazz, Screwtape Letters, Redeeming Love, Same Kind of Different as Me, and many other books that have rocked my world in the last few years. There are currently 5 kids in the waiting list for my 3 copies of Screwtape Letters, a book I've heard raved about as "about demons, funny, and most importantly, short". Oh well.

So all this to say, thank you. Thank you especially for the "boy books". Of course great literature and deep thoughts are suited for either gender, but I've been particularly searching for books that appeal to a 13-17 year-old of the Y chromosome variety. I have two sports biographies and one about a rock star, and they are in constant demand.

Thank you, friends :)


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ben's Secret Talent

Ben has a secret talent!
He likes to dress up in homemade astronaut costumes and entertain small children. His specialty is appearing as said astronaut to kick off elementary school Read-a-Thons titled "Book-It to Space".

He MOST especially likes it when his wife puts aforementioned astronaut-costume-shots on the interwebz for all to see.

Tee hee.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bon Fete Valentin, and Other February News

It's been 10 days. This is the longest we've gone in a year without updating. We've been crazy. With what, you ask? Well....
We joined in a Haitian worship service/concert in downtown, the plaza adjacent to the National Palace, which is still cracked and crumbling a year later. To my eye, it looks identical to the way it did in early February 2010.
Basketball games. The only two sports we offer are high school soccer and basketball, and there are only about 3 or 4 other schools around with teams. So there isn't really a "season", just kind of randomly scheduled games. They are so fun. I help the seniors sell concessions, and Ben runs the scoring table.
The first weekend of February the whole staff of Quisqueya was whisked away on staff retreat to a hotel owned by one of the families close to our school. It was such a dream. Only two nights, but truly a rest for my heart. The gorgeous tree is an almond tree, with huge ripe almonds hanging off. The sunset boaters above are Ben and Bearded Tony, returning from paddling around. Did I mention it's 90 degrees here?

The next week I made the "rookie teacher" mistake of having final draft research papers due- for 3 entire classes. I graded all night every night, and after reading multiple drafts of 40 papers on illegal immigration, I never want to read another word on the subject. I will only say that approximately 95% of my Haitian students believe in the passage of the DREAM Act. Listen up, Monsieur Obama.

This past weekend was Ben's birthday! The same night was a staff dinner given by the student council up in the mountains above Haiti at a student's home. It was quite an adventure getting there- on the way up Ben had to go Bauer when we came across a just-occurred accident, and on the way down the Jin Bei van got stuck on the just-rained-on rocks and gravel. It was a nice night, but almost immediately afterward Ben got scary-sick (he thinks he had giardia again- same symptoms), so that was a very long couple of days.

Student activities have been time-consuming; I've been very busy as the senior class sponsor. They're desperately trying to raise money for their end-of-year activities, and lately have been selling snacks as well as roses/serenades for Valentine's Day. Ben and I are only two weeks away from the Washington DC history trip with a group of 10-12th graders and we are very, very excited. We just found out wonderful news- we got approved for the White House tour! The kids are all wishing for snow, which they've never seen. I am just hoping for no lost luggage, no sickness, no lost passports, plus massive spiritual and intellectual growth. Ben has just re-chartered the National Honor Society at Quisqueya, so he's organizing a lot of service projects and initiated 7 kids today in chapel. The medical system is so different here- many of our high schoolers have been medical translators, often being up close and personal with medical procedures and even surgeries. Can you imagine letting high schoolers in an OR in the States? The HIPAA people are rolling in their graves.

We've begun planning for the summer. We're committing to many of the children and youth ministries as usual (friends, begin brainstorming family group names and Big Show choreography now). We turned down a spectacular internship because it would've required living overseas (not in Haiti, elsewhere) for over a month- trying to learn to protect our "resting" time. It is looking very promising that Miquette, TeacHaiti founder and director, will be coming to Dallas this summer! We are strategizing ways to best maximize her time to share the word about this life-changing program.

We're grieving the loss of some friends who won't be returning, and also grieving the tough moments of teaching. Students in crisis, students in grief, students in rebellion, students in divorces, students in apathy....

I have got to 1) pray more, 2) trust more, 3) take a long-term view, 4) take their dezod (Kreyol for naughty) teenager characters less personally, and 5) remember that I made a lot of terrible decisions but somehow made it out ok. I came home yesterday and just cried to Ben that I was "mean mommy" all day long, docking points and busting kids' chops for late work, lazy work, disrespect, not following directions, etc, etc. I hate being mean mommy. But I keep remembering what a former coworker said to me: the most important thing I can impart to students is not subject content material, but a sense of personal responsibility. Is it true? Does it make me feel better?

Our discipleship groups are meeting again. We spend all night writing lectures, kompa music blaring in the windows from the street-side bar outside my gate. I live for those little moments with students throughout the day, when they listen, when they love learning, when they tell you the book you made them read is now their favorite. Join me in praying that they grow up loving Jesus and the people of Haiti enough to grow up and make real, lasting, deep changes.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Death to Mosquitoes

I am unapologetic about my unadulterated loathing for mosquitoes. I am one of those people who will get 25 bites before anybody around her notices a single insect. It's a blood chemistry thing, I am told.

Well, vengeance is mine, sayeth the ...... neon green handheld bug zapper.
It's packaging describes it as a "family helper". I agree.
It is, by far, the most fun toy I have ever had. I wield it like Hrunting, slaying mosquis in my classroom, bedroom, and even occasionally school hallways (especially when I am leaving and the building is empty....)

And you can have one of your very own, simply by strolling down the streets of Port-au-Prince with 200-250 Gourdes in hand (about $5 US).


A Sarah Sighting!

Many of you blogfriends may know of our sweet little Sarah (if not, she has an entire label in the righthand column, so feel free to read all the Sarahcentric posts).

Sarah is the daughter of one of Quisqueya's former staff members, and she lived on campus last year following the earthquake with dozens of other Haitian QCS staffers and their families who lost homes. We played with Sarah for hours on end last spring, and fell in love. Sarah was involved with TeacHaiti (amazing ministry offering educational sponsorships, run by the amazing Miquette), so we asked to become her sponsor. We spoke no Kreyol, and she spoke no English, but there are really a lot of nonverbal games you can play with a 3-year-old!

All last summer we talked about Sarah. When we were planning to help lead the missions project and fundraiser at the Vacation Bible School in the church we grew up in, we wanted to help the 1-6th graders understand a tangible portrait of an actual child we love who has suffered from the earthquake. Sarah, of course. Those Texas children were so moved, they brought enough spare change during VBS to provide sponsorships for 22 more kids.

We were excited to see her again this fall. Sarah's family left campus, and her mom no longer works here, so we have not seen her for many months.

Last week I'm in my classroom teaching 9th grade boys, last period, and Ben knocks on the door. What in the world? And he was holding the hand of a very small child in a yellow shirt.....

Ben said he had been walking to the office, by the school gate, when he saw Sarah and her mom chatting with the gate guards. She broke out in a smile and ran to him. She remembered! She was really shy in my classroom. Walking into an unfamiliar building and a room full of teenage boys will do that.

We even got to give her the clothes my parents bought for her and Woogina (their sponsor child) last summer in person. Little pink flip flops and Old Navy tshirts.
God, please bless that little girl. The kids said they had seen her mom working at a local business, so I'm very glad to here there's a job in the family. I don't know what her house looks like now. I don't know what her daily life is like now- she's too little to go to the TeacHaiti School yet. But I really, really, bigtime love that kid.


PS Want to sponsor another "Sarah" through TeacHaiti? $350 a year buys tuition, uniforms, books, shots, hot lunch daily, and more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Tuesdays are long days for me. I teach 5 different classes on Tuesdays, with 5 different sets of copies to be made, assignments to be written on the board, and graded papers ready to be returned. It's also the day we get our once-a-week, 4-hour laundry shift on the campus machines. All this to say, it's busy.

This was not an ordinary Tuesday. Or, it was, until the middle of the morning. I was getting a class full of girls settled as they entered my room from a passing period, when a senior ran in:
"Mrs. K, _______ is having a seizure!"

I ran in the hall and there's a ring of kids- like when a fight breaks out. I yelled at them all to go to class. Of course nobody moves. The student is on the floor in the middle of the hall, having a seizure. Laying on her back, eyes closed. Just like in the movies. I've never seen one before. Tony got there first from his math class, and he was holding her head. He had told some kids to run for Miquette, our school nurse. We kept telling the kids, "GO TO CLASS."

A friend of this student happened to have the student's mother's cell phone number. Tony called her. Amazingly, the mother happened to be on campus already, in the administration building.

Another minute or two went by. Miquette arrived. She asked me to take off the girl's necklace. All the kids were gone by then, in class. The student stopped moving her arms and legs, but her eyes kept racing, unresponsive. Miquette went and got the stretcher from her office. The student's mom arrived, along with a younger sibling (how scary for a little sibling to see!).

At this point, the mom and Miquette had the situation under control. The student started to become still. Opening her eyes a little. I went back to my class.

They were all praying. They were standing in a circle, holding hands, praying. My breath caught in my throat, and I started to cry a little. Two girls made a space for me and held my hands and they went around the circle.

They went back to their desks. They fixed each others' mascara. I patted everybody's backs. I told them she was ok, and that her mom was here, and that they were going to the doctor. They asked a lot of questions- what causes epilepsy? What do you do if someone has a seizure? Can a seizure make you die? And we took a collective deep breath. Literally- we did it together.

And then we started to look through the papers I'd just handed back, the rough drafts of their research papers on illegal immigration. And it felt weird for a minute, disrespectful, like I shouldn't try to make us think about topic sentences and MLA format when something so shocking and scary just happened, when the tears aren't even dry on everyone's faces.

But we did.

It kind of reminded me of the earthquake. The "oh my gosh, what is happening!"
followed by "what just happened? That was scary and horrible"
followed by "ok, what do we do now?"
followed by "well, maybe we should do what we normally do."

We started school at Quisqueya somewhere around 15 days post-quake. We worked on Latin vocab, and read Romeo and Juliet. We just kept moving. We all felt weird, and knew something big had happened, but...

So that was this morning.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Au Revoir

Sad fact of life: many of the teachers who work at Quisqueya are here on a "few years" basis. I try to ignore this fact and operate as if we will all be here together forever, especially since I feel so particularly bonded to my fellow teachers with whom I've experienced a) my first year of teaching, b) my first year of living in Haiti, and c) the largest natural disaster in the Western hemisphere in at least a century. Oh yeah, that.


This month almost all the Quisqueya teachers have declared their intentions to return next year or not, and I am so sad to imagine life here without some of our close friends. Almost ten of my pals are heading elsewhere, for a whole host of reasons: some are staying in Haiti but pursuing other ministries, some are returning to the US to tend to romantic relationships or family members in need, and still others will begin graduate school. Some just don't feel this is the place for them, or they've been here for quite some time and are due for a furlough.

In any case, it makes me sad. I truly cherish my little posse here. We are very comingled- my coworkers are my friends, and my friends are my church, and my bosses are also my friends, and my students and their parents fit in some or all of those aforementioned categories as well.

I will not try to talk anyone out of leaving.... much.

I will, however, try to squeeze every moment out of this remaining semester with us all here together. More card games. More grading-papers-together-with-a-movie-on nights. More dress up, more hot tea, more popcorn made on the stove, more Scum, more Hendrick living room, more Eagle-Giant-Big Star runs (our grocery stores). More Thursday worship nights with Mary's chili. That's what I wish.

I will remember that just because we won't work together daily doesn't mean friends are over, and that I'll still FacebookSkypeGchatEmailTwitterBlog-stalk them regularly. I'll remember that some amazing people are remaining, people I enjoy immensely and respect entirely. And I also will remember that I didn't know any of these people 13 months ago, and therefore its equally possible that the new people who come to replace them will become dear friends as well. Oh please, God, oh please oh please oh please make it so.

Speaking of new people. Would you like to be one? Join our campus crew, love on some students in Haiti, pour the contents of your brain into young minds (however reluctantly they might receive it at times!)?
Quisqueya will be hiring. Email us if you're interested, and we'll forward it to the right person.

Also, would you help by forwarding this need for excellent teachers in Haiti to others around you? Think seminaries, education departments, schools, churches...

Thank you  in advance :)

Bad at change,


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