Friday, April 29, 2011


If this semester started out slowly with events, then it is ending at warp speed. We already blogged about the orphanage Easter party with Sow-a-Seed, and then a week ago there was a Student vs. Staff Flag Football game to raise money for charity. The pictures are coming soon.

Today some of our students sponsored a field day for TeacHaiti, epic pictures, hope to get those up by Sunday. The kids then stayed for the basketball game and cheered on QCS. It was so sweet to hear them chant in English. QCS you are the best! They must be our good luck charm, because we won our first game in months.

However all of that blogging has to wait because tomorrow we sail to Isla Gonave with 15 students from the senior class to work with the Wesleyan mission there.

That island is very different from the rest of Haiti, very rural and conservative. Like I blogged before, I love doing service with my students and I hope this trip is no different. The travel will be brutal: a two hour car ride to a smaller town, then a fishing trawler that will ferry us to the island- another two hours. Fishing trawler... sweet. I wonder how many of our students do not know how to swim.

Full disclosure... I am neurotic about disasters and in my bag I have packed a med kit with a flashlight, matches and two redi-light glow sticks. I have two med kits. One of these and a trusty pocket knife are almost always with me wherever I go in Haiti. Totally unnecessary most of the time, but after le quake I feel like I have to have something nearby just in case.

For those who think our life in Haiti is Indiana Jones or Jack Bauer-esque, know there are days like last week where our water runs out and we go days without the ability to wash dishes, wash ourselves, or flush. I took the coldest shower of my life on Monday in the boys' locker room. It is not all glamorous.

Even with those challenges Haiti is still a remarkable country of contrasts. I have said it many times but the contrasts in this country are almost laughable. I did not have water for a few days, but today I ordered a large Domino''s pizza and it was here in 25 minutes. Very prompt. And for only 25 USD. TIH


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Upside-Down Kingdom

Last spring it felt like I had all sorts of opportunities to serve in very direct, tangible ways. It felt like I had plenty of time to teach, grade, still have free time to go volunteer somewhere.

This spring I have not had any free time, so when the school's service project coordinator asked for volunteers to supervise our students while they put on Easter events for some orphans, I jumped at the chance.

Quisqueya makes service hours mandatory for promotion to the next grade, but I have not been lucky enough to work with the students when earning those hours. That changed a week ago Sunday.

Quisqueya students joined kids from other private schools in Haiti to volunteer, and the students ran all of the booths. What booths? These booths.

Face painting... a traditional Easter ritual. Everyone knows the story of the Easter snake right? No? Yeah, me either. The orphans could ask for whatever they wanted to be painted on them and as long as our students knew how to do it, they would oblige. I am guessing that to the boys a snake was cooler than a flower.
None of those however was as weird as this:
I am not totally sure how this happened... but this kid got his face painted like a vampire... Yeah, I don't get it either. I asked the student with the paintbrush repeatedly why he was doing that, but never received a clear answer. This boy, now sporting a totally whited-out face, ran around campus for the rest of the day with painted-on fangs and blood. Happy Easter, the celebration of our resurrected... Dracula?

The orphanage kids then went on to play a bat and ball game with the students. The bats looked like carrots... Yay! Easter! Spring! Baseball!
This game was fun for 2 minutes, then all of the kids began begging for soccer. They turned the small green whiffle balls that had been pitched to them into makeshift soccer balls, then from the bushes they found one of our old soccer balls. It was completely destroyed... it looked like a dog's chew toy. Soccer ruled the field for the rest of the day.

After the face painting of the undead, and the let's-turn-anything-into-a-soccer-game, there was egg dying. This was awesome. There is a scientific ratio for orphan to adults/students when dying eggs. That ration is 2:1. Two adults or students for every one orphan. Anything less is chaos, pandemonium, and will result in glitter-infused pastel dye being thrown around. Once the right ratio was reached, some awesome creations were made.
 The reason I like service projects is because I believe that Christ's kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. Everything is turned on its head. The first are last and the last are first. So to spend a few hours with my upper-class kids and watch them paint faces, dye eggs, and feed lunch to kids from 7 different orphanages was... awesome. My students are served all day. They have drivers, maids, parents, and teachers who serve them all day long. In their world, most of the time, they are first. They need to learn that servanthood is part of the Christian life. However, that is a lesson you learn from experience, not from being told.

It was touching to see the students interacting and bonding with the orphans, especially the more macho or sometimes aloof students- they were the ones jumping right in and painting faces, dying eggs, playing soccer.
 At the end of the day I was exhausted. I remembered why I guard my small amount of free time so viciously- to prevent burnout. But man, what a good use of my time.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sports in Haiti

For the last few days, our lives have been filled with sports. On Fridays this spring, we stay late after school to cheer on our high school boys' basketball team. Go Eagles!
I would like to caption the above photo "a bunch of elementary boys have the best hour of their life". While those around me hung on every rebound and foul shot, I was cracking up at this little vignette across the court from me. These 4/5/6th graders were absolutely glowing with the attention of two of our supercute high school girls. They were trying to be so cool.
Mostly all the teachers stay to cheer on our boys. These games are great opportunities to chat with students, meet parents, try to learn a few new Kreyol words (so far, have learned words for foul, ball, shoot, board, and calm down), and support students in something outside the classroom.

Our friend Art is the coach. After several initial wins, the team has experienced several weeks in a row of losing by just a few points after down-to-the-last-shot games. I see this as a real growth opportunity. Some students need to work on issues of character- namely, lack of self-discipline, lack of toughness, and just plain laziness. When they talk about losing, it seems like they are thinking about things in a new way, or getting a fire to work harder.
This league is run by the Haitian national basketball association, so there are corporate sponsors at some games. Apparently, one of the hot new products sponsoring high school basketball in Haiti is........Borden eggnog. For serious?
Last week our school threw a family sports day. I was so looking forward to the event as a chance to meet more parents. Unfortunately I didn't meet any new parents- mostly elementary ones attended, and it was the parents who always come. Art was on the mic, leading games. Ben anchored the male teachers' tug-of-war.
Katie, Jaime and I snacked and hung out. I love being their next door neighbor.
 The day after family sports day at Quisqueya, Ben and I went to watch a different kind of basketball game. There is an adult men's league in Haiti where all the teams are sponsored by corporations- the biggest in Haiti. There is a Digicel team and a Voila team (the two largest cell phone companies), a Mache Ti Tony (major rice wholesaler) team, Sogebank (big Haitian bank) team, and then a team for Cola Couronne, which produces an orange "fruit champagne" soft drink that is really popular in Haiti.
Art is the coach for the Couronne corporate team, and we went to watch a game in a new part of the city. How beautiful is the view at this court, right at the foot of the mountain?
Let me tell you a little about these basketball games. There are hundreds of people stuffed into a tiny space. Personal space, gone. There is a cacophony of dueling noisemakers, including vuvuzela-like horns, a DJ narrating the entire game, and no less than three rival rah-rah bands, one for each of the major brands represented there: Couronne, Digicel, and Voila. This is a picture of the Digicel section, with their t-shirts (there were rival marketing teams handing out branded apparel at the door), their flags, their band of horns and drums. Very loud, very wow-there-are-people-touching-me, very intense. Also very fun.
Finally, Quisqueya held a students vs. staff flag football game last Wednesday. The game was organized by Ben and his National Honor Society kids as a fundraiser for TeacHaiti. I'll let him tell you all it about it, and I'll just say this: he did a great job, let the kids run the lion's share of the planning so they would learn how (believe me this is hard work- it is much easier to do the whole thing yourself), and kicked butt on the teachers' team.

Several big events coming up for us. Next week we will take the seniors on part one of their class trip, which will be a service weekend working with the Wesleyan Church on La Gonave, a small island in the bay of Haiti that is much more like rural Haiti in many ways (for instance, it is more conservative- all women are expected to wear long skirts instead of pants). The next week, we'll chaperone the second part, which is driving over the border to the DR. After that, we're chaperoning a school dance, writing and grading final exams, then graduation. And oh yeah, I'm directing a school play. It's about the Trojan War. We start rehearsing on Tuesday.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Teacher Win/Fail, and Celebrities at Our School

Teacher Win of the Week:
9th grade girl writes her essay on Great Expectations, nails it completely, then at the end writes "I love you, Miss K".

Teacher Fail of the Week:
10th grade girl says she has to go to the nurse due to period-related needs. I hastily write "This student needs a pad" on a pass and quickly start class. She comes back a few minutes later looking totally dejected. I say, "what's wrong, was Miss Denie not there?" She replies, "no, but Mr. Hersey (our director) was in the hall, and he asked to see my pass."
Oh, Lord.... next time I'll just write "needs to see nurse".

Quisqueya Win of the Week:
Second grade boy asked Jesus into his heart today.

Second Most Exciting Celebrity Sighting of the Week:
Mikael, one of the biggest rappers in Haiti, was on campus last Sunday. Quisqueya hosted an Easter egg hunt and big party for kids from seven orphanages that was organized by Sow a Seed, and he was the entertainer. The children from the orphanages were freaking out, and even Miquette was a little starstruck. People from the neighborhood were in the trees, looking over the wall to see him perform.

First Most Excited Celebrity Sighting of the Week:
Tomorrow, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is performing at our Quisqueya chapel service. Not joking. I have no idea why they are in Haiti, no idea why they are performing at our humble little chapel service... I just know it is a really big deal, and I am so excited.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Double Overtime Investment

One thing I could not fully appreciate about teaching until I was actually teaching was how emotionally invested in these dirty rotten scoundrels I would become. There are so many kids I care about deeply. Here are a few.

Basketball is a big part of life at Quisqueya. We have an amazing coach, our friend Art. The year before the quake, QCS won the national championship. But this year... is a rebuilding year. For weeks before the season, I joined a group of teachers and parents to scrimmage with the boys. I felt a little responsible for some of their improvement and I had high hopes. They are 0-3. They have been in a position to win every game, but have not.

It is tough for me to see young men like (we'll call him) Jacob pour everything into games and practices, but still lose. Last Saturday, the morning after losing in double overtime, Jacob came up to QCS to practice free throws by himself. Nobody made him. Oh, did I mention it was his 17th birthday? No biggie, he wants to be great. He could have been at the beach or out celebrating, but he showed up to shoot. How do you not cheer for that kid and grieve when he comes up short? (This says nothing for the admiration I have for Art who is trying to stay positive while coaching up these kids).
Writing about basketball is fun, and deserves its own blog entry later. But something else has taken priority in my mind this week. It is re-enrollment time at QCS. There are hundreds of applications pouring in, yet for the entire secondary there are only 10 open spots. Some of our current students will not be allowed to re-enroll. 

I disciple 3 young men in 9th grade, and it has been an exercise in patience (I now know how Rich, Matt and David felt working with teenage me.) I found out last week that two of my three students will not be coming back to QCS. Both have struggled all year. Not that I am hyper-critical to myself, but I'm trying to examine the role I played. Could I have done anything better? Would a more awesome Bible study from me have moved these boys closer to Christ, and from that would they have tried harder in school? Is that sacrilege, a low view of God's sovreignty? Could I have been more relational with them? Should I have been more strict as a teacher? I know I cannot save anyone. I know they have been a uniquely unwilling group. I also have not forgotten our often repeated mantra, that we plant trees beneath which we will never sit. Still, it was still disappointing to know that they will be gone because of poor choices, and they were my charges. I have shared the gospel with them, prayed with them, answered questions about females with them... but now that investment is moving on.

Another student I'm close to who won't be returning next year is just leaving to leave. Her grades are low. Her parents have split up, and she often talks about how her dad isn't around much. This year her brother was dismissed for his choices, then a few months later her best friend was as well. What a beating for her. I think she feels she might as well go too. This girl, however, has been at QCS since before the earthquake. We went through that really unique post-quake-teaching-in-our-living-room-keep-calm-and-carry-on stage. I know she is capable of so many things. I hate to see her go.
I have never known how to not get emotionally involved in anything. Katie thinks is one of my best traits. She always comments on how loyal I am to friends, to causes, to family- even to bosses and jobs (sometimes). So the maddeningly frustrating thing about teaching here is that emotional involvement is a risky investment. The person you are invested in might not produce a return while you are with them- they might in fact seem to do everything they can to reject my investment. Or, they might just move on.

Please do not think I am down. I love my job so much that it seems criminal that I get to do this full time. The last time I expressed something similar to these emotions I got an awesome email from my pops telling me not to be down. Down? Lord no. I love this more than I could ever express. But, as I walked off the court on Friday after the double overtime loss I realized that despite my love for teaching and specifically for these kids it is exhausting to care.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Thorns and Roses

I read that the Obamas do "thorns and roses" at the dinner table each night, sharing the highs and lows of their days. If I were an Obama tonight, I'd say:

High: An email from an 11th grade girl. "Dear Mrs. K, my family is going to buy a computer. Remember that day in World Cultures when you told us about conflict minerals and which companies got green, yellow, and red ratings? Can you send me those ratings, because we want to buy a conflict-free computer. Trying to make a difference :)"

Hello win column! Understanding, retention, application. Pure joy. Teacher bliss.

(Kind of funny) Low: Well this actually happened Friday, but I'm still wallowing in considerable secret shame.  Friday afternoon I was working on a list of Spanish phrases for some students who will be visiting the DR soon. Easy things- Senor, puedo tengo agua por favor, etc. Friday night, I went to cheer on my high school boys in the local Haitian high school bball league. I start smelling popcorn. The snack stand is selling two cups of popcorn for 25 Gourdes (50 cents). Score. I smile at the nice man who hands me popcorn. Juggling the cups, I absent-mindedly call out (loudly), "Mesi, senor!". Let me explain. I meant, "thank you, sir", but what I said in half-Kreyol, half-Spanish sounds identical to all the Kreyol speakers around like "mesi, Seigneur."

Which means "thank you, Lord". So I said, "thank you, Lord" to the popcorn salesman. In front of a lot of people. Awesome.

Kreyol new kid!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grace in the Classroom, Boobs, and Bethaina Goes Home

So here's the latest:

Two major praises this week. First, as the senior class sponsor, I have been rejoicing and mourning with seniors as they make future plans. Much will depend on financial aid. You have to understand the financial situation here: many students' parents are entrepreneurs who own a grocery store, a gas station, a rice wholesale warehouse, or something similar. When the earthquake hit, many of these businesses collapsed, and some were looted. Only a very few people had insurance on their home or business. So if you owned a collapsed store, you have to repair it out of your own pocket, in cash, all the while not earning any income for the year or so while it is rebuilt. Several students have spoken to me about the stress on their families and their parents' marriages due to the financial loss this year. It's for this reason that we were ecstatic this week to hear that one of our seniors, Carl, received a FULL RIDE to Penn State! The scholarship is valued at over $200,000. This is an unbelievable blessing to his family, and a win for the future of Haiti.

A second blessing. Last spring we got to know and love a family teaching with us at Quisqueya that was adopting a first-grader, Bethaina. The day after the earthquake Ben and the father, Sean, went all over the city looking for meds for Queency for his broken femur, jaw, head injuries, and more (to look back at Queency's story, click on his name in the column at right). They eventually evacuated with most other families with children. Long story short, Bethaina was living with them in Haiti but was unable to leave Haiti with them due to adoption paperwork. As all of you who have witnessed or experienced adoptions know, it often takes much longer than you hoped, producing an excruciating wait. Finally, we all celebrated yesterday as her paperwork was completed and her father flew into Haiti to bring her home. Praise God, she is home.

School update: I continue to love the conversations that occur with students. Have you ever spent large quantities of time with 9th grade boys? If so, this little episode will not surprise you. In the middle of a lecture about Great Expectations, a student raised his hand and asked, in total sincerity and seriousness, "how do the boobs know when to make the milk?"

I tried, with my limited knowledge of the subject, to answer equally seriously and scientifically. This inspired a classmate: "Once my mom's friend had her boob cut off, what is that about?" So we talked about mastectomies and cancer... I mean, you just literally have no idea where the discussion is going when you spend an hour a day with nine 14-year-old boys. Literally none.

I'm also reading a book called Teaching Redemptively. I'm only a few chapters in, but so far the basic idea is that as Christians, we teach of a grace-based faith, where instead of earning God's favor and love (or rewards in heaven) like other religions, we have been given a free, undeserved gift of grace as Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Grace is the key word. However, in Christian schools, we practice "the law", a tit-for-tat, get-what-you-deserve system that defies our spoken beliefs. Spell the words right, get an A. Misbehave, get kicked out. I'm convicted, because I want to not only talk the talk about grace, but also walk the walk. However, how exactly does a "grace school" operate? What about accountability, natural consequences, responsibility? I'm really exploring this idea as I run my classes and make the dozens of get-tough-or-go-lenient decisions in a day. I'm excited to learn more.

Around our house, it was a water-focused week. Water is very complicated here. Drinking water is pretty easy- throw a Culligan jar up on the kitchen counter with a handheld pump for drinking water, boiling pasta, etc. But the water for the shower, faucet, and toilet comes from an outdoor cistern, which is pumped up to a "chateau d'eau" (water house) on our roof, which then comes down a gravity-fed system into our house. The water gets into the cistern through giant delivery trucks. If the cistern gets empty, you have no water until out school secretaries can call and order another truck. We always seem to run out on Friday evenings after the school office is closed. Sigh. It's usually not more than one, two, or at most three days.

A major project I'm working on this week is the senior class trip. Planning this is a bit of last-minute addition to my plate. This year the trip has two parts. First we will spend a weekend on La Gonave, a very poor and rural island off the coast of Haiti that is closest to our school. One of our seniors' parents live there, and we will be working with their mission's hospital and orphanage. Though most of our seniors have lived their whole lives in Haiti, none but Brooke has ever been to La Gonave. She says it's another world away from Port-au-Prince- for instance, the young ladies on our trip will need to wear long skirts. About half of our seniors currently express a desire to go into a medical/science career (hmm..wait til freshman chemistry, they'll all be political science majors by Thanksgiving). I'm excited for them to gain experience in a hospital. Furthermore, this is a great opportunity to love on the orphanage kids, because even though they do receive visits and attention from American short-terms fairly regularly, this will be a group of young, energetic, nurturers who can speak in their language. That's big. 

Lastly, it's getting toward the rainy season again. The tent city population in this city is no longer 1.2 million souls as it was a year ago, but is only down to 600,000. Six hundred thousand human beings. Tarps and mud. Many are tapping into local power lines to electrify ever-more-permanent tent camps. This is dangerous, as our friend Brittany (who is seven months pregnant, mind you) recently discovered when she tried to roll back her metal gate one morning and discovered the tent city dwellers next door were conducting electricity from her power line pole, through her front gate, and into their maze of tarps. She got quite a shock. Fragile and makeshift power, sanitation, and healthcare situations in tents will be at even more risk as the nightly deluges start in the coming weeks. It's already poured three times this week. Every time we approach a potentially hazardous event- an election, a hurricane- I am reminded yet again: I have resources. I have a warm (oh so warm), dry home. I have my iron rations cabinet full of soup. Hundreds of thousands simply do not.

Always more to do. This is Haiti.


PS Still looking for excellent teachers to join us at Quisqueya next year. Check out our openings. Tell a friend.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Breaking: Haiti Presidential Election Results

Well, here we have it. At 5 pm the CEP (Provisional Election Commission in English) was due to announce the tentative results of the final runoff election for president of Haiti. We listened to the whoosh-whoosh of helicopter blades all afternoon. This was originally supposed to happen last week, but after yet another delay and the leader of the CEP calling in sick tonight (?!) the results began to be read not long after 5:30. Dozens of smaller offices, legislators and senators, were read, and then......

I sat inside watching Ben's TweetDeck spring to life as our favorite Haiti reporters watched the results be read at CEP HQ in Petionville, a defunct former Gold's Gym. Ben sat outside, crowded around a blaring Haitian radio with our gate guard Stanley and other men who sell or live on our street. At the bottom left you can see a little wooden seat on which a man sits outside our gate all day, every day. He shines and fixes shoes.

Michel Martelly! Sweet Mickey is president! First sound heard: cheers of delight. Second sound heard: gunfire. But the good kind (does it exist?), the kind we heard on New Year's Eve 2009, our second night in Haiti, that we didn't understand at the time but we now know means cheering and celebrations.

According to the Twitterati, here's the first pic taken of Martelly after his win:
We heard the cheers outside and went to be see the celebrations. We debated putting on the neon pink PREZIDAN MARTELLY shirts we have recently acquired via our students. Decided against it.

Ran across the street to school, quickly re-assembled our little "manifestation deer blind" we made last December out of school picnic benches that allowed us to see over the wall. All of us on-campus dwellers peeked over as motorcycles honked to no end and trucks stuffed with cheering people sped up and down Delmas.

The marchans, our usual gauge of the mood on the street, did not seem one bit concerned or even hurried. They said they were kontan, happy with the results.
Terrible image quality, but before long, there were crowds running and singing.
Nightfall snuck up very quickly, so we couldn't capture what we saw over the wall for the most part. I took one video below. Miquette told us the people were singing, "like it or not, Martelly is prezidan"!

I am going to wear pink, Martelly's color, tomorrow to school. It will not be because I support this man in particular, or that I would have voted for him if I were Haitian. I will wear pink, Martelly's color, because I am pumped for Haitian democracy. In the 200-plus years since Haiti's independence from France in 1804, there have been a very small handful of times when free and fair elections have been held, when people feel like the truly democratically elected candidate won, and when a democratically elected president finished his term and passed the baton to another president chosen by the people.

This election was not near perfect. This president is not and will not be near perfect. But tonight the streets are full of cars honking and the majority is happy- our guy won! The one we wanted! Marching crowds are celebrating, not manifesting. Good for you, Haiti. Wear pink, and enjoy this night.



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