Monday, May 30, 2011

"It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writings than to put one principle into practice."
- Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Photo by Miquette Denie
Graduation day at last. Twenty seniors, launched into the world.

I feel all sorts of things. Pride and satisfaction as I look back on a year of labor, and seeing the fruit of investments in students. An amorphous anxiety about going back to America. A dull grief as day after day I say goodbye to another person I have come to love. Excitement about the faces, the food, the comforts in Dallas.



K and I are making rest a big focus of this summer. We are taking on fewer projects, saying no more all in an effort to rest and recharge so that when we return to Haiti in August we will be at our best.

That being said we will have one major speaking event this summer.

Next Sunday, June 5th, at Fellowship White Rock K and I will be telling stories and sharing about life in Haiti. This community has been a huge supporter of our work in Haiti and we are beyond thankful for this opportunity.

If you live in the North Dallas area and have never met us or want to hear more of my lame jokes and see K's enthusiasm for everything then please join us at 11a.m.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

*insert sappy graduation song here*

School ended on Wednesday. Students have taken our exams, we have graded them. All that is left is graduation on Saturday, then flights home. It is a bittersweet time.

Did you know that 83% of Haitians with a college degree live outside the country? Or that only about 7% of the country earns an income that would be considered middle class ($500 -$4,000/family/month)?

It is sweet to know there are 20 young people who are better equipped to contribute to this country than before. 20 people who will be headed to Duke, Penn State, Pace, FIU and other universities. Then, for some, back to Haiti as doctors, engineers and business people. All along I have said that days like Saturday are why I am here and why I do what I do. The wealthy and middle class are the most unreached people group here and they are the ones who can have the largest impact on Haiti. QCS is a small part of changing that.

It is bitter because the end of the year means people are moving on. People that are leaving are really special to K and I. We survived the earthquake together. We endured those frantic uncertain days afterward together. Taught together, drank vodka and tonics together, had countless dinners together. And now for their own reasons it is time for them to move on. I have read that people who served in combat together are forever bonded in a unique way. And though no one has shot at us (yet), we have seen death and destruction and experienced something that we cannot explain but the other person knows intimately. It hurts to lose those kinds of friends. I am going to miss those who are leaving, they are a great group that we share a unique bond with.
Art, the basketball coach, and possessor of sage-like wisdom, said that the end of the school year in Haiti reminds him of the end of the year in college.  You spend your time forming friendships that ultimately have an expiration date on them. Everyone wraps up school, heads back home for a break, then in the fall some people come back, some don't.  But new people take their place and the cycle starts over again. As I type that out it sounds brutal but it works.

 There are cycles and rhythms to the life we live here: school years, ups and downs of semesters, rainy season, hurricane season, dry season, election violence season and everyone move season. It is what it is, or Sa li fe, li fe.

Home Improvment: Degaje

*updated with pictures*
In Haiti things break often. It is part of life. There is a constant need to fix the broken thing or set about buying a new one. Sometimes this is easy. For example, K and I both broke our watches in the same week. The extremely luxurious Target watches finally gave out after 18 months in Haiti. I was able to super-glue mine back together... for the second time.

Some times those breaks are not such an easy fix: generator problems, car repair, or a/c needs may take a while. Our school has a great maintenance staff that will even deal with petty issues at our apartments. But the list for repairs can get long. Sometimes, I remember back to a former life where I handled my own repair needs and I get motivated to do it again. This is a blog entry about trying to do that.

We got a new wall-mounted air conditioner a few weeks ago, which was amazing. I finally experienced cold in Haiti, which was a sensation that my skin had forgotten. However, to install this new ac unit they had to punch a hole in my exterior wall. "No big deal", I thought, since the ac covers most of the hole. Then it started raining.

All of a sudden I started to notice a dramatic increase in the amount of water on my floor. I kid you not, it took three storms before, with CSI-like investigative skills, I finally put all the clues together and realized that rain water was coming in, running down my wall, and creating a large pool on the floor. It is a wonder I have not been the victim of more con artists.

Thus began a home repair project. I had a day off in the middle of last week and thought it would be a great time to run to the store and get some spray insulation. This brilliant plan completely ignored the fact that my day off of school in the middle of the week was due to a National Holiday! Nothing was open. A very handy and resourceful colleague happened to have caulk and a caulking gun (why he has these, besides a McGuyver-like resourcefulness, I do not know).
So, with a ladder that would give a safety inspector a heart attack, I set about trying to seal this hole. I thought this was a tiny sealant issue. I. Was. Wrong. This was a knocking-a-fist-sized-hole-into-a-wall-for-a 2-inch-hose-is-overkill problem. Caulk meant for the bathtub was not going to cut it. But what could temporarily keep Poseidon's waters at bay? It was a very overcast day, which probably meant more rain! Rocks.
That's right. Rocks. Haiti does not have a lot of tillable land, trees, infrastructure, potable water or jobs, but it has more rocks per capita than any other country. Scientific fact. So I gathered five that looked like they would be exceptional at the task of hole-plugging and went to work. Caulk. Rocks. More caulk. More rocks.
This demonstrates perfectly the definition of the Haitian phrase, degaje, which means "make it work". And it did work, for the most part, with only a trickle coming down the wall during that night's rainstorm.

I searched a few more places for spray insulation. Imagine walking into a hardware store in a foreign country and trying to mime spray insulation. You get shown to an aisle of spray paint. I have seen nearly every aisle of spray paint in Port-au-Prince now.

A mason will come while I am gone for the summer. That could be June 1 or August 1, so in an effort to further cover this hole and keep from wearing waders when I return home I bought premium aluminum foil tape. $11 USD for tape. Special tape. The kind of tape that seals tightly and is supposed to keep out moisture. The kind of tape that you need to keep in an environment with less than 50% humidity. Wait, what? Haiti's relative humidity is between 100 and 110%. ALL THE TIME.

I got home and realized the adhesive on the tape that I drove to the other side of town for, was bad. Stickiness completely gone, ruined by the humidity. It was essentially a role of 2 inch thick aluminum foil paper that I paid $11 for.

In Haiti things break. And when they do I am letting someone else fix them.


Friday, May 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Haitians

Story #1
This year Ben and I have lived in a house that is split into three separate apartments. We live in the middle apartment, and Jaime and Katie, Quisqueya's 2nd and 3rd grade teachers, lived in the front. They are our dear friends and we love them very much. They have a cat named Ori, who has been passed through at least three missionary families. Ori is an excellent cat in terms of behavior- no weird scratching or peeing on things- but is a total failure in the one area that matters in Haiti: rodent killing. But in any case, Ori is a pleasant, easy cat. When Jaime and Katie decided they were not returning to Haiti for next school year, they made arrangements for Tiffany, another teacher living on campus, to take Ori. The plan was for Ori to live in Jaime and Katie's apartment for a few days after those two girls moved out, and Tiff would come feed the cat.

Jaime and Katie moved back to America on Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday afternoon their cleaning lady came by. On Friday morning Tiff came by to feed the cat. The cat, and all of its food, was gone. In an I-understand-every-fifth-word conversation with our gate guard, we heard confirmation that yes, the maid took that cat. Just took her. Without asking anyone permission, without communicating, just took the cat. Pet- gone. Jaime and Katie had already told her they were leaving, and that yesterday, Thursday, would be her last day. Now she is not returning, and there is no way to contact her.

Story #2
Wednesday was the last day of school. Thursday, yesterday, some high school boys came up to campus to play soccer. Ben went over to play with them, and had a fantastic time. He came back soaked and caked in mud, due to the fact that it is the rainy season and there was a shower during the game. His shoes were dripping and muddy, so he left them outside to dry. This morning we had a staff meeting, so we headed over to campus. When we returned after lunch, Ben's shoes were clean and drying in the sun. The soles and laces were removed, and drying on rocks nearby. Our gate guard, Stanley, had seen the dirty shoes and cleaned them. Nobody asked him to do that, and he certainly doesn't get paid to do it. He just did it to be helpful.

Sometimes, I don't understand Haitians. Why do you pull your car into the middle of the road when it breaks down? Things are often left half-finished. Late. I think my ways are better. I judge.

Then sometimes, I'm in awe. You are so much stronger than I am. You endure. You bear. Your faith is ten times mine, under ten times harder circumstances. I hear Ceyab, another gate guard, singing outside my window when it's his shift, singing hymns for hours each day and reading the Bible that never leaves his lap. I know just a sliver of how hard his days are, how he commutes over an hour on tap-taps to Carrefour, how he works nights and misses his small kids' evenings. But he sings hymns of gratitude and praise anyway.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Fine Day

What a wonderful day:

Brittany's baby boy was born just after midnight. A healthy baby and a short delivery. The first white woman to deliver at Heartline! Praise God.

Slept until I woke up naturally. I am convinced- this is the true definition of luxury.

The last day of school yesterday. All my finals are marked, grades posted to our online system. A behavior grade and a 144-character comment written for each student. All is decided and completed.

This morning I worked in my classroom. Two high school girls came and volunteered for service hours, which meant they got the job of picking blue poster putty off the walls and hauling textbooks downstairs to the book room. All books are returned, stacked neatly. I finished taking down my classroom completely. All walls are bare, all bookshelves are covered in plastic. Turned the key for the last time this year.

Before lunch I worked in the office with Kristina and Ben. We helped organize and check files of students seeking admission. Just a handful of spots, and a giant stack of applicants. This bodes well for next year.

For lunch I had white rice, sos pwa, and pikliz with John Ackerman, Art, Miquette, Ben, Kristina, and other assorted favorite people from the school snack shop. As if the day couldn't get better, Jodie made us a loaf of banana bread. I mean, seriously.

This afternoon I played on Jet Punk quizzes for a straight hour and a half. Re-took the Africa map quiz until I could label all 50+ countries perfectly. Felt very satisfied with myself, justified this use of time by declaring, "well, I do teach World Cultures...."

I spent the entire evening with Ben. I wore his Texas Tech tshirt, Nike running shorts, and no makeup, which makes me feel free, pretty, and just like college again. He asked me what I wanted for dinner, and I said popcorn, so he made that for me, on the stove, with real butter and Tony's spicy salt. I read an entire book- Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually).

I feel so relaxed, for once. Finished. The work done. School year complete. Nothing nipping at my heels.

Thank you for this day.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

La Gonave 2

Recap: As the senior class sponsor, I went with Ben and the 12th graders on a service overnight to La Gonave, a tiny island off the coast of Haiti. Read part one here.
 Another mission team visiting the Wesleyan compound has brought books, so one of the stations for our play day with the orphanage kids was a reading station.
 My favorite book: Whose Tail is This?
 Ben likes a little baby-holding duty from time to time.
 This is so "kids". I'm sure there was a lizard or frog or something in there.
 Ben snuggles a teeny one
 Another visitor to the Wesleyans had brought equiptment for a slacklining station. We had our students be "helpers" with the little kids.
 After play time, we got the kids sitting down and passed around the juice. A great benefit to this day is that our students can speak to these children in their heart language, Kreyol. The Wesleyans have many mission teams coming in, but they are blans. How wonderful to give these children a day of love and affection with playmates who can tease and explain and smother you will affection in your language.
Everybody loves juice.
The babies were taken care of by older kids. The older caretakers were, in my observation, nothing but sweet, but still- they were eleven or so.
Senior guys acting out the story of David and Goliath
In Port-au-Prince, the tall security walls are topped with either razor wire (also known as "democracy wire" around here) or its cheaper alternative: broken bottles stuck sharps-up into wet cement. On La Gonave, they use beautiful white conch shells! What a lovely alterna-security. To think that there are enough of these shells to mount every wall on the island...
 The Wesleyan guest house gives its maid and cook Saturday night and Sunday off, which is exactly when we were visiting, so our kids jumped in to help with dishes. I was very proud of their humility and hard work. The attitudes were great- very chill, no complaining. Great weekend.


Friday, May 20, 2011

La Gonave 1

At the end of April I planned a service trip to La Gonave with the seniors. La Gonave is an island off the coast of Haiti. The Wesleyan mission is active there, and one of our seniors' parents live there.
My principal and friend Rod came along with his son Asher. In the background is the boat we took across the canal to La Gonave.
Tiny hand-made canoes bobbed in the water.
I thought this was hysterical: teenagers, on a boat in the middle of the ocean, all on cell phones.
Fisherman off the coast of La Gonave
Beautiful boats in the mangrove swamp on the coast of La Gonave. This says Christ Only Hope.
Silly senior boys playing on a tire swing outside our guest hope on the Wesleyan compound.
Our main service activity was planning a day of games and playing for the 65 children who live in the Wesleyan orphanage. This senior was so tender with the little ones. Afterwards we all had to smell the wet spot on his shirt- is this baby pee, or sweat?
Rod helped the kids from the orphanage make a big circle at the start of the play day.
Such a teeny one. Now, look closely. Can you guess which kid in the circle is not part of the orphanage? Hint: the platinum blond one.
I held this sweet baby girl for most of the day. That's my favorite thing to do at children's homes: find me a baby and a chair, and I'm set for the afternoon. She was brand new to the orphanage. Nobody- not the older kids who carried her around, not the many nannies- knew her name. I asked about five kids her name, and got five different answers.
 This little one got very sleepy, but nobody had a crib.
 Soccer and jump rope!
 There was one toy- an 80s telephone on a strong. It rolled on the ground when you dragged it behind you. I swear I had this exact toy in the late 80s, and I swear I saw this toy in every church nursery in the world in the late 90s. I guess Haitian orphanages are the third stop.
 These three wanted their picture taken with the baby doll.
 The little baby's toy was dirty, sharp, and the end had very obviously been chewed off. Our group had brought jump ropes and soccer balls, but what for her?

Second part coming soon.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Haiti from the Street

A few weeks ago we were driving on the beach road. I was thinking of you guys, who for the most part have never been, and will never be, able to see Haiti with your own eyes.

I tried to capture what you see along the road in the hour's drive from the beach road, with wild horses amidst the dry brushy landscape, to the heart of Port-au-Prince where we live.

Here goes.
This one is just a bonus: handsome Ben in the backseat of the Jin Bei, everyone's favorite Chinese minivan.
Giant chunks taken out of the mountains for sand mining. Bare, brown mountains that should be rain forest.
About six weeks after the earthquake, our friends Anna, Ryan, and Adam went with us to do a food drop of rice in a rented yellow school bus to this place (the story- part one and part two). Before the earthquake, it was a completely empty field. Soon after, people began migrating out of the city onto any open land they could find. Even in August 2010 when I photographed it, it was much more empty. Now, there are fields of homes, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of blue-tarp homes.
A new community on the empty hillside
It was such a tender moment when I gazed at the acre upon acre of tent city, only to have my eye drawn upward-
a kite.
So Haiti- all kids seem to love kites here.  This is home for hundreds of children, where they play.
Moving into Port-au-Prince proper. Bustle, busy on the streets, hand-made.
Blue cooler = drink-selling business. Shirts on tree = clothes-selling business.
 Roadside mange.
 Home Depot
 Graffiti on every wall. Sigh.
 Of course, no trip home from the beach is complete without a visit to the Christian Service International's girls' home! The Banks, the family who runs the home, sends their kids to Quisqueya and the dad is on the board. The kids love Art and Miquette :)



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