Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Artisans on the beach at Cyvadier, Jacmel, Haiti.
My favorite little purchase of the day!
 Beach cove
 Karnival masks made from papier mache are traditional in Jacmel.
Not sure exactly what this guy is supposed to be!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tourism as Economic Aid, or Why I Went to Basin Bleu

Economic aid comes in various forms. After a disaster, medical supplies and shipments of food might be needed. Soon the aid needs change into business grants and money for infrastructure improvements. But there is another another way to infuse outside capital into a poor nation: tourism. Money spent at hotels, local artisans' booths, restaurants, and tourist destinations provide a direct injection of cash to a local economy, in a way that provides dignity to the locals.

I know Haiti is probably the last place you would think of visiting for a vacation. First, it might seem criminal to enjoy a few days on a Caribbean beach in the face of the poverty around you. Second, you might think this place (the wild, wild West Indies) is a lawless place with wild hordes of people just waiting to rob you, steal from you, and/or physically attack you.

If you like five-star, all inclusive, super luxurious hotels with Michelin star restaurants, and high price tags, then you need to go some place else.

If you like to travel off the beaten path, eat local exotic fare, and experience breathtaking views and adventure, Haiti is for you. If you like to walk on the wild side, and you prefer to do that on very little money, then Haiti is the place for you.
Allow me to provide a pictorial essay as evidence that there are some amazing places to visit here.
Daniel grew up as an MK in Haiti. He came back for a month after the earthquake because he thought that his nursing skills and fluent Creole would be a tremendous help. He was right. Daniel was instrumental in coordinating patient transfers with the hospitals in Port-au-Prince. To say that he saved lives is not an understatement. We became fast friends and a few weeks ago he was back in Haiti to show his childhood home to his new wife, Jenna. We traveled with Daniel and Jenna to Jacmel, a very artsy town on Haiti's southern coast.

The views when we started to climb up the mountainside switch backs were amazing. We left behind dusty, trashy Port-au-Prince and went into lush green mountains, full of fruit trees and  dotted with little shacks. Katie kept repeating,"it looks just like Hawaii."
We stayed at the Hotel Cyvadier, a well-traveled hang out for missionaries looking for a break, and aid workers who want a decent dinner on the weekends. Their pizza special on Fridays really is special- not quite Campisi's, but close.

The hotel, like the mountain drive, is lush. Green. Tall palms shade their courtyard and the tropical-hued paint is only slightly faded. When I honeymooned in Mexico, everything looked brand new and shiny, but it had little local character. We arrived in Jacmel night, and I could hear but not see the boutique hotel's most remarkable feature, the cove.
Hotel Cyvadier sits at the end of a cove. Their beach is a small but private, protected on three sides by cliffs and rocks. It was breathtaking. The constant roar of waves crashing into rocks and emerald blue water was spectacular. When the four of us went to the beach on Saturday morning, we were the only people there.
It was a great place.The service was sharp, the rooms were clean, and in fact the bathroom was nicer than my apartment in Port-au-Prince. I understand that the best Haiti can sometimes offer would score only 3 stars in the states, but you gladly exchange that for the scenery which robs you of words.

The main attraction for Daniel and I was a series of mountain waterfalls called Basin Bleu. We set out after lunch. Remember, Haiti is a travel destination for people who like getting off the beaten path... well... lets get our feet wet.
To get from Jacmel to Basin Bleu you have to ford the river. Like in Oregon Trail. Luckily we did not tip over, and no oxen died. A moto driver (seen above) charged the equivalent of $1.50 to show us the way across the river. We then started a climb into the mountains. 

At this point in the trip,  scenic views from one mountain across a fertile green valley to another  mountain were becoming commonplace.

We worked our way back and forth on unpaved switchbacks until we pulled up to a small concrete building. The Haitian government has exerted more control over Basin Bleu in the last few years. We filled out some forms for the Ministry of Tourism, Pancakes and Rainbows, paid $2.50 each, then Daniel haggled with the roughly dozen tour guides who wanted to lead us to the falls.  

The trail to the falls had been covered with local rocks to form a fairly smooth path. The area was pristine. In Port-au-Prince, there is a lot of trash on the streets. For litter-conscious Westerners it can be a shock. On this trail I saw one piece of litter. And our guide picked it up! This was when I knew I was in a different world. In Port, no one picks up litter unless they have been paid to do so. We hiked past the first waterfall and pool, but kept going. This was small potatoes. We wanted the highest ones, rumored to be so deep that on one knows exactly how deep they are.
We reached a rock and our guide tied a rope to a tree. We slipped off our shoes and anything else we did not want to get wet and using the rope climbed down a moss slicked rock. Then we splashed into the cold water. After the drive and the hike in the humid, tropical air we were sweat-soaked and the cold springwater felt delightful. In the middle of the highest basin is a large rock that makes a perfect platform for picture taking and cannon balls.
Our guide swam out the highest waterfall and climbed up it about 30 feet, waved to get our attention, then executed an Olympic-perfect swan dive. He surfaced and waved to us. Then we each swam out to the falls and jumped in. I have an extreme fear of heights. I hate climbing on anything taller than a chair. So after I swam up to just the first rock ledge, I climbed up and jumped in. 
For some reason I looked like a big, white chicken when I dove in (above). Daniel, who does not have a (completely rational) muscle-freezing fear of heights, climbed up as high as possible and then dove in. He did not look like a big, white chicken (below).
We both climbed back on the big rock and just basked in the sheer awesomeness of the place we were in; slick moss covered rocks, deep blue water, unspoiled serenity, the kind of natural beauty that people seek out from the Grand Canyon and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Amazon. We had not seen another person since we left the parking lot. The basin and it's falls seemed like they were our own personal pool. Discovered by us, known only to us. If we had brought a few cold Prestiges for that exact moment, the trip would have been sublime.

We dried off, and hiked back to our car, tipping our guide 15 bucks for the trip. Our guide was a mason during the week. He had just made 3x the minimum wage for swimming with two goofy guys for an hour. We arrived back at our hotel after dark and then joined our wives for a seafood dinner: fresh caught fish and lobster grilled and conch cooked in coconut milk and curry. This time with the cold Prestige.

The whole weekend I saw a part of Haiti that I had heard people talk about but rarely seen. The north and south coasts of Haiti hold rich natural and historical treasures that are hardly explored. They are remote, off the beaten path and probably won't show up on a Travel Channel special or American Way Magazine, but they are exquisite. 

Many development and aid watch groups have criticized the lack of dollars actually being spent to improve people's lives here, and Haiti needs so much that I do not think tourists' money is the only answer. However, I do know that jobs are in short supply, and working at a hotel or a natural tourist destination sure beats most other options in this country. Haiti is often portrayed as a very poor place with dangerous, desperate people, but that is sorely incomplete. 

And if you like cliff diving without a lifeguard, and being the only one on a gorgeous natural cove, then you should seriously consider coming here.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teach This

Yesterday Katie wrote about wanting to prove she is a real teacher; I have felt the same guilt since recently admitting to teaching while on hallucinogenic snow-cone syrup. I want to be funny, but I also want you to know I take most things I do here seriously.

Luckily, last week I was able to have a yearbook class photographer in my class to document my reenactment of the Little Albert experiment on my boss' kids... I mean... what?

My psychology class has been learning about infant and childhood development, so I asked my principal, Rod, if he was okay with bringing his kids into my class to do demonstrations of the things we read about. Shockingly, he agreed. 15 teenagers and I spent a class period with his kids. The pictures below are graphic(ly cute), but show that no one was harmed.
Our participants, the Meadth boys, with their parents.
One student checks Isaiah's reflexes.
This student was clearly terrified of (white) babies.
Asher flirts with a much older woman while we tried to demonstrate object permanence.
Asher is questioned about which of the two objects on the desk is "more".
Asher plays with another much older woman while his parents sneak out of the room and return later so we can observe attachment types.
 I lead the students in a discussion of what we have seen today. (Note the Mavs poster in the background).
No seriously, look, they are all learning...
Asher really enjoyed his first day of high school.

See, we are REAL teachers.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Soccer Season Begins

Sometimes I look back at our blog and think to myself, "I want my friends to know my job doesn't consist entirely of sporting events or visiting TeacHaiti". I guess those are just the days I take pictures. I swear I teach in an actual classroom, all day every day. That's tricky, though, when it comes to blogging- I can't go around taking photos in the middle of my third period lecture, and my students (and their parents) have a much more American-style sense of online privacy that do many other Haitians who aren't online....

Oh well. Anyway, last week we had a soccer game to officially start the Quisqueya season.
Josiah, a new QCS PE teacher, coaches the team.
 Kevin takes a water break. The night before was stormy and it drizzled during the game, so everybody got muddy.
Patrick sets up his next shot on goal.
This one is my favorite. The little buddies from the Manasseros' boys' home, Maison de Lumiere, were there to cheer on their older boys, who were playing against our school team. The little boys all got a drink. What better to do with empty plastic bottles when finished? Recycle? Planters for seedlings? How about a sword fight? Yes, that sounds best.

Love, Katie

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lay off the Sauce!

Being sick is a part of life in Haiti. You eat food off the street or don't wash your vegetables, and you get sick to your stomach. Rains come, mosquitoes breed, and you get a lot of bites. You might get malaria or dengue. There are also serious infectious diseases and superbugs like tuberculosis, HIV and MRSA.

There is a hierarchy of sick. Amongst the missionaries and expat aid workers, the worse the disease seems to indicate the cooler you are. The illnesses appear like reluctant merit badges. The more you have earned the more bragging rights you have, or swagger as the kids say.

I have a sinus cold: runny nose, sore throat, stopped up coughing, ordinary cold. Like some sniveling kid in commercial meant to exploit a stay at home mother's emotions. A sinus cold = no swagger.

I know someone in Haiti who had MRSA and malaria. At. The. Same. Time. But... I am out of cough drops. If we were comparing scars, malaria+MRSA is like a scar earned from broken shards of glass while saving orphans from a burning building, while I have a paper cut on my pinkie toe.

So based on this hierarchy, if you have a sinus cold you cannot complain too much even if your voice sounds like a gremlin. You certainly cannot get a sub to rest up because, as previously mentioned, no one has any sympathy. You gotta suck it up.

Early last week this is what I did: I fought through the myriad of symptoms to lecture to, read to and quiz my students. On one day I did all of this on NyQuil. I do not know where this bottle came from, but in the middle of last week I knew it was about to be my best friend. I unscrewed the cap and took a long pull straight from the bottle. Katie asked how much I was taking. I shrugged and went to bed.
 When I awoke, I should have known it would be a crazy day. NyQuil usually gives me terrible nightmares, but that morning I awoke to traffic updates from The Ticket, my favorite radio station in Dallas. I rolled over to ask Katie how she was getting The Ticket... but she was still asleep next to me. I realized I was still severely drugged up. I was having auditory hallucinations. (Only a good, strong P1 would hallucinate about The Ticket) So I did what any normal, responsible person would do: I got dressed and taught impressionable teenagers.

The day was a blur. Everything moved in slow motion and most people sounded like they were underwater. I also found my self-control inhibited.

In one class a student started talking with a Jamaican accent. I did not hallucinate this- he had done it before. A normal, sober teacher would have gently corrected him. I wanted to point out how silly a Haitian-Canadian speaking like a Rastafarian is. So I told him. For 3 minutes. In a loud Scottish Brogue.
I have no idea what happened. I just opened my mouth out it all came. I told him he was a fool in a hail of run on sentences punctuated by the word "laddie". The class was in fits. Later they told me it was funny, scary, terrifying, and hilarious, but not poignant or educational. One student told me they will never take cold meds again. They implied I should lay off the sauce.

I stumbled home at the end of they day and immediately went to bed. I do not mean to glorify this behavior. I am aware that NyQuil is basically one part grain alcohol + one part hallucinogenic snow-cone syrup. And it is considered a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamines.

Rather this is a scary and terrifying testimony of the lengths that I am willing to go to avoid calling in sick when I do not have a major communicable disease or a mosquito-borne illness.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fat Season

This has been a wonderful two weeks for me. A "fat season", a feast season, rich and full and good. Maybe too good? Should this make me nervous, as if a terrible crisis is about to emerge?!

School is going swimmingly. I am teaching American Lit (two sections), 10th grade English, Advanced Literature, and Senior Transitions. We just finished The Crucible in 11th, and are beginning Julius Caesar in 10th. Transitions class is working on college applications and just turned in a rough draft of an admissions essay on Friday. Advanced Lit just finished a children's lit unit where they were reading The Secret Garden, Little Women, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, Charlotte's Web, and other books that make you want to crawl into your mama's lap again. I am teaching over 90 kids, and I'm really only having problems with about three of them. Any teacher will tell you that's not bad! The students' behavior is good, which enables us to have fun, revealing, controversial, insightful conversations about the deep questions of life- exactly what I want to be doing. They're turning in assignments and actually like the books we're reading. Oh joy!

I'm making connections with students, which makes my heart sing. I've got a few who drop by after class to talk about life, boys, friend drama, the works. My favorite part.

I feel great in my house. The top photo is of our living room bookshelf. The first year and a half, I'll be honest, I experienced a large amount of disgust. My face unconsciously went into "I'm seeing something nasty" mode often: rotting trash, gas fumes, rat sightings, sick bathrooms, fly-covered meat on the street. I sincerely prayed about it and felt there were two solutions: become more humble, and maybe make my apartment more comfortable as a mini-retreat. I feel guilty about this, as if it's shallow, and who am I to be bringing Tyler candles into a country where people are starving? I've been in a near-constant state of asking some version of that question for the last five years: God, given the suffering of people in our world (and city), exactly how am I supposed to live my life? My current status of that investigation leads me to this: 1) live modestly, yet also remember- I am no longer in "campout mode" here in Haiti. I am not here for a short-term trip, or even for  a semester. I have been here eighteen months, and I will be here at least nine more. I work all day, every day, on the job God has given me: my little flock of 90 crazy teenagers who need to learn about apostrophes, Jesus, and Romeo and Juliet. That's my job. So I need to be able to "sharpen the tool" (phrase from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), sabbath, and nourish my marriage. That means some comforts that you don't really pursue when you're short-terming it. Like decorating your bookshelf, and putting up curtains in your bedroom. Also, Tyler candles. Instant nasty-smell-hider. I really love my Haiti apt.

Ben and I are experiencing affectionate and conflict-free (or conflict-minimal) days, mostly. Last year that was not so much the case- frequent bickering over nothing, which can ruin your day riki-tiki-quick. It's a story for a whole other blog entry, but I have some theories about the "why" of this change... but for now, I'll simply say we are having happy, kissy days.

The on-campus and Haiti-friend communities are a blessing. We continue to thank God for the dinners, the movie nights, the hangout time with no plan but just enjoying togetherness.

Matt, my Marine brother in Afghanistan, is nearing the end of his deployment. Less than a month until he moves away from the front lines, and less than two months until he is HOME in the US. Oh, Jesus, please make it faster. We'd love continued prayers for my parents, and for Matt's beloved Kelsey.

Thanks, God, for this fat season. Life doesn't usually continue in this vein for long. Let's be honest- I'll probably get malaria tomorrow or something.

Love, Katie

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Decision!

I have a bad habit of being an overuser of exclamation points. But this is worth it!!

A sophomore guy at Quisqueya made a decision to trust Christ today!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus.

It was after Bible class. He stayed late, into the lunch hour, to speak to Mr. Pruitt. He said he had understood the message in class in a whole new way, and was ready to pray to accept Christ as his lord and savior. They went over the gospel again, the good news of our amazing God and what he has done for us.

And he decided.

No greater joy for me. For any of us.



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