Monday, April 30, 2012

Border-line Crazy

There are few things more fun than crossing the Haiti/Dominican Republic border. It is fun like an IRS audit.

The QCS basketball team went to the DR for a basketball tournament last week. To get to this awesome tournament we had to cross the border, and since the school is too cheap to guy a private jet like I asked, we had to take a bus.

I hate the border crossings like I hate hell and all Capulets. The corruption is rampant, the disorganization mind-boggling. It is a full-court press of chaos for a Westerner who is used to orderly lines and things like receipts. I was feeling a little better about this trip because I was not in charge and our bus driver was fluent in Spanish, Creole, and English. His day job with a medical NGO requires him to cross the border often, so I felt confident it would not be so bad.

A few miles from the border, at the aptly-named town called Mal Passe (Bad Pass), we were waved down by a Haitian police officer who let us know that the border was closed. The night before there had been a shooting, and until it was sorted out, nothing more than foot traffic was getting through. Neat.

The powers-that-be debated our options. The next closest crossing was in the Central Plateau, but driving through the muddy river bed with a bus was impossible. There was one more crossing, near Ouanamenthe (pronounced Wanna-mint), at the far northern edge of Haiti. To get there we would have to drive back through Port-au-Prince, along the Western coast of Haiti, and then take the "highway" to Cap Haitian. The drive would take the whole day and we would be luck to make the border before it closed at 5 pm.

The drive to the border was originally 63 kilometers. It was now going to be 337 km. Google Maps would tell you that driving 337 km should take 4.5 hours. Google Maps does not know a damn thing about roads Haiti.

We made it to the border in at Ouanamenthe  at 4:55 pm. After much protesting, complaining, and eye-rolling by immigration authorities in both countries, we entered the DR a neat and tidy 8.5 hours after we headed north. Hey Google, stop estimating time. Jerk.

As fun as all of this was, the most hair-raising adventure would come 5 days later as we drove home.

On the return trip, we heard the border was open. It was. Kinda.

At the border, we found a incomprehensible jam of commercial trucks all sitting idle. Though the border was open, there were now protesters stopping all commercial traffic. We all sighed with relief. We were just a team of basketball players who had just shown seven schools from the neighboring country that we can hoop. No problem! Right? No? Crap.

After passing the border in Haiti, we arrived at the closest border town and saw the mass of humanity blocking traffic. The protesters were blocking any vehicle with Dominican plates.

Our. Bus. Had. Dominican. Plates.

Our fearless leaders politely negotiated with them. "We are Haitians just like you (except you know, for the coaches). We have been representing Haiti! Look at this neat trophy! See it says, CHAMPIONS, we won it for you... and our school... and the country."

Finally the protesters decided we could pass through... if he could drive our bus through the road block. So a total stranger climbed aboard out bus and drove us through the blockade and then down the road to where he deemed it was okay to stop. How comfortable would you be with a stranger you just met taking over your car and just driving for a second? Yeah? Me too.

After hours of wheeling, dealing, and sitting... so much sitting... we made it back to Quisqueya.


The part of my trip where there was actual basketball being played was awesome! That post comes tomorrow.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Boiling Bleach

Confessions of a Would-Be Haiti Homemaker

I am one of the luckiest people in the entire country of Haiti, because I have a washing machine.

The vast majority of laundry here in Haiti is done by hand, in large plastic tubs. It is hard on the clothes; hand scrubbing and line drying fade and wear out the fabric. It takes all day. Ladies make their own powder detergent.

There are three washing machines on campus and one dryer. The three washing machines are not connected to a water line, so they get filled up by hand, using a hose, twice (once to start, and then again to rinse).

There are 22 people living on campus, and we share those machines. We each get one four-hour shift per week to do all our laundry.

Ben and I have a shift that is in the school day. You can't just dump your laundry, turn on the machine, and go, because the water has to be filled up by hand. So we hired a lady named Lala to do our laundry for us in the machines. She charges $20 a month to do our laundry every Tuesday.

However, there is one main laundry problem we still have:


Did I mention the hose that fills the laundry machines only has cold water?

White clothing, practically overnight, turns yellow. Even using bleach doesn't get our the nasty-body-sweat-yellow when you only have cold water.

So we do this:
I take my soup pot, fill it with water and bleach, and boil it on the stove. The is my biggest pot, but it only fits one shirt or pillowcase at a time.

Then I take out the white item and throw it on the laundry line, which is really an old electrical cord (no longer plugged in to anything), strung out behind my apartment to dry in the sun.

This morning I tried to put in two pillowcases to save time. So I put in three cups of bleach.


One pillowcase came our sparkling white, while the other one literally melted into strips in my hands.

Add that one to the cleaning rag pile....

Fun fact: Guess what the Kreyol word for bleach is.  



Saturday, April 28, 2012

Your Books Have Arrived!

A few days back I asked on this blog for a generous volunteer or two to buy three books I'd been wanting to add to my classroom library.

Little did I know.
Amazon and I are on a first-name basis
Instead, probably about fifteen people emailed, most of them offering to buy all three. I got a few copies of the original three books, and then started racking my brain for more titles. I suggested some classics, some hardback copies of paperbacks in my room that are falling apart, and then went on Amazon to see the "other recommended titles" of the most popular books my kids like.

We get mail each Friday here. Quisqueya has an address in Florida, and we pay an annual fee to be subscribed to Missionary Flights International. MFI owns a plane and flies missionary mail all over the Caribbean once a week.

I look forward to Friday afternoon like Kindergarteners look forward to Christmas.

Confession: I have recently subscribed to several catalogs, or, as I like to call them, "free magazines". Let's be real: add up Pottery Barn, Ballard, and West Elm catalogs and you've basically got yourself a House Beautiful or something.

But I digress. So this Friday and last I excitedly lugged a large tower of cardboard back to my classroom. I allowed my sixth period sophomore English class to open the packages. Presents!
 And this was just yesterday's haul, not even including last week's.

Every single book from last week, of which there were probably eight, is already checked out and being read.

One 10th grade girl nearly fell out of her chair yesterday as the package containing Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage was opened: "Missmissmissmiss pleasepleaseplease can I have it pleasepleaseplease!!".

Here's the point:

1) I have very generous friends. You guys have big hearts. I'm so touched.

2) My students really want to read, when they're interested. Even books about marriage; no lie, I got four copies of that Tim Keller book and all four are currently being read by 16-year-old Haitian girls.

3) These books are valuable. They are historical, spiritual, literary, intellectual, thoughtful texts that tell stories as varied as climbing Mt. Everest and overcoming depression, but they all have one thing in common: they are thought-provoking and edifying.

There is no greater way to serve these kids than to teach them how to think deeply and pursue truth about the ultimate questions of life. 
We love our new books! And we are silly.
So thank you. From Anna, Natasha, Anais, Randolph, Raphael, Virgloty, Mark, Kevin, Chafika, Taressa, Gael, Sam, Laura, Chiara, Vienna, Laryssa, Josue, Axel, Loic, Pierre Erick, Louis Daniel, Biderka, Sarah............ and many more.


PS If you're still interested, I've made a large wish list now. Email me at for our Florida mailing address.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Saturday Morning, 0800 Hours

Handsome lad
The puppy isn't allowed in the bed.


Except sometimes :)
Like Saturday mornings, for instance.
 Bliss is a sleepy puppy cuddled on you.

We love little Jefe so very much.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Day in the Operating Room

Woah. Saturday I woke up planning to visit a nice lady, with whom I have previously emailed a few times.

What ended up happening was an entirely different thing altogether!
Let's back up.

There is an organization called LEAP based in Dallas. They bring surgical mission teams to eight countries, including Haiti. Their founder, Dr. Craig Hobar, came to Haiti on the fourth day after the earthquake, and planned a trip this week to do operations at Hopital Espoir, a hospital I have visited several times before which is about a mile from our home in Port-au-Prince.

Strangely, Ben and I have personal connections to at least four of the 23 team members who planned to come to Haiti with LEAP, such as my having gone to Baylor with one of the LEAP staff members' daughters. Quite a few of the LEAP team members had heard about our blog and some had read it. I had read a long article about Dr. Hobar's work in Haiti in the Dallas Morning News. I actually met Dr. Hobar when I was in high school. All this to say, lots of "small world" moments.

I have been emailing with Debbie, a nurse and LEAP volunteer, for awhile, and she asked for my help getting some pre-operative and post-operative instruction papers translated into Kreyol. I had my students work on the translations and got them checked by Miquette, my favorite Haitian nurse. Debbie, the kindest woman alive, invited me to drop by the hospital while her team was there operating, and even offered to bring me a jar of my very favorite Dallas food: El Fenix salsa.

So Ben and I dropped by Espoir today, hoping to hug Debbie, wish the team well, and, as an added bonus, eat salsa for dinner tonight.

Little did I know.

What actually happened was I spent the day in the operating room!

There were three groups of specialists with LEAP: plastic surgery (that's Dr. Hobar's specialty- lots of cleft lips and cleft palattes), urology, and ENT.

I watched three procedures. The first was Dr. Hobar fixing a cleft palatte on a 10-month-old little girl.
The second procedure I watched was Dr. Hobar fixing a cleft lip. That was really incredible because you can see the external transformation of the face. A 14-month-old girl came in with a deformed mouth and nose, and came out with a beautiful smile and unimpeded nasal function.

The third procedure... wow. On this team were were two surgeons from Children's Medical Center in Dallas who specialize in pediatric urology.

A 12-year-old girl who lives in an orphanage came in for evaluation. As far as the surgeons can tell without access to genetic testing here in Haiti, she has a rare condition where she is genetically XY and male, but developed external female genitalia.

She has lived as a girl because from the outside she is one, but now with the onset of puberty things are going awry and part of her vagina is actually beginning to grow into a penis.

I know.

She came for a removal of the penis, but then when she arrived at the hospital she became scared. She consented only to having an examination under anesthesia, so the pediatric urologists took measurements and photographs to plan for a future surgery, if she changes her mind. They had both actually seen this condition before and planned to try to send "before and after" pictures to her to see the possible results she could expect. They hope to come back in November.

Like I said. Wow.

Wow! I can't believe I got to see this.

Go check out the amazing surgical mission teams from the LEAP Foundation. I am so glad people give money to organizations like this one, because for three days they did nothing but deliver free surgeries to Haiti's poorest. Praise God for your work.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shameless Request for Books

I don't know if I've done this before. I want to ask for something. People say things sometimes like, "let me know if you need anything," but in the South that's kind of a formality... or is it?

Here goes.

I would somebody to buy these three books. I'll read them, and after that, they'll go into my high school classroom library. I have 75 high school students, and I make them read a book a month (I'm so mean!), most of which come from this classroom library. I really like to give them interesting and meaningful books to marinate.

Here are the three books:

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

Anybody interested? If you are, let me know and I'll send you our address. We have a PO box in Florida through an organization that flies mail to Caribbean missionaries once a week, so it's just domestic normal shipping.

Shpanks, friends.


And ps, while you're at it: go buy yourself or a lady in your life this cute, CUTE little $19 burlap clutch purse that benefits 147 Million Orphans.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Haiti in Washington 2012, Part 2

Last week Ben and I took 13 Haitian teenagers to Washington, DC!

Read part 1 here.
Playing "ninja" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Arlington National Cemetary
Arlington National Cemetary
Cherry blossoms in full bloom
Tulips at Arlington
George Washington's mansion at Mt. Vernon
The Favorite of the Ismir at National Gallery of Art
Armistice Day at National Gallery of Art
Angry Birds hats. I mean, why not.

Haiti in Washington 2012, Part 1

This past week we took 13 Quisqueya high school kids to Washington, DC!
Washington monument
World War II monument
Vietnam memorial
Library of Congress
Supreme Court
"Follow the leader" outside the Capitol
Sizzling fajitas
About to taste his first fajita
National Zoo
Mimi ni binti wa Simba.
The trip was incredible. The kids were well-behaved, fun, responsible, and positive. I loved learning through their eyes. Watching them encounter things for the first time- the Holocaust Museum, pad thai eaten with chopsticks, the Metro- was so special.

Read part 2 here


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Came Off My Camera Phone, April Edition

Leetle Jefe is getting beeeger.
 In the last month, we have lost three sophomores from QCS. It's depressing. Two departures had no advanced warning- at school one day, and then the next we got news they weren't returning. But one student had a planned relocation, so we got to have a surprise party for her.
Check out that incredible goodbye cake!
 Ben spoke in chapel. He was so brave and really opened up to the students about some painful things in his past. The kids were very moved and many came to talk to him later, saying "me too."
 Jefe talked me into reading The Hunger Games. I read three books in three days. As you can imagine.... my lesson plans were a bit skimpy those days.
 And, continuing the puppy theme: here's me and Jef every morning circa 5:50 am. I read, he snuggles in my lap. It's my favorite half-hour of the day, I think.
 This last one is the work of a Haitian graffiti artist, Jezzy.

And, we are in Washington DC right now! We landed last night. Much more to come on that. We are grateful for a tiring, but uneventful, travel day.

Love, Katie

Monday, April 2, 2012

Class of 2012

Our seniors!  

Yep, ours. 

23 very unique young people. 

Between the two of us, we wrote a college rec letter for every single one. Katie edited multiple drafts of their college essays. 

We have cried in the computer lab when cumulative GPAs were released. 

We read a thousand news articles. Upsetting ones, mostly.

We have learned to iron and get rid of stains.

We hiked a mountain. There was a lot of rain. Sorry about some yelling that went down.

We learned all about Dave Ramsey principles, and what a mutual fund is.

We met on Wednesdays for discipleship. 

We debated theistic evolution. We debated about poverty.

We read Tale of Two Cities and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.  

We cried when one of them lost a father, and cried again when another lost a brother. 

We jumped up and down when "yes letters" arrived from Calvin, and Northwest Nazarene, and UMass, and Baylor, and Emory, and Indiana State, and others.

We worked the kitchen at the Christmas Bazaar. 

We love you!

Ben and Katie

PS We go to DC again tomorrow! A new year, a new group of thirteen teenagers.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Meeting Haiti's Disabled Children, Part 2

This is the second post about my day with our sophomore class. We visited Village Espoir, an orphanage in Port-au-Prince that cares for, among others, about 25 severely disabled kids.

Click here to read Part 1.

Laundry lines at the orphanage
This little guy was uncomfortable, but Gael persisted in comforting him
This child just hung out alone
Raphael helped this young man use a machine to indicate his needs
Randolph helped this girl stretch our her hand, which was injured in a stroke
Wheelchair obstacle course
Joycelynn helped this girl touch the bells at each station
Wheelchair races. Seriously.
Coloring Easter baskets
Breathtakingly beautiful
Playing with my shades
Unhappy in the baby room
The babies were just really desperate for attention and snuggles.
Valerie helping make the Easter baskets
Sam leading worship
Natural entertainers :)
Loving singing time!
The faces.

What a day.

I went home; the children stayed in the orphanage.

They'll stay there until they're adopted, or until their late teens.

Thank you God for that day.



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