Monday, March 25, 2013

Thirty Dollar Diet Coke

One thing people can never understand about Haiti is how the cost of living is actually higher in some ways that the US. One example of this is groceries.

My friends Cornelius and Minday Broersma have written an excellent post about this, with price comparisons on identical items. 
Bailey's coffee creamer is $1.97 in America, but 180 gourdes ($4.50) in Haiti.
The same number of cans of Diet Coke are $7.48 in America, and $30 US in Haiti. Perhaps the difference is now heavy this must be to export. But there is a plant that bottles Coke in Haiti!

For my birthday last year, I asked for the expensive groceries that I never get to buy: $10 cereal, fancy American grated Parmesan, and frozen berries (more than $10 a bag).

Please go read the Broersma's blog for many more examples, and a look at their Haiti life.

When I was first coming to Haiti, I was emailing with a teacher who had recently left Quisqueya. She was generous enough to give me her budget, and I was completely floored by the line item for groceries. I thought, "Ben and I don't even spend that much TOGETHER, in AMERICA!"

She told me I'd see, and that things were really expensive, and that sometimes you're willing to trade money for a little home comfort.

I remained skeptical, and more than a little judgmental.

I was flat wrong.

Now, there are ways in which life is cheaper here. We don't spend money on shopping, movie theaters, gasoline, or lunch at work.

But groceries ain't cheap.


PS Hey, we leave for our third annual trip to Washington, DC tomorrow! Eleven kids plus me and Ben, stomping through Washington with museums in our sights. Woo hoo!

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Photo by Matpar Haiti, a paint company.

A very bittersweet announcement.

Basically since the day after the earthquake, there's been a question somewhere between "the forefront" and "the back burner" of our minds: when should we leave Haiti? We have been on one-year contracts, so each year in the early spring we've tried to finalize our decision for the following school year. 

Ben and I have decided to move back to America for the foreseeable future on June 4, right after we finish the school year.  We’re going to put down deeper roots in Dallas, make up for lost time with our families, and think toward having kids.

We definitely feel like God wants us to continue teaching high school. It really fits our gifts and we love it (most days!).

The way we feel about it is that we’re undergoing a missionary transfer, not a missionary retirement.  We want to figure out a way to live missionally  from Dallas. We feel peace about leaving, really excited to be with our loved ones, and yet also a lot of grief about leaving “our kids” here. We’ve spent 3.5 years and thousands of hours with this same group of about 100 kids and 30 teachers, so there is a very strong pain in saying goodbye.

We don’t have jobs lined up yet for the fall. But, one big blessing was finding out recently that we will be able to live in a little parsonage/mission house owned by a church in Plano. It kind of came out of nowhere and we were shocked at the offer. Spending six months or so there will be an easy place to land (it’s furnished!) and we will get to live together without any roommates or shared walls for the first time in 4.5 years of marriage!

A special note for those who pay our support. You guys have made these years in Haiti possible.  Being vulnerable to living on partial support scared me so badly, I initially rejected even the possibility of doing it. But it’s increased my faith and my generosity to see you guys be so faithful and generous. After talking to other ex-pats who work for mission organizations, we see that the standard is to ask for our support to continue for three months after we return, so that would be June, July, and August. We would like to humbly ask for our support to continue until August as a bridge until we begin receiving income for teaching jobs

Also, we are in the midst of job-hunting for high school positions in north Dallas. If you happen to have a connection in that field, we would be very happy to hear about it.

We love you guys a lot! To God be all the glory.

Ben and Katie

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Haitian Creations

Recently I met Chandler, who now runs Haitian Creations. This is her boutique!
I want those displays.
 And this is me and Chandler!
Outside the Haitian Creations boutique and workshop
Haitian Creations is one of the many ministries of Heartline. Under Chandler's leadership, a group of Haitian mothers create all these beautiful accessories. Everything you buy came from their hands. The ladies' incomes allow them to raise their children with the proper nutrition, education, and safe homes the mothers always wanted to provide, but never could before.

 Chandler's husband, Josh, built all the white display boxes and was putting the finishing touches on this cute chevron checkout counter.
 In addition to her own Haitian Creations products, this boutique is selling soap, jewelry, body oil, and t-shirts from Apparent Project, Child Hope, and Ayiti Natives, three similar programs providing life change through employment.

Here are some pictures of the workshop area.
 How does one run a cloth handbag workshop in a country with spotty electricity? Old skool non electric sewing machines, that's how.

 Signature cloth beads.
 Chandler's office.

 One of the ladies gave Chandler this straw hat as a gift :)
Chandler's desk.

Classic Haiti ("deep woods" spray) + boss (legal pad) + artsy person (stitch samples).

I was on this side of Port-au-Prince because I wanted so badly to visit this shop. I sent an email to our school staff and rounded up two carfuls for a girls' outing. We all wished we'd brought more cash.

And, if you live in Haiti, you can come too! The boutique grand opening event is this Saturday, March 23rd in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

Their website is one of Chandler's major upcoming projects. You better believe I'll be giving you the link when all these cute new items hit their redesigned site.

I am proud of you, Chandler and Heartline!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fair Trade Shopping: Photography and Aprons

More fair trade shopping!

100 Cameras is an organization that gives cameras to very poor kids and then sells their photography. 100% goes back to the kids. You can buy any size print, but also cards- like notecards, postcards, etc.

My next new favorite is No. 41, a site that sells products made by women in Rwanda. By buying their items, these ladies are able to raise their children, provide an education, and general change their family tree for the better.

Their signature item seems to be handbags, but actually my favorite things on their site are these adorable aprons, which come in a set with an oven mitt.

The combo is $30, which would make a really cute gift for a wedding shower, housewarming, or graduation.

Win-wins. I love fair trade shopping.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Haitis: Christmas Party Edition

Note: I wrote this in December but forgot to post it.

Two Christmas parties. Two entirely different worlds. You probably only have one mental image of Haiti: Anderson Cooper, clad in black tee, reporting from downtown amidst looting and total destruction. You've seen ragged tent cities and orange-haired black children.

Yet, there's more. Haiti has a wealthy elite, and sometimes they invite you to their Christmas parties. I do not for a moment want this post to be a contrast between the "evil rich elite" and the "noble poor". There are no good people.  The wealthy students I teach and their families are, like all people, are on a continuum of loving behavior, with some (like this family) leaning heavily toward the "loving" end with their money and influence.

However, you can't attend these two parties in one week without the contrast smacking you in the face.

So here we begin with the beautiful A family (name abbreviated for privacy) Christmas party. This is the family whose beach house I visited with my discipleship group last spring, and I have become close with their high school girls and the parents. I enjoy them so much.

They had an open house way up on the mosquito-free mountain. Mr. A has a hobby of collecting Christmas village components, and he puts together this massive display including working cable cars (seen below), ferris wheels, and a teeny amusement park (right next to the Gothic cathedral, natch).

I literally stopped in my tracks as I approached this intricate, creative display. He creates little vignettes of over 500 characters, having casual conversations, singing carols, sharing presents, and the like. There's so much artistry, and so much extravagance.
My dear pal Miquette. She's pregnant!
Some discipleship girls with Santa, me, and Brit (also pregnant!).
Between the gorgeous pool and waterfall, laser-lit trees, and the menagerie complete with macaws and crocodiles, I was in awe. I practically pranced around, taking it all in. A total delight. A handful of my high school kids were there, wrapping the gifts that each guest brought for local poor children (over 150 were donated that night). Children scampered underfoot, and everybody kissed me on both cheeks.

It felt like America. It also felt like family. My heart was warm.

Then, just five short days later, I attended a second party, the annual Christmas party for the children of the TeacHaiti program.

A few hundred Haitian children dressed to the nines crowded into the Quisqueya chapel, boys on one side, girls on the other. There was a program full of singing and drama, and then each child was given a bag of treats. Every child was in their Sunday best, which belies the poverty in their homes. Each child is in the TeacHaiti program because of a sponsor. You can be one!
I love their little feet.
Little Guilene. This one is for you, Henry family!
Sharp-dressed men
Art steals gifts from children. Don't let him deny it.
Manoucheka (left) is sponsored by a Texan!
 In the picture above, the laughing boy is Roodolphe. The boy with the red bag between his legs is Roobens, and the girl in the pink dress is Louna. All three of them are sponsored by Texans.

In the photo below, the girl in the white dress is my SARAH, our sponsored child. The girl next to her is Jessica, who is sponsored by my parents and is new to TeacHaiti this year.
Nashka, center, is Roobens' sister. Their parents both work at Quisqueya.
 I could not pass up an opportunity to get another peek at Queency. He has a whole category of posts labeled with his name- see the sidebar at right.

Many of you may recall our time with Queency on the night of the earthquake, when we huddled around his broken body praying he would live through the night.

Three years later, he sat on that same soccer field to receive his Christmas gifts from TeacHaiti. He looked great, and surly as ever :)
This is Berllange, sponsored by a family in Coppell, Texas. Thank you, B family!
The girl in the plaid skirt above is Guerline (different from Guiline). A 7th-grader in Richardson, Texas gave a special donation to TeacHaiti last summer, and Miquette used it to send Guerline to the eye doctor for her crossed eyes. Thank you, BR.

Don't let their party clothes fool you. These kids are so poor, they would not be in school without TeacHaiti. Miquette made up a Saturday art program basically as an excuse to feed them, because some don't eat regularly on the weekends. I know one child pictured above was once so malnourished, Miquette thought she might eventually die from it. 

Two parties. Two worlds. One island.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Day in the Life

A look at March 5, 2013 at Quisqueya Christian School.

6:20 Attempt to drag sleepy eyes over today's Scriptures. I started a "read the Bible in a year" plan on my Bible app 18 months ago... finally arrived in Mark today. Yeesh.

6:40 Frantic email notifications popping up from juniors... who have a major paper due at 11 am. Really intriguing email from a junior girl who says she's now reading The Help and her "eyes are being opened". She says her family has an outdoor bathroom for the maid, and she never thought before how the maid might feel about that. Make a mental note to talk to her. LD says I put in the wrong grade on the online grade book. Remember to check that.

7:15 I've got morning duty this week. I grade February outside reading papers while sitting outside the high school building. Sleepy students finish homework and everybody kisses everybody (Haitians greet like the French). I wrangle a junior boy over and discuss the unhappy email I sent to his mom the night before. He's doesn't seem to care that much.

8:00 school starts. Calculus meets in my classroom. Doing battle with copy machine that prints 50 blank pages before spitting out my Robert Mugabe article for world cultures class. In the teacher's lounge, Ben types nearby, brainstorming aloud about St. Patty's Day food and researching where one might buy corned beef in Haiti.

9:15 Break period. Helping a 12th grade yearbook student proof three stories. The yearbook was due to the publisher last Thursday. Run home to take Jefe out (perks of on-campus living!), unpack from this weekend's staff retreat. Muster up some Haitian cash to pay Carol for the Creole books we ordered from her. Double-check grocery list- Ben is going to "the fancy grocery store" later today for the first time in a month. If the school's car is working.

10:35 I'm conferencing with a student in reading class who wrote in her last paper that good behavior is what sends people to heaven. She just switched last August to English school after K-10th grade in French school... poor thing. She remembers the verse about people who say, "Lord, Lord!" but Jesus responds that he never knew them. Good talk.

10:52 For the last eight minutes of reading class, I reward their focused silent reading by showing a hot new viral video depicting wealth inequality in America.

11:10 I'm teaching the words "cognate" and "curb", today's SAT words, to the American Lit class. We sit in a circle and every kid reads every other kid's final draft of our major paper on The Great Gatsby. One sweet student takes me aside and gravely observes that some students appear to have not read the book. I giggle. Oh, really? Every single student turns in a paper, even the one that is absent. A huge sigh of relief. In about one hour they will all start asking if I've grade the papers yet.

12:30 It's French fry day, the best lunch of the week! Also the longest lines. Rejoice! There's still some pizlik (my favorite Haitian food) left when I go through the line.

1:09 World cultures class. I've been looking forward to this lesson on apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and Robert Mugabe. The kids gasp at pictures of the tiny prison cell on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 years of his life. We scroll through a slideshow I made on South Africa: Great White sharks, penguins, gondolas, the World Cup stadium, slums, ancient cave paintings, Victorian architecture, and warthogs.

2:30 I'm scanning 21 papers on the Holocaust in 10th grade English. Students are editing their first drafts. Their prompt asked students to write about their personal theology of suffering. Was I out of my mind?! Still can't tell. They talk me into giving them tomorrow's full class period again for partner editing. Final draft due Thursday.

3:15 Start of 9th hour, a study hall period required for kids on probation. I'm subbing for Ben today since he's making the trek up to the "fancy grocery store". There is a vibration in the floor and a thumping, drumming noise that's giving me anxiety (a result of the earthquake). Road work?

3:30 My boss stops in and we talk about "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. Then we talk about how some people we know are having earthquake-related symptoms pop up, after so much time of being "fine". Afterward as I walk home through our gate I see five men crammed in our tiny guard shack. Must be a soccer match on tv.

5:21 Ben bustles in the door carrying two cardboard boxes of groceries. Christmas morning! And, hallelujah, he found jalapenos.

5:45 We're working on schoolwork and other to-do list items. I'm writing a check; tomorrow is the weekly mail day. Arielle sends me the final draft of fliers for our student council movie night next week- we're showing Brave. I'm emailing people to find out about Haiti's electric company, EDH, on behalf of a Baylor professor who is bringing an engineering team here in May to do solar panel installations.

6:00 We're Googling "dogs who won't eat". Jefe is looking skinny! Ben bought wet dog food today to mix in, but it doesn't work- Jefe stops after a few bites. Ben is trying out a new recipe for roasted, seasoned carrots we ate at the Pruitts' house one time. We're figuring out what to make for the Bible study potluck tomorrow, and the dessert party on Friday night for Jill's birthday.

7:40 We receive the Creole books we ordered. We got Pilgrim's Progress in Creole as well as a Creole Bible- those are both gifts for our guard, Ceyab, who is constantly flipping through his taped-together Bible and singing hymns while on duty. Ben presents the books to Ceyab and takes a picture of him posing with the new one.

8:32 An email pops up from the White House, informing me that all future tours are being canceled due to staffing cuts from the sequester. I sadly email this to the 12 students on our Washington, DC trip. We leave in three weeks.

8:45 Ben discovers that Hugo Chavez has died. Work break to read some CNN. I read that increases in wait times at airports are likely. I'm fretting about getting our DC kids through customs in Miami in time to make our connection to Washington, DC.

9:46 Finish this blog. Electronics shut off time. We said it would be 9:00 tonight, yet here we both sit. Ben plays jazz while Jefe sits in his lap. Only got one paper graded. Need to sort the laundry before we go to bed- Wednesday is our slot for the campus laundry machine.




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