Category Archives: Life

Giving thanks always and continually

fall

Oh fall. If you were only with me in Haiti. Taken in Colorado in October.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and although today is like any other day for us in Haiti, I can’t help but reflect on the whole giving thanks thing.    All in all I have a lot to be thankful for—food to eat, a roof over my head, a loving wife, genuine community, and good health for starters.

This isn’t always true but in general I wonder if it is easier to pick out what we’re thankful for when we’re encouraged to do so on one particular day.

But what about the other 364 days of the year?

This is what I’m asking myself this morning—how am I doing with giving thanks with a grateful heart on all the non-Thanksgiving days?  And if I could add up the moments when I expressed my gratitude on these other 364 days, how many of those would have been during a moment when all is well and in order compared to the chaotic or discouraging moments?

A friend of ours recently wrote about remaining thankful despite the valleys we sometimes find ourselves in.  I found her words encouraging and relevant to the questions I’ve been asking.  She shared the following verse:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Always.  Continually.  All circumstances.  Give thanks not just on one day and not just haphazardly either but do it well, do it often, and do it with rejoicing.

What a beautiful and hopeful calling.  I’m choosing to trust that today on Thanksgiving and on all the other days of the year, God will give me the strength and grace necessary to live out this calling through Christ Jesus.

I’m also encouraged by people here in Haiti like Manoucha.  We recently visited this young woman who has faced tough challenges yet still manages to keep moving forward.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_106

Manoucha shows off her beautiful smile.

We met her for the first time in the summer of 2013 after she received a goat through World Concern’s Hope to Kids program.  The program is meant to provide students with a goat—and therefore a source of income—which can help them pay for school and meet their basic needs.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_094

Manoucha walks from her church to her home in the seaside village of Crabier, Haiti.

Manoucha is a little old for her grade at school.  As a 20-year-old she is in the same grade as her 16-year-old sister, Dieunike, because health issues in past years have kept her out of school and at home.

“Now I am well but sometimes I still get sick which means I cannot go to school or work,” Manoucha said.

It hasn’t been an easy road however she was able to begin school this year on time, for the second year in a row, and is now only two years away from graduating high school!

“I choose to keep giving effort at school so that I can one day help my family,” she said.  “I want to study to become a nurse because I like this.  Then if someone in my family is sick I can help them.”

Manoucha is already finding ways to help her family.  Her goat has given offspring and she gave one of the kids to her sister Dieunike so she can also benefit.   The gift of one goat has a multiplying effect within this family.  It is encouraging to see Manoucha continue to persevere despite her challenges.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_120

Manoucha with her sisters Dieunika (middle) and Nadine (far right) outside their house.

 

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_129

Dieunika and her goat.

The call to “rejoice always” in 1 Thessalonians is for all of us whatever season of life we find ourselves in. This is an important reminder for me today but also for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows in this next year and I hope it gives you hope as well.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family.

Chicken-what?

It is quiet at our Port-au-Prince office this week.  Office doors are shut and lights are turned off.  There is less chatter coming from the cafeteria at lunch time.  No, people are not on vacation.  Unfortunately several are out sick with a mosquito-borne virus called Chikungunya.  Oh and that’s not a typo.  The first few times I said it, it came out sounding more like chicken-something.

Everyone is talking about Chikungunya.  Over the past two weeks it seems I have not gone a couple hours without having a conversation about it.  The Chikungunya first arrived in the Caribbean in late 2013 and has quickly spread throughout the region.  The first cases in Haiti were reported in early May.

The virus causes joint pain, rash and fever but is not fatal.  One friend (who is young) told me the pain was so bad in his joints it made him feel like an old man!  Some people have been calling the virus kraze zo which means “broken bones” in Kreyol.

Quite literally, people are dropping like flies.  I can think of 10 co-workers who have had Chikungunya in the past two weeks and many people in our church community have gotten it too.  Apparently this kind of virus spreads very fast.  It doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of rainy season here in Haiti which means there are lots of places for mosquitos to make babies.

So far Martha and I have been spared.  We’ve been using mosquito repellent and candles in our house to ward off the little villains but it is hard not to get bit even with all these precautions.

It’s tough to see something like this hit Haiti.  One thing I’ve learned here is how important good health is for the poor.  Many people work in the informal sector meaning they do not have a salary or guaranteed income, much less health insurance or sick days.  If you are a subsistent farmer or a day laborer, you will not get paid or eat if you do not work.  So being sick can prevent you from earning an income, providing for your family, and taking care of your kids.

The CDC has produced some fact sheets in English and Kreyol which are helpful.  We emailed the Kreyol version to our co-workers and also posted it on our message board in the office.

Please join us in prayer for healing and protection for our co-workers, their families, and for the thousands of others affected throughout the country.

Here’s a couple recent news articles about Chikungunya if you’re interested:

Mosquito-Borne Breaking Bone Disease Spreads in Haiti – NPR
As Haiti awaits confirmation, a quickly spread mosquito-borne virus in Caribbean sparks concern – Miami Herald

 

What Would You Do?

Music and songs are one of the languages that really ‘speak’ to me, make me think about life, and move me. Just yesterday I heard a song whose tune seemed familiar (probably because it was a hit single when I was in high school). I stopped to really listen to the words this time. I have to be honest that the whole song is not the most wholesome story but it got me thinking and made a good point. The chorus says:

What would you do if your son was at home,
Cryin’ all alone on the bedroom floor
Cause he’s hungry and the only way to feed him is to
Sleep with a man for a little bit of money?
And his daddy’s gone, in and out of lock down,
I ain’t got a job now, he’s just smokin’ rock now.
So for you this is just a good time
But for me this is what I call life.

What would you do?! We don’t know the whole story of this woman but my mind was already going through questions and scenarios. Surely there’s got to be another option than selling your body to make a little money?!

But then I realized that maybe the point of the song is not the moral or ethical dilemma here. My mind quickly drifted to stories of people here in Haiti that left me wondering what I would do in their shoes.

What would you do if you were pregnant and discovered you have HIV which your husband passed to you? And if you say something you’re convinced he will leave, taking with him the security of an income.

What would you do if you were arrested and put in prison for stealing a goat but seven years later you are still in prison untried?

What would you do if you and your five children were suddenly left with no roof on your house after a hurricane and your limited income kept you from being able to repair it?

At first glance, I just see an HIV positive woman, a prisoner, and a victim. I might even see a promiscuous woman, a bad guy, and a lazy person. But once I meet them and talk to them, I begin to see the humanity behind each face and situation. I begin to see that things often aren’t as simple as they may have seemed when I was looking in from the ‘outside’. There is more than meets the eye—especially my judgmental eye.

I don’t mean to excuse bad decisions. I know that I have made plenty and experienced both consequences and grace. Life seems to be this intertwining of both personal decisions and things that we cannot control.

But bad decision or not, everybody has a story. The more I meet people who are different than me, the more I realize that no situation, no problem, no injustice has a simple solution.

Wendy and her husband visited us in Haiti last November and were able to meet some of the people World Concern works with in the South. At the end of their visit Wendy graciously shared some of her thoughts:

[vimeo 89716625]

Development isn’t simple. That’s why at World Concern we believe in taking the time to listen to people’s stories. That’s why we engage with the community and local leaders when planning what to do. That’s why we rely on experts in the field. Most of all, that’s why we must rely on God to keep us humble, to keep us engaged, and to give us wisdom on how to serve his children—whether HIV positive, prisoner, or victim.

Keeping people first in life and development

Poeple first Sticker

“I didn’t see you this morning,” Jean said.  “You just parked the car and went upstairs without greeting me.”

My brain was full after another day of conversations in a non-native language and a thousand small things to attend to.  I quickly searched my mind for the events of that morning and then remembered that he was right—I had got out of the car and went directly into the office.

“Oh I’m sorry,” I said apologetically which I followed with the first lame excuse that came to mind.

There was no excuse really.  I simply forgot to greet a friend and co-worker that I greet most days. Although this wasn’t the first time I had forgotten, he was quick to forgive.

“That’s okay,” he said with a grin.  “I’ll see you Friday because I’m off tomorrow.”

This recent conversation served as a clear reminder that I am living and working and serving and operating in a place where your social ‘network’ (don’t read social media here) is highly valued and is for many their most prized possession.  Since this network is a priority, people’s choices and way of life reflect this.

And I had forgotten that.  As a part of my friend’s network I had, in a small way, broken this important yet unwritten social contract.  I didn’t mean to.  I honestly do not remember consciously choosing to not greet him.  It just was not on the forefront of my mind that morning, and as I’m learning, it certainly is not a part of my cultural ‘DNA.’

Haiti is a great teacher.  Sometimes its’ lessons are harsh and sudden, other times they are more gentle and subtle.  This time it was gentler but still a lesson to ponder and the lesson was this—people must come FIRST.

People First Collage4

Personally I know I am not quite there.  I want to be but if I’m honest with myself, I know my love of beating deadlines and creating beautiful spreadsheets and solving logistical problems and writing compelling stories, stand in the way.

Now I realize completing tasks are a necessary part of life and work and ministry however it shouldn’t be what comes first—people should come first.

The truth is I come from a culture that demands productivity at all costs (including relational ones) and that is hard to shake.  Thankfully my Haitian brothers and sisters are patient and forgiving.

This is a lesson for those of us who work in community development as well.  How many well planned and financed projects have failed because the people the project aimed to help were not put first?  It is easy to get swallowed up by logframes, impact evaluations, baseline surveys, proposals, and many more things that occupies our minds and demands our attention when running a project.

However we need to remember the ultimate purpose for all these tasks—to help people live safe, healthy and productive lives.  And how can we achieve that without putting people first?

As a well-known developmentista recently put it on Twitter, “It’s not about the data, it’s about the relationship stupid!”

Austin shaking boy's hand

So what’s the application for development workers and agencies?  Listening is certainly one practical step that those in development can take and it is getting some traction.  Projects like “Time to Listen” and the recent focus on feedback loops are encouraging signs.

Listening is important for me personally as well as I attempt to break free from my tendency to go and do first instead of putting people first.  Ultimately I just need to value these relationships more than my list of to-dos.  A shift in priorities and a ‘renewing of the mind’ is in order.

I’ve been blessed with good relationships in Haiti and I want to see those continue to grow and develop because in addition to benefiting from these relationships myself, that’s really why I’m here—to invest in people.

A couple days later I saw Jean, faithfully guarding the entrance to our office and greeting people as they came in the front door.  I didn’t forget to say hello and ask about his family this time.  I’m learning, albeit slowly

.

Goodbyes and what we can learn from them

My parents can attest that I have always had trouble staying in one place.  As a youngster I was always on the move.  As an adult, although I’ve bid farewell to (most) of my bad fidgety habits I still have trouble staying in one place, geographically speaking.

In the past four years Martha and I have lived in three different cities, in three different countries.  Port-au-Prince is home now and while I am confident this is where God wants me to be and I absolutely love the excitement and adventure of living in such an interesting and vibrant place, I don’t enjoy the frequent goodbyes that come with living in a transient city or with moving every couple years.

Goodbyes are bittersweet.  There is a sense of excitement for the person who is leaving and beginning a new chapter and at the same time a sense of sadness knowing that your relationship with this person will look different in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Haiti is one of those places where people, namely foreigners or the Haitian diaspora or educated Haitians, come and go.  You often to have look hard to find people who have been here for longer than a couple years.  This is for a variety of reasons but the proximity to the U.S. and Canada, and the “short term contract/commitment” culture are major players.

Thankfully Martha and I have found great friends in Haiti and are slowly building a strong community here.  However recently we did have to say goodbye to one of our friends, Dr. Joanne, who was also a colleague at World Concern.  Dr. Joanne served as World Concern’s health program coordinator and was a wonderful friend to Martha and I since our first days in Haiti.  She is the kind of person that always lights up a room when they walk in.  Her godly leadership and sweet spirit will truly be missed.

Dr. Joanne will be staying in Port-au-Prince.  Haiti is her home.  So we’re happy about that and we will likely stay in touch.

Although we’re excited for her as she steps into a new ministry role with another organization, we’re also saddened by her departure.  Her leaving not only has made me think about my mixed feelings with goodbyes, it has also reminded me of the importance of being present.  Meaning, I need to make the most of the moments I do have now with the people in my sphere or office or apartment building or church.  This is something that takes practice and I am still figuring out but am seeing the importance and value of it more and more.

Here at the World Concern office in Port-au-Prince we had an awesome party for Dr. Joanne last week that honored her very well.  It had some serious moments and some hilarious ones.  There were speeches, prayers, stories, snacks, and laughs shared.  One highlight was the ‘dancing game’ that was organized beforehand but that no one knew about.  I had no idea some of our staff could move so well!!  Unfortunately there’s no video footage of the dancing but I did want to share some photos of that party with you.

What a good looking bunch!  World Concern staff surround Dr. Joanne (center, holding plaque).

What a good looking bunch! World Concern staff surround Dr. Joanne (center, holding plaque).

DrJoanneGoodbye_06

DrJoanneGoodbye_82

 

DrJoanneGoodbye_13

An empty downtown, crowded tap taps and sleeping police: Sights on a road trip across Haiti

The beautiful southern coast of Haiti near Aquin along Route National 2.

Four o’clock in the morning is early even for a morning person like me.  Yet last week this is precisely the time of day I found myself crawling out of bed and into our car.  Martha and I do not usually get up this early.  But on this particular day we were headed to the city of Les Cayes which is located in southern Haiti and needed to be there by 8:30am.  The trip can take over four hours, depending on the traffic or blokis, hence the 4am wake up.

World Concern has been working with small scale farmers near Les Cayes for over 15 years providing training, seeds and tractor services.  We last visited Les Cayes in June and you can read about three gentleman we met then in a previous blog post by clicking here.  Our purpose in traveling to Les Cayes on this occasion was to document an organic compost training for farmers and agronomy students from local universities.  More later in a separate post on this training specifically.

This was our fifth trip outside of Port-au-Prince for World Concern since arriving in Haiti nine months ago.  After four trips we have figured out travel essentials versus what can be left behind.  Sunscreen is always a must.  We’ve made the mistake of forgetting this precious item before only to pay for it for the next two weeks.  On a personal note, it is especially sad that I have recently needed to start applying sunscreen to the (little) bald spot on my head.  Forgetting that has proved disastrous as well.  I often opt for a hat nowadays.

A notepad but also several pens are also at the top of the list because pens seem to disappear when meetings, road trips, hotel rooms and farm visits are involved.  We used to always carry a small English-Creole dictionary but found that it was a bit impractical to pull out a book and look up a word mid-conversation.  I often feel like an 8 year old when speaking Creole but we are improving slowly so this last trip we left the dictionary at home and did fine.

I always insist on bringing my Leatherman knife which Martha doesn’t feel as attached to (shocking I know!).  Maybe it’s a guy thing but I just feel so much more prepared for whatever may happen when I bring my knife along.  Of course it is not only a knife.  It is a can opener, filer, screwdriver, pair of scissors, and saw.  And it fits in my pocket!  Definitely a must.

Lastly, pre-charged batteries.  It’s amazing how fast Martha flies through battery packs when she is using her camera for 8+ straight hours.

The night before we left was busy as we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and iced coffee for the road.  Martha was kind enough to iron a couple things because despite often being in very rural areas when we travel, a pressed shirt is nearly always expected.  Haitians are very clean and great care is taken to look nice.  I dress nicer in Haiti than I ever did in Seattle for most occasions.  Okay, Seattle is a bad comparison because jeans and a REI button up with UV protection is considered business casual but you get the idea.  Since we would only be gone for one night we shared a small backpack and easily fit in our clothes for the next two days.  Martha’s camera bag and stand were set by the door.  Extra water was thrown in the car and the gas tank was filled.  We were ready.

As we drove through Port-au-Prince in the pre-dawn twilight the city was uncharacteristically quiet.  Streets that are usually bustling with cars, public buses or tap taps, and street vendors were almost completely vacant.  It felt like we could have been the only ones in the city at that moment.  We passed the Champs de Mars plaza and the National Palace or at least where it once proudly stood pre-quake.  It was damaged badly and eventually torn down with the help of Sean Penn’s charity in 2012.

The wind kicked up dust in front of us as we continued on which made the car’s headlights appear dimmer, only adding to the eeriness of driving through an empty downtown Port-au-Prince.

With no blokis we quickly found on our way out of downtown and onto Route National 2, heading west.  We passed the city of Léogâne which was closest to the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake.  Next came Grand Goâve and Petit-Goâve.  Interestingly, the road only gets better on Route National 2 the farther you head west from Port-au-Prince.  By the time you reach Grand Goâve the road becomes consistently smooth.  In fact, Route National 2 is one of the best stretches of road in Haiti (at least that I’ve been on).

At this point the sky was showing hints of light which we were both thankful for.  With little street lighting, especially outside Port-au-Prince, driving in the dark can be a chore.  Pot holes and speed bumps are extra hidden so we found ourselves consistently praying that we did not blow a tire.  In Creole speed bumps are called polis kouche—literally, ‘lying down police.’  It was explained to me that it’s called that because the speed bump is like a policeman sleeping in the road forcing you to slow down.  I love it!  The Creole language never ceases to amuse and amaze.  Thankfully the car did great through the entire trip and we would make it Les Cayes safely and san pwoblem.

Although the sun was still rising, Route National 2 became increasingly busier as we kept driving west.  Men and women, although mostly women, waited on the roadside for the next tap tap to pass.  If one did, you would see all hands go up and begin waving in unison signaling to the driver that they wanted a ride.  Often the passengers were carrying totes, bags, produce, or even chairs that are accompanying them on their journey.   Buses and tap taps in Haiti are often painted vibrant colors and it is not uncommon to find Justin Beiber or Lionel Messi’s face plastered on the side.  They are also notoriously filled to the brim with everything you can imagine—people, goats, charcoal, clothes, and produce to name a few.

drive to les cayes blog post2

There’s always room for more.

Not in an overwhelming way like in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, but the smaller cities and villages we passed were certainly teeming with life and activity as a new day began.  I have found Haitians to be proactive and industrious people.  I would confidently say the vast majority of Haitians I have met are not waiting for a handout despite what I hear from the occasional visitor or in the news.  They are busy and proactive, trying to make a life for themselves and provide for their families despite living in a country where ‘getting ahead’ is only possible for a privileged few.

I am always confused when someone makes a comment about the lack of work ethic or ambition of Haitians.  I completely disagree.  A few months ago we met a woman who lives near the city of Port-de-Paix in northwest Haiti who works seven days a week frying food and selling it on the street to earn enough money so her kids can eat and go to school.  She is always up before dawn and rarely takes a single day off because if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  This woman is not waiting for a handout.  The people we passed who were obviously busy getting ready for a new day reminded me of this woman and once again I was impressed by the diligence and fortitude of many people in Haiti.

We eventually reached the port town of Miragoâne.  At this point, Route National 2 veers inland taking you south and west across what I would call “the panhandle” of Haiti.  If you are familiar with Oklahoma or Texas you will know exactly what I mean.  Leaving Miragoâne you definitely feel like you are in a rural area.  There are a series of small villages on this nearly 50 kilometer stretch from Miragoâne to the small seaside town of Aquin on the southern coast but that is about it.

The contrast between the busyness and density of Port-au-Prince and the open space and vistas nearly everywhere else outside the capital still amaze me.  I am not really a city person.  I almost always prefer smaller towns and the countryside.  Therefore getting outside of Port-au-Prince is like a breath of fresh air.  The Haitian countryside is absolutely beautiful and the area between Miragoâne and Aquin is no exception.  Soon, the sun was peeking over the mountains giving us quite the show.  This part of the country has a decent amount of tree cover remaining which only added to the beauty.  The car had to work harder as we climbed then descended the numerous hills and mountain passes.

drive to les cayes blog post1

This is where, as a driver, you get lots of experience passing and getting passed by vehicles of all shapes and sizes.  There is no real concept of leaving room between cars in Haiti.  It is one of the things about driving in Haiti that I am still trying to get used to.  In the U.S. we generally like our space when driving and expect other drivers to give that to us.  There is almost a sacredness with the small area around our rear bumpers.  You know what I mean.  In your rear view mirror you notice car closing in pretty quickly and that isn’t necessarily bad.  But then the car keeps coming.  As it gets closer and approaches that invisible sacred line of “that is way too close to my bumper man” the driver’s blood pressure quickly rises and even the nicest of people can turn into absolute tyrants.  Ever heard of a “brake check” or better yet used it?

So in Haiti I’m training myself to think not so much about what is happening behind me and instead focus on what’s ahead.  When another car is passing you they will often get right on your bumper and then move slightly into the opposite lane to see if there is room to pass.  Even the smallest gap in traffic is often enough.  As the car picks up speed and flies passed you, the driver will honk multiple times which basically means “I’m coming so get out of my way.”  Martha and I are learning quickly.  Martha learned to drive in the Philippines so she definitely uses her experience from there in Haiti.  I tend to be a more aggressive driver than Martha but together we’re a nice team, whoever is driving.

You know you are getting close to the southern coast when you descend and descend and keep descending.  As you approach Aquin, out of nowhere, the Caribbean Sea reveals itself.  It is a real surprise; and an awesome one at that.  The sun was now shining brightly which gave the sea an incredible blue hue.  I finally decided to pull out the coffee at this point.  I had resisted for the first couple hours of the drive out of fear of an 11am caffeine crash instead of the more bearable 3pm one.  Thanks to my well insulated mug, there were still a couple chunks of ice remaining which was refreshing.

From here Route National 2 hugs the coast for the most part for another 55 kilometers before reaching Les Cayes.  Although Les Cayes feels quite small compared to Port-au-Prince and has considerably less traffic, entering the bustling city reminded me that I was not on a rural mountain road anymore and I needed to pay attention.  The World Concern staff had moved offices in the couple weeks prior so Martha acted as my navigator as I dodged motorcycles and mules and street vendors.

drive to les cayes blog post3

drive to les cayes blog post4

The new office! A local artist hand painted the World Concern sign.

We eventually found the office on a well paved and charming street in the heart of “downtown.”  Only the guard, Gino, was there when we arrived.  As we waited for the others I reflected on our journey that morning.  It was only shortly after 8am but it felt like noon.  I was certainly awake and ready for the day right then.  I was excited to see the World Concern staff in Les Cayes again and also the whole idea of an organic compost training sounded fascinating.  Mostly I was thankful for an uneventful and generally pleasant drive from Port-au-Prince; our first outside the city since moving to Haiti.

I like long distance drives because there is so much to see and observe.  Haiti is a small country with a largely homogenous culture but driving the four hours from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes reminded me that it is also a place of contrasts.  Landscape, population density, wealth, tree cover, road quality and even fruit varieties are different depending on where you are at.  One thing is for sure.  I am looking forward to my next road trip in Haiti.

drive to les cayes blog post7

A couple of our fun loving and exceptional colleagues in Les Cayes.

A Wedding, A Week of Speaking English, and Coming Home

We just returned from a refreshing one week trip to Oklahoma to be part of Austin’s sister’s wedding.  It was a treat to be able to celebrate with Megan & David, visit with family and friends, get some rest, and enjoy a few extra modern conveniences.  We have so many reasons to be thankful but were especially reminded of the blessing of family and friends around us.  Here’s a few photos from the week…

Bridal Luncheon...beautiful and delicious

Bridal Luncheon…beautiful and delicious

With the bridemaids and house party

With the bridesmaids and house party

Austin's Mom and sister, Megan

Austin’s Mom and sister, Megan

A special moment to pray over the couple at the rehearsal

A special moment to pray over the couple at the rehearsal

Austin sharing some good words at the rehearsal

Austin sharing some good words at the rehearsal dinner

M&D Wedding fb26

 

Standing with both Grandma's and Mom.  They even made it on the big screen at their old high school!

Standing with both Grandma’s and Mom. They even made it on the big screen at their old high school!

Fun with cousins while getting ready

Fun with cousins while getting ready for the wedding

The beautiful reception setup where we later got to see so many friends and family

The beautiful reception setup where we later got to see so many friends and family

Flying back into Haiti

Flying back into Haiti

We have been in Haiti for about four months now.  Some days go by slowly but overall time seems to fly by.  We are so glad we got to have some time with family but remain confident that Port-au-Prince is the place God has us for this season.

I have to say that speaking English for a week was a nice break.  Returning to Haiti though, it was surprisingly comforting to begin to hear the familiar sound of Creole being spoken around us as we waited in the airport and boarded the plane.  When we first came in January it just sounded like a foreign language.  Now it is something that sounds familiar, something we can understand, something that makes Haiti start to feel like our “home” for now.  That’s a good feeling.

Haiti: What I like

Developing countries are often quickly tagged with labels—corrupt, poor, dirty, inefficient, lack of processes and systems or if such things do exist they are deemed too slow.  Haiti is part of this grouping of countries that are unfairly generalized and it arguably gets a worse beating from the media than other countries in the hemisphere that is also ‘poor.’  As one who follows current events and news closely (especially about Haiti), it seems as though the same story about Haiti is stuck on a never ending replay.  This is unfortunate.  Although Martha and I are newcomers to Haiti, I think I have seen enough to say that there is more to Haiti than poverty, corruption, mismanaged aid dollars, pollution, and…you can fill in the blank.

I will admit that I have been totally frustrated and absolutely confused at times during the past few months.  Why things are done this way or not done at all or only half done, I cannot always explain or understand.  I’ve particularly felt this way the last month as we have worked hard to submit our residence permit application before our tourist visa expired (which we successfully did last week).  These feelings also can arise just during daily life.

BUT let me tell you that in the midst of those frustrating moments, there is also an incredible amount of wonder, joy and fascination.  I cannot hide from the difficulties and complexities that exist in Haiti; however I can choose not to dwell on them.  If anything but for my own longevity and sanity, I recognize the need to dwell on the beauty I see.

haiti_postcard_by_fictionchick-d624nv1

So in light of these convictions, I wanted to share with you some things I like about Haiti.  Because this country and its’ people have so much offer and give.

I like how people greet each other, even complete strangers.  I am not sure why this is so common.  However I appreciate it because it lets you know that you are seen and noticed.  I get the feeling that even a short greeting in passing says, “I see you and acknowledge your presence.”

I like that Coke can be found everywhere.  I also like how, at least in Port-au-Prince, a Coke in a glass bottle is cheaper than in a plastic bottle.  Nothing better than dark sugary goodness on a scorching day.

I like how soccer, or foutbòl as it is called in Haiti, is loved.  Especially when a Spanish club like Real Madrid or Barcelona plays, you may hear a deep roar echo off all the concrete buildings following a goal.  It is also not uncommon to see dozens of people tightly gathered around a 22 inch television watching an important match.  Kids also are often seen playing the game on whatever open and somewhat flat surface they can find with anything that can be kicked.  I have totally embraced this soccer culture and absolutely love the energy!

I like how people ask you if you slept well.  Usually when we reach our office in the morning and knock on the big iron door, we’re greeted by one of World Concern’s three guards who are often sleep cartoonsmiling.  Along with a handshake, we’re almost guaranteed to be asked “Byen dòmi?”  I think it is just a way of checking in and seeing if you are okay.  At first it was almost comical to me because in the States you don’t really ask people that question.  But here it is normal and for some reason I’ve come to enjoy it.

I like that Haitians sing well and loud.  Each morning, the World Concern staff gathers for a brief prayer.  Before we pray, there is always a song sung.  The majority of songs are in French and I don’t know them well, so I’ve become fond of just sitting back and listening to the voices singing praise and thanksgiving.  Haitians have some serious vocal chords.  The booming voices fill the room and are just amazing to listen to even if I don’t understand all the words.  Also, there is a church near our apartment where you can hear singing at different times throughout the week (even at 5am!).

I like that mangos are plentiful because they are sweet and so delicious.  Enough said.

I like the pace of life.  Despite living in a very dense city of 2.5 millionish, it is amazing how life is slower here when compared to life in the States.  In fact, today at lunch Martha and I were asked by a couple colleagues if we like Haiti and during our discussion we said that we like how people are not in a hurry to get to the next thing.  One of our colleagues responded that in Haiti people like to slow down signbe together and share things with each other.  I totally agree and really enjoy how Haitians make relationships a priority instead of time.  There is something to learn here.  We can all likely relate to the feeling of being busy and overwhelmed.  Although unavoidable at times, this lifestyle in the long run certainly can affect our relationships as well as our ability to respond to the needs around us.  I’m trying to be better about slowing myself down, enjoying the pace instead of fighting against it, and being present so I can be more intentional.

I’m sure there are more but I will end here for now.  Haiti is a place of contrasts; which is one reason why it is so interesting I think.  Even among the things listed above, there are days when I don’t particularly like the pace or hearing singing outside our apartment before dawn but overall I am learning to appreciate things more and more.  Basically, despite the challenges of living in Haiti and the slow and difficult process of assimilating here, there is plenty to like about this country and the Haitian people.  If you ever come to visit, I think you will know what I mean.

Common Creole verbs in action

pic-studyingFor the past three weeks we have been taking an “intensive” Creole language class.  I say class but it is really more like tutoring sessions.  Martha and I are the only students.  There were supposed to be as many of six of us in the class but the others dropped out last minute, so thanks to that we get individual time with the teacher!  Not bad at all.

We meet with our teacher four days a week for two hours each day.  Prior to taking this class Martha and I were teaching ourselves Creole (I know, scary) which was going okay but we felt like having some instruction from a Haitian teacher would help us excel faster, and we were right.  Also, it is just nice having someone who speaks English explain the idiosyncrasies of the Haitian language that are hard to gather from a phrase book.  The more Creole I learn, the more I discover how much I still have yet to learn.  Of course it is impossible to learn everything in three weeks but this course is a great start.

Today we will take a quiz about common Creole verbs.  Dun..dun…dun.  We are definitely adjusting to being back in “school” and having to study and everything.  Although we have only been in Haiti two months, it is easy to see why these verbs made it on the “common” list.  I thought I would share with you some of these common verbs and how I have seen them in action in Haiti.

Netwaye – to clean
Haitians are clean people and keep other things clean as well.  If this is surprising to you then perfect!  This means we’re changing your perception of Haiti.  Yes, Haiti is poor and dusty in some ways, but it is clean in others.

It is almost guaranteed that any of my co-workers, on any given day, will be wearing a shirt that is more clean, more white, and more crisp than mine.  I’m not sure how they do it, but they do.  This can be translated to any piece of clothing really.  Recently I was sitting in the reception area of our office and a colleague came up and told me that my shoes were too dirty.  Looking down, I agreed with her.  They didn’t look the best but I thought the “kicking off of the dust” I had down that morning was sufficient.  Oh no.  She immediately told me to get 5 goudes (local currency) and follow her.  At this point I had little choice!  She took me outside our office, across the street, and sat me down in front on a shoe shiner.  A couple minutes later, my shoes were WAY cleaner and we all had a laugh at the difference.

Pote – to bring or to carry
A non-exhaustive list of things I have seen Haitians carry: tires, propane gas tanks, children, rice bags, water, produce, chickens, goats.  Wheel barrows are often used to transport cider blocks, concrete, dirt, etc.  Also, many of the women who are part of the “informal” economy carry their products each day to the marketplace or throughout their neighborhood.  These women have some serious stamina.  While balancing heaps of bananas, mangoes, charcoal, cosmetics, clothing, and anything else of marketable value on their heads, they scramble up steep inclines and dodge traffic.  Although tap taps (public buses) are a common form of transportation, many people rely on their own two legs to get around and bring or carry whatever they need to wherever they are going.

Ranje – to arrange, to fix, or to repair
Haitians are very resourceful!  I can definitely learn from this resourcefulness since I come from a country where we are taught to simply “throw it out and buy a new one.”  There are men here who sharpen knives.  They walk around carrying their tools in a small box and ring a bell to let everyone know they are nearby.  Another example are the cars in Haiti.  Many cars here look tired and worn out, but they keep running!  Last week a car was broken down near our apartment and a couple guys were crowded around the engine.  Martha and I were walking home from the market and as we were passing they were revving the engine and piles of black smoke came out of the exhaust.  It didn’t sound good.  We continued walking past and as we turned to go up the hill towards our home the car caught and kept running.  Soon they were off again.

Lapriyè – to pray
From my short time in Haiti, I can already see how Haitian Christians are fervent prayers.  Each morning, the staff in the World Concern office gather together for prayer.  We always sing a song and then one person is asked to pray.  Everyone gets in a circle and holds hands.  The person praying prays for what seems to me like half an hour!  In reality it is more like a few minutes, but still much longer than Westerners tend to pray.  Everything is covered during the prayer; nothing is left out.  In addition to the length, another observation is that the words spoken seem to have authority.  The power of prayer is not taken lightly, and it feels very genuine.  I like the authenticity.

So you can see we are learning a lot about the language but also we are learning more and more about Haiti and its’ people.  Although some days I want to pull my hair out because of one thing or another, we are content; and that is a nice place to be.

Becoming a doormat

The man himself; probably thinking up his next punchline.

The man himself; probably thinking up his next punchline.

Like many others, I really enjoy reading Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest.” This book filled with short daily devotions challenge and convicts me.  I remember first being introduced to it by my wife Martha while we were working together in Holland, before we were even dating.  After picking it up, I immediately noticed that this book had so much more meat and substance than any other book on spiritual growth I had read before.  Honestly, some days I find it too “meaty” and I have no idea what he is talking about but most of the time the words on the page speak volumes.  The latter happened recently while reading the entry on February 25.  It is entitled The Delight of Sacrifice (you should probably just read the whole thing–the link will take you there).  I love the titles he gives each entry because you know you are about to be blown away.  His writing style is so unapologetic and to the point and I think that is partly why I am so attracted to it.  I, and we, at times need to be told flatly “wake up!” and Chambers’ does that well.

Do you ever find it hard or unnatural to always do what you know you should do with joy?  Before I go farther I should throw in a disclaimer and say I am not at all sad or unhappy.  I simply want to serve with more joy and thought of sharing with you what I am learning.  Anyway, have you ever answered yes to this question?  I have and I must not be alone because Chambers hits this question right on the head.

The first line of this entry reads, “Once ‘the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit,’ we deliberately begin to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ’s interests and purposes in others’ lives (Romans 5:5).”  Okay, I am supposed to align myself with Christ and His interests in people; heard that one before.

Wasting no time at all Chambers continues, “And Jesus has an interest in every individual person. We have no right in Christian service to be guided by our own interests and desires. In fact, this is one of the greatest tests of our relationship with Jesus Christ.”  No right?  Zero, zilch?  He is quickly going deeper and touching something inside of me that I didn’t necessarily want to touch!    Why don’t I want to hear these words?  Self-interest and preservation; that bit of human innateness which tugs at each of us and sounds really nice and even looks really good but also has the ability to destroy relationships and even ourselves.

I wonder how many of us, myself included, want to follow Jesus but on our own terms with our desires leading the charge.

Chambers continues to drive in his point.  “Many of us are interested only in our own goals, and Jesus cannot help Himself to our lives. But if we are totally surrendered to Him, we have no goals of our own to serve. Paul said that he knew how to be a ‘doormat’ without resenting it, because the motivation of his life was devotion to Jesus.”

Am I a doormat?  Am I finding delight in laying myself down for others?  These questions continue to ring in my head and the more I examine my heart, I think I have some room to grow.

I enjoy what I have chosen to do with my life.  I believe in the cause of global development.  I am excited to be a part of what World Concern is doing in Haiti (a little plug).  I try my best to be kind to colleagues and neighbors.  I look for opportunities to encourage others.  But these things are not enough on their own.  In order to experience success in my work and complete joy in my service I must become more like a doormat.  Simply, Chambers says this can be achieved when one is in love.

“Freedom was not Paul’s motive at all. In fact, he stated, ‘I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren . . .’ (Romans 9:3). Had Paul lost his ability to reason? Not at all! For someone who is in love, this is not an overstatement. And Paul was in love with Jesus Christ.”

If I start with love and focus on serving Jesus first, then what seems like an unnatural act—always doing what I do with joy—will eventually start to feel more natural.  This process will make me healthier spiritually, and allow me to bless others so much more than if I tried to do it on my own.

Are you a doormat today?