Tag 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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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

 

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.

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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!”

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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

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Eloude & Loulou

Driving through Tapion.

Driving through Tapion.

In the coastal village of Tapion in southern Haiti lives a sweet, soft spoken woman named Eloude.  She and her husband Loulou have five children and have lived in Tapion for just over 15 years.

I first met Eloude and her family in June of this year.

In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy ripped through southern Haiti destroying more than 18,000 homes.  Eloude and Loulou’s home was left largely intact however the roof was completely destroyed.  World Concern helped them put on a new tin roof and also gave Eloude some cash to get her small business up and running again.

This was a family that left an impression.  Honestly not everyone does.  I meet many people and some interactions are impactful and others are indifferent.  However their relaxed and inviting nature, coupled with good conversation is what made the difference.

Eloude and Loulou outside their home.

Eloude and Loulou outside their home.

Well last week I got to visit Eloude and Loulou again which was awesome.  Martha and I were traveling with a colleague from Seattle and a couple donors from California in the south and stopped to see them.

Four months on since I first met Eloude and Loulou they are doing okay.  All five of their kids are attending school this year at the national school down the road which they’re proud of.  They are also adding on to their house slowly.  Eloude continues to run her small business on the road in front of their house selling pate, a popular Haitian snack, and other items.

Several years ago Loulou received a cow from World Concern through an animal husbandry project.  At the time he decided to sell his cow and use the income to purchase a motorcycle which he uses to this day as a moto taxi; giving rides to people from Tapion to the city of Les Cayes which is the largest in southern Haiti.  This consistent source of income is huge for the family.

“It [income] allows me to send my kids to school and give them food,” explained Loulou.

Although the motorcycle is still serving him well, Loulou said that people prefer to ride newer moto taxis so that’s a challenge for him.

“They say mine is granmoun,” he chuckled.  Granmoun is the word typically used to describe an elder or older person.

This family is an example of how World Concern stays involved with people over time.  Dips in private giving and grant cycles that inevitably end are challenges of course but the goal is to continue to invest in the same families and communities, and it’s encouraging to see that play out in the life of Eloude and Loulou.

As I revisit people and churches and communities that I’ve been to previously it brings a lot of joy to see relationships form.  My Creole is far from perfect but improving (albeit slowly) which really opens up lots of doors relationally which is exciting.  Not sure when I’ll see Eloude and Loulou again but I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Eloude, sporting her huge smile, and her children.

Eloude, sporting her huge smile, and her children.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

Home Sweet Home

Three weeks ago we arrived in Port-au-Prince to a warm welcome by a couple of our colleagues and to our new home.  Today I wanted to share some photos with you of our home and give you a glimpse into our life here.  First of all, we are truly blessed with a wonderful place to live.  Thanks for all the prayers on our behalf leading up to our arrival in Haiti regarding housing.  We were hoping to find a place that was furnished and close to work and that’s just what we have now!  Happy reading:)

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The bathroom tile brings a lot of vibrancy to the apartment!  It is definitely that most colorful room in our home.

 

We are fortunate enough to have a small patio off the kitchen which is really nice.  This is a shot of it looking out from the doorway.  As you can see it gets lots of afternoon sun which is great for drying laundry.  Port-au-Prince is very dense, so there are plenty of other homes around us.  The background in the picture below is a little blurry but you are looking at mountains.  Straight ahead, at the top of the mountain, is Boutelliers, a well known look out point.  Plenty of beauty here in Haiti!

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House photos3You’re looking at our mop bucket and washing machine!  It also serves as our floral decoration.  The property where we are living does have a washing machine (the real kind) but often it doesn’t work.  That means we’re left to do it by hand.  We don’t mind it too much, it is just a really good workout.  Haitian women do it almost daily!  Impressive.

House photos6Breakfast of champions!  The one cereal you can probably find anywhere in the world.  Also one of the many dried goods you can buy on the street here in Port-au-Prince.  We found little packages of granola at one store that we sprinkle on top for some added flavor.  There are dairy products in Haiti such as yogurt, milk, and cheese.  However much of this is imported and therefore quite pricey even by North American standards.  I did learn recently from a friend in Haiti that dairy cows do exist in country.  According to an Oxfam newsletter in 2009, there are an estimated 270,000 milk producing cows in Haiti, mostly owned by individual farmers who may have 1-3 cows.  That number is pre-earthquake, so it could be different now.  Anyway, a bit of random information for you.  We are learning new things all the time!  All that to say that Martha and I use dried milk because it is cheaper and isn’t too bad actually.    Corn flakes and dried milk make for a quick breakfast and also save on stove gas since we don’t need to cook anything.

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Although our apartment includes everything we need, we had to bring along a couple things of ours to make it feel homey.  This map shows places where we have each visited and reminds us of our great friends and family spread across the world.
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The closet!  No story for this one, just part of the little tour.

 

 

 

Language has honestly been a real challenge for us since arriving.  English is not widely spoken in Haiti, which means we have plenty to learn! Our French is coming along however needs a lot of work.  We are also trying to learn Haitian Creole.  Yes, we experience many brain freezes.  In order to help us learn vocabulary, we have taped little pieces of paper around the house with the items name in both French and Creole.  I think its working..however I’m not sure why I remember fork but always forget soap.  Maybe I need to shower more?

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Oh ants.  Martha grew up in Philippines, another tropical country, so she is an AMAZING resource to have around regarding things like dust, bleach, sunshine, and..ants.  These seemingly pathetic critters are actually quite fierce (Martha’s laughing right now).  They can detect any piece of edible material that I’m pretty sure humans cannot even see; and then they tell their friends about it.  The picture to the right shows you one remedy when ants get into stuff.  You put a little water in a tub, then put a plate on top of a bowl for example with whatever the ants got into on the plate (in our case, sugar).  For whatever reason, the ants come out of the bag of sugar and run off the plate into the water!  I don’t get it, but it works.

Ant pow wow..planning their attack (look close).

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Rice and beans are definitely staples in Haiti.  Here are some veggies that we’ve been adding to our rice and bean concoctions lately.  The reason they are in the dish rack is because we just sanitized them with bleach water.  You don’t know where the veggies have been, so its just an extra precaution we take.  Many things you can find on the street from one of the many women selling veggies and everything else you can imagine. At least 70% of Haitians (l’ve heard its more like 90%) earn their income from the ‘informal’ economy.  The market women are part of that demographic.

Food is not cheap in Haiti; and due to Hurricane Sandy a few months ago which destroyed around 70% of the countries crops, prices have been on the rise.  The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has estimated that 2.1 million people in Haiti will face severe food insecurity in 2013.  That is around one fifth the country’s population.  Obviously this has a huge impact on Haitian family’s ability to put food on the table.  Thankful each day for the food we’re blessed with.

Well that’s the tour.  I hope you have a little better idea of what life is like for us here in Port-au-Prince.  We are still adjusting, but each day we are learning more (with the grace of God).  Haiti is an amazingly interesting and lively place.  Looking forward to sharing more with you in the coming months and years.

 

 

Investing in tomorrow

Sometimes you hear people refer to ‘seasons of life.’  This journey with World Concern is interesting because I feel like Martha and I are experiencing several small seasons within a relatively short amount of time.  As I look back on our journey thus far (primarily from the beginning of this year), I am reminded of some of these small seasons.  There was the season of preparing for our short trip to Haiti in June and then actually arriving and spending a week getting to know the people we will be working with and serving.  There was the season of travel in July, where we attended two family reunions and spent time with both of our families.

Well, today we begin another small season.  Martha and I arrived in Colorado Springs today where we will spend the next three weeks taking a course with Mission Training International (MTI).  This course is a “pre-field training program, which focuses on strengthening your skills for cross-cultural life and ministry.”  I would say that each of the small seasons we have experienced this year have, overall, strengthened and encouraged us as we prepare for full time ministry in Haiti.  I hope this will also be true of our time here in Colorado with MTI.

Before I go on, I have to tell you how awesome it is to be in Colorado again.  MTI has a really cool facility where we will be living and eating and learning for the next three weeks, that is nestled right up against the mountains.  What an amazing place to train, fellowship, and grow.   We are certainly blessed to be here.

Honestly, I was originally skeptical of how beneficial this training would be for us.  Not because it was not a solid program, but because at this point in our support raising process it is easy to place a higher priority on meeting with people over coffee and making phone calls to share about our work than spending time learning how to integrate into a new place.  Although I have only been here for an afternoon, I am glad to report that my skepticism is already wearing off.  I was reminded today, that it is equally important to invest in developing habits and learning skills now that will allow us to serve effectively for the long run.

There are a number of other individuals, couples, and families participating in this training as well.  We had our orientation meeting before dinner where we learned more about what the next three weeks will look like.  I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was to be assigned homework!  Martha and I have been up since 5 am and spent several hours on planes today so homework sounded like the last thing I wanted to do tonight.  I reluctantly opened my binder and flipped to the page that we were assigned.  The title is “An Inventory of My Spiritual Life.”  Not the first thing I would choose to explore after a long day!  However, as I began to read I realized how great these questions being asked are—questions about my prayer life, spiritual disciplines, and the role of scripture in my life.  Wow.  I must admit that in the busyness of life I probably would not take the time to consider these things.  So despite my original skepticism and tiredness, I am thankful for the opportunity to be here at MTI for the next three weeks.  This spiritual inventory will help me see where I am and where I can grow.  Hopefully in a couple more weeks I can say that I am at a stronger and healthier place spiritually than I was before.  If so, praise God.  I know that remaining healthy spiritually is what will sustain Martha and I whenever we do arrive in Haiti and begin our ministry.

 

Life renewed

As we left the southern city of Jacmel, we began climbing and making the jeep work harder than it had before.  The road quickly narrowed and remained that way as we worked our way further into the mountains.  This was day three of our short but affirming trip to Haiti in June.

It was early enough in the day where I was enjoying the adventure of the bumpy road.  Fifteen hours later, the driving was still adventurous but much less enjoyable for some reason (it turned out to be a long day)!  I learned early on in this trip that when we as an organization say we go to the hard places, it ins’t a joke.  Our group was visiting a community called Lavaneau , where World Concern had recently helped repair of water canal which had been damaged in a heavy storm four years earlier.  This canal carried water from a mountain source directly to the community and was the only source of water for the people in Lavaneau .  As we approached our destination, I noticed the dense vegetation and green landscape.  This is not a sight you expect to see in Haiti, where it is estimated that 98% of all land is deforested.  I was already feeling encouraged.

Jean Metelus describing what the canal has done for his community

We arrived in Lavaneau and were soon greeted by Jean Metelus, the President of the local community organization.  I enjoyed talking with this man.  He was serious, but welcoming.  He appeared to be well respected in the community and knew the World Concern staff members by name.  Jean explained that since the storm four years ago damaged the community’s water canal, they were forced to rely on inconsistent rainfall for all of their water needs.  This includes irrigation, cleaning, bathing, washing, cooking, drinking.  I was shocked.  Although I am new to Haiti, I know that rain is precious and not something people in rural areas see enough of.  Not having access to a consistent water source keeps a community from growing and thriving, and that is the situation people in Lavanneau found themselves in.

World Concern staff sat down with the community of Lavaneau and began discussing what needs they had.  It was clear that repairing the water canal was a main priority for many in the community.  As the project came to life, it was the people of Lavaneau who provided the input and manual labor needed to make the new water canal a reality.  World Concern provided the resources and the technical assistance, but the community owned this project.  This is how, together, we can change lives.  It was a powerful moment for me, to see how World Concern truly does operate with the community’s needs and desires in mind.

Now that the canal is finished and water is flowing in Lavaneau , life is returning.

“You may not have been here to see what it was like in our community before,” said Jean, “but now we have green land everywhere.”

“People are able to grow crops like beans and peppers, and now life is back.”

I was right to feel encouraged upon approaching Lavanneau .  The hard work and diligence of the people in Lavanneau partnered with the humility and talent of the World Concern staff resulted in a transformed community.

[vimeo 48599543]

Water is life.

 

 

 

 

 

I love this stuff! Learning about the canal from World Concern staff members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maurice Moises, a farmer in Lavaneau next to the canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new crop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, meetings, dinner parties – a week in review

This has been a full, yet fantastic week.  Martha and I are doing a pretty good job of balancing our day jobs with making preparations for Haiti, raising support, and touching up on some skills.  Some days are longer than others, but all in all we’re growing more affirmed in our future ministry and have been given all the strength we need to ‘keep on keeping on.’  I wanted to share a couple highlights from this past week with the hope of letting you see what our lives are like doing this time leading up to our departure for Haiti.

Martha and I have applied to receive support from our church here in Seattle.  This week we had our first ‘interview’ with some members from the mission committee.  It was encouraging to hear about the vision the church has regarding missions and how our work with World Concern fits into that.  Following some good conversation, we had the opportunity to pray together.  This was another reminder of how blessed we are to be a part of a solid community of believers.  The next step in this process is to make a presentation of our work to the entire committee in the near future.  Looking forward to that.

As you may or may not know, Martha and I have begun learning French.  We are using a software called “Tell Me More.”  We decided to go with a software option versus a class or tutor because of the low cost and flexibility.  In general we are pleased so far with the program and since we both enjoy language it has been fun.  The majority of Haitians only speak Creole.  Why then are we learning French?  Our Haitian supervisors and colleagues at the headquarter office in Seattle agreed that having a basic understanding of French would be helpful for the transition to learning Creole.  Additionally, some things like government documents in Haiti are often in French, so it will be valuable to understand the language for that reason.  Eventually we will focus exclusively on learning Creole with the end goal of becoming fluent.  We want to invest in our Haitian coworkers and neighbors, as well as do our best to share accurate and in depth stories of what World Concern is doing in Haiti, so really knowing the language is essential for us.  In addition to using the “Tell Me More” language software to learn French, we have been listening to French music and watching French movies.  This week we watched a French film called “The Class.”  It follows a classroom in urban Paris that consists of a diverse group of lower class students and highlights the issues they face.  Slow moving at times but I really recommend it.  We’re hoping simply hearing the language will help us pick it up quicker.  We’ll see!

One of our goals prior to arriving in Haiti is to really be present each day and build strong relationships with people here.  A way we are attempting to do this and at the same time tell more people about our future work is through dinner or dessert nights.  These informal, laid back events may be hosted at the home of a close friend or anywhere else that a friend of ours allows us ‘into their circle.’  Our friends Andrew and Tessa invited us to join their small group this week for dinner and to talk about what we are up to.  It was really fun meeting new people, hearing their stories, and sharing ours.  If this sounds like something you would be interested in hosting for us let us know!

So this was our week.  We are always amazed at the people God puts in our lives and how he provides for us.  Pressing forward in anticipation for what He has next.  Happy Easter:)

Oh and it was my (Austin) birthday this week!  How could I forget?  I think 26 is going to be a good one.