Haiti Revisited

Going backward in time describing my trip has allowed me time to mull over my thoughts about Haiti. What did I want to say about Haiti this time (I visited there for the first time one year ago.) What did I think about Haiti? And then my friend posted this wonderful piece of writing about the dreams and disparity that you see in Haiti. THAT’S how I felt! She voiced it so much better than I could.

When I go to Haiti, I tend to be overwhelmed by everything. The heat! The humidity! The electricity is off! The masses of people everywhere trying to sell stuff on the sidewalk. How can any of them make enough money to live when there are so many trying to sell the same thing? The dust! The despair that I see on so many faces. The traffic! The little trucks on their very last legs packed with people like sardines in a can–how can they even breath in there? The “roads.” The slums. The LANGUAGE. I can’t understand a word they are saying. (LOL, sometimes I can’t even understand when they are speaking to me in English…)

And yet. And yet….

There are flashes of brilliance. Of greatness. Spending time with a man who serves God like none I’ve ever experienced before. Pastor Gilbert is our host when we go to Haiti. He has an SUV and two cell phones. Every day as we traveled back and forth to the villages with him, we had traveling companions with us. He would be giving a ride to this or that person. Drop them off at their work corner. Get them down the road a ways. Taking them along on his journeys so he could talk to them and instruct them. Bringing them along to experience the small villages. Delivering a bit of food or some supplies. Constantly taking or making calls (presumably to arrange these pick ups and drop offs, and fielding other requests.) Providing a word of wisdom or encouragement. And if they happened to still be in the car when he arrived home, ALWAYS, a big plate of rice and beans for them before they returned to their own home. His life is God’s life.

And now, the trip. As we arrived in Haiti, Pastor Gilbert met us at the exit and took us to his car, where there were (of course) two other women that he was giving a ride to! One was an animated American who CAME TO HAITI ON VACATION EVERY YEAR BECAUSE SHE LOVED IT. What the what???? No comprehendo. I’m still mulling that one over.

This is one of my favorite pictures. Because it is so typical of my brother. This is Pastor Gilbert and my brother trying to order a plain cheese pizza at a huge fast food joint that we went to on our first night there. It was quite the ordeal trying to explain that to the young clerk.

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This place was huge, and had a number of different types of food offered. Maybe like one of the food courts in our American malls? I wish I had gone around the corner and seen the Haitian chicken before I ordered my “steak sandwich.” I told my brother later that it was tasty, but there was no discernible steak in it! Tasty french fries though.

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The next morning, as we headed to Carrefour Poy, I was surprised to see that much of the tent cities were cleared out. I hadn’t expected that big of a change in one year.

And then we came upon these little pastel block houses that had been built at the location of one of the tent cities!

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This is just a typical scene of the street vendors. They are everywhere—city, country, and on the major roads in between.

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And then we arrived at Carrefour Poy. My friend Claudel gave me a tour of the classrooms. It was Friday, and I think the kids were in high spirits because it was a half day.

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The well that was installed in the church yard is constantly in use.

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One of “my” girls, Ketlyn.

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And the other, Elvena. Elvena was home sick, but somehow Claudel sent word for her to come to the school to see me. Its a mystery to me how they communicate out there in the middle of nowhere.

Alvena’s mom has died, and her dad is supposedly the voodoo priest in the town. What he really is is a man who has fried his brain on alcohol. I worry about her. But it does seem she has a stepmother who cares about her, because she has been well-dressed and well-groomed each time I’ve visited.

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The main purpose of our trip: my brother presented a “seminar” on hog management in each of three villages. It cracks me up how they “do business” in Haiti. The seminar is supposed to start at 9. We show up about 9:10. No one is there. Pastor Gilbert hangs around outside for a while, and pretty soon people start appearing (again with the mysterious mode of communication in the boonies.) And then we start about 10.

My brother always spoke from the Bible for a few minutes, and then got into the hog management aspect. What he does is so far removed from what they do in Haiti, we wondered if there were anything he could offer them. But by the third seminar, it did seem that he had some very practical suggestions for them. I was so proud of my brother for doing this. Just going to Haiti was so far out of his comfort zone.

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While my brother spoke, I stitched on one of my little travel quilts. I had put together some “quilt kits” to share in case anyone expressed any interest. Two different women started watching me, and so I gave each one of them a kit. One of them happened to be my favorite teacher from our previous trip to Haiti (she helped us with the shoe giveaway) so I was very happy about that. It turned out that the other woman was also a teacher! She opened her kit right away, and we sat and stitched companionably for about an hour!

On Sunday we returned to Carrefour Poy for church. It happened to be their 18 year church anniversary, so they had decorated the church with streamers.

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Church is so special to these people. They all dress in their very best. There is no glancing at watches to see if the service will be over soon. They are there to worship!

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My friend Claudel. He is the young man I mentioned in this post. 

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He was so excited to show me the construction that he had started on his new home.

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And for your amusement, (and to show that I’m not ALWAYS a whiny American baby,) here’s one of the “bathrooms” that I visited. I don’t think its used too often because the “toilet” (brick hole) was a little covered in cobwebs. A nice young woman did hold the “door” closed for me as it was quite breezy that day!

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One of the young pastors we met asked me “do you love Haiti?” To which I replied “I love the people of Haiti.” I thought to myself as the trip neared its end, I don’t think I’ll come back again. But now as I write this, I know that Haiti is an important part of my Christian pilgrimage, and that I will indeed return again someday to Haiti.

 

Perspective

I know a fine young man in Haiti. He aspires to be a pastor one day. And a lawyer, because pastors don’t get paid in Haiti.

This is his house.

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This picture is burned in my memory. I remember wondering at the time if he could even stretch out full length to sleep at night.

I live in a 650 square foot house (soon to be 870 SF!)–small in American estimations. One day when I was struggling with a financial decision (could I afford to be “generous” in this certain situation?) I came around the bend in the road and saw my house. And it looked HUMONGOUS. Perspective.

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Would it surprise you to know that much of the time I still think of myself as fat–as no different than that 255 pound woman from 9 years ago?

And then one day, while rifling through my closet looking for something nice to wear, I came upon the only pair of “fat pants” that I kept.

DSCN0714 Perspective. Its a good thing.

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Full Circle Moment

The other day I was looking for something completely different, and I came across this blog entry from September 2011, and was surprised to see that at the end of it, I mentioned having just heard about Wendy’s idea to start a child sponsorship program in Haiti. I’m re-posting it here for your convenience. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the ‘full circle moment.)

Shoes

This is a photo essay from my trip to Africa last January that I never published.  As is obvious, I like shoes.  I was so touched by the shoes these little kids from the slums wore.  It was obvious to me, that even though this was a “soccer tournament,” most of these little kids were dressed in their best clothes for the American visitors.  Some of the little girls had a real sense of style and did the best with what they had.  You can see in the last photo that the pile of shoes that we brought with us was definitely the most popular with the soccer coaches, even though there was a whole roomful of sports equipment and clothing strewn about.

So last week I was at a meeting at church, and a young couple, who I admire very much, each had an idea for ministry that I got very excited about.  The husband happens to work at the same University hospital that I worked at, and he said that on a recent trip to the downtown area, he noticed the shoes of a homeless woman, and thought to himself that no one should have to wear shoes like that.  So he had the idea to collect good comfortable walking shoes and take them to homeless people on his lunch break!

Then his wife shared that she had been trying to figure out how we could set up a sponsorship program for the kids in a church in Haiti that our church has partnered with!

Both of these ideas are things that I feel passionately about.  Just that day I had been feeling so lost–what am I doing that is worthy? etc.  I know that there are some things volunteer-wise that I want to do that require the use of my hands, so that will have to wait until after I have my right hand surgery done.  But these two things are things I can do now!  I was so excited after that night.

 And here I am, a little over a year later, helping to distribute shoes to the kids in Haiti:
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A Different Perspective.

How funny that my blog friend Helen should write about perspective at the same time I was thinking about this. And my old blog friend Lynn wrote such a good post that also gave me some input to how I was feeling about my trip to Haiti. (BTW, Wendy wrote a really great overview of our trip with some great pics here.)

So here’s a few of the things I was feeling on my trip to Haiti.

  • Frustration. I can’t solve this problem. EVEN OPRAH WINFRY CAN’T SOLVE THIS PROBLEM. (I actually thought that…) I also get frustrated at “rich Americans” who can seemingly turn a blind eye to the problems of the poor and needy in our world. I call it flipping the channel. We all see it–the devastation that poverty and injustice brings to people all over the world– on television. But if you can’t stand looking at it, you can always just flip the channel. This is where Lynn’s poignant article about the ant farm comes in, describing a little boy who grew to love the ants in his ant farm as he watched them working, and then was devastated as he saw his friends stomping on some ants. Lynn made the observation that you cannot love what you do not know.
  • Disconnect. I felt disconnected from the process. I even felt disconnected from God, which was VERY irritating. I didn’t have the passion that Wendy was feeling. Like Lynn mentioned in the comments about how she felt from a distance (“punched in the gut”) when we ran out of shoes, Wendy was VERY upset about that. I was just pragmatic. I had hoped we would have enough, but the common sense side of me knew we didn’t have quite enough shoes with us, even if every pair had fit every child. Like I told Wendy, “there are 200 kids here, we would have had to have about 400 pairs of shoes to ensure we had exactly the right size for every kid.” That said, I have to admit that I was wrong before we left–those kids have big feet! They are not very big people, so I thought we needed more smaller sized shoes. We will be sending another suitcase soon with larger shoes.

So. The frustration I can get over. I even wrote about it here. You know, that old starfish story. I can’t help everyone, but I can help this one that I see.

The disconnect, that took a little longer to work through. Its funny the ways God chooses to speak to you. Well, at least the ways He chooses to speak to me… a friend called who had actually been to both the places that I have been (Nairobi and Haiti) so she knew in person what I had seen. That helped a little. A sermon by David Platt that I watched on video gave me a few more insights. Then, Saturday night, I watched a YOU TUBE video (and I cannot recommend this video to you highly enough–it was amazing) and I found a different perspective.

The youtube video was an amazing one-man play called C.S. Lewis: My Life’s Journey. It was so well done. The actor portrayed C.S. Lewis sitting and and actually talking to a group of writing students. When he talked about his wife, and the short time they had together, and how mad he was at her death, he said he finally realized that the three years they had together (she was expected to die in a few weeks and instead had a 3 year remission from bone cancer,) was a gift.

And that changed my perspective. The trip to Haiti was a gift. It went unbelievably smoothly. The difficult physical aspects (no electricity, sketchy running water, ? food) were all easy for me. None of us got sick. I saw one mosquito the whole time I was there, and NO spiders. (well, okay, I saw one small daddy long legs. I see more spiders than that in my own home in a couple of hours.) And this morning I finally put a couple of other things together. That personality trait that served me so well as a nurse, the ability to disconnect, was still in play. I always credited that as a gift, as I was able to be truly compassionate to my patients and their parents, and yet I could go home and not think about them on my days off. I believe that this is what allowed me to minister more whole heartedly to my patients without ‘burning out.’ So that hasn’t changed about me. Its not likely to change. That’s how God made me. And that is why, by Saturday morning, on my weekly talk with my brother, we could talk about making plans to return to Haiti.

P.S. I can’t leave the subject of Haiti without sharing my favorite memory with you. One of the little girls I sponsor is Elvena. Her mother is dead, and her dad is, well, just plain crazy (I’m quoting one of the locals.) So when I met her on Thursday, she was very shy, not too many smiles. On Friday, we walked around the village, and visited some of the sponsored kids in their homes. Out came Elvena, dressed in her new hot pink and coral Old Navy outfit! And by Sunday, when we went back to Carrefour Poy for church and our last visit, Elvena just kept hanging around me. Big smiles. Not wanting hugging or touching, just being around. And as we left Carrefour Poy (in the only car that even goes to that village!) it was just like a scene from a movie. There was Alvena, still in her colorful Old Navy outfit, running along behind, laughing and smiling and waving. And as we went on, she came to her road, and turned and ran on back to her home. I didn’t get my camera out for a picture, but I will never forget that. It was a gift.

P.S.S. If you want to see a slide show of my entire quilt exhibit “The Housetop Quilts,” go to my quilt blog, and there will be a link there.