Monday, January 12, 2015

Back to paradise

During Christmas vacation, I brought my friends to Zanglais, the beach retreat center on the south side of the island where I used to take the youth group every year. I thought perhaps time and distance had exaggerated the beauty of the spot in my mind, but when we arrived, it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.
A long sandy beach with marvelous waves. Lawns of real grass. A gazebo for playing cards and making music. Delicious meals cooked by local staff. A small mountain peninsula overlooking the bay. Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

There are no photos to capture the magic of the daily excursions I went on, clambering up the steep mountains behind the retreat center, through stream beds and past natural springs, over cow pastures and under mango trees, along little paths used only by goats. I saw flowers that I've never before seen in Haiti and got stuck in thick vines under a canopy of trees. Trees! The Gonaives side of the island has been thoroughly deforested, leaving us with desert, but at Zanglais, 3 hours south of Port-au-Prince, you can still find remnants of the natural jungle that this country used to be. My hikes were the most joyful and invigorating hours of each day.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Christmas traditions

My all-time favorite thing about Christmas is caroling. The only thing I don't like about caroling is how cold your toes get after an hour of standing in front of neighbors' houses and singing. The obvious solution is to do your caroling in a warmer location, a location such as, I don't know, maybe Haiti? 
We drove around town in the big blue truck and visited the homes of some of the Jubilee School teachers, as well as some of my neighbors. Christmas caroling is not a tradition in Haiti, so people were a little confused and embarrassed but overall, they seemed thrilled. I particularly loved being able to do something special for the teachers just to let them know that their hard work and dedication to the children of the slums is not overlooked.

We even got a huge grin out of "The Big Man", our grumpy neighbor. I call that a successful evening.

"We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!"

Sunday, January 4, 2015

"He looks just like you!"

The highlight of the month of December was when Judes, our 4th grade teacher, broke his jaw. OK, it wasn't really the jaw breaking that was the highlight; it was the fact that my younger brother decided to come to Haiti for 3 weeks to substitute teach!  
Barnabas taught English, math, and Bible to 14 rowdy 4th graders, ranging in age from 9-16. His Haitian co-teacher, Wilkens, taught French, Creole, and social studies.
In his free time, Barn went adventuring with me, sometimes accompanied by the teenage girls, Bess, Kara and Emma, who loved and hated having a teasing "big brother" presence.
He also tutored a few children who used to attend Jubilee School and have been transferred to Haitian schools. He helped out with gym classes and with the planning and practice for the school Christmas program. Barn is fluent in French and he had picked up a lot of Creole on his past visits to Haiti, so he was instantly popular. The kids were always playing with him and talking with him and climbing all over him.

Everywhere we went, people immediately asked me, "Miss Keziah, is that your brother?" When I answered in the affirmative, the response was always the same: "I knew it because he looks just like you." I thought it was pretty sweet until one day we were all out with our German friends and a lady asked if Aaron, a 22 year old German intern, was my brother. Before I could answer, the lady smiled knowingly and said, "He looks just like you."

Barn left at Christmas break and the kids have been asking me daily when he's coming back. They are very disappointed when I explain that he has a job in America and so he won't be able to come back. But if this job doesn't work out, we've always got a spot for you here, Barn!



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Haiti is the best country"

Last night I was shooting the breeze with my adult neighbors, Bradley and Ketsia. It was a beautiful windy evening and most of the houses on our street didn't have electricity, so everyone was outside. Children were running around, teens were gossiping, and adults were drinking a beer or buying food from the restaurant next door.
Out of the blue, Ketsia asked me, "Do you think Haiti is a good country?" I gave my standard response about every nation having its positives and negatives, and then she interrupted me. "I think Haiti is the best country! The best country!" she declared emphatically. Beside her Bradley nodded furiously. "That's right," he chimed in. "Everyone in the US thinks that Haitians are constantly miserable because we are poor, but it's not true. Our life is good and we are happy."
I've thought about what Bradley and Ketsia said. Life in Haiti is good and people are happy, but what makes the goodness and the happiness so remarkable is the fact that they exist in the face of such poverty and oppression. It's easy for me to be happy with a full stomach, a comfy bed and the security of a job, but what if I were hungry, unemployed and sleeping on a piece of cardboard in a mud and stick hut?

Of course, not all Haitians are in that level of poverty, but they all face financial and health needs that I could never imagine as an American. And yet overall, I see many more smiles every day than frowns, hear much more laughter than weeping, see more rejoicing than complaining. Maybe Ketsia's right; maybe Haiti really is the best country.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I am not a missionary

Meet Rony.
Rony is one of the men I am training to replace me. Of the many reasons why I chose him, his strong faith in God and commitment to his family were high on the list.
Two weeks ago, Rony's 11 year old daughter was hospitalized with vomiting and diarrhea, a common ailment in Haiti. Rony came to work looking flustered and distracted so I sent him back to his family. His daughter died the next day.
I was shocked and sad and angry. We live in the 21st century; no child should die of vomiting and diarrhea! I let God hear my anger at the injustice of such an event, especially to a man as godly and gentle as Rony.
My other TA's went with me to visit Rony. We sat in plastic lawn chairs in his one room house; Rony sat on the only bed. He recounted to us in detail everything that happened leading up to his daughter's passing. He told us with pride how his daughter loved to cook for him at night, and how the other children used to tease her about being dad's favorite. 
Her little twin sister sat on her dad's lap. "I'm cold, Daddy," she whispered. He gave her one of his button-down shirts and she draped herself in it. His 12 year old son slipped in and sat on the bed by his father, silently weeping. 
Then Rony smiled at us. "Remember what Job said? 'The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' My girl is dead, but I trust God. He knows what He's doing; He knows why He let us have 11 years with her. Yes, if I can praise Him when things are good, I have to also be able to praise Him when things are bad too." He nodded and said with conviction, "Because of all this, I am going to love God more than I ever have."
I am not a missionary. My Haitian co-workers and friends are the missionaries.  From them, I learn that trusting in God is not circumstantial. From them, I learn how to pray in every situation. From them, I learn what faith really is. I do not teach them; they teach me.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It really has been hot

I know it was hot this summer, and I've suspected that our autumn temperatures have been hotter than usual too. I found confirmation of my hunch in an unusual place: the egg basket.
The last 3 times that my roommate and I have bought a flat of eggs, we have discovered anywhere from 2 to 8 eggs in each batch that have been essentially hard-boiled by the sun. I'm not joking or exaggerating. When you crack open the egg, it looks like it's been in boiling water for a few minutes.
I won't show you photos or try to describe the eggs we've also purchased recently that are rotten. I'll leave that up to your imagination.
I've been told that there is some sort of natural protective coating that American eggs lose in the cleaning process which makes them require refrigeration, while here in Haiti, our eggs are un-cleaned and therefore able to be stored anywhere. I buy my eggs on the street, from a lady who has a dozen flats of eggs, just sitting in the sun. I've bought my eggs that way for years, but I have never encountered sun-boiled eggs before.
I think this means I'm right. It really has been hot.