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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In my free time...

 ... I prepare lesson plans, gather materials for class activities, write exams, grade exams, and do all the chores that keep a Haitian household running, things like shopping at the outdoor market, pumping water by hand, washing clothes by hand, killing cockroaches and so on. I also have great fun in my free time.

Mexican dinner on the roof. Stunning performances of Cinderella. Solitary expeditions along the river. Evening hikes up the mountain to watch the sunset.




Sunday, October 19, 2014


When I got home yesterday, the first thing my neighbor said was, "Someone at church died."

The"someone" was Nordy, a young man with fantastic dreadlocks who runs the sound system for our church. Nordy was shy but we all loved when he would ask for a microphone and break out into his own spontaneous worship songs. Now he's dead, from a car accident, they say.

I came upstairs and opened a document titled "Death" that I'd written in June and decided not to post. It reads as follows:

When I lived in the US, hearing about someone dying was a rare occurrence. My grandmother passed away when I was 8. After that, it was 5 years until death touched me again when the supervisor at my volunteer position died without telling anyone he was sick.  
Perhaps it’s because my years in the US were as a child, a teen and a college student. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own world to hear when a neighbor or a classmate lost someone. Perhaps I didn’t notice because we don’t grieve openly or wear mourning clothes in the US like many other countries do.
Whatever the reason, I have been stunned again and again at how common death is in Haiti. In the past 2 weeks, a lot of people have died. Our nurse Wisline’s nephew died. Our nursing assistant, Samuela, lost her 37 year-old sister. Aussidieu, a neighbor in Jubilee, lost his 3 year-old nephew. An elderly patient in our blood pressure program passed away. My next-door neighbor lost her 27 year-old nephew after spending 2 months at the hospital with him. And JB, our other nursing assistant, found 3 unknown babies dead, half burned in the trash.  
All that in 2 weeks.
As I sit on my porch, writing this blog post, I can hear, very clearly, a woman mourning on my block. I don’t know who she is or who died, but I know Haitian custom enough to know that what I’m hearing right now is the first grief, the initial response to the news that a loved one has passed. Add this death to the count.
So much death makes me melancholy. But it also makes me value life more than I ever have. In this place where death is so real and so close, I find myself frequently whispering a prayer, "Thank You, Father, that I am alive."
I want it to change, of course. I fairly rage inside at the news of someone dying from an easily preventable disease. But I keep remembering the lesson I learned after the earthquake, that death is not the worst thing that can happen and that it does not in any way mean that God wasn't with us, and I wonder if perhaps the Haiti way isn't the more natural way to live. Maybe we should all live with death only a breath away. Maybe we should all live with our eyes a little wider open, seeing the preciousness of each day. Maybe death is actually a gift buried deep in grief.
Only He knows. So I sit on the porch, listen to my neighbor wail, and trust that He knows.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Darline and Angela

I first met Darline about 18 months ago when her grandmother brought her to our malnutrition program at Klinik Jubilee. She was skinny and weak but what struck me most was her disposition. Most malnourished kids have this empty, almost expressionless look, but Darline looked utterly forlorn.
Months of MedikaMamba helped her nutritional status, and then we enrolled her in Jubilee School. She has gotten healthier and stronger, but her chronic sadness hasn't gone away. Whenever I see her, she is wearing a face of rejection and loneliness that is just heart-breaking. I have seen our preschool teachers succeed in making her smile, but until recently I had never seen her act carefree and truly childlike.

A few days ago, Darline showed up at the door of my classroom. She was silently sad, as usual, nodding or shaking her head in response to my first questions, but then just standing, downcast, staring at the white tile floor. I tickled her, I kissed her, I told her about Katie's pet rabbit.
And then a little voice piped up from the path in front of clinic. "Darline, come on!"
It was Angela, the 5 year old daughter of our school cleaning lady. Darline lifted her head, a huge smile lit up her face, and she fairly danced across the rocks and dirt to meet her friend. They threw their arms about each other and traipsed off together.
I may have started crying.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My graduates

There's something really special about walking into clinic and realizing that all the staff working in the front room are graduates of my program. Of course, I loved and was proud of our first NAs who had learned from Martha, the nurse who founded the classes that I teach, but there's something different about looking at 2 people who came into my class knowing nothing and to see them now giving advice about hypertension prevention, doing dressing changes, testing urine, weighing babies, and filling out admission forms. It's my "Proud Mama" moment of the day, every day.