Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My plans for 2008-2009

I will be going to HFC when I first arrive in Haiti. I'll spend a week or two with the kids before moving to my new home on Delmas 75. There is a home for malnourished infants and toddlers where I will live along with two girls my age who work at the home and teach at a local school. Taking care of those kids will fill my free time, but my real job will be helping out with the Ravine medical ministry run by Christian Light Ministries and working with Dr Ed Amos in his clinic on Delmas 31. I will have weekends to visit HFC, go to the American church nearby (what a treat!) and see my friend Kim at Quisqueya Christian School, also just down the road.

I have committed to 3 months in this arrangement and after that, I will decide if I stay or go. Nikki's clinic in Merger will be opening around that time and I would love to move out to Merger to work with her but that mainly depends on how much experience I can get with Dr Ed and how prepared I feel to run a clinic 7 months after graduating from nursing school. There is no shortage of places I could work in Haiti so I'm not sweating it. I have options.

To be totally honest, I am rather nervous about going back. I have not met Dr Ed or Dorothy, the woman who owns the house where I will be living. We have communicated by email and we have mutual friends, but it's not the same. Anytime I start a new job and a new living situation, there is a whole period of adjustment and settling in. I hate that period! And not knowing what to expect makes me focus on the things that I know are inevitable in Haiti: the thirst, the shootings, the people constantly asking for money, the lack of transportation and freedom to be out on my own... All the things that I disliked about Haiti without the counterbalancing rewards of the children and my relationships with them. When I'm in a rational mood, I can convince myself that I will form new relationships that will be just as fulfilling and encouraging, but it definitely makes the prospect of going back a lot less exciting. I know myself and the God who accompanies me well enough to know that I just need to go and it will be fine, but truthfully, I am dreading it.

On top of all that, it's very strange to imagine going to Haiti and not staying at HFC. I've never been in Haiti and away from the kids for more than a week at a time and I know that it's going to be difficult. I have told a few of the kids straight out that I am not coming back to HFC long term and I have hinted at that to all of them, but I am pretty sure that none of them really grasp it or understand my reasons why. I want very badly for them to accept why I have decided to work elsewhere but I fear that they will just see it as another rejection, another person abandoning them. I will be living in the same city, but with the awful Haitian roads and traffic, I don't expect to make it to Bolosse more than once every few months. That's depressing.

So those are my plans and my state of mind. I haven't seen the kids in 4 months - the longest time I'm been away from them in 2 years - and I haven't spoken Creole in 4 months. I'm trying to get back in the Haiti swing of things but I'm not having much success. I think I need to eat a few mangos...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yet another set of tickets

It's that time again. I have tickets for Haiti. I'm arriving on September 11th and I'm not leaving until April 30th. Updates on what I will be doing while I'm there will be coming soon, I promise.

Just having fun

Camp wasn't all weeping and deep discussions about the Bible. A lot of the time, it was just plain old fun!

SailingWacky Olympics

Soccer every morning - I actually scored 3 goals over the whole summer. The HFC boys were very proud when I told them.

Extreme dodgeball

Ultimate frisbee, dominated by my buddy, the Super Amazing Indestructible Mario.

Hours of lifeguarding and swimming

Western night

Fancy banquets and lobster dinners (I don't like lobster)

A 100 foot water slide


The greatest tennis match ever played

Neither my partner nor I had ever played before. It was epic.

Capture the Flag

Pizza parties

Car wash

The candy store and my hugely popular wheelchair

The camp director's adorable children

Wild costumes

Hilarious lip synch

Silly skits

A luau


Days at the beach

Discount shopping for our baby brothers

And lots and lots of music.
Good times, good times.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Frenchies

If you've ever spent time in France, you will know that France is not a particularly religious place, especially Paris. Most of the French campers we get at Chop Point come from very wealthy families in the suburbs of Paris and they have no time for faith. They talk about God as a thing of their grandparents and being Christian really just means that they attend private Catholic schools instead of public ones. Many of them know stories from the Bible and have a basic understanding of who God is, but Jesus has no importance in their daily life.

One of the most exciting and challenging parts of the summer for me was leading Bible study with the French kids every other day. We would read scripture together, discuss it, pray together, sing sometimes, and answer whatever questions they had. With some groups of French kids, it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk about anything spiritual and I often felt like we were getting nowhere. But as the summer progressed, we saw little signs that our closed off Frenchies were learning something.

Gabrielle and Elsa were my biggest Bible enthusiasts. They had dozens of questions every day. How do you pray? What does it mean to praise God? Isn't it unfair that someone who lived without God their whole life would get the same eternal life as someone who has followed God for 100 years? What happens to someone like a rapist or a serial killer who asks for forgiveness? How can God forgive us over and over? On our last day of Bible discussion, Gabrielle asked when we were going to meet again. I told her that we had no more days of Bible time left and she freaked out. "Can we do Bible time in the vans tomorrow on the way to Freeport?" I won't say no to that! And at the airport, after 15 minutes of sobbing good-byes, it was Gabrielle who said, "I think we should all pray."

Baptiste was one of the kids who I thought daydreamed through the entire hour of Bible discussion. But he must have been listening at least a bit because in his good-bye letter to me, he gave me one of the greatest compliments I've ever gotten: "Kez, you are an example of God."

Augustin also seemed like one of the tougher kids to crack. He was always quiet during Bible time, but I was pretty sure that he only listened because he respected me, not because he had any interest in God. He left after 3 weeks and his close friend, Pichou, came for the next 3. Augustin sent me an email that said, "Kez, don't hesitate to share your faith with Pichou. I think that it will do him a lot of good, just like it has for me."

Louis, the boy who I call my French little brother, loved the Christian songs from Chop Point when he was there last year, so I mailed him a CD of them. He came back this year able to play several of them on his guitar! It was amazing to stand and sing with him on the beach or to lead the other Frenchies in songs about God. It was also sad to hear him singing them knowing that he didn't fully believe or mean what he was singing. He and I had many serious talks about what the songs mean and about my prayer that he will sing them in full sincerity one day. Like Augustin, Louis' main reason to pay attention during Bible time is his friendship with me and his desire to please me. He knows that Jesus is the center of my life and since he loves me, he is willing to listen when I talk about Jesus. I was deeply touched by his good-bye letter which read, "You know, in France I do a lot of sins that would shock here in America. Bible time with you gave me the opportunity to really think about that and yesterday in my bed, I confessed all of that to God for the first time."

It's just baby steps, but it's something. Watching them leave is doubly hard because of how much I will miss them but also because I don't know where they are going to hear about God once they are back in France. God is a big God and I believe that he will find a way to keep touching them. Even if it's years from now when they look back and remember how different camp felt from the pressure-filled, prejudiced society that they know in Paris. Whatever it is, whenever it is, I don't care. I just want my prayer for them to come true: "That you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." (Ephesians 3:17-18)

Mama Kez

One of my most poignant memories from Haiti is the first time that one of the children called me "Mom". It was a strange moment - beautiful to know that I had developed that sort of relationship with the kids, but sad too because I wasn't really their mother, either biologically or through adoption. I had been told since I was a preteen that I would be a great mother someday and in Haiti, "someday" arrived sooner than I thought it would. It was overwhelming but deeply fulfilling.

I had just over a year to get used to being a "mom" to the HFC kids when I started my first summer as the nurse at Chop Point Camp. One hundred and twenty 12-17 year-olds came from all over the United States, from France, Spain, Austria, and England to spend 3-6 weeks in a small town in rural Maine. I was their nurse, ready to hand out tylenol and ice sprained ankles, but I quickly discovered that hugs and a listening ear were the real necessities. It wasn't long before the staff gave me a new nickname: Mama Kez. Compared to the kids in Haiti, these campers have everything, but they too were looking for the kind of acceptance and caring that a mom gives. And somehow, they found it in my infirmary.

The French girls from the second 3 week session started calling me "Mama" after I yelled at them for not putting their seat belts on. The name stuck. I am the only staff member at Chop Point who speaks French, so I am their safety net, the person they come to when things get overwhelming or when they just need to talk to someone who understands, literally. Everyone at camp refered to them as "Kez's French kids", as if they really were my kids.

I got to know Lyndsey Labbe last year when I was a counselor and lifeguard. She would come sit on the dock with me and help me moor and de-rig the sailboats. This summer, during the 8 weeks that she spent at Chop Point, she cried on my shoulder more times than I can count. Her parents are recently divorced, her best friend had been talking about her behind her back, and her mother had to be hospitalized with a chronic illness for a week. For a while, Labbers called me Mama Kez, but she eventually dropped the Kez and just called me Mama.

Regina was our sole orphan. Her father died when she was 2 and her mother died 6 years later of breast cancer. Regina spent hours in the infirmary talking about everything going on in her life. Many evenings I had to physically remove her so she would go back to her cabin before lights out. Like Lyndsey, she dropped the Kez and called me Mama all summer.

15 year-old Tom was a surprise addition to the Mama Kez club. He started coming to the infirmary every evening just to talk. On one such evening, he told me that he had hated me last year but he didn't really know why. This summer though, he always wanted to have me at his table or in his group at activities. And he talked. He never revealed anything very personal but on 2 occasions, he cried without explaining why. I still don't know exactly what he was looking for in those late night talks or what is troubling him, but I was his stepsister and his mom for 4 weeks so hopefully some of the things I told him about God's love will stick with him.

Little Baptiste from France was horribly homesick for his first week at camp. At least twice a day, someone would call me down to talk to Baptiste and I would just hug him while he tried (often unsuccessfully) not to cry. Things turned around by the second week and he ended up having a wonderful stay. When I took him to security at the airport on the last day, he sobbed the whole way and kept walking back through security to give me another hug. "I don't understand, Kez," he whispered. "At first I was so sad to not be with my mom and dad, but now I am so sad to be leaving you and my counselor Jon." He was our baby.

Thibault was one of my special kids who came from France two years in a row. I nicknamed him "Mon Soleil" (My Sunshine Boy) because he brightened my day so much. He's not verbose but he sent me an email after he left this year: "You were like a mother to me at Chop Point and I will never forget you. Lot of kisses, Your Sunshine Boy".

The mama thing was toughest with Chad. Chad comes from a very broken family - no father, several siblings who have been given up for adoption, a mother who has no job and may be going to prison in a few months. He is clumsy, has a speech impediment, and gets into fights at school, to the extent that he got expelled at the end of the year. His grandmother is the camp cook so she brought him along for the whole summer. No child was there longer than Chad was and I got to know him really well. On the last day, after everyone else had said good-bye to me, Chad slipped into the infirmary, all red-eyed. "What are you crying about, little man?" I asked jokingly and he just burst into tears. "I'm so scared to go home, Mama Kez," he wept. "People are kind here, I don't have to worry about getting into fights or being teased. And I don't want to say good-bye to you." Several of us had tried to convince Chad to be a boarder at Chop Point school this year so I talked to him again about that possibility and how much that would help with his issues at school. He just kept crying, "I can't be away from home that long. You were my mom this summer and you won't be here. I can't do it."

Sometimes I hate being Mama Kez. I hate being the one who is careful about safety and the one who misses out on activities because I'm sitting under the porch with a sobbing British girl. I hate hearing the heart-wrenching stories that the kids tell me. Most of all, I hate when they cry in my arms because then I can't keep myself from crying too.

But at the same time, Mama Kez is who God made me and I love it. I love how much kids and staff trust me. I love how girls and boys alike will tell me about deep hurts and wounds. I love having the opportunity to give them a taste of God's love and compassion. And, as much as it hurts, I love it when they cry in my arms.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Au Cap

I spoke with Emmanuel on the phone yesterday. He's such a funny kid. I haven't talked to him by phone in over 2 months so I was a bit apprehensive, expecting the "Keziah! Why haven't you called me for so long?!" part of the conversation, but Emmanuel just answered as if we had talked a few days ago and launched into an extended update of life at HFC. His most exciting news is that he is going to be allowed to travel to Cap Haitian with his biological mother at the end of the month. Emmanuel was born in Cap Haitian and he has always dreamed of going back. I am so happy for him.