Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My two Haiti's

In my 2 month absence, Haiti has not changed very much. The open spaces are still full of tent cities and people are still more desperate for jobs, food, school and medical care than they were before the quake. On Delmas 91, my tent city looks very similar. The tarps have been fortified a little, but my neighbors still get wet when it rains hard. A few people have moved home or to other areas, but in their wake, new families have come. We are lucky to have such a small and well managed tent city; others are not so fortunate. My collegue, a Haitian doctor named Joey, spent a week living in one of the large tent cities and was horrified at what he saw. He commented particularly on the young women who are taken advantage of by the men on the tent city committee in exchange for food, protection, and other favors.

The only progress that I have seen with my own eyes is the demolition of some of the collapsed buildings in the Delmas area. Caribbean Market is being taken down, level by level, and the large building that was blocking my street for months is finally being removed.

As buildings are demolished, the rubble is simply dumped in the streets. Many roads that were already painfully narrow are now nigh upassable. Some people, like St Joseph's, are able to pay for a private dump truck to come regularly to remove rubble, but others leave it there. Presumably, they hope that the government will send trucks to remove it. Seems a vain hope.

It's all rather depressing. And so I turn back to my Two Haiti Philosophy. In my mind, there are 2 Haiti's: the entire nation of Haiti and the little Haiti that includes the people that I personally interact with on a regular basis. When I look at Haiti as a whole, I am deeply discouraged. The country's problems appear to multiple each year that I am here and in some ways, I feel like by being here, I am contributing to the pit that Haiti has been dug into. However, when I look at mini-Haiti, Kez's Haiti, I smile. In this Haiti, I see parents learning how to better care for their children. I see young people growing in faith and in love for those around them. I see babies who should have died thriving. When I look at little Haiti, I am hopeful.

A young artist has been painting a slogan on the walls of the city. It proclaims in bold letters and drawings the attitude of the Haitian people. Living here, I have learned to cling to that same manifesto: Haiti will not perish!

Third World children

...can be very demanding. "Kez, give me a deck of cards!" "Kez, show us a movie!" "Kez, where's my doll?" Sometimes, I want to slam the door in their faces. But other days, it's different. It's "Kez, do you want some pate (fried pastry)?" or "Kez, I watered your plants," or "Kez, these hair clips are for you."

My neighborhood kids are just grand. They are my little eyes and ears up in the tent city - "Kez, come quick! A lady just passed out!" They are my "Good morning's" and my "Good night's", every single day. They assure that I am never alone. They are always ready for a game or a crazy laugh when the sillies hit me....such as the day that we found a dead pigeon and proceeded to have an elaborate pigeon funeral. Odd, but distinctly enjoyable.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I got the call early Tuesday morning to pack my bags; I was going to Gonaives with my friends from Much Ministries. Gonaives is a city that lies on the coast of the bay, about 3 hours north of Port-au-Prince. I have visited it several times to run clinics for friends who live there. Gonaives was unaffected by the earthquake, but it sits in a valley that floods every few years when hurricanes hit. On my first trip to Gonaives, the city was literally swamped in mud after 3 hurricanes hit it back-to-back-to-back in 2008, creating a wall of water 14 feet high that rushed through, destroying many of the homes and claiming many lives. Since September 2008, Gonaives has been flood-free and it is steadily recovering. It is remarkable to me to return to a city that I first knew as a bog and see the streets clear of mud and trees growing on what was once mud flats.

The team from Much Ministries consisted mostly of teenagers, many of whom are new to Haiti. I acted as a translator and guide sometimes, but I also got to help with the feeding program, run clinic for one day and do some teaching with the Haitian nurse who runs their little clinic. One morning, I had the opportunity to lead a Sunday school program with 40 small children from a local church. Of the 4 Americans assigned to this group, I was the only one who spoke Creole fluently, so I was completely hoarse by the end of the day. We had a great time though, singing songs in English and Creole, acting out Bible stories, and playing Kabrit Kabrit Zwazo (my Haiti version of Duck Duck Goose). The kids could have played that all day!

I had one of my best laughs in a long time when a group of little boys led us down to the waterfront on the edge of the ghetto. My friends Sam and Kevin stripped to their boxers and jumped in the ocean with the boys. When they came out of the water 10 minutes later, I turned the other way to give the guys some privacy as they pulled shorts over wet boxers. Behind me I heard the Haitian boys begin to whoop and laugh and over their shrill voices, I heard Kevin yelling, "Stop it!!" I looked and there was Kevin, yelping and jumping backwards, trying to keep half a dozen little boys from looking down his boxers. They wanted to know if he was indeed white all over!

My favorite part of the week was visiting the homes of several children who live in the slums of Gonaives. I go to the slums of Port-au-Prince regularly, but the neighborhood of Jubile in Gonaives takes it to a whole new level. The people here have less than nothing (if that's possible) because the little they did have was lost in the floods. They showed me how they gather driftwood and salt from the sand flats to sell in the market, one huge basket of salt for only 15 American cents. It is hard to not be able to do more to help them, but simultaneously, it is incredible to see how much it means to them to have us visit their homes and hear their stories. All I can do is listen and then offer to pray for them but just that little gesture puts smiles on all their faces.

Monday, August 16, 2010

So long sweet summer

Camp has ended. My vacation has ended. My Chop Point rehab has ended. And, as I sometimes feel, my dream life has ended.

I love working in Haiti. I truly do. It keeps me on my toes with fresh adventures and fresh challenges every day. It encompasses me with people who build me up simply by their constant attention directed at me. It gives me children to love year round. It saves me from winter weather and from long hours in an American hospital. It teaches me that being alive is a rare and precious gift.

But working in Haiti is also incredibly difficult. I am faced daily by situations that are beyond my skills and my wisdom. I have to always be at least a little bit on my guard for both physical danger and for dishonesty in those I interact with. I am asked a million times a day to give, sometimes that which is within my power to give, frequently, that which is not. And though I am always with people, we share such different life stories that I sometimes feel very alone.

At Chop Point, the demands on me are demands that I can meet. "Listen to me talk about my parents' divorce." "Take me to a doctor's appointment so I can have a strep test." "Come play frisbee!" At Chop Point, I don't have to face that awful question: do I believe this person's story and give them money or do I not? At Chop Point, I don't wonder at bedtime if I will survive the night. At Chop Point, I truly feel like those around me love me, simply because they love me, not because they are hoping to get some material thing in return.

It is hard to walk away from that dream life now and return to the harsh reality of Haiti. But this year, even more so than past years, I needed that time at Chop Point. Several senior staff members commented when they bid me farewell that I look completely different now than I did at the beginning of the summer. They're right. My 2 months at Chop Point gave me lasting security for the first time since January. It allowed me to shed the burden of responsibility for so many people and let others take care of me for a little while. It provided the time and the sanctuary to cry. Perhaps most powerfully, it reminded me that life can be fun.

In the midst of infirmary time, ultimate games of ultimate, lifeguarding, and sailboat seaweed attacks (instead of cannonballs - much easier to clean up) I was able to set aside time to read books about suffering and to cry at God. For the first few weeks, those moments were the best part of my day. Later, as the kids and staff grew into my mini-family, I realized that I was able to share my story with them and include them on the journey. Though I can speak confidently at chapel about talking to God no matter what state of mind you're in, I continue to struggle to redefine my relationship with God. It's a process, and I am slowly coming to grips with the probable truth that I will battle these questions for the rest of my life. The grief which is still relatively fresh will fade, but the "Why?" will always be there. So long as my mangled faith survives, so will I.

So thank you. Thank you Haiti-world for letting me take a leave of absence. Thank you family for sharing me with others, yet again. Thank you Chop Point extended community for your constant prayer and hospitality. Thank you staff for never failing to ask how I was and for showing me such love and solidarity. Thank you campers for telling me in a million silly ways that it's OK to laugh and that life is, in fact, worth living.

Welcome home

I arrived in Haiti yesterday afternoon. It's funny how I can be gone for only 2 months and yet seem to have forgotten so many little things when I get back here. I forgot how dusty Haiti is, especially now. I forgot that the internet is a luxury and it rarely works. I forgot that miniature ants love water spills. I forgot that my neighborhood kids will rip my house apart in an attempt to clean for me. I forgot that absolutely everyone, even strangers, says "Bonjou" on the street.

Other things I did not forget. I did not forget that a shower at the end of the day is heaven. I did not forget that I have to take the new shortcut to the market because the old one is blocked by rubble. I did not forget that toilet paper goes in the trashcan instead of the toilet. Why is that habit so easy to return to when I get to Haiti and so incredibly difficult to break when I go the States?

I was greeted upon arrival by Bill, Walnes, and the St Joe's boys and staff. Within minutes, Frantz was at my door too, followed by a parade of neighborhood children, all asking what I'd brought them from America. "Nothing!" I scowled. Actually, I have silly bands for all of them :) Edjour, Sendhie, Bebeto, Alex, G, and Lucy have all come to welcome me home. This is how I like it - entirely surrounded by my Haitian neighbors. I have yet to see a white person. When I do, it will be a joyous reunion with people like Dorothy and Marc and Mary, but for the most part, I relish my non-English existence.

I thought that I might not sleep for my first night back. The heat or the recurring phantom tremors were sure to hit. On the contrary, I slept like a baby all night long. This morning, I woke up to the shoe-shiner's bell, the charcoal lady's call, and the buckets and shovels of St Joseph's. Welcome home, Keziah.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome to the Infirmary

The infirmary is my home at Chop Point. I do have my own bedroom upstairs, but essentially the only time spent in my bedroom is spent asleep. The infirmary is where memories are made.

For the sake of confidentiality, patient privacy, and grossness, I can't show you photos of the concussions, twisted ankles, poison ivy, cheek abcesses, ingrown toe nails, vomiting, diarrhea-ing, sore throats, menstrual cramps, swimmer's ear, and lobster allergies that keep the place busy. Instead, I can show you my other visitors who come for...I'm not sure. Some probably come because I have the most comfortable beds in camp. Others come because I keep a stock of tasty water in my fridge (as opposed to the water in the dining hall that has a distinctive iron taste and color). Some come for nail polish, nail clippers, a kitty fix, eyebrow plucking, ice cream with blackberries, and my stuffed dog Tag. I like to think that some of them come for my awesome pirate flag!

Honestly, I believe the kids come because they somehow feel at home in the infirmary. It is a cozy space that is perfect for serious conversation such as the Haiti earthquake talks that they beg from me and the life lesson talks that they share with each other. Kids from the oldest cabins and the youngest cabins stop by for a bandaid and stay for a chat. It becomes sort of a night ritual where kids have to pop in to say good night to Kez before going back to their cabins, almost like being tucked in by Mommy or Daddy. One of my campers eventually stopped calling the infirmary by its proper title and referred to it instead as The Family Room.

At the end of the first session, I received a note that offered the most heart-warming explanation for the healthy kids in the infirmary. A camper wrote, "There is no other time I felt more loved than when I was in the infirmary."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Embrace your weird

Camp brings out the weird in me. I know, I know. Anyone who chooses to work in Haiti 9 months of the year is plenty weird. But truly, I reach a whole new level of weird at Chop Point.

At Chop Point, it isn't strange to find people playing soccer in Russian comrade hats or giving blessings to girls pretending to be pregnant with a dodgeball under their t-shirt. People dress like cows and pose with lobsters and call a boy named James by the nickname Rhonda. We race around the field carrying a camper in a kayak. We spray freezing cold water at kids while they do jumping jacks, and march around the nearby town dressed all in red with a black mask and a plastic sword.

At Chop Point, you aren't judged for being weird. On the contrary, the weirder you are, the more beloved you are. We frequently hear from kids that they have few friends at school because they don't fit in, but those same kids are surrounded by friends at camp. Being "cool" at camp is very different from being "cool" at school.

It breaks our hearts to see kids leave at the end of the summer knowing that they will soon be faced again with the peer pressure and judgement of middle school and high school. We encourage them to continue to be the person that they are at camp, even if that person is a bit quirky. You were created uniquely and you don't need to fit a particular media-determined mold to be lovable. Just look at your Chop Point staff. We're as weird as they come and you seem to love us!

So kids, friends, blog readers, do like we do at Chop Point and embrace your weird. You won't regret it.