Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mud, glorious mud!

The first week of December was crunch time for the adobe house! Ben, Josh, Isaac and Chris were all due to leave for Christmas on the 13th and the house had to be done if it was going to survive their month-long absence over the holidays. Luckily, we'd found the factory in Port-au-Prince where rice bags are manufactured and I was able to order 400 meters of un-cut sack for the house. So the final 20 rows were laid using a continual cylinder of sack which we measured, cut and tucked on each row. Much faster and much more aesthetically pleasing.

I was there for 2 of the last 5 days of work. We toiled from 7am to 5pm every day, filtering dirt, hauling water, tossing buckets up the ladder, filling sacks, compressing sacks, laying barbed wire between rows, placing windows, installing cross-beams for a loft...It was great fun and very tiring work.

On December 9th, the boys laid their last bag and the house was complete!

With their precious remaining days, the boys tried different mixtures of mud, clay, sand, horse manure and straw until they found an acceptable product to skim the outside of the house as protection against vandalism, decay, and the elements. They had time to do the highest section of the house before they left, entrusting the rest of the task to me and Sam (the Brooks' youngest son).

On my first morning as an official resident of Gonaives, Sam and I went to work on the house. He had already done much of the upper part and with the help of our loyal teenage boys, we made good progress. The winner of the mud combinations was a mixture of clay, sand and straw so we alternated between squishing clay in our fingers, running the cement mixer, filtering sand, and spreading the mess on the house.

By the end of that first day, my t-shirt looked like this...

...and the house looked like this:

More of the same for our second day of work.

By the end of that second day, my t-shirt looked like this...

...and the house looked like this:

For our last day, December 23rd, we only worked 2 hours to finish off the house.

By the end of the last day, my t-shirt looked like this...

...and the house, that beautiful house, looked like this:

Proud Keziah, proud Sam, proud Jubilee teenagers! I can't wait to see the boys' faces when they get back.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Christmas spirit

I celebrated Christmas in Gonaives - pancake breakfast, a visit to the outdoor bike market to buy myself a bicycle, a late afternoon bonfire and swim in the river - but the most Christmas-y thing that happened to me was quite unexpected. A 76 year old man in Jubilee approached me and said that he had a gift for me. He wanted to give it to me as a thank you for the work that my friends and I have been doing in the town.

In Haiti, instead of Christmas trees, the people make little decorative houses with pictures and Bible verses carved in them. The houses are usually shoebox-sized and in the evenings, people light a candle inside them. The old man had made one of those traditional houses for me. There is only one small difference: my house is BIG!

It's so big that Youv, my friend Lala's adoptive son, can play inside it.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Leaving Port-au-Prince meant leaving behind some wonderful friends. I cannot describe how blessed I am to have this crowd of silly and seriously amazing people in my life. They have been there for me through some of my roughest days and they have rejoiced with me in my greatest victories. We share countless memories and I'm glad that my move to Gonaives will allow us to make more on my visits to Port and their visits here.

Kathleen, Dan, Katie and Marc - Merry Christmas! I love you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Seasons of change

I am leaving Port-au-Prince today to go work full time for Much Ministries in Gonaives.

There is a myriad of reasons for my decision but the simplest way to explain it is that I am ready for something new. In Gonaives, I will be doing a lot of teaching: inservices for nurses that work at the hospitals, nurses' aide training, community health teaching, and coordination with the local hospitals to improve the city's health system. Sharing knowledge is far more important long term than just caring for patients, though of course, I will still be doing plenty of that, and I'm excited for the new opportunities.

Last week, I had my final clinic day at Delmas 24. I don't mind closing clinic, but I was loathe to let my blood pressure patients go cold turkey from their meds. It was those sweet little old men and women who found a pastor who will let Lucson and Myrlande, my clinic manager and nurse, do BP checks monthly at his church. I was touched by the attitudes of my patients. No one acted angry at my departure; on the contrary, they all hugged me, thanked me, and promised to pray for me.

The kids in my neighborhood heard the news this week. Frantz put it this way, "Oh no, I won't be able to come annoy Kez anymore!" They are annoying, but I will miss them. The good news is that we are keeping my apartment, my Teacup, so that we have a place to stay when we need to overnight in Port-au-Prince. They will still be able to annoy me from time to time.

Call me a coward but I haven't found the courage to tell most of my ravine families yet. A few of them know because they were working for me at the Teacup and at my clinic, but the majority are still unaware. I've been their personal nurse for 3 and a half years! I don't want to leave them and I'm sure that they don't want me to leave.

I thought I was going to vomit when my youth group turned expectant eyes to me for my "big announcement". But when I told them, they prayed for me, they hugged me and the girls cried in my arms, and then the worst was over. I plan to come to the city 2 weekends a month to be at youth group and Bible study, and I will certainly be at our Zanglais retreat in May. They have grown and frankly, they could lead themselves at this point. If only we hadn't bonded like a family since the earthquake...this would be much easier.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Baby Taina

Taina is an 11 month old from my ravine. I met her shortly after birth, but I only truly remember her from this October. Her mom stopped me because Taina had diarrhea and I almost had a heart attack - the baby looked like death! Her fontanel was a deep depression on the top of her head and her eyes were sunken far into her face.

Taina survived that episode, but not as well as I would have liked. Two months later, she still has a depressed fontanel and her eyes always have that sunken sickly look. She isn't crawling yet and she doesn't laugh. I have theories about malnourished babies and lack of laughter is one of the symptoms I always look for. I don't care how tiny your child is; if she's laughing, I'm not terribly worried about her. But the child that is skinny, lethargic and not smiling...

With her mother and father's approval, I moved Taina to Dorothy's house this week. Sometimes parents seem eager to give their child away, but I was gratified to see Taina's parents truly sad to leave her behind. A few days later when I visited the ravine, they were waiting for me at the beginning of my route to ask how she's doing.

She's doing well. Her starting weight was 15.5 lbs, the average weight of a 6 month old, but I've seen a million times worse here in Haiti. I took her out for bloodwork on Wednesday and everything came back negative: tuberculosis, syphilis, HIV. She is anemic - no surprise there. Every Haitian, child or adult, that I've ever taken for bloodwork comes back anemic! So with all the big threats ruled out, we can assume that she is a case of failure to thrive. And Dorothy's is the perfect place for her. I've seen those nannies work wonders on sad-looking malnourished babies and I'm excited to see them work their magic on Taina!

Monday, December 12, 2011

These are not my pants!

How much fun can you have with one pair of size XXXXXXXXXL scrub pants, a youth group and a troupe of 7 year old neighbors?

Lots and lots of fun!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lakay nou lakay Kez

(at home at Kez's home)

Very few things make me happier than to see my little neighbors and my adult friends make themselves at home in my home. I love when they know where to put things away, when they get a cup of water without asking, when they greet visitors at the door for me, when they share a meal with me and when they do the dishes afterwards without being asked.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Good Samaritan in Goodwill

Two months ago Wisnal, my community health worker in the ravine, told me that he was getting married in December and couldn't afford a wedding dress for his bride. In Haiti, weddings are a big deal, a very big deal, and therefore, they are painfully expensive. Many couples stay engaged for years or live as common-law husband and wife because they can't pay for a proper wedding. When I heard Wisnal's news, I offered to look for a wedding dress when I visited the States in November.

I stopped at a Goodwill store and I found a dress I thought a Haitian bride might like: poofy, frilly, sequin-covered, complete with a small train. It was $100, about twice as much as I could spend. I stood at the cash register, waiting to negotiate with the manager when a woman overheard me explain that I needed a dress for a young woman in Haiti who couldn't afford one. Out of the blue, this stranger smiled at me and said, "Can I give you my wedding dress?"

I may have stared at her for a full 10 seconds before I could stutter an answer. Poofy, frilly dress forgotten, we followed this kind woman to her house where she brought out a beautiful, perfectly white, stylish wedding dress. And then she was gone, leaving me flabbergasted and very grateful.

The story gets a bit complicated after this - with only a few weeks before the wedding, the bride was nervous about making the necessary adjustments for the dress to fit her right, and perhaps she thought it wasn't frilly enough for a Haitian wedding, so days before the wedding, Wisnal told me that they'd found a different dress. I was very disappointed but reminded myself that my American tastes do not quite match those of my Haitian friends when it comes to wedding attire. On Saturday, the wedding day, bride and groom were radiantly happy and that's what counts.

But don't worry, my Good Samaritan dress played an important role too. After the bride, the next most elaborately dressed individual is the maid of honor, Emmanuella, one of the rescued orphan girls from the Gonaives flood. She appeared at the beginning of the processional looking simply spectacular in my storied dress. It fit her perfectly and she literally danced down the aisle. I'm sure she has never felt so beautiful!

Good Samaritan from Goodwill, if you're reading this, thank you very much!