Friday, November 8, 2013


My friend Jess passed away on October 26th, exactly 6 months after being diagnosed with bone cancer.
I think many things about my time with Jess, her life and her death, but the simplest emotion is this: "Mwen sonje w". In Haitian Creole, that phrase means "I remember you" and it also means "I miss you." I love that, as if the very act of remembering you makes me miss you. As if the fondness that makes me remember you automatically evokes the sadness of your absence.
I remember Jess many times a day, every day. And therefore I miss her. So Jess, to you: a salute, and "Mwen sonje w." 

Friday, October 11, 2013

When I have a cold...

...I wear a mask so that I don't infect Jess. Her white blood count is normal, so she isn't in risk of getting some horrific mega-cold, but she is having chronic back pain and you can imagine what a sneeze or a cough could do to her. So I sport this smashing blue mask whenever I'm with her and whenever I'm preparing food, drink or medication for her. I really don't mind it; it's the first time I've worn a mask and not wanted to pass out from the heat. Yay for the state of Maine!
What I particularly enjoy about the mask is that I lose it if I take it off and put it down somewhere. So instead of taking it off, I just shove my mask up onto my forehead when I want to eat or talk on the phone or be normal. Inevitably, I forget that it is there until I walk past a mirror. And then I laugh at myself. Does anyone else think I look like I'm doing a bad unicorn impression?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Kez Furth, RN, FOF

You know what RN stands for - registered nurse - but FOF? There's nothing official about those letters, I just like the way they sound, so I've claimed them as my other title. You see, during the week, I am an RN, taking care of Jess, but I usually spend my weekends on adventures with this motley crew of teenagers from Chop Point. We go sailing and canoeing, we have bonfires, we go to school soccer games, we cook pizza for 100 people, we go sightseeing in Boston, and we play ultimate Frisbee at all times: in the boats, in the rain, during the day and late at night.
Being a teenager isn't easy. There is so much pressure to be "cool", which by the time you're 16 or 17 generally means dances, parties, and alcohol. I want our teens to have something better than that. I want them to see that you can be a rule-abiding God-fearing person and still have fun, more fun, in fact, than our beverage-dependent counterparts.
For some kids, it happens naturally. But for the shy ones, the ones who don't speak much English yet, or the ones who are struggling with anxiety or depression, it helps to have someone making sure that everyone is included. Even the kids who seem well adjusted sometimes need the confidence boost that comes from just being wanted. I know because I was that teen not very long ago. So I try to fill that need, bringing kids together and teaching them about their worth in my eyes and in God's eyes, all through the language of fun.

FOF stands for Facilitator of Fun. Lucky me. I get to be an RN and an FOF. It's a pretty good life.



Sunday, September 29, 2013


Cancer's a funny thing. It eats away at you from the inside and slowly drains your strength.

Cancer treatment's an even funnier thing. It devours you from the inside and instantly swallows your strength.

How did we figure that one out?

Jess was in the middle of a course of chemotherapy when I arrived in Maine. After 5 days of pumping poison into her system to slow down the growth of her tumors, she was exhausted. Her blood counts were frighteningly low and it wasn't long before she picked up a secondary infection. We've had two 5-day hospitalizations in 2 weeks now, both due to complications secondary to the cancer and its treatment. I was relieved when her doctor said that he wanted her to take some time off from chemo to let her body recuperate a bit because he was afraid the treatment would kill her long before cancer could.

I've never done this before. When people have cancer in Haiti, they simply die. There are only 2 or 3 hospitals that can treat cancer and they are many hours from Gonaives. It's amazing to me that in developed countries we can prolong life this way, but it's sad that the cost must be so high.

Pray for strength. Pray for relief from pain. Pray for peace.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The faces of last year

Each Haiti year tends to have one particular person as its "theme", a patient or a child who especially captures my heart and seems to direct the course of my year.  The 2012-2013 year had two: Lovena and Rudenchly.
Lovena is living at Dorothy's right now. Her grandmother was afraid that someone would try to steal her again or that her own husband, Lovena's grandfather, would try to sell her. So for Lovena's safety, we moved her back to Dorothy's and she is very happy there. I got to visit her briefly in September before I returned to Maine.

Rudenchly is at home with his mom and siblings. He is walking around like a champ, talking in broken sentences, and showing off. When I came to his house, he immediately grabbed my finger and starting walking me around, exactly the way I used to make him hold my hand and walk around the clinic when he was learning to walk on his burned foot. Any doubt that he remembered me - gone.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


For years, I have compared living as a white person in Haiti to being a celebrity in the US. People stare at me when I walk down the street, they clamor for my attention and get giddy if I simply smile or wave at them. People I've never met before know my name and strangers try to convince my friends to get them an introduction with "Miss Keziah." And I imagine that celebrities wonder just like I do: are you my friend because you like me for who I am or because you like what I can get for you? At least we don't have the paparazzi...oh wait, I have definitely been photographed by strangers on over a dozen occasions!
Last week, my friend Grace and my ex-roommate Chris got married in Gonaives, Haiti. If ever something would convince me that we are indeed the Haiti version of celebrities, it was this wedding.
Everywhere I went, the wedding was all anyone could talk about. Patients outside clinic, neighbors near my house, families in Jubilee, other missionary groups...If it had been Brad and Angelina, I swear, there wouldn't have been more gossip!

What is Grace going to wear? Who are Grace's bridesmaids? Where are you having the ceremony? Is anyone going to get drunk? What food are you making? Who is the best dancer at the reception?
If Gonaives had tabloids, we would have been on the front page of every single one!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What happens next

It's that time of year when I usually return to Haiti and pick up where I left off before my summer break at Chop Point.

This year's going to be different. A friend of mine and fellow staff member at camp has been diagnosed with bone cancer, so I have decided to stay in Maine and help with her care. I'm flying to Haiti tomorrow to say good-byes and gather some of my belongings and then I will return to Maine on September 4th where I will remain for an indefinite future.

It is going to be a difficult road. Walking with a friend through a terminal illness is challenge enough, but add to that the fact that I will be living in America for the first time in 6 years. That may not seem like anything to you, but it's a frighteningly strange concept to me. I'm sure there will be days when I wish fervently that I'd chosen Haiti over cancer, but for now, I'm focusing on the good side of it.

I'm going to see the seasons change and be able to walk down the street without being stared at. I'm going to attend church in English, I'm going to wear wool socks, and I'm going to drink milk. Most importantly, I will get to be with my friend at a time when she needs me, and hopefully I will be able to support my Chop Point community in the same way that they have supported me for so long.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Give me back my heart

Jean, Chop Point's founder, told me this year that I had about another 20 years of loving kids before I become callous to it all. Twenty more years?! I'm not sure I can handle loving and losing twenty more years worth of amazing teenagers.




Friday, August 9, 2013

Bonding in the wilderness

Six canoes, 3 coolers, 2 water filters, and a Coleman stove. Sixteen dry bags, thirteen paddles, 3 tents, and 2 tarps. A nurse, a counselor, and ten kids. Three days. One river.
We call it the St Croix Trip because it follows the St Croix River along the Canadian border in Downeast Maine. I had led this particular trip 6 years ago for Chop Point and loved it, so I was rather excited to be going again. But as always, I had a strange mix of kids - 7 American, 2 French, 1 Spanish, ranging from 13-17 years old - and I was a little apprehensive about the many factors involved. Would the campers get along with each other? Would they participate in making and breaking camp each day? Would they get grumpy and lazy if conditions weren't perfect? Would they follow me and my co-leader well?

The first day was idyllic. It was sunny and warm, the rapids on the river were exhilarating, and the kids were happy to be under way. In the late afternoon, we stopped and made camp for the night. The campers did their jobs cheerfully and willingly, but with as easy a day as it had been, we weren't surprised.

In the evening as we sat around the picnic table, I started asking the kids questions about their lives and about faith and God. It was a risk; of the 10 campers around me, only 3 were openly interested in faith. I wondered if they would become goofy or ask to be excused, but instead, they all answered seriously and listened respectfully to one another. When it was late, I suggested that we pray, and to my surprise, they all agreed to pray out loud. We held hands and each prayed in his or her native tongue. It was beautiful. 

Our second day dawned grey and wet. By 9am, it was raining steadily so we packed up our camp site quickly and headed onto the river in ponchos. We certainly didn't stay dry, but so long as we kept paddling, we were warm. I started watching for the spirits to droop, ready to turn on my fake "Mary Poppins" cheerful nurse routine to salvage the day, but incredibly, the kids didn't lose their smiles. They sang songs, they threw things from canoe to canoe, they hid behind the reeds to scare one another, they raced in the rapids, and they teased me. Even when we stopped to eat soggy tortillas and peanut butter for lunch, they stayed joyful despite being cold and soaked to the bone.

We went far that day because it seemed better to paddle in the rain than to sit at a campsite in the rain. When we stopped for the night, once again, the kids did their jobs diligently and soon we were all able to rest. Most of them fell asleep on the one dry spot we had: a tarp I'd laid under a tree.

That evening, I wasn't going to initiate deep conversation but one of the kids turned to me and said, "Ask us those questions, Kez." So again, we had a long time of sharing our hearts and thoughts with one another, and again, we all held hands and prayed aloud.

Our final day started misty and cool, but by mid-morning, it was clear and warm enough to spend an hour playing on a rope-swing we found by the shore. We were very close to our destination, so we took our time, telling stories, eating snacks, skipping rocks and making adjustments to the map.


Six years ago when I led the trip, my campers enjoyed it, but they were thrilled to be done, eager for showers and friends back at camp. So when this crew posed for their final photo, I suggested they raise their paddles. "You know, act like you're happy that it's over." They gave me a blank look and said, "But we aren't happy that it's over."

They gave me the pose I asked for, but they followed it with this one, the sad-face photo, to show how they really felt about our 3-day adventure coming to an end.

On the ride home, one girl looked at me with serious eyes and said, "Kez, when we get back, can we please keep meeting and praying together like we did on the trip?" The kids were all nodding their agreement. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud with joy!
Until camp ended, our St Croix crew met every day to pray together. Sometimes it was brief; other times we were able to share prayer requests, worries and joys. Always it was the highlight of my day to hold their hands around that circle and to see the vulnerability and the trust. I do not know what magic happened during those three days on a river, but for a group to bond so well and to seek so earnestly for Truth, I have a hunch that God had something to do with it.   
I sent them each home with a Bible verse, a group photo, a letter, and a copy of our team song (yes, we wrote a St Croix song). We will continue to "meet" via the internet and God willing, when I see them next year, it will be clear that what we gained during our time together was not lost. Until then, we have continued prayers and countless memories.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bringing Haiti to Maine

About five years ago I lived at Dorothy's infant rescue in Port-au-Prince and I met this munchkin, Kervens. 
He was 10 years old and for a year, we lived in the same house, played with the same babies and animals, went on the same adventures, sang the same silly songs, ate the same food, and loved life the same way.

I was a strange sort of older sister/mother/friend to him and though I didn't get to live with him after that year, I still saw him regularly whenever I visited Dorothy's.
Through a serious of events, Kevs ended up living in Gonaives with the Brooks, the family who runs Much Ministries. They are his legal guardians now, so he and I are neighbors with lots of inside jokes from our year at Dorothy's.

You can imagine how excited I was when the Brooks suggested that he spend a session at Chop Point with me. For the first time, I got to speak in Creole with someone and confuse everyone. I had someone who was as amazed as I by the beauty of Maine and by the cold too. And most importantly, I had someone who understood exactly what I meant when I shared Haiti stories with the campers.

Kevs was a great addition to camp. The only black kid we had all summer, he embraced his uniqueness with confidence and was friends with everyone by the end. He bonded with his counselors, threw himself into every activity with gusto and even had time for some very intense life talks with his old nurse friend.

And just look how much he's grown! From this in 2008...

to this a few days ago (two Caribbean dwellers freezing on the Maine coast at sunset):