Saturday, May 24, 2014

Student teaching

One of my dreams has been for my students to hold community health teachings for patients while they wait outside the clinic. This year, I was able to see that dream realized.  
My most recent group of adult community health agents surprised me with their willing spirit, their eagerness to learn, and their passion for all things medical. So as a final assignment, I separated my 17 students into 3 groups and instructed them to prepare a simple lesson on high blood pressure, diabetes, and yeast infection.  

Each Monday morning, I met a group at the clinic and the students gave their little talks to the 50+ patients waiting for to be seen at clinic.

They shared their knowledge. They answered questions from the crowd. They encouraged good habits and offered suggestions to change bad habits.
The only glitch was when one of my slightly know-it-all students told the patients never to drink Coca Cola because it destroys red blood cells. I had to intervene at that point with a little correction.

When each group's Monday had passed, we met one final time. "Miss Keziah," they began, shyly. "Would it be OK with you if we did those teachings every week? If you give us more topics, we'd really like to keep teaching."
So if you want to visit Jubilee, make sure you come down early on Monday morning so you can see my students teaching people how to live healthy and avoid acid reflux, anemia, asthma, obesity, constipation and so much more. Thanks to them, I can cross another item off my bucket list.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Beloved bicycle

I bought a bicycle during my very first week in Gonaives. Since that day, my bike and I have been inseparable. I go everywhere on that bicycle: to work, to the market, to friends' houses, to the river, to church, to the mountains. Everywhere. This trusty blue bike is like my third foot.
Two weeks ago, I woke up and my bike wasn't there. It had disappeared from its perch at the top of the stairs in our apartment building. My heart sank, but I told myself that probably one of my roommates needed to borrow it and didn't think to leave a note. I walked to Jubilee, but upon questioning everyone, no one had seen my bike.
Now there was no denying the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Someone had stolen my bike.
I was anxious and angry and very unsettled. It's hard to explain how important that bike is to me, but perhaps I can borrow some words from the wise Captain Jack Sparrow in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. He describes his ship, the Black Pearl, as being more than a keel, a mast and a sail. "What the Black Pearl is," he explains, "What she really is, is freedom!" That's my bicycle. Freedom.
I told my students to go home. I was too upset to concentrate on teaching. Besides, I had a pretty good hunch about who might have stolen my bike and by gum, I was going to get it back!
There are 3 boys, ages 10-14, who have been around our building a lot lately. All three were students at our school and have been kicked out for behavior problems. Two of them run away from home regularly and several times they spent nights in our outside hallway without our knowledge. Thanks to their situation, it was virtually impossible to find them that morning. I walked through Jubilee, searched the plaza, and finally stationed myself on the porch to watch the street. It was exhausting and I kept thinking how much easier it would be to hunt for my bike if I had a bike to hunt with!
Finally, two of the boys showed up at school. My friends interrogated them and they said they'd seen Godson, the youngest, with a bike. I went to the house and sure enough, there was Godson and there was my bike! There was Godson's mother too, laughing, and chortling, "The white lady's gonna beat Godson. White lady's gonna beat Godson!" Believe me, I wanted to beat him, but instead I simply took the bike and told Godson that I expected him to come apologize and to do some chores for me as payment for the trouble I'd gone through looking for my bicycle. He wouldn't look me in the eye.
I went home, rejoicing for my prodigal bike, but sad for Godson. I've heard adults in his neighborhood complain that his mother sends him out to steal for her. I've also seen his mother beat him silly, and I once caught his father red-handed stealing a cell phone. Obviously, Godson is not living with great examples of honesty around him. I didn't expect him to ever come see me.

Exactly ten days after the event, I heard a soft but insistent knock at the door. It was Godson. He was nervous, looking at the ground, but he spoke, clearly enough for me to hear: "I came to ask you to forgive me." And then he helped me pump water at the well until my 80 gallon barrel was full.

Now Godson looks me in eye when we talk. I still wish he hadn't stolen my bike, but I'm glad things turned out as they did. Maybe someday he'll look back on the day when he chose integrity and remember it as a turning point in his journey. In the meantime, I've got my freedom back and I couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


It's easy to get bored in Gonaives. Other than our work, there isn't very much for a white person to do. There are concerts and discos and mini-cinemas but none of them are comfortable for a foreigner, particularly a young female foreigner. So we create our own entertainment.
Recently our teenagers wrote a murder mystery for an English assignment. They gave each of us a part and a basic script from which we could improvise and interact until we figured out who was guilty. I played Buzz Ov, a German bouncer at a shady Los Angeles night club. There was also a pop singer named Kylie Virus, a waitress named Megan A. Mess, a bartender named Jack Daniels, a depressed fellow named Brad Luck, and so on.
Needless to say, we took our roles very seriously.

In case you're wondering about the "I'm Irish" tattoo, it apparently happened during a long night on vacation in Dublin, but I was without a doubt German. "Vizout a doubt!"



(Many thanks to Caitin Lee for the photography on this memorable occasion.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All Powerful Miss Keziah

My students sincerely like and respect me. But things went to a whole new level one day when Rony was closing the session in prayer. He said, “God, we ask that You would bless All Powerful Miss Keziah for what she does…”


I felt pretty great about myself. All Powerful Miss Keziah! Now that’s a title I never thought I’d attain. A week later, Rony prayed again. “Thank You, God, for everything You’ve given us. And help us, All Powerful, to share what we’ve learned with others.”


I never thought of All Powerful being a name that Rony uses to address God. I guess the whole thing makes more sense with a couple commas in Rony’s original prayer. “We ask that You bless, All Powerful, Miss Keziah for what she does…”