Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Up and Down (or the other way around)

Yesterday was sort of an up and down day. Mark and Marsha left for a couple weeks of vacation yesterday, leaving me here as the only American, which isn't really the end of the world. The hard part is that all the things that we were sharing responsibility for, now I have to do. Which, again, isn't really that much. The biggest part of that is supervising the library with the computers and the internet. Whenever someone is on the internet, one of the three of us needs to be in the library supervising. And to make sure all of the kids get time online, we set up a schedule where each kid gets one hour a week online. Which means the library has to be supervised for six hours a day, six days a week. Which is kinda a lot of time for me to be in the library.

In the last hour yesterday, I was getting tired and bored. I was ready to get out of the library. Its a handful to try to maintain some order in the library with teenagers coming and going for six hours. I decided to write in my journal a bit. As I wrote, I got just got more frustrated. Thoughts that had come up earlier in my time here began to creep back. "What am I doing here?" "There's no point in me being here." "I'm not doing any good, I'm just taking up space and consuming resources." (Yes, not eating food or drinking water, consuming resources. Thanks Swarthmore.) My writing began to morph from journal entry into prayer, asking God for direction and a renewed sense of purpose here. (Its something that I've struggled with in the past month or so, and keeps rearing its ugly head.) So I closed the library half an hour later, then, after a quick supper of Heart to Heart cereal, I went to check my email.

Before I go into all the details, I need to describe one of the boys for you. He's not really the easiest one to deal with. Since I've gotten here, he got into a fight with one of the other boys and hurt the other kid's eye. He's come close to getting in fights on other occasions, and generally doesn't understand his own strength. I wouldn't hesitate to say he's got some aggression issues. Since I've been here, he hasn't really been friendly with me, more quick to poke fun than show anything close to compassion. He's kinda a tough kid.

So I was quite surprised to find an email from him sitting in my inbox last night. It didn't say much, and it was in Creole, so I'm still not sure what it all says. But, for starters, HE reached out to me. It expressed admiration for me, and he said "I'm happy to write you and have you as a friend." A much softer side to this kid, and a wonderful place to begin a relationship from.

And maybe the coolest thing of all, I think he wrote this email about five minutes after I wrote my journal entry/prayer. Pretty quick response to a prayer, if you ask me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Short Stories

In contrast to some of my recent posts, I'm going to keep this one shorter. I've got two short stories to share with you.

Early this afternoon, I was about to walk across the street to the boy's house. There was a huge crowd right outside our door. Thinking it probably wasn't the best idea to walk into a large (loud) crowd of Haitians as a white American, I went up to the roof to see two long lines that merged into a crowd behind a small yellow truck. Inside (I could see in because it didn't have a roof) were a few guys passing out some stuff. I could see they were passing out collapsible water bottles, but I couldn't see what the other things were. I found out later they were mosquito nets, complete with instructions for their use and care. After consulting with an orphanage employee, I did go across the street, kinda circumnavigating most of the crowd. Everyone was mostly orderly and peaceful, but there's always that little reminder of what kind of country you're in: they had a guard standing by the back of the truck, complete with bullet-proof vest.

Some of you may have heard about this in the US. Wyclef Jean, the singer, announced his candidacy for President a few weeks ago. He had some rallies, and seemed to be very popular. I saw many motorcycle taxi drivers wearing shirts supporting him. Recently, the electoral commission decided he wouldn't be allowed to run because of residency laws. (If you want the whole story, you can probably find it from a US news source.) I expected protests in the wake of their decision, but I haven't heard of any, which is a good sign. I know there are some folks who are really glad to know that he's not going to be able to run; I'm not quite sure if he would have been a good President or not, but I am looking forward to the elections (though not the riots and protests that I've heard could happen) as it might mean a new direction for Haiti and maybe some new hope. Hope that something will change.

There you go. Short and Sweet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And what a day it was!

Yesterday (8/17) was such an eventful day that I just have to dedicate an entire post to it.

The morning was fairly uneventful. I spent most of the morning supervising the library. Things got a little heated at one point, but I thought nothing of it at the time (turns out I was wrong, but I'll get to that later). Then, at 12:30, we had our first Bible study of the summer. The whole school schedule got messed up by the earthquake, so this is the first week of the summer for the kids. A few of them still have exams, so it was a voluntary Bible study. The nannies wanted to make Bible study mandatory for all the kids, which I wasn't so excited about, but they didn't want mandatory Bible study to start before everyone had finished exams, so that gave us two weeks to do some voluntary Bible studies. And it worked! We had ten kids there (of 34 total). I taught on humility from Luke 14:7-14. I'd say it was overall pretty successful, although there is room for improvement. The kids were interested and listened attentively while I talked. They weren't exactly jumping out of their seats to answer my questions, but that's OK. Talking with Mark afterward, we figured there were probably a few reasons for this; primarily, most of my questions probably sounded like calls to public confession, which, though we may think of that as a common part of Bible study in the US, doesn't seem to be part of the church culture here in Haiti, and certainly not at the orphanage. But they did, first of all, come, and they seemed pretty engaged. All in all, it was an encouraging first Bible study.

The second thing we had planned for the day was painting crews. American short-term teams have been coming in during our summer in the US, and many of them have been painting classrooms in the orphanage, some of which probably haven't been painted since it was built. But we've got the hallways left to paint, and now that school is starting in the US, there are fewer short-term mission teams coming our way. But part of what HFC wants to do, is to get the kids involved in service, so a good place to start is helping out in their own building. They do have regular chores around the place, but summer can be a little boring without a whole lot to do. So we asked for volunteers to help paint. And 14 kids volunteered. And they loved it! There were a few sour grapes, but mostly, they had a good time, and we rewarded them with cokes at the end of it. It was really good to see them getting involved and learning something.

Then, the most dramatic event of the day. Sometime in the late afternoon, a big storm blew in. I don't think it was a hurricane, but there was a lot of rain and a lot of wind. I was sitting in my room, taking a little break and listening to my iPod when it started to get dark. I took out my headphones and the wind was howling and the rain was beating in the windows. Everyone was on their feet looking out at what the storm was doing. The rain flooded the streets, turning them into rivers. No joke, I saw a concrete block being pushed downhill by the water. That's how much water was in the street. The wind blew a few roofs off of some surrounding houses. And the tarps and tents, which many people have been living in since the earthquake, didn't fare too well. Some survived, but some of the tarp houses were blown apart, just like in "The Three Little Pigs." We had a few tarps covering an outdoor courtyard that has served as the kindergarten area since the earthquake (the kindergarten parents are too afraid of another earthquake to let their kids have class inside the 3-story concrete building). The wind ripped them up and tore them down. Most of them are now pretty useless.

There was one moment of this storm that really struck me. I was looking out of the window of the boys' house across the street, and I saw a woman with a big pile of charcoal. She had found a tarp and was struggling to cover her pile of charcoal with it. In Haiti, the wealthier folks cook with gas stoves. The poorer cook with charcoal. And selling charcoal is one of the lowest and most humiliating jobs in the country. You sit by the side of the road, covered in charcoal dust all day long. These bags of charcoal were this woman's livelihood, and if they got wet, they'd probably be useless, at least for a while until they dried (does anyone know? if charcoal gets wet, can it dry out and be useful again?). But the wind was not helping, blowing her tarp all over the place. And you could see the anguish on her face, the worry that all she had would be destroyed. It was hard to watch, and at the same time I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

And that's not all! The argument that I heard earlier in the day in the library, turns out it was actually a bigger deal than I thought. One of the boys called one of the girls a bad name that I'd rather not repeat. I'll just say that if you turned on the radio, this word would be bleeped out. I didn't have any idea that he had used this word earlier, because he said it in Creole. But the girl went and told one of the other girls who then told one of the Haitian nannies who then called Dr. Bernard, who basically runs the orphanage. He used to live right up the street, and he and his wife were the house parents of the orphanage; he's been a part of these kids lives for about 14 years now. Anyway, he punished the boy for what he said. My problem is, I think the story probably got exaggerated before it got to him. I don't always trust this particular girl, and she is often very disrespectful to me and Mark and Marsha. Its just a little frustrating. I was here, but I have no idea what actually happened. I don't think he deserved the punishment he got, but maybe he did. It doesn't help that I don't particularly trust all of the individuals that the story passed through to get to Dr. Bernard either, and some of the other kids seem to think the punishment was too harsh as well. Its challenging to say the least.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but I wanted to share the whole day with you. Its funny: some days are packed full, and some days are downright mundane. You never know.

I just want to add one prayer request:
Life here can be quite overwhelming sometimes. Dealing with the kids, seeing poverty on such a massive scale, thinking and praying about my life and where God is moving me, and all the while trying to keep focused on God and where I am. Its challenging, and sometimes it brings me to the point of tears. Emotions here can go from laughing and smiling to anger or tears in a moment, and sometimes I don't know why. Please pray for strength and strength through God.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pictures! (Finally!)

The school and the girls half of the orphanage, taken from the roof of the boys house.

Looking out from the roof of the boys house in the opposite direction. Lots of small houses packed in pretty tight.

I'll try to send more soon!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The simple things

As I passed the four week mark (yesterday) I realized a few things:

Time has flown by! I can hardly believe I’ve been here four weeks already!
There are so many things that I haven't been able to post about yet!

And I bet that
there are some things that many of you are wondering, like, "what is the food like?" Well, sometimes, like yesterday, the food is really good! Yesterday after church we had white rice, a kidney bean sauce, chicken, and some veggies. It was VERY tasty. My favorite breakfast is peanut butter and jelly with bread and coffee or hot chocolate (and sometimes a banana). But its not always quite so good. One common breakfast (which we had today) is spaghetti with a minuscule amount of tomato paste. And oil. LOTS of oil. Marsha likes to say that she never has to wear chap stick because the spaghetti has so much oil. And then there's one meal, which I'm not quite sure what it is. I think it might be some sort of corn meal that they cook with beans and who knows what. If you turned it upside-down, the whole thing would fall out of the bowl in one clump, like jello, but not as tasty. That's a hard meal to eat much of.

I sleep in the boys' house, which is right across from the girls house and the school. I've got my own room, which is wonderful. The kids just finished the school year last week (they were delayed because schools were closed after the earthquake), so now much of our time is consumed with just hanging out with the kids. They watch movies, play computer games, send emails, play card games. We're going to have some of the kids help paint the hallways of the school while they're out. We'll take the boys (and girls if they want) up to play soccer. Mark, Marsha, and I are going to try having some Bible studies over the summer, and we'll see how that goes. They don't really have Bible study like we do in the US. Church is just culturally different than it is in the US. Some of that is fine, but some of it really grates on me, but that's for another post.

We don't get out much, cause its hard to get around without a vehicle and we don't always have one. We don't really need to go anywhere often, but it would be nice to be out and about a bit. Maybe in the coming weeks we'll be out and about more. We did go over to the church the other day and talked with a pastor there, and it was good to hear about what they're doing. And we've been making a few connections with other NGO's and hopefully we'll make some more soon.

I'd like to ask for your continued prayers as it can be very challenging sometimes to deal with the overwhelming poverty and all the frustrations that come with living in Haiti.

I'm trying to upload pictures, but the internet is being very slow, so bear with me.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I've been thinking and reading a lot about poverty, in addition to seeing it every day. You all know that Haiti is a very poor nation. I don't have to tell you that again. And I've seen some extreme poverty before.

But something about Haiti seems different. Maybe its the damage from the earthquake that just compounded the damage. Maybe its that some houses weren't damaged by the earthquake, but are still worse off than ones that were. Maybe its the sheer scale of poverty here. I look from the roof top of the orphanage and see small, one-room houses with crumbling walls and tin roofs that have been rusted through by the torrential rains spreading as far as I can see. There is a single building that looks different: the 5 or 6 story headquarters of the largest cell-phone company in Haiti - Digicell.

Maybe its that the kids in the orphanage (and me with them) are living in immense wealth compared to the 600 people living in the tent city just up the hill. I'm reminded of a story that has come up a few times in the books that I've been reading. Its from the gospel of Luke, Chapter 16. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who walks past a invalid (Lazarus) sitting right outside of his front door every day and does nothing to help him, despite his great wealth. When they both died, the rich man went to hell and the poor invalid went to heaven. The rich man was punished because he ignored the need right in front of him. It was not what he had done that got him in trouble, but what he had failed to do.

The poverty here is overwhelming. I often think that there is not much that I can do to change that. And indeed Haiti needs something big. I was talking with a Haitian civil engineer the other day who said that Haiti need a huge investment to lift it out of poverty (something on the scale of the New Deal in the US). But he also reminded us that we have the power to help in small ways. And helping one is better than helping none. Sometimes even that is difficult though. We don't consistently have transportation to go buy the things we need. Deciding who needs help and what they need are tricky things, particularly without knowing Creole very well (although I'm learning quickly). And then I start thinking about all the things we could change if there was just an unlimited amount of money. My mind wanders to out to the entire city, the big picture.

Maybe we'll get there, but for now, its about relationships, working small, and doing what I can. Its about showing compassion and facing the poverty that is right outside of my door. Its about each day choosing to do what is right, choosing to everything I can, choosing to do what Jesus taught his disciples to do. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that.