Ineffability seems to be the best way to capture the last few months of summer in beautiful Haiti. So much has happened, and in the continued becoming and discovering of myself during mission, I find myself struggling to put words to all of it. I’ve been blessed with many magnificent little moments as well as a few moving big ones. Just so, in typical Abby fashion, I’ll do my best to share about growth, and the invariably uncomfortable moments that occasionally accompany it, as well as those moments that will someday be my “good old days.”
So let’s take it back to July for a second. One of the cool things Jezi Mari school does is host a camp all month long for some of its students and surrounding neighborhood kids. In total, we averaged about 300 kids a day who walked through the gate of the school for a fun and safe environment where they could just be kids for a moment. A typical day goes from morning salutations and animation (camp counselors leading songs and getting the kids ready for a day of fun), followed by breakfast, then an hour of recreation at any one of our 20 stations, followed by a walk to the river (if it was clean/safe that day), and back for lunch. After lunch there was arts and crafts and one final big animation before the kids went home for the day. The work was simple, help fill juice cups, help the counselors, and spend time doing what I love, working with kids and getting them to smile and laugh.
It was a beautiful experience getting to know the kids better and outside of school as well as meet some pretty awesome peers who clearly love the work we did. The walks to the river were some of my favorite little moments from camp as they allowed for conversations between the counselors and us volunteers. On more of the social side of mission, and one that is far and wide more a gift than work, is the coming to understand and appreciate the global views of others. It was super informative to learn about the counselors opinions, especially from Jacky (one of the most amazing humans, maybe ever, pictured above hugging another amazing human, Vivian), or his brother Jackson (also pretty bona fide). We discussed everything from politics both here and in the US, none of us are happy with the way things are functioning, to foreigners working in another country and the responsibilities that entails, or simply about the dynamics of relationships among friends, barring cultural differences.
I’ll forever be grateful for my first round of Kan Klaudin, as it forced me to come out of my shell and use the language I had been so worried to mess up. The ennegram 2 of me (hello lover of others and desire to please EVERYONE), coupled with my strong 1 wing (hello hyper self criticism), make for a fun time… I want to make others happy, as that is truly when I am at my happiest. I hold myself to some pretty high-and admittedly crazy-expectations at times. As I’m discovering more and more, one of the less fun things you learn as you go is that someone will always have something negative to say about your progress. If you let it, it will drag you down and deplete so much of your energy. It’s a hard won battle, but I am working to a place where what others think of me truly isn’t my business. I’m going to keep trying, struggling, laughing at mix ups, and growing.
Therein is the discomfort and occasional pain of growth. You get tested, you sometimes fall, but you pick yourself up and keep going with the knowledge of how not to fall the same way again. In the same beautiful, blended stroke, therein is also the opportunity to do something else hard for me, ask for and accept help. The counselors, like Jacky, Chelda, and Jackson, were patient with my continued learning and sometimes extensive questions, and laughed with me when I switched stuff up. Of life’s many blessings, good friends who affirm and support you are among some of the best. For the blans (foreigners), I am also greatly blessed to call them friends. From our bright leaders, Aileen with a wicked and perfectly timed sense of humor and Geri, whose love for this place and these people abounds, to Maria, who went all in for her first time in Haiti and was a great sounding board for advice (this social worker definitely knows what she’s doing!), to the young and fun one, Vivian, whose love of life is evident in every smile and high energy encounter, it was an amazing group.
After Kan Klodin in the morning for the middle weeks of July, we’d venture to English Camp with Geri and some of the MBB scholars. The girls worked with several different interactive games and packets to hone their English skills with some fun counselors: Wendy, Lamaj, Juno, and Stanley. Our job was to get involved with them and help as we were able to make camp a wholesome experience. Under Geri’s leadership, it went quite well and I loved getting to know some of the scholars in the MBB program I volunteer with each week. They’re brilliant, driven, funny, and such beautiful young women who are already active members of a better future for Haiti and her people. I have no doubt that these girls will go on to achieve great things, because they have the drive and love to get them there.
It is not summer itself I love, but rather its moments, its memories, its glorious ability to grant me the awareness of being in one of those good old days before they become the good old days. This is not to say the other seasons do not have these lovely tiles in the mosaic of life, but as one who has and will continue to have the most time off in the summer, I notice them more then. In truth, I do not like the heat save for the joy I take in swimming and would almost always take a richly vibrant fall day in a sweater and jeans over a sweltering one in summer when its all I can do but fall in a nearby body of water. Just so, I am grateful for the moments that make the expression “almost always” different from “always.” In the middle of Kan Klodin and at it’s conclusion, before running full force into MBB’s Leadership camp in August, we took pause to enjoy a couple of beach trips. They were stunning and glorious steps away from the hustle and bustle of life at home. We were afforded some of those moments of awareness of what will be “the good old days” when we’re older and in different chapters of life, as we chatted in the back of a truck for a few hours on the way to Saint Marc, which hosts one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve experienced in life, or chilled at the Kaliko to conclude Kan Klodin and send off Aileen and Maria in style.
One of the things I find so appealing about MBB is it’s desire to see the future developed in the present. By this, I mean taking our youngest classes, having just finished seventh and eighth grade, and providing them a week long leadership camp respectively. The girls went through a series of trust building and community exercises and got thrown some questions about themselves and the world some had not yet encountered. It was a good opportunity to see who was a leader among leaders, and give many an opportunity to find their voice in a strong community. For Vivian, Geri, and myself, it afforded us an opportunity to get to know some of the younger members of MBB. Seeing how they worked together, getting to hear their bright, passionate, and hopeful responses about themselves, their country, and the future did wonders to reignite some of my own flame.
Yes we live in a world that is burning up and running out of resources with people that seem to live to hurt other people. Yes, Haiti and the United States both have less than desirable political climates that create many problems for their citizens, more it seems than solutions. Yes, there will continue to be problems as long as humans have a say in things. And yes, if all you choose to see is the dark, the muck, the hurt, the broken, then that is all you allow the world to be. Yet, if like the girls discussed, you can also see the light, the help, the healing, and the color that still comes from broken crayons, the world becomes much more complex and glorious and most of all, hopeful. I got to practice my Kreyòl in a fun and slightly intimidating way with the girls. I lead an activity that dealt with times when we had something difficult happen and how we responded.
Using the example from a couple blogs past, when I had two cringy experiences with 8 legged hellions in as many minutes, I discussed our control in situations. As I’ve done with classes in the states, we discussed that the reality of life is that we control very little of what happens to or around us. However, what we can and must control is our response to both. The girls took over the conversation for a bit (go them!) and talked about staying grounded in who they are and the importance of progressing, come what may. In this and other discussions, they presented their leadership capacities. Leadership is knowing a storm will come, bracing yourself and those around you, and facing it head on. It is also knowing hits will come and refusing to be beat, taking accountability, and knowing when to ask for support. All of which the girls demonstrated in some form or fashion in these weeks. I am thrilled to get to work with MBB and see how far these brilliant young women go!
When Jonathan, the funny and charismatic director of Mercy Beyond Borders, talked to me about their library and getting it up to date, I was curious to see how far we could take the system in my first project with them post camp. It was a labor of love getting each book cataloged and updated on a new online system. Even more when it came to making and affixing barcodes for each of our almost 600 books and counting (some of which had no known ISBN when I started). Absolutely worth it! We can now scan directly to our system and know which books have been checked out with this great app. I also made QR codes for each of our scholars that go on their lovely ID cards the wonderful Mr. Huguens-MBB’s computer teacher and a good friend-made. Another small project I got knocked off for MBB was establishing a check in/out system. It is simple but effective in terms of data collection about the wonderful learning center and its uses. With MBB, I’m currently working on knocking out some MLA, APA, and French style reference examples for when they go to write research papers, shout out to my former boss Steve for the hook up with the MLA/APA templates. I love this organization and am so happy to get to work with them in various capacities! It allows me the comfort of quantitative results, which fuels the less quantifiable aspects of my ministries.
And as the summer set on August and dawned to greet a slightly less hot September, I felt the nostalgic twinge of excitement as we edged closer to the start of school for our students. The familiar tingle from the tips of my toes to the edge of my nose grew stronger the closer we got. And for those of you who know what happened this first week back to school, no I don’t think it was the salmonella doing that, haha! (I’ll touch back on that in a second). My excitement for us to get back into the groove of school in Fon Ibo was put on pause for another week under the wise discretion of our fabulous school director, Leny. You see, one of those things we don’t control happening around us is the current gas crisis that is doing some serious damage. For the past few weeks, there’s been a major, and I mean MAJOR gas shortage that’s gotten worse each day. Black market sells in some places are $14 U.S. a gallon.
That is not sustainable in any state in the U.S., let alone in a country where most people are lucky to make $8 a day. This past week gas arrived in Port-au-Prince, yet it cannot reach us in the north or those in the south. This is the result of people-once again-blocking the national roads with demonstrations and manifestations that will work no better than the others that have happened in the past year. Several of us, Haitians and ex-pats alike, have vented our frustrations with one another about how counterproductive such activity is here. When the demonstrators do this stuff, it isn’t hurting those in power, only those on the same level as them. Keeping kids from being able to go to school, people from safely getting to the hospital, gas from reaching places so people can support their livelihoods, none of this has an impact on the politicians more interested in fighting each other than fighting for Haiti.
I try to keep it positive about Haiti, so much of what we hear in the states is riddled with the single story nonsense about her brokenness and ever re-opened wounds. However, the gas crisis is a big part of the present reality I want people to understand. None of us have asked for this, this crummy situation which makes me want to throw my hammer 100 times to cool off. So, what do we do? In the words of our MBB girls, we don’t just sit and do nothing, we keep moving, we regroup, we plan, and we get to work despite all the chaos because our kids need us and deserve an education. In addition to my lack of control over the country’s current frustrations, I also unfortunately cannot control when I get sick *necessarily*. This first week back to school did not quite go as I planned. I started to get quite ill early Monday morning but thought I could push through, we were going back to school, dang it! And I sure didn’t want to miss a thing.
Well folks, my body at the behest of a certain nasty bacteria called salmonella had other plans. I quickly found myself at the hospital here in town seeking some medical assistance. I’ll spare the gory details and just say I kept getting sick throughout waiting to see the doctor and during my visit with the doctor, who promptly decided I would be spending the day at the hospital, stuck to an IV. I’m grateful to have a mission partner here, who came over right away to help me. I was doing pretty okay with translating my issues but I kept getting dizzy and had a hard time grasping communicating effectively in my own language, let alone my developing one. Sami took over so I could drift in and out of consciousness as they gave me various medicines to help with my severe dehydration and nausea. I’d wake up and have color back and some energy, fall asleep, then wake up looking whiter than marshmallow puff.
Once again, growth in the uncomfortable, I was made to let others help me. I was so grateful to have nurses so dedicated to making sure my fever was squashed and I got to feeling better. One gently took a cool washcloth and washed my face and kept adding new cool clothes to my forehead and stomach and-life hack-armpits to draw some of the fever out. I was muttering incoherent and weak “thank yous” as she hummed a sweet Haitian lullaby and quietly told me I’d be okay. I’ve taken some nasty falls and have banged up my body quite badly without too many shed tears – you get tougher the more you wipe out, which hello, it’s me… However, I take full ownership that I am not the toughest when it comes to being quite ill, trying to work on it! With this in mind, I was so touched by her kindness and love for her work as I drifted off again. I ended up needing to stay the night. Not realizing it was happening until she came back, overnight bag in hand, Geri came to spend the night with me in the hospital so Sami could go get some much deserved rest. After a full day running things while Jonathan was trying to get to vacation, she selflessly came to hang out with my lethargic self and keep watch. She communicated with the nurse the three times she came to administer meds in the night ( I was only vaguely aware of one visit) and just offered the gift of presence. I am still humbled by the love and support shown to me in a not so fun time.
When I finally felt more myself and got back for my first day of school on Thursday, it was back to the books, literally. Vivian has worked her tail off to cover the near 2500 books Sr. Pat ordered for our kiddos. I joined her in the labor intensive work. It takes a bit of time for each book, and we’ve got a long way to go, but we are making progress and that is exciting. Aside from this, I am so pumped to start the book project I discussed last time with the 5th and 4th grade classes. We begin this week and I am equal parts nervous and excited to push myself to dive into working directly with both the teachers and the students. It’s an open door to more stumbles and successes and all the learning that accompanies both. Stay tuned to see what we accomplish with it!
I’ve been blessed in the past 3 months to have several moments of realizing I was happy as I was happy. In these perfect moments, I was so content with life, so at peace, and so in love with who I got to be in them and with whom I got to experience them. There was the moment of comforting serenity watching big blue waves roll in on soft, inviting white sand as I sat with some friends in shared wonder, simply getting to exist together in that time and place, exactly as we were, without needing to exchange words. There was the soul-inspiring sunset behind the sisters’ house, you know the kind that warms you inside out, and leaves you grinning ear-to-ear in blissful contentment, on top of a small “mountain” while kids flew homemade kites and I lost myself and my words in the moment of majesty regarding the beauty all around me. Such moments are some of my favorite reminders of God’s presence. There was the one where I returned for another sunset, this time solo, and allowed myself to marvel through writing like I hadn’t in a long time, and regained a synchronized heartbeat with Abba. Then there was the one where the beautiful women who lead our kitchen during Kan Klodin, Annis and Jazzy, showed Vivian and I how to make some of our favorite Haitian dishes with endearing patience and mothers’ abiding love, laughing with us and with strong hands that have built a lifetime, gently guiding us through the process. Annis concluded by telling us, “and now, we’re family.” There exists even more, but these are among my favorite perfect moments. I hope you are all well and have your own experiences with living fully in the moments that find home in “the good old days.” – Agape!