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Thoughts in this Chapter

In the rise and fall of us in this changing of an era, as we enter uncharted waters toward the ends of human capacity in trying times, I’ve had some thoughts rumbling around this head of mine:

  • Because you know I can be rather worder, here are the sections in order, so you can pick what you want:
    • On Kindness
    • On Sacrifice
    • On Frustrations & the Cost Uncomfortably Mentioned
    • On the Hope, Even in the Frustrations
    • On the Reality of COVID-19 in Haiti
    • On Gratitude

On Kindness

When I think of Gail, I think of kindness. Her love for the people here is beautiful to witness.

In the human capacity to fall apart when things go haywire-or more to the current point of our US society working itself toward the makings of an H.P. Lovecraft novel-there also exists the human capacity for kindness. The latter having given me a chance to marvel at the wonder of the less sung and recognized beauty found in the choice of the one enacting it. To act with and in kindness is a choice, and God bless those who have been choosing it, over and over again in the face of this storm. We’ve seen total strangers, with no more than a need known from one humble enough to ask for help, doing all they can to act in kindness and grow the agape in the world. Companies and landlords recognizing the horrible time and position their people are about to be forced into, and doing what they can with their substantial means to alleviate that burden. Stores allocating set times where the most vulnerable to COVID-19 may enter and do their shopping in greater peace and less fear of coming into contact with a healthy carrier. Young people, my generation and the ones directly around me, stepping up to support and protect the older ones by social distancing and running errands/shopping for folks in fear of what they might find on such journeys.

People, taking this truly bizarre and unparalleled time of chaos, and marching forward boldly with kindness and grace. People, who have as much a capacity for fear, hatred, and isolation, choosing kindness in the midst of all this uncertainty and looking from their heart into those of the ones they encounter and deciding, “yeah, their dignity and humanity is worth it. Love is worth it, and right now as I am able, I’m going to help.” It is one of the largest reminders of Christ and his agape love that I have experienced in my 24 years. People acting selflessly because in the face of every variable we cannot control, how much love we pour into the world remains up to us, and there is great freedom in how we choose to respond to what happens to and around us. To those who choose kindness and love every day, especially when the alternatives are a lot easier, thank you, you are an inspiration. To those who look at that as an overwhelming ask, just remember the smallest gift of a smile or a kind word, probably at least 6 feet apart right now, is enough to sow love and turn a day up for someone. It doesn’t take 100,000 people doing 100,000 grand acts of service for others. It takes all of us, doing small acts of love and kindness every day to turn the world right side up and shine light through the stormy moments of life. Try. That is all any of us can ever truly do. More than we realize, our trying is enough to inspire that in others.

On Sacrifice

I am in awe of the great sacrifice we’ve already witnessed as a global society. The sacrifice of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, and friends who give so much of themselves that others might be taken care of and loved. The health care professionals who show up without fail, because there’s work to be done, and their loved ones who wait at home and pray and worry and sometimes cry because of the risk, wow has God blessed us with exceptionally strong individuals! The leaders of the world, making tough decisions that have caused their countries to take some economic blows in order that their people have a better chance. To the people losing so much because of COVID-19.

There are the seniors in university, whom I love and support so much my heart bursts, who have lost their last season of athletics and won’t likely have the opportunity to walk at graduation after all their hard work. My heart breaks with theirs. It is not fair, and it hurts and it is maddening. Just so, my dear teammates and fellow student-athletes, be proud of yourselves, you’ve had amazing success and each of you are so loved and so appreciated. I know this was not a choice many of you got to make, it was decided for you. However, recognize in this moment the choice you do have: you are the one who can choose to have the strength to keep going, to make peace with the unpredictability of life, and to grow where you’ve been tossed. Know that that kind of strength and resilience is not to be taken lightly. For truly, you are inspiring in your refusal to let this keep you down. Thank you for doing what a lot of us sometimes fail to do, and recognizing that your worth is not in what you do or accomplish, but in who you choose to be. Thank you for continuing to choose to be stellar humans, in all aspects of life.

Continue to pursue education, it is how we can uplift the world.

To my fellow teachers and students, I am sorry for the missed opportunities and cathartic experiences found in the community of a well run classroom. I am saddened by the loss of safe places for many, and pray you find new ones in unexpected places during distancing, know always you are loved and supported and there are entire communities of people cheering you on in this life. To the mass interruption of life as we know it, I pray you all quickly find comfort and routine in the new normal. I am so grateful for modern technology which will enable you to continue on in your discovery of the world and it’s workings. I also encourage you, coming from a country where my students are not so fortunate and find themselves on the brink of yet another unprecedented and unknown long break from their education, to please find moments of gratitude for the gift you have in your education. Even when it is not ideal. Think of my kids, of all the kids in this world robbed of their right to education by forces beyond their control. If you find yourself lacking motivation for yourself, choose kindness and do it for them until we can get back in the class, pursue excellence for them, do all you can to discover what awaits you in this world. You’ve been blessed with a beautiful gift, and we here do not begrudge you that. Rather, we ask you to embrace it fully for us and use it to empower this world, to affect the changes necessary to make sure the future is a net positive one for us all. Do this, I pray, that our students and teachers throughout the world are not sacrificing this time we do not get back in vain. Thank you in advance for diving into the beautiful gift you’ve been given, we know it is no small thing.

Two of the many beautiful reasons I love what I am blessed to do.

To my fellow missioners throughout the world, making the hard decision to go home, without knowing when or if you’ll be able to return to a people and place that will forever hold part of your heart, my heart goes out to you. I know it is a decision not lightly made and I pray for you in this time that you remain healthy and carry the beauty, wisdom, and love of your life in mission with you every day. To my fellow missioners who have chosen to stay, I pray we continue to follow where God calls us, however that starts to look. Courage dearheart, God has called us to these people and these places for a reason, trust and forever look for the light and love in this time. Please, take care of yourselves and be safe, for your family, both here and in our origin homes. To the soldiers and overseas workers who do not have a choice in staying but are choosing to do their best even so, thank you for your service and your sacrifice. To our families, loving us through it all, supporting us even when you don’t fully understand our crazy decision to live the lives we do and even when the distance becomes even more painfully real, your strength gives us strength and your sacrifice is not unnoticed in all of this.

On Frustration & the Cost Uncomfortably Mentioned

Y’all, I really wish this wasn’t necessary. I wish the biggest problem I was writing about was that I still sometimes feel way in over my head with this life I’m blessed to live. If that were the case, everyone could relate to that and the problem would be so small, like me in relation to the myriad stars I witness in the roaming indigo skies on nights of breathtaking silent wonder in beautiful Haiti. Alas, some of the stuff that I have witnessed in the face of this outbreak are frustrating as hell and frankly, there is no excuse. If you want to skip to the happy ending, now is your time.

Just as the pendulum swings toward kindness, with the right shove, so too can it swing toward panic induced frenzies. I cannot get over the sci-fi-esque nature of what is going on in the states right now. It boggles my mind that people really think they need to bulk buy toilet paper and other material possessions, in enough packages to last for two months as if we’re heading into the apocalypse. Of course, then I think of the irresponsibility of the media types and it is not that hard to see where the loss of minds originates. It defies belief that people are so consumed in the sensationalism the media is selling them that they are letting their fear make decisions for them. I am appalled by the way the media is inciting a panic. There is a way to justly relay the news and the import of taking care of ourselves and others in this pandemic without inciting a panic. I think in some ways, this has been blown out of proportion and in all ways, folks need to check their facts. I truly hope the distancing works and people take the herd immunity to heart, so that our healthcare providers can get ahead of this thing. Otherwise every single sacrifice made in pursuit of ending this will be for not. Bottom line, don’t be selfish, even if you’d “survive Corona,” there are a plethora of auto-immune deficient/non-existent folks who won’t be so lucky if we don’t take this seriously. Be prepared for the virus hitting close to home and just be responsible. Make sure the sacrifices result in something positive.

It flat out angers me that people have and are going to continue to lose their jobs because of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, what a lot of the people building toilet paper shelters don’t seem to slow down enough to see is the mass number of folks who are going to be most hurt by this – the poorest members of our society and our world. There is not enough in place to offset what our society is asking them to sacrifice. In this, the sacrifice is too much. This, my friends, is the cost seldom and uncomfortably mentioned. I’m frustrated. Frustrated because once again (it is becoming an annoying occurrence in adulthood), I see these gross problems in the world and feel so limited in my ability to combat them. The 2 in me is dying a little every day I see the other realities at play of social distancing and the apparent lack of conversation about what happens to those most burdened by this.

I am led to question what exactly our government has in plan for everyone losing their job in this wave of distancing. I sincerely worry about what our staggering homeless population is going to have to rely on if everything gets shut down and resources do end up running short. We already have problems adequately taking care of them, and I am genuinely worried what happens now that these new rules are in play about distancing. For these folks losing their jobs, I worry if their insurance and living arrangements will not follow in the loss department. God forbid they or the people relying on them get this virus, I do not see a feasible way for them to recover. Especially when the damn test for it runs a $1000 a pop. I am enraged at these companies severe lack of ethics. The same money hungry lack of ethics that enable them to try and justify the absurd and unrealistic costs of insulin and epi-pens, because, you know, people don’t need to live or anything…

On the Hope, Even in the Frustrations

In rather dramatic fashion, I recently saw a statement in one of the Haiti Update groups of which I am a part which discussed our options in this new and evolving era of humanity. “You can rest today or you can fret today but it wont change tomorrow…it will only change how you lived today. You get to choose how you want to live the next 24 hours.” If you can get past the slightly hallmark way of saying it (which let’s be honest, if you read my stuff, you know you love it) the point is valid. We can choose to be consumed by the fear, by the uncertainty in all of this, and in that fall to a dark place in our humanity. Or, we can resolve ourselves to the reality we are all a part of this, rise, and continue to live in the best ways we can.

So

In shouldering our part of this historic event, I continually see reasons to hope because of the kindness I see people choosing for no other reason than kindness’ sake. This opens the door for us to take care of one another, to do what we are able for our neighbor, with what we can, even as we ourselves are being placed in positions that ask much of us. Everyone can give something, and no, I don’t mean physically. Do the world and yourself a favor, remember five humans or things that still give you joy, even locked in isolation, five things that still make you laugh, five things that give you cause to feel safe. I really believe what we put into the world has more of an impact than any of us get to fully understand in this life. Do not lose hope, there is an end to this, and even we cannot know exactly when, we do know that it will end. Continue on, because others don’t even have that option. I mentioned our students here, who do not have the luxury of online school. Stay dedicated for them, keep doing what you do so the world goes on when this is over.

Many

On Friday, some of the schools called the kids in to discuss with them what is happening and why we must shut down for another period of time before sending them home for an unknown time. The ones who come to Jezi Mari also received an egg. My greatest fear is what their nutrition will start to look like in the best case scenario of this being over in two months. The same extends to those children in the US and throughout the world who rely on school programs to secure their nourishment. Even in the face of this, I must cling to hope. I have seen a lot of good people stepping up to make meals for families who could use support. My cousin’s wife, in a move that made me so proud and so humbled, posted something online that all anyone needed to do was ask for help and she and my cousin would do what they could to help. As much as this situation is sometimes out of our hands, I maintain hope that we, as a people, will continue to support one another. The best part about this is that hope is there and we can be a part of it irrespective of who we vote for, our color, our creed, our age, our intellect, our gender, or any other label we love to slap on ourselves. To hope is to human well.

Beautiful

In all of this too is the trust that gifts us hope. It is to some cheesy and cliché, but I believe there is great opportunity for trusting in all of this as well. I do not understand this in the same way I don’t understand the mass amounts of suffering I see first hand in the world. I shake my head, with tears on the verge of falling, at the utter injustice of seeing my beautiful, amazing students once again having their education put on pause for things far out of their control. I harrumph quite often in recent conversations with God about my utter lack of ability to do much about it. All this and still I trust, because I know, despite the innate sense of NEEDING (or at least that’s what the enneagram 1 in me makes me think when I don’t feel in control) to know the plan and back up plans to feel comfortable, I know that God’s got this. To be honest, the irony of my work here is the feeling of going through another long night of the soul in this chapter of life. I know God is there by the love, the hope, the rolling-laughter-inducing-humor, and the wonder I get to experience every day with my kids and friends in this blessed place. I know God is there, I can see it clearly, but in the private moments, I find myself wanting to feel our Creator. So, I continue to trust, and in so doing find hope in what we can do in this time of great unknown.

Reasons

Continue to learn, my lovely humans, to discover, to dream, to pursue, to work, and most importantly, continue in the pursuit of love, compassion, and the little acts of kindness that mean far more than we fully know. Talk with God, be honest about what you’re feeling, you’ll not be judged for it. You’re not weak for having moments of fear, of sadness, of longing. Nor are you wrong for them. Being human means a wide range of emotions that can hit us all at once. It is totally okay. If you, like me, have found yourself becoming detached from the relationship you desperately need with our Beloved Abba, use this time to stop running and plant yourself. If you’re anything like me, it’s uncomfortable as hell to get over yourself and get back to a place of vulnerability with God, but with nowhere else to go, why not begin again?

To HOPE.

In finding God, and becoming so lost in the marvel of our Creator, we can find ourselves, we find where we are called, and perhaps in this time of great unknowns and uncertainty, we find the strength to be courageous and love in the face of fear. To be a community to all ends of our society, especially those most affected by this change – the poor. Cling to hope, be a reason of hope in someone else’s life, and never stop believing that the light you hold in you is so needed in this world, no other light could ever hope to replace it. As I said, it will not take 100,000 people doing this perfectly, it will take us all taking a very human crack at it and working together to get to the other side of this, and God! How beautiful that day will be as we celebrate the victory of our kindness, our sacrifices, our support of one another, our refusal to overlook the most vulnerable and most affected, and our choice to be the best of what our humanity can be! My friends, that, that is the day that anchors my hope. Chin up, we can and will do this, as there is air in our lungs, we have the chance to do something beautiful with it!

I cannot tell you what hope in this looks like for you, but I can tell you that it is there, find it and let it fuel your capacity for kindness, love, and the best of who we get to be and choose as humans!

On the Reality of COVID-19 in Haiti

As it stands, Haiti, as of March 19, has two official cases and we are moving toward a full on lock-down. No one in or out of this country not flying merchandise, and we are severely undersupplied to try and combat this virus. American Airlines is flying empty planes today and tomorrow to try and bring home U.S. citizens and we just got word this morning that Eastern Airlines is another option for US citizens to evacuate Haiti and return home to ride out COVID-19. To present knowledge, these are the only exceptions, and they are not even guaranteed.

My beloved Maryknoll community, our awesome friend Geri, the good RJM sisters and Brittany, along with myself, are staying put. The way most of us are looking at this, we ride it out here, and are able to respond first when we do get to the other side of this, or we go through the headache of trying to get home and ride it out there, with no known guarantee of when we’d get to return to our beloved Haiti. For us, even carefully considered, the choice was not too hard.

As I mentioned before, the reality of COVID-19 hits Haiti, and other countries like it, in similar fashion – harder than the rest of the world. People in countries like here are asked to sacrifice far more than others. These kids and teachers do not have the luxury of moving class online. I am glad I went to the school on Friday, I heard some commentary about what the adults here are feeling about this situation and I think it is really important:

Madams Carlin, Elliotte, and Raymond at a formation in the fall.

“With the president blocking everything, how will people live? They have no means. We’ve already suffered so much. How will people take care of themselves and their children?” Madame Carlin, one of beautiful preschool teachers expressed. There was a certain amount of head shaking going on as we all contemplated the gravity of the situation here. Another teacher, Madam Raymonde added, “If you’re the president and you block everything, okay, but after that? What means are you giving people in place of their work?” With everything shut down, even if in the good attempt to curve the spread, what leaders here and in many places haven’t talked about or, even worse, considered, is the effect of a mass shut down on people’s livelihoods. In walking with Geri and Jill, our spectacular and full of light new missioner, we discussed that unlike the US, which is in current talk of $1 trillion plan to help us recover, Haiti doesn’t have a feasible recovery option.

In trying to keep the peace and stay grounded in what we can do with a situation out of our hands, Madame Elliotte, another of our endearing pre-k teachers, simply stated, “We know what juices work to help with which part of nutrition. Citrus and grapefruit help give us important vitamins.” She discussed for a minute the various juices and what they help the body do. She then went on to say, “We have to take care of ourselves, keep ourselves clean, and lookout for one another.” In a gentle way, I think she was reminding us that it is up to us what we do, we cannot rely on the leaders to fix everything themselves or have all the answers. We have to ban together to get through this. “I agree, but what about the people who have to walk [great distances] to get water? Are they going to get arrested for trying to live?” Zamene, a second grade teacher voiced. Again, we all shook our heads, though I do not honestly think the people who must make four hour trips just to retrieve water will be condemned for that. Her comment does, however, point to the critical problem we face here, a problem on the verge of becoming even more critical: water supply. It is hard to effectively wash hands to stave off germs and clean when clean, accessible (both in cost and location) water is in short supply and high demand.

Honestly, no matter how we look at it, people lose a lot in this mess, and no one more than our students. With all the schooling they lost in the fall, and now what they are losing, there is a question of whether or not they’ll just start the same year over again. This of course, leads to another question, can you justly ask the parents to pay for the same school year they already sacrificed for? It is a hard thing to come to terms with in mission, the imbalance of the world. I come from such a place of opportunity and privilege and had so much afforded me I didn’t ever have cause to fully appreciate it until coming here. And now, I cannot even see my kids every day while we wait this out. At least in the fall I could show up and be there. Now, like them, I look at the next several weeks and wonder, what’s next? In the same way they motivate me to press on in the smaller hard moments here, they are some of my biggest reasons for pushing on through this bigger hard moment. I cannot wait to embrace them all again and share the love that exists in my heart for each of them.

Jill and I post zumba – stay healthy in distancing folks!

We continue to monitor the situation here in Haiti, and stay active and hopeful as we begin to plan quarantine. I honestly cannot tell you what will happen if/when it hits the community here, just that I believe it will not be pretty. In the same amazing fashion I’ve watched this country and her people weather lockdowns, protests, closings of schools and businesses, and hardship unknown to so many in the world, Haiti and the people strong enough to be Haitian will get through this. I do ask that if you can provide no other support, please pray for us, please hold onto hope with us, please keep living and dreaming and pursuing what life calls you toward, and in honor of the people here, recognize the gifts that surround you, for surely, so many of them are not available to others. In no way are you begrudged for being blessed as you are, I simply ask that you live as gratefully as you are able, to live and love, act kindly and give as you are able in return.

On Gratitude

To the health care workers going to work every day, showing up, and working overtime to get ahead of this thing, all with a smile on your face, I commend you. You are so appreciated and so needed. To their families, who sometimes wait in worry for them to come home okay, thank you for letting them be real life superheroes, we could not get through this without them and they could not get through this without you. Thank you for being their real life superheroes. To the moms and dads going a little stir crazy with their minis bouncing off the walls, thank you for loving them in only the ways you can and for keeping your family safe. Thank you for your patience and support of them in this challenging time. We see you and holy cow, we think you’re killing it! To my fellow “youngins” doing what they can to be a light and gift in this time, well done. For continuing your education and pursuit of your goals even when it’s really tempting to let distractions get the best of you, bravo! To showing how selfless we, as young people with good hearts, can be, the love you’re sowing now is going to continue to do big things. You are seen and you are appreciated.

To our “elders” still finding the humor and the joy in life, and the time to instill lessons, thank you for trusting us to do right by you, thank you for showing us how to hold on to hope and happiness in the crazier sides of life. To the families of missioners who continue to support us in this unpredictable and unnerving chapter, thank you. Your love is in an agape form most of the time we are so far from you, but especially now, when the reality of that distance hits even harder. Thank you for trusting us, for trusting God to be guiding us. Your sacrifice in letting us go can never be over-appreciated, and know we carry that love with us every day. It empowers us more than words have the words to properly convey.

To you all, thank you for your continued support and thoughts. I pray you are all well, cared for, and know that you are super loved. May this time, despite the uncertainty and sacrifice being asked of you, be a time of growth, love, and peace. Be well. Agape!

To my favorite tiny humans, most of whom are still too little to read this blog, I miss you all crazy and I am so grateful for the gifts that allow me to still be part of your lives. Keep up the good work and do the good things. Be nice to mom and dad for me, okay? They’re working overtime to be who you need them to be. To my amazing siblings, by blood or marriage, thank you for continuing to make me laugh, an entire ocean away, and for continuing to show me better ways to love others. To our parents, the greatest anchors and cheer squad we could ever have, thanks homies, I know it isn’t always easy on you, this amazing, crazy, beautiful, hard, giving, full, and loving life of mine, but your support means everything. Take care of yourselves and yes, please fully expect more dinosaur memes and video messages at random times of the day!

The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.

Robert Holden

Hurting and Healing in Haiti: A Classic Coin Story

We cannot begin to heal-ourselves, our parts of the world, anything-if we do not understand, acknowledge, and own the hurt we had a hand in causing. It does not always feel good at the start (or heck, even in the middle), this glorious part of life called healing, but that’s okay. We are not always called to comfort or convenience when it comes to growth, when it comes to actively pursing a better, wiser, and/or stronger version of ourselves. We are also not called on to heal every hurt by ourselves, but we do have our distinct part within it.

For example, a few Sundays ago, when your favorite klutzy giant was playing soccer with some students and swiftly stumbled full force into the frame of an opened metal door, there was some hurt. I had picked up one of my kids to kick the ball away from him and another ran full force into my back. Falling down, I didn’t want the one in my arms to get hurt so I wrapped him up and braced as best I could. Fortunately, no serious injury occurred on my part and he was totally fine. We both started cracking up and didn’t think much of it until one of my friends from that neighborhood went “Abby, look at your knee!” I took a quick glance and just thought, shoot! Not realizing how bad it was, I cleaned it up with the first aid kit, slapped a band aid on it, and went about watching them play for a bit. It wasn’t until later, when I was playing card games at the local home for the elderly and my band aid fell off, and I was informed my knee needed a little more attention. The amazing nurse who works evenings and weekends told me I needed to head to the hospital, I was going to need a few stitches.

Their energy is endless, and their joy is priceless!

Well, five stitches later, this Humpty Dumpty was put together again. The stitches came out five days later, and my knee is recovering nicely! Within this last adventure to the hospital, I was again blessed with my awesome Maryknoll partner, Sami, who kept me laughing and helped the wonderful nurse (who shook her head seeing me back so soon for another visit, haha!), get me squared away. I wouldn’t have healed as well if not for the nurse’s attention to doing her job well, and I would not have gone to the hospital if the nurse at the home for the elderly had not told me to do so. I would not have gotten better if I’d not listened. These great women had a huge hand in helping me heal, and my part was to let them help me.

Where we’re at now in the country, we face entering the seventh week of conflicts, lockdowns, and closed schools throughout the country, most severely in Port-au-Prince. While Gros Morne, my home town, is normally calm and has managed to function, it has not gone without problems. The most disheartening and worrisome, in my opinion, is the fact that all of our 37 schools remain closed. For almost two months, our kids have gone without regular education. I was talking with Geri, a really good friend and mentor here, and we’re of the mind that there is no quantifiable loss for what these problems are costing the people here. How can we put a number on the lasting impact of losing this much school? How can we quantify the actual net loss of traffic and profit for small businesses, like the local restaurants, whose owners have invested all they have into their work? How do we quantify the strain and stress and time lost for families who go without because of the lack of order, economic progress, and general uncertainty about what the next hour will bring, let alone the next day? The gas crisis is not really calming down either. There’s gas in the country, but it is still a gamble on whether or not we could find some, and if we do from someplace that’s not a station, there’s a chance it’s been cut with suspicious materials. The list of hurts goes on, and sometimes it feels overwhelming when trying to figure out how to heal and my place within that healing.

Just one of countless protests in the capital. Image source – google.

And the absolutely frustrating thing about it is that I can walk away at any point. I can throw my hands up and say, “Not my problem, not my country. This is too much, I can’t hang. I am one person, and we’re drifting on a small island of hope in a sea of despair, destruction, and chaos.” Some people have left, especially those who work mostly in Port-au-Prince, where things seem to be becoming increasingly dire. And I cannot fault them for it. In fact, I’m glad they realized their limitations. Missioners, anyone really, cannot work effectively if they are coming from a place of constant stress and fear. If one’s inability to process things, to function effectively lingers more than a tough moment, it’s time to bow out gracefully. It’s also the realistic matter of not putting oneself in danger. Where I am at though, I’ve not felt the need to step away, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

Have there been moments where I question everything that is going on and my at times seemingly insignificant place here? Yep, I’d be concerned if I hadn’t. It would also be easy. Using my privilege to toss in the towel even though things are far from rock bottom here, to go back to the extreme comfort and convenience of life in the States and the consistency of work there, even more so to return to my loved ones whom I miss every day. In doing so, though, it wouldn’t be me and I’d let myself down majorly, as well as others counting on me. I don’t need easy, I just need possible. So, focusing on my kids and fellow instructors at the school, I shift the paradigm of my thinking to recognize what is achievable in the midst of all these obstacles.

Our kids aren’t in school, that’s so not ideal. However, the guardian has the keys to the gates and the library. So, in exchange for time in the library, where I work with them on their reading skills, I give the students in our school’s neighborhood playtime with soccer. We’ve explored books over animals, the solar system, ecosystems, and of course, Dr. Suess. I used volunteers to make our own solar system of students (so cute!) as we discussed distance in relation to the sun and looked at a visual example of why it takes some planets longer than others to go around the sun. In these small moments, where the discovery, the fun, and the laughter is allowed to happen, we win. In these moments, these little victories include the all too fleeting time when kids get to be kids. They are asked simply to learn together, play together, and grow together. They, for a moment, are not asked to wait around for the next foot to fall. They are not asked to wonder at why they are not able to go to school, or understand far more of violence and unrest than any child should. In our little mornings, my kids stand against what is happening around them and refuse to let their childhoods be taken from them. And though they may not conscientiously recognize it yet, these brilliant young ones are claiming their important places in the healing of a hurting country.

Additionally, in the mornings, working with the teachers to instruct them on how to use their version of Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint), the work goes on and their educational tool-belts get some upgrades. On the days we do formations, working together to present information, strategies, and discussing the aid of Maslow’s hierarchy and Gardner’s MLT, we’re refusing to just sit and do nothing. It is not ideal and it is not without its frustrations, but in these small moments of defiance, we continue to grow together, to prepare for the days when all of our amazing students can freely pass into our gates once more. As with their students, the teachers take their role in the healing of the hurt caused by others.

If we liken beautiful Haiti to a coin, one side contains the hurt, the other displays the healing, and it is her people that flip it. The selfishness and non-progression of politicians is big part of the hurt. They do not care what becomes of their countrymen and women. Those who march, while perhaps having started with noble ideas in mind, have also had a hand in the hurt. Blocking roads does not hurt the well fed, well guarded leaders the demonstrators want to, it hurts their fellow citizens, struggling just as much if not worse than themselves. With the stagnation of the government, at this point, the fires, the road blocks, the chaos is all for the sake of fires, road blocks, and chaos. It is keeping people from being able to sell their goods, children from school, the sick from the hospital, the doctors from the hospital, and people from living. Hospitals are severely under-stocked, with some medicines nowhere to be found in the country right now. Some nurses and doctors are extremely limited in the care they can provide their patience. Indeed, the weight of the coin seems to favor the hurt, for everywhere we look here, hurt is present and the end is hiding somewhere we cannot see.

Yet, flip the coin and there is healing to be found. There are schools that function in the face of the storm or situations like ours where the learning goes on, albeit in informal ways. I’ve walked through neighborhoods where grandmothers (elder women, not necessarily biological grandmas, but that’s what we call them nonetheless!), bring out old chalk boards and host informal sessions on math, French, and Kreyòl. Older siblings work with younger siblings to keep the education going. Some of our MBB leaders have utilized our library to check out textbooks and teach themselves, or review lessons so they stay sharp for school. On the healthcare side, we still see emergency and volunteer services pushing through the muck to reach and help as many as possible. And those under-stocked nurses and doctors I mentioned before, they still show up and do what they can to help their patients. The market still opens and people still go to work, because they refuse to be beat by this situation. We still see the wondrous parts of life, love, laughter, and learning happening because people, despite our ability to royally muck up a situation, maintain a counter ability to do life right. Ultimately, we possess the desire to be better, to live well, and to love freely. It is at times tricky and sometimes maddeningly frustrating, but we navigate life in this time of upheaval and uncertainty, and I am forever learning about the resilience of my Haitian family.

I would be remiss to say that the situation is not grim, for truly it is; in fact, it is the hardest course of events I’ve witnessed and in any way been involved. However, as I said, it is truly a two sided coin situation. Where there is hurt, there is also healing taking place. My place among that is in the simple action to show up every day for my kids, to learn and grow with them, to play soccer with them, and subsequently make them laugh because I am quite mediocre at it. My active stance toward healing is working with my fellow instructors, that we may all grow and learn together how to be better in the career we love for the students we love even more. We are working toward healing because we refuse to back down. We’re staying rooted in love and in so doing, the healing side of this coin has tremendous weight indeed.

Where hope and love remain, neither hate nor fear may linger.
One of our teachers’ little boy, he’s pretty darn cute!

I cannot honestly say when things will recover, or if they will/can ever return to the way they were. I am still in uncharted waters myself. I can tell you that I continue to be amazed by the strength of the people who ceaselessly open their hearts to receive mine and grant me far more blessings than I could ever hope to give. I can tell you that even on the hardest days or in my personal weakest moments, hope and love abound. I can tell you that we will yet rise together and not if, but when we push through, it will be because God gave us a sense of fortitude and purpose that refuses to be denied. Life, in all its chaotic wonder and occasional stress, continues to be blessed. God continues to call me further into mission and constantly shows me the glory of love all around me, never letting me forget the hope found within a single ember. May we all remember that power and may you all be well, finding the reasons for joy and hope and love, even when it is difficult. I hold you in my heart and remain rooted in the love that is around me. Agape!

Below is a poem I was inspired to write after a well done reflection by another friend, mentor, and director for MBB, Jonathan.

A Day in the Heat

Pause. Breathe. 

Stress. Sweat. Breathe. 

Think. Overthink. Breathe.

 Keep going. Question. Breathe. 

 Just. Keep. Going.

Could be… worse…

Breathe. Try to breathe.

Air, why is there no air?

.

It’s being consumed

By an insatiable heat,

prowling the island 

in slow, steady agitation,

each advance a move closer

to an eruption from which 

we do not return.

A fire, fueled

by anger and a hunger,

a hunger for that long desired

something more we all see 

in a taunting green, glowing light 

across the water.

In the heat’s rising,

many have lost themselves to 

it’s scathing flames and 

consequential promises, 

having looked too long into its siren core,

thus surrendering to brokenness.

Many have been lost in the 

wake of its course, the result of daring to be sick,

young, 

old,

different,

working,

objecting. 

.

Inhale. Burning. Eyes. Nose. Throat.

Exhale. Cough. Cough Again. 

Inhale, slowly. Shake head.

Sigh. Tears fall. Eyes burn. Breathe.

Look. Smoke. Dark plumes. Breathe.

Trash? Tires? Risk it?

Exhale. Trash. Just trash. Bless.

Inhale. Think. Choose. Act? Sit?

.

Here is not there,

where the plumes billow endlessly,

and the stench of burnt rubber drowns you,

where the bullets, hailing so often,

could trick you for rain,

where the cries for a leader to leave,

for help, for answers, for notice,

do not cease,

where fuel is ever adding to the fire.

Here is not there,

here the heat has not infected so many,

here the heat felt comes mostly from a sweltering October sun,

here life goes on and people still try,

here the market remains, though prices rise,

here the schools stand,

though silent and sad for want of their children to usher in again,

bringing laughter and learning once more, 

here is blessed in the broken,

for the work can continue.

Here is affected, not paralyzed, not trapped. 

When does it end though?

Hope,

but

don’t

hold

your

breath.

.

Sigh. Deeply. Okay.

Messy bun, check. Chacos, check.

Water. Money. Keys. Phone. Band Aids.

Bag ready, check.

Door locked, check.

Gate locked, check.

Breathe.

.

No uniforms blurring past. I miss it a lot.

Few motos buzzing around. Hmm, I miss them too.

More dominos and cards and children running around with plastic bottles repurposed to toy cars.

The radio crackles, like it has the last six weeks,

 about 

the heat spreading,

the people suffering,

the calls to march,

the calls to lock down,

the call for exile,

that is ignored only by the one it’s meant for.

At this point,

is he not selfish?

His silence as useful as a single bucket of water to pacify the growing flames.

His parting would not solve anything long term,

but oh the slight breath it would offer!

Many, who by a young 32 years,

have already seen two coups,

truly believe one would be better than now.

Can I justly say?

Frightening. 

That unknown.

What have I ever had to ponder about a coup?

About a nation on fire,

on the brink of imploding,

such things have only been in the pages of history books about the world…

Can’t

Fix

It

All. 

.

Smile. Growing. Laughter. Excitement.

Little hands, finding yours. W ap jwè?

Yes, little one, we’ll play. 

Ball, ready.

Players? READY! Timer started.

Stress. Dissipating. Peace. Increasing.

Contented sigh.

.

In this small hour of the morning,

they are asked only to be kids,

to play, without fighting, to work together,

to laugh, learn, joke, simply be as they are.

We still feel the heat creeping toward us,

but in our small defiance,

we decide not to let it win the day here.

Before we played,

we found our own adventures in the library and the many other worlds it hosts.

The heat may keep the uniforms off,

the classrooms shut,

and the route to progress strewn with rocks,

but by God, 

it will not keep them from learning, from their youth, from progress, from rising!

Do not tell my kids they don’t get to learn,

for they will simply smile and grab a book anyways.

Do not tell my kids their education is a danger,

for they know the power it hosts.

Do not tell my kids they don’t have a right to their childhoods,

for they are children who will not give it up.

Do not tell us that here is there,

because we make sure it is not.

Do not dare tell me there’s nothing to be done, 

when children are wanting to read together,

and there are games to play,

and love to root far deeper than any hate or hurt.

Do not try it.

Do not try to keep us down,

For 

We

Will 

Rise. 

-Abbagail M. Belt

Formation Photos!

Glad to Know Them for “The Good Old Days”

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.”

The animators (counselors) and volunteers, without whom Kan Klaudin could not operate.

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.

Geri, Vivian, Aileen, Maria, and myself.

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.

Live in the Sunshine, Swim in the Sea, Drink in the Wild Air.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

What you do has far greater impact than what you say.

Stephan Covey

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!

So much respect for librarians, it takes dedication!

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.

Education is the passport to the future, f0r tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

Malcolm X

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!

Life isn’t perfect, but it sure has perfect moments.

Unknown

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!

The Art of Slowing Down

Of the many beautiful things Haiti has taught me since opening her arms to me, the art of slowing down is one proving to be a continuing lesson. I walk the same 1.5 mile route to the school where my ministry is taking shape, sometimes four times a day. In the first walk of my day, as kids in various brightly colored uniforms meander to school (or full on sprint depending on the morning they’re having!), I spend time reflecting on various things and in conversation with God, asking for guidance in the day and opportunities to share life with these wonderful humans. It’s a bit of jaunt, dodging motos, kamyons (big trucks), and the many women walking with enormous bundles on their heads to market, but it’s a firm part of life down here. And in the many moments where I wait for any of the three to pass, I’m afforded the chance to engage with someone, ask them how they are, and talk about whatever is going on around us. It’s simple, but in this slowing down of things, something I don’t do often enough in the states, I find little joys I might have otherwise missed. I often end up walking the last part of the dirt road hand-in-hand with some of the 500 students the school hosts.

500 students locked into a beautiful documentary about Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement – BEAUTIFUL! (Shout out to Nadine for the gift of the documentary, it continues to inform and inspire!)

Our community has many people, but is far from being considered a big town, let alone a city. We are surrounded by mountains on virtually all sides, which is refreshing when you come from a state flatter than a pancake (yes Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore)! You can walk anywhere in town under an hour. The Jesus Mary school I’ve been working with, run by the Religious of Jesus and Mary sisters, has many students who can’t afford education. The sisters do a lot to provide these kids with a solid education. The instructors are great, and work well with the students. Like with the rest of the country, many people struggle to find work. There are several families that are classified below poverty, labeled to be living in abject misery. The need for better living is great, and education is the foundation for getting there. One of the amazing things about the school is that it provides a meal for the children after recess. This is huge, as for many, it might be the only one they receive each day. As a result of the school taking care of some basic needs, the students are able to better focus on their education. Just so, like with students anywhere, there are still some who seem adamantly opposed to education. That is one of the things I am trying to work with the teachers to improve.

The third graders work in groups on an in class assignment with their wonderful teacher!

Arriving at school, the students are usually finishing up with morning announcements, prayer, and saluting the flag. I then decide which class I want to work with that day, and ask the instructor if I can sit with them. Herein lies one of my main ministries (so far). I observe what the teachers do, recording notes on method, strategies, and how the kids are responding. After lessons, I talk with the instructor about how it went, we discuss what was awesome, what seemed to be difficult, and what we might use to improve the lesson even more. We also discuss potential projects and what resources would be needed to make them a reality.

For instance, one of the first grade teachers used an example of the students’ mothers cutting up a zaboka (avocado) or chadek (grapefruit) to help give the kids a visual for understanding basic geometric principles in how shapes can be divided. In one of the absolute best moments we teachers get to see, a lot of light bulbs turned on as the kids who had been struggling made the connection! It was great, and afterward she and I started brainstorming ideas for how to use that same idea and bring even more discovery into the lesson. We now have plans to bring actual fruit into a similar lesson, to give the kids a kinesthetic experience and get hands on with the lesson. Bonus, they also get a nutritious and delicious snack! To continue with the same concept, we’re planning a science lesson to attach to this, so we can get the kids in the dirt, learning about planting and agriculture using the seeds from their math snacks!

Typical poses for photos here, before one of our practices

When the students work individually on math and in their Kreyòl workbooks, I walk around and work with them if they need help, or find ways I can bombard them with encouragement and praise. When it comes to their French lessons, let’s just say I do what I can to make them smile, because unlike them, I am so lost! Seriously, why does that language feel the need to have a fifteen letter word that only verbalizes six of those letters?! At any rate, I’m grateful for these moments, as they allow me to actively engage with them and make strong connections. Recess is a great time in the day, as it again allows me to get hands on with the kids during the endless games we play. For my first and second graders, tag – the kind where it’s all students v. Abby – is their favorite, and man I get my workout in for the day with this one! With my older students, I cheer on the boys as they play soccer (practically everyone’s favorite sport in Haiti) and talk with the girls as they fuss with my hair or sunglasses or ask for pictures. They are so curious about why only some of my hair is blonde, and struggle to believe I don’t have it dyed that way.

My girls asked if they could keep playing, even raining oceans. I said, “Let’s do it!”

In the afternoons Monday through Wednesday, I come back to school after lunch to help with soccer. Mind you, of the many different sports my parents had me participate in when I was growing, soccer was never one of them. I have done a lot of research since coming here and fortunately, one of the instructors is the main coach and has actually played for the town’s team. We work with them on agilities and drills before we let them scrimmage. Herein lies my other main ministry. I’m in the process of establishing a sports program between four of the schools here. I have locked in a donor deal with a sports facility in the US, who has agreed to donate many resources for us to get this up and running. This however, is in it’s infancy, and has been a big instructor in the art of patience and slowing down (at times a painful growth for me). It is my hope that the directors of the schools, the coaches, and myself can work together to have the schools start competing together as early as next year.

One of the facets of this program I’ve orchestrated with the director of my main school and coach is a “Second Chance” program. If the students agree to three things, they are allowed to come to practices or music or art, even if they don’t have the grade they need for it. The students are required to have a 5.5 average score (out of 10 possible) to participate. However, with this new program we’re starting, if they come to school on time, don’t have unexcused absences, and come to tutoring after school two times a week, we give them a second chance. We want them to be able to participate, and if they show they’re committed to trying to do better, then they earn certain graces. I have always been blessed when it comes to education. I just get it. However, I know so many wonderful, intelligent, and gifted humans who had a hell of a time in school. I have so much respect for them, and I am so blessed by the lessons they’ve taught me about being human. I know full well school is hard for a lot of people, and that’s even without a hard home life or hunger that many of our kids face. Therefore, to give them the benefit of the doubt and surround them with as much support as possible while still giving them autonomy, we developed “Second Chance.” Everyone, children especially, deserve to have things that make them happy, that enable them to feel a sense of self-pride and love. Sports, music, and art are some of those things that kids can thrive in without thriving in academics. So an opportunity to work in both is great!

Reviewing lessons in the computer lab.

Another project I am so excited to have us start in the fall will be taking place in the fifth grade classrooms. I took it from one I got to do when I was in middle school. The teachers and I are working together to develop this project, which will involve both big and little students. We’ll have the fifth graders go through the process of drafting, writing, and illustrating children’s books in Kreyòl! I approached them with this project because I noticed the library lacked many books in the native language, but had many in French and English. We want the kids to take pride in the language and culture that is theirs, and this project provides that opportunity well! It also gives the big kids a chance to show off their story telling and artistic skills. When the students finish their final drafts, they will get to share them with the younger grades, who have a set time for learning the grammar and written portions of Kreyòl. I can’t wait to see how this works!

In one of the funnier instances I’ve had with the kids at soccer practice, I was reminded of the power of laughter and of the grace I need to give myself far more often than I do. Last week we had so much rain, even for the rainy season. At any rate, during the older boys’ practice, one started to lose the bottom of his shoe. Trying to make sure his foot was protected from the elements, I ran into the school storage room and grabbed bright orange “Gorilla Tape.” You know, the stuff that’s supposed to be one of the strongest holds? I had him sit down for a minute as I went to work, trying to mend his shoe. The other students there and our coach, Sony, watched in mild amusement as the toe part of his shoe was being transformed into this bright orange point. He looked at me with curiosity and maybe a little doubt, but went right back to playing. I kid you not, maybe 30 seconds later, he went to kick the ball and with it went this lovely formed duct-tape impression of the toe part of his shoe and the sole, which had just completely come off. Everyone erupted into laughter, Sony and I looked at each other and also broke out laughing. Our little trooper simply kicked off his shoes and went to work to help his team win the scrimmage. That day I’d been wondering, rather negatively, at my efforts here. I just didn’t feel like I was contributing like I thought I would be when I came into this line of living.

I had this idea that each day I’d be super hands on in how “I can make a difference.” What has been asked of me since being here is much different, much less about my own ideas on how to fix the world. Humility is a necessity for life, especially one which takes place in another land and culture than one’s native roots. It’s not about me having it all figure out or rushing from one thing to the next, which my native culture shouts from the roof tops to do in order to have success and happiness. Haiti has gently and over the time I’ve been here, asked me to take a step back, slow down, look, listen, and learn. Seeing life through the Haitian culture is beautiful, not at all points, as with any other, and expresses the idea of what it is to be human in a uniquely Haitian vision. How one life relates to another, how we serve one another as brother and sister, how we share in the pain and hurt as well as the joy and the love; we are, all of us, connected.

In the unbecoming of Abby, young woman who “had to have it all figured out to function,” I’ve been allowed to enter into the becoming of Abbagail, young woman who is learning to slow down and enjoy the journey to who God’s asked me to be, and trust that I don’t have to have it all together all the time. I have learned to take on spiders on my own, to take hold of an opportunity to sit down to eat with a friend, that soccer is absolutely more fun in the pouring rain (just ask my girls!), there’s a certain freedom when you’re riding on the back of a moto as it zips through town, there is no taste quite like a fresh mango, and when love is invested, so too is life. And what an absolutely crazy, wonderful, chaotic, glorious life it is proving to be!

I still struggle every day at some point with the language, I’ve been at it for about six months, so it’s still coming. I am quite sure it’ll still be coming when I end this contract! We can always be learning more, even in our native tongue. It’s still frustrating for me to understand more than I can speak right now, but that too is coming, and I have to remember to give myself grace. I am so grateful for the patience of the people here, who let me try a few times if I need to get out what I want to say. Haiti’s gifted me with that reminder too, to give myself grace, the same as I would give any other human in my position. I do not know why so many of us are reluctant to grace ourselves with love, when we so willingly do it for others. A dear friend, missioning beautifully in Bolivia, voiced what I knew but needed to hear, “self-care is crucial to success in mission and you need to give yourself a break. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot justly take care of others.” Haiti is teaching me to love myself in ways I didn’t know I needed. In so doing, I am better able to love in return. To love better; this is the greatest gift, honor, and lesson I could ever hope to pull from mission. And so I go on, in the discovery of new ways to love and live better with the time God’s given me. I continue growing, struggling, rising, and discovering all the time. I am, among all peoples, most richly blessed.

Trust is Without Borders

Well, I’m clearly not the most consistent when it comes to this thing, but alas, we’ve arrived at blog number 4. I’ve been working through a rough spot in my spirituality and haven’t really felt like processing with other humans yet. Truth be told, I was reluctant to even process with myself. It, like the chaos that’s been happening around me in this beautiful country, did not make sense. For those of you who may not know, during the last two and a half weeks of my language school, Haiti was heated by more than the sun. There were road blocks, tire burnings, kids out of school (it’d be unsafe to go), and several protests nationwide. The majority of the people want the president to leave (go into exile). When I arrived in Haiti, it was 73 gourdes to the U.S. dollar, at the height of this “Manifestation” (demonstrations) it was 100 gourdes to the U.S. dollar in some places. We’re at a point where it is cheaper to buy imported U.S. rice than local, Haitian rice. This is not good as it means money is not being kept in Haiti, circulating among the people. It also nods to the fact that the U.S. has made it difficult for Haiti to reap benefits from taxes, as they’ve been forced to keep them low at the demands of our government. So, without realizing what was happening, the external storm around me heightened the internal storm within. I was frustrated.

Frustrated because these people have been so pushed to their limits by the greed of the upper class and first world countries. Frustrated because these road blocks and danger meant that some people couldn’t even get to the hospital to seek medical aid and as a result, several innocents have lost their lives. Frustrated because I realized what was happening all around me and was yet so limited in what I could do to support them. It was a hard moment, one that served as a humbling reminder of my vast limitations as a 23 year old from the United States in a country on fire with frustration the likes of which I’ve never had to know. I’m still grappling with this, and I think that’s another reason I haven’t returned to the blog in a hot minute. I don’t want to be overly negative, I sincerely want to avoid that as there’s enough in the world to go around. Yet I also feel I have a responsibility to myself, my family, and my friends that view this to be honest in this process. I promised my mom and dad I’d always level with them here, so this is my attempt. I’m frustrated folks, boy am I frustrated; however, you know your girl is not giving up. I’m strapping on the boots and marching through, hand in hand with my Haitian family. We will reach the summit, we’re just in a hard leg of the climb.

At the going away party with my wonderful language school director/one of my Haiti moms, Carla.

Well, even in the midst of chaos, confusion, and frustration, I still like to have a good time with the people I love. To thank my instructors and their families for all they’ve done for me in that past six weeks with them, I hosted a party. I may have overestimated my abilities to get it all together in time, but that was okay. You see, my family here, just like mine back home would have, supported and guided me my whole time there. It got to the day of the party and there was much to prepare. I wanted to cook traditional Haitian food to celebrate the culture that has so endearingly opened it’s heart to me. Well, just to prepare everything took about six and a half hours. I thought four of us would be a fine number, I thought wrong! Fortunately one of my instructors, who is a sister to me now, called in some wonderful reinforcements and we got it done. We worked on the food they’d all had a hand in teaching me to make over the past weeks and I showed them how to make daiquiris with fresh fruit and Haitian rum (SO GOOD!). Ice would have been beautiful, but because electricity is a dream most days, it was not to be found ANYWHERE. Carla and I looked at five different places in town and no one had it! Fortunately, because your girl overestimated herself and Haitian time is much less strict than U.S. time for parties, the 40 beers I had ready were cool enough by the time the party started. Just to illustrate, I said 4:30. We did not start until 7:30. So that happened, haha! Fortunately everyone was understanding and it truly was a beautiful night.

It began as most Haitian parties do, with speeches. I started with my thank you speech, which I’d written ahead of time in Creole and which Carla kindly looked over to make sure it was perfect. I was nervous and tripped over some words, but we all laughed about it and they listened with the same love and patience they’d shown me since day one. Unbeknownst to me, my instructors and some family members also planned some closing thoughts for me. I was touched deeply by their love, encouragement, and belief in what I’m doing. It was so affirming and one of those moments you want to linger in as long as possible because they contain so much beauty and human vulnerability. I was showered with gifts from my sisters here, I received beautiful earings, a necklace, and some shoes. Their continued generosity wrapped me in so much love. In typical enneagram 2 fashion, that night I sat from a point where I could watch everyone and make sure they were well. Everyone was relaxed, laughing, debating politics, eating, drinking, and simply existing together. I live for those moments, where the people I love can come together around a meal and just be themselves with people that love and support them. We’d all been talking about what was going on, but there was hope dripping on every word, and at the end of the party, we talked of our dreams for Haiti. We ended in a prayer of love and hope and light and then we hugged one another. It was truly a spectacular night full of love and affirmation all around, with humans I will hold in my heart forever!

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

Hillsong United

In the time I’ve given myself to reflect, I often return to one of my favorite faith songs, “Oceans” by Hillsong United. In this past month of continued learning, humbling, and searching, I’ve seen the utter necessity of trusting. That is a difficult thing for an A-type personality who likes planning for every variable and has three back-up plans ready to use at any moment. To trust is in some ways is to surrender. The fact remains that many days (especially since returning to Gros Morne) I move along and question how I’m ever going to get this, and who am I to try to be doing what I’m doing. If you’ve spent a day with me, you likely know a few things: I love to talk, I love the gift of other humans in my life, and I can be terribly impatient with myself. I can understand a lot of Creole, though sometimes I have to ask someone to say it slower. I have an ever expanding vocabulary, but I’m timid in trying to use it. I don’t want to make mistakes.

I know, this is something I’m working on getting over, usually with a shared laugh among my kids. The students at the school I hope to work with are the biggest highlight of my weekdays. Their curiosity about this new white giant who likes to mix up her adjectives and nouns is adorable. They are big blessings, for they remind me in the hard moments of why I want to do what I do. Education is a beautiful and empowering relationship between a teacher and his/her students. I believe that every child deserves a good education. I believe that every child deserves someone to champion them, deserves someone who stands in their corner and believes in the infinite possibilities that exist within them. Some days it’s like trying to uplift a brick wall, but is that not a reflection of our Creator with us? It is no coincidence that we, like students, are sometimes asked to trust the process (even without seeing how exactly we’ll get to the end result) and recognize that we’re believed in, even if we can’t always see it in ourselves. This is not to say do so without questioning. Questions arise all the time and that’s so okay! It’s just a matter of not losing heart in that questioning. Therein lies the gift of other humans in our lives, we are uplifted always, especially when we fall under our own weight. We have others who-without question-shoulder us in our hard spots. There will be times were the struggle is real and we feel like we’re not even on the struggle bus, but the damn thing is running us over. Yet, as long as we have air in our lungs, we’re not done yet. We can and must choose to keep pursuing the good in the world and trust that the lives we’ve been given have purpose.

And so I trust. I trust and know that I am loved. I trust and know that even though right now I have the speaking ability of a five year old and the comprehension of a fifth grader (MAYBE!), I will get the language in my time. I trust and know that I will continue to develop relationships with the people here and be blessed by them. I trust and acknowledge that God has me here with a purpose in mind, and I trust that, without knowing the fine details. I don’t need details, I simply need to trust that if God’s asked nothing else of me in this beautiful life of mine, it is this: I was made for love. I was made to love others, to see their good, to see God in them, to wonder at the unique beauty that radiates within them. If then I accept this purpose, I know the rest will fall in line. I need only press on in the journey.

***

This love extends also to this big blue planet we’re blessed to call home. Y’all, deforestation is a real deal crisis, but not one without hope. As beautiful as Haiti is, imagine how much more breathtaking she was before her mountains were stripped to pay the French for beating them in the Revolution. (Yeah, the Haitians legitimately had to/still do pay the French for damages-including loss of slaves. Despicable.). Haitians also use wood to make charcoal, which is the main cooking source. I’m grateful for reforestation efforts across the world, especially here on this beautiful island! Please do your part to keep our planet safe and turn back the clock on damage like this. It takes very little to get started, and everyone has the power to help!

I pray you’re all well on your journeys, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you trust in the process of life. I pray especially you know how deeply you are loved! May God continue to bless and protect you. I hope this next week brings you peace and many reasons to show the world your smiles. Be blessed my loves. – Agape

The “Tri” and the “Umph”

It’s taken me a minute to return to the blog. There has been much that has happened in the almost two weeks since the last post and many thoughts have been roaming around my head. As with life in any place, and in any state of transition, the road is full of moments of trial and of triumph. I continue to grow in my language development and relationships with my instructors and their families. I am excited to attempt-key word being “attempt”-to cook some of the amazing, traditional Haitian food I’ve had here for them on my last night here in just 3 WEEKS! (Where has the time gone?!

Tomorrow I leave the guest house at the language school to begin a home stay with one of my instructors for the first half of the week and then I get to stay with another for the second half. I am so excited for this opportunity! It will assuredly be challenging and there will be moments when I ask God what I’ve gotten myself into, because I’m like a kindergartner when it comes to sentence structure here! Just so, I will grow so much in the next week and the challenges in these stays will be really good for my development. A prevailing theory of language (and other things as well) is that you rely more on what you’ve learned when you really have to use it. This is logical, but a little intimidating. I have been improving my skills with the language since arriving here a month ago, but I’ve also had a lot of English in the mix as well. Alas, I’m hoping my brain really kicks into gear and this week is fruitful!

Did I mention that one of my instructors also works as a moto driver? I so appreciate Mono and all his help in getting me to conquer my fear of getting on one of these for the first time. He is also one of the most positive people I’ve been blessed to call friends in this life of mine! Even more, he has two little kiddos that are absolutely the bees’ knees 🙂

Of the more exciting things I’ve experienced here, the prevailing mode of transportation has to be one of them. Motos (motorcycles) are the fasted and most cost effective option for travel in town. It’s an exhilarating experience getting on the back of a moto, and zipping around the winding roads and through traffic full of tap taps (truck taxis that convert the beds into a covered area with benches; they’re beautifully decorated and almost always have a religious name or expression on them). It’s always interesting to see how the drivers communicate with one another, at first they seem angry, but they’re usually just ribbing each other. Oh, and a honk here isn’t some slightly passive aggressive act like it often is in the states! It’s the way of saying, “I’m here! Please mind me!” For anyone wondering, yes I am safe and I pay attention on the motos, but I do look at the beauty that surrounds me going through the mountain roads. They’re too gorgeous of views not to let myself be mesmerized. All of the drivers I’ve had are truly amazing and know these places quite well. They have to, there’s not really any street addresses like we have in the states. For those that have asked, this is why I haven’t given out an address, I legitimately don’t have one. Don’t worry, we’re working on figuring that part out. I digress. At any rate, I continue to feel freedoms here that I can’t help but associate with this country and where she’s come from, and beautiful Haiti is far more than the single story many of us have grown up hearing.

How many of us who have heard about Haiti have only heard about three things (if that)? 1) Haiti is the poorest country in the western world. 2) over 300,000 people lost their lives in a horrific earthquake and more than 1.5 million were displaced in the aftermath. 3) They are a poor people that have been abused by one leader/dictator after another. We all know those three things are accurate, no one here or who has paid attention will argue those facts. What I want to open the door for discussion to, is that these three facts are often the only ones people around the world could tell you about. My friends, that is a weighty tragedy. What if materialism, the horror of 9/11, and corrupt officials was all the United States was known for?

The damage in a single story is just that, one story. We get fed one story over and over and over again until that’s all we know about a subject. I’m not trying to be negative or fatalistic. On the contrary, I want to introduce those of you who are not yet aware, of the plethora of wonders Haiti holds. A vibrant people, who although struggling from dire conditions, are extremely hard working and have a joy and love for life unlike that I have seen in many places. A people with unparalleled strength and resilience born from slavery and the fighting for freedom from it. From this, they earned the title as a country won in one of the only successful slave revolts in history, and the only one that dared go against Napoleon’s military and WIN! A people who, despite being repeatedly abused by world powers left and right, continue to work toward a better day tomorrow than they had today. I have been welcomed here, even though I descend from one of the world powers that caused so much death and harm. I have been taught so much here, many things I could not learn in my comfy first world life. I have seen the world through the eyes of the mighty Haitians, and where one may initially expect to find an understandable bitterness, frustration, and chagrin, one instead finds hope, beauty, and generous wisdom. The knowledge that flows from my Haitian family is hypnotic, just look at the many proverbs they have, the lessons they hold are treasures! Well, some are simply good for a laugh, but is that not itself a medicine at times?!

Dan pa kè

– Haitian Proverb

“Dan pa kè.” Literally translated it reads something to the effect, “a smile is not a heart.” This is to say that even though we see people on their outside, i.e. a smiling face, we know little to nothing of what dwells within. A person could be burdened on the inside and appear fine on the outside. The fact remains is that we don’t often get to see one another’s hearts, and sometimes all we get to know is the smile a person shows us. A big lesson we’ve all probably heard but is good to be reminded of, is that in a world where you can be many things, be kind, be patient, be understanding. It’s free and we never know what these gifts of ours mean in the life of another. Throw these things around like confetti!

Although a light-hearted expression, I mean it sincerely. You see, this is the part in which I discuss my “umph” in the “tri.” My heart got broken for the first time here, and I’m still in some ways struggling through it all. About a week ago, one of the bright young men in the community around my language school lost his father. His name is Whitney. This teenager lost his father to senseless violence. His dad was just doing his job as a police officer and got shot in the line of duty during one of the conflicts that continue to happen here as a result of corruption. This young man is part of a group of young people (age 5-35) here that works every week on debates, plays, and many other advancement activities. It is evident these young people are the future leaders Haiti needs. I bring this group up because despite my anger in this situation, these young people rendered me speechless for a completely different reason. Not even three days after a family lost a father, they organized to go to Whitney’s home together and offer their support and condolences. They prayed over the family and talked of how great Whitney is, and how that happens as a result of amazing parents. They uplifted the family in what is an unfathomably dark time.

I had the privilege to see this groups election my first week in language school. Young Whitney ran in the competition, among his dear friends. The group is extremely impressive and I feel privileged to get to see them work. This amazing community-in-action movement I saw made a hard pill easier to swallow. The pill I had to swallow? A combination of seeing a young man lose his father in a horrific way and knowing that in some ways, my country has generated the problems here that lead to such violence. Some of the laws former President Clinton passed to win favor with republicans exiled gang members and like criminals to places like the Caribbean Islands. That fueled by the United States and France’s continued unasked for involvement here has led to corruption and illegal activities running rampant here. One of the many unanswered questions that come from catastrophes like this is who is supplying the weapons? Amidst this frustration and the hard-hitting sorrow I feel for this young man and his family, I don’t want the focus to be on the negative, but nor can I downplay it. So, in my small way, I am trying to honor Whitney’s father with the following poem. Please keep him in your prayers and thoughts as well as the world, that we may all be a little kinder, a little more understanding, and a little more loving each day. And to children, tell your parents you love them. To parents, tell your kids what you need them to hear. To us all, live a life that does not take for granted the blessed moments we have with those we love.

Pou Papa Whitney

A young man has lost his father,

A wife in desolation weeps,

A community’s been shaken,

As another innocent’s life was taken.

.

A hard working man,

Just trying to upkeep justice,

Was murdered behind his shield,

Because this violence will not yield.

.

And the world just keeps on turning,

While their world halts on its axis,

Good Sir, I did not get to meet you,

But know I will never forget you!

.

Dear soul, how could I when I see them?

These remarkable youths who dearly love your son,

Who surround your family with their hearts,

Your community a whole, and they the growing parts.

.

Rest easy gentle soul and father,

And rest assured of these:

Your family is safe and uplifted here,

And your people will rise against any dark fear,

That would utter oppression,

Or savor a lonely isolation.

For, like you, a loving father gone,

Every Haitian is strong.

.

And smile with pride as your son becomes,

All that he can in this world of promise.

.

The sun will not long set on him,

Nor the light of his heart stay dim,

For coming from such strength as yours’

Strength courses through him evermore.

.

And he will rise again and again,

And better the world,

one step at a time.

                                                          GOD BLESS AND PROTECT THEM ALWAYS. ABBA, BRING HIM HOME. BRING HEALING AND PEACE TO YOUR HURTING PEOPLE. MAY WE ALL COME TO THE LOVE THE WAY YOU INTENDED. AGAPE. AMEN.

Great.
Another.
Spider.
Story.

The day I was really struggling with what happened to Whitney’s father, I think in some strange way, God was giving me a release from my powerful emotions. If it hit you hard too, I hope you can at least find some release in my next story. I just hope yours is more from laughter than screams. After you read what happened that night, you’ll hopefully understand what I mean. Also, you won’t like this if you have arachnophobia.

You guessed it, ANOTHER spider story. Here we go: I had worn boots that day because we had been out to visit some friends that were higher up in the mountains. I love love love my hiking boots, but at the end of the day, I want to be free of any shoes! No big deal right? FALSE, THAT IS ABSOLUTELY FALSE ON THIS ISLAND… WHAT WAS I HECKIN* THINKING???????????

I go from the director’s house to my room in the guest house (same complex, right next to each other). I have my boots in one hand, a flashlight and bag full of art stuff in the other. I can see ahead but for once, I’m not looking down. My room is located at the end of the hall before the showers and indoor outhouses. There’s a slight turn to go into my room (eight feet, maybe). So as I turn to reach my door, I step on something and hear a “crunch.” Remember I am HECKIN BAREFOOT HERE!! I don’t think anything of it at first, because we get leaves in the hall all the time. I set my stuff on the table nearby my door (not in my room, thank God!). I turn with my flashlight and see a young black tarantula instead of a dry leaf. I did this little shriek and danced on my feet as my SOUL LEFT MY BODY!

Then, after I regained my soul and composure, I saw that my big foot broke him but didn’t kill him. I remember thinking great, now I’m responsible for it’s suffering. There was no way he would have made it and I really didn’t want him to suffer. Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I would have just scooted him outside if I had seen him. Here the separation of our world indoors and theirs outdoors is less defined than back home. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him. I gave him a swift end with my boot and told God that was not a cool move for curing my personal space issues with the little 8 legged creepers. God and I continue to work out how best to get me to get along with them. I’ll keep you posted…

Well homies, there you have it. Blog number 3 full of good times, hard times, and the spider chronicles (though I really hope that’s as bad as it gets because I CANNOT keep encountering the little hellions like this. I will cry. Okay? Okay.) Alrighty my dudes, I hope this next week is blessed and fruitful. I love you all and hope you find kindness and love in new ways every day. May the peace and love of our Beautiful Creator bless you always. Agape homies!

Piti Piti: Little by Little

It’s been just a bit over two weeks since arriving in Haiti, and I have been through a whirlwind of information, greetings, meetings, and lessons. These beautiful people have so many proverbs that fit so well with this transition and like the parables in the bible, are so rich and deep with lessons. Perhaps the most prevalent as I sit here writing this is also the one that currently resides in my heart as my favorite: “Dèyè mòn gen mòn.” You could look at this literally to be “Beyond mountains, there are more mountains.” A beautiful expression of the resilience and the every day existence of the people here. You begin to summit one mountain, work through overcoming certain obstacles, experience a range of emotions on the journey, and savor the moment you reach the peak. This comes just before you see the next mountain you will journey in life.

“Dèyè Mòn Gen Mòn”

Haitian proverb

If then, I liken my beginning chapter in beautiful Ayiti to the first mountain in my mission journey, I’ve already found sections where I could walk confidently by dear friends and some sections where they had to lift me up off the ground after losing my footing and in classic Abby fashion, falling over. My first few days were AMAZING! Sami, my fellow MKLM, and Brittany, an NP that works sometimes with the sisters, came to pick me up from the airport. My first Haitian food was bread fruit chips Sami offered me in the car. They were great, especially after not getting lunch before leaving Atlanta. We then took the 4.5 hour drive up to Gros Morne. After a good night of sleep at the sisters’ home, Sami and I went on a walk through town so she could show me some of the places and spaces of the town I’ll call home for the next few years. There is a lot of dust (dirt roads) and a lot of people that looked in curiosity at the new “blan” in town. Over the next couple of days I got to tour the school, the hospital, the nature center/nursery, and the home for the elderly the sisters either own or work with. We played cards or rummy cube every night and ate wonderful meals together, sharing laughs and stories. We went to Mass, and I was entranced with the beautiful music a children’s choir sang. Though I could not yet understand any of the words, I understood the passion and the love with which they sang and it was stunning! After this brief stay in Gros Morne, I headed back to Port-au-Prince for language school for six weeks.

wewillrememberhaiti.org

Website for my language school

After settling into my room at N A Sonje, my language school, I got to meet my instructors and learn about who they are while sharing a bit about who I am. It began with a beautiful prayer about opening our hearts to receive one another and the knowledge that accompanies this study. I was overwhelmed with the loving openness and welcoming nature of my instructors. They are wonderful, patient, and understanding. There’s Yaya (who is now back in the states finishing up university!), his sister Myriam, Mackencia, Mono, Diline, and Dieny. Over the next few days, I jumped into language study and soaked it up. We covered common expressions and greetings. Here, every conversation begins with a greeting: “Bonjou” or “Bonswa,” and I find myself smiling more because of it. There is genuine interest in how one is doing and in making sure you wish him/her well.

We’ve discussed verbs, nouns, sentence structure, and other grammar facets. We also discuss Haitian proverbs and how they’ve irrevocably been intertwined with the rich tapestry of Haiti’s colorful history. Every one we’ve covered is beautiful and full of layered meanings and lessons. These proverbs are rapidly becoming a part of my own tapestry and I’m better for it.

The proverbs are uplifting and instill a sense of hope and perpetual learning in those who open their ears to truly hear them. For example, last Wednesday, I had a hard start to my lessons. I’d had a rough night before (see below), there was a great deal going on around me, I was feeling my anxiety creep up, and then my wonderful director, whom I call TantCa (the Creole combination of Aunt and Carla), told me one of the words I had committed to memory meant something else. Y’all, I do not know why that one little word set off such strong emotions, but it nonetheless did. In the middle of trying to talk to one of my instructors about what I normally do on my birthday, I started crying tears of frustration. I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting more of the language. I was frustrated because I couldn’t communicate effectively with the people I encountered, which is hell when considering a huge part of my degree/passion centers on my ability to communicate and know people. I was frustrated because I wanted so much to just “get it,” even though, as Dieny told me in response to my minor melt down, learning a language involves your brain rewiring itself a little bit. He was amazing, and shared a story about how he first responded to talking with people, and encouraged me to keep trying. In similar fashion to his story, I would get there, step by step.

Dieny, along with my other instructors present for that lesson, gently worked with me and slowed the pace down so I could catch my breath. There was no mention of my tears shed, which I was grateful for because I hate that my response is to cry. They reaffirmed me as a person and a student doing something challenging. They took a very human shortcoming – too easily becoming frustrated with oneself – and turned it into a very beautiful human connection. I will always remember their kindness, love, and wisdom in that moment. That, in and of itself, is a wondrous lesson I am learning from my Haitian family.

-Unknown Artist

That afternoon, as every afternoon, I got to eat lunch with one of my instructors at their home. For that day, it was at Myriam’s home. In slow, and somewhat broken Creole, I thanked her for her patience and understanding in my lesson. She told me, “Pa gen pwoblèm!” “It’s no problem!” In English, she told me “We’re all family here. You are doing okay!” Again, I tell you I continue to be blown away by their hearts. Her aunt then softly told me another beautiful proverb, “piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” “Little by little, the bird builds it’s nest.” Each word and rule and proverb I learn, gives me tools to build my nest of connections and life here. I will stumble over some of it, which-as with walking-is invariable. That is also okay. I have to be willing to make mistakes and have frustrating moments as I work to ascend this first mountain in Haiti. I am blessed to have these guides on the journey.

NOT TODAY SATAN

I consider this next little story both a triumph and a stumble. The night before I had that mini meltdown, I had quite the experience with some pesky creepy crawlers. Let me preface this next part by saying Haiti has these wonderful-CREEPY-bugs that look like a spider and a crab got busy. They have the body shape of a crab with front pincher-looking-things (so grammatically correct!), and legs like a spider. Think about that thing Mad Eye Moody tortures in Harry Potter…So there’s that. Anyway, we don’t get electricity at night very often. Not a big deal, it’s simply a part of life here. My nightly routine is to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, etc. You want to know what’s not part of my routine?! Seeing one of those creepy crab spider things in the toilet, which is over a big pit. (think fancy outhouse, inside the house). Me being me, I quickly shut the lid and returned to my room. I said to myself, “It’s fine. I’ll just pee in the morning…” So to calm down after that encounter, I go to read in bed under my mosquito net. Again, no electricity, so I am using a flashlight to read (sorry mom!). There I am, reading to keep my mind off of what’s crawling around in my toilet, and guess what I see out of the corner of my eye! A big brown spider INSIDE my mosquito net. I jumped out of bed, never letting the light leave this thing. I said, “NOT TODAY SATAN!” and grabbed two books. I said a prayer I wouldn’t miss and promptly rendered the spider a quick death. I told God if I got tested again that night, I wasn’t going to make it. I slept with my flashlight on, like a five year old. Proud, not proud…

Mountains near Jacmel

My most recent adventure in Haiti was getting to go down to Jacmel for the weekend with TantCa and Rocky (an amazing handy man, driver, tutor, builder, farmer, all-around human). We went to visit one of TantCa’s long time friends, Nadine. She is one of the funniest people I’ve had the privilege of meeting here! As we drove through the mountains on the way there, Rocky asked me if I was okay. (He, like most of my instructors, speaks way better English than I speak Creole). He knows how much of a chatterbox I can be, and is also patient as I try to communicate with my improving Creole. I had been silent for some time, just taking in the view of this beautiful island and taking several deep breathes. I told him, “Wi, m ap fenk gade.” “Yes… I am just watching.” As I told my beloved best friend Viv later on the phone, the freedom I felt as we drove through those mountains, the wind blowing back my hair, and my eyes greedily drinking in the beauty all around me, was such as I have only felt on mountains. This majesty of God’s handiwork deserves more than the meager words I have to try to capture it, but alas it must suffice for now. I told Viv that this freedom was a looking glass to the freedom the founders of Haiti, Dessalines and Christophe and the other slaves who successfully revolted against Napoleon’s military, fought for in the years leading up to their success in 1804. They fought for what they believed in, they fought for what was right, and they fought for the freedom every human deserves in this world. I, having never known anything but freedom, constantly find new ways to be in awe of the courage and perseverance that courses through the veins of Haitians. I don’t know what I will learn next, but I assure you all, it is a blessed and full experience and Haiti and her people are nourishing my mind, my spirit, my soul! I am among all people, most richly blessed!

Until next time “bel fanmi m” “my beautiful family,” I pray the Glorious Creator of us all continue to watch over, guide, and bless you! Agape my loves!