Processing:  Little by little

During our last few days in Haiti my roommate said that she felt like she was in some kind of suspended state, like when you’re waiting for a webpage to load and just watching that annoying circle go around and around.  There’s never much time to think or process while we are there and actually in it.  But we know that the emotions, the changes in our perspective, the shades of grey that start to cover over what was once black and white are all there, just waiting to download.  I have been home for about a week now, and the download is still trickling in, little by little, in between the busyness of family life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sit in a decompression chamber for 24 hours after my trip, which would have been really helpful.  I was just thrown right back into life and work and parenting and all that craziness.

This daily meditation popped into my inbox the other day from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan monk and one of my favorite teachers right now.  It seemed fitting for me, pondering the issues of social justice within the larger framework of my faith:

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

In Haiti, it’s not hard to find brokenness.  There is greed, there is violence, there is darkness, there is homelessness, hunger, sickness, and pain.  Not so different from my own country.  As privileged as we are, we don’t get to escape the human condition.  It is a different flavor, but it is the same brew.  As Mama T said, “Calcutta is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see”.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the social, economic, and cultural nuances at play in Haiti.  I have so much to learn.  But mostly I am learning more about my own self.  Every time I see something that looks broken, regardless of whether I stand in the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince or on my own green lawn which is slowly being overtaken by crabgrass, I am learning to look inward first–to hold up the mirror.  I’m not good at it yet.  I would rather turn the mirror the other way and spout my opinion about what others (be it government, society, institutions, or individuals) need to change, than to stare hard at what is looking at me right in the face.


The processing is going to take a while.  It’s almost too much to do all at once, like staring directly into the sun.  I take one piece out at a time and turn it over a few times, carry it around in my pocket, then look at it again later.  Each time I see something new.  Or something really old, but in a new way.

Photo credit: Amanda Ellison

I haven’t been able to answer very well when people ask me, “how was your trip?”.  It was a lot of things, but it’s not easy to sum up in a few neat sentences.  I’m just going to carry it around in my pocket for a bit longer and let it all percolate, little by little.

7/6/17: Here, there and everywhere for our last full day

Today was our last full day in country before we set out on our journey home.  Our medical clinic is done for this trip and was an excellent learning experience for all of us, and seemed to be well-received by the communities we were serving.  Our team members from Alabama consisted of 2 nurse practitioners, one RN, several firefighters with EMT and disaster response experience, a nursing student, and many non-medical people who helped support the medical clinic in various ways throughout the week.  Our ladies team was mentioned in my post yesterday.

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Team members from Calvary Baptist Church in Alabama

Given the size of this group, we split up today and went in different directions.  I went with the ladies team, and we travelled all around with the primary goal of visiting some very special children.  Some of the ladies on our team have sponsored children in the area, and one of the most exciting things on this trip for them was to go and see those children!

We headed out first to Corail, which is one of the largest post-earthquake communities outside of Port-au-Prince.  The roads heading into Corail are much more passable by motorcycle than they are by the Post-Apocalyptic School Bus, so the ride was terrifying interesting.  One of our IMF employees calls Corail home, and he told us that when it rains, the roads flood and he has to get off his moto, roll up his pants, and take off his shoes to walk home through the flooded streets.

We met the little girl and her mother at the school she attends.  The school coordinator was so welcoming to our group and spoke excellent English.  We were told she previously worked at the palace as an officer.  She works with 5 dedicated teachers, and together they educate 80 children from preschool up to 2nd grade.  Here is a picture of one of the classrooms:

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Classroom in Corail

One of the very fun things we have been able to do (yesterday and today) is to go and visit some places that are committed to empowering the Haitian people through education, job training, and job creation.

Let me introduce you to Jolina.  Doesn’t her smile make you want to smile?

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Jolina, director of sales at Deux Mains designs

Jolina is the director of sales at Deux Mains Designs, which is the for-profit enterprise of REBUILD globally, a non-profit organization in Haiti that exists to break the cycle of poverty by offering job training, education, and dignified living wages for its workers.  It was founded shortly after the earthquake of 2010.  Jolina was their first employee!  She spoke to us while we were there about what it has meant to her to have a job that not only allows her to provide for her family, but has also allowed her to buy property and start her own business on the side.  She is a phenomenal, strong woman.

All of the items at Deux Mains are completely drool-worthy.  They use recycled tires to make the most beautiful shoes, sandals and bags.  All of the materials–from the tires to the glue to the thread–are sourced in Haiti, and the workers are paid a fair living wage with opportunities for education and promotion to help lift them out of the cycle of poverty.  REBUILD also works with refugees at the Haiti-Dominican border offering job training and income opportunities.  You can shop online for their products if you like them.  They have a warehouse that ships out of Miami, but rest assured that all of their items are ethically and lovingly handmade in Haiti.  I can attest that their flip-flops are both super comfortable and beautiful, and since I bought them on my trip last year they have become one of my favorite summer wardrobe staples.  They run true to size.  Our group of women collectively spent about $1000 at Deux Mains, and Jolina started dancing!  She told us that the money we spent would pay for approximately 3 weeks of salaries for their employees!

We also had the opportunity to visit Papillon, another socially conscious business created to stimulate the Haitian economy by providing job training, employment and support for Haitians.

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From left:  Sarah, Amanda, Jane, me, Debbie, Marth, Makayla, Denise, Heidi, Riley, and Janet

One of their goals in doing this is to specifically provide employment and educational opportunities for Haitian parents so that they can support their children and not have to abandon them to orphanages because of extreme poverty. I did not get to visit Papillon on my last trip, and I loved it!  They have beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry, t-shirts, bags, home decor, pottery, and much more, all made on-site.  We were given a tour, and we got to see where all the magic happened.

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Pottery room

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They make beautiful necklaces and bracelets form beads that are crafted from strips of cereal boxes, then rolled and varnished.

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Someone please tell my husband he can’t get mad at me for shopping.  I supported the Haitian economy a lot while I was here.  I was just doing my part to make the world a better place!

Our final stop today was back to the village of Chambon to visit another one of our ladies’ sponsored children.  He was waiting for us on the side of the road with his mom, where we make the turn off the main highway onto the rocky road leading to the village.  He sprinted to the bus and excitedly ran toward us, waving and smiling, as Martha launched herself down the stairs of the PASB to embrace him.  It was so precious to get to witness this interaction.  This is the second time Martha has been able to come visit him and his mom.  They climbed in the bus and we drove down the the river, where we played and splashed with the kids of the village for awhile.

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We said our goodbyes and headed back for the night.  We spent some time after dinner organizing all of the leftover medical supplies to be placed into storage for future trips.

Tomorrow we travel again.  I need to be pressure-washed and soaked.  Can’t wait to see my crew!

 

 

 

Haiti, take 2!

Today is the day!  I set out for Port-au-Prince early this morning, waking my bleary-eyed family at 3:15 am so they could take me to the airport.  I felt bad about dragging the kids out of their beds for a hot second, until I remembered all of the times they have woken me up in the middle of the night and I realized–PAYBACK TIME, BABY!

This trip has been about a year in the making in terms of planning, although most of the details have just started coming together in the last 2 months.  I am working with the International Mission Foundation, and this will be the first of hopefully many trips to work on a community development project in Chambon, which is a rural village about 1.5 hours east of Port-au-Prince.  The long-term goal is to help them establish a free-standing medical clinic to be staffed by a Haitian doctor.  In the short-term, we will be doing some mobile medical clinics, needs assessment, as well as identifying and training some local lay people to become community health workers (CHW’s).

We have very recently started an exciting collaboration with Community Health Initiative (CHI) Haiti.  This is a really solid organization that has been doing similar work in Arcahaie, Haiti.  They have graciously agreed to allow us to partner with them and learn their model, with the hope that we can replicate it in Chambon.  We are so grateful for their experience, resources, and influence.  Several of their experienced staff members will meet us in Port-au-Prince on Monday and help us with the mobile clinic next week.

In the past week I have been frantically packing and pondering all the details, in addition to trying to keep the kids amused and supervised on their first week of summer vacation.  I did fit in another really great “field trip” to Intervol, where I was able to pick up a motherlode of medical supplies.  Our pharmacy order arrived last week, just in the nick of time.  A little too close for comfort for me, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

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Got my supplies on!

The kids helped me pack.  They are actually at an age where it was genuinely useful to have them helping!

 

 

So here is what I like to do when I am stressed about something big.  I like to choose something minute to obsess over.  It works for me, I think.  So last night I started fretting about the liquid restrictions for carry-on baggage.  Can I tell you, I just hate airports and all of their RULES.  It’s all so confusing.  I am the worst at airports.  I always make a fool of myself at security and I was totally determined not to do it again.  I had to text my friend Keri for a liquid consult.  I feel so befuddled by it all.  I get that shampoo and conditioner and body wash are liquids.  But what about face creams?  Because those aren’t really liquids.  Technically I would call them semi-solids.  So do they get pulled out for security check or not?  Also I have this ointment, which is really just a little thicker than a cream, so is that allowed?  Actually, it’s more the consistency of peanut butter.  And last time I went to Haiti, peanut butter was OK with the TSA state-side, but going back from Haiti to the USA the peanut butter got confiscated because it was considered a liquid.  What?  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT TO DO?  

Airports are hard for me.

Anyhoo, I met up with some of the team at the connection in Atlanta:

We have a really big team this time, compared to the small team I was on last year.  There are 12 from a church in Alabama (most with some kind of medical/nursing/EMT training), in addition to me and another woman from North Carolina.  We also have a group of ladies from New Brunswick (Oh, Canada!) who met us down here around dinner time and will help us with the administrative and logistical parts of the medical clinic.

That’s it for tonight!  For those of you who are following, I will try to post a little something every day!