I walked through the community, weaving in between houses and trying to keep up with my two friends who knew where they were going. Some of the walls we passed were brightly painted pink and caribbean teal, but most of them were that concrete grey. The direct sunlight hit right down on us and there was no shade around. We walked up a small hill, covered in white rocks, and yelled out the Haitian Creole phrase for "You there?"
We'd arrived at Georgette's house. She answered back with the phrase for "Come on in!" and we opened the two sheets blocking her porch.
Georgette has stood out to me since the day I met her. She has a look about her, you can just tell she has been through so much in her life. Her community surrounding her call her "Ti Fanm" affectionately, meaning "Little Girl," due to her short stature. Though she is little, she has so much life behind her eyes. I learned a lot, even that day on her porch.
She was upset. Her daughter, one of the kids in our children's program, was pregnant. The man was older. Her daughter couldn't attend school any longer. She'd just sold her bed to help send her daughter to school. She was without a job, without choices.
I remember how much admiration I had for my friend, Clelie, who was with me. She so calmly assured Georgette that her life would be ok, yet also spoke sternly to her, with love like a mother. I listened on, mostly understanding their fast paced Creole conversation and vacillating between wanting to burst into tears and just bottle it up. What a world this woman faced every day.
We left her house with a hug and a smile. We had a plan of how to help her and her daughter work through the 9 months that would follow. But, even more than that, we had a connection with her.
Georgette began coming to our ministry house randomly. She'd stop by for a little food, offer to wash some of our clothes, hang out with us, and share about her life. She'd shared about her old hopes and dreams. She'd bring her other, younger daughter by when she was visiting. The way she spoke was as if she was a 75 year old woman, looking back at her life. But, it wasn't until I started to know her more that I realized she'd lived all that life in a mere 32 years.
Heartache, disappointment, being taken advantage of, being told she was worth nothing without a husband, struggling to find something to eat, taking care of her children...feeling alone and desperate and in need of help all at the same time.
Georgette represents a large majority of women in Haiti, and really many women in the developing world. She has more rights than some, far less rights than others around the world.
As I got to know Georgette more, I liked her more. She became this hilarious light in my life and shared her broken and hard story with me. Even though there were times I was not in Haiti, she'd still write me (and writes me still) updating me with pictures of her new grandson, her life, and her work. Becoming friends with Georgette has unpeeled a layer of definitions that I always held close to my heart, being in this line of work. I had clung to words like "empowerment," "freedom," and "opportunity," but I had such conceptual and American views on what those words meant. Not that American women do not know struggle, but knowing Haitian women opened up an additional world to me.
I have always been passionate about the rights of the marginalized. Women's freedoms are (obviously) very personal to me. However, meeting Georgette and the women in her community showed me that being passionate about women's rights means more than caring about myself. It means so much more- sisterhood transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. It is about knowing that somehow, as Lilla Watson once said, "my liberty is bound up in yours."
I have realized, through my friendships with women in Haiti (and the DR, and around the world), that my life is different through knowing the struggles of the international community. My freedom has truly been bound up with theirs- and the staggering differences between my freedoms and theirs shocks me consistently.
This has been an inspirational cornerstone for me these days. Today, as the Women's March on Washington happened and I proudly (metaphorically) stood with my sisters as they brought attention to some issues that certainly warrant it, I also received a text from Ryan.
It was a picture of Georgette. Working on her bags with our small business, Fanm Konbit.
When I met her just over a year or so ago, she was angry and sad. She was hopeless and wanting out. She had given up.
Through the love of a community, through the efforts of many realizing their liberation being bound up with up hers, through the empowering and fearless and ferocious love of God, she has begun to come up out of her heaviness of hopelessness and into a light of liberation.
Let's not just throw around these catch phrases of empowerment and freedom, without realizing what painstaking work this is. Giving someone else freedom might mean losing your own privilege or what you believe you deserve. But, its worth it.
Because what happens when we aim to empower and help free those we see in shackles, something interesting happens: they free us from the chains we don't realize we wear.
The Love of God is such that He gives us this fellowship- this love and devotion- that we would set folks free and in the same breath become more free ourselves.
I thank God for Georgette and the work she is doing in Haiti. For the life she is living now. For the ways she has taught me to be more real and truer to myself; for the ways she's shown me beauty in weakness and defeat. I am most thankful for this sisterhood of wonderful women, all over the world, but especially in Haiti. What a family to have.
Today, 7 years ago, parts of Haiti fell. Certain parts of Port-Au-Prince completely crumbled. Cities far from the epi-center felt the aftershocks and cried out. People ran into the streets and searched for their loved ones. 7 years ago, Haiti encountered this horrific and defining moment in its history.
I wasn't there 7 years ago. Even if I had been there, I am sure my story would be different than many of my friends who were in the middle of the chaos and confusion those years ago. A few months ago, I sat around our lime green table and listened to our friends recount their own stories. Those stories are theirs and I would not cheapen them by telling them from my point of view. There is nothing I could say that could explain that kind of trauma that must have ensued in the minds and hearts of my friends. All I can do is look at them and learn.
Today, as I was texting with one of my friends in Haiti, he wrote that I had "anpil kouraj"- a lot of courage- because of the things going on in my life. What an ironic thing to hear as an American from a Haitian today! Yet, I begrudgingly accepted the encouragement. I know it's a little true. Being back in the US for 6 months has made me see the type of impact Haiti has had on my life. And, it has done nothing if it has not made me a braver, more warrior-esque version of myself. They are all walking displays of what it means to have this kouraj- through endurance and faith.
Sometimes when things happen outside of our bubble, we convince ourselves that it is not effecting the folks we see on the television in the same way it would effect us. If it did, we would be driven crazy with empathy. One of the first lessons I learned in Haiti was that these people were just like me- they had dreams for their babies; they had ideas and creative juices flowing throughout their systems; they had family dramas and issues; they wanted to get married or have kids or build a house. They felt the same as me. This was a breaking point for me: I could either go home and just ignore it (which was very tempting) or I could lean in and see what I could learn. Somehow, I ended up mostly leaning in and learning.
The people of Haiti, those whom I have encountered, are storytellers. They value these deep, visceral meanings of things and are not afraid of where this pain might take them. They know that no amount of pain will keep them from journeying forward. They have a saying "Kembe fem, pa lage"- which is infused in everything from worship songs to rap songs to talking points. The president even said it the day after the earthquake. It means "stand strong, don't let go." Because this philosophy is so deeply ingrained into the psyche of the minds of those Haitians I know, they are not afraid. They know they can hold tight-to their faith, their families, their loved ones- and they know that they will make it through.
I have not always learned to embrace pain. Growing up in the USA, we spend a lot of time focused on efficiency. You cannot accomplish much in your sadness, it would seem. Instead of meeting our feelings head on, we learn how to push them down and say we are "fine." Instead of dealing with the trials before us and learning to lean on one another and God, we say that "at least we aren't...." and focus on moving forward. We hide our sadness in drinks of alcohol and late night cry sessions in our rooms by ourselves. Don't disturb anyone with our pain, we tell ourselves. What we do, though, is end up missing out on what our pain can teach us. We end up missing out on these deep lessons we can learn. We miss out on meaningful relationships that help us through these seasons. When we deny our pain, we deny our story.
This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my friends in Haiti. Pain is not something to sulk in, but it is not something to run from, either. It is not something that we must be afraid of, but we have to lend ourselves to the process in order to come out of the other side. We have to dive into our feelings of sadness to reach the other depths of our faith and relationships. Embracing pain means developing more of that kouraj- that willingness to fight and endure. We keep moving forward, through the pain and through the sadness, to reach the other side.
I am so thankful for the ways my friends in Haiti have shared their pain with me. It has taught me that there are seasons for everything. There are seasons to mourn and to laugh. Seasons to dance and seasons to cry. Sometimes those seasons overlap and sometimes they don't. But, we don't gain anything by denying a season or feeling. We don't learn how to kembe fem- or endure- by merely shoving things down and not sharing with others. We grow through our pain. We endure through our sadness. We rely on one another and keep going.
N'ap kembe fem. Nou pap jam bliye. January 12, 2010- a day where they had to gather anpil kouraj and keep moving forward.
It is that time on social media, where people are posting their funniest quotes, memes, and spoof videos on the horror that was 2016. I have been laughing along, and with that, have really been subscribing to the idea that 2016 was horrible. Like a lot of people, I am thinking more about the year I had and honestly struggling with an attitude of being mad and sad at my year.
The second half of this year did not look anything like I thought it would. I was sick with a bunch of random issues that took a lot more time and effort and money than I thought it would to figure out. I am still waiting to have surgery, and while it is nothing life threatening, it has been a struggle for me. I have missed my friends on the island and really missed doing things that I would normally do in the US, as well.
As I was reflecting on this (and feeling sorry for myself), I was also attempting to think about something I have learned this year. What popped into my mind after a little pressing was the word gratitude. Gratitude is something that I consider a practice these days. I have learned how to be grateful from a variety of experiences from people in the US and beyond, but as I have been thinking on and missing my island home lately- I would be remiss if I did not mention how much these folks have taught me about gratitude, as well.
Island life is kind of a perfect synonym for simple living. While there, a lot of times are only spent worrying about the daily tasks in front of you. It kind of adds a whole new meaning to "give us this day our daily bread." A lot of folks in Haiti and the Dominican Republic don't know when they will have their meal after next, just focusing on the here and now. For those of you who know me well, this is already a system that is built into my DNA (I blame my European roots)- where I really do try to take it easy and not worry about the future too much. However, I learned a lot from the way many impoverished islanders live their lives. I have learned to be content with what I have because of the outlook of several of my friends on this island. Their love for family and experiences far exceeds my understanding. They have taught me to be grateful.
One experience from this year comes to mind. Back in February, we ran a sex-ed class for some of our teenagers and I was nervous about it (with cultural taboos and all). I remember my friend Clelie telling me that there were a bunch of mommas waiting downstairs to talk to me during one day of this training. We put the training on hold and walked downstairs. What I expected was to be reamed out by disgruntled mothers. What I found was a heap of gratitude.
Our village in Haiti is one of the most barren places around. It is like a dust bowl, without much vegetation in the surrounding area. It is incredibly impoverished and I have heard the saying more than once that "Nothing good ever comes from Souboy" (the name of our village). But, there it was: an offering of fruits and vegetables for us and our team, there in our kitchen. The women from the community had gotten together and brought what they could to share their gratitude for the work we were doing in their community. To this day, it is one of the most sacrificial and humbling experiences I have ever had, to know how much these women sacrificed for this and to be on the receiving end of such gratitude- it was kind of overwhelming. Ryan, Jesselyn and some of our staff team, and a few visiting people, all took turns speaking to the women, thanking them for their thoughtfulness and (some of us) saying it through tears.
I think it has taken me a lot of the year to process that experience. I think when you work overseas, you get used to being in a position to at least consider yourself the giver, the more fortunate one. I was overwhelmed because, honestly, I was wrong. Having more doesn't mean giving more. Having more doesn't equate an attitude of gratitude or love right off the bat, let me tell you.
What this experience taught me was that we all have a choice: we can choose to move past our expectations, whatever they are and can move into a place of choosing gratitude. What a beautiful choice to make.
As I reflect on my own expectations of 2016, I can (and have) easily feel discouraged and let down. I did not do some of the things I had anticipated, nor did I prove to myself I could be the bionic woman who needs no help whatsoever. However, it did teach me one of the greatest things I could ever learn: that gratitude is a choice in every season, no matter what we have or have not, we can choose contentment.
So, thank you to my friends near and far who have reminded me of that choice. Thanks, especially, to my Dominican and Haitian friends who have shown me that contentment and gratitude are the best choices to make- every day and in every way. Happy 2017! And may we all realize the goodness lying right in front of us, the blessings of God our Father, and the love around us.
In my last post, I casually mentioned that I was in Haiti for a live birth a few years back. While those of you who are close to me know the gory details, there are a lot of people with whom I have never shared this story. I find that around Christmas time, especially, I have this desire to share the story of how little Shelisa came into the world.
This was our first trip to Haiti, with the largest team I have ever been associated with. While it was so nice to get to know everyone on the team, I don't really reccomend traveling to Haiti with that many people.... annyway...there we were, all 16 of us plus our country hosts in the middle of a tent city in Port-Au-Prince called Soupis. Earlier that morning, we had helped the pastor we were working with set up his make-shift church. We spent most of our time building a "fence," seriously a couple of large sticks sticking into the rocky dirt, which surrounded the tent church. So many folks showed up, praising God while waving their hands. It amazed me then, and still amazes me now, to see clean, pressed dresses and suits emerge from make-shift homes. There was no exception at this church service and it was so neat to witness.
The pastor's (recent) wife, Shelly, was pregnant. None of us knew exactly how far along she was. She was a tiny little thing, none of us really knowing she was pregnant from behind. So, it was a little interesting when she let out a scream into the afternoon, letting us know the baby was getting ready to come. Hospitals in Haiti, or at least in Port-Au-Prince during the year of the earthquake, do not take walk ins. They do not have ambulences to come and get you where you are. When they were called, the hospital staff told us that Shelly's appointment was at 8 that night, and they would see her then.
Returning to Shelly, with our dear friend Asha attached to her side, it became pretty obvious that she was not going to last until 8pm. By 5, her contractions were already 2 minutes apart.
This was a time in my life where I didn't fill in those gaps. You know the ones? We have them about other cultures. Many of you reading this might have the same gaps I had as you read this story. There was no doctor, there were no nurses. So, logically, our instict was to use our hour long health care training and set up to have the baby. Looking back, I do wonder if one of the many, experienced Haitian mommas and friends there would have been more helpful in this situation. Nonetheless, we set up and prepared for this baby to enter the world.
Everyone has their own perspective of the events that traspired after that. Setting up a plywood pallet with our backpacks as pillows, Shelly laid down on the pallet as we bleached every utensil we could find. People gathered around as we hooked up electricity and the sun set. The generator hummed in the distance, the smell of gasoline from said generator filled the air and the breeze from the ocean a few miles away hit our sweaty faces. Some people took pictures and video. Others gathered in the corner to pray. Some, like me, were timing contractions, updating people, and sanitizing everything.
Expecting a little boy, we were all shocked when a pale little girl popped out and was placed on Shelly's chest. It honestly was the most beautiful and horrible thing I have ever seen, being in the middle of that tent city on that night in December. Watching as the baby crowned and finding floss to tie off the ambilicul cord, it was all incredibly surreal. Its an experince I will never forget...and I will never ever forget how it felt to catch the placenta in a plastic bowl in the middle of that chaos and beauty.
The reason I think about this, on the month of Shelisa's 6th birthday, is because it does bear so much resembelnce to the Christmas story. I think about Shelly's face when she knew she was having that baby then and there. I think about the women, those amazing Haitian women, who gather together and just know the right things to say, the ways to joke, the prayers to mutter. The way they gathered and supported Shelly so lovingly was such a learning moment for me. I think back to our western team, our good hearts to help and our total dramatazation of the whole thing, too. As if women in Haiti don't see this situation all the time! I think of how much we wanted to help and how in that moment so many of us felt the call to be midwives. I think about ol' Pastor George, a man who had created a scandal within the church itself by getting pregnant before getting married. I think about how much he cared for his wife, staying by her side. What a beautiful, imperfect, perfect story.
What a lucky and wonderful thing for me to see them regularly in Haiti now, to be invited into their home and speak their native language with them. What a treat it is for me to see how Shelisa is growing up to be strong and kind- just like the rest of her family. How amazing it is to see her parent's marriage and the testimony it is to their community. Just like Jesus, Shelisa's crazy birth story was only the beginning.
All I can say about this story is that it was holy. It was dirty, but it was holy. It was in the poorest slum in the western hemisphere, but it was holy. It was an ambilicul cord tied with floss and placenta in a bowl, but it was holy. There were chickens running around and people waving their hands around praising God very loudly, but it was so holy. That moment they held Shelisa was so peaceful. She was here. Their little girl was here.
I can only imagine the way that Christmas night felt so many years ago. Maybe Mary was expecting to have her baby surrounded by her parents and not in a stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps they were expecting some kind of God-baby to be born that looked differently than a helpless infant. Maybe there were animals running around or strangers watching.
But, all I can imagine is that it was holy. Holy doesn't have to look prestine and put together. Holy doesn't have to involve your predetermined expectations. Holy seems to look a lot like something beautiful coming into something messy. I, for one, am certainly glad for the holy birth of Jesus...and Shelisa. :)
My Christmas Eve growing up looked like going to mass, eating a ham and dressing up. It looked like lasagna, or some other Italian food, on the side because we were DeLucas. It looked like getting an ornament and Christmas pajamas and trying to go to bed early to wait for Santa to fill the bottom of my tree with gifts from the North Pole.
I learned about Jesus, about the stable and the donkey ride into Bethlehem. But, it wasn't until I traveled to Haiti that my eyes began to see the true story of Christmas and why it mattered that I did not understand it more.
There have been a few Christmases that I don't experience culture shock when coming back into the US to celebrate with friends and family. My first year in Haiti, back in 2010, I experienced Christmas on the island. It wasn't until last year that I repeated that, spending Christmas on Hispaniola once again. In the times in between, though, I bundled up and flew to southern Alabama to be bombarded with love from family, along with consumerism and lots of events. While it has always been special, it has also been a struggle at times.
Last year, I brought Christmas gifts down to Haiti for our Fet Noel- or Christmas Day Party- with our kids program. It was so nice to be back on the island- the warm air, the ocean breeze and the friends who are like family- it was so nice. As I unpacked the gifts, I felt excited to give these little ones gifts and also kind of weird bringing the consumerist part of Christmas to Haiti. The staff and kiddos were excited, though, and that meant so much to me.
The day before we were set to celebrate, I cuddled up with one of our staff's kids and grabbed a book from the pile I'd brought from the states. "The Christmas Story," it read on the cover as a white Mary, Joseph and Jesus graced the front of the book. Written in English, I attempted to translate the children's story to make sense to sweet Laira, paying such close attention to my words. At one point though, I had to admit, the story did not translate well. Why? Because it was so inaccurate.
I'm not talking about Jesus or his incarnate birth. I'm talking about the way in which we Americans think he entered the world. We can't grasp it because we don't live it. We don't know what it's like to have to travel far, no matter what your circumstances, because a government needs something from you. We don't get how people can be transported to and fro on barn yard animals. We can't imagine not having an Air B and B or a friend in the city we need to be in. We can't imagine a lot of things.
As I was reading to Laira, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the scene of after the baby was born. Sweet baby Jesus, clean and white and surrounded by two clean donkeys. His angelic and clean parents, there holding him. Peace. This is what we have come to imagine as peace: quiet, surrounded by loved ones. However, this is not what I imagine now.
As the only live birth I have ever fully witnessed was in a Haitian tent city, I can tell you this is not how a baby enters this world. There's placenta and blood and screaming. There is crying and heaving and prayers. There are people, especially those who belong to a communal culture, who gather around simply to watch and be a part of this story. There are animals who do not merely lie there. The chickens come in and out of the scene, often being chased off by a midwife or townsmen. There are goats who are eating everything in sight. There are sheep, disgusting, unsheered sheep who bahh off in the distance. There are stinky cows who get in the way and you have to just figure out a way to move them. This is what I imagine this story to be in reality.
And, because of her own country, Laira did, too. She looked at the pictures and literally laughed. She knew, Jesus doesn't come like that.
Because of her, and my time and interactions with people in Haiti, I know this, too. I don't believe Jesus did or does come like that. He doesn't wait for us to be cleaned up. He doesn't wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect government. He just comes.
Emmanuel: God with us. This name meaning is why it is so important for us to understand the difference between our western story and the realistic one. He comes to be with us, and at what cost? At what discomfort? He just comes. And, He proved to us on his birthday so many years ago that He comes to us in the middle of our literal crap. He comes to us when barnyard animals are running in and out of the stable. He comes to us when we are confused at circumstances. He comes to us when we are in pain and in the dark.
I believe this is one of the most important lessons Haiti continues to teach me. As I go to my events, get dressed up and enjoy myself, I must remember that God is with me when I get offended by a comment, when I feel depressed and angry and when I am struggling. He's not just with me in my picture perfect moments, no, that's just not how Jesus comes. Peace, that true peace, comes from Him entering these circumstances and simply being with us. It does not come from the way we look, the pictures we are in, or the gifts we give. It looks like a perfect God in an incredibly dirty and imperfect world, coming to be with us.
Ithad been a long summer. The sun scoured down on all of us, as we worked tirelessly to complete water projects in that beautiful Caribbean island. In our little red truck, nicknamed El Tigre Rojo, we drove from San Pedro in the Dominican Republic to our current place in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. We'd just spent the last 3 weeks working in a steamy, grimy city and we were ready to head back to our next location.
We'd dropped off a few people at the airport that morning. At that time, we were all trying to spend some time at home over the summer for seasonal work. After that, it was only me, Ryan, and our friends Zach and Philipson. Ryan had procured a broken leg just a few weeks before then and his leg was bound up in a make-shift cast. I laughed as he brushed up against me, all of us trying to squish into the truck out of Port-Au-Prince.
There's this stretch of road as you drive out of Port that is filled with potholes and bumpy video game like stretches. It is full of beauty, though, too. There are little villages scattered about, banana trees, hills of red dirt and people all around. For me, it is like taking a deep breath of fresh(er) air. During this particular drive out, as I was filling up my proverbial lungs with that fresh air, a large thud brought me back to reality. Our truck had stopped. In the middle of the road.
Did I mention my husband was in a leg cast with crutches?
Quickly, the situation was resolved enough to push the truck, with Ryan steering the large truck, close enough to a gas station to coast in there.
Though it would seem like we'd run out of gas, this was not the problem. It was the issue of no water in the radiator! While this is an easy enough fix, I don't think I will ever forget what happened for the next 15 minutes. It went like this: asking where we could park our car and trying to coast there. Being told to move our car. Getting out of the car and looking for water. Finding out there was a well on property. Looking for a bucket. Finding rope to tie to the bucket. Dropping the bucket into the well. Pulling up a very small amount of water. Pouring that into another bucket for someone else to pour into the car. And then repeat.
About 45 minutes later, we were all back in the car, laughing at the what we had to do to fix this problem. We carried on and crossed the border back into the Dominican Republic and the rest is history.
This story is good for me. This season has been one of extreme ups and downs for me- adjusting to life in a new way and feeling like there is supposed to be a "quick fix" button for me to push in order for me to coast my way through these issues. However, it just hasn't been like that. With each obstacle I have faced, there are 100 little nuances that need to be taken care of, as well.
I am the car in this story today. I need some seemingly easy care, but I can't seem to get it together to get up the hill. I need help from my people. I need a quick fix, but what I get is a bucket to drop down into that deep part of myself that I don't want to think about at the moment. For deep healing, though, I've gotta do it. I am wrestling with giving up, attempting to drive my car and keep moving forward without the necessary items I need just so I don't have to deal with digging into that well of mine. That's not going to happen though-- because, you know, the truck is broken down. My heart and my body are screaming out the same thing, too. Take care of me! So, I have been trying to do this. To hone in and focus.
To be honest, I just didn't think it would take so much work.
That's the thing about getting well. We have to want it bad enough to truly seek those deep places that aren't really open in our hearts. We have to be willing to do the difficult work, even though we think there could be an easier way to do these things. Easy and efficent does not always equal whole and healing.
Today, I am in need of a little water. And, for the first time in a while I am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure I get it.
When I went to Tanzania so long ago, I remember logging everything in the journal I had purchased before I went on my 3 month trip. With each entry, I gained perspective and hope. That summer I learned and observed so much, and I was able to process it because of my own dedication to making time to write.
Fast forward to now, the end of the year 2016. Since that summer in Tanzania, so much has changed. I am married to that same adventureous man I made the initial trek with, and together we have been working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since late 2010. I stopped journaling around 2013.
Things got really hard and messy and complicated. When I went to write, I could no longer eek out what I was witnessing or what I was learning. That stretch lasted until about...oh, November 2016. I am back in the USA for a season and in this time, I have learned a lot about myself and had so much time to think about what I have learned in these years backlogged.
So, I have decided to start a different kind of journal. This one is messy, confusing at times and full of adventure. It is not really chronological, nor is it neat and tidy. This journal will, however, hold the stories so dear to my heart and the lessons I have taken away from them (along with the questions I have from these experiences). Feel free to tag along with me, or not- because these stories are coming out one way or another :).
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.