Saturday, January 26, 2013

Moto ride through Port Au Prince

I'm bouncing along on the back of the moto, passing scenes that are repeatedly different, exotic, and unforgettable. We ride on the dirt roads for a little while, where last night's rain created huge puddles that we creep through and still get splashed anyway. We pass pigs feeding on piles of garbage, lots of tiny little houses made of mud or corrugated tin, and a tiny little brown puppy trying rip the last few crumbs of food out of a bit of foil packaging. We mount to the top of a hill and see all of Port-au-Prince stretching out before us, and the distant mountains towering over all.

Eventually we make it on to the paved roads, where houses are built of cinder blocks without facade and people are bringing their things to market and men are making kissy-lips at me when I pass.

I have realized that my initial impression that there were no stores in Haiti was wrong--it's just that I didn't know where to look. Suddenly it dawned on me that the store is the street. Instead of aisles, sidewalks. Instead of parking your car and walking in, you just drive down the street until you see what you want, stop the car, roll down the window, ask for what you want, hand over the money, and drive on. We bought diapers out of a wheelbarrow in this way the other day. It's like a huge drive-through. Each person has about as much for sale as one can carry on his or her head, and each person has a different kind of product.

I called the moto because all I wanted to do was get some money at an ATM. At home, this would be a 15-minute affair. Pop out to the nearest bank, card in, money out, remove card, go home. Not so in Haiti. I'm discovering that everything takes longer here. Not just a little longer, but prohibitively longer.

The nearest bank is across town, and traffic is heavy. We weave in and out of the traffic, going through roundabouts at a perpendicular angle to the direction the cars are traveling. My knees pass inches away from  moving dump truck tires and car bumpers and the ubiquitous tap-taps. My driver honks his horn at pedestrians who weave in and out, trying to cross the street or hop onto a tap-tap. I see one man running along with a slow-moving car, wiping it down with a rag in exchange for a few goudes.

Half an hour later, we arrive at the bank and I dismount. I scan the outside of the bank. No ATM. I check the other wall. No ATM there, either. So... maybe it's inside? But there's a line of about 100 people stretching out the door. What in the world? I go up to the front of the line and poke my head in to ask the security guard if there's an ATM inside and if I can go inside to use it without waiting in line. He says there is none, and says, "56."

"56?" I repeat with a blank look on my face.

"56," he repeats. "Five, six."

"Five, six," I echo, still clueless.

"56 Delmas," he says. That sounds like an address. I go hop back on the moto and repeat that to the driver. He nods and we take off.

At 56 Delmas we stop at a different bank. I get off and scope this one out. Still no ATM. I ask the guard. "52," he says. I figure that is an address just like the 56. The moto driver seems to think so, and he takes off.

At the third bank, the guard outside says the ATM is inside. Finally! I go inside, and a guard there tells me that the ATM is for Haitians only and that I must go to the counter.

I go to the counter. "5,000 gourdes, please," I say to the woman.

"No," she says. "100 dollars."

I shrug. 5,000 gourdes would be 125 dollars, but I'll settle for $100, which would be about 4,000 gourdes. I figure that this is the bank's clever racket. If I put my card into the ATM and ask for 4,000 gourdes, it will spit out gourdes at the "official" exchange rate, but if the bank runs my credit card for $100, then they can give me gourdes at their own rate, taking their own cut out of the percentage they set for exchange.

She scans my credit card and driver's license and makes a printout, causing me to be very nervous with the possibility of identity theft. This is a bank, presumably a professional institution, but this is also Haiti. Why couldn't I just use the ATM? I think. That would be a lot easier; a lot safer; a lot quicker.

Then she makes me sign a paper and take it over to another counter.

I am the 5th person in line at this counter, but I count 35 people in line for the other counter, so I'm very grateful for the fact that I don't have to be in that line. Why does it have to be so difficult just to go to the bank?

I finally get up to the counter and hand my paper to the teller. He hands me back a $100 bill in US money. I look at it. "What?" I say. "No, I wanted gourdes."

"Well this paper says you wanted $100," he says.

"I asked the lady over there for gourdes, and she made me change it to dollars," I said. I really couldn't use a $100 bill. How would I ever break it? Fortunately, I had seen a woman two people ahead of me in line with a $100 bill in her hand, and I had seen them give her Haitian currency for it.

I handed the bill back to the teller. "Can you just change this for gourdes?" I asked.

He looked at it as if he was making a huge concession for me, being a hero and getting me out of my difficulty. He filled out another paper, made me sign it, and counted out the money. I got back 4120 gourdes, which, according to today's rate at, should have been 4215 gourdes. So they did get their cut after all, about 100 gourdes, or $2.50, which would be 2.5% of my $100.

I ask the teller, "Am I really not allowed to use the ATM?"

"No, you have to come to this counter," he says.

"Hmmm," I reply, silently vowing to find another ATM somewhere. If they have one in Saint Marc, they must have one here somewhere. This is Port-au-Prince, after all.

Finally, I leave the bank and hop back on the moto. We start back towards where we came from. Despite the fact that this is the middle of January, the sun is blazing hot (today's high was 86), and I can feel my face and my arms starting to burn. Dust flying in the air has already caked my hair with a grimy layer.

We drive by people digging ditches, a funeral procession that has traffic backed up for miles in the other direction, and some children who wave when they see a white woman on the back of a motorcycle. I wave back.

The moto driver stops at the gas station and puts 100 gourdes worth in the tank. That gives him half a gallon, making gas approximately $5.00 a gallon. Not nearly as bad as the UK!

By the time we get to our starting point, two and a half hours have passed. I am exhausted and thirsty from my trek, even though the moto has done all the work. I am toasted pink all over on every bit of exposed skin from the sun.

But there is a little smile playing on my lips and a little excitement leaping up in my heart at the fact that this is where I am and these are the kinds of things I get to do and see and experience.

Friday, January 18, 2013

First day back to work

Today I got to go to the creche. The instant I walked in the door, I was flooded with hugs, as all the children ran to gather around me and smothered me in a huge group hug. One or two of them hung back a bit, perhaps shy, or perhaps wondering if they would be accepted, and I pursued them and didn't let them get away with a big hug. Then it was just like old times. I felt like I had never left.

School went smoothly and we had a great time playing "Race to 100" with the base 10 set that was so generously donated to me right before I left. (Thanks, Becky!!) That was new to them and I think they enjoyed getting to work with a new kind of manipulative.

Right before lunchtime, we had a prayer meeting at the creche. They have begun meeting daily to pray corporately for about half an hour. All the school children and I joined in, and it was the hugest blessing to participate in that. Oh, how they prayed! They prayed for the children and for the creche in many fervent petitions that were beyond my comprehension level of Creole. All the children and adults were praying in unison, lifting up their hearts to God in faith and confidence, addressing Him as if He really were present, and praying as if they were truly communicating with God.

I prayed in English right along with them, particularly asking God for the creche on the basis of the phrase from the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." In Ephesians 1:11 it says that God works all things after the counsel of His own will. In heaven, there is no crying, pain, sickness, discord, or suffering. So I asked for a little piece of heaven on earth, that the will of God would be done on earth the way it is already done in heaven. I asked in faith, based on the fact that Jesus has literally commanded us to pray this way. Audacious prayer--but is it possible that "we have not because we ask not?"

After some time of fervent prayer, we broke into song, and how they sang! They sang at the tops of their voices, belting out the hymns of praise to God. Then we had more prayer. We sang again. We prayed again. We sang another hymn. And then one member of the group closed in prayer. Ah! What a blessing and privilege it is that our Haitian staff can lead a prayer meeting that is full of the Spirit of God and power.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Taming the chaos

Unfortunately, I do not have a camera. It fell face-down in the sand, and now when you turn it on, the lens cannot come out. Hopefully I can use a sharp needle or something and pick all the grains of sand out to get it working again, but in the meantime, you'll just have to put up with my word pictures for this one.

Imagine that you arrive in Haiti. You walk into your new room. The room is half the size of your other room. 5 girls and 4-6 kids used to live in that other room, but ever since you started living there alone, you kind of inexplicably spread out.

Now all that stuff is in half the space, and you have two additional 50-lb. suitcases to unload into the mix.

You start by getting a good night's sleep. At 7:00 the next morning, you remove everything from the closets. You have four suitcases in there. One is your clothes that you left in Haiti, and one is school supplies...but what are those other two???

Ohhhhh! One is all your books, and one is full of random odds and ends, like hangers, a dust ruffle for a baby bed, and a pack-n-play. You used to have a shelf in the other room, but now you don't, leaving quite a dilemma for what to do with the books.

Suitcases start to line all the edges of the room. Then you start unloading all the shelves.

What is all this stuff???

There are bottles of sunscreen, bug spray, lotion, extra shampoo, and an assortment of medications. You line up the bottles 3 deep along the wall in the hallway.

Then you get a rag and a basin with hot water and lavender castile soap and you start to wash the shelves off. The top two shelves are so dusty, you wonder if anyone has ever done this before. You wipe the tops and the bottoms of the shelves, as well as the side walls and the back. The water gets so dirty so fast you have to change it about every two shelves. You also wash the floor, walls, and ceiling of the closet.

As you do this, you notice loads of mosquitoes floating around in the air at the back of the shelves and closet. You get at least a dozen mosquito bites. You try not to think about malaria. You think thoughts of making this shelving area as inhospitable to bugs as possible, and you pour in a little extra lavender castile soap the next time you change the water.

The rag you are wiping everything down with goes from a perfectly-normal looking rag to having so many holes in it that it's basically just the palm of your hand wiping things down anymore. How did it waste away so significantly? you wonder. Did little bits of it just rub off along the way, or did the holes just open up between parts of the material, leaving about the same amount of rag as you had before?

Finally, with a sigh of satisfaction, you gaze over the nice, clean shelves and closet space, and you begin to tackle the unpacking. Soon, both beds are covered with a pile of stuff, and very little floor space remains for walking between the different points of the room.

Hours pass. 12:00. 2:00. The piles are so daunting. Sorting out the clothes and putting them away was the easy part, but now, what to do with all the rest of this stuff? The clothes barely made a dent. How in the world did I acquire this much stuff? I guess I inherited most of it when the girls left.

5:00. 6:00. The pile is almost gone now. Just a few more things on the bed, and I can finally be done.

Yes, it took me an entire day to unpack. How wrong is that? I need skills for making clutter like that disappear. I got through it, but every minute, it felt like I was racking my brain, trying to think, think, think, "What do I do now? What can I possibly do with this thing? Where can that go? How do I find or make a place for this? Where do I put this miscellaneous item?" The thing that took me the longest was getting stuck and simply being unable to think. I would look over the pile of chaos and be completely clueless of what I could do next. Why is that? Eventually one step would dawn on me, and I would do that thing. Put these shoes in this little cubby. Ok, got that. Put that bin under there. Use this shelf for the books. Little by little, I got it all accomplished.

So does anyone else experience this paralysis when it comes to organizing?

And for those of you who organize effortlessly, how do you do it? And more specifically, how does your brain work while you're doing it? How does it know how to direct your actions so that you can rapidly and efficiently sort everything out without confusion-based delays?

Any advice?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Edit: Just to clarify the confusion about the shelves (see Katherine's comment), here are two pictures from my old room that show what I was talking about.
This little wall dividing the room into two halves is the shelf that I no longer have 

These shelves are the ones I was washing, and where I eventually found a spot for my books

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I'm back!

Back to blogging, and back to....

I hope to post some back-dated articles about my trip home, so you might want to check for them later (scroll down on the home page of my blog, past this article, and they should show up between "Year in Review," which was my last post of 2012, and this post).

Ah, yes! So I'm in Haiti again.

All day yesterday, the eve of my departure, it didn't seem real that I was going--or at least, it didn't seem like I was going somewhere drastic and far away. I felt so nonchalant and unconcerned about it. Even when I got up at 5:00 this morning to leave for the airport, it didn't quite hit me. Not until I was dragging suitcases through the Charlotte airport did I have a bit of nervous stomach-jitters. Ah! I'm going back to HAITI! I thought. What will this trip hold for me? But even that was as fleeting as thought.

It didn't fully hit me until I emerged from the front door of the airport in Port-Au-Prince and saw the smiling faces of the welcoming party who had come to greet me. And then it hit me: A wave of happiness, huge, ecstatic happiness to be here. When I smelled the distinctive smell of the air and saw the sights that just a few months ago seemed so foreign and strange, I knew I was glad to be here. I was glad, exultantly, jubilantly glad. I smiled all the way home on the tap-tap. I had a private little worship session by myself on that two-hour drive, and with a full heart, I just praised the Lord for letting me come back here. I felt like my face was glowing with an irrepressible smile, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting out in loud songs of praise.

I was sitting in the back of the tap-tap, talking to Jesus, and I had a bunch of very clear and vivid thoughts on many topics, but one of them in particular struck me in a way that demanded obedience and a change of heart.

You see, I have talked bad about Haiti. I've said good things, too, but often I have let myself exclaim in a shocked tone of voice over different negative aspects of Haiti, using words like "incompetence," "massive illness down there," "corruption," and "inefficiency."

What struck me was--that's not just Haiti. That's planet Earth.

Sin has polluted the human race, not just Haiti. Now, Haiti perhaps has some very obvious deficiencies in a number of key categories, but the other countries, the ones that look more "put together," also have glaring deficiencies that are surely just as egregious to God, only they happen to be in different categories, ones that we consider to be more "sanitary," and therefore, we more easily overlook them.

Then it struck me, hard: "What if Jesus talked about earth the way I have talked about Haiti?"

Can you imagine Jesus talking like this? Picture Him (if you can) getting together with a few the angels after he ascends up to heaven, and standing around with them in little knots, talking in low voices and saying, "You would not believe what a horrible place Earth is. You may have heard about it, but there's no way to understand it or imagine it until you've been there. Ugh! The corruption, the dishonesty, the back stabbing, the unbelievable incompetence at every's just shocking. It's really shocking. People are ignorant. They don't know anything. And then the massive illness down there! It seemed like everybody was sick. The amount of time I had to spend just healing people was ridiculous."

I can't imagine Him talking like that. By extension, I ought not to talk like that. It's not Christlike.

So I want to apologize to as many as possible of the people who heard me talking in a negative way. I want Jesus to be the one in the future who informs the way I speak. I want to love as He loved.

How did Jesus act towards "this present evil world"? How did He approach this habitation of sin, treachery, murder, pain, and suffering?


He loved the world, and he loved the people as individuals.

And so I make it my prayer: LORD, let me LOVE. Let me love as you love, with pure, strong, unquenchable, unconditional love. Let me love you, and love Haiti in general, and love Haitians an individuals.