Monday, July 21, 2014


Just a quick post to let you all know I am back home. I've been struggling with exhaustion all weekend and getting back into the swing of things. Thank you to those who read the Haiti-themed posts I left here for you last week. This journey to Haiti was an even bigger adventure than I'd counted on, and has expanded my vision for future trips in ways that are much bigger than I can articulate without a lot more prayer and a little more sleep.

I am anxious to share my stories, but probably not coherent enough to articulate them. In the meantime, I invite you to get a feel for the adventure in my Facebook album.

Talk with you soon!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Eye Glasses

Last summer, some members of our team ran an eye clinic.

The Haitians would sit in a chair positioned a specified distance from an eye chart.  Where they stopped on the chart corresponded to pre-made glasses of a specific strength.

Lots of glasses left the clinic, but, oddly, I did not see a single Haitian leaving sporting specs.

I asked Ken, who was heading up the clinic, what the deal was.

“They put them in their shirt pockets,” Ken said. “They think the glasses are to special to wear all the time. They’re saving them for special occasions.”

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. I'm scheduled to return tonight at midnight! I'll be back with fresh stories next week!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Madame Dushane

This is Madame Dushane. She lives in a fishing village I’ve been to a couple of times, once uneventfully, and the other involving only a minor shipwreck.

I mention the shipwreck only to illustrate that transportation isn’t a given in Haiti. The distance we travelled in last summer’s 13 hour bus trip, for instance, could have likely been traversed in an hour or two here in the states.

Madame Dushane is a single mother who makes her living selling the tiny fish you see in the basket. Of course, no one in the fishing village has need for her wares, as they all have access to the same waters, and, literally everyone in the village does nothing but fish.

Madame Dushane told me that she hitches a ride on a motor scooter whenever she can and travels to places that seem impossibly far by Haitian standards to sell her fish.

She does this not just in an attempt to eek out a living, but because she has dreams. One day she wants to leave the fishing village and move to Mole St. Nicholas, which seems to be the Haitian equivalent of moving to the ‘burbs.

When you ask her if she’d like you to pray for anything, she answers in the way any momma might: that her children would pass their all important National Exams (on which the entire Haitian educational system seems to hinge).

On the outside, her life looks nothing like mine. But strip away the hut, her work, and her village and she’s a momma who has big dreams for herself and her family. Just like me.

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. The next one posts tomorrow. Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nail Polish

Haitians in general and children in particular love to be touched.

One day in Haiti, The Minister remarked his surprise at what he perceived to be a huge “gay population.”

Puzzled, I asked him where he got the idea. “Look around you, Mom! The men are holding hands everywhere we go!”

Ah. Yes, true…but not what you think. Haitian men walk down the road holding hands in the same spirit a football coach smacks his players butts (which seems more…oh forget it it, I am not going there).

I experienced the Haitian need for touch one afternoon when I sat down on a stoop with a few bottles of nail polish. The press of the crowd was tremendous. I felt like Jesus, the time he had to preach from a boat due to the same issue, but, in a tactical error, I set up shop with the sea several blocks in front of me.

After awhile, some of the faces and fingers became familiar. Children came back with a finger that was “missed” or “smudged” and had to be redone, or the need for an extra color over top of the first.

Jody, who heads up the mission at the Mole, prepared me for this. See, as much as the Haitians crave touch, they ironically don’t give their kids a lot of positive physical attention (see Saturdays post on voodoo). So this manicure was huge! It wasn’t the color they wanted as much as that moment with their hand in another, getting attention.

So they wrecked their nail polish. Just to have the experience again.

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. The next one posts tomorrow. Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Dirt Pile

On my first trip to Haiti, our team worked alongside of Haitians from the village, hired as day laborers on the construction project we were involved in, building four houses for people like the Momma of the orphanage.

An entire team of workers spent two days with buckets and shovels moving dirt a distance of about 10 yards. Inefficient? Yes. Could we "help" them do better? Absolutely. Should we? Absolutely not.

See, the operative phrase here is "hired as day laborers." Sure, we could figure out a way to get a Caterpillar over there and move that pile in 10 minutes with a couple of scoops, but then, where would that team get the money to feed their families that week? Such an act would wreak havoc on the economy.

The book, When Helping Hurts is a powerful read for anyone trying to "help" anyone else, anywhere out of poverty. It should be on the shelf of any well meaning person attempting to assist another human being.

So let the Haitians dig--smile at them, say bonjour (or bonsoir if it is even one minute past noon, I mean it!) and let it go.

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. The next one posts tomorrow. Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hell or Miami

If you missed Saturday's post about voodoo, you will want to go back and read it first. I can't add a link, as, at this writing the voodoo post is scheduled, but not live. It's there. Trust me.

The Haitians have a superstition about a certain spirit, a sort of bird-like thing with huge talons that can snatch people at dusk. It's most likely a cover story to explain a voodoo kidnapping, but the Haitians live in awe of this thing. It is said that if the spirit snatches you, it will take you one of two places: Hell or Miami.

See, Miami is equivalent to Heaven. Think about that for a moment and it gets pretty sobering.

But, like we talked about on Saturday, we can use that thought to our advantage. See, we blancs ALL come from Miami, as that's the flight route in. I mentioned earlier that Haitians do not have a concept of coincidence, so we are (to them) literally people who left Heaven to come visit them. It's kind of a big deal.

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. The next one will post tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


In the stillness of a Haitian night, if you listen carefully you’ll hear a distant drumming. It can be exciting or exhilarating until you realize that it’s the sound of voodoo drums.

Voodoo isn’t a mystical concept from a novel, or an archaic historical fact; it’s alive and well in Haiti. Voodoo thought has informed Haitian thought, culture and customs to the extent that it’s been said that ALL Haitians practice voodoo in some form—even Christians.

Voodoo has seeped into the Haitian Catholic church, making it “voodoo lite” for all intents and purposes. In fact, the official Catholic church has had to sever ties with the Haitian church.

Voodoo isn’t a “harmless” alternate belief system; it is a set of entrenched rituals that have led to the abuse and death of Haitian children. However, an outsider with the goal of influencing thought would do well to first listen and learn.

The book Bruchko contains the best ideas I have ever heard when it comes to working with other cultures. The 19 year old would be missionary had ideas so radical (what? We shouldn’t try to change the earth into mini-westerners?) that he had to set out on his own, doing crazy things like befriending a village witch doctor and helping HIM cure a pink eye epidemic so he could, metaphorically, save face. The entire fabric of the culture was thus preserved, and, of course the witch doctor wanted to learn more about these “greater powers.” Good stuff.

This post is short by design. I am far from an expert and the length of the post is commensurate with my knowledge. But what I do know leads me to think our role as humanitarians, missionaries and zomies is primarily to observe and understand. It’s the only true inroad to lasting impact.

Friends and Readers: I am in Haiti this week, but have left you with a series of short posts highlighting aspects of Haitian culture to encourage thought, discussion, and understanding. The next one will post tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Five Things I Love About Haiti

Today is the day! The Minister and I head out for Haiti this afternoon. This will be our third trip together. In many ways, we feel like veterans, but I keep reminding myself that we’re not going to our familiar Mole St. Nicholas; this is a new experience, with new goals and new people. The only thing that transfer from our prior experiences is what we’ve learned of the culture.

Yesterday Patti asked me what I like best about Haiti, and it’s a wonderful question. I can’t really pick just one, so here are five of my favorite things about Haiti:

1. Meeting zomies

“Zomie”is Creole for friend. In the Mole, we learned that when the Haitians call us “blancs” (white; not PC; a mild slur) we should smile and say “”No blanc—zomie!” The effect is marvelous, particularly with children, who might be, at the moment of your conversation, having their very first interaction with a while person. Typically their faces light up in enormous smiles when they hear that “blancs” are really friends who cared enough to explain it in Creole.

Another plus when it comes to making zomies: Haitians do not believe in the concept of coincidence. So if you show up on their stoop or knock on their door, they believe it was destined; it carries a lot of weight. Extra impact if you say that God sent you.

My best Haitian zomies live at the orphanage in Mole St. Nicholas. My heart hurts a bit knowing I will be in the same country as Niederson, Sondley, and Majislow and I won’t see them—but I understand that we will meet different orphans who I am sure I will love, too. It’s sobering to realize just how many orphans live in such a small country.

2. The colors

Everything in Haiti is so bright and colorful, and I don’t know how they do it. There isn’t a Sherwin Williams or a Home Depot in the whole of the nation, but everywhere you go there’s a bright color that just makes me want to smile.

3. The sea

Some of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life are in that sea. The entire island is covered in coral. So you just know the sea is teeming with life—what I didn’t realize until last summer’s snorkeling adventures that all you have to do is put on the mask, go underwater and open your eyes for the marine life viewing of a lifetime.
The Haitians depend on the sea for food. Everyday boys from The Mole pull an enormous net from the water. It takes a dozen or more men over an hour, probably more to pull in the afternoon catch. One afternoon, The Minister jumped in and began pulling—his blanc arms pulling alongside dark Haitian hands, earning their respect, making zomies. I wish I could have taken a picture, but I slammed into some coral and cut up my back while that was happening, so that image exists only in my mind.

4. The simplicity

Transport via donkey, a rooster for an alarm clock, coconuts straight from the tree: yes, please.

5. The no-red-tape-get-'er-done ethos

Chances are you think, as I once did that if the entire axle falls off the 1970s American school bus on which you're traveling, the trip is over--at least in that vehicle, right? You're expecting weeks in the auto body shop, minimum. In Haiti? No problem! Let's walk that axle on down the road, get 'er welded up and,boom! back on the road in under two hours.

And here I am, doing chemical hair straightening without a license. No one asked or cared that I quit beauty school before The Minister was born. We set up shop in a patch of dirt with no running water to be seen. I was a pretty good stylist if I do say so myself!

I am gone for a week, but please drop by here in my absence, as I have scheduled a series of short posts—one story or fact about Haitian life each day; things I have learned that have touched my heart. The next one will be up tomorrow morning. (If you follow from Facebook or G+ you'll have to skip that step and come here directly, as I won't be posting links) Please feel free to leave comments. I would love to come back to some. I will return on the 19th with fresh stories from this current adventure!

Bonjour (if you are reading this before noon) or bonsoir (if it’s afternoon)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


I’m assembling a Haiti wardrobe of ill-fitting garments.

This isn’t exactly a new problem.  When packing two years ago, I basically dumped a drawer of old clothes into my suitcase and didn’t think about it again until I arrived in Haiti and discovered, to my horror, that I couldn’t get most of my clothes over my hips.

The Minister and I took turns wearing a pair of basketball shorts he stole from a workout buddy, sending them out each morning for the Haitians to wash with rocks in the riverbed. We called them the “travelling shorts” because they fit us both equally, undoubtedly due to the elastic waist band rather than the apparent magic that imbued the trousers of The Sisterhood fame.

However, two notable differences exist in my current wardrobe situation, the first being that I won’t be caught unawares by the issue, and, of far greater importance, the clothes I’m bringing this time all too big rather than too small.

Last night I posted the image below on facebook with this caption: Top pics: March 4, 2014. Bottom pics, same clothes minus 22 lbs., today, July 8, 2014.

 It got a lot of likes, but also sparked questions concerning how, exactly, I lost the weight. Back in March, I shared my initial success and confidence in my path, and, now that I reached my goal, I want to elaborate a bit more on the details of what happened.

Like I mentioned in my prior post, I used a calorie counting app called My Fitness Pal. Use of the app was absolutely the single most important factor in my success. In the beginning, I liked to view the challenge of staying within my calorie limit as a game. What I mean by this is that I had to get creative when it came to finding ways to stay full, stay nourished, AND earn the foods I really wanted. Because let me be clear at the outset: I did not give up a thing. I ate chocolate, bread, and pizza-kind of a lot of pizza, actually. I ate The Baker’s frangipane tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and even pies. I went out to dinner. I drank wine. For me, there wasn’t another way, because whatever I did had to be sustainable, and, really, who can permanently swear off chocolate and pizza?

Every day I chose a “big ticket” item I wanted (see above) and then the objective was to do whatever it took to have the numerical amount left on my app to allow it. Tracking on my phone really DID make it seem like a game, especially as the app has a feature where you can scan barcodes on food to log it in automatically and then the numbers adjust accordingly. Like every good game, this one, also, has a big twist: exercise. When you exercise, you simply log in what you did, and—viola!—you get credit for what you burned, and your numbers go up again! Fun!

I exercised faithfully—still do—during the whole process, but it is crucial to understand that I had been doing the same program prior WITH NO RESULTS. In fact, I continued to gain weight. The fact was puzzling and frustrating to me until I realized the truth that weight loss really, truly IS, as my friend Joe said, a numbers game, and I was trying to work off ten times the calories than the amount I was burning. Turns out math really is good for something!

So now I’m packing a bag full of all my floppy garments and I’m leaving them in Haiti. I don’t need those clothes anymore. I have a whole new relationship with food, and, barring any new game changers, I don’t think I’ll ever need them again.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

When a Tree Falls in a Neighborhood...

When great trees fall 
in forests, 
small things recoil into silence,
 their senses 
eroded beyond fear 
–Maya Angelou

The greatness of the trees on my mind today isn’t in their stature, or even, really, in their intrinsic value, as they have long stopped producing sweet, juicy spheres of peachy goodness.

Every day, usually twice, my husky, Audrey and I go down the road and around the corner, covering a mile or so of what promotional signage calls our urban seaside village. Our particular sector is an older neighborhood, with houses dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries interspersed among other homes from every consecutive era. 

Although there’s no denying that we live in a city, you can’t go very far in our neighborhood without hitting water, most notably a river that’s a gateway to the nearby bay, and several marshy areas.  We’ve also managed to hold on to some vestiges of “farmland”: a large lot that appears to be a cooperative garden, acreage belonging to the farmer who runs the farm market on the main thoroughfare around the corner, and an abandoned peach orchard that runs alongside a tract of marsh. The shady, dead end road that runs between the orchard and the marshy inlet has served Audrey and I well as a sort of miniature state park.

As neglect sent the orchard into latency years ago, I suppose I should not view it as a tragedy that the owner decided it was time to let it go. Heavy machinery showed up the other day to begin knocking down the remains of the dormant orchard, readying the land for new use.  Is development not the definition of progress, and is progress not our collective, cultural goal?

But what, really, is progress? Can it be measured by the number of small things that make way for bigger, more complex things?  Of small homes--nests for birds and bunnies and wet, marshy tunnels for nutria-- making way for homes of cement, drywall, and lumber hewn from other fallen forests?  Is this the mark of achievement? And, once these small homes have been replaced by bigger dwellings for larger life, what other small things must give way next to meet the demands of the new inhabitants? The small things asked for little, save a bit of rainwater, mud, and twigs.  Something tells me the orchard is just the beginning of the little things that will begin to fall.  The neighborhood has been crawling for days with people with clipboards and phones, gas trucks, city vehicles, driving slowly, parking frequently, scouting, I assume for other small places to lay claim. In the midst of it all, I stopped today to visit my neighbor and wonder if the new ones will be as beautiful or as quiet:

So I bid farewell to the old orchard; and to the peaceful retreat it provided. Those trees will live on, great, indeed in my memory. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Intervening Events

I have a long standing belief in a writing concept I call “intervening events.”   The idea is that a work—any work at all: academic paper, short story, letter to the editor, blog post, manifesto, etc.—changes in some substantial way every time the writer stops writing. As in, being done for the day, and returning at a later point.

See, everything that happens from the time the last word of one writing session to the beginning of the next impacts the writer in ways—some subtle, some profound—that will alter the narrative. It’s not a bad thing—in fact, I tell my students to never turn in a paper that was done in one shot. Things need to distill, simmer, develop, and refine. But when it comes to factual retellings and the conveyance of raw emotion, intervening events tend to temper the realism. Anger subsides, excitement fades, and details are fleeting. Indeed, research shows that we're wired to invent happy endings to even the scariest episodes of our life story. It's a gift, really, wired into our DNA as a way to soften the edges of our raw experience to create a polished sense of meaning. I'm OK with that, although I'd submit, from a literary stance that the beat writers, and, certain James Thurber works embraced clunky stream of conscious prose as an attempt to preserve some semblance of raw emotion in our collective writings.

So as I send the post out into the void in an attempt to resume the sharing of my life and times with anyone who may be reading, I must be clear that my story has morphed and changed. I, once again, live in a full house. I decided not to quit my MFA program (although it occurs to me at this point that the episode when I quit was, itself, an "intervening event."). My weight loss has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. And I am about to head once again to Haiti. My telling of how these events came to be is different today that it would have been at earlier points. Some of the stories aren’t even mine to tell. But everything that has happened since my last post has brought me to the present, and a chapter I am ready to record in a more immediate way.

So I suppose all of this is just to say…”hi, I’m back…it’s been awhile.” Catch me up--what events have invented in your life during the interim?


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