A view from a roof in Port au Prince


There, Here... and Whatever is Coming Next

On November 7th, 2012 I packed my luggage and headed home to Minnesota. It was pretty quick decision I made to come home, as my original plans had mapped out that I would be staying in Haiti until December. I'll explain something I have noticed about how my relationship with Haiti works. I love Haiti and feel joyful and thankful every day that I am there... until I have been there for about 8-10 weeks and then I am aching for a break, even just a couple days to recuperate in the United States. (A disclaimer in case other missionaries are reading this, I know many of you go much longer without a break. I wish I could do it like you all do! BUT there are also many people that can only last a week in Haiti, so I guess I am some sort of a happy medium.) Anyways, I had been in Haiti for 12 weeks since my last visit home and I was tired. Part of what made me so tired was my busy schedule in the Emergency Room. I was working as the only nurse and would work 8-10 hour shifts without taking any breaks. I would be so tired by the end of the day, that I would come home and scarf down a meal, shower, and then lay in my pajamas all night until it was time for bed. I really enjoyed the work I was doing in the ER. It was challenging, fast-paced, and I was learning things each day, it just took a lot of energy out of me and I didn't have energy to balance my time doing other things I enjoyed like going for walks or spending time with people in the evenings.

Starting around the end of August, I began talking with a hospital in New Jersey about the possibility of a job where I would work in their hospital for 6 weeks, and then be sent to the hospital in Milot, Haiti for 6 weeks and so on and so on. It was perfect for me. How could anything else satisfy so well my passion for Haiti while still allowing me to work in the states? It was planned that I would start this job in December. This opportunity, paired with my fatigue, was my reason for coming back to MN in November. When I arrived back in MN I realized that things sounded much simpler in Haiti. I had to change my MN nursing license to a NJ one, which cost me several hundred dollars, and the wait time is 8-10 weeks for it to be processed. I have to find a place to live in Jersey, transportation... and I didn't have income for the last year, so the situation is very complex. So that leaves me with the big question now about what to do. I have been forced to look for jobs in the MN to hold me over until the NJ thing comes through, and I am not sure what will happen if I land a dream job here. It would be hard to leave it to move somewhere on my own, even though it would allow me to do something I really love.

I think moving to Haiti took me through a bit of a gradual culture shock. Like sometimes, after a couple of really hard days of conflict, I would realize.. oh, this is a part of adjusting to the culture. It wasn't the obvious things that put me into "shock." I was prepared for the sights of poverty and many aspects of life in Haiti. The hardest part of culture was learning the lessons that slowly crept up on me. Like seeing the happy faces on the side of the road turn to angry, disappointed faces as I walk by, because it had been months now and I never really did anything to help them or their families. They lost hope in my smiling white face. For me, it was just a walk, a friendship, and I was their neighbor. My "work" was at the hospital, and this was just my free time, my time for walks and runs. But for them it was different. The kids would giggle and run after me, hold my hand and chant my name. The parents would watch on with smiles. I never knew what they were thinking. I thought maybe they were happy just to see their kids so joyful and having fun. But on one run, it sank in a little. I was running by the houses where the kids live, and as the kids started their routine of running, laughing and chanting, the mother sharply interrupted them and shouted something along the lines of "Why are you happy to see her? She never does anything for you." I felt like a rock had been thrown at my stomach. I wasn't sure if it was a flippant comment or if she was really angry at me. Another part of the shock was in realizing that the medical staff that was always nice to me, flirting with me, asking me to come talk with them... were the same ones spreading rumors about me and saying I was after them and talking about my different friendships behind my back. After learning this, I became pretty anti-social with them and avoided social conversation or a chance for them to ruin my integrity.

Moving back to the states is a different kind of culture shock. It's quick and in-my-face. It's the feeling of dizziness when I walk into a department store, or literally not being able to order a meal at a restaurant because I am so overwhelmed by the options...or being too poor to go to the restaurant in the first place!  It's coming back "home" but not actually having a home to live in, but rather temporary resting places with a time limit on it that is quickly dwindling away. This is the first time in my life I have felt I do not have a home, and it is a horrible feeling. It is battling relationships against schedules and precious time. It's a race and everyone is breezing past me as a I struggle to lace up my tennis shoes. My fingers fumble with the laces as if I am learning to tie for the first time, but they are my same old, worn in tennis shoes so it seems ironic that I am so unnatural with them.  It's the holiday cheer and bustle, gift buying, party planning.. and after spending the last few Christmas's in Haiti where Christmas is not tainted by gifts or consumerism, I am not sure I am excited to a Christmas in Minnesota.

So far I have kept busy with  seeing friends and family and applying and interviewing for jobs. The feeling of unemployment is unsettling and very uncomfortable, but I am thankful for time it has allowed me to see some of my very close friends that I have had limited time with over the years. I have also probably played over 50 games of Yahtzee with my 93 year old grandpa. Hopefully I will find a job before that number reaches the triple digits.

So that's that. My departure, and my transition back to Minnesota. Thank you to everyone who emailed, Facebooked, read my blogs, commented, and gave money to support me in my time in Haiti. It is clearly not my last time, in fact I will most likely return for a visit sometime in the next 3 months again. Having you all by my side through the joy, triumphs, life-lessons and hardships gave me an outlet to share my experience and gave me encouragement and feedback that I needed to keep on keeping on. THANKS!

Here are some pictures with friends and family since being home!

We look related, but are not related by blood, just sweet memories from over a decade! Izzy, Felicity and Luci.

My Beautiful friend and ex-college roommate, Rachel, with her baby!
My very good friend, and nursing colleague, Angel
My birthday dinner with Getchen and Andrea. It was exactly what I wanted!
Me and my older brother Joe. And.. the pumpkin Andrea decorated. It had to make it in the picture.


Only Time

 It always amazes me when I start out to write a new bog post and realize it has been over a month since my last one. "A month has passed already?" I think to myself. I mean, I'm here for 12 months, and just like that I lived out nearly 10% of it? Wow.

I've been back in Haiti for about a month. I visited home and did a small side job in North Carolina. I came back to Haiti absolutely refreshed. It was like coming here for the first time to move in again. One month later, I am happy to say that I'm still riding on that Haiti high.

The biggest event since I've been back was definitely Hurricane Isaac, which caused quite the commotion in trying to prepare for a natural disaster. We were hit with heavy rains, but spared the torrential winds and downpour that hit Port au Prince and the south of Haiti. My friends in Port au Prince experienced some scary nights while the hurricane passed them, but I'm happy to report that everyone I know was kept safe. I know not all of Port au Prince was so lucky.. many tent cities were destroyed by the winds and rain.

On a lighter note, I've started back into running. There have been a couple of avid runners volunteering here so my mornings now start with a 6am run through the countryside or mountains. I really enjoy it, especially my chocolate banana protein shake I treat myself to after every run! The trails that used to kill me, I now find myself adding extra loops onto for a longer run. I feel stronger and healthier and I sneak peaks at my biceps to check if they're any bigger from my pushups ;) Not quite yet...

I'm still spending the majority of my nursing time in the Emergency Room, but these past couple weeks there have been some interesting opportunities for me to get involved with. Last week we had a laproscopic surgery team here and I watched several surgeries. I learned about intubation and watched closely as the anesthesiologist performed it. I hope to try it myself on a patient the next time we have a surgical team here. I also had hands-on experience with sutures. I feel much more comfortable with this skill now and I have a lot of fun doing it. I love the transformation of a dirty, messy wound into something clean and neat. It looks so much better after a little cleaning and stitching.

Last week we had a professional journalist and photographer here. He is working on some pieces for the hospital's website and magazine. One of his projects was to follow me to Michelet's home to get some footage to go along with the article I wrote on him (the magazine will be published later this month). It was so much fun to bring the photographer along on my adventure and an honor that he could capture some of these moments for me! I will post the link to the article and videos when they are finished.

 This week we have a respiratory therapist team here and I've been sitting in on lectures. Yesterday I learned more about using ventilators. The once frightening and complex machine is starting to feel less intimidating to me. Now I just have to learn how to turn the obnoxious alarms off! Today I'm learning about respiratory infections, specifically RSV and bronchiolitis and how to care for a patient fighting this sickness.

My Kreyol is coming along and I can easily carry on conversation. I've gotten to the point that I can understand all or most of what the patients tell me about their medical conditions and sometimes I help translate for the other American volunteers. I'm still practicing understanding when people speak quickly or when the eldery speak- those are the two most difficult situations for me.

I don't think I've mentioned it yet... it is HOT here. This past month has definitely been the hottest of my time here. I find myself napping at lunch time and am thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day, all of which I attribute to the this hot, muggy weather. The good thing is that it still cools of pretty nicely at night so it's comfortable to sleep. I think the temperature drops a little in October or November. Honestly though, I had heard so many complaints about the summers here and I'm happy to see that I made it through it and it's really not all that bad! I'll take a hot summer like this over a wintry Minnesota day easily :)

I'm starting to consider my next steps after this year. I've been presented with some really great opportunities in various hospitals around the US. This year has really opened a lot of doors for me. It's interesting though, because as exciting as new opportunity sounds to me,  I'm not sure I'm ready to leave Haiti. It has taken me SO long to get to where I am. So many sacrifices, embarassing moments, hard and lonely moments, confusing or stressful moments... and here I am and it's finally all coming together and I'm getting this whole life-in-Haiti thing down. Can I really pack up now?  That's the question on my mind. I still have time to think about it. I'm not stressed about it, I'm just curious about what it would look like to stay longer.. so I'll end my blog post with  that unanswered question. I'll just let it hang there in suspense and maybe next time I come around to blogging I'll have some more thoughts or answers. For now, I'm content with knowing where I'll be today, tomorrow, next week and next month, and I'm happy to know that place is Milot, Haiti.

A photo taken while I was visiting Michelet's family. His mom and dad are front center.
A view from the top of the mountain. Haiti is so beautiful.


Un-blurrying My Vision

I'm sitting in the dark outside of my house. My new guitar rests at my side and my raw fingers are ready to punch out the thoughts that have been stirring within me as I switch from world to another... and soon to switch back again. Acoustic music streams from my computer. The road in front of my house is quiet, save the lone car that occasionally drives by.

America is lovely and full of choices, options, and alternatives. I am not tired of it. I feel like I could continue in this pattern- waking up and being amazed throughout the day at how nice it is here. I've had time with family and friends. Once again, I LOVE the time I get with the girls- both the ones my age and my little friends too. I've shopped and ate at restaurants, laid at the pool, exercised, and taken a few long car rides while blasting the radio. I now know every song by heart thanks to the lack of variety that is played. I enjoy every minute of bring here. It's also really nice to sleep in such a comfy, cool, and clean bed. You know what? It's so ironic, because when I was planning for my year in Haiti- I was quite certain I wouldn't visit home. Here I am on my third trip back to the states since I moved to Haiti. I'd be lying if I didn't admit I feel a little weak.  I have such a respect for all the other missionaries and Americans that are working full-time in Haiti. Many of them have been in Haiti for years and make it home only once a year. You are amazing!

My last few weeks in Haiti (or maybe month.. or longer?) were really hard on me. Having this time at home and being able to step away from the situation that was swallowing me whole, has given me a new perspective on things. The first change in perspective happened soon after I set my bags down in my room. My mom had arranged my room so nicely for me. As I was taking it all in, my eyes stopped scanning and fixed on a sight that literally made me shriek with joy. A blown up and framed picture of precious little Michelet was resting on my dresser.

 That night as I was trying to fall asleep and several nights since then, I've thought a lot about his family. A lot of times when I'm in Haiti I start to feel really useless. I reflect on my day at night and wonder if I let more people down than the number of people I helped. I wonder what difference my extra set of hands in the hospital made and realize that often times I'm learning more from the hospital staff than I am able to teach or give back to them. I wonder if it's even worth it to buy a plate of food for someone who is hungry when I know I will not be there to always give them food and what is the solution for the next time they are hungry? I wonder if the piece of candy I gave the kids helped them or did more harm than good.

These are all still very real questions... and legitimate.

Now that I'm not in Haiti I'm able to close my eyes and remember walking hand in hand with my boys down the dirt path on the way to see Michelet. I don't remember the faces of the girls who are begging for my sandals or the kids that run up to me for candy and run back to their homes when I tell them I don't have any. I remember pizza night with the neighborhood kids, and I'm able to dream of more pizza nights. I see Michelet's family and I finally have some energy to brainstorm for a way to help them. I really, really love that baby and his family. They have become my family in Milot. They call and check on me when they haven't heard from me. They save their pineapples and oranges for me because they know I love fruit. They are my pick -me -up, the highlight of my day when I get to see them. Their smiles are genuine and full of life. The kids are crazy like all kids are and I love coloring with them or watching them dance to the music on my phone. Their grandma is the most wonderful woman I have ever met. Our verbal exchange is extremely limited but I watch her and her charisma and love are so evident. Thanks to some helpful docs from the states, I finally have the mom covered on seizure meds and have medication for her for the next 4 months.

I remember others, not just Michelet's family and I miss them.

I know it will get hard again going back to Haiti. On every walk, run.. pretty much every time I show my face in the community, I am bombarded with requests to give and give and the truth is that I cannot fulfill them all. I still do not know how to choose who to help and when to stop or when to challenge myself by giving more than I think I can. I don't want to alienate or hinder my Haitian friends by my gifts or help. I'm not sure if that's possible, but I think it might be.  I have 4 months left in Haiti, and I'm not counting down the time. I'm not sure yet exactly what the next step is. There is a good chance I might come back to the states for a pediatric nursing job, but I am open to staying in Haiti if the right opportunity comes up. I know if i move back to the states, I will look back on this year with nostalgia. I have 4 months that I am certain of and I do not want to take that time for granted. Through the good times and the bad, Haiti has a very special place in my life. The past, the present and for certain, the future.

So in summary, I love being back in America, but I am gradually getting filled back up and soon will be ready to head back to my nursing and the life I live on that island. I have just under one week until I go back so I'll bask in the pleasures of USA just a little big longer. Bon nuit ;)

The kids that always join me on my walks :)


Not All Times Are Good Times

Haiti is wearing on me. I'm tired and trying to fight a cold/virus. I miss my family and the normal flow of life back home.

Last weekend I went to the marriage of one of my best friend Evens. Ever see the movie My Best Friend's Wedding? I felt a tinge of that. Like someone might be stealing a best friend of mine and one of the last good guys out there. I made myself stop being selfish and didn't think about it again. The wedding was beautiful. I think the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen. Part of that beauty must have come from the joy in both the bride and grooms eyes. Evens teared up during the ceremony. It was so sweet!  The wedding also posed a situation that I didn't know I was going to face and didn't realize I would have such a hard time facing. Almost all of my ex-boyfriend's family was there. Not just the ones from Haiti, but ones from Florida flew in. I was so happy to see all these people I once considered my own family. It's hard to stop seeing it that way. They never hurt me, I hold nothing against them. Yet, at the same time, everything is different and we are no longer the way we were. 

Leogane has turned into a bit of a ghost town for me. It haunts me. I used to travel to and from Leogane and over the years it was always the same. I came back to Leogane this time and everything has changed. No boyfriend, two of my closest friends there are married, I don't know any of the students in the nursing school anymore because all of the ones I knew graduated, I don't know many of the children at the orphanage anymore because many new children have been admitted in the past years. The ones I did know are now older and do not remember me. By the end of my short stay in Leogane I was really ready to get back to Milot, where I knew everything would be the same as I left it a couple days ago. I would have my place there, my friends, my community. 

I'm back in Milot now. I was happy to see my friends here. I love how word of mouth travels here. If you want someone (or everyone) to know something, just tell one person. Everyone knew I had been in Port au Prince for the weekend and asked me about it when I came back. It amuses me every time! The med students have been here for 6 weeks and now are in their last days here. They have been a lot of fun to hang around and I've gotten to teach them some nursing skills such as inserting IVs. They leave mid-next week. Oscar, my main friend here also leaves to visit home tomorrow. 

Last night I visited Michelet for the first time in over a week. I was so happy to see him. Sadly, he looks the same size and now he has a bad rash on his skin. I'm going to look for some creams to bring his family. Good news is, that the dad reported to me that the mom has been doing really good on the medication we gave her and that she doesn't have sundowner's symptoms at night and has not had  any more seizures since starting the meds. He was so happy to tell me this news and I was really happy to hear it! I gave him another prescription and some money to buy the next month's pills.

This week I've been working in the ER again. It's been hard to work while fighting sickness. I get really tired easily and constantly have to blow my nose ( and no there are not Kleenex boxes around). I stuff my pockets with Kleenex and when that runs out, I resort to using gauze. This week I learned how to drain an abscess and insert a straight cath. I see new things every day in the ER and that is why I love it so much. I'm constantly learning and I have some really patient doctors and nurses to learn from. I'm learning to have more respect for the Haitian nurses too. I think I saw them at too far of a distance before. The more time I spend with them, the more impressed I am at how intelligent they are and how they care for their patients. I think before I was seeing them through American eyes and was being culturally ignorant. 

I just got news that my grandpa fell and broke his hip. I'm not sure what that means for him, but I'm hoping he's strong enough to get past this. He has been through so much, I am amazed that he keeps bouncing back.   I have a short term job filming for a law firm in a suit against meat factories I'm going back to the states for a week for in North Carolina and while I'm there I'm going to visit home at the same time. I'll be gone for about 2 weeks total. I am counting down the days until I get to go back. 10 days!

Some pics from the wedding:


The Secrets of Helping Others

I'm still learning about how to live among the poor. The biggest challenge is to keep loving them and keep caring about them each day. They don't go away. They are always at my gate, they always walk alongside me to and from work or hang around outside of any restaurant I go to, they wait at the airport for the sight of the car I ride in and rush to open my door for me. They see hope in me solely because of the color of my skin and it's not easy to live up to the expectations they have for me. They want a solution to their problems, they want a chance at a better life, they would like a job so they can provide for themselves.

In my past I had experience with beggars every now and again when I'd be in certain neighborhoods in Minneapolis. My upbringing taught me to lock the car doors in those neighborhoods and not make eye contact with the people holding their signs on the corner. There was an un-stated, but strongly felt sense that they should be doing something to help themselves and it was not my responsibility to help them. This mentality has been hard to shake in Haiti. It's true I came to help the Hatians, but it's easier to decide the way I want to help and to ignore the rest of the people. To have a very narrow view on who to help because the real life picture is too big and overwhelming. God has really been working on my heart for this. Sometimes before I go to the airport, I consciously choose not to bring any money so that I will not feel bad when I tell the kids that I have nothing to give them. That's what my flesh tells me to do and that's what I think I want to do. But usually I reluctantly grab a handful of one dollar bills and stuff them into my pocket. A couple days ago I was at the airport again and I had a bunch of kids come over and clean the mini-bus we drove in. They picked up the trash inside the car and scrubbed the outside. There were 5 or 6 kids in all. While they were cleaning one of them said something to me in Kreyol that I didn't quite catch. He repeated it for me in English " God is really going to bless you. You help us and give us a job." It made me smile, and then feel guilty that I almost didn't bring money for them that day. I guess those few words put everything back in perspective for me, and yeah.. it also made me feel like the kids appreciate what I'm trying to do for them. I said "thanks" and sat in my school bus seat really moved by the child's words. It's all about Jesus anyways. I help them cause I love Jesus and He tells me to help the poor. And they see that I'm helping them and they know Jesus sent me to them. I didn't even need to whisper His name... His movements were loud enough to speak for themselves.

Something exciting has happened... I didn't even ask, and people have started funding me to be able to do awesome things such as feeding the street kids and helping out other people I see in need. I've sent two kids back to school after their parents couldn't pay for their last trimester of school, given the kids at the airport a job every time I see them, paid for medical bills and medication for a family that couldn't afford it, and I have a free community clinic planned  for July 14th that was fully funded before I ever asked for a dime. Tonight I was able to support a local highschooler who spent months on a painting he would sell in hopes of having enough money to pay for a test he needs to take to apply for college. I tried to encourage our volunteers to buy the painting, but it was too expensive. I negotiated a little bit on the price and then bought the painting. Not for my sake or because I wanted a new painting.. but for his sake. He worked hard and for an honest cause. I'm trying to learn the art of helping others. I want to do it the right way. I want to be helping them in the long run... right now I see the easiest way is to give them small jobs. Sometimes I don't need their help, but I get creative in finding ways the Haitians can help me so that they can learn to work for what they want. I have a special heart for kids so they are my main target population, but I try to listen to everyone. Sometimes I buy a plate of food for the disabled and the elderly without anything in return.. those are some that I cannot think of a job for yet, but do not want to ignore. The interesting part of it all is that I always, ALWAYS feel joy after giving. I never miss the money or even think about it once it is spent. It is so right to help the poor. There is something inside of us that lies and makes us think that we shouldn't help other people and if we listen then we miss out on blessing others and increasing our own happiness.

The original painting done by the high school student. It is beautiful and intricate!
Giving to the poor is more impacting on the wealthy than on those in need. Sometimes the giver is more in need of giving than the needy is in receiving.


Enjoying a Change of Pace

"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in." Haruki Murakami

The last month was a challenging one for me. I had kept pretty quiet about it, but the last few weeks have been difficult. I started doing a lot of non-nursing tasks for the hospitals and the volunteers that were visiting. It was draining for me and I wasn't loving it the way I wanted to love what I am doing. On top of that- I was really exhausted from meeting new people every week and feeling like I had to put on a show of happiness and a willing to help attitude. It's like having a house guest that will never leave! After a couple of days of trying to hide from the volunteers at all cost and pretending not to hear them calling my name throughout the compound, I decided I should probably voice I was not happy. I talked to the board about this and they were very accommodating about getting me back into the nursing scene. This offered me a change of pace and more time working with the sweet Haitians that I love so much! It's a gradual transition. I am training in some Haitian staff to take care of some of my old duties and I am trying to help the volunteers gain independence during their stay in Haiti. Really, it's better for all of us :)

For the last two weeks I have been working in the Emergency Room. Our ER is very different than one you would find in the United States. First of all, it is inside of a tent! It is one room that sometimes has the supplies you need, it is hot when the sun is beating down on it. We have 3 beds. It is always staffed with one Haitian nurse and there is a medical resident on call. There are also several other non-medicals that will be found at any time. There are a few guys that help transfer patients, clean up spills, and run to get things when we need them. They are very loyal and dedicated to their jobs and are such hard workers! We also have an interpreter that is usually in the ER. He used to live in the states and his English is great.At night and on the weekends they move the ER into a small room in between the Maternity unit and Medsurg. I've gotten to know the residents and the ER nurse really well. I love being the first to see the patient, asking questions and challenging my critical thinking about what could be going on. The age of my patients ranges. Last week I had a 1 day old baby and yesterday I had an 82 year old man. My favorite are the pediatric patients! I've removed staples, practiced doing sutures, and gotten IV practice on all sorts of patients.This week there is an American ICU nurse here and we have been working in the ER together. She has a lot of experience and I like watching the way she thinks and mimicking the order in which she does things. It's so much fun to be learning so much every day. The last two days have been very busy in the ER and we had really serious and complicated cases.

Last week I had my friend Tina here with me in Haiti. We met at the hospital here when I had only been here about a week in January. She had been here after the earthquake and during the cholera outbreak- she frequents the hospital quite often. This was her third time here since I arrived and each time I get to know her better. She provided me with comic relief and a roommate for two weeks! We also had an extravagant(at least for me!) two day getaway to the Dominican Republic which was complete with hotel, horseback-riding on the beach, movie theater, and going out to great restaurants. I had a SMOOTHIE! I was so excited. We went to a town called Cabarete with two other friends. The drive was about 4 hours. It is such a nice vacation spot! Tons of hotels and restaurants right on the beach with soft sand a great view. It is also the windsurfing capital of the world!

Today I had to do one of my last airport runs- thank the Lord! I went to train in the interpreter that will take over that job for me. I instructed the driver to park the car somewhere and ask some kids to come wash it. A car wash would be a glorified term. They take a dirty little rag and some equally dirty water and scrub away. The kids are about 8 years old and are clearly not very into the whole cleaning thing. Their distant stares and repetitive hand motions give it away. I make sure they clean well, and at the end, I buy them lunch. There are so many hungry kids at the airport. I can't ignore them, but I hate encouraging handouts. Now I make them work for their meal. They wash the car or run into town to buy some mangoes or pineapple for me. I have a couple of elderly and disabled people that I feed too. One man has to be at least 80 years old, no more than 80 pounds, and if I'm generous in guessing, maybe 5 feet tall. He wears baggy clothes and a side baseball cap. When music plays he dances by himself in the street. I am so fond of him. Today I gave him a plate of food along with the others. The interpreter with me told the bunch of them that they could share with other people if they wanted to. I glanced at the old man's backside and saw him clearly shaking his head "no." It made me laugh as I related his actions the many other stubborn elderly I have known before!

The sky is cloudy today. I'm going to try and walk to Michelet's house this afternoon without getting stuck in the rain. I have a group of high school girls here and they are eager to hold and bathe babies so I know they would love the walk through the neighborhood and a visit to my favorite babe!

So, that is the last couple of weeks. More updates later :) Life is teaching me so much and I have so many thoughts to share... so keep reading

One of the great hotels I had dinner at in the Dominican! 

The sutures I did on a facial injury


So, what do you think about Haitians? Part 1

I've been practicing my writing in my Kreyol classes. My most recent writing assignment was to write about what I think about the Haitian people and their culture. One rule: honesty.. no sugarcoating the truth. I've lived in Haiti for 6 months now and in these 6 months I have learned a lot about the Haitian culture. There are many things about the culture that I never tire of seeing, things so beautiful that I think they are the best people group on this planet. There are other things in their culture that frustrate me and test my patience. And, well this will be my attempt to tell you all about it. This is part 1 and part 2 will come after I have completed my next 6 months.

Haiti is a poor country. (duh.) The interesting part to me though is how much a part of the Haiti experience, the simplicity of life, the beauty in the small things is simply here because of the poverty and not despite it. I honestly think that some of the most wonderful parts of the Haitian culture might die away if there wasn't a problem of poverty. The community in Haiti is so alive. The neighbors know each other, look after one another's children, and spend endless hours outside together talking about and observing the life around them. Sometimes, I think to myself, "What are all these people doing just sitting around outside?" The answer is simple. They literally are just sitting. We don't really know how to do that in the USA. We need to have a purpose, a goal, an objective for each precious chunk of our time that we spend. I love being able to walk to visit my friends in the community and to know that they have the time for me, that they are happy to see me, that we can walk around town for hours or play Frisbee in the road and I am not competing with something or someone else for their time. I guess considering my biggest love language is "quality time" I get my love tank filled pretty easily in a place like Haiti.

I may never be able to understand the priorities for Haitian. I guess I am specifically talking about money and how money is spent. It blows my mind when someone prioritizes credit on their cell phone over buying food for themselves or their children. When the teenage girl down the road sends me a text and calls several times to tell me she is crying at school because she is so hungry but doesn't have food.. I can't help but note that she had money on her cellphone to make all those calls and texts. Maybe in that case I'm just being tricked... but by her skinny 80 pound frame, I guess I believe that she doesn't have much to eat. I don't understand how I am more frugal than most Haitians are  for paying for things like a motorcycle ride instead of just walking or when they buy things like juice or a coke when they finally have a dollar to spare. I can't help but see these things as unnecessary and a luxury. I try to put myself in their place. Their reality is that they live day-to-day. They typically aren't saving up for the future, because they might not even be able to ensure food that day or the next week. I guess it's a mindset that I really can't understand no matter how hard I try because up until this point, I've always had the luxury of being able to plan and save for a future. It's hard not to judge their choices at times... On the other hand I am constantly surprised by the generosity of Haitians and their willingness to share. When Michelet's dad (who doesn't have enough money to ensure food for his family each day) insists on paying for me to have a taxi ride home I feel I could never give a gift as big as he gives. I'm surprised when my Haitian friends or neighbors give me a pineapple for free when they know I would easily pay them for one. I'm challenged to be just little more generous.. a lot less selfish.

The Haitians are a very proud people. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's annoying to me and sometimes I think it hurts them. In the United States I feel like we've had a fad of being "honest" and "real" and finding humor in our faults and shortcomings. It's like it's cool to not be perfect, maybe even cool to really suck at some things (although that's probably only fun to do if you are really good at other things!) I don't see that same mentality here. I remember on my first trips to Haiti being so surprised at how the Haitians seemed to love to complement themselves or tell me how good or beautiful they were. This is where I get to the "annoying me" part. It annoyed me at first because I didn't love myself the way they loved themselves, didn't think I was as good, as intelligent, as beautiful as they saw themselves. I would never have talked about myself the same way they talked about themselves. It made me feel uncomfortable to hear them sing their own praises. I even made fun of them for it sometimes. I started to realize that my friends really did have a lot to be proud of. They were educated and intelligent, they had a bright future and they had beat all odds to make a bright future for themselves. They couldn't have overcome all of their barriers without knowing that they had something special, something intelligent and strong within them. I realized it's okay to think you are beautiful. That everyone is beautiful and there's no point to go through all of life saying you aren't beautiful because the truth is that everyone wants to feel beautiful. So, embrace it :) These are all things my Haitian friends taught me. Thanks guys :) But I almost forgot one point.. remember I said that sometimes their pride hurts them? I think that more than other people I know, Haitians hide a lot about themselves. They have a deep fear of rejection and betrayal if their faults are known. They are guarded and slow to trust. They will rarely share their fears, troubles, and  mistakes. I have only one Haitian friend that I feel this barrier has been completely crossed, the rest (even after years of knowing them) continue to act like they have this thing called life, all figured out. It makes me sad for them. I want them to know the freedom in sharing the rough times, to lessen their own burdens by sharing them with others and allowing others to help carry the weight.

This is what I have learned so far. Maybe after more time here I'll take some of these observations back or I'll realize that I wasn't seeing things correctly. I want to absorb as much of the culture as I can. I want to take my sunglasses off and see the real colors of their culture; to see with clarity and understanding who the Haitians are. I want to stop comparing what they are with how I think they should be. I want to be teachable and a good listener because I don't think anyone or anything can teach me about their culture as well as they can.


Feed the hungry, clothe the naked

I've acquired a new posse. Today our bonds grew deeper and stronger.

I walk the same dirt path almost daily to the little town a mile and half away. My typical walk includes several kids yelling and pointing at me because I am white. They are fascinated. They run to me barefoot and usually naked or missing several key pieces of clothing. They would also like a piece of candy or dollar and figure maybe they can squeeze one out of me. So I guess I'm a bit of a hopeful sign, because often times I do have candy. A few boys stick by me after the candy is gone, come to hold my hand and walk with me even when I don't have anything to give them. Last week I started carrying a frisbee with me on my walks and we play frisbee as we walk the path together. Today a teenage girl joined us. She knew my name and I vaguely remembered meeting her on this path before. She claimed a spot on my left side and left the little boys to share my right side. Our fingers locked together as we held hands and conversation flowed freely. She told me that she does manicures and pedicures and we planned that one day I will bring my laptop to her home and we can watch a movie together. She is happy-go-lucky, as thin as a rail, has a beautiful smile and is kind.

We now had 4 in our group, and with me this made 5. The kids are really good at sharing. They took over carrying my purse and carrying my frisbee. They would pass out candy to other kids and make sure each person had one piece. They shared the frisbee with the kids we walked by. They asked me where I was headed and when I told them, they said they would walk the whole way. I knew the walk, my visit to Michelet's home, and  then my walk home takes quite a lot of time. It shouldn't surprise me anymore, but they didn't even have to tell a parent or anyone where they were going. Only the oldest girl had sandals on. The others walked barefoot on the rocky road that I sometimes stumbled on even with my sandals sturdily guarding my feet. When we arrived to Michelet's house, the sight of his mother horrified me. I don't know if my words do justice to what I experienced today. Michelet's mom has been very sick the past few days. She is completely out of it- no speaking or eating. She lies lifeless. The only sign of life are her blinking eyes and rising chest as she breathes. I saw her like this two days ago and gave the dad money to bring her on a moto to a hospital. I'm not sure what happened, but today she was back home, but not any better.

I walked into their home as I always do. I usually look for Michelet first and scoop him into my arms to hold him.  The first sight upon entering the room was the mom lying on the mud floor of the hut, almost naked, spare her underwear. She was covered head to toe in dirt and she had clearly soiled herself. She was all alone in the room. Her mouth was full of dirt and mosquitoes were flying around her eyes and making their way into her open mouth. I couldn't believe she was lying here alone when she lives with so many sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews and her mother-in-law. Why wasn't anyone helping her? They family explained that she would not stay in bed that she had already been bathed twice that day.  I asked for the gloves I had brought them a few days ago. I put them on and my new teenage friend put on a pair too. I said we needed to give Michelet's mom another bath. She was filthy and deserved more respect then this. It was not a pleasant experience. Her body was dead weight and we had to pick up every pound on our own to move her body. We scrubbed and cleansed. Her 70 something year-old mother in law helped, but the rest of the crowd just stood and watched. For the sake of dignity I asked that if they were not helping that they would not stand and stare, but my pleas made no difference.

Michelet's mom screamed, then broke into a hysterical laugh. Not the joyful kind of laugh, but the terrifying, evil type of laugh. There was dirt in her mouth that seeped through her missing teeth. I hoped I wasn't exposing the kids to something more than they could handle. The neighbors and kids that she lives with laughed at her and mocked her as she howled and cackled. I told the kids I came with not to laugh and they listened and continued helping me. I asked the others to stop laughing. That if they were sick like this, they would want people to stop laughing and to help them instead. It made me sad about the Haitian culture. We dried her body and put on clean underwear and a clean dress, laid out a new sheet on the floor and placed her head on a pillow. I left them with a plate of food and instructed the grandma to feed the smallest kids the meat. I had only eaten half of my lunch  and skipped out on eating meat so that I could save the rest of my food for them. Funny how in the US, we were all raised hearing the cliche "what about the starving kids in Africa?" when we wasted food. Now it's so much more practical. Every time I eat less or waste less, it means I can give more to one of the hungry kids or families that lives right outside my gates. Imagine that.

We walked back the same way we started the afternoon- hand in hand and taking breaks along the way to throw the frisbee or pass out more candy. The boys were trying to teach me a song in Kreyol. The kids had given their whole afternoon to helping a family they didn't know, to holding my hand and to supporting me as I acted on a conviction I had in my heart to help a sick person. I am so proud of my friends :)
My friend Kervens, who accompanies me on my walks :)


Learning hungry

Recently I've been learning more about hunger. It was first stimulated by reading Kisses From Katie, then further stimulated by my day of fasting. I realized how incredibly uncomfortable it is to be hungry. Not the type of hunger that most Americans relate to- that hunger you feel when you've waited an hour or two longer than you would've liked to for dinner, or perhaps the hunger you feel when you skip a meal. The hunger I'm learning about is the deep, uncomfortable, sickening, tiring hunger. The type that keeps you awake at night, or makes the little kids collapse in the road on the way walking to school. The hunger that makes children binge and then vomit when they finally have a chance to eat after several days of having no food. This is the hunger  that is rampant in Haiti. This is the hunger I am trying to learn more about. And this too, is the hunger I am trying to get a taste of- that I might be just a little more compassionate, concerned, and raise a voice for the people that deal with this battle of hunger every day of their life.

I wish I could scream it louder. It frustrates and angers me that people don't know this hunger. I wish I could take away their food and money and have them experience a day without food to know what it is like. I wish that they would see the little kids that look years younger than their age, with skinny limbs and hair discolored and falling out, and then decide if they would like to get a little more involved in caring for the hungry. I guess what frustrates me the most is myself, because for the last 5 months that I have lived here, I have turned my back on these hungry people, deciding that at the time I was here to do something else. I was here to help at the hospital and I was doing my part in Haiti. I wanted to control my resources and efforts, but my eyes are finally opening and I see that isn't what following Jesus calls for. I guess I figure if I was able to somehow ignore it while living surrounded by it, there must be many others ignoring it when they can't see any signs of it from the comfort of their own home.

I don't know how to fix the problem, and I am sure open to hearing ideas. The greatest thing that I would like to do for the Haitians would be to provide them with more jobs so that they can work their way out of poverty and have the pride of making a future for their families. I'm not a businessman and have no experience in creating jobs, starting organizations... I wouldn't even know how to teach women or men simple crafts or projects to do to make money- because I don't have those artistic gifts either. What I do have is compassion. I love holding people, cleaning them up, bandaging their wounds, spending time with them, talking to them,playing with kids, feeding them, giving them small gifts to brighten their day.. so I guess in the mean time while I brainstorm on a way to help Haitians help themselves, I guess I'll just work on loving people I meet in the villages each day. It's what gives me joy, gives me a new 'best day of my life', new friends, and new inspiration.


God of Wonders

For the first time in months, my ears are being drowned with the praise and worship music streaming from pandora, through the headphones and into my ears. My stomach is empty. I am hungry. I went to bed feeling sick and woke up and had to run to the bathroom several times in the middle of night and in the morning. Then I grabbed my stomach and asked Him to heal me. A couple hours later, I realized my stomach was calm. It has been the rest of the day. I guess it was that simple- just ask, just believe He can.

 Today is the first time I've ever fasted in Haiti. Around lunch time I eyed the beans and rice and my mouth watered. Maybe fasting for the morning was enough. But no, I promised God a day, so I wanted to give him a day. The only reason I would stop fasting was because of my own cravings. I didn't want to do this. I prayed and asked God for strength. I thought about how last week Michelet went two days without any milk. Nothing to sooth his hunger pangs except for the tea his parents gave him in an attempt to get him to stop crying. I thought about the many other Haitians that are hungry, haven't eaten all day, and still do not know when their next meal will be. I know when mine will be. Tomorrow.

As my conviction for helping the poor boiled within me last night, this morning I had chance after chance to put it into action. The airport is always flooded with kids and adults begging. Begging for work, to clean the car for money, for food, for candy, etc. It always makes me tighten up. It makes me feel like people want to take advantage of me, like they are pulling on my pockets, like the only thing they want from me is my money and they aren't shy to show it. Then I thought about it in a new light today. It makes sense, really. I have a lot, they have nothing. I think it's fair to ask me to share, to ask for me to consider the thought of letting them enjoy some of the things I have in excess. Yeah, it really does make sense.

Opportunity #1: A boy with special needs comes to my window. His face is crooked and he has cerebral palsy in his arm and hand. His arm is fixed permanently like a hook. He talks weird and looks even weirder. He always comes to my window and I always ask him to go. Today I decided to talk to him. I asked him what he wanted and he said he was hungry. I asked him how much money he needed to buy food. He answered 50 gourdes. That's the equivalent to $1.25 USD. I can do that. I have it in my bag and I could probably do that 100 times today and I'd still have enough money for myself. I dished him out and watched him smile and then run around with glee. It made me laugh. He rushed around not knowing which vendor he wanted to go to. He came back to me and pointed down the road to the place he was going. He came back some time later and pointed at his belly and smiled. He had eaten. He thanked me and went away. And that was it. I wasn't attached for life, my hands didn't hurt from giving away my money..

Opportunity #2: Two little boys came to my window about 30 minutes after the first one. They had the same complaint- they were hungry. Where was their mom? At home. One said his mom was dead. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. But from the looks of it, they didn't have someone taking care of them. Once again, I still had money in my pocket. They weren't asking me for an Ipod, a car, a house- something extravagant. They were asking for a plate of food for crying outloud. This time I got out of the car with them to go buy the food. I wanted the whole experience. We went to a local vendor and I handed her 50 gourdes ($1.25) and she heaped a pile of white rice on a plate. She loaded it up with black bean sauce and grabbed the largest piece of chicken she had and plopped in in the center of the rice. A few more little boys had gathered by this point. I handed the plate to them and asked them to share it among themselves. They were more than happy to share with each other.

I got back into my car to wait for the next team of volunteers to come in. I glanced nervously around wondering how many more kids would come to my window and ask for money for food. What had I started? But only one more person came to my window. He came to thank me for the cookie I gave him last week. He went on and on about how good it tasted. I felt a wave of guilt sweep over me. That cookie? You mean the ones that the ants swarmed over so that none of the volunteers would eat them anymore? The ones that I brushed the bugs off of and then handed them out on the streets because I couldn't imagine throwing them away. Yeah, that cookie.

There are many new epiphanies, new thoughts, new dreams, new convictions that I have felt in my heart lately. There are blog posts that still remain un posted- mostly out of fear of what I will be held accountable to if I'm willing to jump in the way I think God may be calling me to. So for now, it's today's experience, today's fast, today's baby steps at giving away what I have to the poor.


Travels aside, I am back in Milot

From Haiti to Miami, Costa Rica, Miami and finally back to Haiti- my travels are complete for awhile. It was so nice to see my family and I enjoyed the change of scenery. Highlights were: Amazing mangoes and the ocean in Costa Rica and in Miami the great food (including ice cream!), the pool, and shopping! 

Flying back into Haiti, I was so excited. Look at the great view from my airplane window- not to mention how beautiful it is!

I came back and my first week home in Milot was an exciting one. We had a visiting team work alongside our Haitian surgeon to provide our first laproscopic surgeries in the history of our hospital! I was able to sit in and watch some of these surgeries. It was an exciting time for all of the staff. Many doctors, nurses, and residents came in to watch. Many had never seen laproscopic surgery before. The surgeries went smoothly. I'm excited to watch this program grow and eventually our Haitian docs will be running it on their own.

This week has been a very busy one around here! We have two medical teams at our compound. A plastic surgery team and an eye team. In total we have about 30 volunteers on campus! The teams are really nice and have already done so much for the patients in the hospital and in the community. I loved listening to the doctors tell stories from their clinic about mothers being so excited for their children to get plastic surgery that would change their lives. 

 On the flip side, after a busy day I go to sleep at night listening to showers, talking and music and I wake up to the same noises. Today I collapsed on my bed in the middle of the day and snuck in a little nap.

This afternoon I made another visit to see Michelet. When I arrived his dad was saying that he has been crying a lot lately because they ran out of formula and he had not eaten since Saturday- 2 days ago. As I held him, his little lips worked to suck onto anything they could find. The dad also explained to me that the mom dropped him yesterday and he hit his head on the ground. I examined his face and noticed his right eye was slightly swollen and he had a small cut near his eye. His dad explained that he had been gone working for the day and the mom was taking care of him. He reminded me that the mom is not well- she has some type of mental disability. I held Michelet in my arms and I was so sad for him. I could feel his stomach growling and I felt terrible that he had not eaten for the past days. I asked the dad if he would walk back to Milot with me to pick up some infant formula from the Sister that lives with me. I also wanted a pediatrician to check him over and make sure he was okay after his fall, and to check out what I thought was scabies on his skin.

I opened up my mini back pack, plopped the baby inside, and drew in the drawstrings around him. I carried the backpack on my chest and it was quite the makeshift baby carrier! His dad and I walked the mile and half back to Milot. When I arrived, there were many doctors and nurses anxious to examine him, but mostly hug and hold him. I was able to get formula and he chugged down 6 oz like it was nothing. The pediatrician said he was okay after the fall, but did confirm he has scabies. Tomorrow we will be going to their home to do a scabies treatment on all of the kids living there!


Miss lists

My recent trips from Haiti to the USA and then to Costa Rica, have opened my eyes to the things I love about each place. Living in Haiti definitely means sacrificing some comforts from home, but I also find myself sacrificing when I am in the USA, because some things from Haiti I just can't find there.  I thought I'd illustrate this for everyone a little bit. I've always been a fan of lists, so here's a miss list for each of the two places I love.


I miss my friends. The ones I grew up with, the ones I went to grade school with, high school with, college with, and the ones I've worked with.  I miss coffee dates, happy hour munchies, sleepovers, walks and runs, dressing up and going somewhere fun.

This goes hand in hand with the above, but I miss GIRL TALK. I miss having girls around me, being able to sit and talk over the same situations over and over until we have dissected every detail. I miss talking about boys. I miss knowing the daily things my friends are going through and them knowing the same for me. I miss not knowing about their new boyfriends, husbands, and babies... jobs or anything else new and exciting that is happening in their life.

I miss driving. First of all, having a car to drive and the freedom to go anywhere in my car. I especially miss night drives. Enjoyable and the cool breeze with windows open on a summer night, playing music on a radio, no crazy bumps or potholes to swerve, no goats or cows in the road to slow me down, lights that make the road visible...

I miss a quiet place to sleep. I miss a bedroom that is really mine, filled with my things and my decorations. I miss silence when I'm trying to fall asleep, during my night, and when  I'm waking up in the morning. I miss the feeling of my room feeling truly clean. It always still feels a little too much like Haiti in my room.

I miss ice cream. Especially Edina Creamery and my favorite Caramel Cookie Praline ice cream. Any dibs on an ice cream date next time I'm in town?!

I miss my church, the church family, my pastor's sermons. I miss knowing people in church, understanding the sermon, chewing on the things I learned during the service, going to Wednesday night Bible study, feeling like I'm growing and understanding more about God each week. Yeah, I really miss that. And need it too.

Yet, when I'm in Minnesota or anywhere else but Haiti, there are also many things I miss...

I miss people greeting each other as they pass in the street. I miss meeting someone new every time I go for a walk outside.

I miss babies. I miss lots and lots of babies and being able to hold and cradle them whenever I want to. I miss people handing me their babies to hold during church services, mommas handing me their baby to hug and kiss when they see me eyeing them with the desire.

I miss hearing Haitian Kreyol, practicing it, understanding it.

I miss the heat. Yes, that hot and sometimes miserable heat... I miss it! I also miss the sun, which is shining almost every single day in Haiti. Along with this, I miss the beautiful, breathtaking sunsets.

I miss my Haitian friends and being able to talk to them on the phone without paying international rates, the chance to see them or visit them so often, to spend time with their families, to understand more about Haiti through them.

I miss time being more about people and about the needs of the moment rather than efficiency, money, or whatever else people in American seem to be racing towards with their time.  I miss people being around on weekends, not being busy, just being at home with their families and relaxing.

I miss island time! I'm never "late" in Haiti ;)

I miss feeling like I'm really where God wants me to be. Which is how I feel each day I wake up in Haiti. Such a peace, such a confirmation, that yes, I'm still in the right spot.

I miss not caring about money, not worrying about my savings, my retirement...

I miss loving each day even when the day is very similar to the day before and even when the day was challenging. I miss the concept of time meaning something entirely different. My agenda and plans cast to the wayside as each day is just that- a day. It's not tomorrow, it's just whatever day it is and that is how each moment is seen in Haiti.

I miss seeing a very clear vision for my purpose as a nurse and feeling like somehow I'm getting closer to fulfilling it.

That's what I've got for tonight :) I guess it's a good thing that the lists are about even. In fact, the Haiti list may be a little longer, so I guess I'll just stay in Haiti for awhile ;)


Pura Vida en Costa Rica

I made it safely to Costa Rica. The trip started out as quite the adventure and there have been a few more little aventures along the way. Adventure 1, my luggage did not make it with me to Costa Rica. (Gretchen?! My fears were not made up!) Also, for the first time ever, I did not have a roll along carryon with necessities. That means, I had the dress I was wearing, a couple clean pairs of undies I stuffed in my purse (just in case!) and my electronics. The airlines were very nice in trying to help me find my luggage, but the truth was that they had no idea where it was. They said Haiti uses a different way of tracking luggage and so they couldn´t locate my luggage in their system. I let them know that I had my bag in Miami and checked it back in. So I knew it made it that far. They woul try to find my suitcase and then hopefully it would come in on one of the 3 flights the next day. Then they would drive it to my Dad´s little town of Mata de Limon. My dad gave a 10 minute instruction on how to find his house. There´s not exactly a well known address. In fact, most people have never heard of his town. I wasn´t expecting to see my luggage anytime soon.

Minor addition. Adventure 2 was that hot sauce I brought for my dad spilled all over everything in my suitcase. 4 loads of laundry later and a thorough job of srubbing down my suitcase, and everything is clean again!

It was about 9pm by the time I made it outside the airport. My dad was pacing the pavement outside the doors. Clearly he had been worried that I wasn´t on my flight. I explained what happened and BEGGED to stop somewhere so I could scavenge for  a few things to make up for my lost luggage. Pajamas? Deoderant? A toothbrush? Simple requests at this point. He was doubtful anything would be open. Good news... they now have a Walmart in San Jose! I thought he was joking when he told me. I had never been so happy for the chance to go to Walmart! I stocked up on face makeup and mascara, sunscreen lotion, a pair of sweatshorts, and a swimsuit. Unfortunately, I didn´t try it on and the swimsuit was very unflattering and tight in all the wrong places. $10 doesn´t buy a good suit! Luckily, none of the costs would burden me. The airlines gave me up to $125 they would reimburse me for.

After many MANY calls the next morning  to the airport in San Jose and then to American Airlines in the USA, my bag was finally located! Turns out that over 20 bags had not made it along with mine. It would be on the first flight of the day in! I was so happy to see the car carrying my bag bumping along the traintracks along the path to my dad´s house later that afternoon!

It has been very hot here. Usually in the 90s. I have been lucky to be here for the second rain since January. It has been hot and dry the last few months so the rain was welcomed! My days here consist of Cribbage games with dad, reading ( I just started the Twilight series), taking walks in his town, and going to the nearby ocean for swimming. Time goes by so slowly here, but in a good way.

Last night was adventure 3. I came back from a night run to find my room swarmed with flying ants. They were everywhere!! They were jumping on my bed, my body and all over my room! My dad came running in with some sort of poison and sprayed down every ant we could find. I was releived when they were all dead. We swept up hundreds of dead ant bodies. I got up after a few hours of restless sleep. I kept praying to God that I would relax and sleep. I left my room to go to the bathroom and realized I was probably poisoning myself by sleeping in the room. I didn´t realize how strong the chemicals were until I was out of my room. Thankful that I had woken up with still a few brain cells in tact, I headed into the living room and slept on a couch the rest of the night.

Today I went into a nearby city of Puntarenas. It has a port that a lot of cruise ships stop in. There are little vendors sprinkled across the ocean front. I bought a sarong and a cowboy hat. Two things that will make my beach experience just a little better! My towel that I have right now is smaller than my body and I leave the beach with black sand all over me and even in my hait. I found beaufiful fruit at a fruit stand here. Pineapple, Papaya, Mangoes, and even APPLES! I never get to eat apples in Haiti. Such a treat. I am looking forward to an afternoon of fruit when we get back to my dad´s house!

So, that is Costa Rica for now! I don´t have any other adventures to share. Oddly, I miss Haiti a little already. I definately miss speaking Kreyol. I´m pretty annoyed with Spanish and it is not nearly as fun as speaking Kreyol!


What's Happening Around Milot

As stated in my last blog post, since coming back to Haiti I have made more efforts to get involed in the community that I live in. Our community health services that we offer at Hospital Sacre Coeur have always perplexed me a little bit. The buildings are somewhat hidden in the back of the hospital. Whenever giving my tours of the hospital to the volunteers, I held my breath as we walked past this part of the hospital hoping that I wouldn't have to answer any questions about it. Truth is, I had a lot to learn about how the hospital services people in  Milot and the surrounding towns.

Last week I went along with the community health nurses to a few of the neighboring schools in the area. I feel a little embarassed to admit that I didn't even realize how many schools were just around the corner from where I live. I guess they are marked a little differently than the schools in the United States. There aren't big yellow school buses, playgrounds, or blaring school bells to help me target where these hundreds of kids in their cute uniforms file into each day. I'd say that there are at least a couple dozen schools within walking distance from the gates of Crudem.

 I wasn't sure how I would participate in the cholera education with my somewhat limited Kreyol skills. The Haitian nurse I was with wanted me to split the teaching with her. We compromised that I would teach the handwashing portion of the class. I came with nothing prepared, without any props, without any forethought on how I would teach using the vocabulary that I knew. I stood behind the Haitian nurse as she taught the kids all about the ways they can contract cholera, how to take care of family members with cholera while keeping themselves safe, how to prepare their food and how to purify the water they drink. I was multitasking to say the least. I was trying to understand her Kreyol and make sure I wouldn't repeat anything that she was already teaching the kids. At the same time, I was trying to think of a creative way to interact with the kids. I mean, I'm white, so that's pretty amusing to them in and of itself... but regardless, I wanted them to have fun learning about how to wash their hands.

Suddenly everyone was looking at me. I had missed my cue that it was now my turn to talk. I smiled and introduced myself. The kids were eager to say "bonswa" (Good Afternoon) back to me. I explained that I wanted to teach them a song that they could sing while they washed their hands. I wrote the alphabet on the chalkboard and taught them each of the letters. Next, I sang the "ABCs" for them. I showed them the way to wash their hands, how to include their wrists, fingers, nails and back side of the hand when they washed. I told them that when they start singing the ABCs they can start washing their hands and that they had to continue scrubbing until the song was over. That was how they could know they washed their hands long enough. We sang and srubbed several times and at the end of the class I had volunteers come in front of the class and show how to do it. The volunteers were given a picture book on Cholera as a prize for helping. The kids loved the activity and I loved hanging out with them! Another plus is that now when I walk the streets of Milot many of the kids remember my name and come talk to me as we walk together!

Inside the community health office of the hospital 
This week I was involved with the MMR and polio vaccinations. There is a huge campaign at the hospital right now to outreach to all of the neighboring schools and complete vaccinations for all children under 10 years of age. The community health office at the hospital is full of life-size charts with it mapped out where each "team" of nurses will go on any given day. At the end of the day all of the number are recorded on a detailed form and handed back into the community health office.

Vaccinations are done differently in Haiti. In Haiti, the vaccines are done in the left upper arm, just a little below the deltoid. It is always done here because as they age, a keloid will form and they will have a scar marking their vaccination. One of the nurses in administration at the hospital proudly pulled out her arm to show me where her scar still stands out, even after over 30 years.  They do it that way so that there is no question whether or not they had the vaccine.

 My favorite age to work with was 3-4 year olds. Some were very frightened and in tears before I even pulled out the needle. Others came in and said they were not afraid and would not cry. They looked so little. Many of them made me promise I wouldn't poke them hard with my needle. Today we did almost 150 vaccinations! I'm excited about the opportunities I have to get to know the community better through my work at the hospital. Next steps will be getting to know the prenatal outreach, HIV and Aids services and the medika mamba program.

Kids in the courtyard of their school before the vaccinations
Giving one of my patients his injection!

The rain is pouring down hard now. It is our 4th consecutive cloudy/rainy day. It's Friday night and it feels like a great time to dig out my last bag of microwave popcorn and watch a movie.  I may have to torture the guys here with another chick flick ;) Bon nuit! (Good night)


Lately in Haiti

Since my last blog post, a lot has happened. I made an unexpected visit home to Minnesota for two weeks in early April when my Grandpa was hospitalized. When I packed my bags up to move to Haiti, I figured I wouldn't visit home during the year. I mean, Haiti is where I was always trying to get to, so it didn't make sense to spend the money and come back to Minnesota once I finally got here.

When I heard the news the my Grandpa was sick, I felt a panic in my heart. Was he going to die? I remember one time last year when my Grandpa had surgery and I left work early to help take care of him in the hospital. I sat with him in his hospital bed and he looked so small and pale in those hospital bed sheets. I pleaded with God that he wouldn't die- my heart wasn't ready to handle it. I reflected on this when I heard that he was hospitalized again. Maybe the time I bought with God was finally running out? I sat in my room and cried. I didn't like the unknown and the fact that I was so far away from everything that was happening. It didn't take me long to decide that I was going home to see him. In fact, I bought my ticket that same day and flew out the next morning.

I spent two weeks at home, and I happened to be there for Easter. My grandpa was discharged from the hospital the day I arrived. I visited him each day and we played Yahtzee, went for walks, talked about Haiti, ate at Perkins, and made a run to the dollar store. He did not have a stroke, as we thought may have happened. He had an infection that has now cleared. He's 93 and still makin' it!

 I also was able to spend a lot of time with my mom and her new husband Bob. Being at home had a different feel this time. I didn't feel like a kid anymore ( and yes, maybe I am a little old to FINALLY feel like this, but I am the baby of the family ;). My mom and I had great times together and she was a nice companion to have do the things on my hit-list with! The biggest thing on my hit-list of American indulgences was going to the movie theater! I saw the Hunger Games and Titanic 3D. I ate tons of buttery/salty popcorn and thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the big screen entertainment. Target and I became very close on this trip ;). Wish there was a Target in Haiti! I stocked up on sandals and things to decorate my room and bathroom.

I also loved seeing my friends and neighbors. It opened my eyes to the many blessings and wonderful relationships I have in Minneapolis. It made me realize that although I want to live in Haiti, I still want to visit the States and make an effort to keep up relationships in Minnesota. Overall, visiting home was pretty amazing! I purposely booked a one way ticket and figured I'd know when it was time to go back to Haiti. After about two weeks I felt rested and full of love from family and friends and started really missing my friends and home in Haiti!

When I was picked up from the airport, my first stop was.... to visit baby Michelet! He was what I missed most about Haiti! I even bought him a cute monkey sweatsuit at Target while I was home. I was so happy to see him. His family was happy to see me too and had pounds of grapefruit waiting for me!

Since coming back to Milot, I've gotten involved in the community in a new way. While home, I realized that spending time with the people of Milot was the highlight of my experiences. I decided that upon returning to Haiti I would get more involved in their community health services. This week I went to 3 different schools and helped a Haitian nurse with educating the kids on Cholera and prevention. In the following weeks I hope to also get involved with the AIDS programs, the prenatal clinics in the community and vaccinations in the community. In the afternoon I usually walk to visit Michelet, about a 3 mile walk in all, or else hike in the mountains with some of the volunteers. The hikes are so hard they make me want to cry!

Last night I went into Milot and had juice at a little shack. There was music playing and I danced with a little four year old girl whose family owned the place. At first she seemed like she didn't want to  be with me, but later her family came searching for me cause she was asking about me. Her name was Shakira. I asked her if she wanted to dance again and she did.This time she led me to the dance floor. She loved being twirled around and could keep the rhythm to the songs better than I could! We danced for several songs and I had more fun than I have had in a long time! Later that evening I was talking with   a volunteer who was in Haiti for the first time ever. He was reflecting on the cultural experience he had soaked in during his first day in Haiti. He couldn't get over how happy and nice everyone was in Milot. He repeated the saying that we all know too well, that "money cannot buy happiness."

I chewed on this thought as I tossed and turned trying to fall asleep last night. Lately, I've been trying to picture where I will be next year. I mean, how long can I really volunteer for. Don't I need a real job? Don't I need to make and save money? Wouldn't it be great to have a normal schedule, to have my own place, etc? Next thing I know, someone comes along and reminds me that those things will perhaps pull me away from the happiness that I am blessed to bask in each day. As I walk through the dirt paths of Milot and see the tropical trees around me and the mountains in the distance, the kids pulling on my hands and the sun beating on my back, I think "Really?  This is where I live?"  And then I realize I can't imagine living any other way.

Michelet's new outfit!

This is the crew I hang out with :)

One of the schools I did cholera education at

Two girls I met that live by Michelet

One of the babies from the nutrition center. This was taken at his house. He lives by Michelet too!


The Tap Tap Accident

It was shortly after lunch. The morning had been busy with surgery, but the afternoon was projected to be a slow one. Over lunch, a team leader asked if I had other tasks for their volunteers to help with. They planned on helping organize things in our pharmacy. About an hour after this discussion, I was sitting in my room and the door blasted open as a volunteer haphazardly ran into the wrong room looking for supplies. There had just been a bus accident, she declared.

I directed her to the correct room she was looking for, grabbed my things and headed towards the hospital ER which is run out of a small room in the back of our last standing hospital tent.  As we neared the tent, there was a lot of commotion. I saw a group of Haitians huddled at the entrance of the ER. They looked worried and were quietly discussing what was happening. I squeezed past them and the many others that crowded the tent entrance. The small room was stuffed full of patients, transporters, translators, and both Haitian and American doctors and nurses. The first person I laid eyes on was an elderly woman on the floor to my left. Her bone was sticking out of her calf at a right angle. It was obviously broken. To my right, lay a young man on a bed, his face seeping blood. The energy in the room was high. Our room was tight space and more patients were still waiting to enter. Each of the exam rooms (of what is usually our outpatient clinic) was taken up by patients waiting to get into the ER. We were unsure of the injuries still waiting to be seen. There was an estimated 17 people involved in the accident. In the midst of the chaos, I was relieved to see the familiar faces of the volunteer doctors I had started getting to know over the past few days. I looked to them for direction. I knew that they would know what to do next. Our first task was to transport people on stretchers into the ICU area of the hospital.

With such an array of talent, our patients could not have come to a better place to be treated for the trauma they had just endured. We had pediatric doctors and nurses, surgeons, ICU nurses, OR nurses, Anesthesiologists, Orthopedic specialties and a flight nurse. We later reflected that it was God’s providence that we were so well equipped. In fact, just the day before, a team had completely re-stocked the ICU. That same ICU now had every single bed occupied with a serious injury. The energy in the room was high, but the striking power of the room was the teamwork, the leadership, the swift decisions that were made that bought us precious time. I wished I had my camera. It seemed like such a silly thought, but I wanted to capture the beauty of the mess that was in front of me.I snapped a quick one with my camera phone. I was so proud. Each person was in their element and their strengths and specialties were saving lives. Their previous patients and cases, the time  together at Crudem and the sights of Haiti would all be memorable events of their experience here at the hospital, but there is no doubt that this would be the defining event of their Haiti experience.

Within a couple of hours, patients were being extubated and moved out of the ICU. They were stable enough and they could be moved to another area of the hospital. There was only one who did not make it. He had a severe head injury and was just barely alive when he made it to the hospital. I stroked his forehead as the ventilator was the only thing still keeping him alive. His blood pressure was 40/20. I closed my eyes and imagined whose husband, father, brother, or friend this must be. I said a prayer and asked God to save him. He died shortly after. As we began cleaning up the ICU and moving patients out, I noticed a young man standing at the side of the patient we lost. I walked over to him, spoke to him in Creole and asked who he was in relation to the patient. He was the son. He said he was sad and could not believe his dad was dead. He said that just the night before, he was talking on the phone with his sister who lives in Port au Prince and when she asked about their father, he told her that he was well. What would he say now? I slung my arm around his shoulders and continued listening. His dad was a pastor, he explained. He was going into town to do some work for the church today and on his way back to Cap Haitian the accident happened. I just stood there with him, listening and grasping tightly onto his shoulder. My eyes were tearing up and I wished I could give him his father back. I wondered what I could say that might make him feel better. Suddenly, it was obvious. In the midst of this terrible event, there was something to rejoice in. I looked at the son and told him his father was in Heaven. He smiled and said it was true. I know it didn’t take the pain away. As I left the son, the thought that made me the saddest was that I knew that today was just the beginning of many days that he would miss his father.

Today put life in perspective for me. I reflected on the little things I had wasted time worrying about in the past days and today they meant nothing to me. Today taught me about the fragility of life and reminded me to be thankful for each day.