A view from a roof in Port au Prince


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!