A view from a roof in Port au Prince


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.