Random Update

Edit: I was having internet issues last night when I tried to post this, so I apologize to those of you that are confused about why I would have written a post with nothing more than “b” as the title. 

It’s 8:30 pm and 91*. In case you don’t know what that feels like, it feels like sitting in your own sweat. It feels like sweating when you’re hardly moving. It feels like chugging a quart of Gatorade because once you open the hatch your body realizes that you’ve sweated so much that guzzling the stuff might be your lifeline.

I wish I was joking, but I’m not. It’s dang hot right now. And we keep getting little hints of rain, but then it doesn’t amount to much or doesn’t cool things off. Today Chris muttered the words, “Don’t worry, September is coming.” He was trying to be optimistic, like, “Hey, we’re heading toward the finish line!” but I had to remind him that sometimes September is the worst month of all, then October sneaks in and one day you realize that you aren’t sweating from just thinking anymore and that maybe life with cohesive thought is possible.

It’s hot.

Other random happenings…

We’re raising a tadpole in a jar in our window sill. His name is Freddy. Olivia scooped him out of a puddle in the work yard two days ago and he was literally the size of a mustard seed. He’s happily swimming in his jar and enjoying the view of our kitchen. I had no idea tadpoles grew so fast.

We’re potty training. Little Mister was bribed with candy every time he sat on the potty and tried, and three days later we’re doing pretty darn good. There might actually be light at the end of the tunnel, which is refreshing considering that on Friday he informed me that he was going to wear diapers for the rest of his life.

Chris and I have been walking around with perma-grins on our faces for the last week and a half for several reasons work related. Some of it we can’t talk about yet because it’s in relation to the study I mentioned last time. Today we had a visit from DINEPA, Haiti’s water authority. In the past we’ve felt frustrated with the organization, but they’ve had a change over in staff and strategy. Today’s meeting was happening because the consultant working with them wanted to visit the most well functioning filter projects in the country and we came highly recommended by several people and other organizations in the household water world. I may have had to pick my jaw up of the floor when he told me that their main reason for visiting was to understand what we do better, and then figure out how they can help us ramp up what we do so we can do more of it. I’m still baffled. We’ve been so encouraged by that and the other things going on because it’s meant years and years of hard work all coming together to make something that is working really well. I really want to write more about our model and why it’s working and what the markers of that are in the development world, but that needs to be for another day.

Now. Now I’m going to take the 3rd shower of the day, drink some more Gatorade, and watch a show with my man.

Happy middle of the week friends!

~Leslie

Frustrated Gratitude

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned while living here in Haiti is how to have gratitude in the midst of frustration.

I’m sure any Haiti peeps reading this probably either just head nodded or snickered in agreement. This. Is. Haiti. The place where the most frustrating experiences happen, where everyday things take so much more energy and time, and somewhere in there you realize that it’ll eventually all be okay if you only exercise extreme amounts of patience and maybe cry a little to let the pressure off. 

Yesterday was just one of those days for me. It was the collision of what we might call “first world problems” colliding with triggers here in real world Haiti.

I’m going to be transitioning the type of work I do here at the mission over the next few months as we welcome Peggy on staff. She’ll be taking over a bunch of my every day admin stuff (and there were angels singing…) and it’ll mean I can transition to doing more creative work like website stuff, photography and the like. I’m really excited about it. While we were home I had a good visit with one of our board members who’s been doing the website stuff and he let me know what I needed to get as far as programs in order to take that over from him well. It’s all new and crazy and kind of overwhelming to me, but I’m excited about the challenge and the learning because it’s been a while since I’ve been in that frame of mind.

This week was our first week back at work and it felt really good to plug through a bunch of stuff that was productive. We have a friend in the states who has taken on the gigantic task of grant writing for the mission. Chris and I have literally been giddy about this because she works in the non-profit sector and knows the funding battle we’re always facing, and also has experience with grant writing. She’ll be partnering with that same board member I mentioned because that’s where his heart is at (thus me taking over the web stuff = freeing up more of his time). 

It was so encouraging to sit down with the two of them this summer and to go over where we were at and what we needed to do in order to be ready for bigger funding. The time was informative. We’ve spent the past few years at an organizational level, as well as at the on the ground level here in Haiti doing a lot of hard work to build up our overall foundation. We’ve really felt that while our funding has been slower, that God has used this time in the life of our organization to do some important work that is laying a foundation for the next phase. 

And I feel it. We went into this year and after several years of slugging through and pushing and just trying to keep our heads above water I felt this sense of hope that hadn’t been there for a long time. Deep in my heart, and with every other part of my being, I know we’re on the edge of something bigger. Something more. I feel like we’re doing the prep work for a big growth spurt that will mean we can do more of what we do at a higher capacity and help more people. 

There are so many good things that Chris and I can see and I won’t lie, it’s so hard to be patient with this process. In the past few months we’ve just been so blessed by our staff. They’ve really come into this new place of, well, so many things. We’re so proud of them and we’re so loving this amazing team that we have here right now. 

We’ve been blessed with this wonderful new property and we’re just waiting for funding to come in so we can break ground on the house/office space. When we started this process we wondered if it would be hard to leave our current location when all was said and done, and what we’re realizing is that because this process is long, God’s doing so much of that transition work in us now. We’re attaching to the new community in so many ways, and emotionally we’re letting go of our current place. 

We’re welcoming a new, long term volunteer, and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we all are about what this is going to be and mean for the mission. So. Excited. 

As a development organization it can be so hard to dig in for the long term. The “results” often aren’t measurable like everyone would like to see. They’re in the relationships, the baby steps and the small victories. We don’t get to see quick fixes and people praising us for the work we’re doing (and we’re great with that, btw.)The good news for us is that after over a decade of hard work, we’re starting to see some big things. I can’t go into any detail right now, but in the coming months we’re looking forward to having access to hard info that shows that what and how we’re doing it is working. It’s the validity for certain groups of people that our model is effective not only in quality, but in methodology. 

So, this stuff is always rolling around in my head and my heart and just there. So many things.

Because it is always there, when I dive into working on a project or task, and things don’t go well, it heaps frustration on top of stress. Does that make sense?

Yesterday, after plowing through budgets and other stuff like that I decided I would work on downloading Photoshop, one of the new programs I need going forward.

FYI – to those of you working with US registered non-profits, churches or schools – Adobe, as well as several other big software companies, provide deeply discounted licences – that numbered key that allows you to use the program – for people like us. Just Google “program name for non-profits” (ie “Photoshop for non-profits”) then click on the “Shopping” tab at the top of the results page. You should find several options through different companies to buy the license. You pay the company and they send you an email requesting a copy of your 501(c)3 tax exemption letter, you reply with it attached and they forward it to the company, who then responds with an email providing you access to your account with your codes and download links. In the past month we’ve saved probably $1000 or more with licenses. I used Tech Crawl when I bought ours. Such a blessing! 

Back to my story…

So, I start downloading. But the instructions tell me that I need a special download manager program to not only make the download go faster, but to also extract the zip/compressed files. I spend an hour fighting with websites trying to find a download link for this free program. I finally download it and try to install, but get a message that the installation couldn’t be completed. In the mean time the stupid thing dumped stuff on my computer that was giving me delightful pop-ups everywhere. Gar!

I fight with it. I decide to attempt another download through other methods to see if the file will be different that way, only after another hour of hunting for solutions online. 

We get our internet through hotspotting, or connecting our computers to our phones, and using our phone data plan. It’s pretty handy most of the time, until you’re working on something and you get a phone call. Phone calls disconnect the internet – period. Yeah, you can see where this is going. I was minutes away from being done a 1+G download when my phone rang. It was Chris, and it wasn’t pressing and I may have had a crying meltdown on the phone. It wasn’t Chris’ fault by any means, there was no way for him to know. I was just so done at that point. I’m grateful that he’s patient with me. I had to run virus scans on my computer twice to get rid of everything, and it still didn’t work completely. 

I stepped away from things a bit then decided to once again attempt to download this stupid file. All in all I used up about 5G of data yesterday, every bit of which we pay for, trying to download this thing. I put it on, walked away, took a shower to wash away the hot, sweaty yuck that was also not helping my coping skills, and sat down to read with an ice cold Coke. 

The download eventually worked. I eventually found another program that was a free extractor that didn’t come with junk files. I eventually got it all extracted, loaded and serial numbers in it and ready to use. I eventually downloaded Spybot again and ran it on my computer to clean up the mess. That had been another several days of fighting before which had also left me in tears so I had just walked away. 

Long story short, I did it. It was frustrating. I cried a couple times because it was so frustrating. And then it was done.

And I realized that it wasn’t just the frustration about none of it working and the fact that I spent an entire day trying to download and install a computer program. 

It was frustration that we have basically one option for internet in our area. There are other options, if you live elsewhere. Most of them don’t work in our area because there are no towers or the service is incredibly slow.

I was frustrated that the internet we do have cuts out when the phone rings.

I was frustrated that the internet we have frequently cuts out and gives me “This web page is not available” messages, and that it’s always in the middle of trying to do the most important part of whatever I’m doing.

I was frustrated with the fact that our office is in our living room and that it’s school break and that my kids are always under our elbows and making noise and that it’s hot and it feels like trying to do anything productive is like slugging through mud most days.

I felt frustrated that I’m the tech person. The IT girl. The on-site expert. That calling anyone means broken phone lines and frustrating connections. That if this didn’t work it would be money wasted and more frustrations with trying to find solutions. 

I was frustrated that once again, an entire day of my time was eaten up with something that should be easy. That should take less than an hour to do.

I was frustrated that my time and my computer was so consumed with this one particular thing that I couldn’t interrupt in fear of once again losing the download and used up gigs of data that I couldn’t get other things done that our staff needed yesterday.

I was frustrated with all the things.

But, hovering in the back of my mind is also the gratitude.

I’m grateful that we DO have internet. Even though the system is frustrating at times, it’s so much better than it used to be. And, we actually have pretty decent plans for phone and data time here.

I’m grateful for companies that want to help non-profits like us. It’s HARD to try to do everything that we want to do, well, and to do it on such a tight budget. In the past we’ve had people volunteer to do things like promotional materials, and while it was appreciated, it was just hard because it didn’t quite meet the vision we had. We believe in doing things really well, and I’m the visionary behind all this (just ask Chris and our board – I’ve learned to just show them the finished product :)) so having the possibility to do things in house means we can do better than what we would probably get if we were trying to communicate things through email to someone else who’s never been here, etc. Getting top notch software at drastically reduced costs is a gigantic blessing. I’m a nerd when it comes to graphic design and the like and seriously, all of this is making me giddy. Tools! Pretty things! Yay!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to transition to something new for me. To be challenged. To be overwhelmed. To be excited about it. And to have a team cheering me on because they’re all excited about what this is going to mean for our organization. People, this is getting real for all of us in a whole new way!

I’m grateful for land. For land that is the next step for this whole thing we’re doing. Land that is going to give us the space to do more. To be more effective in how we do it. To have an actual office. Chris and I have worked on house and office plans for over a year, and really he’s let me do the work and just signed off on things with input where needed because he knows me. In my mind I see it, and it’s just the process of working it out, hashing through it and then putting something down on paper that will become reality. 

I’m grateful that one day I’ll have a real office. With a door that closes between our work space and home space and yet still allows for flow between the two. I dream about the space and having all the supplies and tools we need in any given day in one room. Of having a place that’s set up efficiently with each of us having enough elbow room to really work rather than pushing things across our shared 6 foot table. 

I’m grateful that we DO work and live in a situation where our kids can be under our elbows and we’re both accessible during the day to them. So many never have that option. It’s truly a blessing to us.

I’m grateful that God has made both of us resourceful and stubborn enough to push through situations we encounter on any given day, whether it’s fighting with a computer program or solving some greater issue. When you literally don’t have the default option to seek help from somewhere or someone else you take on the role of the learner and step into arena’s that you would never have been in before. 

So yes, in the midst of the frustration it is also possible to be simultaneously grateful. In the midst of the groaning and anger and choice words. In the midst of the tears and the wanting to throw something and the exasperation that comes from feeling powerless. In the midst there can be more.

In the middle of all that there can still be that still, small voice whispering, “It’s okay. It’ll be okay. Breathe. Step back. Remember I’ve already got this figured out. I just need you to be willing to keep walking forward. I’ve got it covered. Just rest.”

And I remember that it is okay. And I go and take a shower and sit on the couch and unwind a bit. I snuggle my babies and thank God that each of them are who they are even when it drives me crazy. And I thank God for this life that he’s led us to and brought us into and is taking us through because we as people are so much more than we were before. I thank him for the vision to see that there is more. To be excited about it. To know that it is coming. That it is good. 

So very good. 

And then I rally up and go again. 

~Leslie

That time the airline changed our flights and didn’t tell us.

We’re back from our vacation, and one day earlier than planned!

We were sitting around visiting with friends on Tuesday evening and got into talking about about what time we needed to be at the airport the following day. Because I’d been slack at checking email on vacation I got this nagging feeling that I should go and confirm our departure time while we were talking about it so that we were all on the same page for the next day.

It was a good thing I checked, because we got a BIG surprise.

Back before we left in June we’d gotten an email from the airline letting us know of a slight schedule change. It was literally minutes on our trip back to the US. That was the copy of our itinerary I had printed out and was referring to. Never heard anything after that, so assumed all was good. According to that we were leaving at 1:00 pm on July 30th, with an overnight in Atlanta, then arriving in Haiti on the 31st around 2:00 pm. We had a hotel reservation all set up, we were ready!

As I was going through my email I saw the one from the airline telling me it was time to check in online if we wanted. We don’t do that typically so I almost dismissed it, but scanned through it. That’s when something hit me. It looked different. I muttered something along the lines of “um, what the heck is this???” and Chris asked what was up.

Instead of leaving at 1:00 pm like we were supposed to, our reservation info said we were leaving at 12:45 AM on the 30th.

What?!?!?

That was more than 12 hours ahead of when we were supposed to leave. 

That’s not slight. That’s HUGE.

I quickly went online and entered our confirmation code to see what the info in the system said and it was a match with the new info. Somewhere along the line the airline had done a complete schedule change, bumping up our trip by over 12 hours, and we didn’t get the notice. I checked my folders in all of my email accounts this morning just to confirm that it wasn’t my error, and nope, nothing!

So, we realized we were leaving a lot sooner than we had planned. It was 9:00 pm when we found this out. We needed to be at the airport checking in at around 10:45 pm. We still had to finish packing, and we had about an hour drive to the airport.

I ran upstairs and starting the process of throwing things in bags. Chris put the kids in their pj’s, because we sadly wouldn’t be getting a full nights sleep before we left. Our friend that was visiting was thankfully driving his van, and lives just 10 minutes away from the airport so it was a no brainer to throw stuff in his car and have him drop us off.

We got everything and everyone packed up and hit the road, and arrived with plenty of time to check in.

The big issue wasn’t so much the traveling as it was going to be the landing. When we leave for our summer vacation we leave a vehicle at a friends house in Port au Prince, and he meets us at the airport, we load up and head home. That’s what we did this time too, except the problem was that he was out of the country and he’d made arrangements with his driver to come get us. When Chris last talked to him the connection was so bad they were yelling at each other and Chris wasn’t able to get the drivers number, so we had NO way of getting in touch with him to let him know we were arriving literally a day early.

How on earth were we going to figure out a ride from the airport to where our van was without a US cell phone and no time to be making arrangements before we hit the airport?

Well, here’s a fabulous example of the type of friends and community we have in Haiti. Thanks to Sea-Tac’s free wi-fi I was able to get on facebook and send a group message to three couples that would be the most likely to help problem solve. We’re in this summer pocket where a lot of people go back to their stateside or Canadian homes to visit and fundraise and there weren’t a ton of people that we know around right now.

I let everyone know what was going on and that we were about to board, but that I would check back when we landed for connections. By the time we landed in Atlanta, two flights later, all of them had responded and though they couldn’t help out themselves, a plan was formed through their connections with confirmation when we landed in Haiti.

After we landed, we booted up our cell phones, I called our friend Sarah as we were walking off the plane, she texted me the number of the guy that was going to set up a ride for us, Chris called him, he was already waiting outside. When we finally got out of the airport with all our bags (always thankful for this!) Wilbur was waiting outside. He walked us to the taxi he had arranged, we agreed on a price with the driver and were on our way.

We had to push through a giant traffic jam right around the airport, and once through that it was just a short drive to our vehicle. I was worried that our friends driver wouldn’t be there and we’d be stuck while someone went to look for him and we could get our keys, etc, but no. When he saw us he was all, “What are you doing here! You’re supposed to be here tomorrow!?! You don’t have my number!!” :) We quickly loaded up and headed home.

We literally arrived home at the same time that we were supposed to be boarding our first flight in Seattle.

People are always asking us what things we like about our life here in Haiti and how we feel we’ve changed. This was a perfect example of one of those things – the ability to be incredibly flexible and quick decision makers.

The longer we’re away the more glaring certain things are to us when we come home, and none of them are bad things, they’re just different ways of doing life in the cultures we live in. When we lived back in North America we could be more rigid in things because there are systems set up that allow us to expect that. We could be less decisive because there is more time to make decisions and culturally speaking, we look at that as being thorough and courteous when it’s involving something like making plans with a group. Have you ever noticed how long it can take to make plans with people and how much back and forth there is before anyone settles on something? Again, not bad, just different from how we have to operate in Haiti.

In Haiti we have to make fast decisions. We make those decisions quickly because we’re always in this state of assessing our surroundings and trying to keep up with needed info. We have triggers to look for, signals and warnings that we pay attention to. We’ve learned things about culture, whether it’s how people interact, or what isn’t normal, and we adjust accordingly.

I love that we’re at this stage in our Haiti life and our marriage and our family life where we can see how our responses to situations show growth. If this exact situation had popped up a few years ago we would have been frantic. Instead, as I was quickly packing things up I found myself saying, “Slow down. Be calculated. Be calm. Think this through.” It allowed me to be organized, but fast. We weren’t frantic, we basically went into “Let’s do this mode”. And we did.

I kind of felt like the whole trip was this thing happening in a dream state and several times caught myself thinking, “Is this real? Did we get it right? Maybe I misread that and we showed up too early.” But it was real and we were right and we were already halfway home.

All in all it was literally the fastest trip we’ve every had back into Haiti. The last bit of prep time happened fast, we got to the airport, checked in, went to our gate and boarded after only sitting for about 30 minutes. We didn’t ever feel rushed or frantic once we got in the airport, which is a surreal feeling because traveling with kids and bags and all the things usually leaves me feeling that way. We usually end up barking at each other, but we didn’t this time. The airline, in a meager effort to apologize for the email of the major schedule change not getting to us offered a $25 voucher for our next flight. We suggested that instead of that they check our 4 planned checked bags as well as our 4 bulky carry-ons for free. They agreed, so it left us with our two back packs and a rolling back pack with the kids stuff in it. It was so nice to travel so light! I’m sure that eliminated a ton of stress right there.

We flew from Seattle to Minneapolis. We got some sleep on the red-eye flight. It was shorter than our typical red eye. We got off the plane, moved from one gate to our departure gate and basically walked right into the boarding line. We flew from there to Atlanta. We got off our flight in Atlanta, traversed the airport concourses, got to our gate, contacted our friends in Haiti, brushed our teeth, changed clothes, and got on the plane. We landed in Haiti, got the info for our contact outside, went through immigration, got our bags, loaded up and were gone. We spent less than 3 hours on the ground with all of our connections, something that’s never happened before.

When we got in our van and started to drive away I made Chris high five me. He thought I was a bit crazy until I said, “Do you realize that we did that entire trip without freaking out and didn’t argue or anything. We were calm and cool like cucumbers the whole time!” We had supper on Tuesday night, then went into “go” mode and didn’t have time to eat anything during any of our connections, so we stuck with the peanuts and pretzles on the plane, as well as some Handi-Snacks I’d packed. For the record, we are not nice people or easy to deal with when we’re hungry. I’m sure it was some heavenly holding off of the hangry monster that got us through because it just didn’t hit.  If there was any way to rock that situation, we did it with grace and a whole lot of moxy yesterday. I’m proud of us, because wow, that could have been bad.

We got home, I made supper from some well planned pantry items, which just further impressed my husband. We bathed. We tucked in and went to bed. Then we tossed and turned and watched shows until what was a normal west coast bed time. And then we slept. And we slept and slept and slept until about 9:15 am Haiti time. I didn’t know that was possible, but apparently it is because we did it.

Today I became the whirling dervish of unpacking. Chris used to HATE the way I unpacked. I would open a bag and pull everything out onto the table or some surface, then open another one and keep going until everything was everywhere and there would be piles for a few days because I would get distracted. At one point he may have said, “Open one bag. Put everything away. Then open the next bag. Put everything away!” I cave, he *may* be right on this one. It feels really good to get it all out, and put away, and the bags back in storage the day after we get back. I’ve wondered why my “spring” cleaning tends to happen in the fall and realized it’s because we come back and I unpack and clean and re-organize things in the process. It’s that time of the year when things feel fresh for me. Today was no different.

One of the advantages of being back a day early is that I was able to call Yonese this morning to see if she wanted to go to the market for us so we could have some fresh veggies and fruit, eggs, etc in the house rather than looking at an empty fridge. It was really good to see her when she got here, and in true Yonese style not only did she go to the market but she’s proceeded to tidy the whole house, and I have no complaints :)

We’re back to work on Monday and we’re happy to be home!

~Leslie

Vacation Log 2014: Two

Yesterday was the day set aside for my birthday date with Chris.

When we got into the van Chris told me what we were going to be doing, and it was so sweet because he really had thought about what would be fun for me. The plan? Food trucks and a walking tour of downtown Portland!

Chris had downloaded maps and info for some of the top rated trucks around the city, knowing how much I love food and the whole concept of food trucks being able to deliver top quality to the man on the street. Sadly, the breakfast truck we’d picked out was not open, but we quickly found a family diner and had a delicious hot breakfast that hit the spot. I love breakfast, and I love breakfast dates with Chris. It was also drizzling so the inside hot meal was exactly what I was craving.

From there we headed downtown to meet our guide and then did a two hour walking tour. It was really fun and our little group had a lot of time to ask questions and learn more about Portland. Would definitely recommend it.

The end of our tour back in "Portland's Livingroom" - the square where we started.

The end of our tour back in “Portland’s Livingroom” – the square where we started.

After the tour we headed to Yelp’s top rated food truck in the city – Chez Dodo. The Indian food was really good. The samosa’s are HUGE, and the noodles and curry were delish. There are food trucks all over the downtown area. Definitely worth checking out. Apparently there are 3 culinary institutes in the city and it’s normal for students to graduate and start food trucks rather than opening their own restaurants or working under someone else.

I didn't get a picture of the samosas because they didn't stick around long...

I didn’t get a picture of the samosas because they didn’t stick around long…

We wandered back to the parking garage and headed back over the river to Vancouver again. We’re both still adjusting to the time difference and were tired after the two hours plus of walking, so the only thing I really wanted to do was nap, so I did! Chris and I both went down for a few hours while Mum and Dad kept an eye on the kids. It was bliss! We enjoyed dinner out with the family and then back home for a relaxing evening of playing games and eating left over birthday cake :)

~Leslie

Vacation Log 2014: One

We are here in the Pacific Northwest!!!

In true Haiti form, leaving was not necessarily simple, yet it could have been much more complicated. On Thursday evening the car developed a rod knock in the engine, and because we rely on it so much Chris wanted to get it to the mechanic so he could be working on it while we’re away. He made arrangements and the tow truck came from Port au Prince on Friday evening to get it and take it to town for us. Friday was also our last day of work, so after wrapping things up in the work yard we took all the staff to Kaliko, a nearby resort where we get free entrance, for a fun afternoon.

Saturday we got up, finished packing up, closed up the house and headed to Port. We called the mechanic to see if we could stop by and found out that our car hadn’t arrived yet even though it was supposed to be dropped off the night before. Not gonna lie – we wondered if we had just paid $300 for someone to steal our car. After calling the tow truck we found out they were on their way there and had just gotten back late. We got everything squared away there, told Alex that, no, he couldn’t take the cat that was there with us on vacation and then went to a different mechanic to get our blue truck, as we call it. Got some lunch and then headed to the airport.

From that point on everything was easy. I think when you’re a parent with young kids, and you have to travel internationally you worry about the entire experience. No one wants to be that family on the plane with the annoying kids, the whole time knowing that you’re trying your best and are exhausted and that their ears feel like they’re going to explode and they’re overtired and hungry… Chris and I are SO thankful that our kids are traveling rock stars. They both did so well in all of the airports and on the planes. We flew Delta, so it definitely helped that there were personal tvs in every seat.

More than anything though, our family is just in this really fun stage where Olivia is old enough to do certain things, and Alex is the most enthusiastic kid you’ve ever met. Olivia was like a boss pulling her own carry on like she’s been doing it for years. Alex is so excited about everything. Seeing the world through his eyes is amazing and so fun. We have enjoyed the trip so much so far simply because of our kids. In the past few years it’s felt like a circus, but this year has just been sweet and easy so far, and restful and fun.

We overnighted in New York and of course the hotel was amazing for the kids. We got a pretty good deal on Hotwire that ended up being a Sheraton within minutes of the airport. It really was nice and the service was great. We only got about 6 hours of sleep because we needed to be up at 4 am to catch our 7 am flight to Seattle. So thankful we were still in our time zone because it was only 40 minutes earlier than Chris’ alarm goes off most mornings, so not a huge blow to the system.

The kids were again amazing on our flight to Seattle, and our family was fabulous at being pack mules to get stuff from baggage claim to the curb so our friend Paul didn’t need to pay for parking. We got 4 suitcases, 4 carry ons, 3 backpacks, 2 kids in carseats and 3 adults into a Subaru Outback. Good thing we’re used to being in Haiti where there’s always room for one more!

After the hour drive to our friends house we had a quick lunch, then Chris went to work at tightening things up and connecting others to get the van running for another season while I sorted through the luggage to repack backs for the next six weeks and loading stuff into the van. We also had stuff that was ordered ahead of time to go through and put aside for the trip back. Chris was anticipating it could take us several hours, but our flight landed at a little before 10 am, and by 1:30 pm we were on the road heading to his Mum and Dad’s. We arrived late afternoon with lots of time to settle in.

As we drove here I couldn’t help but think about how much the places we come from are ingrained in us, a part of us. I know some people are more nomadic and flexible and shift and change to their surroundings like a chameleon, but I’m one of those people that has roots. I didn’t grow up in the US, but I grew up in a similar climate, and every time I come back to this part of the world, whether it’s British Columbia or Washington state, it feels like home. It’s the same for Chris. It’s deep in us. Haiti is home now, but we will always come home here too. Many people comment on how much we must love the heat and the Caribbean to live in Haiti, and the truth is, while it’s beautiful we will both feel more at home in places with mountains, pine trees, and weather that shifts and changes even in the summer to the point that you can wear jeans and sweaters. We love the cooler weather and look forward to wearing layers. And no, we don’t love the heat in Haiti. The past week before leaving was miserably hot. It’s nice to snuggle under down blankets while having the window cracked and fresh cool air coming in.

Being here is so good. It’s wonderful.

This morning I woke up and turned another year older, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that that are probably better in another post, I will say that I’m so thankful for today and this week. For many of the past 8+ years of birthdays I’ve either been in Haiti away from the rest of our family with few options for birthday fun, or been in Canada or the US but busy with other things, missing family or any other random assortment of not super fun birthday options. Being here, on vacation, with family is great. This is the first year I’ve celebrated my birthday with Chris’ family and it’s fun to share this with them too. I got to snuggle with my littles today, which is a great way to get the morning going. Mum, Olivia and I went shopping and knocked some things off my list. This will sound completely weird to anyone who doesn’t live in Haiti, but one of my favorite stops today was a new store where 1/3 of it is produce. Again, a show of my BC roots is how excited I get about produce. Apples, berries, veggies… when you come from a fabulous growing pocket in the earth, seeing so many beautiful veggies and fruit just makes a girl want to buy it all and then cook like a crazy person. Sigh. I am home!

I was actually really looking forward to this week and it was the main reason I so badly wanted all of us to be feeling better – which we are, by the way – because there are so many exciting things happening.

Today is a day to just sort of putter around and do what we want and settle in. A few weeks ago as Chris and I were working one day I noticed he was madly printing off maps and other things, and when I asked I was told to mind my own business because he was planning my birthday. Um, okay…

For anyone that knows my husband well, you’ll know that gift buying completely stresses him out. Every single birthday and every single Christmas for the entire time we’ve been married has led to some comment along the line of, “You need to just tell me what you want for your birthday/Christmas,” with lots of exasperated sighing and what not. This year though, I was informed that the day after my birthday was to be set aside on our schedule for a day of just Chris and Leslie time because he has a whole day planned for us. He didn’t want to do it on my birthday because he knew we would both be recovering from jet lag and a three hour time difference. I was shocked that he’d planned an entire day, and I’ve made myself not ask any questions because I want to be as surprised as possible. The only things I know are that it’s an all day deal, and that we’ll be doing a bunch of walking in and around Portland. He asked this morning if I wanted to know what we were doing and I said no so I could savor the surprise :)

Wednesday Mum is treating me to a much needed hair cut, lunch and a pedicure for my very sad toes. They will be very happy toes though! On Thursday we’re heading to the coast for a few days to one of Mum and Dad’s favorite get away places. Basically, rather than that having a birthDAY, I get a birthWEEK!!! And then I get to celebrate all over again in a couple weeks when I see my family in BC. Turning 36 is pretty darn good if you ask me!

So, here we are. Happy, wearing layers and feeling restful and excited for the next 6 weeks. Thank you so much for praying for our family in the past week or so as we’ve battled the chicken fever. We’ve been feeling very blessed.

Oh, and I can’t leave this without sharing a few kid highlights from the trip…

IMG_2292[1]

Over the hills and through the woods to grandmothers house we go…

IMG_2295[1]

Me and my little cheeseballs on the plane from Port to New York.

IMG_2297[2]

The train was SO fun. Before my phone powered up Alex had his nose glued to the window and there were a lot of “Yook! A airplane! We on the train!!!”

 

IMG_2298[1]

Bedtime story in the hotel.

IMG_2300[1]

Circling New York City yesterday morning. The rectangle of green next to the river is Central Park. We got to see the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building from the air, which was really cool.

IMG_2301[1]

Any Haiti person will understand why this is exciting…

When we were driving here yesterday we stopped at a gas station to fill up. While Chris was inside buying a quart of oil I decided to wash the windows on the van, starting with the one that Alex was sitting next to. I wish I would have gotten a video of him watching. Apparently when you raise your kids cross culturally where window squeegees are not available it makes the whole process that much more amazing. At one point he was getting ready to beat Olivia on the head to wake her up so she could watch the show. Have I mentioned how fun this trip is going to be with the kids this year??? :)

IMG_2306[1]

The rain that just came pouring down as I was writing this.

In case you didn’t know it, we own a ’69 Volkswagen van here in the US that we drive in the summers when home. The kids think it’s awesome, and so do we. Mum and Dad have a little wind up one that was on a wedding cake from our reception here back in 2006 that they just held onto, which Alex has now found. He’s been packing it around and even tried to take a nap with it. About 5 minutes ago he asked me where it was, while carrying it around… I guess he’s just gotten so attached to it that it’s now become an extension of his arm.

Have a great week!

~Leslie

Chikungunya – 4, Rollings – 0, And We’re Thrilled!

That’s right folks, the Chicken fever has taken down all of us!

Why on earth would we be so happy about that?

Well, because we’ve been holding our breath this week waiting for Alex to get it. I mean, this kid is outside every day in the work yard with the guys. One of our guards had it, another worker had it, family members of workers had it. If anyone was going to get it in our family, it would be Alex. And yet, he wasn’t going down…

Yesterday as we drove to visit friends Chris and I were talking about how thankful we were that this thing has run through our home in such a mild way. Olivia had the typical case – fever, aches and rash all in that order. But, a couple days later she was up and around again. Chris and I have each basically bypassed the fever, had fairly minor aches and just mostly felt tired. I hardly had any rash to speak of and Chris still has some, but it hasn’t been terrible. The worst of it for me was two nights ago when an aching leg was really uncomfortable and it made it hard to sleep. Since then we’ve both just been taking it easy and resting when needed, but going about our day mostly normally.

In the course of our conversation we wondered about all things viral and if our bodies have maybe, because of past viruses, had some sort of resistance. A major study would need to happen to verify anything like that, and we have zero scientific experience so really it was one of those “I wonder if…” conversations.

As we chatted we kept wondering why Alex hadn’t gone down yet. And then the pieces came together…

A couple weeks ago both kids had boils (yes, lovely sharing time we’re having here…) It was weird that they both got them at the same time, but it’s Haiti and all it takes is an open pore and some nasty water or sweat, so we just dealt with it by giving them both a run of antibiotics. Olivia was better in about 48 hours, Alex took a couple more days. Just after his cleared up he got another one on his leg, and this time it was much worse than the previous one. We started the antibiotics again.

A day or so into the antibiotics Alex was really tired, feverish and just cranky. It lasted about a day. Chris, Yonese and I all chalked it up to the infection in his leg and his little body trying to fight it off. About the same time he would randomly complain about his limbs hurting. In all honesty we dismissed it because he’s been doing this thing where when he gets in trouble he starts telling us about all his body parts that are hurting. In the time out chair for a couple minutes we’ll hear, “My head hurts, my arm hurts, my leg hurts…” The complaints about hurting limbs would be mentioned once and then it was a different body part. And the whole time he was up and playing.

Because this has been going on for the last couple of months his complaints about a constant headache during the same time had me baffled. Was it real? When I asked him where exactly it hurt he would point to the same place. I literally told Chris at one point that I was wondering if we should talk to a doctor friend because I didn’t want to be one of those parents that missed all the signs of their kid having a brain tumor or some major thing like that. Then, the next day the complaints were gone and things were fine.

A day or so after the on and off fever and fatigue there was a bit of rash on random parts of Alex’s body, but in areas like his arms close to his elbows and parts of his back. It didn’t last for more than a day, and last summer he battled heat rash for several months which is the reason he still doesn’t wear more than a diaper on most days. This boy can sweat! We just assumed it was spots of heat rash because things had been warming up again after a nice couple weeks of cool weather.

So, if you’re tracking with me we’ve had fever, fatigue, bone aches, headache, rash and crankiness – and we missed it because we were so concerned about the brutal abscesses on his arm and leg. We missed the symptoms because they matched up to something else that was already going on in his little body.

The Chikun got us all, just not in the order that we thought! I can’t tell you how relieved we are to know that we won’t be facing this stuff as we’re getting ready to hop on a plane. Wahoo! I feel like a quiet stress that’s been hanging in the air, the waiting and wondering has been lifted off of us.

Thank you SO much for all of your prayers and well wishes in the past week. I know this could have hit our home so much harder than it has and we’re grateful that we’ve only had mild cases with all the stuff that’s going on this week.

Please continue to pray for Haiti. Aside from the things I requested prayer for last time, pray that people are given the opportunity to truly be educated about their bodies and how things like this virus spread. I had a really interesting conversation with one of our employees this past week about whether or not the virus was dropped on Haiti for scientific or political reasons. There are a lot of people talking about things like this right now. We had a great chat about natural disasters, like the earthquake, and natural transmission of illnesses like this. Coming from the first world we can so easily take basic education that we receive even as children about how the earth functions and medical things for granted, and it can be easy to forget that many in the world don’t have that same starting place. When you don’t have that basic education, or very little access to it, and lots of natural disasters and epidemics it can be easy to start wondering if there’s some sort of conspiracy going on. Pray that people’s hearts and minds will be opened to hearing the truth of how illnesses like Chikungunya are transmitted and can then learn how to care for and protect themselves, and that those educational opportunities will be available.

Grateful from Haiti,

Leslie

That Chicken Thing

If you follow Haiti news at all you’ve probably heard about the “Chicken thing” that has been spreading through the island rapidly in the past month. Chikungunya (chick-uhn-guhn-yah) is a mosquito carried virus that can result in fever, rash, headaches and severe joint pain as well as other symptoms.

images

I hadn’t posted anything about this previously because until about a week ago it was predominantly running wild in the major cities, especially the capital – Port au Prince. I didn’t want to sound like someone who knew anything when we hadn’t really seen much of it in our area. At first people were a bit hesitant to call it what it was because it’s symptoms are very similar to Dengue fever, and it seemed to be moving like a hurricane. Literally entire neighborhoods were falling ill with it. Since the first cases hit Haiti early last month it’s literally become an epidemic here. People live in close quarters, most without screens or the money to buy any kind of mosquito repellent. It’s the daytime mosquitoes that get you, so even if you use repellent, sweat and what not cause it to drip off leaving you exposed.

In the past couple of weeks it’s moved out into the rest of the country, including our area. About a week and a half ago our employees started requesting Tylenol for family members, and one of our guards came up one morning looking pretty beat. I asked him about his symptoms – tired and had a fever over the weekend, but no rash. By the end of the day he was in so much pain that he couldn’t come down from the guard tower to open the gate when I was leaving. At the end of his shift he made it down the tower into a chair waiting at the bottom, and Chris pulled the car up to the chair so he basically only had to stand and shift his body weight to fall into the car so Chris could drive him home. A week later he was back at work and looking and acting completely normal. We just found out at the end of last week that one of our employees had it but still managed to come to work every day. How, I have no idea!

I’m part of a Facebook group of expats here in country and the cases of symptoms reported have been in the hundreds. What I’ve learned from those comments is that while there are the typical cases where the fever comes on, followed by extreme joint pain and the rash, there are also milder cases where there may be a very low grade fever to the point that it is almost missed, mild joint pain and other symptoms like headaches and low energy. A couple of our friends have had it and the symptoms like pain and rash came before the fever, or were mild enough that they were up and about after a day of laying low from fatigue.

Anyone living here long term has basically adopted the “when” rather than “if” attitude about when they’ll get it. In some ways it’s almost become a new badge to add to our list of “done that” items – “Have you had the fever yet?”

We were pretty sure that if any of our family got it that Alex would be the first to fall. He runs around in nothing more than a diaper every day and he spends hours at a time out in the work yard with our staff. Chris and I were honestly just bracing ourselves for it. But, Olivia was the first to go down. Midway through last week she started to feel tired, then on Wednesday morning she woke up with a fever and slept on and off for the day. Thursday she seemed a bit better, but had a bit of a rash on her face and complained of achy joints. She was hobbling around here like an old woman and sometimes it was just easier to carry her from point A to B.

Thursday evening I started to feel run down, but needed to go to Port au Prince on Friday. Thankfully I woke up the next morning feeling fine and went on my way. On the way home I started to feel overly tired. Got home, unpacked everything and then gave in. Saturday I just felt beat and spent half the day in bed sleeping. The kind of sleep that feels like an hour but is really four. I didn’t feel feverish at all, but I could have easily had a low grade fever, we just didn’t check. On Friday night my hands and feet started swelling and it brought back memories of months of fat feet while pregnant with Alex. The worst part so far for me has been the headache that settled in Friday evening and was relentless until about yesterday afternoon. I was taking Tylenol and Ibuprofen alternately and it seemed to help a bit, but not completely. Thankfully that combo has helped with joint pain. I was expecting it, so was paying attention and while it hasn’t been horrible, it’s been very much there. It feels random though, like the shin on one leg aching for a bit, then the ankle on my other foot. As I type this my left wrist is aching while everything else seems fine. I was starting to wonder if I was getting sympathy Chicken fever, but today I’ve been itchy all over and a rash has started to show up in various places.

Yesterday Chris started to feel a bit tired, and a bit achy. Yesterday evening a rash started showing up on his back, but we weren’t sure if it was ChickV (as everyone here has started calling it) or heat rash that he often gets in the summer. Today it’s definitely ChickV as he’s feeling more achy and run down, but still able to be up and around doing stuff like normal.

So, Alex wasn’t the first to go down, and so far is showing no signs of it. We’re hoping and praying that remains the case, or that if he is going to get it he gets it in the next 24 hours. Our family is gearing up to travel this weekend on our annual summer vacation and we’re hoping and praying that we’re all through the worst of it (fever stage) before we need to leave.

The good news is that once you get it, you get it once. Basically everyone is just riding the wave, enduring the pain (really!) and knowing that after this first major sweep in the country that cases will drastically diminish and it will be harder to catch because there will be fewer carriers.

We would love it if you would keep Haiti in your prayers, especially the young, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and women in the early stages of pregnancy or about to deliver. Studies have show that there is vertical transmission with this, which means that expectant mothers can transmit it to their babies if they’re in the labor stage, and those littles can fall ill with it in the first few days of their lives because of that. That can cause complications and possibly even things like cebral palsy. Any fever in an expectant mom in the early stages of pregnancy is danger as well.

If you want to pray for our family, pray that those of us with it recover quickly and that if Alex doesn’t get it before we leave that it stays that way. We are VERY grateful that our cases so far seem to be mild compared to what we’ve heard and we would love for it to stay that way. Some cases, especially in women, show relapses with fever and fatigue, so that’s a concern too especially because we’re traveling.

We’re going to try and rest up this week as much as we can. Thankfully we don’t have a ton of work to do before we leave and we’re not feeling stressed. We just have a few things to wrap up and packing to do, but that’s not even extensive because our kids have pretty much outgrown everything they would wear back in North America and we try to travel back light so there’s more room for stuff on the return.

We’ll keep you posted, and thank you for your prayers for our staff and family!

~Leslie