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

Hello Bloggy, my little friend.

I just got through two months worth of accounting work and it feels so good to get that out of the way! With being sick and then Chris being gone I’ve gotten hardly anything done in the past month. I honestly was taken by surprise when the Shingles knocked out my energy. Was not prepared for that!

Chris came home last Tuesday and we’re all better with him here :) On Monday Olivia was really quiet at dinner so I asked what she was thinking about and she said, “I’m just thinking about 3 days from now.” Prodding her more she said, “I’m just so excited I can’t even talk about it!!!” Yeah, she had, for some reason, decided that it was still three days until Daddy was coming home. I had intentionally been really vague about it because I wasn’t up to having the constant questions about how much longer or dealing with the inevitable melt downs that would come with knowing exactly when. I had just said things like, “next week” and “a few more days” which, in kid terms, could be one day or a billion days. So, knowing that she had decided in her mind that it was still three more days, I decided not to say anything.

The next morning we went about or day as usual, and Chris phoned mid-morning to let me know he had landed. He was hoping to get back in time to go get Liv from school, but because of some vehicle complications Alex and I hit the road, with Chris arriving home a few minutes after we left. He was able to change and start unpacking a bit before we got back. When he heard the car come in he hid behind the door so when we opened it it didn’t go all the way. Olivia immediately whipped it back to see why and found Daddy hiding behind it. Then this happened:

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And this…

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I still feel a little weepy when I look at those. These kids love their Daddy and vice versa. Alex had been in a funk for 2.5 weeks which was super draining on me. He was really clingy, didn’t want to do anything, would ask for something and when I gave it to him told me he didn’t want it or that it was “yucky”. Our little caveman who often eats just as much as a normal adult didn’t want anything. He was just not himself. As soon as he saw Daddy he got this contented little smile on his face and for the next two to three days would just randomly say things like, “My so happy Daddy’s home” and “My love that Daddy’s home.” Melt(Aside: this kid is so free flowing with his sweet comments and verbal love. I regularly hear things like “Mommy, you buful” and “I love you”.)

Nanna sent boots in for the kids. Alex has barely taken his off since he got them. He even talks to them. Like, “Hey Boots! Good night Boots! It’s okay, Boots…”

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And yes, that’s his regular wardrobe. He has a diaper tan, and we have no idea how we’re going to ever get him to wear clothes regularly. Maybe when he starts school…

My energy is pretty much back to normal now and I’m super thankful about that. It’s so frustrating to not be able to do what you want to do.

We had friends come spend the day on Good Friday, then Sunday was our regularly scheduled missionary fellowship bible study day, so we had an Easter potluck and spent time doing communion together. It was a sweet way to spend the day with our missionary family, and time and time again I find myself thinking about how thankful I am for the people that God has brought in our lives. We’ve always had a solid group of people around us and try to make those relationships a priority, but in the last year and a half God has just solidified those more and brought new families into the area that have kids in our kids age range. On top of that there have been a wonderful group of single ladies that we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and who love to come over and hang with us and give us date nights by hanging with our kids. Every single one of these people is a blessing to us.

I had a bit of a laugh last week because there was this distinct moment in St. Marc while I was doing some shopping that reminded me just how much I’ve adjusted to the crazy that happens here on a regular basis, so much so that these events can happen and they just get mixed in with everything else in a day and I sometimes even forget to mention them to Chris. These are the things that would have been a BIG deal when I was first living here and the fact that they just become part of the kaleidoscope that is life here just shows me how much this has become home and how the “abnormal” has become my normal.

I was in town doing some grocery shopping before picking Olivia up after school. Chris had asked me to stop by a parts store to pick up some fuel conditioner for the car. The store that I went to is one of the better ones in St. Marc and is always busy. There’s a guy that fixes tires out front so there are cars and motos and people everywhere. Just being a white woman going into a hardware or parts store here gets enough attention as it is. Literally people whip their heads when I walk by. The guys inside are always surprised that I know what I’m asking for and that I speak fluent Creole. Also things not normal for white women here. I went in, chatted with everyone, bought the stuff I needed and headed back out. As I was walking to my car – literally just coming around the front of it to go to the drivers side door, a dump truck started pulling in. He very much saw me. And he very much did not leave enough space, or stop until I had passed my car. He literally kept driving and was so close that as I quickly tried to scurry around the car the box of the truck brushed my dress. I was shuffling sideways and my butt was touching my car, just to give you an idea of how tight a squeeze it was.

Yeah, I literally almost got run over by a dump truck! (And this is where my mother goes, “Ah! Les!” – sorry mom!)

The best part of this whole story though is not that I didn’t get hit (though that’s a very good thing and something that I’m grateful for!) but rather that the mob of people moving about in front of the store stood in disbelief at what they’d just seen and then they started yelling at the driver. So often there’s such a huge divide between classes and whatnot that we feel like we’re on on own with few times where others come to our defense. We’re often looked to as the ones to blame simply because we’re the foreigners, not because things are actually our fault. It leaves us feeling like everything here is work, because it truly is. In that moment where a mob of people started yelling in my defense I kind of felt like the playing field was not just level, but that we were all playing the same game for a moment. They were upset that he had done something that could have caused harm to anyone. I wasn’t alone in thinking the whole thing was crazy, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to come to my own defense. Instead I was able to yell a thank you, wave and get in my car and go.

People that come to visit often comment on our Creole or that Chris and I go and do a lot of things personally rather than sending our staff. We believe in giving our staff responsibility for a lot of things and are always looking for ways to give them more, but we also believe in being able to do things ourselves here. As a woman, I think it’s even more important. More often than not I get compliments on the fact that I speak Creole pretty fluently. People here appreciate the effort because to them it says that we’ve invested ourselves in learning the language of the people. It earns us a lot of respect in the sense that it’s so appreciated. As a woman, I see how men respect me when I can go into a hardware store or something like that and ask for things specifically and tell them in detail what it’s going to be used for. What I love is when I tell them that I’m the one building furniture or needing something for a project that I’m working on. They LOVE that I do things out of the box and they respect it. I like that people appreciate the effort that I’ve put in because I know they see that it’s hard work and I know that it means something to them. It bridges so many gaps that have been here for so long.

A few months ago we bought a used washing machine off of some other missionaries. They had owned it for 8 months and the motor went on it. Chris is handy, which I’m SO thankful for, so he loves situations like this where we can buy something for the mission and fix it rather than having to buy something new and spend more money. He gave the machine a good once over and confirmed that it was the motor, then found a new one online that he brought back with him. Our original plan was that he would do the fix on the new one and we would put it in our house and then move the one in our house down to the round house, because as Chris told me repeatedly, “We’re going to use it until it dies completely!”. The one down there works, but is really old and can only take small loads. I’m so thankful for that old man of a machine though, because time and time again we’ve needed a back up and we’ve been able to just go down and do laundry down there. Like the day after Chris left when the machine in our house stopped working!

Now would be a good time to tell you about the old machine in our house. We bought it off Craig’s List back in 2007, and received it here in Haiti in early 2008 after having it shipped in. It was in great shape and it’s been worked hard! I think the mission spent maybe $200-250 total for the machine and shipping. Great deal, especially since appliances are SO expensive here. Because we live on the ocean the salt and the humidity tend to cause a lot of rust on things. Our bathroom doesn’t have the best ventilation, and that’s where the washer is. Over the years of living up here it’s slowly been rusting apart. Not just outside, but inside too! We literally had the water hose coming into the drum clamped on with a binder clip because the fittings holding the plastic feed rusted away. Pieces of metal would regularly fall off from the drum surround, and if we had to move the machine out for any reason Yonese and I would find ourselves sweeping up dustpans of rust chunks. But the machine still worked great, and Chris said we would use it until it died. As far as washing and the load capacity that it would take, it was still better than the old man downstairs, so we figured Chris would just figure out what the problem was and we’d bring back the parts in the summer and fix it. That is, until he went to move it…

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Proof we have kids – a few dozen Q-tips on the floor…

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You see how the right side of the machine is lined up with the bars on the railing, and the left back side isn’t? Yeah, that’s not because the railing isn’t square or the machine isn’t level – it’s because that whole side of the machine almost fell off when Chris moved it.

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When he started to pull it out from it’s spot in the bathroom, the one side detached from the rest of the machine – because of the rust. He could barely move it because the outside was shifting separately. It left a trail of rust all the way out to the deck and once we could see the back of it Chris was able to see just how bad the rust was. Let’s just say he decided it had finally “died” :) This girl, and Yonese, are super happy with the new washer! And, for a total of $260 (machine and new motor) for an almost new machine it’s a win! Have I mentioned I love having a handy husband?

Here’s another window into life here…

Haiti has been rapidly advancing in the area of cell service and internet options. For the first year or so that I was here we had a few cell phones for the mission, but whoever was leaving needed to take all of them because the coverage would change between companies depending on what zone you were in. Just going 30 minutes away to St. Marc meant two different coverage areas. Now new companies have come in, we have great coverage, access to cheap phones and internet and even the poorest of the poor can afford to have cell phones in the family. We used to have satellite internet, but two summers ago we got back from vacation and our modem was down and the company couldn’t provide an easy fix. The cell companies were just putting out USB internet sticks so we switched over. That worked for a while, but we ended up having issues. About that same time I got an iPhone and when our USB sticks kept giving us issues I figured out how to tether/hot spot on my phone and we eventually switched over to using that for our internet. We could all tap into my data plan and it was a great solution. A couple months ago Chris switched over to an iPhone too so we’ve both had things hot spotted as our means of getting internet access in our house for work and personal stuff.

Then Apple released the new operating system update in the middle of March. Being new to the iPhone world Chris downloaded it immediately before I could warn him to hold off a bit. Whenever there’s a new update there are always bugs and I’ve learned just from watching facebook to hold off and let everyone else get annoyed and wait for the fix releases to come out before downloading it. We rely on our phones for too much here and it’s too important to not be able to use them as usual. Well, one of the bugs was that the 7.1 update wouldn’t let you use the hot spot feature – meaning Chris’ phone was useless for internet access unless he was just needing internet on his phone.

For anyone in North America, you might not even ever look at hot spotting your phone. For us… This meant that we went back to relying on my phone exclusively. If I had to leave for any reason, Chris couldn’t do anything internet related on his computer. No emails, no nothing. On top of all that, we had a very generous friend and board member donate her old iPhone 4 to the mission so we could have an extra. We know Haiti and know that it’s very likely something will happen where one of ours breaks, and since we also use it for internet, having a back up means we can seamlessly keep going with work and everything else. So appreciated! Well, when she got the phone unlocked they updated it at the same time to 7.1 – so the back up phone was useless for anything other than a phone :( Sadness.

For the last month we’ve been trying to figure out ways to fix it, and no cigar. The complaints on the Apple discussion pages were coming in from all over the world from users that rely on tethering/hot spotting their phones. Yesterday Chris, on a whim, checked to see if there were any new iOS updates, and lo and behold there was a 7.1.1. We decided to try it on the back up phone first to see what would happen. It worked! They fixed it and now both phones can use the hot spot again and we have multiple ways of getting internet! Woo hoo.

All this to say – when you just turn on your devices or go online, appreciate the simplicity of just having the service available in a way that doesn’t require electronic gymnastics with no back up support if there’s a problem (and no, being able to call a service desk and have a technician come out to your house within a week of the problem does not qualify as a valid complaint of “no back up support” when you’re talking to people like us, because  you can actually use the words “technician” and “coming to your house” in the same sentence. Here that would be a crazy luxury that we can only dream about.)

Have a happy Wednesday!

~Leslie