Sweet November

It’s been a while. Again. I thought I would pop in and make my presence known so no one thinks I’ve disappeared or don’t care.

I find myself sitting here and looking at the calendar and it seems crazy that we’re already into the middle of November this week. This time last year I was well into getting excited for Christmas and the holidays. I think, looking back, I was really struggling with having a sense of contentment. I was having a hard time with my work load because I just wasn’t excited or engaged, and yet knew I should be. I was missing family and really excited that my parents were coming (hi parents!) for Christmas, their first visit in about 5 years. I think I just needed something to be looking forward to because I felt like I was just plugging along.

This year though, is very different. It was baking hot here until the middle of last week. I was posting on Facebook later in the week that I had to wear a long sleeved shirt for the first time in a VERY long time and people we’re laughing at me. I know it seems strange when I say that I was chilly and the thermometer still read 80*, but that’s what happens when you’re acclimated! It would probably also help to mention that the last part of last week, and still this week has been regularly overcast. The temps have dropped to the lower 80’s but the most significant change is that the humidity has dropped. Where we were regularly seeing it hover between 75-85%, last week on the coolest day it was down to the high 50’s. That’s a huge change in how the air feels!

Yesterday I was at a local resort exercising in the pool with a friend (some sweet friends blessed her with their passes when they left the country so we get to go for free!!!) and as we walked in there were crunch leaves under our feet that hadn’t been swept up, and the sky was grey, and the air was cool. It felt like fall! And we noticed it and it made us both exhale a bit and be so thankful for that sweet moment. Later, after swimming for about an hour, a breeze started to blow. Just a light one. But, it was enough that I had to keep my wet self under the surface of the water and Olivia’s teeth were literally chattering. I got out to towel off and got excited to see goose bumps on my legs. I don’t think I’ve every had goose bumps on my legs in Haiti! It’s just been such a nice weather treat, especially because last winter didn’t seem to cool off much. The rain stopped, but the temps stayed in the high 80’s and so did the humidity. When it cools off it literally feels like the cogs in our brains start to turn again, things get clearer, we’re more alert, and just function better.

So, as we move through November, I keep feeling grateful that we’re actually getting some kind of fall, and remembering that this is how it usually feels (funny how one year can make a person forget!) and my heart feels really calm right now. Which, when I look at everything going on around me, seems kind of funny.

I am thinking about the holidays, but I don’t feel the need to dive all the way in yet. Last year was really busy once the end of November hit, again, I think because I was searching for some kind of normalcy and wanted to do all the things! This year I just feel like I want to slow down, step back, and enjoy. Chris’ parents are coming for Christmas this year and we’re so excited, and very much looking forward to a relaxed couple of weeks with them. Chris turns 40 at the beginning of December and I’m looking forward to celebrating him with our friends here. We also have some plans for fun things with our staff and our missionary community, but none of it feels pressing or overwhelming.

Perhaps part of it is that things have just gotten busy around here. Rather than just plugging away we’re in full on management mode, which requires more of my time and brain power, and it feels like things are getting accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting accomplished before, but they had become routine. Chris and I both do really well with managing things. Where I am organized he is logical and methodical. Those things compliment one another so well. Add Peggy to the mix and we now have someone that can come behind us and fill the holes and I can’t tell you how much that helps. Rather than feeling frazzled because I might be forgetting something she’s right there asking about those things and then taking care of them. Such a blessing!

It’s very normal for things to take a couple of months to pick up speed after we get back from our summer vacation. We’re still in the rainy season, so deliveries to some areas can be difficult just because of mud. When September comes people start preparing for school fees and aren’t putting their money anywhere else. For the past few years school has actually started in October, but a week beforehand the government announced an earlier start that had everyone scurrying for things like uniforms and books.

Our filter installations have taken off in the past month and a half. Last month we were up almost 50% from months previous, and here we are mid-month and already at the 100 filter mark as of tomorrows delivery. That feels really good!

Earlier this year we were approached about receiving a Rotary grant for filters and since then have been in discussion and planning with the club in the US and the local club that would host it. We love Rotary and feel really blessed that they approached us. Those conversations stalled out for several reasons over the summer, but in the past 6 weeks have resumed and things are moving forward, and it’s exciting. This week Chris had a meeting here with some of the key local club members, and several members from the US who were in Haiti to discuss the next steps. The grant would mean filters for a lot of families!

We hired 3 new employees in the past two weeks as well. We haven’t hired new staff in a long time, and it feels really good to do so. We really sought our staff input this time around because everything is so communal here. They know the people in the community who have submitted applications, and can give character feedback. A while back they asked to be involved in the process because any time there are issues with an employee it affects everyone, not just us as leaders. The guys we hired came highly recommended by the staff that knew them, and we’re excited they’re part of our team now.

There are some other exciting things going on, and I’m itching to share, but not just yet. I promise I will as soon as I can! In the meantime, please be praying for Chris and I as we manage everything in front of us. Our workload has literally doubled in the past week, so it’s a lot to be thinking about and taking care of, and we just want to do it well.

Until next time,

~Leslie

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Third World Rodeo

I know a lot of the stuff that I talk about on here isn’t actually directly referring to life in Haiti, but more life in general. Today I have a treat for you.

I hate twitchy animals. Anything that can scurry or slither is not something I want to be around for any length of time. I can’t help it, it’s just the way it is. And then I move to a country where we have mice and rats that we learn to keep at bay, and lizards that not only run around our yard, but that we also welcome into our homes because they eat the bugs. And, they’re usually more afraid of us than we are of them.

Until they’re not.

I just had a shiver run through my body as I was thinking about the next words to type.

No, I don’t do well with twitchy things. Especially not when they decide to be brave and run up and then back down my bare legs, or over my feet, or jump onto my head and run in circles. I kid you not – all of those things have happened, and every time it was a little lizard. Yes, I could have squashed it, but instead I resorted to flailing and shuddering. And maybe some jumping and dancing. There’s the shiver again.

Today I had some friends over. Friends that have been away all summer and finally (finally!) came back to me, and now my life is complete again. We spent a fun afternoon catching up with each other like ladies do. These friends are my “loud” friends. When we’re together the volume goes up right along with the laughter. We’re good at laughing at life, at each other, and ourselves.

As the afternoon drew to a close I went to hop in the van with one friend to take her and her daughter home. I was chatting with a neighbor through the fence while she buckled the kids in and threw her stuff on the front seat. As we both turned to get ready to climb in she said, “Um, there’s a lizard on the dash…”

Sure enough, he was just hanging out there. I had parked the van on the grass because the guys had been moving trucks around and fixing tires and there hadn’t been enough room to park where I usually do. There was a small tree right next to it and we’d left the passenger window open. The little monster must have run along a branch and into the window thinking he’d just found a palace.

I don’t remember what I used, but my first instinct was to start swatting at the dash to make our new “friend” run back to where he came. My friend grabbed her shoe and started whacking the dash from her side to help in the efforts. He wasn’t having any of that and rather than staying on track and just jumping outside, he jumped all right, but onto the seat. And then he scurried.

He scurried all the way under the drivers seat.

There was no way. Out of sight was NOT out of mind in this case, and there was no freaking way I was going to sit on him and just assume that he wouldn’t be running down my legs at any point in the trip there and back.

I whipped my seat into the farthest forward position to try to see him. I crouched down and scanned. And there he was, his two beady little eyes staring back at me. I may have yelled, “He’s here! And he’s looking right at me!!!”

DSCF1037

This. This is what I didn’t want happening anywhere on my body*.

I reached down and grabbed a very meager looking twig off the ground, then jammed that thing under and around the seat whacking whatever I could until our lizard friend ran out and down and back over to the other side of the van, this time on the floor.

Now would be a good time to mention that loud friends don’t become quiet friends in a crisis – they become louder friends. Somewhere around the time that he hit the deck Peggy yelled “What are y’all making so much noise about out there?!?!” from our house. We were in fits of hysterical laughter with undertones of squeamish terror by this point.

I ran out and yelled that there was a lizard running around in the van. It was also about this point that I remembered that our guard and the neighbor I’d been talking to were only a few feet away watching all this go down.

I ran back to van to find my friend waving her shoe around on the floor to try and flick the lizard out of her side. I did the calculations. It wasn’t much space and I could tell the awkwardness of her flailing arm was because she knew that if she was successful there was a good chance she would get him out, but that he would fly into her in the process of making his exit.

And then it happened.

Unless you’ve had first hand experience with these lizards, it’s very shocking the first time you see it. What am I referring to?

The tail drop.

Yep, these little guys will just drop off a part of themselves when they feel danger lurking. The whole idea is that it’s most likely that a predator will grab for the tail, so they can drop their tail and still run away.

Apparently my friend was a worthy foe because that tail dropped. Right there on the floor board. And then proceeded to wriggle and squiggle. She got momentarily distracted by this phenomenon until I started yelling to keep whacking. She flicked the twitching tail out of the van, not hitting herself, and went back to work on getting our castaway out. Her attempts were futile. He headed for the underside of the dash.

We knew where he went, and we looked at each other, then at the piece of plastic that wasn’t very firmly attached to the bottom of the dash and both grabbed at the same time, and I flung it out of my side onto the grass. She whacked with her shoe and I flicked with my stick. I stuck the key in the ignition and raised my foot awkwardly to push on the clutch to start the van, thinking maybe the vibration and noise would drive him out. He was nowhere.

We looked. I jabbed with the stick. She saw him for a brief moment, hanging out on a wire, and then he was gone again.

We looked at each other across the seat, defeated.

“How brave are you?” I asked.

We reattached the dash piece. She put her shoe back on. I put my seat back in the right position. We adjusted ourselves. She rebuckled Alex, who had undone himself to watch our rodeo. We climbed up gingerly and buckled ourselves. Closed our doors.

As I put the van in gear I looked over, and there’s my friend, sitting cross legged on her seat.

And, all I can think about is how jealous I am, because a) I’m driving and don’t get the option of doing that without my feet on the floor, and b) I’m not that flexible.

We pull out of the driveway and onto the road.

“I’m just going to apologize in advance if I start screaming and whip the car over to the side of the road. And, I’m thankful that you’ll be totally okay with that.”

If the van has a funky smell in a few days, at least I’ll know why.

~Leslie

PS – If you click on the photo you can go visit the blog where that photo was first posted. It just so happens that a Google search on “haiti lizards” brought that up, and the post was written by friends of ours up in the north. Haiti is a small place :)

A Pain In the Gum.

I won’t lie. I was feeling a bit anxious going into yesterday morning.

About two weeks ago my wisdom teeth started giving me problems, at least the two I still had. It started with pressure on my jaw and then the whole left side of my face feeling pressure, a headache and an aching neck. We went to our dentist in Gonaives last Monday, hoping he would be able to pull them out there, but without x-rays he didn’t want to go ahead because it’s an invasive surgery.

I should stop here and just mention something that some of you might not know – white people and black people’s jaws form differently. I don’t know about other races, so someone can feel free to chime in down in the comments if they want. People from African descent tend to have jaws that are larger, and therefore it’s very normal for wisdom teeth, or the third molar, to come down or in normally. Us white people, not so lucky.

Now, let’s put this in the context of Haiti. I am a white girl in a black culture. Going into to dentist office to explain that I have teeth that just never came in is stressful enough. I was worried that I would get resistance from our dentist simply because it’s not a common problem with 99.5% of his patients that he sees. Thankfully Dr. Miguel was great and completely understood. He has big posters of teeth and jaws on his wall and we were able to talk about everything with those. I’m also thankful that he knows his limits and had no problem telling us that he would rather refer us to a colleague in Port than do it himself. A quick phone call later and things were all set up for me to see his friend at the Dental University in Port au Prince yesterday.

I had been there before, last summer, to get x-rays on my front tooth so Dr. Miguel could do a crown for me (which turned out so well!), so there was some level of familiarity. But, I knew this would be different.

The university, like most places in Haiti, is not what you or I might expect. Some of the teaching areas are very basic and open air. The equipment might be older, but it still does the job. Despite appearances, they’re doing good work there. Upper level students must have been working on dental castings yesterday because repeatedly they came in to where I was having my work done to get Dr. Phillogene’s approval on things.

We waited in the waiting area, which is a nice deck lined with chairs. When it was time for the consultation part of things Chris and I went in and sat with Dr. Phillogene to start my file. We met his colleage, Dr. Felix (I think!). We discussed the issues I’d been having and then headed back for x-rays.

The x-ray room is about 5×10. The walls are nicely installed wood panels, I think plywood, with finishing. The window has re-bar bars on it with a screen. There’s no light bulb in the socket on the ceiling, but that makes sense if you consider it’s an x-ray room with a window. The darker the better. There is a chair to the left of the door, an x-ray chair. I sit down and there’s a piece of pvc pipe coming out of the floor that’s just the right height to use as a foot rest. I think it might have been there to allow for a drain of some sort, assuming that they were maybe going to use the room for something else other than an x-ray room at some point. On the wall to the left of my chair is a very old x-ray machine. It only gets plugged in when they need to use it, because this is Haiti, and power is crazy here and it would probably get fried if it was left plugged in. There’s another, slightly newer x-ray machine in there, but they aren’t using it for some reason. Maybe it’s the back up? Over in the corner to the right is a basic table with a portable “dark room” unit on top. Inside is a cup of solution to develop the x-ray films and the doctor or tech just pulls everything apart inside and then dips the films in the cup to expose them. After a minute, they get pulled out and the window is used to check out the contents.

We do my x-rays. It’s obvious that the top tooth is pushing into the roots on the one before it. I’ve felt the pressure for a while now and am looking forward to getting it out. We redo the bottom x-rays 4 times because the bottom tooth is so close to the surface that it looks like one of my regular molars. Initially it was so confusing that everyone thought the pain I had was from just the top and that I didn’t actually have a bottom one, but after some closer looking the dental work in my last molar showed that the wisdom tooth was right there, and explained why my gum was getting soft in that place. It was trying to push up, but giving me a lot of pain in the process.

X-rays are done and I get settled in for the work.

I should back track here and tell you that the last time I had this procedure on my right side wisdom teeth, the top one had already pushed down, and the bottom one was a challenge. It had grown too close to the bone and they had to grind off some of my jaw bone to get it out. I didn’t get put under, but rather had local anesthesia for all of it. Yes, I hurt after, but it wasn’t terrible and within 24 hours I was eating soft foods. I didn’t swell up too badly and I didn’t bruise at all.

I got frozen and they went to work. They were doing the removals in their teaching room where they have 8 chairs set up in one big room. I’m guessing, from our previous visit, that they have days where they accept patients and upper level dental students get to work on teeth with supervision. We were the only ones in the room yesterday. Yes, their equipment might have been a bit older, but everything was clean and sterile and they were diligent about all of that through everything. I lost track of how many glove changes happened.

I would really love to say that things went smoothly and it was easy, especially with the location of my teeth, but I can’t do that. Nope. Apparently another 18 years actually makes things more difficult. It gives your teeth more time to grow closer to your jaw bones and to grow into the roots of your other teeth. No, there was nothing easy about yesterday.

I did end up getting some of my left jaw bone ground off. I guess it’s good to keep things equal, right? I wish I was exaggerating when I say that they had my mouth open for about 3 hours. Not just me laying there with them looking at things. That was 3 hours of grinding, digging and prying. My mouth has been contorted in ways I didn’t know was possible. Eventually my very obstinate teeth gave up and let go, but they did not do it happily.

Now, I know that some of you might be thinking something along the lines of this whole thing taking a long time because of ill experienced dentists. I’m going to shut that down right now. Yes, they may have not had extensive hands on practice with wisdom teeth (even the poster in the room showed all molars in place, none impacted) but they were very thorough every step of the way. They didn’t do anything until they were satisfied with the x-rays, and they deliberated over every step for best practice options. They worked hard. They listened when I told them I needed to be shot with more freezing. They did a good job. At one point I thought about asking for my phone so I could get a picture of their two heads bending over me with the concentration I was seeing, but I thought that might be a tad distracting and weird :)

No, I very much appreciate Doc Phillogene and Doc Felix for what they did for me yesterday. They earned every Gourde we paid. I wasn’t an easy patient in the sense that things were straight forward. In fact, on the way home Chris and I were laughing (as much as I could laugh) at the fact that they were kind of on a high because of the procedure they’d just done. I can’t imagine they get many opportunities, if any, to do it, so it was that high of having accomplished something and helping someone at the same time. It made me happy to have provided them with the experience. When I gave birth to Alex I was asked if it would be okay for a second year med student to observe the birth. By the end of it she was taking pictures for our family, and the next morning my delivery doc thanked me for allowing her to be there because my birth had been completely natural, and Alex was a big baby. She was happy that this med student got to see that so early in her studies, but also to see that as a woman. I felt thankful that I got to be part of that, and I felt the same way yesterday. Maybe I provided an opportunity to learn. Maybe those dentists will be able to teach others and help others because of that experience.

I realized a lot of other things while lying on the chair yesterday.

Our society likes to soften the blows of reality. We like to remove the hard stuff whenever we can. I’m not being critical, just stating a fact. We avoid pain, and we avoid even knowing the details sometimes. In this specific example, it’s common practice to be put under rather than have local anesthesia so that you not only don’t feel anything, but also don’t remember it. I get it, oh boy, do I get it! There were times yesterday where I thought, “This is why. This is why they knock you out. They do it so you don’t have to feel the insane amount of pressure put on your mouth from them trying to get leverage. They do it so you don’t hear the tools grinding against your teeth. They do it so you don’t have to watch them trying to figure out what to do next. You just get to wake up being sore and thinking this is just what it is.”

And then I would think about all the Haitians that might never get to go to a dentist in the first place. And then about those that might and wondered what quality of care they would get. I thought about all the people I’ve met here with missing teeth, knowing that many of those probably came out with no anesthetic. And I felt grateful that there is a teaching university in Haiti with guys like this leading the way. Aside from doing a job I could tell they cared about doing it well. It wasn’t a show for me. I was just a patient with a problem.

I thought about the fact that being awake for the whole procedure helped me appreciate all the work that went into helping me feel better, and how grateful I was to be able to actually get this taken care of. Often we get asked about the hardest things here, and I frequently tell people my biggest fear is that our family wouldn’t get the medical care we needed in an emergency. Yet, time and time again God has provided access when we need it. I couldn’t imagine having to live with wisdom tooth pain until we came home next summer, and we can’t afford to pay for dental in Canada or the US anyway. Having Dr. Miguel in Gonaives has been a huge blessing to our family. When he did my crown, he only charged us $350 US for the entire procedure, including the root canal, the form work, ordering the crown from the Dominican Republic, a temp crown and then the final work. Chris just had a root canal finished up for $150. My wisdom teeth? $220 for the whole thing. Such a blessing! God provides.

I also thought about the people that God has made Chris and I to be. I fully realize that this life we live is not for everyone. There are many that, just reading this, would feel stressed out. But, we wake up each day knowing this is where God wants us to be, and because of that I can push aside any of those feelings that I might have over any given situation and know that it’s all going to be okay. Is it stressful to go into a medical facility and think that it’s definitely below what my North American standards might be? Yes. But, I can do it. And I can be okay doing it. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that God knew we could do this.

So, here I sit, taking tons of Ibuprofen and Tylenol looking like I got in a bar fight and wishing I could eat everything in sight but sipping on chicken broth. And I am thankful. Yes, it hurts, but I know that is now temporary and that in about a week I’ll feel mostly normal. There won’t be any more pain and I can move on.

~Leslie

Getting to Start Over

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind. You wake up having an idea of how you plan to use your time and what’s on the “to do” list for the day, but then you hear the record scratch of things taking a completely different direction. The train has basically derailed and you just get to go for the ride.

As I went into the day I had plans to finish taking certain things off my old computer and then cleaning it off so we could use it for other things. One of the things that I really wanted off of it was all my autofill contacts from Outlook. Let me put it this way – five years is a long time to be using autofill and not entering addresses in your contact base. 

Apparently there are ways to transfer the old files to a new Outlook version, but after fighting with it all morning not a single one wanted to work for me. Beyond frustrating. 

After fighting with that for way too long I decided to switch gears. Somewhere in the midst of that stuff the old laptop shut down. I was working unplugged, and it did what it normally does when the battery dies, so I didn’t think anything of it and just plugged it in to charge. A few hours later I went to start it up again and couldn’t get past the Lenovo screen. It just sat there. Chris mucked around with it for a bit then took the hard drive out to put into an external drive and the drive worked fine. I can plug it in to my new computer and see and access everything on it. We decided that it was best to just put the old one a way for a bit. We may try to see if we can get it to boot sometime down the road, but not now. It’s not a priority. It was frustrating because we were excited about having a spare computer that we could use for non-essential things like watching movies.

So, it was one of those days where I felt like I was getting nowhere. Nothing was working. In fact, things were doing quite the opposite. 

It was one of those days where I just had to let go of some stuff because I couldn’t do anything about it.

I wasn’t making headway with importing addresses, so I had to walk away. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, and maybe I won’t. If we’ve emailed in the last 5 years and you want to hear from me it might be a good idea to send me an email… ;)

Maybe one day we’ll be able to boot the old computer and use it again, but not this week. There are other things to do. 

When Peggy arrived and we were talking about what a typical day looks like here I said, “You know how it is, you can go into a day with a list of things you want to do, but then 5 other things pop up that take priority, because this is Haiti.” 

You don’t get to pick and choose. Just just have to go with it. 

And then you remember that tomorrow is another day.

As I was venting and saying choice words yesterday afternoon just out of sheer frustration Peggy gently reminded me that everything happens when it’s supposed to, if it’s supposed to. Yes, so true. 

Tomorrow is another day, and each day has enough trouble of its own. But, even with trouble, we get to wake up each day and start over. 

Whatever bogged me down yesterday, doesn’t have to bog me down today. I’m not saying that there won’t be stuff that I have to continue to deal with, but rather that sometimes having a night of rest and fresh perspective helps me to see things through different eyes.

Is it annoying that I now have to rebuild my contacts one by one. Yep. But, not the end of the world. 

Is it annoying that the old laptop doesn’t want to work right now. Yep. But, we can’t and don’t want to do anything about it right now. 

When I woke up this morning I tried to come into the day with a fresh start in mind. I have a list, I’m crossing things off. Something that I was thinking was going to take a few more days is now done. Other things, I’m doing what I can but I can only do so much when I’m waiting on others to do their part. And the rest? It’ll happen when it happens. 

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned since moving to Haiti is what flexibility really looks like. 

Flexibility isn’t adjusting your calendar when you have all the options to do so. Flexibility is rolling with things when you have zero choice in the matter, and trying to do what you can, then leave the rest. It’s seeing the advantages in the situation when it seems like none are there. It means learning what you can and being grateful. 

What am I grateful for?

I’m grateful that we took the steps to get me a new computer when we did. Like I said a couple posts ago, there was no crisis this time, so it felt weird. And, here we are two weeks later with the crisis completely avoided. I feel really grateful for that! Aside from a few bumps, it’s no big deal. I had already done all the work for the most part, it was just a couple little things that we can do without. 

I’m grateful for my husband and the fact that we balance each other out and carry the load when the other is having a hard time. When I was having a minor meltdown yesterday he just went to work on what he could do, and let me feel frustrated. No telling me to suck it up, and lots of sharing in the frustration where he could. 

I’m thankful for Peggy, who gently spoke words of wisdom, encouraged, and then helped Olivia with her homework when I was trying to get dinner ready so I didn’t feel burned out. Such a sweet blessing. 

I’m thankful for a comfy bed and good rest. For many years I’ve struggled with back and joint pain that would leave me feeling exhausted in the morning and it’s dissipated a lot in the last year. I sleep more soundly now than I have since we started our family, which I think is mostly because there are a lot of nights where neither kid is waking up anymore. Being able to sleep through the night…priceless!

I’m grateful for coffee. Not in the “I need it to give me a jolt” kind of way, but in the way where I fully appreciate the work that goes into it. Yonese buys our coffee green in the market, then hand sorts it and roasts it. The smell of freshly roasted coffee is amazing. Getting to drink her coffee every morning is such a gift. We. Are. Spoiled. I also have a fun wood plate on my counter that holds shakers or cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice mix, yummy Coffee mate from Chris’ Mum, and a couple bottles of homemade flavor syrup. With my microwave and a cheap $10 battery operated milk frother I get to have lattes every morning. It’s my special little thing. My morning treat. And after almost 9 years of being here I savor it not only for the deliciousness, but also for the little bit of normality it brings.

I hope that if this finds you struggling today that it might be a reminder that tomorrow is a new day. You can wake up and start all over tomorrow. And, you might be able to see things more clearly or differently. And, maybe things will still be just as hard, or harder tomorrow. But, at some point they will get better. Keep moving forward. Tomorrow is coming.

~Leslie

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