Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blancs in Citae

Yesterday we went to a small village called Citae outside of Jacmel.

The journey there was an adventure in and of itself there really aren’t any roads by American standards, more like paths wide enough for a car to get through. We drove through 3 rivers to get there, passing huts filled with women washing clothes, livestock, donkeys trudging through the rubble dumped along the way from Jacmel buildings.

We arrived mid morning and uploaded the truck. Barton Brooks of Guerilla Aid is building a school in the town, and we set about building water filtration systems. It sits up on a mountain, right by the water, and the view is absolutely breathtaking.

We rolled up into the village in the truck a bunch of white people sticking out like a sore thumb in the tiny village. Citae is a village of about 200, and is a pretty isolated place. Barton decided to build a school there because it was one place that hadn’t been touched by any of the major relief efforts. The damage sustained from the earthquake was significant, but you could tell that they didn’t have much to begin with.

Little girl holding onto her cardboard frisbee for dear life.

The Haitian women had set up a small table near where we were working and cooked most of the afternoon, in hopes that we would buy something. The kids ran around and played, making kites out of plastic bags and frisbees out of cardboard.

Boys playing with their kite.

The teenagers and adults were incredibly helpful. They watched us carefully and the ones that weren’t busy working on the school carried things for us and were incredibly friendly and grateful. They were chatty, and many seemed to speak at least a few words of English. We managed to complete the water filtration units for every family in the village, which was a cool feeling. Clean water is obviously an issue, so giving them the power to make their drinking water safe is very much a life saving thing.

There was an old man with a sewing machine that worked diligently the whole time we were there. Clothes were strewn in the trees behind him to dry. He told one of our team members that his father had carried the sewing machine on his head from Santiago 34 years ago, and he’d held on to it ever since. The machine was on an old table that sat outside in front of his shack, and you could see the pride in his face when he talked about the machine. The rubble on the left side of the photo is what used to be his house.

We walked through the village before we left, just to take in some of the beauty of the place. We were greeted with smiles and waves and a lot of bonjous mostly thanks to Barton’s team who had broken the ice with the people who lived there. I heard the kids giggling and saying “blanc! blanc!” (“White! White!”) and it made me laugh.

It was incredible to get away from the city and see how beautiful the people and the country really are, and to be able to hopefully have some impact on the lives of people we will probably never see again is something that we can’t take lightly.

More on Sisters of Charity

Yesterday morning was spent at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti. I was told going in that they follow the “Mother Teresa” model – in other words, they only take the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. We were going specifically to hold babies.

The babies we were visiting were supposed to be between up to two years old, but it’s really impossible to tell how old they are. They’re so malnourished that the two year olds look as if they could be 9 months. We had to judge based on their teeth and their eyes – really, we guessed.

One little girl laying on her back in the crib looked older to me – she had a full set of teeth and her feet were much larger. We guessed her around two and a half. I started wondering if she could walk so I picked her up and put her on the ground. She toddled around hesitantly – clearly not used to the freedom.

I took her hand and walked her to the door, ready to take her into the courtyard. She stopped at the door and just stared out. The contrast to the children I’m familiar with was amazing – the reckless abandon of a toddler learning to walk was nowhere to be found in this little girl.

I brought her outside into the sunlight and let go of her hand. She just stood. She didn’t cry or laugh or smile or anything at all. She just stood in the sun. I wanted her to run toward me or try to escape or get me to chase her.


The Sisters that run the orphanage are clearly good women. They did their job well – they kept the place pretty clean, and I think the kids were fed enough. They clearly made most of the clothes – most of the babies wore matching checked shirts, all sewn from the same fabric.

I tried for a minute to put myself in their position. They clearly didn’t have the resources or the knowledge to give extensive medical treatment. They treated for Scabies and did what they could. Babies still die all the time. There aren’t enough of them to give the babies the attention they need. The babies are mostly two to a crib, and like the little girl, there is little attention paid to anything but keeping them alive. After all, what else can you do? When you’re charged with keeping that many children alive, how can you really do anything else?

The answer is that you really can’t. Especially after a disaster like this, you just have to go on autopilot and do what you can. My heart goes out to the Sisters who live with this day in and out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday morning in Jacmel.

As I said a couple hours ago, we headed to Sisters of Charity – a Catholic orphanage in Jacmel. The babies there, predictably, broke my heart. There were children that had to be at least 2 and a half years old… who don’t really walk. Babies that are two, that look like 9 months old. They’re malnourished. They have scabies. The skin hangs off their legs. We weren’t allowed to take pictures – on some levels, I’m grateful.

We fed them oatmeal. I was feeding one little boy, and got sidetracked for just a second and stepped away. When I came back, he was crying – but not making a sound. I had heard about the silent tears that orphans learn to cry – they just understand that it isn’t going to do any good because no one will hear them. So when they cry, they don’t make any noise at all. It was heartbreaking.

I had a little girl strapped to my chest, one little boy on my hip, and another little boy holding my hand. The two little boys couldn’t make eye contact. They had amazing eyes, framed in dark lashes and they were just stunning. Some were more detached than others. Most of them have no chance, and that’s impossible to comprehend for me. Gwenn goes to visit at least once a week, so for at least that time, those kids can connect. She explained that she’s grateful that they cry when we leave, because it means that they are learning to form attachments to people.

A girl peeking out from between the gates at the hospital.

When we left, we walked outside and saw the hospital directly across the street. There were lines of people under stretched out tarps, children peeking out between the railings. Crumbling concrete everywhere.

The line at the hospital this morning.

I’m off to Citae now to hand out water filtration systems. I’ll post more photos as I can.

The first night in Jacmel

It was not quiet.

We went to bed early. I feel asleep quickly – it was a long day and we started at 4:30am, it was like 10pm when I crashed. After a cold shower that smelled like Haiti, I went to sleep under my mosquito net on the bottom bunk. Just after midnight or so I woke up, and one of my team mates said “Are you awake? I think the power is off.” And it was. The city power is running about 12 hours a day here, and the house is on generator the rest of the time. We went and woke up the director and sent him downstairs to talk to the guard about getting the generator turned on… being without power makes you a little more vulnerable to intruders. Plus, it’s hot under those mosquito nets without the fans.

The generator turned back on, but it was so loud. You can hear everything in the street, and let me tell you, their streets are not like American cities. There were dogs howling, roosters crowing, people yelling. The Mangine’s refer to Haitians at the “Italians of the Caribbean”, just because they are INCREDIBLY animated and loud. And beautiful.

It took me forever to fall asleep, but I eventually did. Then sometime around 4am I think, there was a woman with a megaphone, chanting and yelling something in Creole. I have NO idea what she was saying, but we just laid there and prayed. Voodoo curse? Just crazy? Who knows.

We woke up at 6am. We’re headed out to Sisters of Charity today to hold the babies at the orphanage. Gwenn explained it to us as the Mother Teresa model, where they only take the poorest of the poor. A lot of them are sick, severely malnourished, handicapped. And their situation isn’t likely to change. A lot of them are kept 2 or 3 in a crib, in nothing but a cloth “diaper” the thickness of a bandana. Basically, a poop catcher.

Anyway, I’m trying to prep myself. Praying.

After that, we’re headed over Citae. Barton Brooks of Guerilla Aid has been there building a new school – aside from that, they’ve received very little aid. We’re headed to hand out water filtration systems and teach them how to use them.

Should be quite a day. Will update later.

Monday, March 1, 2010

First impressions. And the boy in the blue shirt.

I got to Jacmel today. We left Miami early this morning and flew in to Port au Prince. I'm not sure what I expected - but the scene at the airport was crazy. I was told that it wasn't all that different from normal. The gates were completely swamped with people - all of them wanted to help us, so we would tip them.

The red gates of the Port au Prince airport. We pushed our way through the crowd to meet the van that transported us to the small plane we took from Port au Prince to Jacmel.

I'm going to leave out most of the travel logistics because they're boring and blessedly uneventful. We got to Jacmel around lunch time and ate, then left on a walking tour through the city.

I have followed blogs, and seen hundreds of photos. I have watched videos. I've spoken to people on the ground. I knew coming that I couldn't truly be prepared. And I can honestly say that it was what I expected. But it's nothing like seeing it in person. I've been mulling for hours, going back through the 300 or so photos I took, trying to articulate it. I'll do the best I can.

This used to be a 3 story house. That rubble in front is what used to be the bottom floor.

We walked through the "tourist section" - the place where cruise ships would drop people off to shop, eat, etc. The people expected us to be taking pictures. A lot of clean up has been done, but it's still just incredible. At times it was hard for me to tell which things were dilapidated prior to the quake and which things crumbled on January 12th. We moved out of the "tourist" district into the "poor" district, as Nick Mangine described it to me. People were sitting in tents, just trying to figure out how to go on with their lives. They were shoveling debris out of the street. They were sitting there on porches, walking in and out of crumbling buildings. This is becoming their new normal.

Haitian girls pose as we walk through Jacmel.

We eventually made it to what used to be the soccer field - and what is now a tent city. I stepped in and was greeted by kids - some of them half naked, all of them just begging to be noticed. We took some photos with them, and the joy they got from seeing themselves on our camera screen made it worth it. We made our way around the muddy path between the tents, kids clinging to us on all sides. All they wanted way to be noticed. To be touched. One little boy in particular clung to my waist, muttering "bella... bella...".

Me with a bunch of the kids at the refugee camp.

A little boy in a blue sweatshirt completely stole my heart. He held onto my two fingers the entire walk, holding on for dear life. At one point, he lost his grip amidst the swarm of kids and just started crying. It occurred to me that I had no idea where his parents were, or if they were even there. I may very well have been the first kind touch he'd gotten in who knows how long. I grabbed his hand, and he calmed down quickly.

Me with the boy in the blue sweatshirt. He stole my heart.

The brutal part was leaving. By the time I reached the walkway back to the street, I have who knows how many children clinging to my arms and hands and waist and clothes, playing peak-a-boo with the other team members behind my skirt. It was clear that they just wanted to come with us. I couldn't do anything but push them off me and run. A piece of my heart stayed there.

I cried most of the way back to the house after that. I don't know that anything can match what I saw today - but I also know I just touched the tip of the ice berg. Tomorrow I head over to the orphanage to spend time with babies, and then over to Citae - a small town which has received basically no aid. I'll be sure to update as possible.

Beautiful little girls peaking out from their tent in the street.

I'm still not certain what to do with everything I'm seeing. This is the most difficult thing I've ever witnessed.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


So I'm in Miami.

It was a fun flight. I'm traveling with close friends. We encountered Apnea Man:

Seriously, I had to double check and see if the sound coming from this guy's nose was actual snoring or a plane malfunction.

And Intimate Couple also joined us. That couple who made out the entire trip. You know those people, and you dislike them as much as I do. Don't lie.

Mr. Bill has come along for the trip as well. And no, I had no idea who he was until I was subjected to a reenactment of the old SNL sketch during the flight. He flew across the plane a few times at inappropriate times, before I kidnapped him and buried him in my carry on.

Our flight for Port au Prince, Haiti leaves in about 8 hours, and I'm in a hotel room waiting. And waiting. I feel like I've been waiting for days to get to Jacmel. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I understand what I'm getting into as well as I possibly can. I have a rough idea of what I'll be doing - tomorrow is the walk through of the city. Tuesday we'll be handing out water filtration devices and going to the refugee camp. At some point we'll be effectively babysitting for a day and taking the kids to the beach so the house parents, Gwenn and Nick Mangine, can have a day off. We'll be going to the orphanage to hold babies, change diapers, and love on kids.

This trip is as much to test the waters for teams in coming months as it is anything else, so we're feeling our way through it. The Port au Prince airport has just reopened. We won't be driving the three hours through the mountains to get to Jacmel like they did prior to the quake - we'll be catching a 15 minute MAF flight and heading in that way.

I've heard that there are tents all around the street. There are people right outside the fence that surrounds the house all the time. My nervousness comes not from getting hurt or getting sick. I know what the risks are. My family has been panicky... I know I'll be okay. I'm concerned about handling the women that want to hand me their children so I can take them back. About having answers for the people who beg me to help them become refugees in the US.

I pray for the right words. I am as ready as I can be, knowing that I can never really be ready. We're not exactly sure what we're going in to - none of us here have been there since January 12th.

I'm off to get some sleep before waking up at 4:30am to catch the plane. I'll update as possible, depending on the internet situation.

Meanwhile, read this.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In spite of myself.

This Haiti trip came up pretty quickly. And by that I mean I had about two weeks to raise money, get a passport, get my shots, and other little things... and the first week I was involved in an all consuming conference for work. Stress levels were high.

By this week, everything had come together but my passport. I called last week and the first available appointment was Thursday at 9am. The plan was for me to head south on Friday - so... that left a day.

On Thursday morning, I got up early and went to the office to finish up the paperwork before my appointment. After triple checking everything, I get over to Walgreens to get the passport photo, thinking I'd get the picture taken and then head over to the passport office right afterward. So at 8:30am, I go to pay and realize that my wallet - which naturally has my driver's license in it - is back at my office. Because... this is me. I lose stuff. After a small panic, I bribed a cabby to rush me back to the office, wait for me while I get my wallet, and rush me back to the passport office. Just to clarify - this is DC. Getting ANYWHERE in 30 minutes is a feat at that time of morning.

Amazingly enough, I managed to be back in time for my appointment. And was astounded to find that the passport would be ready the SAME DAY. Pretty incredible.

Tomorrow, we will spend the night in Miami before flying in to Port au Prince on Monday morning. From there, we'll hop on a little 18 seat plane and wind up in Jacmel.

As I write this, I am sitting in North Carolina. The money has come in. I've been vaccinated. I've got my paperwork. The bags are packed. I have time to get nervous, but I'm not. I know that this is bigger than me - I'm just along for the ride. And an incredible ride it will be.

I will be updating (hopefully) daily while on the trip. Feel free to follow along or pass the links around. Thanks so much to those of you that helped make this happen. God is good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Peace amidst the chaos...

The life I have is not one that I ever expected or anticipated or necessarily wanted. This was not what I ever imagined myself doing. I am young, but I already look back at places I have been, things I have done, and people I have met and know that I couldn't have traded it for anything. I am ridiculously blessed.

I am currently 26 years old. I thought that by now I would be married with babies, living somewhere in North Carolina and playing guitar at church on weekends. Instead, I am mostly alone in Washington, DC, working at a job that I love in a city that I usually hate, in some sort of weird bliss/misery cycle that I have yet to figure out. Probably because I really don't want to figure it out.

I love what I do. I don't understand it. Most days I feel like my job should not exist, but I know without a doubt that this is where I am supposed to be right now. Nothing has ever been this clear to me. For whatever reason, God wants me in Washington, in this job, at this time, which is both thrilling and terrifying. Being where God wants me brings a kind of peace amidst the chaos that is only possible through Him.

DC is an incredibly lonely place. Even though I am around so many people - more than I have ever been around before - I am aware that I am alone. I am also painfully aware that I am growing in ways that I could not have if I had the security of home and the safety net that is my friends.

The opportunity to be by myself is one of those blessings that I don't want. I have been loved. I have been secure. Whenever I needed an escape, prayer, a place to sleep, or a kick in the butt, there have been people ready to pick up the pieces. I am eternally grateful, and amazed at how much they love me, even when I suck. I am even more humbled that it is still only a fraction of how much He loves me.

While I know that nothing has changed regarding the people I count on, and I still frequently hide out on respective couches and cry over kitchen tables, this is the first chance I have had to truly fall on my face. I have been forced to rely on God for things I sometimes don't even know I need. Truthfully, it's that scariest thing I have ever done, and I did it so fast I didn't even process everything. Maybe that was God's way of making sure I didn't run away screaming. It didn't take me too long to figure out what I had gotten myself into. It's odd that at a time when I have more public support, more work-related respect, and more affirmation than I have ever had I would feel the most vulnerable. The truth is that I have never felt more under attack spiritually than I have for the past few months, and it's scary to be away. When it started to hurt, I immediately found myself back where I was 7 years ago, and handling things my way... Which is rarely the best way.

It is hard not to resent my past. I look back at who I was ten years ago and instead of appreciating how far I have come, I loathe the part of me that is still her. It's hard to keep that in perspective.

So my prayer is for peace. For perspective. For strength. That I can appreciate what He has made me to be. That I am able to look at myself and see how far I have come and not how far I have to go.

I know this is a time for growth, and rarely does comfort beget spiritual maturity. So here goes nothing.

Thanks for putting up with me when I'm messy. I love you all.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Never Write On Here Anymore...

I write constantly. I really do. However, it seems like I've gotten to a point where I write for everyone else. I've stopped writing for myself. Which, really, is what this is. Sorry, but I just don't care that much who reads it.

My other writing is starting to take off. I'm doing radio shows. I'm working. I'm churching. I'm moving. I'm in weddings. In short, my new Blackberry has been put to very good use the past couple months. I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm happy.

Amazing, right? It's funny how I was so busy I couldn't see straight for 5 years while I was getting myself through college, and all I could think about was not being so busy when I got out. I guess the difference is what I'm actually busy with. I'm busy with the RIGHT things this time. I'm spending time with my favorite people. I'm playing my guitar for the first time since I moved to Tennessee. It's good.

I don't miss Nashville - I DO, however, miss my friends. It's weird leaving a period of your life behind so completely. Everything changed at once - my roommates, my house, my job, my location, everything was different. Between August 8th and August 10th every physical part of my life changed. Now that I've adjusted, I'm moving on to yet another chapter - I move again in a couple weeks.

God is good, and my relationship with Him has been solid and constant. It's easy to lose him in the everyday when life swallows you whole. I'm so grateful that my distractions are limited here, that even in the business I somehow manage to regain focus when I need it. I'm grateful for the people I spend my time with, that they're here to keep me on track. That they ask me how I'm doing. That they know what the answer is even when I don't give them the full story.

On that note, I'm off for a much needed night out with friends. It's amazing what can happen over a pizza. :-)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Emotional Barf

The past couple days have been spent almost entirely in isolation. I have been reading, writing, catching up on rest, praying, and generally contemplating things I don't normally spent a lot of time on. Still is one thing I am not. I am working on that.

I finished The Shack this morning. So much has been written about it - I don't want to review it. The discussion about forgiveness and suffering hit me like a ton of bricks in the midst of a painful week in my life. I forget sometimes that forgiveness is a process. It's not something I can do once. It's something I have to remind myself to do over and over again. Eventually, I won't have to remind myself anymore.

Relationship is not necessary a part of forgiveness. I can let go of the bitterness that accompanies past hurts and not be obligated to allow the offender into my life on a regular basis. Right now, I am not equipped to handle it. Proverbs talks about guarding your heart above all else. Right now, that means keeping a distance from certain people in my life.

Some scars I will have forever - visual, blatant reminders of things I'd rather forget most of the time. I am reminded of them every time I look in a mirror. Some have faded, and will continue to do so. Some I will never see, but always feel. Some are still open wounds that need time to heal. Until I allow them to do so, I'm just pouring salt in them and robbing myself of the fulfillment that comes with forgiving those who've hurt me, with giving them grace. I have not healed. I'm not sure I know how, but I'm confident that it's going to require some changes in my daily relationships. Changes I have no idea how to make.

How do you explain to those who have known you since birth that you need them out of your life - even if it's just for a while? It has nothing to do with love. I have never not loved them. If I'm still responding violently to current circumstances because of past hurts, does it make sense to stay in that place? Until I can show them the love and forgiveness I am trying so hard to find, I'm just reopening these wounds and letting them bleed me dry.

I am trying to keep it in perspective and remind myself that forgiveness is a process. It is not something that will always be received. It is first for me, to remove one more barrier between me and God. If that bitterness is in my heart, it's impossible to give and receive love. It spills over into other areas of my life, poisoning other relationships. It will continue to eat away at me until there is nothing left.

That's where I am. I don't know what else to do right now but pray for the sound mind and strength to get through these conversations and the gentility to do it without destroying people I love and damaging relationships irreparably. The latter has not been my strong suit as of late.