Monday, November 15, 2010

An Update from Pignon

Several people have asked for an update and that we keep up with the blog more, so I will summarize recent events and then try to update more frequently with less information.

Just when things seemed to be heading toward “normal,” the first signs of a Cholera outbreak appeared. Of course there is a lot of speculation as to where it came from, but the Nepalese UN seems to be under fire the most being that the strain is similar to that found in Nepal. There have also been comments in various news articles condemning the government saying they should have expected this. Quite frankly that seems a little harsh considering there hasn’t been Cholera here for decades.

With that being said, we honestly didn’t worry too much about it because it appeared to be contained to the southern part of the country. Then tropical storm Tomas came along and with it came lots of rain. Since then the Cholera epidemic has reached 6 of the 10 provinces, including here in Pignon. It is a really helpless feeling knowing you can do nothing to prevent its spread amongst the general population. There have been several announcements on the radio educating people on the importance of boiling water and frequently washing hands, but there is little that can be done regarding proper sanitation. Most people, with the exception of spoiled people like us, do not have indoor plumbing or a clean water supply. To be blunt they have outdoor latrines and often bathe in the river. People here are very nervous as the numbers admitted to the hospital continue to rise.

As for us personally, we are doing just fine and are taking precautions, most of which were in place before this scare. We have well water that is filtered for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth. We also have always washed our produce in bleach water, and we don’t eat or drink anything from street vendors. Our concern is for the community and this country that just doesn’t seem to be able to catch a break.

Ok, enough with the bad news…on to the good. The kids are really enjoying having Jordyn here as their teacher/big sister/babysitter/entertainer. I am sure they are learning so much more this year. They also have classmates, so that helps. She also gets lots of great care packages from her family and she shares!! It would be pretty hard to hide all the goodies, but I don’t think she would do that anyway.

Jackindy is keeping us on our toes, me especially since we’re together most of the day. His new favorite thing to do is throw toilet paper rolls into the toilet, yesterday it was three! He is also becoming quite a climber and can frequently be found standing on the table, on top of the back of the couch looking out the window, climbing the ladder on the bunk bed or--my favorite-- inside the washing machine after falling in from the couch. And yes, our washing machine is in the living room. My dad doesn’t know it yet, but building a little house on the patio for it is going to be one of his projects in January.

Speaking of projects, the few groups we’ve had in the past month have done great work. Because of their effort and willingness to do what needs to be done, we now have wiring in the outpatient clinic, have made progress on the hospital staff quarters and now have the library landscaping done. There is never a lack of things to do, and we are grateful to have their help!

We thank you all for continued prayers and support.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Adventure to Jacmel

A little over two weeks ago we got a phone call from the director of CCH, our partner organization, asking us to help with a project they have going in Jacmel. Now for those of you who don’t know, which is probably most of you reading this, Jacmel is on the southern coast of Haiti out on the peninsula. CCH offered to pay for flights, but being that there were seven of us, Jared, myself, Jordyn, Ezequias (our right hand man), Will, Natalie and Jackindy we thought that would be too expensive. Besides, we also thought it would be a good opportunity to do some shopping in Port on our way back through. J

The day we left we were of course late getting started--surprise. I imagine we are like a lot of other families that just can’t get it all together when we think we should. So we left about an hour after we wanted to with two adults and two kids in the back seat, a toddler on my lap and Jared driving. Conservatively we estimated a six to seven hour trip, but that wasn’t to be. When all was said and done, it was more like nine. As we’ve said before, the worst part of the trip is the first 20 miles. We made good time getting through Hinche in one hour twenty minutes, and I was so thrilled to see a “road work ahead” (written in French) I almost cried.

There is so much going on here with repairing and building roads and bridges, and you can really feel change is in the air. People are excited to see so much heavy equipment rolling through and there are many jobs being created for the communities as they go along. Although the main part of the road is being built by machine, there is still a great need for manual labor to construct drainage ditches to funnel water coming off the mountains and walls to prevent mudslides from blocking the road. The best thing is that it is being done well and, by Haiti standards, fast!

Our plan was to stop in a town called Mirabalais around lunch time for sandwiches and also to check out a hotel and make a reservation for on the way home. Before we left, Jared had noticed the right front tire was low and we filled it before heading out of Pignon. We prayed it would stay up and at least for the worst part of the trip, the first 20 miles, it did. Going over the first set of mountains, however, it went flat. Now changing a tire alongside the road isn’t that big a deal unless it’s on the side of a mountain, and the other drivers are totally insane. Jordyn, the kids and I got out and stood with our backs to the mountainside to get in as much shade as possible. Jared and Ezequias got the hot and sweaty job of changing the tire.

I think God has a great sense of humor because we got the flat right next to a huge pile of rocks, just what Jared needed to put in front of all the tires to prevent it from getting away! Jordyn and I were amazed at the speed at which they changed the tire, and suggested if the mission business doesn’t work out, Jared could get a job changing tires for a NASCAR team. Preferably Hendrick's Motorsports, preferably for Jimmie Johnson. (Listening to the Sprint Cup races on the weekends is something we look forward to all week.)

Once the tire was fixed, it was on to Mirabalais and the Wozo Plaza Hotel. We visited the hotel on our way into town and made reservations. The restaurant was decent, the pool looked inviting and as a bonus we heard they have air conditioning and satellite TV with AMERICAN channels!

After we picked up sandwiches at the local grocery store, we headed on to Port-au-Prince. I think I have mentioned before that I can at times get car sick. Well that day was no exception, and while heading up and down the last mountain, I started feeling queasy. We had to stop at the airport to pick up some supplies for our friends at CCH so I got out of the truck with Jackindy to get some “fresh” air. DUH. I have yet to be in a big city in Haiti and feel like I am getting fresh air. It didn’t take long for the smell to overtake me, and because there wasn’t a bathroom anywhere close, I picked a small path with a lot of vegetation to get rid of lunch. There you have it.

We made our way through Port, and it was sad to see all the damage from the earthquake, but sadder still to see all the tents. Natalie must have been reading my mind because she said, “Mom, I thought it would be bad to see the damage, but it is worse to see all the tents.” I asked why and she replied, “Because I know there are a lot of families living there. A building is just a building.” For a six year old I think she gets it. Aside from the tents things looked fairly normal to me. The streets were packed with trucks and motorcycles, and there were people everywhere buying and selling all kinds of things.

It took a good hour or more to get through the city, and on the road to Jacmel we went through Carrefour near the epicenter of the quake. There again were a lot of damaged buildings but the road was most surprising. In several places the road (which was paved with asphalt) was buckled, but not like we see in the summer in Iowa. There weren’t blown up chunks; it looked more like it had melted. Several times we were speeding along only to have a “DANGER” sign pop up, but at least we had a warning!

We crossed over our last set of mountains and got into Jacmel around six o’clock that night. We were all exhausted, but I have to say the kids were very good and hadn’t complained much at all. If anything, Jared and I were the crabbiest of the bunch. The guesthouse we stayed at couldn’t have looked better. CCH had acquired the building, an old hotel, post-earthquake with the goal of operating a guesthouse for mission teams coming to Jacmel. We were there to help the family running the house, which had just arrived in Haiti in July.

The word was that Jacmel was this wonderful beautiful place, and it had a beach. We found that yes, Jacmel was nice and it certainly was cleaner than a lot of other places we had been, but it really isn’t all that different with the exception of some paved streets and more trees and plants. The beach….well first of all it was the public beach and second it was like all the other public beaches around Haiti. There was trash everywhere, even in the water too along with some things that are unmentionable. The kids didn’t seem to care and had fun anyway. I was relieved when the rain rolled in.

For the days that followed we helped with handyman (and handywoman, I can wield power tools when necessary) jobs around the guesthouse and tried to help with the chaos that sometimes comes with groups. The kids were great considering they were stuck basically in a hotel without a pool, a/c or TV. They did have their teacher with them and had school to keep them busy. It is amazing to see them grow up in this environment and know they are normal (as can be with us as parents.)

We finally left our new friends in Jacmel and headed back to Port to do some much needed “American” grocery shopping as well as buy a new DVD player (ours was getting pretty bad), and to buy a washing machine! Our plan was to do the shopping for groceries then stop at a place called Muncheez for pizza, hit the home improvement store for the washing machine, then head to Mirabalais for a little r & r. The pizza was what we were looking forward to most.

As we got into Port-au-Prince we started to notice some signs and other things that looked like they had been knocked over. I thought it was odd that these would be the result of the earthquake still and soon figured out it was because of a tropical storm of some sort. As if an earthquake isn’t enough in a year. There were trees and power lines down and the occasional billboard. It looked like the wind had been pretty intense. After getting some groceries that cost a small fortune, we made our way through town trying to find Muncheez.

We were so impressed that we found it as fast as we did. While Jared parked the truck, the rest of us went to order, only to find out they didn’t have power and weren’t fixing food. I think we were all dejected at that point. We had really gotten ourselves psyched up for good pizza. So we dug up some chips and cookies we had bought and snacked on them since there aren’t really any fast food joints in the city. Needless to say we were all a little crabby while we shopped for a washing machine and headed to our hotel. Our plan was to eat as soon as we got there and do some swimming.

After a short drive to Mirabalais, we arrived at the Wozo, checked in and headed straight for the restaurant. Now in Haiti we have found restaurants in hotels can be slow, but this was extremely slow. We ordered spaghetti for Jared, sandwiches for me, Jordyn and the kids, and goat for Ezequias. An hour and forty-five minutes later we got our food only to find there was hot sauce on all the sandwiches. Shame on us for not telling them to omit the hot sauce. The kids ended up sharing Jared’s spaghetti and he ate their sandwiches. And it was raining.

Fortunately we had satellite TV, hot showers (well at least the girls’ room) and air conditioning (at least the girls room, again!) We were all tired, worn out and did I mention crabby? For the most part it was a good night’s sleep for all and the next day was much better. We were able to go swimming, had a good lunch from the grocery store in town, listened to Jimmie Johnson win at Dover (woo hoo!), and watched Sunday Night Football. All in all, a great day.

That night Jordyn and I awoke to the sound of machine gun fire! Ok, so it wasn’t really gun fire, but it sounded like that to us. Our air conditioner had frozen up and there was a chunk of ice in the fan so we had to shut it off….bummer. I couldn’t believe it didn’t wake Natalie or Jackindy.

The next morning after a breakfast of spaghetti with ham and scrambled eggs we left for home. The trip didn’t take long, and we were so happy to be out of the truck and back in our house I almost cried. We had accomplished what we set out to…helping out some new friends, seeing parts of the country we hadn’t seen, staying in a new (to us) hotel, doing some grocery shopping, buying a washing machine, and did I mention a new DVD player? About that…I hooked it up, plugged it in, turned on the power…..and….POP, then a small stream of smoke rose from the machine along with the smell of burning plastic. Wow what a surprise. We bought something here that broke as soon as we got it home. Good news though…our DVD player that was on the fritz still works, sometimes.

Blessings to all, hope you got a chuckle out of our adventure.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A New Year Begins

Here it is September already and for most of you school is fully underway and routines are being established. There is something good to be said for routine. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of girl, but recognize the value of a rhythm too. We too are settling into life here in Haiti, albeit rather slowly. I didn’t get all of the curriculum issues figured out until last minute so some of our school materials should be arriving via cargo plane Thursday. The plan is to start next week.

So many things are different this year from last. We came back to a home instead of a tool shed, and it really felt like home. It was good to sleep in our own beds again, even if they weren’t quite as heavenly as the one we had in Sully. And no, that isn’t a typographical error. We each have a twin bed here; in Sully we had a king that was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in! Our inverter wasn’t working properly when we arrived, but Jared was able to fix it right away and we have had power ever since! It is so good to be married to such a handy man.

Of course the best thing about returning to Haiti was being reunited with Jackindy. I was afraid he wouldn’t recognize us or would run away terrified to have to live with us again, but he was great. He didn’t hesitate to come to me and was ready to go with us when the time came. I think he was really more excited about riding in the truck than going with us, but we’ll take what we get! It is amazing to see how much a little one changes in just two months. He is walking and jabbering, half the time I can’t tell if it’s Creole or English, but he understands both. There is also a mouthful of teeth now as compared to just five when we left.

He is back into the routine of waking me up earlier than I want to be up and has decided to become extremely picky about what he eats. It doesn’t matter if it’s Haitian, American or Japanese, he’s just picky! I didn’t have that with Will and Natalie so it is requiring patience on my part that I still don’t have enough of. He will eat the strangest things like Tortilla soup and fried catfish and hush puppies as long as it’s freshly prepared. Leftovers are off limits. Really if it wasn’t for baby cereal he would waste away.

Will and Natalie are doing well and have adjusted to life without TV, bathtubs, swimming pools and mini-vans. They seem to appreciate a fuller understanding of life now, and their prayers are proof. I just love hearing them pray for things like guidance for our future and blessing for our Haitian friends. Maybe that’s just because those are things they hear us pray for. All the sam, they have a better understanding of spiritual things than I did at that age!

Speaking of Will and Natalie, one of the great things for them this year is that mom will not be teaching. We are blessed to have Jordyn Vande Lune living with us, at least for the next few months, primarily to teach school. For those of you who don’t know her, Jordyn is a recent graduate of Pella High and believes the Lord called her to minister to us as a family and to Will and Natalie in particular in lieu of her first year of college. The kids think she is great (remember, school hasn’t officially started yet!), and they are happy to have someone other than mom around. I can see already they are more willing to listen to what she has to say….everyone is always smarter and more interesting than mom!

The plan for now is that Jordyn will be teaching Will, Natalie and two daughters of friends of ours, Alina and Chrissy. Will is in third this year and the girls are all in first, so it will be interesting to see how juggling all of them will go. They have a “classroom” in the Iowa House downstairs from where we used to live. I think this will be a great setup for all of us and will give Jordyn the authority she needs to be a good teacher. She has committed to being with us until December and will re-evaluate during the holiday break whether she wants to come back in January or not. I am guessing after living with us for three months, she will seriously reconsider! No, really I think it’s going to be just fine. I am already grateful just for the help with Jackindy and dishes.

We have a really light schedule until January so Jared and I are trying to focus on taking our ministry in a new direction. He mentioned that he wants to blog about it, so I will let him. It seems his entries are quite a hit and provide entertainment for those who follow us. In all honesty it’s one of the reasons I love him. Even in the midst of chaos and the monotony of everyday life, he makes me laugh.

Please continue to pray for guidance and discernment this year as we wrestle with what our purpose is here. Funny isn’t it, you’d think that with a call as obvious as ours is that we would have that all figured out. I guess just because the call to Haiti was clear it doesn’t necessarily mean that the purpose of the call would be.

Thanks for your prayers and support!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heading Back & Looking Forward

As many of you know, we have been back in Iowa on furlough for the past 3 ½ weeks. It has been a wonderful time of rest, refueling, reflection, and, yes, lots of running. We are at the mid-point of our trip here, and many people have been asking what it’s like to be here, how we are adjusting to the re-entry, and are there things we find overwhelming. I will do my best to answer the questions and let you in on some of the things we are thinking about for the future. Because of the amount of information (and my lack of brain power and energy), there will be a few “installments” over the next week…

The Long Road Home…

We had a really fun travelling experience coming home (do you sense my sarcasm?). Because of a mistake I made in booking our flights out of Pignon, we ended up travelling to Santiago, Dominican Republic, to catch a flight to Orlando, Florida. A trip to Santiago involves three hours on terrible roads, a border crossing with a price tag, and another three or so hours to the city from there. Santiago brought us our first “Americanization” in the form of McDonald’s, which the kids were ready for.

We stayed overnight in a hotel with hot water, air conditioning, and satellite TV. Ah, the good things. Our flight left the next morning for Miami, and that is where things got interesting. As we arrived, it was raining, and shortly after lightning shut down the tarmac and, unfortunately for us, the baggage claim as well. We had a short amount of time to get our bags, get through customs and security, and find our next flight to Orlando. An hour and a half later, we had our bags but had missed our flight.

After a short wait in line we got on the next flight to Orlando, rushed through customs and security, and made it to the gate only to be seated on the plane, then grounded due to lightning for another couple of hours. The funniest part of it is that we had a two hour delay for a 40 minute flight! And then, you guessed it, we landed and had to wait another 45 minutes to de-plane because the storm had followed us! But, we made it to Orlando, albeit about five hours later than planned.

In another one of my brilliant moves, I had booked us out of Orlando on a 630 flight the next morning. What can I say, we were anxious to get into Des Moines, scheduled at 1030, and the tickets were much cheaper than a later time. Needless to say, we won’t be using those guidelines for future travel. Getting up with two kids at 400 in the morning after two icky days of travel already was not fun, but the kids were actually quite good-- it was the parents who were losing it.

I was sure that the flight from Orlando to Des Moines would go much more smoothly and was looking forward to being back early enough for a good lunch and a good nap. We got to Memphis with no problems; then I made the mistake of watching the weather long enough to see there was a storm moving in from Nebraska. I wasn’t too concerned; we could surely beat it there. Well, the pilot certainly tried! I kid you not, we were making our descent into the Des Moines airport with landing gear down when we hit some major turbulence and had to abort the landing and re-route to Cedar Rapids.

It was like sitting by the tree on Christmas morning having your mom say, “Not yet!” Will and Natalie both had been having a great time “riding” the turbulence coaster, giggling and shouting, “Woo-hoo!” while others were terrified. Then Will said, “Uh, what are we doing? He just pulled up!” No more woo-hoo. We weren’t going to land in Des Moines...yet. Two hours later, after a brief stop-over in Cedar Rapids, we finally made our destination. And I think I am going to officially be fired as the family travel agent!

When we arrived, it was bittersweet and emotional for grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins and kids. I, on the other hand, was just so stinkin’ happy to be on the ground, knowing I wouldn’t need to hassle with the airport again for another seven weeks, that I nearly cried for joy!

Jared’s mom arranged for us to stay in an apartment in Sully while at home, and it was totally set up when we arrived. I can’t say enough how much we appreciate and love our families! When we got here, the apartment was fully furnished, including a king size bed (made in heaven, I am sure!), a hide-a-bed for the kids, TV with DVD player and cable, cupboards and drawers stocked with everything we would need, and a refrigerator full of food! The best part was the dairy! I think Natalie and I have eaten yogurt just about every day here, and I know we are going through milk and cheese like crazy.

As I took a hot shower that night, I cried. Once again I was humbled.

How Does Home Feel?

I think the question asked most is, “What does it feel like to be back home?” Well, honestly it has been an easier transition than I thought it would be. I remember back to the first trip Jared and I took in June of 2007, and it was very overwhelming to go from a country where we have it all to a country with so little and back again. It took weeks for me to be able to walk into Wal-mart and not want to cry because I felt so guilty having so many choices, not to mention the means to buy things.

This time it has been different in that I have come to realize how wonderful this country is because of those choices. Sometimes it is a little much and, yes, sometimes silly when you have to decide if you want anti-frizz, curl-defining, straightening, moisturizing, clarifying, or color-shielding shampoo, but you aren’t stuck with using a bar of soap either. I guess the challenge, not surprising, is finding the balance.

And with that I’ll leave you for now. Stay tuned for Part 2…

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Addition!

Natalie, Jackindy & Will

We know it has been a long time since we updated our blog, and we apologize. I was gently reminded this past week that a blog update is needed. So this update is specifically for Emily and Susan who lay in bed each night and check our blog, only to be disappointed when there is nothing new, so “Hi, Emily!”

We are happy to report that Will and Natalie successfully completed their first year of home school and have started summer vacation. It was a big adjustment, but it was fun to see them learn so much. I know Stacey would say the same. The school days were not always easy or fun, but they did it despite the many interruptions that Haitian life offers, earthquake included.

We also have a new addition to the family. Our good friends Bill and Jennifer Campbell, who run the Haiti Home of Hope Orphanage, asked us to consider taking a little guy who was being neglected. They currently have no room at all--believe me if they had room they would take him, we know them well, but they simply couldn’t. His name is Jackindy. Jackindy’s mom is mentally ill and has never been able to take care of him so he was in the care of his cousin’s girlfriend. She was doing a pretty good job until she had her own baby. She really didn’t have the means to feed both babies, so she chose her own baby and Jackindy had begun to decline rapidly. Stacey immediately said we would, but I wasn’t quite as quick. I wanted to consider--actually I stalled, looking for a way out of it, to be honest. I prayed and prayed and asked God outright if we should take him. Invariably the answer I got was that “I already told you,” not audible but an answer anyway. He was right. I did know. He has made it pretty clear in His Word. I always like to say we don’t need to pray about the answers we already have in the Bible, and here I was holding out for the answer I wanted. We decided to take him. He was 16 months and 14 ½ pounds when we he came to us. He was lethargic, solemn but sweet and adorable. I could only imagine him sitting in the dirt by his mud and stick house, starving. He has been quite a blessing. It’s amazing how a little food can transform a child. We have had him for a little over a month, and he is now 20 pounds, crawls, yells, laughs, stands and will be walking and talking soon. We don’t know what God has planned for us and Jackindy, but Will says God has answered his prayer for a little brother so I guess we’ll see.

We are getting excited to come back to the States and see all of our friends and family that we have missed so much, to see and talk with our supporters, worship in our church and most importantly eat crazy amounts of our wonderful American cuisine. I’m just kidding, sort of…. well, not really. I really want some meat. We are finishing up the projects that we have going and making preparations so the teams have plenty to do while we’re gone and the feeding program continues. We plan to leave Pignon on June 16, go to Santiago, Dominican Republic, spend the night, then fly to Orlando, spend the night and then to Des Moines on June 18.

Eric and Stacy Krob will be coming on June 3 and will spend a couple of months in Pignon filling in the gap while we’re gone. They have 4 boys and will be using our house and truck for the summer. They will be a real blessing to us, the hospital and the mission teams coming down.

My blog updates are always so long, but I want to relate some real life. God has certainly done some significant things in our lives the past year. I love to talk about the big ways God shows himself, but what about the little stuff? What about the everyday stuff? I can tell you that it has been a stressful year, I’m sure not totally unlike the past year for many of you. Different stressors, I know, but stress none the less. The last month has been difficult, trying to make travel plans and prepare for a two-month absence.

I have to explain two things before I continue the story. First I found a distance growing between me and God; there was a lack of intimacy that I wanted but just hadn’t been seeking. I really longed for it but it doesn’t happen without cooperation from myself. Second I was reading a book called Walking with God by John Eldredge. He basically explains his walk with God over a year through his journal. He talked about asking God about everything. I thought it was a little crazy. Asking God whether you should ride your horse, take a weekend trip, what day of work to take off. I mean, really, certainly I can figure those things out on my own and does God actually care about those things? It’s like asking the CEO to deliver the mail or bring you coffee, but I read it, and tried it seeking to find that intimacy again. Even if God wasn’t all that concerned with the mundane parts of my life, at least I would be talking with Him.

I had a monstrous list of supplies that I needed to get in Cap Haitian, and the rains have started so travel is difficult and sometimes not possible at all. I had a small window when I needed to travel to Cap Haitian. I planned to go on May 18, but I asked God if I should go. I got the answer yes, unequivocal yes, you’ll make it. I went to Cap Haitian with more confidence than I have ever had and made it with no trouble. On top of that I was able to find all the supplies I needed at two stores. It was over $6000 of paint, tile, thin set, grout, lumber, pipe and steel. I have never had so little trouble finding supplies. I did realize however on the way back that I hadn’t asked if I would make it back to Pignon, but I did with no trouble at all.

The second thing was a big worry for me, actually I was beginning to obsess about it. We have to go to Santiago on June 16 so we can make our early flight on June 17 to Orlando. I was worried. We have a team here until June 15, the Krobs will be here, and they will need the truck and of course the difficulties of travel could make it impossible to get there by land or at least delay us enough to miss our flight. I had made three plans, consider though that these were my plans, but I just wasn’t settled with them at all. Number one: we drive to Cap Haitian, spend the night, and take the bus to Santiago. It wasn’t a bad plan but ill timed rains can change everything. Number two: leave at 4:30 am to get to the bus station in Cap Haitian by 8 am and take the bus to Santiago. Same problem as the first, only riskier. The third and most attractive option was a flight from Pignon to Santiago, but it was $500 plus airport fees. It was very attractive to avoid the road, but it just felt too expensive. Anyway, I asked God. Actually I asked for several days, took a break and asked some more. The only thing I seemed to be getting was to “ask.” I thought maybe I should ask our board to pay for the flight. That’s what I really wanted to do anyway, but for some reason that didn’t seem right either. I asked some more, and all I could get for my asking was “ask.” I never thought to pose the next question to God, “Ask who?” After a week or so of asking and trying to figure the travel arrangements out, I called a friend of ours who goes to Santiago quite a bit and asked if he was going any time in mid June. He said he didn’t know but asked why. I explained and his words were, “Don’t worry about it; we can get you over there.” He also said that a pilot would be coming to Pignon around that time, and he can probably fly us over, for about $125. What relief, I mean awesome relief, to know. Turns out God cares. He cared that I made it to Cap, cares how we will get to Santiago; good grief if He cares about that stuff, there can be no limit to His caring, His love. I guess I knew that, at least I’d read that, but what a God we serve, who, when we ask, will remind us in the small things how much He cares. A CEO that brings us coffee. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Early Outs & Pity Parties

It is Tuesday morning, and I had thought we were finally getting back into the swing of school. Ha ha, not to be.

Will doesn’t really enjoy school, not that he doesn’t get it, but he just doesn’t want to do it. This morning he kept saying he didn’t feel good, which is usually code for “I don’t want to have school and am going to make it really hard to get it done.” He said his stomach hurt and that he felt like he was running a fever. I took his temperature and it was fine, so I determined he was just trying to get out of doing his work. He said he needed to rest, so I let him lay in my bed (big mistake) because it’s much easier than lying on the bunk.

Jared came home from running morning errands and was with Will, consoling him and trying to cheer him up when I heard it. Splat! Then, wretching. Here we go, I thought. Will had just thrown up on my bed and the tile floor--fortunately tile makes for easy clean-up! And do I ever appreciate our laundress/vomit cleaner upper. As Jared and I cleaned up Will, she cleaned up the mess. So he is getting out of school early today. And since half the population of my class is gone, we let out early. The beauty of homeschool! At this rate we’ll be done right before next year starts.

We have been here almost 10 months now and still don’t have a clue as to what is really going on. If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s that we know far less now than we did to start! There are so many cultural things that we do not understand. Of course, we never really will understand it all because we can’t even imagine what it is like to grow up here.

I was having myself a pity party the other day thinking about how hard it is to live here: That we can’t get the things we want when we want them, we can’t order a pizza when I don’t feel like cooking, we can’t buy a gallon of 2% milk when we crave “real” milk, and I have to order from Walmart online, usually waiting for several weeks for things to arrive. I know what you’re thinking, boo hoo, me too. Then I talked to Fransely.

Fransely is a 14-year-old boy who has been with us basically since we got here. He used to wait outside the gate during the hot days of summer hoping Jared would come out to run an errand. For the first month we didn’t have a truck here so everything we did was on foot. That included buying supplies for projects and our house, which then had to be carried back. With a huge grin Fransely was always ready to help. Now, we had come knowing when you needed help it was likely that the one helping you expected to be paid. It was not so with him.

So with a smile to melt your heart and a real desire to help us and get to know us, he widdled his way into our lives. And by doing so, he has made an impression on several visitors as well. Over time we were able to breach the language barrier and began learning about his family and life here in Pignon.

Both his parents are still alive, which might seem like an obvious statement, except that this is Haiti and often children only have one parent living, or worse, neither. His dad has some major pain issues with his back and legs which prevents him from working most days. His mom sells vegetables in the market when their garden provides, and she also breaks rocks into gravel to sell. They obviously have very little yet they manage to put their four boys through school.

Anyway, he said he was hungry. Now usually he and another boy, Roodson, show up right around lunch time each day and we feed them. But for some reason they hadn’t been around that day. Then I asked if he had any food at home, and he said no. I asked when the last time they had food at home was, and he said, “Lendi.” Or Monday. This was Friday afternoon. I suddenly found myself feeling very convicted for my selfishness and self-pity. Here was a family that hadn’t eaten for four days, and I was annoyed because I couldn’t get a pair of capris fast enough. There was a quick fix for that day’s problem, rice and beans and some oil to cook it with. But, how long can that possibly last?

Since we visited his family’s home last fall, we have been praying for a way to get a new house built for them. Right now it is a 16’ X 15’ stick and mud house with three small rooms, one bed and a table, if I remember right. Fransely told us several months ago that a small mudslide had damaged the wall of the room he and his brothers sleep in. And as you may have guessed, they sleep on the floor. This week our prayers were answered and a generous donor has provided the funds for the project. PTL! I didn’t think Fransely’s smile could get any bigger, but it did.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Haitian Adventure

**Note: Since this post was written, the Nikkels have regained their electricity and running water. You will enjoy this post from Jared...especially if you know him at all and can imagine him in these interactions! It's a great snapshot of part of life in Haiti. It is quite long but worth the read. Enjoy!

Our family has been here for about 9 ½ months now, man the time flies, but there are still things I see on a daily basis that I just can’t get used to. I still see things that make me chuckle or shake my head, like six people on a motorcycle, a telephone pole strapped to the roof of a little Toyota pickup and little, brown people running around buck naked. I still see some things that continue to make me sad. I can’t explain daily life here, but it’s hard for the average person. We experience just a small portion of that difficulty. For instance today is the second day we have gone without electricity. We ran out of water this evening so I just spent the last while filling buckets from a nearby house so that we can flush toilets and get cleaned up. I kept thinking, “What if I had to do this every day, what if I didn’t have a toilet to fill and what if I didn’t know that tomorrow we would get our electricity fixed? What if this was life every day?” I don’t think I could do it, I certainly don’t want to. And then there is the harder question, how do we make it better? I don’t know, and I live here. I know the Haitian people are as capable and resourceful as any people in the world. I am also starting to believe that some of the giving that feels so good is a major handicap to the Haitian culture. I can see a need and meet the need, but in a short time whatever it was that I gave is used up or broken, and we are right back where we started. What’s the balance between relief and development? That’s a hard question and even more so after our recent tragedy. How do we hold them up so they can succeed instead of creating a dependency on our well intended charity? Notice the questions but no answers. I do know one answer, maybe one of many and it’s crappy. The answer is having to say no. It doesn’t feel good and people don’t like it. They’ll call you names and call you cheap and selfish, they’ll talk so fast you can’t understand what they are saying, which is probably a blessing. Many won’t understand that I just want them to succeed with my help, but not with me or any missionary as a necessity. You see at some point I want to go home to my good old USA and eat meat and drive 80 mph and look back and see that something was accomplished.

Now, here again is a hard part. I can’t do it. Oh I’ll try, but I can’t, I know this. I’ve flopped around trying to do my own thing too many times before to think that I can accomplish anything on my own. God knows, he knows me oh so well and what a comfort that is. I also know that it is not by chance, and certainly not my will that we are here. I know that His plan is better than mine so I’ll try to stay in tune with what He wants, but it doesn’t keep me from asking questions, even if I don’t have answers.

I marvel at how he has used us, our church, our community and our family and friends to accomplish His goals. It’s truly the body of Christ, however cliché that sounds, at work. It’s a joy to have such great support and to know that we are working together as one body.
Speaking of support and daily life, I have to tell the story of the supplies that we have just received. This is so typically Haitian. So many of you in our church and community and family, even some crusty old cops from Jasper County, organized a supply drive shortly after the earthquake. Almost 4000 pounds of supplies were collected. Soap, towels, sheets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, food, medical supplies, tents, cots and clothing, lots of all these things. They were shipped from Pella to Missionary Flights International (MFI) in Ft. Pierce, Florida. This is our family’s home address for mail and cargo and a great bunch of people. It turns out that the week before the supplies were shipped that the friendly folks in the customs office (they might be reading this) decided that we were too much hassle in Pignon and they weren’t going to allow cargo to fly to Pignon anymore. That means a minimum 2 ½ hour drive (40 miles) to Cap Haitian for cargo, more when it’s muddy. We got word from MFI on Wednesday that our cargo was in the hangar and it weighed 3983 pounds. They emailed again on Thursday and said they could and wanted to bring the cargo to Cap Haitian on Saturday. I did some quick checking to make sure I could find a truck to haul it and gave them the go ahead for Saturday. Stacey wanted some groceries and she really wanted to try and find some meat so she and Will and Nat planned to go along to do some shopping and see what we could find. I know of one grocery store that has ham on a regular basis and even had real Johnsonville brats once, so I was hopeful. Our good friend and indispensible helper Gevy would go and Gyrlene, the hospital administrator wanted a ride too. The truck would be full with the six of us but not Haiti full. The first truck that we lined up was not able to go, so we got another driver that we know. He said that he just got his truck serviced in Port au Prince and it was on the way back to Pignon and Saturday would be no problem. He wouldn’t make a price prior to the trip but he said he wouldn’t charge us too much. Scary. He called Friday afternoon and said that his truck broke down on the way back from Port au Prince and he couldn’t do it. We called our friend Pastor Jean Jean and he said no problem he knew of several drivers who could do it. The first from Saint Raphael, a town on the way to Cap Haitian couldn’t do it because the motor on his truck was out, but he called a friend, Pastor Wille who lived in Cap Haitian who lined a truck up for us. We were all set. I should relate how hiring a truck usually goes. We have a driver named Odell that we use regularly, he’s reliable and reasonable and he doesn’t cheat me. Drivers only drive, they don’t load or unload but they hire guys that do the heavy lifting and ride with the truck. I know his guys and they are friendly and work like crazy. I usually help unload but I can always count on having help with loading and unloading. This was my expectation for any truck that we might hire as it is kind of the norm.

I got up at 6 am on Saturday ready to go, Stacey got up shortly after and wasn’t feeling well and decided that she and the kids would stay home. I knew the kids would be happy but Stacey likes to get out. So Gevy, Gyrlene and I took off at around 6:45 am. It had been raining a little around Cap Haitian but the river crossing at San Raphael was low so we drove through with no problem. It got muddier closer to Cap Haitian and driving over Mount Granjil was fairly muddy. I used the low side of 4 wheel drive to avoid slip sliding off the mountain and we made Cap Haitian in about 2 ½ hours, a good time. We hit the grocery stores. First Super Mart, which is rarely super. They didn’t have much but I did find a can opener for the cooks at the hospital and got some cereal and dish soap. It was at this time that I realized I hadn’t put any deodorant on before leaving home. In the US I would have been very concerned but I didn’t think my little body odor could compete with the smells of Cap Haitian so I wasn’t too worried. I decided to buy some deodorant anyway, but they didn’t have any at Super Mart. We hit the hardware store next. Stacey had a toaster and a bread knife on the list and I was able to find both. The $10 toaster was only $35. We went to the Kokiyaj Super Market next, which is my favorite. I hit the jackpot there. I was a little discouraged at first as the meat cooler just had some frozen Haitian chickens and a couple of Jennie-O turkeys. I grabbed a chicken and then found 3 bags of Tostitos chips. I took all three and went and found salsa and cheese dip too. It was then that I saw the Mt. Dew and I grabbed 13 of those. I went to the meat and cheese counter and found they had no cheese but had the ham. I bought 4 pounds of ham for $7.50 a pound. While I was waiting for the slicing I looked around and found a small freezer next to the meat counter was loaded with meat. They had Johnsonville brats again and I grabbed 5 packages. The freezer was also full of bags of chicken breasts, real regular chicken breasts. I dug down and found two bags that were still fairly frozen and grabbed them. I think I got about 13 or 14 pounds of chicken breast for a little over $5 a pound. Not a good deal but exciting for us.

I was feeling pretty good now, having found nearly everything on the list and loaded down with meat we headed to the bakery. I picked up two chicken sandwiches, two loaves of sliced bread and some hot dog buns. I knew the kids would be thrilled with the sliced bread, especially in the brand new toaster.

We headed to the airport to meet the plane at 11:45 am. The plane was there when we arrived and the pilot, Brent, was walking in as we were. He said it would be a while before it was unloaded and handed me the 10 page manifest listing all 3983 pounds by box and contents. I had the only cargo on the plane. They soon had the plane unloaded and pulled the carts up to the building. In Cap Haitian we are not allowed to leave the building on the runway side unless escorted or with a badge. We rely on workers to unload the plane and get the cargo into the building so we can move it to the customs area for inspection and a good mugging. On this day since I was the only one the workers said that they don’t unload the carts into the building and that MFI should do that. They asked how much I was going to pay them to do it. I said I would pay them nothing, that they already had a job that was paying them and that on any other day I didn’t have to pay someone to move my cargo inside. They said it was different today and that I should pay them $50 Haitian dollars each to do it. I laughed and said that’s more than workers get paid for a whole day in Pignon, and I still refused to pay. It was $12 American, but it was the principle of it, not so much the money. I said I would just do it myself. They replied that I couldn’t because I didn’t have a badge. I said no problem I’ll just stand here. My dander was up already, not a good sign. We asked the customs people and the airport people if they could just inspect it outside and allow our truck in to load the stuff up. They were insistent that all the boxes needed to be handed in, brought to customs and then carried out of the building to the street to our truck. One man, a taxi driver ,with helpers offered to put the boxes inside, and then out to the truck for $700 Haitian dollars, or about $87 US. I laughed again and said no. Eventually they allowed me to go out to the carts and unload the boxes and put them inside. I didn’t like the prospect of handling all 194 boxes by myself, but I had made my stand already. Gevy ran out to get our truck driver and his helpers. It turned out the driver didn’t have helpers so it was me and Gevy and 4000 pounds. I started handing boxes inside like a psycho and unloaded one of the carts and started on the second. A couple of the airport guys had mercy on me and started to help. The driver and his helpers that I had previously rejected started grabbing the boxes inside and carrying them to the customs area. I guess they decided to gamble on the fact that I would pay them. I was a little afraid of what I would find when I entered the airport again, but I had a pretty good idea. I walked in to see a massive pile, not a stack of boxes. It was a mound of boxes just thrown into the area. I was annoyed once again. The driver found me and said in broken English “Good job, yeah”. I couldn’t help it and I said “no, not a good job, look at the boxes you didn’t stack them at all, it’s just a big pile.” He left me alone for the moment but I knew he’d be back. We found the customs agent and said we were ready. They came and started cutting open boxes to inspect them. One of them opened a box of hand sanitizer, he asked me to give them one for their customs office. It felt like a bribe so I said no, the stuff wasn’t for me and it’s for earthquake victims. He said no problem, but his body language said different. I was right. It was supposed to be a bribe. He started tearing through boxes. I asked if they would go through all the boxes. He replied “Tout net!” I said OK, no problem, and he continued to tear through boxes. One of the security guards came over and asked for small gift; again I said no. He was followed by one of the Haitian National Police Officers that said to give her a sleeping bag; again I said no, nervously. She was followed by one of the best dressed Haitians I’ve ever seen who asked for a cot. He wore a nice button down shirt, dress pants, new shoes, two gold rings, a gold necklace and some nice designer glasses. He said he needed the cot for a boy from Port au Prince that he had taken in. I responded nicely that the stuff wasn’t for me and that I would give it to people I know in Pignon and Port au Prince. He left, but I knew he would be back too. The driver reappeared and again said, “Good job?” and I again said “no.” He asked how much I would give him. My stress level is hitting the upper levels at this point and my nicey nice is wearing thin. I said to him in Creole, “You said you would help for $700. I said no. Since you helped anyway, I say, 'Thank you.'” Well, he wasn’t happy, and the list of not happy people was getting longer.

I continued to stand and wait, very nervous about the customs bill. We had just read an article that the government was going to start charging more customs even on relief supplies to try and deter businessmen from taking advantage of the system. The last customs bill I had paid was about $1 per pound, I only had $3000 US so I was worried they would take all the money I had. The customs agent that had asked for the hand sanitizer was still acting mad so I asked him if he was mad at me. It took him a little by surprise and he said no. He said that he understood why I didn’t give it to him and it was no problem. He even slowed down a bit. It was about that time that the head lady, Gladys came out and grabbed the manifest. She told the hand sanitizer customs agent to leave the boxes and they would work off the manifest. I went into the office to start the haggling, prepared again for another battle. I stood in front of the customs agent’s desk and unknown to him I prayed. I prayed for mercy, to be honest, mostly mercy for me, but also for him and for the Holy Spirit to come and to bless us all. The customs agent wrote down his number, 50,000 gourdes. I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I had a goal of 40,000 gourdes, or about $1000 US. I knew at that point that at least they wouldn’t get all the money and that I would probably get my goal or lower. Gladys, the boss, struck up a conversation that was surprising too. She pointed out that next time, if I have a letter from the organization that donated the supplies and have it stamped and with the cargo that I wouldn’t have to pay for relief supplies. I said that would be great and proposed that she give me a receipt and that I take the stuff home with me and come back with the letter next week. She laughed, I knew she would, and said the letter needed to be with the airplane and the cargo when it arrived. Of course it did. This was the first time I had heard of this option. She explained that I would have to pay today. I smiled my best smile and said, so I can just pay a little bit today? She laughed again and said I could discuss with the customs agent handling my stuff. I went to him and without even asking he crossed off the first number of 50,000 and wrote 40,000. I smiled my best again and said, “What do you think, 25,000? He agreed to my surprise and I dug the cash out, got my receipt and headed out. I spoke with Gevy and he said the driver and his helpers would load the truck but we don’t trust any of them and we need to watch closely. I went outside to watch over the truck and was surprised to find that our truck was not large. It was a small dump truck with about 12 inch sides on it. I said to the driver that it wasn’t big enough and he said “I know”. They place old, battered sheets of plywood along the sides and stacked boxes against them and started to load. I kept watch outside while they loaded. The well dressed man came back and started in again. He continued to ask and not very nicely at that. He said he knew I wasn’t a bad man I was just trying to be bad and that I should try and be good and give him a cot. Finally I just said, “Why don’t you go sell your necklace and buy a cot?” This was me being smart, right or wrong, but I knew his story was bunk. He continued to try and talk and I just told him I was finished and I wasn’t giving him anything. He left and went inside, but I knew also that he would be back. A few minutes later my well-dressed harasser was back. He asked if I knew God. I said of course, God and I were very close. He said God had talked to him while he was inside. I said “Wow, what did He say?” He said “God told me that you weren’t a bad man, but that you were trying to be bad and that you should change your heart and give me a cot!” I chuckled a little but was not amused. I told him I wasn’t giving him a cot and that God knows who I am. He said “Why don’t you tell that to God” At that moment, I raised my arms, looked to the sky and said with all sincerity, “Lord, I’m not giving this guy a cot!” I looked at him and said “God knows.” He left me alone after that. People were starting to see that the truck wasn’t big enough and began to make offers to take the stuff to Pignon for me. One guy said that he would do it for $500 US. I laughed. Another guy offered his truck and the two of them began arguing over who would take my stuff. It was a moot argument since I knew neither would, but they weren’t bothering me so I let them argue.

I pulled my truck up and loaded it with cargo as full as I could, stuffed the back seat with boxes and threw the remaining boxes on the larger truck. I covered it and strapped it all down. I had two helpers that did a good job with the rope so I paid them. I gave rope to our driver who had started tying the load down with 1/8 inch nylon string. He didn’t have rope or a tarp, but they did the best they could. It did not look promising. I had planned to load the truck and head back before them and then we could just wait for them to arrive in Pignon, but we had to follow to watch for falling boxes. We stopped so Pastor Wille could grab a bag of clothes and an old tractor light, and we headed out of Cap Haitian with a swollen Daihatsu truck and loaded Toyota in tow at around 3 pm. I watched as the load swayed with each bump and pothole. Bumps and potholes here are like Abrahams children, we can’t count them. I predicted that boxes would start falling soon. As is often the case, I was wrong and it held all the way back over Mt. Granjil. The mountain had dried some during the day so it wasn’t too bad, and we made it over the top. We putted along, often not registering any speed on the speedometer. It began to rain a little after the mountain and I watched the bald tires on the truck slip as it drove in and out of large holes. We stopped twice in the first two hours to check the load and use bathroom. We stopped a third time when the trucks right front wheel started smoking. The brake was stuck and they said we would need to drive slowly. I wasn’t sure how we would drive slower, but they succeeded. We crossed the river and lost our first and only box. We quickly tied it back down and were on the way again. The load was shifting to the right and putting a lot of strain on the sheet of plywood on that side. I knew the plywood wouldn’t break--it was Haitian, but I thought the whole truck might tip that way at times. We drove slowly, I mean slowly, accent on -ly. That really didn’t keep the brake from smoking and it trailed a considerable plume of white smoke. It got dark and shockingly (insert sarcasm) the trucks headlights didn’t work. He drove in the dark for awhile, but when it got too dark, we stopped and they pulled out the old tractor light they had stopped to get. The driver stripped the wires with his teeth and hooked the wire to the battery and ran the wire along the side of the truck. He put the wire in the door and shut it in the door to keep it up and then attached the light to the front by wiring it to the push bar. He asked to borrow my knife, I thought to strip wire, but instead he scraped the push bumper vigorously with the blade cleaning the rust off so he could ground the other wire. I just chuckled a bit. The light worked and we were off like a shot...a shot put.

We made it to Savanette, a small town about a 15-20 minute normal drive from Pignon. The headlight on the big truck went out. I gathered there was no hope to fix it so instead I drove beside them the rest of the way so my headlight illuminated their way. It continued to rain lightly and the 20 minute drive took about 40 minutes. We arrived in Pignon, safely although tired, wet, and hungry after a 40 mile trip that took 4 ½ hours. We unloaded the trucks, found the guys some food and gave them a place to sleep. They were happy to find a meal, a shower and a bed, and I was too.

We have begun to work on distributing the supplies already. The items are safely stored and sorted again. We have contacted all the local missions we work with to share the supplies with people who need it most. We anticipate that some will go to Port au Prince and the rest will be used in Pignon and surrounding area to serve families that have been affected by the earthquake.

Even after that long trip and the hassles that went with it, we can’t say thank you enough for all of the generous giving that has taken place. The supplies are much needed and will be used well, and the financial gifts are out of this world. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts, and God bless you all as he has blessed us.