Friday, July 31, 2009

Breaking News!

Breaking news from the home front…okay, so it has been 1 ½ weeks already. We have a new baby! She’s very healthy and strong, and we’ve affectionately named her Rhino. The only problem is that we will never be able to keep her clean, inside or out! Let me explain. Last Saturday we got the much anticipated phone call we’ve been waiting for.

Our friends, Jean Jean and Kristie Mompremier, have been helping us since April to complete the purchase of a truck. As it is in Haiti, nothing is ever simple. We had hoped to make arrangements to have it here in Pignon when we arrived. It ended up being a month to the day of our arrival that the truck came. Jean Jean called us Saturday afternoon asking if we were still planning to go to Cap Haitien for Will’s birthday. He told Jared we might have to delay because the truck wouldn’t be ready yet. We were dejected. We have found out that Jean Jean is quite the jokester! He finally told us that his brother was on his way from the Mompremier home and would be here with the truck in 20 minutes.

Natalie and Will were screaming so loudly I am sure someone thought they were being abused. All I can say is it was a real blessing that we hadn’t known he was on his way before that. It truly was the longest 20 minutes we’ve spent here! We walked out to the gate and listened for the sound of a diesel truck. Several times we heard what had to be the truck only to have a beat up “tap-tap” cruise by. Jared and I gave up waiting and started collecting tools to put back in the garage. Then we heard the sweetest “beep-beep” we’ve heard yet. The gateman pulled back the steel gate and our little black Rhino pulled in!

I am pretty sure Natalie was crying at this point, tears of joy she said. Will just wanted to climb all over it, and thought he should be the first to drive it. He just doesn’t get it yet that even though there really isn’t a law stating a legal driving age, he can’t reach the peddles and see over the steering wheel at the same time. Not to mention he has never driven a stick-shift. We had to take some pictures, and Will found “ the best angles.” It was a good day for us.

You may be wondering about the name “Rhino.” We had a small DVD case full of the kids’ favorite movies for travelling. Somewhere between moving and having our yard sale we misplaced the case. Fortunately Grandma Shirley had gotten the movie “Bolt” for the kids to open on the way to Florida. (It is one of the few movies we ended up with here in Pignon.) In it is a hamster named “Rhino” and he is “fully awesome!” as is our new truck, thus the name Rhino.

Believe it or not, I just took the truck out for the first time yesterday! To tell you the truth, I was a little apprehensive about navigating tight spaces, driving in low gears, and had a real fear of running over a person, dog or goat. There are also bicycles, motorcycles, oxen, donkeys, mules and horses to dodge. All in all it was uneventful and I didn’t kill the engine or anyone!

As I said before, Saturday (the 18th) was a good day. The sun rises here around 4:30 and the city comes to life. About 25 workers and 3 cooks showed up shortly after to get going on the roof project. By 5:30 they were in full swing. They mixed concrete, gravel and sand by shovel then lifted it bucket by bucket up to the roof. It was then poured and the bucket was passed back down via rope. I am not sure how many buckets were involved, but it was a steady stream all morning long.

I woke up to the sound of men singing and thought it sounded so sweet. I was sure it was praise music, and I tried to pick out the words. Later I found the guys working on our house were singing about the spaghetti they were going to eat for breakfast. Shows how good my Kreyol is coming along! They worked so hard all morning long and finished up around 12:30. Then they ate rice and beans with fish sauce. I am so glad I didn’t take part in that and that our cook hasn’t even attempted fish sauce yet.

Over this past weekend the forms were removed and the crepe (plaster) process began on Monday. It will take some time, but we are told when all is finished the house will be ready to paint! We discussed what color to paint and even picked up a couple of paint samples in Cap Haitien. Just kidding--there are no paint samples! We can get white, off-white, and cream pretty easily. Once in a while you can find a few cans of blue, red or orange. It really just depends on the day! We’re a ways from painting so we’ll wait to make that big decision until later.

Will’s birthday was also on Saturday. He got to open a package Grandpa and Grandma Phillips sent with us when we left. Of course it was all things Jimmy Johnson! He was thrilled to get another JJ t-shirt (Grandma Nikkel brought one for him earlier this month) so he could wear one or the other every day. I don’t think they will last long, laundry by hand is very tough on things. He also got a multi-purpose tool that goes everywhere with him. You never know when you’ll need a little saw, knife or screwdriver here.

Monday morning we left for Cap around 7:30 to spend the night at the Mont Joli Hotel for Will’s birthday. Jared has been to Cap a few times, but it was a first for me and the kids. I know we’ve said it before, but the roads are really bad here. We are so grateful to our supporters for the truck! Jared told the kids it was like riding a rollercoaster all the way to Cap. He isn’t kidding. The kids thought it was great and it was fun, but I just prayed I wouldn’t need a chiropractor before it was over.

Apart from the road, the beauty of this part of the country is at times breathtaking. We have to go over a mountain and it is covered by rainforest. From what I’ve heard, the northern plateau area is one of a few places remaining that hasn’t succumbed to deforestation. I know there are several re-forestation projects under way around the country, and we hope the people here will see the value in it.

We had a great time at the Mont Joli swimming and playing in the pool. We also got to work on our tans. Our room was nice with two double beds and a TV. There were a few American channels: CNN, USA, HBO and a sci-fi channel. Unfortunately the screen was so bad and fuzzy you couldn’t really see anything. Not to mention the problem with the sound. So we didn’t watch it much, but that isn’t really any different than our everyday life. It’s funny what you don’t miss.

Thanks for your continued prayer and support. Until next time...


Friday, July 17, 2009

Celebrating a Concrete Roof!

I know it may be shocking to some to see another entry so soon! I think this will be the first time we have posted twice in one week. I guess you can call it making up for the weeks when we didn’t have any entry.

Things are moving quickly here these days. Tomorrow is Saturday and the workers are ready to pour the concrete roof on the house. It is amazing to me that only two weeks ago the foundation was being poured. Now we have new walls with window and door openings, and we’re about to have a roof! From what we understand it will be an impressive display. There will be 17 workers according to the “Boss,” but we hear there will likely be more like 30. Apparently when something like this is going on men will just walk in off the street to help, hoping to get a meal or a little pay.

We found out yesterday we are to provide two meals for the workers as it will be an intense, all-day project. So Jared, Will, Gevy (our tutor and friend) and two boys we hire frequently are going to the market as I write to pick up supplies for rice and beans (diri ak pwa) and spaghetti (spagette). The boss will hire three ladies to cook the food under a tree in kettles using charcoal fires. It’s pretty close to how the school lunch program is run.

So far today six loads of sand and three loads of gravel have come in by truck. I think there is more gravel on the way. I have to take a moment to explain how the gravel is made here. Ladies from town walk up the mountain to retrieve chunks of rock (weighing maybe 25-30 pounds, I am totally guessing) which they carry on their heads back down. They then take a hammer, or another rock if no hammer is available, and start breaking the big rock apart. Thus gravel is made for concrete. Down the road from us there is a portion of the street where you can find gravel of all sizes in piles outside the ladies’ homes. I cannot imagine having to support my family this way. Fortunately for them construction projects seem to be moving along and for now they have a way of making some money.

The workers coming in tomorrow will blend the sand, gravel and concrete mix with shovels in piles on the ground. Then they will be hoisted, one bucket at a time, onto the “roof,” now only sheets of plywood supported by a mixture of timbers cobbled together with nails, and a few steel supports. I keep saying OSHA would love to see this! Jared tried to get me on the soon-to-be roof, but I am afraid of heights, especially ones that look so precarious! I was nervous just standing on the “ladder,” which was nothing more than timbers with a few strips of an old board nailed on.

The roof thus far is a layer of block with rebar interwoven on top of plywood. The concrete will be poured into the cracks and over the top of the block. It will take 15 days to cure with water being sprayed or poured on three times a day to prevent it from drying too fast. Once that process is over, the supports and plywood will be removed and returned to the place we rented them from. I find it hilarious that here plywood is rented for each project--that is until it rots. We can’t just run to Menard’s or Lowe’s to buy the things we need. It is humbling to realize how easy we had it in the States.

When this part is over, it will be time to hire more workers (maybe the same crew) to pour the concrete floor and crepe (similar to plastering) the walls and ceiling. This also includes the entire outside of the house. Then we will be ready to paint, tile and install doors and windows. We have already been discussing getting a carpenter started on the furniture we will need. It might be possible to get some beds, frames, and other furniture (if we can find it) in Cap Haitien. The road has gotten better as of late and instead of taking 4-5 hours to travel the 36 miles to Cap, it only takes 2 1/2! This is progress!

I would love to report that our truck has arrived, but alas, it has not. (I’ve been reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, can you tell?) We were told over a week ago “maybe four or five more days.” We are getting used to this; it has been a month since we got here, still no truck. Apparently there is a paper that needs a signature to release license plates for the truck, which is waiting and ready and paid for. As Jared has pointed out many times, the bright side is that he’s losing weight from all the walking! It’s good to be able to find a bright side to things here.

Will has been occupied for the last two days making trucks with friends Francely and Woodson. Both boys are quite a bit older and often work for us doing odd jobs to make a little money for their families. They use any scraps they can find, including the empty cans of wasp spray I previously threw into the trash pit. At first they were trying to cut the cans with an old pair of scissors until Jared let them use some tin snips. All three of the boys at one point had cuts that needed attention. I have decided I cannot possibly protect Will from everything and that I will have to trust God to keep him safe. He is really enjoying this project!

Natalie spends her days playing with Barbies, Littlest Pet Shop toys, play-doh and coloring. She also likes to play with Alina and Chrissy, friends from the Haiti Home of Hope orphanage run by our friends Bill and Jennifer Campbell. The Campbell’s have become a tremendous help and valuable resource to us. We are so grateful the Lord brought them here first.

I have been going to the orphanage on Wednesday mornings since our arrival here for feeding clinic and milk clinic which alternate weekly. My class in North Carolina has proven to be useful already as I have seen so many of the things we talked about there. Unfortunately I am also already seeing the sometimes devastating reality of poverty. It is so hard to believe in the time we live in that people, mostly children, are starving!

It seems overwhelming at times, what can we possibly do to make a difference? Then I remember a great story I read (I think it was in The Hole in our Gospel by Rich Stearns) about starfish being washed upon shore. There were so many it seemed overwhelming and useless to do anything about it because it wasn’t possible to save them all. As one man stands despairing, another is seen casting starfish out to sea. The one man points out the hopelessness of the situation and asks, “How can you possibly make a difference?” The other man throws another starfish into the ocean and says, “It made a difference for that one.”

Matthew 25:40
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hot in Haiti

Last Thursday we said good-bye to our first team to visit since we arrived. The team was from our home church, Third Reformed, in Pella. It was so good to see old friends and to meet new ones. There was a good mix of men and women, young and young at heart. There were four teenagers, a couple of twenty-somethings, one of which became a thirty something while here, and the over thirty crowd, including us. Of course the real treat was having Grandma and Grandpa Nikkel come with them. They arrived on July 2nd and if I remember right it was very hot that day! (On a side note, my Tupperware also arrived that day! Woo Hoo!)

Two weeks ago we hired a few guys to clear all the debris from the house we’re working on and the area surrounding it. The contractor we hired started work on digging the footing for the foundation and making blocks for the walls. It is amazing to see how quickly things can happen here! The group was very impressive. They cleared rocks, concrete and garbage from around our house without complaint. The sun was brutal at times and sweating is a given.

The work was dirty and tedious, but spirits were high. Some sang, some joked around and others came up with quirky names for biting ants. One of the highlights was the tarantula we unearthed. It was pretty big, but nothing compared to the one found later crawling up the compound wall. I have been told if you put a tarantula and a centipede together they will fight to the death and the centipede will always win. I don’t think Will has caught on to this yet as I am sure he would try it.

We were also able to do some painting at Three Bears School in nearby Fontaine. The ride out was thrilling the first day. We left the compound knowing rain was imminent. The road was quite bumpy, nothing unusual there. Our truck was a big Mitsubishi, fondly named “Mama Mitsi” by a previous trip member. It is the same truck that rescued us from mud hole two years ago. Will and Natalie rode in back with myself and the group. Natalie laughed and screamed continuously saying “this is way better than Adventureland!” And then it rained on us. It felt like being shot with a pellet gun, but was cool and we welcomed it.

There were several kids at the school and Will entertained them with his soccer ball and newly acquired skills. He was a total mudball before it was over! Some of the girls painted kids fingernails and we were able to get the first coat of paint done in all five classrooms. We returned the next day to finish up. On the way out to the school, which is about 7 km from Pignon, a little girl was waving her craft from that morning’s Bible School. You could tell she was proud to have her foam heart that said “Jezi” (Jesus). We were all touched.

Several of the team were involved in a Bible School at the hospital. It ran Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning from 9:00 to 11:00. Kids came early for a snack and stayed afterward for a meal of rice and beans. Some walked a great distance to attend. They had a great time singing songs, hearing stories and making a craft each day. I know the team was blessed by seeing such joy in these kids. Bible School will definitely be something we will continue to encourage groups to do.

With the various talents of the group we were able to get the plumbing for our house stubbed in. All I can say is indoor plumbing is a must for me. I am so grateful to know that I will have a shower, toilet and running water in our house! It’s the little things that excite us. (Did I mention Tupperware!) We have also decided we definitely will have an inverter to provide power through the night. We currently have power during the day but not at night. It can get very uncomfortable without any air moving not to mention the cacophony of animal noises and the ever popular disco.

We also celebrated the 4th of July while the group was here. Grandma and Grandpa brought in some sparklers, which we were surprised to see airport security let through. The kids thought it was great, a couple of the cooks even got involved! Next year we’ll probably be in the states and will have to find a really good display to see.

It was such a blessing and encouragement to us to have a group around. They were always upbeat and fun to be around. We will enjoy being with various teams from around the country. Will and Natalie will have friends from all over! Having to say good-bye was very hard for all of us. There were many tears but we know we are where God wants us to be and we look forward to meeting new friends next month!

Please continue to keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. There is much hope and excitement for the future of this country.

You can also pray our truck arrives soon. It has been almost a month since arriving and we are anxious to have some wheels!

God Bless~The Nikkels