A few of my favorite things

Isn’t it funny how you can have a dozen things to discourage you, but one tiny thing can turn it all around? This is what my days are full of, God giving me the gifts that I need right when I need them. There are the everyday parts of living in Haiti & there are the glimpses that I see in people that mark real change, real differences. These are a few of my favorite things…

Stefan, posing with my bag. A surprise picture waiting for me after Christian, Stefan's older brother, had a photo shoot with him.

Estefan, posing with my bag. A surprise picture waiting for me after Christian, Stefan’s older brother, had a photo shoot with him. So many things about this picture make me smile.

Walking to Mission

Walking back from picking up the girls from kindergarten in Labourderie. I arrived to visit with the women my age in one of my favorite families and it was time to trek past the pigs and cows towards where we would find Fritzlande, Jessica, and Beyonce all running at us and talking our ear off about their day.

While we’re on Labourderie, my visits have recently included Christian & Estefan making their own music videos on their phone. Eighteen-year-old big sister Ermilie gets to make guest appearances sometimes. Once my phone stops them because it’s out of space, we sit in a crowded huddle as at least fifteen people fight for front row seats over my shoulder to watch and enjoy the videos together.

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Maxon – this almost-two year old has my heart since I took him to the hospital in July. He seems to have some sickness in his body more often than not. He had a skin infection on his little bottom (always pantsless) that also spread to the ear that can be seen here covered with some tobacco to help the oozing, painful bumps. He has this way of making me sad one day and then making it so I can’t keep from grinning the next. Here he decided to pick up the comb and start doing his mother’s hair, looking up occasionally and talking his nonsensical words to himself as he ‘worked’.

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Bananas (the biggest I’ve ever seen in Haiti), a giant papaya, and a bag of coconuts larger than our 50 pound rice bag. What do these all have in common? They are all gifts that have been given to me this month. Either someone walks up to me with a bag and responds to my confused expression with “for you!” or Mickens points to a bag he has brought up and asks me what it is – informing me that my answer is wrong, because the answer is that it’s a gift for me.

Learning how to open those coconuts with a machete from Mickens. Then drinking it & laughing at my coconut with a straw being worth at least five dollars at any resort around Haiti. Perspective is a funny thing.

A long afternoon spent with a dear family a community away ended in my phone getting handed back to me to call a moto driver – with a dead battery. I had warned the boys to be careful to save some of the charge for me, and they did!, but it gave out just as they handed it to me. Everyone saw this happen and there was about five minutes of “Um…” as the sun quickly set & we were at a loss as my ‘curfew’ is sunset – both self-imposed and encouraged by close Haitian friends. All of a sudden one of the fathers – in fact, the most shut off father who makes a point to say what we are doing wrong or ask for something each visit in the most exhausting manner possible – spoke up. Looking me in the eye, he said “I’ll get my friend’s moto and take you home.” This sounds simple – but this is a big deal! This is a guy who has never offered help and in fact used to ask ME for gas money for the day for tasks completely unrelated to me. I even said, “No! What about gas money?” and he casually and honestly refused help, insisting it was no problem. As he took me home and I thanked him multiple times, he just laughed and said that they were happy I had spent the entire afternoon at their house. Here’s the kicker: I got off the moto in front of the Sant Mouvman to thank him again, and he smiled and nodded. He then sat on the moto for a second, looking at me and saying “…I’m not leaving until I see that you are safely inside the gate”. This is the kind of story that may just seem like a simple favor – but this was a big deal! I went inside with a huge smile after a hard day and in fact wrote about it. Little to his knowledge, I wrote two pages and was encouraged in a big way after a rough week. What a reminder that we never know what our small gestures do for someone around us.

Having a visitor, 13-year-old Marie Claude, over & listening to her read the Creole bible out loud as I do my own devotions after we had a pancake breakfast together. She started on page one and kept reading out loud for at least a half hour before placing the book down to take a nap on the table.

More fruit – showing up at a friend’s house who excitedly tells me that they have mangoes set aside for me in their home! In feeding their family, they set aside two for me with hopes that I’d visit before going stateside.

Prayer time after the sun sets on a roof where the stars couldn’t be any brighter.

Taking Nadine to birthday dinner to celebrate her turning seventeen. A completely foreign – no pun intended – concept. 

The insistence to include me in trying every food, and some rice & bean sauce that’s made better than even my favorite restaurant in Cabaret on a day when I’m craving some great Haitian food.

Bo’s birthday – I went to sing to her and give her a small gift of playing cards & as her eyes lit up in excitement, she thanked me but let me know that I was going to make her late. She was rushing to get to church on time! Two keys: She was not going to church a few months ago, even though she claimed that she was when we got a Chants Desperance (hymnal) together. Also, Eglise de la Grace (the CPR-3 partnered church of Bercy) has Bo arriving at every morning and night service before the church is even halfway full, singing full volume with only three other members present. (The rest of the church is typically on their way and ready to start a half hour after start time)

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Christian was wearing a bracelet that I had to take a double look at – it’d be trendy in the US! A closer look showed that he had to have made it himself – when I asked, he proudly answered yes. I told him I liked it, good work! An hour later, I’m visiting and my attention is being pulled three ways at once…and Christian is sneaking the bracelet onto my arm and insisting that it is now mine.

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This picture. Hope so happy & active that she’s a blur!

The deceiver loves to do just that – deceive. One of his favorite lies is “You aren’t effective”. He loves, especially as we run towards and beside Jesus, to beat us down.

I’m not a runner, so I cramp up pretty quick. Then my music stops – I forgot to charge my iPhone. The shorts I chose are completely uncomfortable and I’m aware of them every step I take. I’ve been running forever! – just to realize I haven’t even gone a quarter of the way yet.

That’s what it feels like. Every choice, every attempt to move forward, something goes wrong. Something comes up that reminds you why you stayed comfortable for so long before. You aren’t a runner. This is too hard. You won’t make it anyway. OTHER people are built for running. It hurts. The pain started slow and is taking over your body, and it hurts more than you could have imagined. It’s hard to breathe and your lungs are on fire. Every reason to stop and turn around is circling your thoughts as your self-preserving brain screams “STOP!”

Don’t stop. As you keep running, Jesus reminds you that he’s beside you. In the form of beautiful people in your day, in the sunset that stops your depressed thoughts mid-sentence, as you start to slow your pace with the internal debate of turning around – he grabs your hand and gently shows you that he has been running beside you all along. In fact, sometimes he straight up picks me up and just carries me as he runs and I make the journey with him.

In the middle of those genuinely hard steps, the thoughts that threaten to take over as your flesh fights back, your dear Father knows you and these ‘favorite things’ show up right when you need them. Keep your eyes open and thank Him when they show up, in whatever form they come for you.

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How To:

Today I went to visit Bo to find her making…basically, burnt corn. She told me she was making cham cham (a sweet treat that a kid will jump all over you for, the consistency of the crumbs at the bottom of a Cheerios bag). My dear friend, who has shown me how to make a bird from freshly killed to boiling over the three-stone fire as well as fried dough treats to sell in market – asked if I’d like to learn. Of course, Bo! She was kind enough to let me take some photos when my hands weren’t being used.

Bo & her little brother with step one: burnt corn. (Actually, that's not accurate - step one is getting the extra-hard Haitian corn off of the cob and into a bucket. That bucket gets dumped, one batch at a time, into the pot).
Bo & her little brother with step one: burnt corn. (Actually, that’s not accurate – step one is getting the extra-hard Haitian corn off of the cob and into a bucket. That bucket gets dumped, one batch at a time, into the pot).

Before I go any further, I want to point out that the evening was a reflection of the kid’s story “The Little Hen” – you know the momma who’s making bread….and no one wants to help, but everyone wants to eat the finished product? Except for two or three faithful brothers, there were a lot of friends that happened to show up and play – beside us – the further we got in the process.

Here's a picture of some sugar cane in a bucket, the ugly chickens with crazy feathers, and...empty space. Courtesy of Wodniy.
Here’s a picture of some sugar cane in a bucket, the ugly chickens with crazy feathers, and…empty space. Courtesy of Wodniy.

 

This is what me "helping" looks like half the time. Covered in people & mouth open as I ask another question, sitting in the doorway of the room that Bojauna's family sleeps in.
This is what me “helping” looks like half the time. Covered in people & mouth open as I ask another question, sitting in the doorway of the room that Bojauna’s family sleeps in.

So Bo finishes burning the corn until that bowl you see in the picture above is full. In batches of a few handfulls at a time, she just threw the corn right into the pot until the corn was slightly blackened. Picking up this bowl, a handful of peanuts (which are expensive – the ratio of peanuts to the corn is at least 1:20), and another bucket and sifter for me – we stood up and she said “Let’s go!”

…Where are we going?

Across the small path behind her home to the neighbor’s yard, just walking right in and going to their giant mortar and pestle. As we walked I asked “I can come to? We’re just going right in?” – Bo laughed at me, which she does a lot, and assured me with multiple “wi”s.

We walk in and greet the neighbors, turns out they know me and are happy to have me there, and after wiping out the mortar the first small handful of burnt corn goes in…

Oh look, more people joined. Besides Dodo, who's holding the pestle and pounding corn, this audience is holding out for a sample of the almost finished product.
Oh look, more people joined. Besides Dodo, who’s holding the pestle and pounding corn, this audience is holding out for a sample of the almost finished product.

First – small handful by small handful, you pound the corn to get the outside shell off. This will get tossed and the corn inside will be used.

Lots of pounding, lots of trading the pestle between Dodo, Bo, and I.
Lots of pounding, lots of trading the pestle between Dodo, Bo, and I.

Then you have to pound the corn again, now that it’s been pounded the first time. Then that gets sifted, and what isn’t dust-like gets put back in to be pounded some more.

Bringing over some corn that's been sifted out to put back in the mortar.
Bringing over some corn that’s been sifted out to put back in the mortar.

 

Peanuts get pounded around the middle of the process.

Sugar is added as you start to get more and more cham cham powder.

Everyone is begging for another handful. (small pile put in your palm, and you just lick it up or throw it in your mouth)

Mom's helping with the sifting. Note Maxon (blue shirt) and his little stance. In the middle of  crowd, this is usually the pose he takes. Gets me every time!
Mom’s helping with the sifting. Note Maxon (blue shirt) and his little stance. In the middle of crowd, this is usually the pose he takes. Gets me every time!
Still working.
Still working.
An almost scary face as he tries to get a free sample....or at least a picture while waiting for one.
An almost scary face as he tries to get a free sample….or at least a picture while waiting for one.
Dodo (left) & Tasha (middle) snacking on some cham cham as the batch is almost finished. Tasha was NOT happy to have a surprise hug mid-picture. She's one of my favorite four year olds.
Dodo (left) & Tasha (middle) snacking on some cham cham as the batch is almost finished. Tasha was NOT happy to have a surprise hug mid-picture. She’s one of my favorite four year olds.

Okay, so the cham cham is done! That was a lot of work – glad it’s over. Time to wipe out the mortar and wave goodbye to the neighbors as Bo and I walk back (just us, the small crowd stayed across the road) to her home. The whole point of making cham cham was for profit, to sell at school tomorrow. Time to package it! I was trusted with holding the bags and getting more cham cham to try.

These bags are skinny, my two fingers to open them were almost too big. I looked with big eyes asking "how are you going to fill this?" She laughed at me, again. "You'll see".
These bags are skinny, my two fingers to open them were almost too big. I looked with big eyes asking “how are you going to fill this?”
She laughed at me, again. “You’ll see”.

With a small plastic spoon, one small dump at a time. At this point she let me know her back was hurting – mine would be too!

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And they’re done – bags to be sold for 5 gourde a piece (a little over ten cents).
Ready to eat!
Ready!

Before finishing, Bo called a sibling to grab a bigger bag for her – filled it and gave it to me!

“Bo, what is this for??! You can sell this!”

“It’s for my servant!” said with a smile (servant sounds funny, but that’s the literal translation!)

She insisted that I took it, smiling big as I thanked her. And we were done ! She walked me home as the sun was setting and it was time for me to go.

& that’s how you make cham cham! Tell all your friends, now you can make it 🙂 Burnt corn, a handful of peanuts, and plenty of sugar mixed it to create a little treat for friends of all ages.

Every Day.

Islande is a mom on a mission, gentle yet bold in a way that leaves you asking yourself what just happened after you agree to what she has said and she leaves. Interacting with her you just know that even if you say no, she doesn’t hear that as an option of responding. To her, it comes of more as a “not yet”.

Since the day that I met her, she has reminded me of the persistent widow. She saw me walking along the road in Bercy one day, engaging a friend who was walking the other way, and immediately took a stance to let me know she was ‘in queue’. From her face I knew that she was planning on figuring out who I was. After my friend went on her way I looked at this tall woman, with eyes I had to look up into but a body that perfectly fits the popular term “skinny as a rail”. Her eyes are alive, and every sentence is long-winded with a lot of words that I don’t know but I can see the emotion and passion behind her eyes that speak without language barriers. They go back and forth, searching my own eyes to gauge my own response. She wears clunky black wedges that remind me of myself as an awkward pre-teen living in the fashion of the 90’s & she walks alone but constantly mentions the children back at her house.

She told me about her four-year-old son, who has not been able to walk since birth.

Fast-forward to a surprise run in with Islande on another day, ending with her leading me to her home. The small path to get to it is in between two other homes on a main road that has a small pond as a result of last night’s rain. Across from a field in the back of Bercy, the path is blocked by sticks wedged on top of one another and two tires to get around. She takes down half of the wood to let us through and leads me down the small path, a walk that reminds me of a little cottage tucked away with a small path lined by greenery and refreshing shade. Turning to the left, this trail opens to a yard with a small home for the two of them. A dry garden to the side and a matt out front to sit out in the fresh air, she welcomes me to her home. We walk through the door of the room of tarp walls to walk in and meet a boy laying on his stomach on the ground, looking up at us with eyes that are clearly not sure what’s going on. I bend down next to him and introduce myself, letting him know in Creole that his mother talks about him so much because she loves him & I wanted to meet this boy that she loved so much! He just kept looking at me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m sure I was invading his space, and many four year olds get shy around me – so we just sat with each other for a minute while his mother talked passionately in the background.

I gave him the snack I had packed in my purse as I stood back up and asked the mother more questions about Estiven as she showed me a receipt from Port-au-Prince, where a special needs doctor had explained that he could walk one day with leg braces now. A purchase equivalent to $75 dollars that she could not imagine being able to afford, not including money for traveling and follow up appointments. He didn’t say a word and I wondered about his ability to speak – especially after a life of being so limited in mobility in crucial developmental years. She assured me that he is quite the talker when no one is around, laughing as a knowing mother at how he was fooling me being so timid.

Before leaving I leaned down to pray with Estiven after asking his mother’s permission, as God already had a plan in motion that I did not know about.

On my next visit to their home, Islande said something that stuck out to me – something that I told her I was going to remember and tell people about. I couldn’t wait, knowing I had to share it. She says a lot, it’s true, but this wasn’t like the passionate talking about the highs and lows of life.

Islande, more than many people I have interacted with, goes on describing her life. Usually the hard parts, she will keep going as long as you let her. With her inserting “ou la?” (You with me?) every few sentences, I enter into a conversation with her like I hop into a loaded tap-tap: just hold on and get through a loaded ride. Missing half the words but not having a way to slow her down to explain everything, I still hear more about her in a half hour spent together than I may hear in a few hours with another friend in the shade tucked away from the afternoon sun. That being said, I want to communicate two things: She’s got quite the life, cause I’ve heard about it. And secondly, this phrase, one of the few times with her that was just one sentence in the air, left to hang longer than the others – was so powerful. And I want to emphasize that of all the many, many words I hear from this dear mother – it is somehow less than ten that are burned in my mind to stay. I want to emphasize the weight of this phrase before you hear it, you with me?

The last time I was at her house we had been talking for a few minutes, reflecting on life, talking about how Estivan was, and she said in Creole what I can only attempt to translate for you: “Every day (at all times) I suffer, I have hope”.

This is not a typo, but it how it was literally phrased. Not “but” I have hope, not “however” I have hope.

Suffering is constant. Suffering is life. If it isn’t a son who was born with more needs, it is the constant search for the next meal. If it isn’t about food, the recent storm did damage to the tarp that makes the walls of her home. And it goes on.

Hope is just as constant. Hope is life. (Mirroring the Haitian Proverb, ‘Lespwa se lavi’). They are intertwined like the handmade ropes sold in market, facts of this woman’s life that cannot be separated from each other or from her day to day. But you see, this is where you miss out. This is where I cannot communicate what I experience standing in the doorway of Islande’s home as she speaks to me, those eyes full of life looking into mine as she says it and communicates so much more than the words.

Hope is just as constant, but more. Hope is ever-constant, just as suffering, but it gets the last word in. You see, there was no “but I have hope”. There was no “and as we all say in a cliché fashion, I have hope in my circumstances”. “I suffer, I have hope”. As Islande stood beside me she said in so much more than her words; suffering happens to her, she herself HAS hope. And the hope, no matter how prevalent the suffering is, comes on top. That’s what happen when you have Jesus instead of the world’s cute “use it in a instagram quote” hope.

Friends, that is beautiful.

And humbling – as we who are sitting on computers in the middle of a ‘busy’ day full of so many blessings that we miss – will never truly know what it’s like to spend a day waking up to slip on Islande’s oversized black wedges.

And here’s the beauty: She had no idea that I was at her house to talk one-on-one with her about a blessing that someone left specifically to take her little boy to the hospital and get those braces. A blessing that would cover more than the braces and transportation.

It puts a smile on my face again just thinking about it, the small reflection of God’s perspective as we talk about our lives or can’t imagine getting through to tomorrow and he listens as the patient Father he is, thinking “if only you knew what I have for you…I just haven’t told you yet”.

We have hope, indeed. At all times.