Sunday, December 11, 2011

Staring at the Ceiling

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  I remember doing this six months ago, during my first week here.  I was having trouble getting my legs to move, putting my feet in my shoes and forcing my body from the secluded haven of this room and into Haiti.  I was confused by a nightmare brought on by my anti-malaria medication, or was it the nightmare of the reality of “25 weeks alone in Haiti” coming crashing down on my bed, leaving a cold, empty pit in my stomach?  I was annoyed that I had just been woken up at 5:00 for family prayer, which would be in a language where I didn’t yet understand 10 words.  I didn’t want to face the hours of emptiness that was my internship.  I didn’t want to get up.

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  I remember picturing it coming crashing down on me, the roof that had sheltered and protected me crushing my legs, my rib cage and my skull.  I thought about the stories I had heard of the 2010 earthquake in the south of the country, stories of people being pinned under concrete roofs like mine for days as they waited for rescue or death.  I reflected on the fact that concrete roofs like mine are ideal for beating the heat and hurricanes common to Haiti, but proved deadly when the earthquake came.

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  I did this back in July and September, thinking about how good it was going to be to see Abbie and Ryan.  I took a break from reading my book to savor the thoughts about how relieving it would be to discuss all these thoughts I had been thinking with someone familiar with my language, culture and personal history.  After feeling unknown and misunderstood for weeks, I laid in bed thinking about what we would talk about and how cathartic it would be. 

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  It was here that I weighed the pros and cons of going outside to Rose Lourdes’ house to play with the kids there and the work on my Creole.  The pros: I would be engaging (HNGR recommendation #1) the culture I had chosen to be a part of, working on what could eventually be fulfilling relationships and leaving my room might temporarily relieve me of my constant loneliness.  The cons: I would almost definitely make a fool of myself culturally or linguistically, I might walk into an awkward situation that would only heighten my feelings of isolation or the presence of a blan at their house might just start to be getting on their nerves.  50% of the time I chose to go; 50% of the time I chose to continue staring at my ceiling.

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  I think about Monday, giving my last test, grading the ones I have already given, giving my last English lesson.  I think about Tuesday, entering final grades, hanging out one last night with the Hamiltons.  I think about Wednesday, saying goodbye to the Hamiltons as they really get started on their work here in Haiti just as mine is ending.  I think about Thursday, the last day that I’ll have in Haut-Limbé, the last chance I’ll have to play with the neighborhood kids, my last Creole lesson with Budry.  But mostly I think about Friday, sitting in an airplane, twisting my neck to get one last lasting view of Haiti.  It is bittersweet to think how much I’ll miss this place.  I never would have thought that I would be lying on my bed thinking, “I don’t want to leave.”

But that does not mean I’m coming home in despair.  Just like when I was preparing to come to Haiti, there were things I was dreading, but mostly things I was looking forward to.  I don’t want to dwell on the fact that I don’t want to leave for any other reason than in joy of the change God has worked in me these last six months.  In that joy I can confidently say that there is no reason for God to stop transforming me when I get back to the US.  I anticipate similar (yet opposite) reflections to the ones above when I am staring at an American ceiling, and for me, that simply means more opportunity for growth.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Military Intelligence

For my friends who started checking because of HNGR 101 and just never stopped, you might have seen this article.  The headline: Haiti’s president launches plans to restore army.  6 months ago I would have read this and groaned.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I complained to my mom after reading Martelly’s campaign promise on the same subject saying, “the last thing Haiti needs is an army.”  After being here for five months, my perspective has changed. 

I was very disappointed with the BBC in this article.  It plays off developing nation tyrant stereotypes, leading the reader to believe that President Martelly is a megalomaniac trying to match the power of Haiti’s Duvalier dictators.  “The Haitian army was long associated with rights abuses and coups,” the article says.  While this may be true, for most Haitians that I’ve talked to, a Haitian military is more closely associated with relative stability and security.  I am not defending the atrocities of Duvalier’s makoutes, but the message I’m getting from most Haitians who were alive during that era is that the rights abuses were less oppressive than Haiti’s current state of insecurity. 

“Canada fears that creating a second security force will significantly reduce the resources available for Haiti's other important priorities," a Canadian official is quoted as saying in the article.  I don’t doubt this official’s good intentions, but from what I have heard from my friends is that security is the most pressing priority because without it, all other priorities (food, clean water, adequate housing, consistent work) are constantly in jeopardy of being wrenched away. 

This official’s comment about a second security force might be confusing for those not familiar with Haiti’s situation.  This other military he is referring to is MINUSTAH, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti.  In 2004, nine years after Aristide disbanded Haiti’s army in vengeance for it deposing him, the international community decided that Haiti did in fact need an army.  And so they gave them one.  Only, not a Haitian army, but a foreign one.  MINUSTAH has been occupying Haiti for the past seven years and both Haitians and foreign soldiers are getting tired of each other.  Most Haitians I’ve talked to about this said that everyone was initially very happy that the UN was providing security for a country that in 2004 was undergoing some major upheaval.  Time passes and cultures collide, however, and it appears that MINUSTAH has overstayed its welcome.  MINUSTAH has been at the center of several scandals ranging from stealing livestock to sexual abuse to causing an epidemic that has proved fatal to thousands.  These issues in combination with the fact that MINUSTAH is not accountable in any way to the Haitian government add up to the fact that the UN forces are simply not capable of effectively responding to Haiti’s security needs. 

It is clear to me that in opposing Haiti’s attempts to reestablish its own military, the US and other international powers are attempting to maintain control in Haiti.  While MINUSTAH is the security force in Haiti, the UN decides what counts as a security threat and what warrants the military’s time and attention.  Nearly everyone is in agreement that Haiti needs an army (for domestic security, not to attack the Dominican Republic as one commenter ignorantly postulated), only the international community is reluctant to allow Haitians one of their own.  Instead, they prefer to hold onto this source of power rather than relinquish it to its rightful protectors, perpetuating the cycle of Haitian dependence.  The creation of an army that is truly Haitian – lead by Haitians and answerable to the Haitian people – is a vital step in the country’s movement away from perpetual externally driven relief efforts and towards true sovereignty and independence.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011


More than four months ago, after staying up most of the night due to steady diarrhea, I asked for some oral rehydration solution.  Last night it was revealed to me how ignorant and selfish of a request that was. 

Last Friday night I spent around five hours helping change IV bags and translating for some Canadian nurses in the cholera clinic next to my house.  The number of patients had been decreasing until a new wave came in the night before last, mostly children.  The theory is that a powdered sports drink had been mixed with contaminated water and distributed widely at a nearby school.  The clinic was overflowing with two or three to a bed and the nurses were scrambling to make sure that no one’s IV bag was empty for too long.  My experience last night made me realize I never had cholera.  My single night of discomfort was not cholera; this was cholera. 

In Haiti, cholera means more than fluid leaving your body at an alarming rate.  Cholera is a crowded clinic with half of the patients outside.  Cholera is lying naked from the waist down so you can move quickly to sit on the bucket beside your cot when the diarrhea comes in front of 20-30 strangers. 

Cholera is pain.  Cholera is the burn of stomach acid coming up through your throat, the cramping of your muscles when the serum starts to work on a wasted body, the small stabs of the nurse missing the vein with her IV needle several times because your arm is just too small. 

Cholera is confusion.  Cholera is having one advocate, the person who loves you enough to stay by your side for days, always ready with a bucket.  Cholera is watching your advocate’s pleas on your behalf get ignored by white and Haitian medical staff members alike that are continually forced to decide where their expertise should be for the next five minutes, where their attention is most needed and where their last bag of IV fluid should go.  Cholera means finally getting the attention of a nurse who does brief tests to check your condition that only confuse and frighten you further since you don’t know what they mean.  Cholera is seeing that nurse turn to a foreigner with a grave look, hear her speak some words that you don’t understand and watch her slowly shake her head. 

Cholera is fear.  Cholera is having your eyes widen in terror, searching wildly for anyone in authority who can understand the words you’re saying.  Cholera is desperately asking the translator, “Am I okay?  Will I be okay?”  Cholera is being kept awake when your body is drained of energy because an eight year-old boy keeps screaming, “I’m dying; I’m going to die.”  Cholera is weeping in utter despair in a culture that has no tolerance for tears. 

Those are the truths of cholera that I saw last night.  These are the lies that I hear far too often.

Cholera is judgment.  Cholera is a righteous and holy God who cannot tolerate you in your sinful condition.  Cholera is condemnation that you in your helpless desperation sought the advice of a voodoo priest after praying to Jesus didn’t do anything for you.  Cholera, like the earthquake, is God’s wrath enacted against a nation that sold its soul to the devil. 

Cholera is your fault.  Cholera is ravaging your body because you didn’t wash your hands enough, because you drank untreated water, because you are ignorant. 

Let me clear something up right now: Haitians contracting cholera now are not ignorant.  It has been more than a year since cholera was reintroduced to Haiti and in that time, Haitians have painfully learned what cholera is.  They know that it’s a bacterium.  They know what bacteria are.  Though Haitians may attribute spiritual reasons for contracting cholera, they know that it is caused and prevent through physical measures.  Some Haitians may fit the stereotype of being superstitious and poorly educated, but at this point, there are very few Haitians who are uneducated about cholera.  I am rejecting the theory that education is the solution to Haiti’s problems.  The seriousness of the cholera epidemic is not a matter of information dissemination; it’s a matter of resource distribution.  The reason that cholera is still a problem after relief agencies have spent the past year informing the people on good public health practices is because educating people means nothing if they are physically and financially incapable of putting their knowledge into practice.  For most of us, a world without adequate resources is literally incomprehensible; I ended up dumping out half of the oral rehydration solution I found four months ago, a waste for which I have cause to repent.  That’s how we tend to think about resources though: always available, you just have to know what you’re looking for.  But you can tell Haitians to drink clean water all you want, but if they don’t actually have access to clean water, it doesn’t mean a thing.  Why is it then that we offer education rather than resources?  Because posters, radio public service announcements and week long educational seminars cost less than adequate housing, comprehensive public sanitation and clean, running water.  Education without wealth redistribution is inadequate and it is time for us in the West to change.

Because for thousands of Haitians

cholera is death.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

5 Weeks and Counting...

I thought about making this blog post a list, either of things that I will and will not miss, things I learned, things that I’m looking forward to, etc.  There are really good things about lists: (let me list some) easy readability, succinct summary of important information, the possibility to rank certain items as more important.  But I realized that my HNGR internship is not conducive to a list format.  The good and the bad are not easily categorized, I don’t have the perspective to rank what I’ve learned in order of importance and as most of you have probably figured out through this blog, when I talk about HNGR I am anything but succinct.  So I think this will be semi-list paragraph format of things that are not simply good or bad.

A time is coming, and soon will be, when I will no longer be a professor at UCNH, when I will no longer have to tell students that their homework is late and I will no longer have to close the classroom door in the face of latecomers.  Though I may find myself repeating the same words over and over, they won’t be the words from New Interchange English, Book 1.  After December 16, I won’t play volleyball with the sun in my eyes for at least another four months, I won’t have all my collared shirts on two hangers above my bed and I won’t be able to wear my Chacos everywhere I go.  It will no longer be socially comfortable for me to pee on the side of the road or to dance with the kids in church.  I will drive my car; I won’t take motorcycle taxis.  I won’t have to share a single bathroom with my host parents and 2-6 20-something year-old girls.  The bathroom that I’ll use will have a sink.  When I get back to the United States, I’ll see my reflection more than three times a week.  I’ll have internet whenever I want it.  I won’t have to worry about getting my pants dirty and making the laundry load bigger for Rose Lourdes when I sit on the rocks outside her house to talk and hang out.  I will have access to a lot more English books than are on Laurie’s shelves.  Saga desserts will take the place of Clif bars as special treats, and I won’t have to ration Saga desserts to once a week.  I won’t worry that people only want to be my friend because of the color of my skin or the size of my wallet.  The closest mountain for me to climb will be miles away instead of in my backyard.  I won’t see nearly as many black people and a whole lot more white people.  I will use considerably more water, gas and electricity.  Doubtless, my conversations may still occasionally be full of awkward pauses or miscommunication, but it’s a lot more likely that I will understand why.  I’ll be able to give a friend a few dollars for food or whatever and not worry about contributing to a cycle of dependency.  No one will accuse me of using the voodoo magic I have stored in my beard to make Brazil miss all of their penalty kicks.  I won’t have to worry about becoming numb to poverty due to overexposure.  I won’t think about the future of Peterson, my three-week-old godson, as I try to rock him back to sleep in his mother’s mud hut.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Visiting Hours

To say that I have been busy since my last post would be an understatement.  Ever since leaving to pick Ryan up from the airport last Saturday morning (and even before then) I have been flying through life at dangerous speeds.  My schedule that had been so empty for three and a half months essentially exploded out of isolation in the English department office and into hours of public transportation, meetings with various NGO directors and quality, stimulating conversations in English.  Here is a basic rundown of the past week:

On Saturday Ryan plane arrived about two hours late, which is only natural because his whole visit was arriving about two months late (just kidding, Ryan).  I then proceed to talk nonstop for the next four days.  Seriously.  I never really thought of myself as a talkative person until this past week when I realized Ryan probably wanted to sleep at some point.  Fortunately, he stuck with me throughout my babbling and we had some really good conversations that allowed me a little more of a birds-eye view of the past three months.

Monday Ryan had a chance to check out UCNH's campus and see what life in the office was like.  We also paid a visit to some Floresta (known internationally as Plant with Purpose) project sites.  They work with groups of farmers in various communities to research and implement better agriculture practices in growing crops, breeding livestock, and reforesting Haiti's depleted mountainsides.

Tuesday was a very hectic day of class.  At the beginning of my Tuesday morning class, about 80 students showed up wanting to come in... about 40 more than the classroom can actually seat.  Ryan got a chance to observe me throwing up my hands in confusion and despair.  After having to turn away several disgruntled students and despite some confusion on the execution of certain homework assignments, the class went relatively well.  My afternoon class also presented some challenges.  Only about half of the students had books (when I left UCNH, we were still waiting on the finance office to give us money to print the books we needed) so everyone in the class had to share with at least one other person, creating an ideal environment for side conversations.  I had to tell the students multiple times that if they didn't stop talking, I would start teaching class in Creole instead of English (a surprisingly undesirable alternative for them) because clearly they didn't understand the meaning of "don't talk while I'm talking."  After five hours of teaching I was absolutely exhausted... but hey, that's what I've been asking for this whole time, right?

Wednesday Ryan and I took our show on the road.  And by road I mean dirt path that resembled a dry stream bed more often than a street.  I had thought the road between Limbé and Cap-Haïtien could use some work (and they can) but they're nothing compared to what we found en route to Pignon on the central plateau.  Between Cap and Pignon our taptap (Haitian truck taxi) had to stop about 4 times for the driver to work on the back driver's side wheel.  The last time we stopped it was for an hour and the driver ended up having to bludgeon the axel into submission before continuing on.  Fortunately Ryan and I made it in two pieces (one piece each) to Haiti Outreach, an organization that provides communities all over Haiti with clean water wells.  The process in which they do this is very community oriented and ensures that the wells will be functional long after installation.  Ryan and I got to stay in their guest house which gave me a chance to take my first hot shower in three and a half months... a definite plus.

Thursday Ryan and I got a chance to observe a community meeting in one of the locations where Haiti Outreach is repairing an old well.  It was a great opportunity to see HO's work in action.  After that, we hopped back on a motorcycle and headed to Hinche.  If the road from Cap-Haïtien to Pignon was bad, the "road" from Pignon to Hinche was even worse.  Several times, the road was so steep and the dirt loose that I was sure I would fall off.  Thankfully our driver had superhuman powers that must have included keeping motorcycles upright and we made it to Hinche bruised and sore, but generally unscathed.  In Hinche we were promptly packed in to a van departing for Port-au-Prince.  This trip had it's good points and it's bad points.  The good points: a silky smooth road with unblemished asphalt for the majority of the trip as well as beautiful views of the interior of Haiti.  The bad points: we were confined to a very cramped and noisy space for about 6 hours, meaning that we didn't arrive in Port-au-Prince until a few hours after dark.  And depending on what you've heard about Port-au-Prince, you probably know, it isn't somewhere you want to be after dark, especially for your first time.  After realizing that the station where we were supposed to disembark was a gas station full of suspicious looking characters located right next to a tent city and our contact with World Relief was unable to meet us, our van driver extremely graciously offered to drive us to a safer part of the city to meet our hosts.  It  ended up being a very stressful afternoon/evening that was only made worse by a rainstorm that drenched Ryan's bag stored on top of the van and the most miserable goat I have ever seen (also stored on top of the van) bleating a sound that was a mix between a crying baby and a dying cow.  Both Ryan and I were extremely grateful to arrive at the World Relief Haiti guest house to sleep.

I'll take a brief pause from the daily schedule rundown to say, nothing I had seen before in Haiti prepared for Port-au-Prince.  As someone who is wary of large cities anyways, arriving in Port-au-Prince after dark was an assault on my senses and imagination that caught me completely off guard.  I figured it would be similar to Cap-Haïtien since Cap is the second largest city in Haiti, but everything I've seen of Port-au-Prince so far as shown me that the two cities are worlds apart.  Port-au-Prince is covered in gray waves of concrete and cars, tents and tarps spanning in all directions.  The city and the surrounding towns (which to me bleed into each other indistinguishably) are home to almost half of the entire population in Haiti... which I guess is why it's so much quieter in the rural areas I'd seen up to this point.  I haven't seen much devastation directly related to the earthquake, only a few cracks in the roads, but the magnitude and density of the people here is just overwhelming.

Friday, Ryan and I wake up early to ride with Nate and Cecilia from World Relief out to one of their agriculture projects in Gressier.  The plan is that while we're there, we'll meet with FISH Ministries, one of WR's partners that does work in the agriculture and public health sectors.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more about FISH because as soon as we arrived in Gressier, my stomach disqualified me for any facility touring.  I spent the next few hours sitting on or leaning over the toilet.  In the afternoon we determined that the best decision would be for me to head back to Port-au-Prince with Nate and Cecilia to recover in the World Relief guest house.  Nate and Cecilia were absolutely wonderful at making me feel like an honored guest rather than a bad-smelling burden.  Leaving Ryan was hard, especially since it was so abrupt (the decision for me to go back to PAP without Ryan was made in about two minutes), but I'd already had more time with him than most interns get with their visitor, so I can't complain too much.  By dinnertime on Friday, I was feeling much better and was even able to eat some ham and cheese crepe.  We sat around for a while after dinner discussing development, theology and life in general.  Nate and Cecilia are a positively wonderful couple and any HNGR intern that gets placed here would be incredibly lucky to have them as supervisors.  So future HNGR interns... think about it.

Saturday morning (this morning) was the first time in Haiti that I was allowed to take my time waking up and starting my day.  Nate, Cecilia and I had a lazy morning arguing about the food industry in the US (Cecilia studied food science at Cornell so I was a little outmatched).  Tonight we're going to a game night sponsored by some ex-pats living in the area, so that should be a fun and interesting experience.  Tomorrow morning, I'll fly back to Cap and, Lord willing, arrive back in Haut-Limbé in the afternoon, with a stack of papers to grade waiting for me.  Also, last week the English department was informed by one of its teachers that he would not be returning for this semester, so that'll take some extra creative planning to work out.  I'll let you know if the books are also waiting for me when I get there (pray hard).  To top it all off, I'm extremely behind on all of my HNGR work for this month... but I'd say this past week was worth it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In the Middle

Let me start this post by saying, this is not intended to be a criticism of short-term mission trips.  Also, these thoughts are based off of my own experiences, which, I have no doubt, differ vastly from others.  In no way is it my aim to belittle anyone else’s own life experiences.

Since my last blog post, I have passed the halfway mark in my HNGR internship.  I can’t tell you what day that halfway mark was since as of now, my HNGR internship doesn’t have an end date and, as you all know, you can’t have a middle without an end.  Milestones can be a big deal, and the halfway mark is a significant one; I would say it’s probably the third most significant milestone, following the beginning and the end (though who’s to say which of those two is more significant).  Anyways, being here in the middle has made me think a lot about middles and the fact that this internship is long enough to have one.  All of my other cross-cultural experiences have been significantly shorter and have never had “middles,” at least not middles like this; they were composed entirely of the beginning and the ending.  I’d get to a place, settle in for a week or two and then get up and leave again.  It was all “hellos” and “goodbyes” with no time for life in between.  Those cross-cultural experiences (while certainly valuable) were more like pauses from my real life, which would then resume as soon as I left.  This implies that my life wasn’t really happening while I was out of my normal context, which isn’t entirely true, but does make a certain amount of sense.  They were different from the rest of my life, set apart, and though they certainly influenced how I lived my “normal everyday” life, they didn’t really fit in with the other stuff I did. 

HNGR is different from that.  My favorite of the HNGR proverbs is “HNGR is life.”  “HNGR is life” can be misinterpreted so let me be clear: it does not mean that HNGR is this richer, fuller, more real experience that makes the other parts of life seem worthless; it does not mean “you haven’t lived until you go on HNGR.”  In fact, the real intention behind the phrase is just the opposite.  “HNGR is life” means the six months that you will spend living and working in another country is a part of your life, no more and no less.  HNGR is not this super-life or life on steroids; neither is it a break or a pause from reality.  Here at the middle, I’m finding that to be very true.  Even though 6 months is a relatively short time in the grand scheme of my life (assuming I complete my internship in full, it will have taken up 2.2% of my entire life), it is just long enough to get past the hellos before the goodbyes start; succinctly, it is long enough to have a middle.  Of course, that can be good and bad.  Bad because beginnings and endings are the exciting (or at least emotional) parts of the story and the action can kind of stall in the middle.  But it’s good too because it makes that 2.2% of my life a real part of my life rather than just a pause.  In December, Lord willing, I will be able to say that I have lived life in North Carolina, Illinois, and Haiti.  I’m not sure I can say the same for the other places I’ve visited, at least, not in the same way. 

I’m not trying to say that vacations or short-term missions trips don’t count in regards to life; often those are extremely formative experiences, as has been true of my own life.  But life takes on a different quality when its rhythm is sustained for a greater period of time.  It is that quality (which I’ve been calling “middle”) that I have been experiencing here these past few weeks.  It’s different here than it was in high school or back at Wheaton (in fact, I’m afraid my middle at Wheaton has already ended and when I go back, I’ll find myself in the end).  It is certainly only the beginning of a middle here in Haiti and I doubt it will last much longer, but I do feel blessed to have tasted it.  Here’s to hoping it is a taste that ages well. 

I do realize that this post is long on abstract thought and short on the details that make up my middle, and for that I apologize.  Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things that have been going on the past few weeks:

-A ten-minute visit to the Dominican Republic.  One of the practical ramifications of being in the middle of a HNGR internship means visa renewal.  I crossed the border, quickly realized I’ve lost all my Spanish-speaking ability and crossed back.  I am now allowed to stay in Haiti legally for another 90 days.

-The beginning of the semester for UCNH.  Convocation (hours of French of which I understood about 50% in the hot Haitian sun) was on September 5, though most classes didn’t begin until the following Monday.  The English department finally opened its doors to students this past Tuesday, though so far, I’m the only professor who’s had class.  I had two classes on Tuesday and one class on Wednesday, all of which went as smoothly as could be expected.  We’re still waiting on the finance office to give us money for the students’ books, but I’m glad to finally be in the classroom with a relatively consistent schedule. 

-Lots of planning for Ryan’s visit.  The assistant director of the HNGR department will be gracing me with his presence in a mere 41 hours (not that I’m counting).  Ryan will be with me at UCNH from Saturday until Tuesday.  After that, we’re taking our show on the road.  We have planned a 3-day, breakneck-speed, multi-organization tour of Haiti that will include visits to Pignon in the central plateau and Port-au-Prince.  Hopefully this will help increase the internship options for future HNGR interns as well as opportunities for members of the Haiti-Wheaton Partnership.  Stay tuned for the results of our adventures. 

Prayer: Please be praying for safe travels for Ryan and I.  Ryan will be travelling to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow and then to Haiti on Saturday.  We both will be off together Wednesday-Saturday of next week.  Please also pray that our time together will be rejuvenating for me.  I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar, English-speaking face and I hope that our time together will be helpful and refocusing for me.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fear of the Beard

Pa pe'm.  Don't be afraid of me.  This is the phrase I had to say to almost any Haitian child under the age of 8 up until a week and a half ago.  Why?  Because my beard was huge.  Children in the streets would stare in morbid fascination wondering what it was that was living on that blan's face.  Older siblings who were more courageous would bring babies up to me... who would promptly start crying.  Everyone in town (and in neighboring towns) had an opinion on my facial hair.  Complete strangers would pass me in the street and tell me to shave.  Others (usually with some facial hair of their own) would compliment it... though they would usually ask why I colored it red.  My response was always, "I didn't do this, God did" which always got a laugh and some disbelief.  The biggest benefit from my beard was that it repelled girls like nothing you've ever seen.  Benefit? you might ask; Benefit, I respond.  I am committed to upholding page 89 of the HNGR manual.  The indecision on several girls faces was a nice bonus too.  "Well, if I say I like his beard, he might marry me and take me to the US forever.  But is it really worth it if he never shaves?"  Even my host mom would mutter under her breath about how much she disliked it... and then when asked said, "Oh no, no, you look... fine."  The group of teenage boys that I affectionately refer to in my head as "the neighborhood punks" though my beard made me look like Jesus, and loved to call me that.  This only added to everyone's previous confusion due to the fact that "Kris" (pronounced the same way that Haitians pronounce Chris) in Creole means "Christ."  Once I was introduced to a family friend who replied (in Creole) with, "Christ?  He looks like Christ."  Even when I went to visit Abbie in St. Louis du Nord, people there picked up on the resemblance.  In fact, I was monikered based off of three different men of Middle Eastern descent: Jesus, Moses... and Osama bin Laden.  I had to laugh at this last one... I think he would have taken much more offense at the comparison than I did.

Alas, despite all of the fun we were having, the beard just got too hot.  Two Saturdays ago, I went into Limbé, found a barbershop, and had both my hair and my beard trimmed significantly.  (As an aside, let me tell you, the barbers here in Haiti don't mess around.  Of all the people who have cut my hair (Ms. Ruth King, my mom, Sarah Grace, Helen Herrle, Jon Kim, Daniel Shaffer, Rob Toy, Cecelia Miles, Carly Allen, Shannon Pringle) none of them put more time, energy and effort into making me look my best.  He trimmed the entire perimeter of my hairline with a straight razor... twice.  He even shaved my forehead and the edge of my ears.  And for all that he only charged me $1.50... but he got a nice tip.)  Upon my arrival back in Haut-Limbé, there was singing and dancing in the streets.  My host sister said I looked like a new person.  My host mom said I resembled a good looking man.  For the next three days, everyone I passed on the street (whether I knew them or not) commented on the change.  Ah... community.  Unfortunately... I still scare small children.

My beard a few days before it was last seen.
Other updates:
Classes at UCNH start next week!  I'm very excited.  Students will be back on campus, I will have an actual internship and routine is sure to follow (right?).  Actually, I found out yesterday that the English department might delay their classes until September 19 or even later.  Turns out that the English department building will be undergoing some major renovations.  The good news: we'll have a new classroom so we can have two classes going on at one.  The bad news: I very well might have another month of no real internship.  However, I've finally figured out that I will be teaching around 110 students (divided into 3 or 4 different classes, hopefully) intermediate English.  These students are actually on a different track than other UCNH students because they are part of the group that transferred here after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince.  I'm very excited about meeting them next week.

This past Thursday I got the opportunity to work with a group from Philadelphia that does arts and healing camps in post-disaster settings.  They're called Indigenous Pitch and you can check them out here.  They were running a very brief mini camp at ACRAL in Limbé.  ACRAL is a kids music group in Limbé that was started by some UCNH students to give kids an extra social environment and teach them the wonders of music.  I helped with translating and crowd control and had a blast doing it.  Also, because I got reconnected with ACRAL (I visited them while I was here for spring break but for various reasons had yet to get reconnected) I'm now hanging out with them on Saturday afternoons for their meetings.  This could be a great place to do my independent study project... but that's still very much up in the air.

Obviously, more has happened in the past few weeks, but these are some highlights.  For the record, my intentions on updating are very good... my follow through usually isn't.  Thanks for sticking with me.  Prayer requests for this week: I would very much appreciate prayers that I would learn to admit my dependence on God and the people around me.  The longer I've been here, the more self-sufficient I've become, and while I certainly enjoy my independence, it causes me to forget my limitations and frailties. One way that has been manifesting itself is through my relationship with God... namely that I feel like since I'm so self-sufficient, I needn't bother asking Him for things.  Pray that I will "walk humbly with my God" despite the fact that I'm headstrong and think I can do everything on my own.  Y'all are great.