Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Haiti PART 2, Hunger

Today Sawyer and I met up with Steve for lunch at one of our favorite Mexican places.  After we ate all that we wanted, I asked for a couple of boxes to take home the leftovers.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't throw food out- I always take home what I didn't finish.  My parents have instilled this quality in me from a young age; Waste not, Want not.  That statement never rang more truth than in Haiti. As I'm scraping every last grain of rice into our to-go box, I was stung with a memory that I shared with Steve and I felt like it needed its own post.

Over the duration of our 10 days in Haiti, 8 or so of us at a time would bag up beans & rice into gallon ziplock bags.  These bags would later be distributed throughout the week to different villages.  There were always a couple different local Haitians who would be out on the deck while we bagged up rice, sometimes one of them would help us bag, sometimes they'd just be passing through, sometimes they'd just sit and watch.  One of the last days that we were there, we needed to bag up some rice and beans because we were planning on making a distribution run that evening.  There was a Haitian man standing there next to the rice, ready to help us bag.  Me and one of the girls from our group started scooping out rice while he held the bags open for us.  We had a good little rhythm going.  He didn't speak any english, but I was able to get out of him that his name was Cinnie.  Cinnie looked like he was in his 60's or so, he was very thin & had kind eyes.  As we would break to grab more bags or rice, he still just stood there, waiting for us to return so that he could resume his position of holding the bags open for us.  This specific bagging time lasted maybe 20 minutes, we were done, and Cinnie still stood there.  It didn't appear to me that he was begging or expecting anything, I think maybe he just liked being part of the team.  One member of our group started to clean our work area, sweeping up the grains of rice that had fallen onto the dirty floor and all over the table.  He asked out loud to nobody in particular, "Do I just throw this rice out?"  I quickly answered him "No, I think Cinnie might like that rice."  Cinnie could only understand that I spoke his name, so he looked at me, and I was able to somewhat ask him if he wanted the rice that was being swept up. He almost looked ashamed when he barely nodded his head.  The rice was now gathered in a dirt pile on the cement floor.  All together, it was maybe 1/4 cup.  I grabbed a little sandwich-sized ziplock baggie and helped Cinnie pick up the rice among all the dirt and trash that was swept up.  First, by little handfuls, then, grain by grain.  At this time, I remember wishing that I could photograph this moment.  That single photograph could have defined a large portion of my trip.  As we finished putting the dirty rice into his baggy, he started to walk off. I told him to stop, I wanted him to have more than a 1/4 cup of dirty rice. I went into my backpack and took out all my leftover snacks- melted trail mix, half eaten bag of beef jerky, a couple Cliff bars & some Pringles.  He was certainly grateful, struggling to wrap them up in each other in order to make it easier to carry.  I told him to wait once again while I went to grab him a large bag to carry everything in.  When I came back with the bag, I watched him juggling the snacks, trying to slip them all safely into the bag.  I watched him and felt again that this would be an amazing photo.  I grabbed my camera and looked at him through the viewfinder and thats when he looked up at me.  I was stopped by his self-conscious glance before I could take the photo.  Looking at this scene through a lens almost cheapened it.  I couldn't take the photo. I felt his immediate embarrassment and quickly put my camera down.  At this point, he had finished fitting all the snacks and rice into his bag.  I walked over and put my arm around him, and asked "Photo?"  He smiled and nodded.  He understood that I was now taking a photo of the both of us together, as friends. As equals.

There was another day that we visited The Village Across the Lake.  This was maybe the most poverty-stricken village that we distributed food & clothing to.  Just getting across the salty lake was a challenge in itself, with an old wooden boat and a motor that wouldn't start.  We finally made our way across the lake and we each were trying to crawl safely out of the boat.  Once out of the boat, I noticed there were a few adult villagers and one little boy on shore watching us. It was a scene straight out of National Geographic magazine, yet completely different, because I was in this scene. I felt their hunger, I felt their desperation.  This little boy was about 3 years old, wearing only a pair of old, torn up underwear.  He also wore the markings of true malnutrition, orange hair and yellow eyes.  He was studying all these interesting looking white people unload bags of food.  He stood still on the trash covered beach next to an old wooden row boat.  I was now as still as he was, unable to look away.  It was yet another moment that I wish I could have captured on camera.  Although, I suppose there is no need for photos of images you'll never forget.

These experiences, among others, taught me that some things shouldn't be photographed.  They're too precious. Too beautiful. Too meaningful.

After explaining to Steve about my lack of pictures, he related it to Walter Mitty.  To quote the fictional character, photographer Sean O'Connell, "Beautiful things don't ask for attention.  Sometimes I don't take the photo. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like the distraction of the camera.  I just want to stay in it."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Haiti PART 1

I'm writing this for myself, but also for the people who really want to know how Haiti was.  I know there will be some that ask about my trip just out of courtesy and thats okay, but for the ones who really want to know what I experienced, these next few posts will have lots of honesty and details.

I'll start at the beginning;

When Steve and I arrived home from the hospital on July 4th last year after losing our Hazel, I was in an indescribable dark place.  That morning, I booked a cruise scheduled for a couple months later. I needed something to look forward to, I felt so disconnected from everything and everyone and felt that this time away with Steve would help me to feel refreshed and renewed.

It didn't.

I came home from that cruise feeling more empty than ever.  I was feeling discouraged and wondering if I would ever get out of this depression, wondering if I would ever feel whole again.  Thanksgiving was coming around the corner and I started to feel that need (as we all do) to give back.  I cleaned out my closet and donated a few boxes of clothes to a women's shelter.  It wasn't enough, I had a deep urge to do more.  We had gone to dinner with our friends Trudy & Fernando, and Trudy told me that she was going to Haiti with her church group on a mission trip for 10 days.  I felt like this was exactly what I was being led to, and asked if I could join them.  This was definitely out of my comfort zone, coming along with a bunch of strangers that belonged to a different church than me, knowing only one person, leaving my family and going to a third world country.  Looking back, I know that I was being pushed and guided in to making these arrangements.  This was where I needed to be and what I needed to do, and The Lord made sure that I met all the requirements to be there.

I wasn't exactly sure what we'd be doing once we got there, but I knew that I was where I needed to be, so I didn't stress over details.  In a broad statement; Over 10 days, we bought and packaged beans, rice & vegetable oil and distributed them to about 600 families in about 10 different villages. One bag of beans & rice would last a family for about a week.  We sorted through donated clothes for men, women & children and also distributed those to the villages. We went to schools and orphanages, sharing the story of Noah's Arc with the kids, playing with and loving on the kids, making bracelets with them out of fuzzy pipe cleaners & beads, and passing out cookies & water to them.  I'll be writing in more detail about a few of my defining experiences in separate posts.

The fist couple days, I was feeling alone.  Although all the people I went with were very nice, I was feeling a bit on the outside with never having attended their church, not knowing any of the songs they were singing, and their prayers being a little different from mine.  I longed for Steve and Sawyer and some familiarity. There was an adjustment period for sure.  After those first couple days, I realized that I was focusing too much on myself and on my comfort.  I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself.  I realized that the things we had in common clearly outnumbered our differences.  We were all praying to the same God, we all were there to serve our brothers & sisters in Christ, and the things I saw that broke my heart also left their hearts broken.  We were the same.  So, I learned their songs and I joined in their heartfelt prayers.  When I did that, my perspective changed.  I was now able to focus on the reason why I was there.

Hope House Orphanage:
Yvrose (EveRose) is the woman who started this orphanage.  I felt such a connection to her.  When she was married to her first husband, all she wanted was to be a mother.  They tried and tried for a child.  All their efforts left them with 12 miscarriages and no children.  Her husband left her because she was unable to carry a child.  She later re-married and began funding a school in Haiti.  At this school, she made sure that these kids ate at least one meal, never turning anyone away.  A lot of these kids walk miles and miles on Monday morning to get to school.  They attend their classes, but more importantly, they get fed.  When school lets out, these kids find a tree or bush close by and sleep there for the night.  They wake up, and go back to school and eat once again.  They do this all week until Friday when they walk the many miles back to their homes.  A lot of them don't eat again until Monday when they return to school.  Today, Yvrose has grown the school (with help of donations) that it now regularly educates and feeds about 500 students daily.

When Yvrose was preserved from the devastating earthquake in 2010, she gathered up children who needed to find their parents.  Those children that were unable to find their parents or next of kin, she kept them and started an orphanage.  Although, I don't feel like 'orphanage' is the correct term, its more like a family.  Today, she has 32 children who call her 'Mom'.  I believe the oldest is 26 and the youngest is just a few months old.  She  and her husband have 4 cribs in their room for the 4 youngest babies there.  This is a photo of me and the youngest.  I couldn't get enough of her.  I held her close and kissed her softly.  And just for a flash, I felt that I was holding my own Hazel.  I felt her with me in these tender moments.

Yvrose receives lots of opportunities to give.  There are women and children who frequently come to her asking for food.  At times, Yvrose only has enough to feed her family for tomorrow.  When she gets asked for food, her thought goes something like this "When someone comes to me asking me for food because they don't have anything to feed their family today, how can I turn them away?  I have food for tomorrow that I cannot, in good conscience, keep for myself when they have nothing today.  I give them my food that I'd been saving for tomorrow and trust in God that He will provide.  If we have no food, I simply tell my 32 children that we are fasting.  They never know that its because we don't have food."  She is in the process of building a large wholesale type farm.  That way, when someone comes to her for food, she can sell them (at a very low cost) some eggs so that they can turn around and sell those eggs for a profit and use that money to sustain their family.  This will help stimulate their economy and also enable Yvrose to keep her food for her 32 children. It was at this moment that I received a prompting that the donations that I received from my friends & family for this Haiti trip, needed to go to Yvrose.  I pulled her aside and let her know that her story had touched me and I was told that I needed to give this money to her for her to spend on whatever she felt most necessary. She squeezed me close and kissed my cheek and let me know that she would be praying for me.  This seemed to be the course of our entire stay: My heart would break for these Haitians who were starving, and they in turn would pray for me.  

One of the first nights we were there, I mentioned during our devotional that I was feeling extreme humility and guilt.  Why was I born where I was born?  Why was I given the materialistic items and the opportunities that I was given?  I didn't deserve any of it, and I was having a really hard time making sense of it all.  Another lady responded to me that yes, I was indeed blessed, but that I needed to take this next week to open my eyes to all the qualities that these people embodied and to ponder on that and realize where I was lacking.  That was one of the more difficult realities that I had to face.  I don't have their sense of community.  I don't have their faith in God.  I don't praise my Heavenly Father for every grain of rice I've been given.  I have lost sight of what is important in this life.  I've completely lost my way.  These people are so focused on survival, singing praises to our Lord, and feeding themselves and their neighbors.  I have my focus on comfort, appearances, and keeping up with the Jones'.  I am ashamed. I am embarrassed.  I am regretful.  And I am repentant.