Sunday, September 20, 2009


As the saying goes, there’s no place like it. It’s full of familiar smells, familiar sights, familiar things. Being home after being in a place like Haiti is an odd experience. Things are the same as they were before you left, but they’re somehow different at the same time.

I’ve done all the smart things, taking the re-entry process slowly, as one friend put it because you ‘don’t want to get the bends.’ I’ve gotten up at my usual times, participated in my usual post-travel activities –unpacking and doing laundry, putting the suitcases back in the storage room, picking up the mail at the Post Office and going through it, trying to get back into your usual routine. Saturday evening went to church. Sunday morning walked around the lake and went for breakfast with a friend. All the usual thing. But Sunday afternoon, I took a nap – for four hours. Not a usual thing. Oddly enough, Haiti is on Minnesota time so I can’t even claim jet lag. But I’m tired.

I’m enjoying the good things about being home. Abundant hot water and water pressure in the shower. Abundant cold, fresh water to drink at my fingertips. Abundant media resources in my own language. Abundant food, the eating of which does not result in the need for Cipro. I haven’t used hand sanitizer in over 48 hours. I drove my car without once swerving to avoid a 4 foot diameter pothole or a pickup crammed with 15 people pulling out from the curb and into my lane with no notice. I have understood every word that anyone has spoken in my presence. I know what to do and where to go and how to get along. It is all familiar and comfortable.

And at the same time, it is uncomfortable. I was only able to eat half the food on my plate at breakfast. I was very aware of the waste. I am conscious of the amount of time my shower takes. I am aware of every light I have turned on, of every thing I throw away. I am not feeling guilty – but I am feeling grateful. I am grateful for my life and the privileges that go with it. I am grateful for the security which allows me to live in a building that is not surrounded by walls topped with razor wire. I am grateful for the flip of a switch which provides reliable electricity, reliable cooling, reliable heating. I am grateful for the abundance that is the physical part of my life. More importantly, I am grateful for the abundance of friends, family, loved ones that make my life what it is. I am grateful that the abundance of my life allows me to experience life in Haiti. And I am grateful to come home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Haiti Day Ten

El Rancho is a lovely hotel. The fact that it is in Haiti, though, makes for an interesting experience. The power goes out periodically – sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for a few hours. When we arrived in our room, I commented to Carol about the candle on the desk in the room. Surely in America they wouldn’t trust anyone with an open flame in a hotel room and wasn’t that a nice touch. Then the power went out and it became apparent that the candle was not simply a decorative touch. Thank goodness we both brought a flashlight.

The original plan for the day was that Dio and Lionette would pick us up at 10:00 am and take us out for ice cream. We sat and waited in the lobby and at about 11:30 Nancy called to see what was up. There had been a change in plans – and someone had forgotten to notify us. We laughed. In the US people would be frustrated and angry. In Haiti, this is life. Plans change. Everybody seems to just go with the flow.

After lunch we have a lovely free afternoon. Some of us swim. Some go for a massage. The winding down is the point. We’re making the transition back to the US. Our evening processing is comprised of giving affirmations, dinner, and highlights. Affirmations involve each person writing a short note to the others on the team acknowledging something positive that was noticed during the trip. We often have qualities we might be unaware of until someone points them out to us. It is good to articulate these things in writing. Also, we discuss highlights of the trip. This is a particularly good practice as it focuses our attention on the positive things that have happened on the trip. We laugh a lot in sharing these memories.

Now, the only thing left is the packing and the leaving. The travel day will be hectic – making our way one last time through the chaos that is Haitian traffic, navigating the chaos that is the Port-au-Prince airport, and even navigating customs in Miami which is its own brand of chaos. Haiti has a way of getting under your skin. It is simultaneously wonderful and horrible. It is filthy and yet it is beautiful. Coming to Haiti is hard. Leaving Haiti is hard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Haiti - Day Nine

This is the day that we leave the Mephibosheth House. We spend one last morning with the kids – Mary has brought balloons to make water balloons. Needless to say, they are a big hit. We have a last meeting with the staff, sharing our thanks and appreciation for their work. They express appreciation for our time with them.

We leave around lunch time and Joe drives us to a Haitian Art Gallery in Delmas for a shopping opportunity. We then make the trek to Petionville. Petionville is the wealthy area of Port-au-Prince. It is quite a drive from near the airport where we have been staying at the Mephibosheth House. It is more crowded with vendors on the streets. Traffic is more hectic. There is clearly more money here. We make a second stop at a shop where local crafts are sold. It is our one opportunity, other than duty free at the airport on Friday, to buy gifts or souvenirs.

We finally arrive at our hotel, our home for our last 2 days in Haiti – El Rancho. It is a hotel that most Americans would be quite comfortable in. We are thrilled because there is air conditioning. There is water pressure and hot water. There is a pool. There is refrigeration. There is a mattress on top of a box spring instead of simply sitting on a frame. Even sitting outside is more pleasant as we are higher in the mountains and the air is cleaner and the breeze is cooler. We’re relatively certain this is what heaven will be. We have free time before dinner. A few of us check email and shoot off a quick message or two. Others take advantage of the air conditioning for a nap.

This is the beginning of the re-entry process. When traveling to such a different culture from one’s own there is an element of culture shock – even if you are not consciously aware of it. Traveling back home, the same thing applies. There needs to be time to process and talk through the thoughts and emotions being experienced as we ready ourselves to leave this place. One thing is certain, no one goes home unchanged. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the experiences, they all work together to change you. We hope, for the better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Haiti - Day Eight

Today, as I rocked her in my arms and sang ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ Valentina died.

Haiti - Day Seven

This morning came early – the rooster still lives, in case any of you are wondering. He’s very brave about his crowing in the middle of the night but is a coward at heart when daylight breaks. When you try to chase him down for a quick game of strangle the rooster, he makes sure to hide behind the hen and the chicks.

This morning we were back at the Sisters and today it was a very hard place to be. On Saturday, a small baby was brought in. I saw her because I thought I heard a cat mewing and went to check it out. It wasn’t a cat – it was this baby. She had been abandoned by her mother and taken in by the woman who brought her in to the clinic. This ‘surrogate’ mom had been doing her best at caring for this child for the last six months but the baby became so sick she finally brought her in to be seen by the doctor at the Sisters’ clinic. At six months, she weighed 4 pounds. She made it through the night on Saturday, but died yesterday. That was the news that greeted us upon our arrival.

I spent almost the entire morning with Valentina. She and I met our first day at the clinic. She is 8 months old and I have yet to see a parent come to visit her. She is in the first crib in the first room – the room for the sickest babies. I have made it a point to talk to her and hold her every day we’ve been there. On Saturday, she was alert and fussy. She was eating – not much – but eating, nonetheless. Today, she’s a different child. She’s lethargic and wants to do nothing but sleep. Her respiration is very quick and shallow. She has a fever. She will not eat. She is vomiting, and since she hasn’t eaten, she’s vomiting mucous and stomach bile. She can barely keep her eyes open long enough to vomit, then she’s right back to sleeping on my shoulder. I have placed cool washcloths on her head and body to try and cool her down. I have taken her and her IV bag out of the room and into the entryway where the sisters do the intake as well as the checkout for those who are going home. There is a place to sit, and more importantly, there is a breeze and the air is somewhat fresh. About 11:30 she is vomiting again, and this time there is blood. I take her to Sister Renee and she decides it is time for a feeding tube. Valentina fights it for just a moment, then seems to run out of energy completely and gives up the struggle. I am anxious about what we will find tomorrow morning upon our return.

In circumstances like this, one doesn’t really know what to hope for. You can pray and hope for healing. But then you have to ask “healing for what?” What is waiting for these kids? If they do get well, then what? For some, the answer is relatively easy. They have parents, or at least one parent, that loves them enough to come every day and stay for the visiting hours, feed them, rock them, change their diapers. They will go home with their parents, but the question again is ‘home to what?’ There is such poverty. They will drink water that is not clean, they will eat food that is not clean. Going home sometimes means another trip back to the clinic. For the others, the answers are harder. Some have been abandoned. If they recover from their illness, they will move upstairs into the orphanage and await adoption. If adopted, other issues arise. Most will be adopted out to other countries. There will be adjustment issues, abandonment issues, and the lingering health issues from such a rocky start to life. The process will be long and painstaking.

And yet, tomorrow we go back. We hold, we rock, we feed, we change diapers. And we pray.

Haiti - Day Six

Today is Sunday so many special things happen today, starting with breakfast. We are served a traditional breakfast soup that the wealthy Haitians eat on Sunday mornings. It is a creamy soup with a pumpkin or squash base to it, containing potatoes, carrots, onions and spaghetti. It is actually quite good – unusual for American palates – but flavorful and filling.

Pastor and Madame Dio and the team have left for church. Church is long here – at least a couple of hours. It is very crowded and there is no bathroom. As the most recently afflicted with the oogies, I have elected to stay home and rest – close to the bathroom! The children did not go to church with the team. Instead, they stay home for church on the porch, although they are all dressed for church – clearly Sunday clothes are being worn. Church started promptly at 9:30. One of the staff began by asking the children something in Creole to which they all responded simultaneously. This was repeated 3 times, then the singing began. There is a rhythm to their church service also. There is singing, followed by prayer, followed by singing, followed by prayer. There is calling and response. There is more singing. The children sing loudly – nobody is shy about the way they sound – it is joyful singing and a delight to listen to.

In the afternoon we have more time for the pool. Today, it is the staff who go first. Several of the women come out and they jump into the pool. They are joyous. They are splashing each other; they are splashing the kids. The kids are having almost as much fun watching the staff as they have being in the pool themselves.

While this is going on, Joe and Erick take Nancy and I to Visa Lodge. This is a local hotel which services English speaking business travelers and they have WiFi. Woo hoo! We finally get to post the blog entries and check at least a little email. Visa Lodge shows a different side of Haiti. This is where there is a certain amount of money. Our waiter speaks English, but is appreciative of my French. There are white business people at a couple of tables. There are Haitians at the next table. They have a laptop set up, they have ordered food off the menu and are dressed well. Our 4 Cokes cost us $15 US. As anywhere, I think it is the discrepancy in the distribution of wealth that is so difficult to process. In order to get here, we have passed hundreds of people on the streets who clearly have nothing. They may live in a shanty that is comprised of thatched walls on large sticks holding up a tin roof. If they are fortunate, they will eat rice with beans at least once today. They will never own a laptop. They will never sit at this table in this place. They will never spend $4 on a Coke. The next time I am drinking my $4 cup of Caribou Coffee, I will remember this scene. And I will be grateful.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Haiti Day Five

Our day began with another visit to the Sisters. It is very hot today and most of the team is feeling it in one way or another. Several of us have had a small bout of the ‘oogies,’ and a couple of us have started to take the Cipro we’ve brought with us.

After lunch today we had a meeting with the staff of the Mephibosheth house. It was an interesting experience. We are trying to find out what we can do to make their jobs easier when we come. They express that they are simply pleased to have us here. In their words, the best thing we can do is to come and love these children. Now that they know we are willing, they have promised to think carefully about the things they would like us to do the next time a team comes in January. We’re hoping they will be direct about what they would like us to do.

After the meeting, Dio took the team to see the village where he is planting another church. We drove north on Haiti’s Highway 1 along the west coast of the country. After leaving Port-au-Prince, we eventually caught sight of the ocean as we traveled further north. This is the road which would take us up to Gonaives, but we turn off before we get that far at a village named Cabaret. We pass through Cabaret and make our way further up into the mountains to Bethel.

This area was decimated by the hurricanes that went through last year. The water came straight down the river and destroyed much of what was in its path. Many people lost their homes and their land – they were left with nothing. Reconstruction has begun, but the process is slow as materials are not readily available and, of course, cost money. People are struggling through though, and even in such dire circumstances, children still laugh and play and adults greet us with a sincere smile of welcome. Currently, in Bethel, tents are erected for the purposes of shading and protection from rain and are used for church on Sunday and for classes during the week. A small classroom building has already been built and the church itself is next on the agenda.

By the time we return it is dark – and the ride has been a tough one. The highway itself has numerous potholes to circumnavigate and when we turn off the highway onto the mountain roads it is particularly bad. You must crawl along. Anything faster risks a flat tire or a broken axle. It feels like the bouncing of a small boat in a big storm. The van rocks from one side to the next and bounces up and down. A couple of us are feeling pretty carsick on the trip up and by the time we get back it’s just a bit too much. Luckily, the key to getting over motion sickness is to stop the motion, so once back at the house we recover quickly.

One of the more amazing things in Haiti is the patience of the drivers. Traffic is chaos. There are very few traffic signals or signs. People simply drive – virtually wherever they wish. We are passed on both sides simultaneously, people turn left in front of us or pull out from the curb without signaling. Buses, delivery trucks, tap-taps (the small truck that serve as shared taxis, carrying up to 15 or more people along with a chicken and a goat) cars and SUVs and pedestrians, lots of pedestrians, all fight for space and right of way. On-coming cars swerve into your lane of traffic to avoid the giant pothole in their lane. You simply slow down to allow them access then go on your way. This give and take has a rhythm to it – it is actually something that is pleasant to see – compared to what we see at home where people will speed up to not allow someone to merge or who crowd other drivers out in their insistence to be first. Haitians seem to understand that we’ll all get there eventually, so there’s no need to be so self-centered. Perhaps the way they drive is a message to the rest of us on how to do life

Haiti Day Four

Flexibility. It is an essential quality in a third world country. As they say, ‘Man plans, God laughs.” Our scheduled trip to the Sisters today did not materialize. Madame Dio needed Joe, our driver, to take her to run several errands this morning, so that needs to take precedence over our outing. It is disappointing not to be going, and yet it gives us an unplanned opportunity to spend more time with the kids at the House. We are filling ‘la piscine’ – the swimming pool which we brought with us from the States. The kids have started to gather around to watch in anticipation. Of course, water pressure is almost non-existent here so the filling is taking quite awhile. We’re going on 2 ½ hours already and we only have about six inches in it. Of course, it might fill faster if Paul and Carol weren’t spending so much time squirting everything that moves.

Lunch is over and the children have gathered on the porch, right in front of the steps to watch and be the first in the pool. The girls go first. When Madame Dio tells them they may get ready, there is jumping and cheering and running to their rooms to get bathing suits on. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a group of girls this giddy. They cannot contain their excitement. Luckily we brought water wings with us and some of the smaller children are unable to stand on their own and even though the pool only contains about 2 feet of water, it would be easy to experience an accidental drowning. Three of our team are in the pool with the girls – all 13 of them. You can imagine that it is quite crowded, but the kids seem oblivious to the crunched conditions. They splash and put their heads under water and hold their breath. For some it is their first time in a swimming pool. What a treat! The boys follow the girls and the experience is the same.

Another activity of the afternoon is the taking of Biographies. We have only sketchy details on many of the children. Some do not know their birth date or how old they are. One boy could not remember the name of his brother. We have virtually no information on the staff at this point. We talked with all the women on staff, gathering details about city of origin, birth family, and current family. The staff hold positions such as head housekeeper, house mother to either the boys or the girls, kitchen manager, head cook, head laundress etc. What is so striking about these women is that they love their jobs. Truly. They are thrilled to work here and they are thrilled to live with and serve these children. It is heartwarming to see people embrace jobs that so many people in more wealthy countries would look down their nose at or simply refuse to do. When we expressed regret today to Nitha that just after she’d finished mopping the floors, we dumped kids in the swimming pool (I don’t think I need to explain the result!) rather than getting angry at us or the kids for tracking mud and dirt on her newly washed floors, she said that it was nothing. And she meant it. The staff here do not see any part of their job as being beneath them. The most menial, the most dirty parts of their job are tackled with graciousness and evey with apparent. As I see their attitude toward their work, I reflect on my own whining and moaning about certain elements of my job. I don’t like doing this, or that part of my job is annoying, or this part of my job is a waste of my time or talent. It makes me aware of my own sense of entitlement and I want to do better.

Haiti Day Three

The rooster has made it through another night unscathed. One of the team did have a dream about killing it with a sledgehammer, but it has survived to torture us once more. He started again around 3:30 and he actually seems to make his way in a circle around the entire compound. He also seems to make it a point to stop and crow under every window in the building. He seems quite deliberate about the whole process. We’ve begun to consider poison.

This morning several of the team took a road trip to the paint store, the fan store, and the Eko Depot – Haiti’s version of Home Depot. It was an adventure. The paint store is located in Delmas, a middle class neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. Middle class has a different standard here than at home. Many of the homes are built with concrete block and are well-equipped by Haitian standards. Most Americans would probably find them a hardship. The houses are set behind concrete walls which are topped with razor wire or rows of broken glass and glass bottles to keep intruders out. In addition to paint, the paint store also stocks ceramic tile of every description, sinks, tubs, and whirlpool tubs. The fan store housed small little stoves and refrigerators, the most gaudy selection of toilets and matching sinks, generators of every description, and fans, which you might imagine, are expensive as there is never a reason for an ‘end of season’ sale

When we returned, Mary and Paul were sitting with all the children engrossed in coloring and drawing. Small groups occasionally break off to kick the soccer ball or to play a game of dominoes. It’s a relatively quiet time, especially considering the sheer numbers of kids. We’re appreciating the quiet as this afternoon it will be the Special Olympics. Paul has planned a number of activities for the kids. We think it will be quite fun!


The Special Olympics were a great hit. All the kids participated in at least one of the events, many participated in them all. First, second and third place ribbons were given, (and the judging panel skewed the results to make sure every one of the 18 children received one of the first three places in one of the events.) Kids who cannot walk without a walker were still able to throw the bean bags, or ‘kick’ the soccer ball with their hands. It was a joy to watch them participate – although I suspect that some of them were more interested in pleasing the crazy Americans than in throwing a bean bag through a hoop! In any case, it was fun – for them and for us.

It is easy to second guess yourself in a place like this. Am I doing the right thing? Am I communicating what I’m trying to communicate? Am I being respectful in the way in which I’m interacting with others? It’s easy to step on toes and not even know it. But the biggest question for me is ‘what is the value of what we are doing?’ Are we helping or are we hindering. Or are we simply benign – a presence that is here for 10 days disrupting the routine, but one that will be forgotten as soon as we drive away. I don’t have the answers yet. Even if we are forgotten the moment we leave, I am certain none of us will forget this experience. These children and the staff who serve them, have a way of insinuating themselves into your heart. They won’t be easily erased.

Haiti Day Two

Kill the rooster.

The world starts coming to life as soon as the starts to get light. The rooster didn’t wait that long. He started around 3:30 am. He hasn’t stopped yet and it’s now 5:30. Several of us have given up on sleep although there is talk of a $250 bounty on that rooster’s head. We’re sitting on the porch listening. The rooster, the feral cats, sounds of breakfast cooking, horns honking, birds singing, and the baby chicks following their mama and chittering the whole time. We’ve spotted a baby gecko in the bathroom, and a decent sized rat wandering around the bases of the banana palms. The mosquitoes and gnats are biting and it’s already warm and humid. The sky is clear blue – it’s beautiful.

3:30 pm
We spent the morning at the Sisters of Charity clinic for sick and dying babies. Chaotic describes the scene well. There are four rooms full of beds – 25 in each room, each cradling a very sick little baby. Some are hooked up to IVs, some aren’t strong enough to sit up, some aren’t strong enough to cry. Many have visiting parents this morning, but several do not. They sit or lay alone in their cribs. As the mamans pass by, they might pat a back or tickle a chin. Sometimes they simply change a diaper and quickly move on to the next needy child. At 10:30 it is time for the parents to leave and there is great wailing and sobbing. It’s heart-breaking to watch and listen to. There are only so many hands and the hands are far outnumbered by the sick babies. There is a new doctor who will be at the clinic for the next several weeks. He openly admits he is overwhelmed. He has never seen some of the diseases he is seeing this morning and he doesn’t quite know how to react when he orders medications or treatments and the sisters inform him that it simply isn’t possible. This particular child is not sick enough, and the strongest medicines must be saved for those who are far sicker. The lucky children will eventually go home with their parents. The others will spend their last days on earth in this place. Holding a baby is a simple thing – holding a dying baby, not quite as simple.

After lunch we spend the remaining afternoon time with the kids at the house. Glen and Mary are making paper airplanes and teaching the kids how to make them fly. The kids are thrilled. It’s a simple game created out of spare paper that had been sitting around the home of one of the team members. They react to this game the way American kids might react to a new game for their Wi. There is a small group of kids most fascinated with the airplanes – Gemima, Nadege, Sheelove and Dadou. Dadou is 8 years old. To American eyes he could easily pass for half his age. As they play, Mary sings songs to them in Creole and Dadou begins to dance with her. That may not seem like a monumental thing; after all, it is something most of us have done with our kids or grandkids or nieces & nephews. But the dancing is special because a year ago Dadou could not walk, or even stand, upright. He scooted on his knees, reminiscent of a rather large frog. Yet today, Dadou danced. Our spirits dance with him.

Haiti Day One

Day One – 4:30 am

Airports are chaotic. No matter how well you plan ahead, here are a hundred things that can go wrong to delay you and create stress. It starts with the taxi that is supposed to pick you up at 3:30 am not arriving. Once at the airport, there’s the electronic check-in process which is supposed to simplify things but rarely ever does. Then there’s the luggage – tons and tons of luggage. Security clearance, where you must take everything out of bags and put it all into bins and take off your shoes and put them on the conveyer belt. Soon – they’ll be implementing strip searches. I’m certain it’s just a matter of time. And, TSA people, bless their hearts, need to go back to 2nd grade science class and learn the difference between liquid and solid. I don’t care what they say, toothpaste is not a liquid! The paintbrush in Mary’s bag is, to them, a packet of razorblades and her bag must be hand checked completely and then run back through x-ray. They seem to think that our team member Paul has hidden something quite dangerous in his wheelchair It looks like they’re about to take it apart.

Our trip already is different than we anticipated. One of our members, Annie-Claude, has had to withdraw from the trip at the last minute. She has been in terrible pain thanks to a pinched nerve of some sort. Some would say that one less person means less potential conflict and less, overall, to deal with. Those things may be true, but it is disappointing to plan a trip with someone who is then unable to go. We must all adjust now and take on her responsibilities during the trip. Annie-Claude was also our fluent French speaker and we were relying on her for translation purposes. Our disappointment is great but, I suspect, not nearly as great as hers.

Nonetheless, we are excited. Our flights have been on time. We had a good lay-over in Miami which meant a lunch of excellent Cuban food. Our arrival in Port-au-Prince went without incident. We have arrived at the Mephibosheth house.

Haiti is, of course, hot and humid. It is dusty and dirty. The roads are full of pot-holes, and proceeding through traffic takes strong nerves, patience, and continual prayer for safety. We have met the children, somewhere between 16 and 20 of them. They welcome us graciously. They are incredibly charming.

The first boy I met today is Kens Pierre. We met as he was scooting himself out of the pantry using his elbows for locomotion. When Kensy arrived at the Mephibosheth house, he had a different name. His name was Poo-ki-Sa which means, in Creole, ‘why?’ In trying to convince Madame Dio to take him in, he gave her his sales pitch “I can go three days without eating.” Here he is fed 3 meals daily. He is happy and healthy. He is bright and sweet and loves music and singing and is a leader of the other boys. He and another boy, Ywensen have been leading the boys in a daily devotional time. It was their idea – they wanted to do it. Kensy ‘preaches’ or leads the devotional time while Ywensen leads the singing.

In the US, we take the social services we have for granted. If a child is born with a physical or developmental disability, we work to make things better. We view our children as special and loved, no matter their level of ability. Things are a little different here. There are no services, and there is no health care as we know it. These children are often considered disposable. But here at the Mephibosheth House, they are valued and valuable. They are encouraged to grow and reach their full potential. It may look like we are the ones ‘giving’ while here. But, I think it’s more likely that we’ll be receiving.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I’ve spent the last several days in final preparation for our upcoming trip to Haiti. Each of our team members is allowed one checked bag and one carry-on bag per person. We also will take one ‘team’ bag per person. Our team bags are full of various donations of clothing and other items, supplies we will need during our stay, as well as supplies for the activities we hope to do with the kids at the Mephibosheth House.

For those of you who have traveled with me, you will probably be surprised to find that I am struggling to fit everything into a large checked bag and a large carry-on bag. I am the one who preaches that you can fit everything you need into a carry-on sized bag and a day bag for 3 weeks in Europe. And I can. And I have. As many of you might attest to.

But packing for Haiti is different. First is the need for clothes for every day of the trip. I NEVER do that while traveling, preaching the value of washing out your clothes in the hotel room sink and wearing them repeatedly throughout your stay. In Haiti, where the temperature is 95F and the humidity is 95%, waiting for clothes to dry (truly dry) is a sketchy proposition. Plus, it is a wonderful moment every morning to be able to open a fresh, Ziploc-encased outfit and have, just momentarily, the smell of clean clothes and clean air. Then there’s the toilet paper. Yes, we take our own. As well as massive amounts of sun-screen and bug spray, wet-wipes and hand sanitizer, dryer sheets (which you spread on the floor around the bed to keep bugs away and tucked in your suitcases for the same purpose), Listerine, and a medicine chest’s worth of drugs that you pray you won’t be needing. Squeezing it all in is an adventure. It makes me realize how very much we have.

The United States is by many reports and standards the world’s wealthiest country. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis lists a per capita income of $38,611 and the US Census Bureau cites an average household income of $50,740. The World Bank’s PPP numbers rank the average US citizen second in wealth behind those of Luxembourg. Only 13% of our population lives in poverty. Even those of us who have taken a hit during the recent economic downturn still have far more than a significant portion of the rest of the world. We have enough.

In less than 24 hours from this writing, I will be stepping off a plane in Port-au-Prince. Haiti is a 65 minute flight from Miami and is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. 80% of its population lives in poverty and 54% live in abject poverty. Average per capita income runs from $270 USD per year (UN ReliefWeb) to $400 USD (US State Department). Haiti is ranked the 4th most corrupt country in the world (Transparency International) ranking better only than Somalia, Myanmar, and Iraq. The contrast between here and there is a difficult one to ignore.

When you set down in Haiti you are confronted immediately with incredible lack. There is poverty everywhere you look. There is need. It is easy to feel guilty in such a circumstance, when you cannot help but compare what you have available to you every day and have left behind at home, just hours before, to what you are seeing whichever direction you turn your head. It is a harsh confrontation of how much we have, and yet how much we continue to ‘want.’

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, said something like this (paraphrased greatly!) – whether in plenty or in want, in whatever circumstances I am, I have learned to be content. It seems a wise approach to life.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


66 degrees farenheit. That was the temperature of the water I dove into this morning at 6:30 a.m. When my friend and I started lap swimming earlier in the summer, the water was quite a bit warmer, averaging 85-87 and dropping down to 81 or 82 on a cloudy day. It’s easy to swim in 86 degree water. It’s warm, it’s soothing, your muscles are relaxed, and at 10 degrees lower than your body temperature it’s still refreshing compared to the heat and humidity of a Minnesota summer. 32 degrees below your body temperature is not warm. It’s not particularly soothing. Your muscles are tight. You could call it refreshing but bracing or brisk would be better words and, if we’re really honest about it, it’s damn cold!

My friend’s husband, who occasionally sits in the 102F hot tub drinking hot coffee while we swim said to her last week, with a fair amount of incredulity, “and you guys are proud of this?” Our response is automatic. “Of course we are” we say with a similar smug sanctimoniousness that we Minnesotans take on when people who aren’t from around here say “You really went cross-country skiing when it was minus 22F?” and we respond that of course we did and that there wasn’t any wind so really, when you got going, it wasn’t bad and it was almost even refreshing. Minus 22F isn’t refreshing – it’s damn cold!

But we are proud of it. We’re proud of rising to the challenge. It’s a challenge to go out and ski in minus 22F weather. It’s a challenge to get up at 5:30 in the morning every day to swim laps whether the water is 66F or 86F. Most of our challenges, though, are far more complicated than a number on a thermometer. It’s a challenge to develop a habit that you know is in your best interests now and in the future, but that isn’t necessarily easy. It’s a challenge to leave a job or relationship that isn’t healthy. It’s a challenge to make those jobs and relationships work – and work to make them healthy. It’s a challenge to work through a mistake and make it right, or to sit back and watch your loved ones walk straight into one knowing they must find their own path. It’s a challenge to change, to be better today than you were yesterday, to choose the path that is right as opposed to the path that is comfortable or convenient, to make a difference in your own life and in your own circle.

Rising to the challenge is often its own reward. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, there’s 20 minutes in a 102F hot tub waiting at the end of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Transformation Part 2

The transformation continues. A few weeks ago I wrote about painting my kitchen and hallway and stairwell. This past week the bedroom had its turn. This one took quite a bit longer. First, I had to do the work of taking down an outdated wallpaper border at the top of the walls. They say it’s easy with the right tools – score the border, squirt on some Dif, wait 20 minutes and it falls off. Not. There’s wetting and scraping and washing and scrubbing – all while sweating at the top of the trusty a-frame step-ladder.

Then there’s the actual painting. First there’s the ceiling – working, of course, around the ceiling fan. Then come the walls. One color on one wall, two shades up on the color chip for the remaining walls. All this is done while shifting the furniture in the room first to one side, then to the other in a counter-clockwise motion. Sort of like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, taking it apart, putting it together, taking it apart. You get the idea. Two coats required, of course. It’s probably good I started with the kitchen. Had I started with this, I might have decided this was enough! My back aches, my neck aches, my shoulders ache and on and on.

But the work is done; the bedroom is freshly painted, floors freshly scrubbed, furniture freshly dusted and the space has taken on a new life, a new energy. I have, as my friends put it, ‘reclaimed my space.’

When one part of our life ends, and a new chapter begins, it is easy to take along unwanted and unnecessary things from the past. We’ve all done it. Carried old mistrust, old defenses, old coping mechanisms, old thought and behavior patterns into new segments of our lives. We call it baggage. I have a friend who used to joke that her baggage had baggage. We laughed, but the laughter was uneasy – the kind of laughter that is tinged with the knowledge that there’s truth behind the joke and the truth isn’t a pretty one.

Sometimes the hard work is really the emotional work. We need to come to terms with painful memories or past decisions that we regret, change unproductive habits or patterns, re-claim our emotional sense of stability and the knowledge of who we are at the core, regardless of our circumstances. Moving forward, we get to decide what we want, what we need and figure out what we get to do to make that happen. The painting can be part of the process of doing our work, or the declaration and affirmation of the work we’ve already done.