Friday, January 30, 2009

Tayasha and Betneyflor

I grip Jaydens’ hand firmly in mine as we make our way across the dusty, rock filled path to the river. As usual the trail is busy, but today my attention is drawn to a little girl carefully cradling her doll. I pick up Jayden and balance him on my right hip as I walk a little faster to catch up to her. “Kijan ou rele?” (What is your name?) I ask her. “Tayasha,” she responds and smiles shyly at me. “Mwen remen pope ou,” ( I like your doll) I say, and smile back. “Eske mwen kapab kinbe li?” (May I hold her?) I ask. She looks at me intently for a moment and then deciding she can trust me she carefully hands over her treasure. “Kijan rele pope ou?” (What is the name of your doll?) I ask. “Betneyflor”, she says.” As I hold Betneyflor, I take a moment and examine her a little closer. Betneyflor is missing most of her hair, and both of her wrists. She has no clothes, but instead has a piece of cloth tied around her waist. She is dirty and the wisps of blonde hair she has left are rather matted. But although she is in a sorry state, I can tell she’s well loved. Tayasha doesn’t take her eyes off her the whole time I’m holding her.
A few minute later we arrive at the river and Tayasha gently takes Benteyflor back. I watch as she carefully unwraps the cloth around the dolls waist and washes it in the river. She then does her best to wash Betneyflor, but she can’t get the knots out of her hair. Sharing Tayasha’s love for dolls, and now babies, I desperately try to think of something I can do for her.
Suddenly, I remember I still have a piece of material in my suitcase. I had bought it a year ago, but had never done anything with it. It would be perfect to make a dress for Betneyflor, I thought to myself, already imagining in my mind what it would look like. “Esk ou vle mwen koud yon rob pou Betneyflor?” (Would you like me to make a dress for Betneyflor?)I ask. Her dark eyes widen and she smiles! “Wi,”(yes) she says excitedly. “Vini avec mwen” (Come with me) I say. She walks back to the camp where we live and then lets me take her doll. I take off the piece of cloth, wash Betneyflor with soap and water and then using shampoo and conditioner get to work on her hair. She soon looks a lot cleaner and I manage to get all the knots out of her hair too. Then I get to work measuring, pining, cutting out, and stitching a little dress for Betneyflor. Once the dress is done I cut out a square piece of material and make a little hat to cover Benteyflors’ baldness. Betneyflor looks very pretty all dressed up and Tayasha is thrilled when she sees her. She hugs Betneyflor close and then allows her friend Katie to hold and admire Betneyflor. Then shyly she looks up at me and says “Eske ou koud menm pou mwe?” (Can you make the same for me?) I don’t have enough material to make a dress, but I do have enough to make matching little hats for her and her friend. When I finish them, they put them on and dance around excitedly. It’s heart warming to watch how happy they are over something so small. Like I said earlier, they may not have much, but they treasure what they have.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Me, a Nurse?

A career in nursing has never, ever appealed to me. Don’t get me wrong, I really admire and respect those who are nurses, but infections, blood, needles, injections? Nope, those were things I knew I definitely wanted to avoid. I remember way back when I was in third grade, my teacher (my Dad) gave us an assignment to write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Almost every single girl in the class wrote an essay about wanting to be a nurse. I guess it was kind of the equivalent of a little boy wanting to be a firefighter, but not me. What did I write about? I wanted to be a forest ranger like one of my older brothers. I remember even drawing these little men and one little women, dressed in green, tracking bears through a forest! Well as it turns out, ironically, I am in the forest, also known as jungle, but am I tracking bears or protecting the trees? Nope, I’m doing the one thing I was sure I never wanted to do! Nursing! It started like this. A work team was here and when they were leaving decided to give me their leftover first aid supplies. It included a large amount of band-aids, antibacterial wipes and Neosporin. I didn’t want to say no, but I had no idea how I could possibly use all that stuff. Jayden had the occasional small scrape, but this many bandages, antibacterial wipes and Neosporin? He probably wouldn’t use that much in a life time, much less in the three months we would be in here in Pignon. Another team that had been here previously had left a box of surgical gloves in a bathroom cupboard, I saw no use for those either, but little did I know.
Remember several weeks ago when I wrote about Mona and washing her hair and giving her my shirt? Well, I used the extra water to wash her arms and legs and noticed several infected sores on her knee. I really don’t like looking at infected things, but I couldn’t just leave it the way it was, so I dug out a pair of surgical gloves, a bag of antibacterial wipes, bandages and Neosporin and got to work on her leg. Examining it closer I could see that it had started out as a several minor wounds, probably her just falling on some rocks, but they had become badly infected. Her dark skin was turning black and… okay, enough! You can probably imagine what an infected leg looks like. It grosses me out even writing about it. Anyway she didn’t complain when I cleaned out her wounds or when I put on the cream on her bloodied tender skin. She even smiled bravely and excitedly pointed to her band-aid. Well, the band-aid didn’t last long, but at least the wound was cleaned. Well, that was only the beginning. The next day she came again and I cleaned it all over again and once again applied the antibacterial ointment. The next day she came again, but this time she brought some friends who also had all types of infected wounds all over their body. “Mina, Mina, they would call during our Creole lessons, so finally I told them I would help them but they had to come at a set time. Everyday right after lunch I would pull on my gloves, line up the every growing number of kids and get to work. Well, the antibacterial wipes, that would have lasted Jayden a lifetime soon dwindled. What am I going to do when my supply is gone? I wondered. Well the next team came and guess what they gave me? A giant bag of alcohol prep pads! So, I had no excuse to stop. And you know what? After seeing the results, I couldn’t stop anyway. Mona’s knees are completely healed, I’ve manage to treat the infection on Mali’s elbows and I got to Djempsky’s cuts before they became infected. I still don’t like blood, wounds or infections, but treating the wounds, cuts and sores of these children is making a difference, so I have to do it. I can’t stop.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Haiti's Children

Before I came to Haiti, I wondered what children with no playgrounds, toys, puzzles, books, board games, computers, or scooters, would do all day. How could a child with almost nothing be happy? I wondered.

I knew the saying that material things don’t bring happiness, but having nothing? It just seemed incomprehensible.

Well here is what I discovered.

First of all, most children participate in chores. They feed the animals, help their mothers scrub laundry, they herd animals and transport fresh water from nearby water pumps to their homes. It’s not like child labour or anything, but each child has a definite roll in the family and they all help out. They start helping as early as three years old.

Six year old Mona and her three year old sister walk two kilometers every day to get fresh drinking water for their family. They take their small jugs and balance them on their heads. During that time Mona comes up with all kinds of fun ideas and games that she can do when she’s done.

Here is Mona.

Here are her two sisters.

They may not have board games, but they do have imagination! Here Mona and Jayden are seeing how many rocks fit in a bottle.

They may not have toy trucks to play in a sandbox with but they have some old machinery. Here Megan, Jayden and a little boy called Ken, play together on a broken down Komatsu. Megan and Jayden make all the sounds the machine may, or may not make, and pretend they are driving it while Ken sings, ”M-gin le jwa, jwa, jwa, jwa anba ke mwe” (I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!) Sad? I don’t think so.

They have only a little, but they treasure what they have.

This little girl has a broken doll. A hand is missing and it is also missing most of its hair! She doesn’t have doll clothes so instead the doll wears a little scrap of material. I watch the little girl and then follow her down to the river. At the river she carefully unwraps the scrap of material and washes it. She smiles happily and lovingly pats her broken `baby``.

They may not have toys but they have imagination! Take a look here.

This little boy has found an old bicycle wheel. He pushes the spokes with a stick and runs after it! It goes faster and faster! I hear his shouts of laughter as he chases it!

They don’t have four-wheelers, plastic sleds or snow for that matter, but that doesn’t mean they’ve never had a sled ride!

Here two little boys are pulling Jayden on a palm branch! He loves it! How creative!

They may not have a bicycle or scooter, but have you ever ridden a donkey?

They probably don’t know what a scavenger hunt is but they know how to catch tarantulas without getting stung! How’s that for entertainment?

After watching them for weeks and weeks I realized that these children weren’t sad or bored at all! The chores they did made them feel like an important part of their families and their creativity and imagination gave them endless ideas of what they could do. The little they did have they treasured, and they shared with each other. I guess that once again proves the theory that you don’t need a lot of “things” to bring happiness.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Lesson Of Love

The first time I see Alous she is balancing a large tray of glass dishes on her head. She smiles at us in a friendly matter her white teeth glowing against her dark skin. Her hair is done in a hundred perfect little braids. She welcomes us politely to Pignon. We nod at her and smile our welcome since we can’t speak any Creole yet. Since the camp is still waiting for a stove, she has agreed to cook for us indefinitely. She knows how to barter for food at the market and cook over a fire, something we don’t know how to do yet. We give her $200 US dollars to buy food for the week. Each meal she makes is nicely done and comes with a variety of different side dishes. She also makes almost double of what we eat but she never serves the leftovers. Within 3 days she’s used all the money and makes motions that she needs more to buy food. We reluctantly give her more and try to explain that we don’t need so many different dishes or so much food, but she doesn’t seem to understand. Everyday we get a large variety of food and double the amount we need. After two weeks, we feel that we just can’t possibly afford having her cook for us. Since the camp manager says they have a stove available for us now and one of the missionary wives offers to take us to the market, we decide to start cooking for ourselves. Alous seems disappointed but doesn’t say anything. I feel bad, but there is no way we can afford to have her keep cooking for us. When she sees us she still greets us but it seems like she tries to avoid us. I feel slightly awkward around her. Several weeks later we are looking for a babysitter so I ask one of the local pastors who speaks English. He phones around and comes back several minutes later. Would you mind if Alous babysits he says? “I guess”, I hedge, I still feel slightly uncomfortable around her but I don’t have a reason to say no, so I hesitantly accept. The decision to hire Alous as babysitter doesn’t become any easier when Jayden screams every time he sees her. Every morning when I bring him to her he screams and struggles. If he manages to break free he runs away as fast as he can. I have mixed feelings. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I feel bad for both him and Alous. As time passes I decide to let Jason bring him and that seems to work slightly better. At least he’s not screaming as much. Slowly things change. During class I hear a lot less crying and when I go pick him up he seems fairly relaxed. Another team comes and Alous cooks for them but still offers to watch Jayden. She holds him on one hip the entire time as she works. He likes that. At 25 pounds, I can’t do that when I work!
Now, this morning I can’t find Jason so I decide to bring Jayden again myself. As we approach Alous her face breaks into a large smile and she greets us warmly! “Jayden” she says and holds out her hands! Amazingly he lets go of my hand and runs to her and throws his arms around her neck. They walk off happily together leaving me in the dust. Hours later I go search for them since it’s time for his nap. I find Jayden on her hip as she feeds him fried spam! (the teams’ lunch) He loves it and protest when I take him. She smiles at me and gives him one last hug. Later that same day after dinner, I give Jayden a bath. Just as I’m putting his pajamas on Alous comes into the main house to pick up the teams dishes. “Santi chevey li” (smell his hair) I say to her. She smiles broadly when she smells the Zwitsal (Dutch baby shampoo). “Bon” (good) she says. Jayden leans his little head towards her and kisses her soundly on the nose. “Zanmi mwe” (my friend) Alous says. I smile as my heart fills with love and gratitude. God commands us to love one another, but the love that I had been unable to communicate a little child had been able to. How humbling. The Bible says, He uses the weakest means to do His Will. Love one another.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mona Part 2 ...

“Mina!” a voice calls. (That’s my Haitian name apparently). I peak past the sheet hanging in our doorway and see the small figure of Mona standing under a tree. She smiles shyly at me. I walk towards her and notice she’s wearing a “new” pink little dress. “Ou gen bel rad yo!” (you have pretty clothes) I say, and she smiles proudly. “Mama pa-m te achte pou mwen” (My mother bought it for me!) I walk a little closer and notice that although her dress is slightly faded it’s still in pretty good shape. It’s not until she turns around that I notice the gaping hole in the back. “Eske ou vle mwen koud rad pou ou?” I ask. (Do you want me to sew your clothes?) She nods and I go inside to get my travel sewing kit. Before long the hole is stitched up and Mona is thrilled. “Mesi anpil, she says (Thank you very much!). She smiles at me and grabs my hand. I smile back and my heart is filled with gratitude that she finally has a pretty dress. I’m also glad I know how to mend things and that I brought my mini sewing kit. Before long other children start coming asking me to fix the holes in their clothes and I’m happy to help them in anyway that I can. How precious these children are.

Below are some of the pictures of Mona in her dress.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thank You!

After almost a month the package that Mom, Dad & Oma Krul sent finally arrived! It first had to make it's way down to Florida, it then sat in MFI's post office box since they were closed for the holidays, then it was flown to Cap-Haitien where it sat in customs, from there it was sent to Port-au-Prince to MAF's office and finally MAF flew it to Pignon to where we were. We excitedly opened it to find Dutch cookies, candies, snacks for Jayden and some little toys! Dropies never tasted so good! Jayden also was very excited and kept driving the little Fisher Price cars everywhere including over his face! Thank you so much Mom & Dad and Oma Krul!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mona ...

Strong little legs pound the dirt road as fast as they can go, the bare little feet so tough they hardly feel the rocks embedded in the dusty ground. Mona can run like the wind and she knows it. Although she’s only six years old she is one fast, tough little girl. If any boy teases her they better watch out! Her dark eyes dance with mischief and you often hear her low laugh.
She normally wears some scraggly clothes but today she’s only in her underwear. As I watch her play and run, I remember the words in Matthew 25:35&36“I was hungry and you gave me meat…. naked and you clothed me.” When the children complain they are hungry we give them bread with butter and sugar but we only have our own clothes with us, and they’re just not the right size.
I watch her for a few more minutes and then call her. “Mona, eske ou kapab vini isit?” (Can you come here?) She dances over and plops down beside me. Previously I had given beads and other little hair clips to the girls but I hadn’t given her any yet so I ask if she would like some. “Wi,” (yes) she says her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Do you want me to put them in your hair?” I motion and speak in broken Kreyol. “Wi,” she says again. I lean forward and touch her hair. It’s a mess. Her dark frizzy locks are full of sand, sawdust and stiff with mud and dirt. There is no way I can do anything with it. “Eske ou vle mwen lave chevey ou?” I ask her. (Do you want me to wash your hair?) “Wi,” she says again so I go inside to grab a bucket of water and my shampoo and get to work. A little later her hair looks much better and I make a cute little bun. What can I give her to wear? I think to myself. I suddenly remember that I have a high necked, long stretchy T-Shirt that might fit her as a dress. I go to our room to see if I can find it. Sure enough, there it is. When I put the dress on her Mona just glows. It fits really well and comes right down to her knees. I tie a ribbon around her waist to complete the outfit. She looks so cute. I then wash her arms and legs with the leftover water and notice a festering wound on her left knee cap. “Let me get my first aid kit”, I say. I clean her wound and then lather on the antibacterial cream. Then I put one of Jayden’s brightly coloured band-aids on it. She smiles gratefully and then says the one English word she knows, “Thank you”. Soon after she leaves for home dancing all the way. You can tell how happy and excited she is.
Hours later she comes back, minus the dress, the hair clips and beads. Someone else has neatly done her hair in little braids and she is wearing a threadbare Dora explorer nightgown that is about 3 sizes to small. I ask her what happened to her dress and she explains it to me over and over but I just don’t know enough of the language to understand it.
Now weeks later she is once again sitting beside me while I study my Kreyol lesson book. “Ou gen bel rad yo,” she says, (you have pretty clothes). Now that I have a better grip of the language, I can communicate much better.” “Ki kote rob la m-te ba ou?” (Where is the dress I gave you?) I ask. “Mama mwen te pote le mache a pou vann li,”she says. (My mother took it to the market and sold it). “Mwen te kriye anpil”( I cried a lot). She looks at me with her large dark eyes and moves a little closer to me. I squeeze her hand and my heart breaks for her.
Later I tell Jason and since he knows more Kreyol them I do, he goes outside to talk to her. She tells him that her mother sold her dress for 5 gouds. “Pouki?” (Why?) He asks. “Mama mwen te di m-pa bezwen bel rad paske m-toujou fe yo sal kanmenm.” (My mother said I don’t need pretty clothes because I always gets them dirty any how.)

How are you supposed to react to something like this? It’s painful knowing that something you gave someone ended up causing them more pain because it was taken away. Did her mother need it for food? Possibly, who knows? At least if she used it to buy food that would be a little consolation.
Now when Mona comes I just give her things that no one can take away from her. Hugs, friendship and kindness. Jayden also likes sharing his snacks with her, although he does insist on “feeding her”. She doesn’t mind though and plays along with it. One thing I continue to learn is how important speaking and understanding the language is. If you can’t communicate there’s just so much you miss.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My first driving experience & Rules of the road

“We really need to go the market,” Jennifer says, and I look up from sweeping the floor. “Do you want to drive?” I ask her. “No, do you?” I look at her doubtfully and then nod. “I guess I could give it a try.” Neither of us had driven in Haiti yet and I was a little nervous about the idea. I slowly drop my broom and then hike down to the river where Jason and Jayden are playing. “Jason, I need a driving lesson in the Rhino (our little golf cart like vehicle).” “Where are you going?” he questions.“To the market”. “Okay, I’ll show you how to drive the thing, but don’t forget the rules of the road.” “I know, I know.” I’ve been a passenger for awhile here in Haiti so I’ve gotten to be familiar with them. Minutes later I start the Rhino. “This is low, high, neutral and reverse, here under the steering wheel is the horn, remember to use it.” I smile and nod and then take it for a test drive.” You can go faster.” Jason urges. “Nah” I say, “maybe in a little bit. Let me get a good feel for the vehicle first.” I drive slowly back to the camp and pick up Jennifer. There we go. White knuckled and peering straight ahead I slowly make my way out of the gates of Camp De La Grace. Beep, beep, I honk at the gate to let people and other vehicles know I’m coming. Here we go!
So what are the rules of the road? Well, I was quick to learn that it doesn’t matter what side of the road you drive on. The best side is the one with the least potholes! Don’t get to close to the edges of the road either because people here use cactus's as fences. If you drive to close in an open vehicle you could get pretty scratched up! The biggest vehicle gets the right of way. So I don’t have to move over for a motorcycle or a bicycle, but since the rhino is smaller then a car, dump truck or tap tap, I’d better make sure I move out of the way when they are coming in my direction. Beware of chickens! I almost drove over one! Actually beware of all animals, since you share the road with oxen, goats and donkeys and they don’t follow any rules. When you’re crossing the river, make sure you go really, really slow. You don’t want to spray dirty river water at people doing laundry or giving their ox a drink of water. As for hills take them straight on, otherwise the Rhino might tip over (that’s what it said on the little safety instructions glued to the dashboard anyway). And remember to honk at every corner. There are no stop signs or stop lights so people count on their ears. If they don’t hear anything they just keep going without looking. Also make sure you honk when you come up behind some walking, the roads are full of people and if you don’t honk they assume you don’t want to pass them. If you remember these rules you should be okay!Anyway, although we did get lost we did eventually find the market and I really enjoyed driving. It didn’t take long for me to feel more comfortable and relaxed. I even dared to go a little faster. Although the “rules of the road” probably seem ridiculous to those used to driving in Canada or the US they actually work really well here. I’m glad that I conquered my fear of driving here and actually enjoyed it. I can’t wait to do it again!

Two New Visitors

We’re back in the village and are happy to report that all our belongings are still here and are seemingly untouched. Although our house was pretty dusty and Jason claims there were spider webs inside our mosquito net everything else looked pretty much the same as we left it. Later that night we found out that in actual fact two new visitors had taken up residency in our place while we were gone. A bat and a rat! We heard the rat under the kitchen sink gnawing on some plastic right after dinner time. We tried to find it, shine our flashlights into the hole and poke into the hole with a stick but nothing happened. However, ever since we poked into the hole we haven’t heard anything, so maybe it got the hint that it isn’t welcome here. We hope so! Later on at night we saw a bat swooping around in here too. At first it was a little freaky, but then Jason remembered that bats eat mosquitoes and anything that eats mosquitoes is definitely a friend of ours. There are a lot of mosquitoes in our house and we have no way of keeping them out so a bat might not be so bad. I’m just glad that we’re all sleeping under mosquito nets. I don’t think it would be fun getting bitten by a bat at night. But the spiders get in so maybe the bat can too. Anyway I’m not going to think about that. Bats don’t like biting humans do they?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Back to the Village

Beep, beep, beep. Jason's’ cell phone alarm rings softly, waking me instantly. (Although we brought digital, plug in the wall alarm clocks, because of the uneven electrical waves, they don’t keep the right time, imagine that!) It’s 5:00 a.m. and I remember immediately that today is the day we go back to the village. I jump out of bed, wide awake and ready to work! We have exactly 1 hour to get our last minute things done! Although we had packed the night before, there are certain things that we can’t do till just before we leave. “Jason, time to get up!” I yell cheerily from the bathroom. He groans and rolls over. “I’m so tired,” he moans. “Come on, there’s a lot that needs to get done and we will need our whole hour to get ready.” He stumbles out of bed and gets changed. I’m already dressed, so I quickly make some breakfast, and then get to work emptying the contents of our refrigerator into cooler boxes. In the meantime, Jason gets to work disconnecting the batteries that supply our home with electricity when there isn’t any city power (which is most of the time). Then he turns off the hot water pump, disconnects all cables and wires that run to our computer and gets to work locking and barring up our house to keep it secure while we are finishing our language school in Pignon. Working furiously we are ready to go in exactly an hour. By now we’ve packed up so many times we really are pros at it! It’s still dark as we pull out of our driveway, and I take one last look at our home. In the past two weeks we were able to install our last appliances, set up our remaining furniture and do all the finishing touches that make our place feel like home. Now mixed emotions churn through me. I really, really like our new home in Port-au-Prince and part of me is looking forward to living a normal life there (as normal as it can be in Haiti, anyway). But the other part of me is looking forward to going back to the village where every moment is an adventure and you never knew what is going to happen next. No time for nostalgia. I mentally shake myself and focus on the bumpy road in front of us as I cuddle a sleepy Jayden on my lap. Minutes later we arrive at the Edgertons house and help them load their things into the vehicle. Then off to the airport we go. The sun is just coming up and it fills the sky with shades of pink and purple. Dark silhouettes of palm trees touch the heavens and I marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. The streets around us are surprisingly quiet. A drive that normally takes a least 45 minutes, due to heavy traffic takes us only 15. Soon we arrive at the airport and go through “security”. We load our bags onto a conveyor belt and walk through a metal detector. Jennifer gets her scissors taken away, but minutes later the security officer comes back with them and slips them into one of our bigger suitcase. We then all get weighed and so does our luggage. Because food is so limited in Pignon we’ve stocked up in Port-au-Prince. We soon realize that not everything will fit on this flight. We quickly separate our things and leave several boxes behind. Then everything else is loaded on a cart and brought to the waiting MAF airplane. Several Haitian nationals employed by MAF get to work on the weight and balance and figure out who sits where and what goes where to make the flight as balanced as possible. At the end everything still doesn’t fit. “We can probably do without most of the stuff in our suitcase,” I volunteer. “That’s great”, Michael a fellow MAF pilot says and I get to work. I quickly grab out Jayden’s mosquito net, our language books and some clothes . Just then a large airplane nearby starts up her engine right in front of us and the bag that I’d been holding in my hand gets blown away. Jason catches it and gives it back to me. Relieved I notice that my underwear is nicely secured under our heavy Kreyol language learning books. It would be a little embarrassing chasing underwear down the tarmac! I smile to myself, zip up our suitcase and prepare to board. The Cessna 207 is definitely full! With 7 passengers plus Jayden on Jason’s lap every seat is used up, and the cargo holds are full of suitcases, and cooler boxes. Because of the weight and balance, Jayden has to sit on Jason’s lap and although he complains a little at first, he settles down quickly. I smile and then sit back to enjoy a relaxing flight without a monkey on my lap. As we fly clouds begin to thicken around us and Michael makes a decision to fly underneath them. We hug the mountain side and we enjoy the view. We can even see individual tree leaves so we’re down pretty low. A half an hour later Pignon’s airstrip comes into view and Michael slows down and makes a perfect landing. We’re back in the village!