Tuesday, March 20, 2012

ON: Money

Every so often, I realize that I've come to understand some new aspect of Haiti.  And, inevitably, it's right around that time that Haiti says 'Yea, well check this out smarty pants" and I'm dumbfounded again.

Take money for example.  The legal tender here is the Gourdes (pronounced like good if it rhymed with food).  On the street, 40 Gourdes equals $1US.   After a few trips to our local store Marasa Mart (think 7-11), I found I was getting pretty good at converting prices in my head.  

Then, I learned about the Haitian dollar.  The Haitian dollar, used by nearly every Haitian and many stores, is the equivalent of 5 Gourdes.  Except that the dollar doesn't actually exist.  It's a concept.  Goods are priced and exchanged in a fabricated currency.  How much does something cost?  2 dollars.  That would be a 10 Gourdes.

I've heard that Haitians began using the dollar because it made prices seem less (1 dollar sounding less than 5 gourdes).   Or, that it was because of their affinity for the American dollar, which is also widely accepted (add that to the how-much-does-this-cost mix.)   But, it's the same bills and coins- all Gourdes!

At the outdoor markets, where people negotiate prices based on the currency, it's pretty simple as long as you have exact change.  But, in the stores, conversion is so confusing that there are frequently 2 clerks, a supervisor, and a calculator on each register.  If you really want to stir things up, ask to pay in US dollars on a debit card (which I do for the 5% discount.)

So, I've gotten pretty good at my multiplication and division facts involving 4, 5, and 8 (5Goudes = 1 $ Haitian, 40 Gourdes = $1US, 8$H = $1US.  Whew.)

But then, things had to get complicated once again.  In dealing with money, I started learning to count past 36 (my age, being necessary to share with curious kids).  The numbers are pretty simple.  Until you get to 69.  In every other counting system that I know of, 70 would come next.  But, not in Haiti!  No, 70 and 90 do not exist here.  Instead, we have sixty-ten, sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve.... sixty-nineteen, eighty...eighty-nine, eighty-ten, eighty-eleven...eighty-nineteen, one hundred.  What!?!  How is this even possible?  There are words for seven (set) and nine (nef), seventeen, nineteen, but no 70's or 90's.   It's going to take me a while to master this one.

Every time I practice counting, or figure out how much the cereal costs, I have to shake my head.  It's illogical.  It's inefficient.  It's totally Haiti.  And, it makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On: Earthquakes

We had an earthquake in Port au Prince last week. It was around 10 PM or so and Ella was already sleeping. There was a rumble that lasted maybe 7 or 8 seconds. It was just a 4.6, deep down, and so mild that Ella didn’t even stir.

 Jen turned to me and said, “Was that an earthquake?”

 “No, it was a truck backing up.” I said.

 Xander bolted upright in his bunk, “What do you mean? Was there an earthquake?”

“No,” said Jen, “I thought there was, but Dad says it’s just a truck. He’s been in an earthquake before so he would know better.” I nodded but, in reality, I am the worst person to pose that question to.

To me, every loud noise is an earthquake. It’s always the first thing I think of when I hear a truck hit a bump, or a door slam, or car tires on gravel. I wasn’t in Haiti for the big earthquake, but I was here for a lot of the smaller ones that occurred for a week after. These ranged from short aftershocks to long disorienting quakes to a powerful 6.8 blow that felt like the world had been rear ended. For many of those quakes I was either in a building or hospital. The room would move and plaster would fall and the cracks in the walls would grow and Haitians would scream. They wailed as they relived their fear. I saw Haitian men and women hurt themselves trying to get outside during the tremors.  I shared some of their fear of being inside. As much as I tried to resist the thoughts, I would imagine myself buried. During those days, I saw what concrete and rebar can do to a human body, and I saw what it looked like to be crushed. These sights amplified my fear.

            During that time I sat next a man with a bandaged hand in a hospital in Port au Prince. He spoke decent English and told me about his quake experience. He was in his aunt’s house when everything “moved like the ocean” and the house began to come down. He grabbed his younger cousin and jumped through a window. I think about that scene and wonder if I could react like that, if I could be that fast. I have two children and a wife. We live on the second floor of a concrete building that has already been through one earthquake. Could I get them out before the building came down? Who would I grab first? All sorts of terrors run through my head and have run through my head on hundreds of nights since that disaster. The man had jumped from a second floor window with his cousin and lost all of his fingers and thumb on his right hand.

            And so we’re lying in bed and Jen asks me if that was an earthquake? I have trained myself to understand that it is, of course, not an earthquake. It’s a truck or a door or tires on gravel, only it wasn’t. After the rumbling stopped, I could hear dogs barking and roosters crowing and goats bleating and Haitians screaming. Haiti Libre (an online Haitian newspaper) said that people poured into the streets of Port au Prince for fear of being indoors. It was the same in January 2010, when hundreds of thousands of people slept on sidewalks and streets.

            Here at the orphanage, most of the children slept through the little quake, but there were about 25 who didn’t, and they dragged their mattresses and carried their sheets into the middle of yard. They crowded 2 to 3 to a bed, and prayed. Then they covered their heads against the cold wind and went to sleep.

My family stayed in our room. Xander fell asleep and Jen eventually followed, but I lay awake and remembered things I just as soon forget.

Friday, March 9, 2012

ON: Goats

I'm a suburban girl.  I've lived in several states in my life, but always in a suburb.  I'm not going to pretend- I like the suburbs.  I like the space, the predictability, the neat and tidy roads. I like that I can get to both the city and the country fairly easily.  Of course, living in the suburbs makes one ignorant of certain things.  I'm not totally comfortable on public transportation, and the closest I get to livestock is at the petting zoo.

In Haiti, though, livestock are everywhere.  You can't walk through a town -even Port au Prince, without encountering roosters, chickens, goats, horses, donkeys, cows, and pigs.  Livestock are valuable, as tools, food, income, savings accounts, insurance policies.  For many, having livestock is the difference between life and death.

We didn't come to Haiti to be involved with livestock. But, well... ok, we did (shamelessly) offer a pet goat as a comfort to our children, nervous about moving to a new country.  After all, how hard could that be?

It turns out pretty hard.  Goats need a quite a bit of room, and contrary to popular belief they do not (or should not) eat every/anything.  They need care from someone who didn't grow up in the suburbs.  Of course, as guilt will do, I felt compelled to come up with some way to fulfill my comfort-promise to my children.  Around the same time 3 things were happening: (1) Chris had visited the One Family Church campus in Maisade, a distant mountain village and felt called to help the pastor (also a farmer) move his church (and school for 100 village children) from being supported (by Pastor Kesnel and the One Family Central Campus) to being self sustained.  (2) The children's ministry of our home church contacted me and asked how they could partner with our children and our ministry in Haiti. (3) we drove through the market were Ella expressed to Pastor Kesnel her desire to have a goat.   {Sidebar- Pastor Kesnel adores Ella and Xander.   He treats them as grandchildren.  How many doting grandfathers can deny the sweet, innocent requests of their beloveds?}  
"Ah, we must have a goat!" says Pastor.  Conversation begins.  And before long not only do we have the plan to purchase goats, we have the place and person to keep them... Pastor Jackson in Maisade, and moreover- we have a purpose.  Kabrit Kids was born!
The goal of Kabrit Kids is simple- folks in the states purchase goats which are raised by Pastor Jackson in the mountains.  As the herd grows, it will provide a source of income, meat, and milk for Pastor Jackson and the One Family, Maisade campus.  Through a short-term and relatively inexpensive initial investment, we have a reproducing, self sustaining ministry.

The Numbers:  (skip ahead if you must)  Goats vary in cost from $35 for a young male, to $55 for a pregnant female.  A nanny goat will deliver 1-3 kids.  The average weekly collection of One Family, Maisade is less than $2.   The sale of one goat per month (a very low goal) will increase church revenue by about 500%.  The sale of 2 goats per week (a very high goal) could fully sustain the church and school (currently subsidized by Pastor Kesnel).  We hope to purchase 20 goats for the herd.  The rest is up to nature and Pastor Jackson.  

We haven't yet met a Haitian pastor who doesn't also run a business or 2 or 3.  I think that's the nature of being the church to the the poorest of the poor.  While the goats alone will likely not be enough to make One Family, Maisade completely self-sustained, we hope that the additional revenue will allow Pastor to invest in other forms of support and spread his ministry throughout his community.  

Yesterday, we made the trip to Maisade (about 4 hours up the mountain) and visited the livestock market.  We were presented with dozens of goats.  Pastors Jackson and Kesnel haggled with several farmers over prices.  Xander and Ella loved the goat market, and each helped select and name a goat (Mr. Tumnus and Achilles).  Finally, 6 goats were bought for a total cost of $246.  Our little herd now consists of 2 young males, 1 young female, and 3 pregnant females.We are looking forward to visiting again in a few weeks, when we expect at least one of the nanny goats will have delivered her kids.

Pastor Jackson was truly excited and encouraged by this investment in his ministry.  He has great hopes for these goats.  He has already prepared the land where they will live and grow.  God took the ignorant promise of this suburban mom and turned it into a promising future for a small mountain church.  His ways are not our ways; they are so much better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ON: Being a Missionary

Yesterday, while reading Francis Chan’s latest book (challenge), I got to thinking about who is Jesus for me?  A facebook friend?  Some one I follow, enjoying his status?  Someone I comment on while reading a note or checking out family photos?  Is he my confidant & comforter?  Trusted to be available, to accept and love me anytime, anywhere?  Or, is he my Lord, Savior, God?  One I would lay down my life for?  One I can’t stop talking about, the one I want everyone in the world to know?  The one I want to spend my days, and eternity, worshiping?

I’ve heard a lot of talk in America about having a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus.   But, what does that mean?  I think about those I consider my dearest friends, and how difficult (even when I was living in the same town) it is to find time to spend together.  I’m no bible scholar, but I don’t recall too many stories of Jesus and his ‘friends’ squeezing a hour out of their week to meet at Starbucks and call it ‘relationship.’  No, Jesus’s relationships were demanding, exhausting and active.  He didn’t say ‘Hey, let’s catch up next time I’m in town.’  He said, ‘Drope everything (because it’s really nothing) and come with me.’

Some people think that because I live in a Third World Country, I am somehow a ‘different’ sore of person.  That I have a different relationship with Jesus. That the rules or pressures of ‘real’ life don’t apply to my family.  I recently read a visitor to Haiti write ‘I’m not a missionary, I don’t make my own clothes or churn butter.’  Hmmm..  me either.

Our life in Haiti, our life as ‘missionaries’, is in many ways different from our life in American suburbia.  Yet, it is very much the same.  I have chores, goals, deadlines, arguments, conflicts, jokes.  I discipline my kids and worry over their academic performance and social development.  I work with people I don’t like.  I crave comforts, entertainment, and good food.  I clean toilets.  I go to the grocery store.  I forget to read my bible.  I neglect to pray.  I find myself quick to accept praise and quicker to pass blame.

When I first met Jesus, I 'liked' him.  I grew to depend on him, to call on him in the middle of the darkness.  Then, once, when he said ‘follow me,” I did.  It just so happens he was heading to Haiti.

Being a missionary isn't living some ‘other’ life.  It’s saying yes to Jesus in this life.  It's saying, yes, I'll go where he’s going, share what he’s offering, and invite others to follow, too.  I feel blessed to know several missionaries who have followed Jesus in obedience, with sacrifice, into the unknown.  Sometimes they struggle, sometimes they complain, sometimes they question.   Some of them went across the world, some went across the street.  All went with Jesus.