Sunday, May 29, 2011

What no one tells you about living in another country

I try to keep things light and cheery over here on my slice of the internet, but I opted to share these particular thoughts because I think I think they provide more of a full picture. I am not unhappy in Haiti. I do not desire to move back to the United States. I just need to share some things that don't often get said.

  • Living in another culture is hard. All the things you rarely think about in your own culture--greeting people, acceptable attire for public, knowing who to tip, smiling for pictures--suddenly require conscious thought. You have to remember new customs, force yourself through the uncomfortableness, and evaluate personal behaviors and habits that may need to change in order to fit into the new culture. There are constant reminders that you are an outsider. Eventually the novelty and excitement of being in a foreign country wear off. 
  • If you don't speak the language of the people, there will be times you will feel inadequate, overly dependent on others, extremely frustrated, and sometimes ridiculous. You may decide to go without something rather than deal with the hassle it takes to communicate what you want. Sometimes it's just easier that way. There will even be nights you cry yourself to sleep because of the language barrier.
  • Once you've called more than one place "home," your heart will never be completely happy in either. When you're in one place, you miss the other. You feel guilty for not being full hhere, for longing for the other place. People in both locations question your desire to live in or visit the other place.

Haitian Mother's Day

Mother's Day in Haiti is always on the last Sunday of May.  Compassion International published a quiz earlier this month called "Could you be a mother in Haiti?" Take the quiz and see how you score. You'll learn a lot about the culture and life style of Haitians!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Soles 4 Souls

An organization called Soles 4 Souls recently visited Gramothe. Check out their website for a full explanation, but the short version is they give shoes to people who need them. They have been here a couple of other times in the past 12 months, and this trip they brought shoes for our oldest and youngest students. Here are some pictures of the process.

First you get your feet measured.

 Then you wait for your turn.

 Some of my favorite girls.

 Then someone washes your feet and dries them.

 Then you are presented with a pair of shoes that should fit you. If they do fit, then you get to keep them!

 Sometimes your friends help you decide if they "fit". If there are cooler shoes that you can see you'll try to convince the people that shoes they gave you first don't fit and you think those other ones will.

 Here's a picture that contains the whole process. You can see the foot washing, people standing by with shoes, and the kids waiting in the background. Overall it's a really fun thing, and fantastic for the kids because they get a brand new pair of shoes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Almost everyone who come through the MTM guesthouse asks me the same series of questions. Sometimes the questions sounds a little different, but most of the time it goes like this:

  1. So, uh, what do you do here?
  2. How long have you been in Haiti?
  3. How long are you staying?
I really don't mind answering these questions because it gives me an opportunity to share the story the incredible journey God has put me on. Plus, if you know me in real life you know how much I like to talk! Occasionally when there's a big group here, I wish I could tell them all at the same time instead of answering the same questions two or three times in one day. But most of the time I'm more than willing to share about why I'm in Haiti and what I do here because the focus of the story is not me but God.

A little over a year ago I was merely planning to spend spring break in Haiti. I was excited to serve God by serving others through a medical clinic. I had no idea that going to Haiti for my spring break would lead to teaching English in a rural mountain school for ten months. I told God a long time ago that I would follow him wherever he would lead me, but I didn't really think he had this in mind! It wasn't easy to follow him to a third world country with hurricanes and tropical diseases and inconsistent electricity.

It took all the courage I had to follow God to Haiti, plus a great deal of affirmation and peace from the Holy Spirit! I stepped out in faith taking a year's leave of absence, i.e. no paycheck for an entire year, from my teaching position before I had any financial support. I was really nervous about leaving a paid position to live off the generosity of others. Okay, that's an understatement. I was terrified! It felt like my step of faith was similar to those cartoon characters who step off a cliff before they realize the solid ground ran out. I took a leave of absence hoping God would put something solid under my foot where there only appeared to be thin air.

And you know what? God didn't let me fall off that cliff. He put something solid under my foot in the form of adequate financial support. He's also continued to make a way for me stay in Haiti. He provided renters for my house (the lease was signed this week!) and gave my dog an awesome new family. He gives me new ministry partners that come from unexpected places. There's this awesome apartment I rent for an incredible price--especially considering the current housing market here. I understand more Creole every day, and I'm learning to communicate in this foreign language. I have friends, a mentor, and to top it all off my life mate.

The Lord has provided for all of my needs--physical, emotional, and spiritual. He orchestrated all the events to get me here, so he gets all the glory. This is one incredible journey, and I'm just along for the ride.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visting Choir

These kids came to the Gramothe church a couple of weeks ago to share two songs with us. About once every couple of months a choir from another church comes to sing for us. It's never planned in advance. They just show up. I like that it's an unexpected blessing. Some of the kids in this group attend the school in Gramothe. The girl singing into the mic and the girl behind her in black and white are both in my 8th grade class.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Men's Choir

The Gramothe church men's choir sings every couple of months. They are fantastic. This particular song is a really fun one from earlier this year. I think they've sang it for us twice, but no one complains because it's so much fun.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Preschool Cuties

These little guys are so cute! They make me smile every single day. Touching my white skin is apparently the highlight of their day because they all try to touch me when I pass by their playground or when we are walking in the same area...sometimes they race to see who can touch me first! They shared this song on Monday with some folks who were visiting.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Even though I've been in Haiti for 8+ months and I've been teaching computer basics to kids who have never seen a computer before, I sometimes still forget that they really don't know anything about computers.

Take today for instance. The internet was working in Gramothe and the kids have been asking when I'll help them get an email address. I decided today was the day. All 14 of the laptops were booted up, and the projector set up so they could see what I was talking about. Everything was grand...until Internet Explorer was open before them. Then all chaos broke loose!

"Miss Smith! I need you!"
"Britney! My computer is broken."
"I need help!"
"Miss Smith, did you forget me?"
"Miss Smith, come here please."
"Britney. Look."

I thought I was going to strangle them! I finally got them all to where they can set up an e-mail account in French. Then it was an even more intense round of everyone needing my help right this instant. They needed to enter their name, birthday, and country of residence before creating an e-mail address. I thought it was pretty self explanatory. I mean, the screen says "Name" or the French equivalent depending on the computer, but apparently my students lost all ability to read--in any language. Finally everyone got that part taken care of, so we were ready to move on to choosing an e-mail address and password. Oh. My. Word. It was a real life nightmare.

"Miss Smith! I need you!"
"Britney! My computer is broken."
"I need help!"
"Miss Smith, did you forget me?"
"Miss Smith, come here please."
"Britney. Look."
"Miss Smith! I need you!"
"Britney! My computer is broken."
"I need help!"
"Miss Smith, did you forget me?"
"Miss Smith, come here please."
"Britney. Look."
"Miss Smith! I need you!"
"Britney! My computer is broken."
"I need help!"
"Miss Smith, did you forget me?"
"Miss Smith, come here please."
"Britney. Look."
"Miss Smith! I need you!"
"Britney! My computer is broken."
"I need help!"
"Miss Smith, did you forget me?"
"Miss Smith, come here please."
"Britney. Look."

Did I mention it was hot today? I get cranky when I'm hot. I also get a little cranky when the kids yell my name while I'm talking to someone else to tell me they need help, especially when I've already told someone else they need to wait.

It's a miracle that all those students made it out of that room alive today. I think it's appropriate to thank the Lord for his protection of the computer class today. And you should probably pray for the teacher too. She's gonna need some serious patience when she teaches them to log into the e-mail account and actually send an e-mail.

Friday, May 13, 2011


After a night of big rains the Laboule kids and I found this in the riverbed on our way home from school.

How was that washed down from the mountain?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Laboule Children's Home

 I went to the children's home with my hair down. As soon as I sat in that chair there were fingers playing in my hair. They know I don't mind as long as they don't pull too hard, so they never ask if my hair is down. I was chatting with Beth and Jocelyn when I heard the word "pomad" whispered behind me. I was instantly alert. "Pomad? No, pomad." I reached up to touch my hair and realized the damage had already been done. In an effort to make my hair lay flat against my head the girls lathered up my hair with their hair grease. Beth laughed at me and said I should try using dish soap to get it out. The girls were upset that I made them put my hair in French braids before I would leave the house. It took three really good washings before I felt like the majority of the "pomad" was washed out.

Esther Grace is the daughter of Jocelyn who works at the children's home. She was born in February at the children's home with the aid of a visiting OB-GYN. Isn't she absolutely adorable?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Clouds, The Rainy Season, and Me

It's the rainy season in Haiti. Often the skies look like this.

Being in the rainy season means we have rain nearly every night, and sometimes we have rain in the afternoon too. As I type this it's pouring outside. I will not be taking the shortcut to the guest house or Gramothe tomorrow. It will be way too muddy for that!

Traveling by foot is interesting, at best, during the rainy season. First, you need to know that Haitians are allergic to rain and will do everything in their power to avoid being out in the rain. It can become quiet comical. Second, the main road is paved with asphalt but other roads are made of concrete. Sometimes the road consists of two parallel cement paths spaced to align with car tires, and sometimes the concrete covers the entire space for the road. It just depends on who lives on that particular stretch of the road. You also need to remember that the terrain is not flat where I live. The roads are often steep. Now we add to all of that a good amount of dirt and rocks. Throw in rain every night and you get mud, mud, loose rocks, and more slippery mud.

I have two quick stories about walking up the mountain in rainy season. Yesterday was really overcast from the beginning. Even in the rainy season the sun normally makes an appearance in the mornings. Not so yesterday. About the time I left the guest house to walk to Gramothe the clouds were covering the tops of the mountains. the clouds were dark and heavy. They were also moving pretty fast. In short, it looked like it was going to rain. I knew I had to walk fast to avoid being drenched. It hadn't rained the night before, so I decided to take the shortcut to the riverbed. I booked it to Gramothe. I actually made it in a little less than 30 minutes. I was SOOO proud of myself!! However, I was quite sweaty and really out of breath when I arrived in Arold's office. The punk actually asked me why I walked so fast. It didn't end up raining until about 4 hours later.

Today it was a little cloudy in the morning. I texted Arold to tell him I had left the guest house, and he texted me back to say, "Don't walk so fast today. It's not going to rain." Even though it rained last night I decided to take the shortcut. It didn't seem overly muddy, and I really didn't want to sprain my ankle on the loose rocks that cover the road. Well, I totally underestimated the amount of mud that would be on the shortcut. It doesn't get sun until later in the day, so none of the mud had dried out yet. It was really slippery. I did not fall, but there were a couple of close calls. I will not be taking the shortcut in the mornings after a rain anymore!!

Brave I Am Not

Often when people hear that I left my job, my family, my entire life to move to Haiti they say things that make me uncomfortable. They say, "Wow! You're so brave." And when you only know that I moved to a third world country where there are hurricanes and earthquakes you might be inclined to think the same thing. But the truth is I'm not brave. Not at all.

The truth is I don't go anywhere by myself. Part of that is the fact that I don't have a vehicle to drive. The other part, which is much bigger because let's face it I would have found a way to get a car if I really wanted one, is comprised of what if questions. What if someone asks a question I don't understand? What if they ask a question I understand but I can't give them an answer that makes sense? What if I get lost? What if I get hurt and need some medical attention?

I also don't try new things without a thorough explanation from someone that can be trusted. I don't take risks, and I don't generally like to be in situations that make my adrenaline flow.* To be honest, my heart does a lot of panicking in those moments when other people are brave. Sometimes my fear (mostly of looking dumb) keeps me from experiencing some pretty awesome things. You might be wondering how I live here if I'm such an un-brave person.

The reality is there are a lot of times I'm uncomfortable here. But its the good kind of uncomfortable, the kind that stretches my faith, challenges my insecurities, and grows my character. It's only by the grace of God, and I do not say that lightly, that I have adapted and adjusted to life in Haiti. Please, please don't tell me how brave I am. Instead recognize that God is incredible and amazing, and it's because of HIM that I am where I am.

*Disclaimer: Not being brave is not new to living in Haiti. I have never liked taking risks, situations that make my adrenaline flow, or trying new things without a thorough explanation. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Golden Nuggets VII: Water Edition

Golden Nuggets is a term I am borrowing from my friend Sini who is spending her senior year of high school in Indonesia as a foreign exchange student. She calls all the random facts she's gathered about the country she's now living in Golden Nuggets. In that vein, I am going to periodically share Golden Nuggets about Haiti. 

Clean drinking water is a luxury in Haiti. You can buy drinking water several ways.

  1. A Culligan water jug, known as a gallon though it's probably 5 gallons in reality, costs 50 gourds or $1.25 US. Gallons are sold at grocery stores and roadside boutiques (these are a whole other post). When my gallon is empty, I send the yard man out with the empty gallon and 50 gourds. He brings it back in a matter of minutes and I have drinking water again. It varies how long my gallon lasts, but normally I have it for 7-10 days before I need a new one. 
  2. Water pouches are sold on the street. I always carry my water bottle with me, so I haven't ever needed to buy a water pouch. They seem quite convenient for people who are out and about. Sometimes they are even frozen, which is a nice treat when it's frequently in the high 80s in the city.
  3. Public tap water is also fairly safe to drink. Most houses (of American standards) have a cistern that collects rain water. It's also possible to have your house hooked up to the public water, which does not appear to run constantly. I haven't done any official research on this, but from my observations it appears that the public water is normally on in the morning for a couple hours. At our house the public water just runs into our cistern, so as long as our cistern has water we have water. However, I know that some people don't have cisterns (these are typically houses that also dont' have electricity--at least legally). These households fill 5 gallon buckets with water while it's on and then use the water from their buckets throughout the day. I use the tap water to brush my teeth, to boil pasta, and to rinse my dishes. I think it would be okay to drink, but since the Culligan water (that I know is safe) is so cheap I stick with that.

LCH Distribution

 Some friends of MTM sent clothes and gifts for the kids at Laboule Children's Home. I volunteered to distribute the packages. It's a fun job!

 Fabrice asked to have his picture taken with his package. Each child received a large Ziploc full of treasures. There were two new outfits, underwear, socks, some candy, and a pair of shoes for each child. 

 Hyphania was ticked that she got two dresses. She wanted a skirt. Normally the kids are overwhelmingly grateful for new things, but this day Hyphania was a punk. I told her if she didn't want the dresses she could give them back. But she decided to keep them.

Mackendy was excited about his shoes.

What a fashion statement! Dayley (die-lay) felt the need to immediately put on all his new clothes... except the pants. He cracks me up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Itsty Bitsy Spider

I was spoiled for a couple of weeks when there were back to back teams and a week of no school. I didn't have to walk up the mountain for almost 3 entire weeks! In that span of time the rainy season has come into full swing. It rains nearly every evening, and often rains in the afternoon too. A medical team from (mostly) Oregon was here last week, and there were several days we came down the mountain in the pouring rain. It can be intense around here during the rainy season!

Anyway, the team left on Tuesday morning, so I've had to hoof it up and down the mountain the past two days. This morning while I was picking my way along the muddy, rock filled road* down to the riverbed I had a revelation. I am the itsy bitsy spider.

The insanely crazy Britney walked up the mountain road
Down came the rain, and washed that Britney down.
Up came the sun, and dried up all the rain,
And the insanely crazy Britney went up the road again.

*It really can't be considered a road; that would imply drivable conditions. It's little more than the route the rain water takes to get to the riverbed. It just happens to be wide enough for a vehicle. The only trucks that drive this path are a) going to Gramothe, b) dumping trash or dirt in the riverbed, or c) getting rocks or sand from the riverbed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter=the end of rara

I haven't posted this until now because I couldn't get the video to upload. Sorry it's late, but I thought you might still be interested in what I was thinking a couple of weeks ago.

I love Jesus. I'm so incredibly thankful for his sacrifice on the cross. Resurrection Sunday is a special day, and I'm looking forward to celebrating with my Haitian church family.

And I'm also really, really excited for the end of the rara bands that play their horrible music for all of Lent. They've really kicked up their "parades" this weekend and I would like to shove their horns down their throats. I know that's not a very Christian sentiment, but they play at all hours of the night... and day for that matter. They walk through neighborhoods playing the same three notes over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And that's not enough "overs" to convey how repetitious their songs are. The other reason I don't like them is that they represent the opposite of Christ rising from the dead. I don't know how tied to voodoo they are because I get varying reports. But what I do know is that Haitian Christians (and non-Haitians who understand the culture better than I do) have strong feelings against this music.

Here's a little sampling of rara music. They passed by my street on the main road about three times last night between 5:30 and 6. You may have to turn your sound up to hear the music.

Crusade Video

I finally was able to load the video from the Crusade! This was the final night of the Crusade, which happened to be Easter Sunday. The rara band had just walked by and I think there was an element of "let's show them up." 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random Life Photos

There has been a lot of work on the road leading to Petionville in the past few months. The quality of the road work is pretty amazing, but in addition to that there are now two speed limit signs up! I think that might be the sum total for all speed limit signs in Haiti. A note about the speed limit for those of you who aren't accustomed to kilometers/hour. Here's the conversion: 50km/h=30m/h. The road is very curvy, and I don't think normal drivers (for Haiti) ever go above 50km/h anyway.

I was commissioned to purchase these butterflies for someone who visits Haiti about 5 times a year. He's going to have the giant butterfly at Beth's house, Johane got the middle sized butterfly, and I wanted a blue one to match my kitchen. I was pretty happy with the purchase. The guy who paid for them is coming again next week, so I hope he's happy with them too.