Friday, January 29, 2010


My son has a big bruise on his knee. The first time I noticed it was when he was taking a bath when we got to the States - his first bath since the earthquake. I asked him what it was from and he said he got it when he fell, when the earth shook.

He was playing tetherball with his friend when the earthquake happened. He fell to the ground and suddenly a crack opened up next to him. He thought it was going to keep opening up and perhaps swallow him, so he jumped up and ran away.

He has a bruise on his knee. Every time I see it I think, I could have lost him. So many mothers have lost their children, and yet mine are alive and healthy. Just a bruise to show for what they experienced.

We all have bruises on our hearts. You can't see them but they are there. Those will take longer to heal. They will never go away completely.

Poetry Friday: Hotel Montana

Back in February 2006, those of us in Haiti thought things were scary. Little did we know what scary even meant. One of the events that month involved a crowd marching up to the Hotel Montana and storming it to protest election results. Here's a news story with some details about what happened that day.

This poem, which I wrote at the time, is not at all intended to be a political statement; I just started to imagine what it must have been like for someone from Cité Soleil to see the beautiful place that was the Hotel Montana. The poem does have some political overtones but I hope they won't bring back any bad memories of those times. The last thing I want to do is cause pain to anyone in Haiti, so please read this poem as simply a tribute to Hotel Montana and to how beautiful it was.

I have many other memories of the Hotel Montana. I never stayed there, but a friend spent her wedding night there. I've eaten there many times. I swam in that famous pool. And just a few weeks ago I went to the beautiful new plaza they were building. Journalists used to stay there and do their reports from the roof, with its wonderful view of the city and the bay.

Today it is smashed, crushed, gone. And the Hotel Montana is only one place that was destroyed, one of so many. So many people are gone too. And for those who are left, lives that were already hard are infinitely harder.

Hotel Montana, February 13th, 2006

by Ruth, of

After we had marched all day
Shouting about voting and chanting the name written on our T-shirts
We came to Heaven.
It was just as I had always imagined it -
The big gates that we had to push on,
Fighting to get into the celestial city
(We who come from the city of the sun).
And when we got in
You would hardly believe how beautiful it was.
There was a pool
Like the ocean but clean,
Blue like a huge Culligan bottle
How many buckets were carried on how many heads to fill that pool?
Maybe the angels did it.

And then I jumped in
And the water frothed with joy as we splashed it on each other
And some people reclined on heavenly deck chairs
And some explored the many mansions.
After a while they threw us out, so
I guess it wasn't really Heaven.

They always used to say that democracy was a flood
But the flood washes everything down the mountain
(Down to us in the city of the sun),
All the debris from other lives in better places.
If I had my choice, I'd pick a democracy like that pool,
Where everyone could jump in
To cool off from the heat of the sun
And you wouldn't have to shove your way in
And no one would shriek and rush to drain the pool
And you could play in the water instead of carrying it all the time.

Here's an article about the collapse of the Montana, including some photos of what it used to be like.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Right after I got here, I went to see a friend, and we mostly talked about Haiti but then we talked for about ten minutes about books. It felt so good to talk about something normal, but then I immediately felt guilty. How could I stop thinking about Haiti for ten minutes?

I'm learning that it's OK to have those brief minutes of normal and, in fact, that I should even enjoy them. It doesn't mean I've forgotten. The grief is still there, and it comes at me in waves, and it's huge and bottomless. Sometimes getting that little tiny break from it, maybe even laughing at something or thinking that something is beautiful, is OK. It just has to be.

So I had a pretty good day today. I had lunch with a friend. She and I talked a lot about Haiti, but we also talked about a couple of other things. She made me smile. We went to a bookstore. I still can't read books, but just going to a bookstore is progress. I got some packages. One of the ladies from North Carolina who was with us after the earthquake sent a bunch of clothes and fun stuff for my son, and she also put in a photo she had taken of my husband and had framed. That made me smile, too.

I also cried a lot today. That's just a given. I miss Haiti. I miss the Haiti that used to be. I miss my husband. I miss my students and my job and my life. I miss my friends. I grieve for those who are dead, for those who have lost limbs, for all who suffer. I grieve for all that is lost and will never be again, for the hopes that were taken away.

So that was today.

Beauty Will Rise

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More on Loss

I keep remembering more things about that last day of normal. After school, my son handed me his papers, and on one of them (a handwriting sheet) he had written: "I am sad."

I asked him more about this, and it turned out that he had lost a tooth. It had fallen on the ground and nobody could find it. He was sad that his tooth was gone and that the Tooth Fairy might not give him what was rightfully his.

At the time, this was a loss that mattered to him, and so it mattered to me.

This morning I have been translating adoption documents, and in my current frame of mind what stands out to me is how much loss these children have suffered. Death certificates of parents, certificates of feels too much to bear in the context of so many children in Haiti who have now lost everything and everyone. These children, named in these documents, are so blessed to be being adopted by some of the finest people I know. What will happen to all the others?

These are losses that matter. Every life lost, every child left without parents, every dream that has died, buried under the rubble of an earthquake.

These losses matter to me. I believe they matter to God. I believe his heart is filled with pain, just as our hearts are, the hearts of all of us who love Haiti.

Night and Day

I thought I should write a post in the morning, when everything looks better. I'm not always in the depths of gloom. There are good things happening in the middle of all the horror.

It helps a lot to have something to do. I am used to being busy. What I wouldn't give for a pile of student papers to complain over! But today I have something useful; some friends started their adoptions in Haiti and now the earthquake has changed everything. The children are in the United States and their parents (one here with them, the other still in Haiti) are scrambling to do the adoption in English instead of French. I started translating some of their documents last night. Something I can do and do well.

My children are well and mostly happy. They are getting to spend time with their grandparents. They love the well-stocked libraries here. They are even getting to see snow (my daughter last saw snow when she was two years old and my son never has seen it). I laughed at my son yesterday as he was putting on gloves for the first time in his life. When he put on the second one, he was having trouble with it, and he sighed deeply and said, "This always happens!" (Always, as in, it happened with the first hand. He now has a lot of experience in the putting on of gloves, having done it once.)

I am seeing and spending time with dear friends who are taking care of me so well. Occasionally I even get to talk to my husband for a few minutes, or get an email from him of a few words. He is keeping busy and in some ways, I think it's actually easier for him and for the others in Haiti doing something about the situation, than it is for me. Yes, they are under huge amounts of stress and conditions are difficult, but at least they are contributing to something.

I am gradually getting to talk to friends from Haiti and hear their stories, either on the phone or online. These are wrenching and yet I know we need to talk about them. I talked to some friends yesterday who are going through their second evacuation, having left Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. Grief upon grief. Their kids are now grown, and we talked about how they handled things with them at that previous evacuation. It's the kind of thing nobody wants to have experience with, but at least their experience may help me now.

I see my students emerging on Facebook - yes, I'm Facebook friends with some of my students, which in happier days would have been a good subject for a post - writing things in Kreyol about how sad they are to leave their home or in English about their new schools, and how much they miss their real school in Haiti. But others are talking to their friends, even joking around a little. Yesterday I saw an exchange of insults among three of my students, and it made me a little happy. I know we are all mourning, but it's good to see some signs of ordinary teenage life from time to time.

I am hearing about how many people want to help. I hope it lasts; this is a long-term project we're dealing with here. Haiti is destroyed and must be rebuilt. The problems could hardly be exaggerated. And that's where my mind often seems to end up, especially at night.

Night is the worst, as it was when I was still at home. At least now I am sleeping better. I go to sleep with earbuds in my ears, listening to Greg Boyd or somebody else talking about God's love and goodness. I mostly sleep through the whole night now. I try not to lie awake thinking, but instead stay up as late as I can so that I am completely exhausted.

The sun always comes up in the morning, though, no matter how long the night is. Life goes on. It has to, for those of us who are left.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leaving Haiti

I told my friend and employee that we were going to leave, and she cried. That was one of the worst moments. When I say "my friend and employee" it might sound strange. O. has been working in our home since we first moved to Haiti; I feel that we have grown up together. She helped me with my babies; I helped her with hers. We help each other in many ways. Our friendship is one of the things that gives me the most joy in my life in Haiti. But her story is not mine to tell.

We packed our bags. My children don't even own pants that go all the way to their ankles. (Trousers, for the British people I understand are now reading here!) We live in shorts and capri pants. We found the warmest outfits we could. My son wanted to pack his boxed Junie B. Jones set but I talked him out of that. My daughter was sad that she hadn't read all her Christmas books. I thought of photo albums, but realized that this is not permanent; I will be back to my home.

We stopped by the school in the morning and I said a few goodbyes. There was a lot of crying and hugging. My daughter went to her locker and got out a few precious keepsakes.

I worried about our drive to the airport, about what the children would see and whether I should shield their eyes. It turned out that they saw some terrible destruction of buildings, but there were no bodies visible. The bakery up the street from our house was open; that meant that they had worked all night. People were selling fresh bread out of large bags. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere; many people had Vaseline or toothpaste smeared under their noses to help them deal with the smell in the street. There was more activity than I had expected. It was difficult to look at the devastation of so many buildings. Many were flattened. Others seemed to have nothing wrong with them.

We saw some American friends who were still figuring out what they were going to do, and talked about what we had experienced, what stories we had heard. The same thing happened at the airport; as we waited in the damaged building with ceiling tiles and pieces of rebar hanging down, we shared stories. This is what we heard; this is what happened; this is who is all right and who is not. Whenever I saw a familiar face I would burst into tears. The new greeting was: I'm so glad you are alive. How is your family? How is your house?

I don't know how long we waited but eventually we took off. I felt I was escaping, running away, abandoning my friends and people I love. But as soon as I was sitting still in the seat of the airplane, with nothing else to do or think about, I fell asleep. I woke as we landed in the Bahamas; as the landing shook the plane, I thought I was in another earthquake.

It's all a blur: Florida, a rental car to Orlando, flying north on a ticket purchased by strangers. Hours in Atlanta; thankfully the television was showing a football game instead of the usually ubiquitous CNN, but an ad for the Red Cross came on with earthquake footage and I hid the children's eyes. People around were discussing jet lag. The woman across from us commented that I looked exhausted and I told her we had just come from Haiti. Everyone got quiet, as though our story trumped anything they could tell. The woman said that she had just come back from a cruise, and that when they had passed by Haiti, the captain had asked everyone for a moment of silence. Another flight.

And finally we were there; my dad was at the airport and we drove home through the streets of a different world from the one we had left that morning.


Coming to the United States from Haiti is always like coming to another planet. I've written about this many times; for example, here. When looking at the way people live, it's always difficult to think about the fact that not only do these two places exist on the same planet, but they aren't actually that far away from one another.

Those feelings are all magnified hundreds of times now. Instead of another planet, I have journeyed to another universe. Whatever progress Haiti was making has been demolished in less than a minute. Our lives have been changed forever. People who were already struggling to have basic necessities are in even more dire need. Haiti has always been challenging, but it has also been beautiful, and quirky, and fun. It has been colorful and never, ever dull. Now it seems simply broken, destroyed. Forsaken.

The title of my blog mocks me now. Is it really true that there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town? Is Port-au-Prince forsaken by God? Was God really there on January 12th when the earth shook? Is He there now as people suffer? I know the right answers to these questions but it is hard to believe them now.

It hurts me to see people post jokes about Haiti on Facebook, offering to donate unwanted politicians to help Haiti have a government, even consigning people they don't like to Haiti, where once they might have sent them somewhere else starting with H. As though the pain of Haiti really is in another world, felt by beings whose suffering matters less.

I must still believe, because I keep praying. Hymns comfort me, bypassing my brain and going straight to my heart. The faith of others buoys me, and I know at a deep level that God is present in the hands of those who do His work of healing and restoration. My counselor says I'm not losing my faith, that all my questioning is a normal part of the grieving I'm going through.

I think of the words of a friend at a retreat I went to in the fall. She was talking of her problems with back pain, a trouble that had sent her to bed for ten weeks. She questioned everything she thought she knew about healing, about God's purposes for her life. She finally came to the end of herself, and let go. She couldn't hold on any more. And she said that when that happened, she found out that she wasn't the only one who had been holding on. When she let go and gave up, God still held on to her.

Oh Lord, please keep holding on to me. Please keep holding on to our dear little Haiti, ti Ayiti cheri. Don't forsake us, I beg you.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prayer of St. Augustine

Sent to me by my dear friend Janet.

God of our life,
there are days when the burdens we carry
chafe our shoulders and weigh us down;
when the road seems dreary and endless,
the skies gray and threatening;
when our lives have no music in them,
and our hearts are lonely,
and our souls have lost their courage.
Flood the path with light,
run our eyes to where
the skies are full of promise;
tune our hearts to brave music;
give us the sense of comradeship
with heroes and saints of every age;
and so quicken our spirits
that we may be able to encourage
the souls of all who journey with us
on the road of life, to your honor and glory.

Teens' Perspectives on the Earthquake

Article here.

Music Helps Lift Haitians' Spirits

NPR story here.

My Story, Continued

There are so many stories from this earthquake. Each family has its own, its tale of "What if I had been there a few minutes longer?" or "If only it had been different." I have heard many, many, and could share them, saying "One of my seventh graders..." or "One of the employees from school...", but Tara Livesay said it best the day after the quake:

There is no way to even begin to share the things we’ve heard and seen since 5pm yesterday. To do so would take hours that we don’t have to give right now. Some of them feel wrong to tell. Like only God should know these personal horrible tragedies.

(Tara is still in Haiti: you can read her blog here.)

Ultimately all I have is my own story, so I'll tell that one as best I can.

The morning after the earthquake, we went home. Our house seemed fine but it was still terrifying to be inside it. There were eleven people sleeping in our yard that first night, but one soon left to walk to Jacmel, where his family was living. I still don't know what he found when he got there.

That day was spent mostly hitting redial on my phone, hanging out with the people in the yard (including three small children, a three year old, a nearly two year old, and a one year old), listening to everyone's story again and again. Children pulled from under falling blocks, babies handed out of windows, a church collapsing full of people gathered to pray. I played games with the kids, found food for people, picked up some things off the floor (though it seemed pointless to do so, since surely they would just fall again, as the earth kept shaking and shaking).

Our plant manager came over and left with my husband, and they drove around doing whatever they could, finding out what needed to happen next. My husband came home and told me a little about what he saw, and cried. Someone went out to see what vegetables were for sale, and came back and told what she had seen, and cried. Trips were made to find relatives who hadn't been heard from, and people kept coming to the gate all day, reporting that they were alive, reporting on those they knew of who weren't.

That night we all slept in the kids' rooms, but I couldn't sleep at all; I fell asleep for a while because I was just exhausted, but soon woke up in a panic. The tremors continued, and even when they weren't going on, the earth felt as though it was moving. Early in the morning I went outside and prayed with the people in the yard, and felt comforted, a little.

Some time on Thursday morning, my husband showed up with four women with suitcases. They were a work team from North Carolina who had arrived in the airport minutes before the earthquake. They were waiting in the truck for the pastor who had come to pick them up. He had gone inside to check on some late luggage, and while he was in there the earth shook, and the ceiling started to fall in big chunks, and some people were hit, and he stretched out on his face on the ground and cried and prayed. Meanwhile the ladies at first thought the truck was shaking because the red caps (porters) were not happy with the tips they had received, until they saw the trees moving too, and realized what was happening. They spent that night in a field and delivered two babies (one of the women was a dentist but that was the most medical training anyone had). They said the people in the field praised God all night long.

We talked a lot, sharing what we had all been through, played games, shared food. Sometime that day I turned on a power strip upstairs to charge my cellphone (which had still never connected in spite of my constant pressing of redial). We still had some juice in our batteries; in this one very limited way, people living in Haiti were better prepared than people in the US would be, since those who can afford it already have backup to city power. We work with inverters, car batteries that charge up when city power is on or when we run the generator. Our wireless connection was on the same power strip so I decided to check to see if the internet was working, though I was sure it wouldn't be. It was. I started to send out emails. At that point the phones were not working and we were sending emails or Facebook messages to people within the country. I was able to talk to some people from my family. They had known we were OK from about 8 PM Tuesday, since a staff member with an AT&T phone had been able to get a text message to her mother with my parents' phone number. Even so, they were relieved and happy to get to talk to me.

The NC ladies stayed at our house that night. People in the US were working on getting them out of the country. On Friday they went to the airport at some point and returned because the flight didn't go. At some point on Friday my husband and I started talking about whether the kids and I should leave. We realized that resources were going to become a problem very quickly, and anyone who wasn't contributing directly to the relief efforts was just draining supplies. We went back and forth about it; there were arguments on both sides. The main argument for staying was that we have stayed several times when others have been evacuated, and we know too well that feeling of abandonment you have when others go. I didn't want to cause that feeling for anyone else.

Sometime on Friday a doctor came to the house. He is related to the family living in our yard and I knew him already. He had come from the south to check on the family and had found that there were many people where he was staying begging for help. He had the skills to help them but no supplies, and he asked if I had anything. I said I didn't, but when I went in the bathroom and started pulling out supplies, I had more than I realized. Ibuprofen, antiseptic wash, gauze pads, even a pair of gloves. He laughed and said it was like a pharmacy at my house. The NC ladies had some supplies, too, although they had used most of their stuff during their time in the field. I also wrote him a note to the nurse at school to ask her to give him some gloves.

At some point (I keep using that phrase, but really the chronology is very vague in my mind and I think I was mostly in shock during this time), my husband heard about some extra seats on the flight that the NC ladies were going to use. It turned out that a NASCAR owner, Rick Hendrick, had sent his private plane to be used by MFI for evacuating people. (Read more about that here.) My husband informed me that if he could work it out, we were leaving. I said I thought we should talk about it a little more and he said, "We aren't going to talk about it. You're going." (This isn't the way he usually talks to me.) He went over to school to make contact with the MFI people and see if he could get the children and me on the flight.

For a long time he didn't return, and finally I walked over to school to look for him. It was getting dark, and again I saw that our neighborhood was very much as usual. The only difference was that there were many, many people in the road, setting up to sleep the night there.

When I arrived on campus I saw people on the soccer field. The CRI trauma team had just arrived and I gave Theo, the leader of the team and one of our former students, a big hug. The overall feeling on the campus was one of peace. Peace and purpose. It was the first time I had felt peace since the quake.

I talked to my husband and found out we were to leave on the flight, and we could each pack a small bag.

I'll continue the story in another post.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Small Losses

All day my mind races with thoughts to share here, but then when I sit down to write, everything seems so trivial. I've noticed I've been using that word a lot lately; all of my concerns and worries seem so pointless and silly given that I'm alive, that my husband and children are alive, that I have plenty to eat and drink and am sleeping inside.

Today the children and I went to the public library. I haven't been able to read more than a page or two since the earthquake. My mind wanders and I can't focus. If you know me, or if you used to read this blog pre-January 12th, you know that a me who doesn't read is not the real me. It is one symptom of the displacement, the dislocation, the exile, the total disruption of my life and the life of my dear adopted country.

Boo hoo, poor me. Others have lost everything, and I can't read.

I didn't know what to check out. It needs to be intelligent enough to hold my interest, but no great dramas, please. I thought about the earthquake scenes in Corelli's Mandolin but then thought that would just be too much. I finally settled on a couple of Jane Austen novels - since they are so familiar, perhaps they will be comforting; something by Joanna Trollope, since her books are usually fairly calm, and something historical about Mozart. I also checked out The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, both for the familiarity of it and because I thought about it the night of the quake, and talked about it with my daughter as we were lying under the stars on the soccer field. We talked about the scene where the ship is moving into the darkness, and there is no hope and no way out, and Lucy calls out to Aslan and hears a voice say, "Courage, Dear Heart." We talked about it, and it made us smile, and perhaps gave us a little courage.

Speaking of books, I recognize some books from my classroom in this picture:

It was posted on the blog Ben and Katie in Haiti. This isn't a direct result of the quake, but of classrooms being cleaned out so that the rooms can serve as headquarters for aid. I don't even know what my classroom is being used for, but it's not for teaching.

Again, how can I grieve my lovely classroom when others have lost all they have? And yet I do. I spent six days a week in there for the past four and a half years. I gathered my classroom library with love. I collected everything I could to make my room a place where kids could learn and grow. I prayed for my kids each morning in homeroom. I don't know when I'll see those kids again.

I have pictures of my home after the quake but they seem silly - my bookcases fell down, while others were crushed under their roofs.

I told my kids that they are donating their bedrooms to earthquake relief, since aid workers and doctors sleep in them. They are donating their daddy for earthquake relief. I am donating my classroom and my husband. Not that we had any choice in any of these matters, but at least it makes us feel a little useful.

My losses are so small. The losses of so many countless thousands of others are so great.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From the Book Blogs

Children's books set in Haiti

Children's books about earthquakes

Earthquake Hymn

I didn't know that Charles Wesley wrote earthquake hymns.

What Use am I?

Here's a post I wrote back in 2008 while Haiti was going through terrible destruction from a hurricane. I expressed then that I am not much good in an emergency because that's just not what my skills are. Here's an excerpt:

This is something I think about a lot. I mean, what good am I in an emergency? I can just hear it now: "Ah, someone with a literature degree! Two literature degrees, you say! Just what we need right now in the middle of this crisis, in this country with a 50% literacy rate! Hurry over here, there's a text to be explicated! What a relief to have an expert on hand!"

Several have reminded me that while I am not a medical person and am not even in Haiti doing interpreting or other things I could do (and so wishing I could be helping), this is a long-term project we are dealing with here. Haiti is going to need help for a long time, and there are going to be kids to be taught and a new normal to be found. Right now my own children need me to keep life stable for them as much as I can.

The day we left Haiti, I was talking about this with the two other teachers who flew out with us and we were suggesting various skills we had that were completely useless at that moment - like helping kids with phonics, diagramming sentences, recommending a good novel. Right after the conversation a young girl with the work team being evacuated with us turned around and asked me what a word meant - she was reading what looked to be a school library copy of Ibsen's A Doll's House. I supplied a definition and had to laugh. See? You need vocabulary help - I'm there for you!

I apologize if this post seems trivial, but I want to encourage people who are feeling helpless like I am - this is going to be going on for a long time. There will be all kinds of help needed. Right now you can give cash. Later, maybe you can go and there will be work for all kinds of people.

I know many people have more questions about how we got out of Haiti and I am going to be posting on that. I am trying to get my thoughts in order and adjust to the new life I suddenly have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

God Bless the Haitian People

When I started this blog in 2006, I decided to be anonymous for many reasons, but one of the most important to me was that I don't like to be the kind of expat who whines constantly about life in her adopted country. While life in Haiti always had its frustrations, my family had chosen to be there and in general we were very happy. Many years ago I read a book about Africa that did not name the country it was describing and a preface explained that the author did not want to draw attention to the aspects of a developing country that the people there were trying hardest to change. As a missionary kid myself, I know what it is like to have outsiders criticizing the country that you love. I explained some of my reasoning here.

Now I am trying to draw attention to Haiti, and trying to encourage my few readers to reach out to the people there in their time of great need. I don't have lots of readers like Tara or Leslie (especially now she writes for Esquire) or Sean or Corrigan, but maybe some of my readers, who come here to read my book reviews or catch up on the latest in the highly important controversy over whether reading Twilight is good for kids (in other words the trivia which mostly fills this blog), will be able to think of Haitians as people just like them, except maybe stronger, more resilient, and more filled with faith.

That's how I think of Haitians. I know that they put me to shame with their faithfulness to God, their acceptance of hardship without complaining, their focus on people instead of on things. In those early nights after the earthquake, once we had started sleeping inside again, I would wake up in a panic, my heart racing, unable to stop crying. I would spend hours like that, and then in the morning as soon as I could without waking people up, I would go outside and pray and talk with the people living in my yard, people who had lost friends, family members and houses, and I would find myself encouraged. They woke singing each day, praising God for sparing their lives. Although they also woke in fear with each aftershock, they mostly slept peacefully because their trust was in God. And throughout each night I would hear others praying and singing, songs like "Showers of Blessing," which seemed wildly inappropriate to me, in the circumstances. How could they find blessing in the lives they were living? They were sleeping outside because they were afraid to go inside, and some had lost their homes. They still are sleeping in those conditions each night, under a tarp and a mosquito net.

When I left the country, I promised these people that I would tell about them, begging people to pray for them and to donate to the relief efforts. Pat Robertson may think they deserve what they get because of an incident in their long-ago history, but I urge you not to listen to him. Please, please, help these strong, beautiful, wonderful people.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Week Ago

This time last week, my whole world changed. Today, I am living in a different country from the one I lived in then. My family is separated, my house is a place where relief workers and refugees camp out, my children are enrolled in another school and dressed in clothes that I did not buy. I am not going to work, even though a week ago I was in the early stages of new units with my seventh graders and my eighth graders, and they seemed to be going well. All my lesson plans still sit on my desk, but I am not there.

On Tuesday I read articles about tourism in Haiti with my eighth graders. We talked about the plans the Haitian government had to encourage tourism and how this would bring in revenue. The kids were working on feature articles and I had encouraged them to find positive things about Haiti that they wanted others to know about, since we've talked before about how the focus is often on what is negative about their country and "The Phrase": "the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere."

After school I read some emails, chatted with my mom online, encouraged my daughter to finish her homework, and then the two of us headed home. My son and husband were still at school. When we got into our courtyard, there was something out of place, and before going inside I fixed it. As I was opening the door (or getting out my key - my daughter and I remember this differently), the quake started. There was a loud noise like a very large truck, and the house shook, not just back and forth, but like a bucking horse. I saw the ground move like the waves of the ocean. My daughter was crying and yelling, "What is it? What is it?" and I was answering inanely, "It's all right! It's all right!"

When everything stopped, we ran inside and looked around briefly, noticing that a couple of our large bookcases had come down, including a huge one in the living room. If we had been in that room we could have been severely hurt or even killed by falling books. My daughter was crying and the woman who works for us held her and said, in English, "You're in the arms of Jesus."

I immediately started trying to call my husband on my cellphone but nothing went through. I grabbed my daughter and said, "We have to go find them." We ran back to school and when we neared the gate we saw my husband coming out. I asked breathlessly about our son and he told me he was all right. At this point I felt everything was over - we were all together, the damage in our neighborhood didn't seem huge, and everyone was safe.

I had no idea.

We gathered the students who were still on campus all together and prayed and talked about what would happen - how they should wait for their parents and not leave without checking their names off the list that was being made. We were all shaken, literally and figuratively, but there was some joking around and we were in pretty good spirits. One student asked if there would be school tomorrow and I said, "I don't see why not!"

People started to arrive on campus to pick up their kids or just because they had turned back since the quake had caught them in the road. Then we started hearing more details - the palace was down, Caribbean Market was down, other large buildings...I dismissed most of it, saying they were just rumors, unless the people had seen it with their own eyes, but gradually I was forced to accept that this was a very serious event. It seemed that our neighborhood was unusual in having little damage.

We spent that night on the soccer field, lying on a blanket and trying to keep warm. More people arrived: my son's teacher, workers from the Snack Shop, maintenance workers. Some gathered in a group and sang songs. Then injured people started to be brought - a little girl with terrible scraping on her face and a head wound, and a pair of underwear on her head for lack of a bandage; a young boy who had been hit on the head; a woman who seemed not to have serious injuries but moaned in pain so must have had something internal.

Towards morning, the moaning woman stopped moaning, and when the sun came up her family found that she was dead. They began to cry and scream, saying again and again in Kreyol, The Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord. The words sound more tragic in Kreyol, more final and less churchy. I stood with the family for a long time but finally could not bear it any more.

That night I had hardly slept - perhaps half an hour total. It was cold. The aftershocks, some very large, were constant. Although I still didn't know the full extent of what had happened, I knew that life was not going to be the same for a very long time, if ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Right now I am completely overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with grief and pain and fear. I am reading bad news about people I know and love. I am wondering if our dear Haiti will ever be the same again.

I am overwhelmed, too, by the kindness of strangers and friends. I left Haiti on Saturday with my two children and a small bag each, and now we are all dressed head to toe in other people's clothes, talking to professional counselors, being given things and bought things and encouraged and helped.

Overwhelmed, too, with guilt - why me, why is my family all alive when so many others are dead, why am I getting all this love and affection when others are still lying under buildings, why did I get to leave when others can not?

Leaving was such a difficult choice, because a huge part of me wanted to stay and suffer this with my Haitian family, but I was sitting at home taking care of my children, using resources others could use, distracting my husband from his relief work because he was worried for us. I have stayed through many crises in the past: a flight embargo, a US invasion, kidnappings, the departure of a president leading to days of violence and chaos - and yet all of these things now seem so trivial, leaving me wondering why we were making such a fuss.

I am overwhelmed by the idea of continuing with life, making choices, decisions, looking at the future. How? How, when people are still missing, and beloved friends are having funerals, and tomorrow promises to bring more of the same?

Friday, January 15, 2010


If you know my name, friend me on Facebook - I am posting more there. Please keep praying.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We are alive

This is my first time online after the earthquake - guess I just outed myself about where I am. Please, please pray. Things are worse than anyone can imagine. Our whole family is fine and our house and school are standing and apparently undamaged. 14 others at our house.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Poetry Friday

Tricia is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup today at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


OK, I'm not going to publish every word of the day, but here's another really interesting one, from an etymological point of view. I had no idea of this word's origin. You can subscribe to this list at Merriam-Webster's website.

The Word of the Day for January 6 is:

chapel \CHAP-ul\ noun
1 : a private or subordinate place of worship
*2 : an assembly at an educational institution usually including devotional exercises
3 : a place of worship used by a Christian group other than an established church

Example sentence:
The school required all of its students to attend chapel daily.

Did you know?
"Chapel" is ultimately derived from the Late Latin word "cappa," meaning "cloak." How did we get from a garment to a building? The answer to this question has to do with a shrine created to hold the sacred cloak of St. Martin of Tours. In Medieval Latin, this shrine was called "cappella" (from a diminutive of "cappa" meaning "short cloak or cape") in reference to the relic it contained. Later, the meaning of "cappella" broadened to include any building that housed a sacred relic, and eventually to a place of worship. Old French picked up the term as "chapele," which in turn passed into English as "chapel" in the 13th century. In case you are wondering, the term "a cappella," meaning "without instrumental accompaniment," entered English from Italian, where it literally means "in chapel style."

And the New Ambassador is...

The new Ambassador for Young People's Literature is Katherine Paterson.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


I knew about Achilles' Myrmidons but I never knew that this word has a negative connotation in English. I love learning new words. This one came from the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day email, which I get in my inbox daily. You can subscribe at the Merriam-Webster website.

The Word of the Day for January 5 is:

myrmidon \'MER-muh-dahn\ noun
: a loyal follower; especially : a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or unscrupulously

Example sentence:
The boss was more likely to offer promotions to her myrmidons than to those workers who occasionally questioned her tactics or proposed alternate solutions.

Did you know?
The Myrmidons, legendary inhabitants of Thessaly in Greece, were known for their fierce devotion to their king, Achilles, who led them in the Trojan War. "Myrmex" means "ant" in Greek, an image that evokes small and insignificant workers mindlessly fulfilling their duty. Whether the original Myrmidons were given their name for that reason is open to question. The "ant" association is strong, however. Some say the name is from a legendary ancestor who once had the form of an ant; others say the Myrmidons were actually transformed from ants. In any case, since the 1400s, we've employed "myrmidon" in its not-always-complimentary, ant-evoking, figurative sense.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Jon Scieszka Ends his Term as Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Here author Jon Scieszka reflects on his term as the first Ambassador for Young People's Literature and gives suggestions for getting kids to love reading.

Back to Work

The kids don't come until tomorrow, but I'm in my classroom today getting some last minute things done. Most of my preparation is done because I stayed two extra days after the kids left. This morning was also a dry run - can we really still get up, get dressed, and make it to school on time? Turns out that we are a bit rusty in our morning routines - too many late nights have taken their toll. And there are no more holidays until the middle of February!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Poetry Friday

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Read in 2009

I read 59 books in 2009. This doesn't count every read-aloud to my children or my students, though some of those are on the list. It also doesn't count books of poetry.

Books 1-4
Books 5-10
Books 11-14
Books 15-25
Books 26-32
Books 33-42
Books 43-46
Books 47-55
Book 56 (War and Peace! I finally finished it!)
Book 57
Books 58 and 59

Linked to this week's Saturday Review of Books.

One Little Word

I haven't chosen my One Little Word for 2010.

Here's 2009's One Little Word.

Theme Day - Changes

The DP Theme for this, the first day of January, is "Changes." Here's the picture from Paris, and here's a link to thumbnails from all the participants.

So far there aren't any changes for me in 2010 (but then, I have only been awake for an hour). Instead, there is more of the same: electricity problems. Last night the streetlights glowed brightly but there was no city power in our house. I didn't even bother calling the electrician.

Happy New Year!