Saturday, July 31, 2010

Happy New Year

In Haiti, the traditional meal on New Year's Day is pumpkin soup, or soup joumou. (Here's some information on why this dish is traditional for New Year's and also a recipe.) I love walking through our neighborhood on January 1st and smelling the fragrance of soup coming from the houses I pass. Like other New Year's foods in other cultures, this soup is supposed to bring good luck when eaten at the beginning of the year.

We dutifully ate our soup this year, and eleven days later our city fell down.

Because of my husband's childhood in Japan, we always eat mochi on New Year's Day, too. (Here's some information with photos.) Mochi is also supposed to bring good luck.

We ate our mochi this year, too.

When we were at the beach in June, my husband fixed us some mochi and we pretended it was New Year's Day. Today he pointed out that we have a joumou growing in our yard, so maybe we'll have to repeat the soup joumou as well.

Since we work at a school, we generally think of August as the beginning of the year anyway, but this year it feels especially important to have a new beginning. I don't want to pretend the last six months didn't happen - too many good things came my way in that time - but I do feel that we are starting again in a lot of ways. I am working on getting my head back into teacher mode by setting up my classroom and reading professional books (one I had apparently started reading before the earthquake, because it has a bookmark in it and underlining and notes in my handwriting). I can hardly remember how things used to be before January 12th, or what kind of life we had. I can't remember how I used to think about things back then.

Shall we call this 2010, Part B? Anyone want some soup?

The Children's Book

Book #42 of 2010 was one that I got for Christmas; it was still waiting by my bed when I got back to Haiti. The book is The Children's Book, the latest unpleasant, beautiful, convincing, complicated, brilliant book by A.S. Byatt.

This is the story of Olive Wellwood, a children's author, and the families connected to hers. Ultimately it is the story of the children who grow up in and around this complex, Fabian, morally confused family. It begins in 1895 and ends in 1919, and along the way we see the fabric of British society changing. Byatt is very good at evoking the mores of a certain time and place, and I learned a lot from this book about attitudes and ideas of this period. Everyone has secrets, all horrid, and in the end the carnage of the first World War lays waste to the group of children, who are adults by this time. Like Byatt's other books, this one includes ideas about art and creation and where stories and artifacts come from. Olive uses and neglects her children to create her writing; Benedict Fludd does the same to his for his pottery. Philip and Elsie have a mother who paints beautiful china plates, and ruins her health because of the lead in the glaze. Creativity in Byatt's books is never without cost.

This post is linked to the July 31st Saturday Review of Books.

The Ongoing Story of Heartline Hospital

Read all about it here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Poetry Friday: Love's as Warm as Tears

I'm making a lot of progress in my classroom, and most of my books have been found. When the earthquake happened, most of the bookcases in both of our school libraries (elementary and secondary) fell down. Some of the books in my classroom were scattered but not too many. Shortly after that, the school buildings were hastily converted to sleeping space for doctors and soldiers, and the books from the libraries and my classroom (and other classrooms) were removed and piled unceremoniously out of the way. Many of my books ended up in the enormous heap that used to be the library, and fortunately most of mine were well-marked and easily distinguished from the library books. The ones from my classroom library have "23" written on them, and my personal copies mostly have my name in them.

As I've been rearranging everything, I've been enjoying getting reacquainted with what is on my shelves. I found a book on Wednesday called Poems, by C. S. Lewis. My friend Janet gave it to me for my 20th birthday, which was quite a while ago. (Thanks, Janet!) As I read through some of the poems in the book, I found this one, which I enjoyed at 20 and find even more beautiful now. In those years I have learned much more about love - all kinds of love - than I knew then.

Love's as Warm as Tears

by C. S. Lewis

Love's as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love's as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts - infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love's as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering, "Dare! Dare!"
To sap, to blood,
Telling "Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best."

Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different...

What I needed was a change of scenery. And today I got it. I took a break from my classroom and went to spend the day with my friend Beth. An interest of mine that I haven't written about much here is helping women breastfeed. I am completely sold on how wonderful breastfeeding is for both mother and baby. Today I got to talk about that to a group of women who will soon have babies. I also helped with the charts for a series of prenatal exams, and interpreted for a post-partum checkup on a mom with a three day old baby. And Beth and I got to talk and reconnect. Tears were shed.

The women get a nutritious meal and vitamins to take home. Many of the women were gently scolded in their prenatal exams because they had actually lost weight since their last appointment. Is it because there is no food, or because they have no appetite? Most said the latter. Most also answered "yes" when I asked them if they were sleeping in a tent. The combination of pregnancy and the stifling heat in a crowded tent could definitely suppress appetite.

A mural in the birth center.

Women begin to gather for the meeting.

I started my class by asking the ladies what a baby needs. If I had been teaching this to parents with more resources, I would have used photos from baby magazines of all the "must-haves." These women have more modest expectations. They mentioned things like a mosquito net and diapers. Nobody suggested an Exersaucer or a Baby Mozart DVD. After our brainstorming session we talked about how a baby's greatest need is for his mother. This is true for babies born into rich homes and poor homes, mansions and tents. A baby needs to be close to his mother and God has given her the perfect food to feed him. We talked about colostrum, the first milk, and how it is full of antibodies and exactly what the baby needs in his early hours and days. The challenge is to keep these women well-fed so that they can nourish their babies. I am overwhelmed by the knowledge of how easy it was for me to mother my babies compared with the challenges these women face. And yet there is hope in seeing the fat, healthy baby being carried around by one of the teen moms in the program, a girl who came to the clinic after the earthquake and has never really left.

I also got to see the post-earthquake field hospital that I've been reading about since I left Haiti in January. It's mostly dismantled; the sign says "There's no clinic any more. Thank you."

Here's a wall inside the former hospital.

Beth told me that she is honored and humbled to know the patients from the hospital, people who lost family members and houses and parts of their own bodies, and still sang praises to God each evening. I am honored and humbled to know Beth and others who worked around the clock to help. Out of these terrible circumstances came a true picture of God's kingdom at work.

Jon Talks Books at Stuff Christians Like

Jon's post at Stuff Christians Like this morning made me laugh, because this has totally happened to me. You too? Someone recommends a book with a huge overblown promise about how it will change your life. You don't think it's very good at all. What do you do now?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Still Missing

You know, I'm trying really hard to keep this in perspective. It's not a human life that's lost. But in spite of all my searching, I still haven't found the binder with all my daily lesson plans in it from the last three years. I don't just use the same lesson plans year after year, but you bet I look back to see how I handled it last year, and what worked and what didn't. I have a self-created form that I fill out for each of my classes each week, and every semester I file away all of those forms in order in a binder. Do you think it comes naturally to me to be this organized? I assure you, it doesn't. I feel like I am going to be starting from scratch, and I am not at all happy about the prospect.

Thoughts over Lunch

After a morning of work, there's nothing like a great lunch. Haitian food is wonderful: spicy, with lots of garlic and oil. Today we had mayi moulen and sos pwa - corn meal and bean sauce. (Corey calls mayi moulen, which she spells the French way, maïs moulin, "Haitian polenta," and here's her recipe for it. She also has a recipe for sos pwa here.) It was delicious. There was a long line of people at the Snack Shop to be fed; right now there is a lot of work being done on campus - painting, fixing, electrical work - and everyone who works, eats.

It's not possible to eat a delicious lunch, though, without thinking of those who aren't eating today. Or those who will eat, but only because they will spend most of the day trying to make that happen. Before the earthquake there were plenty of people in this city whose daily job was to make sure there was food for their family. I've always thought it was interesting that a frequently-used Kreyol expression for eating is jwenn manje, "find food." As in a conversation with a Haitian friend where we were talking about getting toddlers to eat, something mothers in all cultures talk about, I guess; she said it wasn't such a big deal for kids who find food every day, but for children who don't always, the mothers had to be really careful to make sure they ate properly when there was food.

Here are an article and video, called "City of Zombies," that describe a little bit about what it's like to go out each morning in search of food for that day. And it's not as though that is the only problem the people in the story are facing.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kingdom Comes

by Sara Groves

When anger fills your heart
When in your pain and hurt
You find the strength to stop
You bless instead of curse

When doubting floods your soul
Though all things feel unjust
You open up your heart
You find a way to trust

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

When fear engulfs your mind
Says you protect your own
You still extend your hand
You open up your home

When sorrow fills your life
When in your grief and pain
You choose again to rise
You choose to bless the name

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tent Cities

Here are two articles about tent cities that I read this morning. This one includes photos of a settlement in front of Eglise St. Pierre (incidentally, where P's funeral took place). And this one discusses the permanent quality these cities are starting to take on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

John Seabrook on Adoption, and Me on Being a TCK

One thing I have discovered upon coming home is the huge pile of magazines to be read - six months is a long time to accumulate magazines, especially The New Yorker, which is weekly. I will never catch up with reading all of these.

There was one article, though, that I really wanted to read, in the May 10th issue, and this morning I finished it. You can read it online here, but for some reason I hadn't. It's an article about a Haitian adoption, expedited by the earthquake.

I had read about this article on adoption blogs, especially this one and this one. At that second link, you can find Seabrook commenting, and getting raked over the coals by adult adoptees.

The more I read about adoption, the more I realize how deeply painful it so often is. It seems that adult adoptees are good people to talk to if you are going to adopt, but there is so much defensiveness on the part of adoptive parents, in many cases. I can understand why. In fact, this is one of those situations where I can see everyone's point of view. Adult adoptees have much wisdom to share about what they went through, and adoptive parents are often invested in seeing their adoption as something which was meant to be, and therefore can't be fraught with pain. Seabrook says about seeing his daughter's picture and hearing her name, "It was fate." (Here are some more thoughts on that.)

But there's another reason that I identify so strongly with these adult adoptees, particularly those who were adopted internationally. As I read their stories, I recognize many elements of what it's like to be a TCK, to feel you fit in nowhere, as though both of your cultures exclude you. Talking about how painful that can sometimes be can be seen as being "angry" among TCKs just as it is among adult adoptees.

For a TCK as well as for an adult adoptee, you can feel pain and even anger about your childhood, while not negating the joy of it. Often adult adoptees fear hurting their adoptive parents if they talk about the loss of their first parents, or if they look for their first parents. Often TCKs have the same kind of fear, that if they talk about boarding school or frequent moves or cultural confusion, and how difficult it all sometimes was, their parents will be hurt.

The older I get, the more I am able to accept that both things are true about me.

Yes, I love being a TCK and wouldn't change it. Yes, I enjoyed boarding school and have many happy memories. Yes, I like being a person with two cultures (and the others I've added since).

But also, boarding school was hard and homesickness is terrible and I missed years with my parents. And also, it is not easy to be between cultures and feel like an outsider in both.

John Seabrook's daughter will have some similar feelings, perhaps. I imagine she will be happy to be part of a wonderful family. But I imagine she will also know pain: the loss of her first family; the departure from Haiti in frightening, traumatic circumstances, whether she fully remembers them or not; having dark skin in a white family. I hope she grows up knowing that it's OK to feel both, to accept that life is made up of the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult.

More reading: Tara has great thoughts on this.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reading Update

Book #37 was Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, a book of essays from the New Yorker. Gladwell doesn't accept the conventional wisdom just because others say it's so; he is always looking beneath the surface of things. Do FBI profilers really know what they are talking about? Why do women dye their hair? What really motivates risk-taking entrepreneurs? Why doesn't someone make a better ketchup? What did the dog see? I found this book fascinating reading.

Book #38 was The Lady and the Poet, by Maeve Haran. It's the story of the poet John Donne and his wife Ann. Donne wrote some of the most famous love poetry there is, so I was curious to know about his own romance. The problem with books of this kind is that it's hard to know how much is imagined and how much is accurate, but I was caught up in their story.

Book #39 was a read-aloud to my son, The Pepins and their Problems, by Polly Horvath. The Pepins constantly have problems, mostly caused by their complete cluelessness. The author asks her readers to think of solutions and to send them to her telepathically. My son found this book hilarious and it made for perfect bedtime reading.

Book #40 was Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, by Eugene Peterson. This was an absolutely wonderful book, so full of quotable passages that my copy is stuffed with little scraps of paper that I tore up to mark my favorite parts. Peterson explores how we find Christ in creation, in history, and in community. It's all about how we live, not some kind of ethereal "spirituality," all about how beloved we are and how we should love each other. Highly recommended.

Book #41 was a very different one, Anderson Cooper's Dispatches from the Edge. A friend bought me this book back in January when she took me to lunch. We had talked about Anderson Cooper's coverage of Haiti, almost none of which I had seen. I had heard a lot about him from my Haiti contacts, who loved that he stayed in Haiti when other reporters left, and that he came back. (Admittedly, some of what I heard was about how good he looked in his black T-shirts.) In this book Cooper explores some of what drives him. He goes back and forth between his childhood, the loss of his dad and brother, his early reporting jobs with Channel One, and his time in Sarajevo, Rwanda, Somalia, Baghdad, Sri Lanka after the tsunami, and most of all, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "The map of the world constantly changes," he writes, "new fault lines split open, new frontlines appear. I want to hurl myself into the storm."

This list contains an unusual amount of non-fiction for me. I think it's time for a good novel next.

This post is linked to the July 24th Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: Although...

“Although the wind ...”

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

by Izumi Shikibu, tr. Jane Hirschfield and Mariko Aratani

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tower of Babel

A few years ago we lived in a house at the end of a quiet street. At the other end of our street it wasn't quiet at all; there was an intersection with the main road. At the corner, there was an enormous building. I don't have a picture of the way it looked, but it always made me think of the Breughel painting of the Tower of Babel.

Nobody seemed to know what the building was going to be. I heard a department store, a grocery store, an apartment building. But for years, nothing has been done on it. Many people were squatting there. It always, always had people in it.

Including when it fell down.

Today I took some pictures of the building that don't at all show how terrible it is.


I'm crashing today. That's my friend June's expression, and it seems to fit. Since we got home to Haiti, I have been feeling so hopeful and upbeat, in spite of everything: the state Haiti is in now, the loss of my friend, the general sense that nothing will ever be the way it was before.

Today, though, it all crashed in on me. (And that's a bit of an unfortunate expression, given the circumstances.)

Solomon's story is much more representative of the way things are now than my story. It's the story of a life that was terribly hard before, and now is next to impossible. I have been talking to our employees at school and to acquaintances I meet in the street and other friends, and here are some of the things I've heard:

* We're living on the school property; our house was destroyed. (More than one said this to me.)

* Our house is OK; we're living in it. It has a lot of cracks, though. We haven't fixed them yet.

* Our house is mostly all right but the neighbor's house fell on it, so we don't want to sleep in there. We have a tent in front of it.

* Our house is fine and everyone is OK. Praise God! (Praise God, for sure, that there are stories like this. I don't know what we would do if everyone's story was tragic.)

My husband talked to someone this week whose wife and daughter spent five days under the rubble of the family home, and after they were finally pulled out, his wife died.

Then one of the school employees (the one who is living in a tent in front of her house) came into my classroom to talk to me about P, my friend who died two weeks ago. The employee wanted to make sure I knew about what had happened. She said all the workers from school had gone to the funeral (we weren't back in the country yet so we couldn't go), and that they had all cried and cried. P was helping so many of them, paying for school for their children, giving them clothes. They know they won't ever find anyone else like her.

It's too much to take in.

As I worked in my classroom this morning, I saw the desk calendar which I had just put out at the beginning of 2010. It's one of those big ones, with page for each month and a large square for each day. I tore off January through June and then was overwhelmed with sadness. How could I just throw those pages away? I couldn't, so I folded them and stuck them in the desk.

I put out my students' notebooks, resolving to let them decide what to do with them - those that return. I know that some of the kids will not be back and some of them I may never see again. I found the papers that I had just graded and was going to hand back on the 13th. I found the copies that I had made for the next day. Then I found a plastic tub of femoral angiography drapes. (I don't know what those are and I am pretty sure I won't be using them in my classroom this year.)

My mind is full of questions again. Why did this have to happen? Why are so many people's lives changed forever? Does God even care? I've heard and thought about a lot of answers to these questions over the past six months, and somehow today none of them satisfy.

Several years ago, one of my husband's students went to Spain and brought us back a figurine of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I think it is made of pewter. It was on a bookcase upstairs in our house when the earthquake happened, and it was one of the few things in our house that got broken. (Jars and bottles in our pantry broke, leaving a big mess on the floor; part of a Japanese tea set broke; but in general, we were very fortunate.) The picture isn't the same as the one we had, but it's similar; the main difference is that ours is one piece, with both friends sharing the same pedestal.

I've tried to take a picture of ours, but I can't get a clear one. Our Sancho Panza is just fine, but our Don Quixote is broken off at the knees. Sancho Panza always did seem like a more sturdy fellow, whereas Don Quixote is more fragile, living as he does in a dream world and tilting at windmills instead of facing real issues. If I had to choose which one is more like me today, I would definitely have to say Don Quixote, broken off at the knees, lying on my face. My daughter said a few weeks after the earthquake, "My life is ruined, but I'm OK with that." I wouldn't say my life is ruined, but I do wonder if it will ever be free of the shadow of the earthquake, or if I'll keep crashing, again and again and again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


After a slow start yesterday, today I made loads of progress in my classroom. I moved furniture, which as every teacher knows is a task fraught with all kinds of implications. You have to think about how the room will be used, while at the same time being sure not to create areas where kids can get into trouble and you can't see them. You need them to have access to what they need, without having access to what they don't. And then, of course, there was the added complication of the bizarre items I kept finding: finger splints, a syringe, a gauze bandage, a set of scrubs (top size 3X, bottom size S), and some other things whose use I could not even guess. When I went prowling around looking for some of my missing belongings (more on that later), I found crutches and prosthetic legs.

After the earthquake, when I was in the States and heard that our secondary building was going to be occupied by soldiers and that the classrooms were being cleaned out, I asked my husband to be sure to rescue some of my belongings. He had someone pack the things up, and then that box was promptly lost/discarded/stolen. I knew about this months ago, and had let it go without too much difficulty. But today, for some reason, these items began to seem extremely important to me. I'm not proud of this. It's just stuff. With all the stories I have heard this week of suffering and loss, how could I worry about my few insignificant possessions? I think I'm past it now - I had my moment. But isn't it interesting how what we don't have any more suddenly seems so precious? What a reminder to cherish people, particularly, when we have them, but also to enjoy the things that God has allowed us to have for now. None of it is permanent.

Speaking of things God has allowed us to have, I was so happy to sort through my books today. My classroom library looks a bit the worse for wear. I'm not sure if it's because of all the tossing about the books have undergone in the last six months or if they just look shabbier to me because I've just been in the Land o' Plenty, where everything is shiny and new-looking. It didn't matter, though; the books are like old friends. I look forward to introducing these books to kids this year.

It is wonderful to see my husband and son together; they have been inseparable since my husband joined us in June. I didn't write much during the last six months about the miseries of parenting by myself, mostly because I was trying to protect my children's privacy. But I'll just say that my son, who is seven, needs his dad. Right now they are playing chess. It's a beautiful thing.

Letter to Heaven

My Dear P,

I can't believe you're gone. I wish I could have said goodbye to you. When you walked into my classroom in December to wish me a merry Christmas, I wish I had told you how much I loved you. Remember - you were going to a wedding before school started again, and I wouldn't see you until you got back. I never saw you again.

When I came to Haiti seventeen years ago, you were one of the first people I met. You led a group session in Kreyol for the new teachers, and then you started meeting with us individually. I know Kreyol isn't top priority for many of the new teachers; they are so busy, and, after all, they use English most of the time. But for me it was pure pleasure. Since I already spoke French, the vocabulary came quickly. But also, I enjoyed spending time with you. You explained so many things to me about Haiti, and helped me learn to love it quickly. You always told me about the context, about why things were the way they were. You loved your country, even though you found it maddening sometimes. (Do you remember how you used to get embarrassed by the questions my husband would ask in his Kreyol lessons, when he would bring you words he had heard on the basketball court and ask you what they meant? You would tell him they were words he didn't need to know.)

A few years ago (five, maybe?), you and I became prayer partners, and I got to know you even better, and the depth of your commitment to God and to prayer. I think we need at least five people to replace the amount of praying you did for our school and for each of us. You didn't sleep well, so often you would get up in the middle of the night to pray. If those who are dead can intercede for those of us who are living (you and I had different training on that), I know you will do it. You always had scripture to share with me, too, and words of encouragement. You understood so many things that I didn't really talk to anyone else about.

My favorite story you ever told me was the one about the time you had traveled to the States, and while you were gone there was some political unrest, perhaps even as serious as a coup d'état, I can't remember. Your daughter was at your house, with an older relative, and you were very worried about them, but you couldn't get back right away. You had a dream about the house, and it was surrounded by giant hunky bodyguards. In your dream you wondered how on earth you were going to have enough food to feed them all. When you woke up, you realized that those bodyguards were angels, and that they were keeping watch over the people you loved. You stopped worrying, and by telling me that story you have stopped me from worrying in so many situations.

Now you have gone somewhere new. You're the one learning a new place, a beautiful, unimaginable one. But my friend, I don't think you need anyone to teach you the language or explain the culture to you. I am sure that this transition is natural to you, as someone who already spent so much time with God, and found in Him all that you needed. I remember you used to say you were a princess, a child of a King. Whether you were walking to church in the mud, or running home to prepare something for your husband, or lugging your ironing to school on a Saturday because there was electricity there, you always carried yourself like royalty. You said that God took care of you beautifully because you were His daughter.

You had no idea how much you meant to me, because I never told you. (I don't make that mistake any more, since the earthquake - at least, I am doing better than I used to about expressing to people how much I love them, since I'm so much more aware than I used to be that I might not get another chance.) I can't wait to see you again, P. It is so strange being back in Haiti and not seeing you in your regular spot, always with a joke or an encouraging comment. I hope I can be to others a tiny part of what you were to me, helping them adjust to living in Haiti, encouraging them, praying for them.

À la prochaine,


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In My Classroom

Today marked twenty-seven weeks since the earthquake. (I don't keep count in my head any more, and I had to count weeks on my calendar to come to that conclusion.) Twenty-seven weeks from the day that I wrote "January 13th" on the board and left the room with my lesson plans on the desk for the next morning, I went back to my classroom to start getting it ready for students to show up in under four weeks.

I honestly didn't get much done today. I was overwhelmed by how much there is to do, and also by emotion. I got to talk to several friends today and hear their stories. Everyone has a story, and we need to tell them to each other. I also spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to guess the password to the wireless network. Several people gave suggestions, all wrong. (Congratulations to the IT department and their sterling security procedures. Our IT person is out of the country right now, or he would have helped me right away.) Right before going home I was finally able to get on the wireless. So basically, I talked to people, freaked out about how much I have to do and felt paralyzed and couldn't do anything, and tried to hack into the network.

But the main thing I did today was clean out the desk that is now in my classroom. It's not my desk. Yes, I am aware that I do not own the furniture in my classroom, but I get pretty attached to it, and I did look around some for "my" desk. But when I opened the drawers I saw who this one belonged to, and then I had to stop and cry for a little while.

While we were on our way back to Haiti, our high school librarian, Kreyol teacher, and my good friend and prayer partner died. I knew I would face many losses upon returning to Haiti, but I did not expect this dear friend to be one of them. I can't believe she is gone; I can't believe we won't be able to talk about the earthquake and what happened afterwards. She and I met every week for prayer, and I saw her every day, since she worked right next door to my classroom. She was one of the first people I met when I came to Haiti, since she taught me Kreyol. I have many memories of talking with her and hearing her theories about slavery and history and what could be done to cure Haiti's problems. She was a role model for me of a committed Christian woman who trusted God and who prayed constantly. She was also funny and feisty.

When I opened the desk drawer in my classroom this morning, I saw her handwriting on the papers in there. I saw words she had written in English, French, and Kreyol. I saw her notes from devotions, Bible verses she had copied down, notes for the business and professional women's club she belonged to, committee work for the library.

I spent a lot of time sorting through the things in her desk, putting photos and letters aside for her family, organizing the library information for the people who will take over her job. I thought a lot about her and about how beautiful she was and how much she loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and how much she loved her colleagues (including me) and her students. She prayed for all of us every day.

One other thing I did was to take "before" photos of my classroom and the surrounding area. I'm not going to share most of them, partly because my kids are in some of them, and partly because it takes so long to upload photos on my internet connection. I'm going to show you two photos I took, and these aren't even from my room but from another one on my hallway.

Just look at that. Scary, huh?

(There's some background information here about why these books are all thrown about.)

But look closer. When I zoomed in on this heap, look what I saw:

God still has surprises for us. The earthquake was a surprise, and not a pleasant one, but so many of God's surprises are joyful ones. I learned that during the last six months. So often in the worst times, God has beautiful gifts to give us.

Upstairs in the secondary building, there is a memory wall posted. Kids were given the opportunity to write their memories from the school year on a huge sheet of paper. One of my eighth graders wrote a lovely paragraph about how people had become closer after the earthquake, comforting one another as they grieved, and how they had discovered riches in one another that they had not known existed.

There is joy ahead in this school year, even as we mourn our losses. I'll go back to my classroom tomorrow (Lord willing; I don't leave those words out of my plans any more) and make more progress. Bit by bit I will get ready to meet my students, and step out into the adventure of the new year.

Bird Day

This is a repost from July 20th, 2008.

Almost every day I read the psalms for the day from the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer. That means that on the 20th of every month I read Psalms 102 through 104 (I usually read the morning and evening Psalms all at once in the evening, since mornings are not a good time for me to concentrate on anything). I have started thinking of the 20th as Bird Day, because look at all the bird references in these Psalms:

Psalm 102:6-7 "I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and groan; I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top."

Psalm 103:5 "He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle's."

Psalm 104:12 "Beside them the birds of the air make their nests and sing among the branches."

Psalm 104:17-18 "The trees of the LORD are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which he planted, in which the birds build their nests, and in whose tops the stork makes his dwelling."

I don't know that there is any profound meaning in the timing of this monthly bird-fest but it makes me smile every time. I love the range of emotions in these verses and that we can bring all these things to God. And I know that His eye is on the sparrow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tent City

My friend Tara posted this video this evening.

Don't Forget Haiti: Tent City from Ryan Booth on Vimeo.

There are tents everywhere in this city. Every one is full of stories like this one.

Don't forget.

Earthquake Article

I'm still working on cleaning out my inbox, and I found an article that someone sent me in October, 2008, about the possibility of an earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Here it is.


Today I went to school, though I decided not to spend the day there because there is still so much to be done at home. (Including, by the way, uploading these three photos, which took an incredibly long time. I forgot about slow internet.)

I had the tour of the campus, with all the changes. There has been so much done, and there is a lot left to do before school starts in a little less than a month. Most of all, I was overwhelmed by the thought of all God has accomplished on that campus in the six months since the earthquake, as it was converted into a relief center that housed and fed hundreds of doctors who went out every day to hospitals and clinics and tent cities around the country.

This photo shows a message left on the board of the fifth grade classroom.

This is my "Beautiful Haiti" bulletin board, which had been up only a week when the earthquake happened. I was surprised to see it was still there, in the hallway. (I know, I know - it's not much of a bulletin board. Putting up calendar pictures is about how creative I get with bulletin boards. That's why I'm not an elementary teacher.)

I think I might leave it there. We all need some reminders of how beautiful our dear Haiti is.

This is a scene in the middle school hallway. The crutches are a reminder of what this space was being used for: medical supplies, a pharmacy, prosthetics production. I'm not sure why the fridge is there, or the aged computers. But this photo gives some idea of how much there is to be done before the kids get back. We're up for the challenge - I think!

I did go in my classroom but I didn't take any photos in there. It is not nearly as bad as it could have been. Several visiting volunteers have worked on getting my books back where they belong. The shelves are covered with plastic so I didn't examine the books themselves, but I am happy not to have to go in search of my classroom library, spread all around the building, as it was a few months ago. As soon as I get things here at home a bit better organized, I will be spending my days in Room 23 again, getting ready to have students in there. That's an overwhelming thought but also an exciting one.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It rained most of the afternoon. I think it must be better for people in the tent cities when it rains in the afternoon than at night, because at least people can find shelter in front of a store or under a tarp. Imagine waking up in a puddle in the middle of the night when it's dark and you have nowhere to go to dry off.

Rain is difficult for many people in Haiti now, and yet the country needs rain to grow food to feed everyone, and to provide water for drinking and cooking and washing. It fills cisterns and cleans away the dust, and yet it causes suffering. It's hard to know how to think about this.

Back in March, Ben wrote this about rain:

I have a terrible struggle with the rain because I like it. I always have. I like cool rainy days in the fall, I like spring showers, I like thunderstorms in the summer. I like sipping tea and reading when it is raining during the day. I like falling asleep to the percussion of rain drops at night. In Dallas, that is fine. But here it means that I like something that is making another person's life hell.

I loved falling asleep to the rain last night. I listened to the sounds the rain was making on different objects and tried to figure out what it was hitting. There was the familiar flat slap it makes on concrete. The hollow metal sound of the rain on our tin roof and the very bass like tap-tap on the broad leaves of the trees outside. I really had a great night's sleep, but just before I dozed off I realized: while this Drum Suite was lulling me to sleep, it was the sound of a cold muddy night to anyone in a tent city.

It meant that the ground outside their tent would be muddy, which would get tracked into their tent no matter how careful they were. It meant that if their tent wasn't waterproof, they would be wet, and cold. I hate having taken the slightest pleasure in something that could be such a curse to someone else. I wondered this morning- what other things do I really like that are a curse to someone else?

Katie is always telling me about who is a terrible corporate offender, or why certain foods are unfair. I never paid attention because it wasn't tangible. I would roll my eyes, ignore what she said, or even try and argue against it. But this morning as I walked on Delmas 75, I realized that this was something too great to ignore. I believe it is part of God sanctifying me to have awareness and compassion for things I do that bring pain to others.

Before, those ideas did not have a smell, an image, or a sound. I don't know if I can feel the same any more.

Here's the rest of the post.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Art of Peace

Mostly I listen to podcasts while I exercise, and I did that today. However, I also find they help me do mundane tasks like cleaning the kitchen. And I did that today, too. I listened to part of several Speaking of Faith episodes. I haven't listened to any of these for a while, even though it's one of my favorite programs.

The most interesting one was called The Art of Peace. It's an interview with Mennonite John Paul Lederach about his life in peacemaking, working in many areas of entrenched conflict. I found all of this fascinating, but the part I liked best was about using poetry and music in peacemaking. Lederach's daughter Angie has worked with child soldiers in Sierra Leone, helping them re-integrate with their communities after they have been brutalized by their experiences.

Here are some excerpts from the transcript:

Ms. Tippett: You and Angie writing together have talked about this phrase we often use about "unspeakable violence."

Mr. Lederach: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: And, in fact, that the ways human beings transcend or give voice to what they need to give voice to sometimes is not through words and process but through poetry and music in that, again, you know, somebody might hear that and say, "Oh, how sweet. How fluffy." Right?

Mr. Lederach: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: But you see these things as essential to survival in the most excruciating circumstances. So, again, is that something you've discovered across the years?

Mr. Lederach: Yes. I think very much so. And a lot of it by having been very close to people who have suffered not just a single event of violence, which is already horrific in itself, but have lived through repeated cycles of that kind of violence and displacement. And so much of the literature that's written about healing, trauma healing in particular in the field that we work with, and reconciliation is often written from the standpoint of sort of the bigger picture of the things that happen across time. Here are the stages, or here are the phases. And what we were discovering at several levels was that many of the things that were most important to healing and reconciliation are in the realm not only of the unspeakable, but are often in the realm of things that are not linear. That is, that they are circular. They may be repetitious, they may be ritualistic in form, because people have a capacity to experience and feel something for which they cannot give good, clear, or fully explainable words. The words just aren't there to do it. And essentially what we've come up with is that there are some very significant things that happen in healing and reconciliation that cannot be described as a person progressing from point A to B, but that are in fact very important elements of healing. One of those, for example, is the notion that going in circles, we would typically say if you're looking at it from the lens of a program that has funding that over the next year or two is supposed to produce something and it's applied …

Ms. Tippett: And a trajectory. Right.

Mr. Lederach: It's applied to healing or reconciliation, then going in circles is not going anywhere. When in fact, going in circles may be doing something that's very different. It may be about deepening. So, you know, I somewhat facetiously tell my colleagues at Notre Dame where I teach, I said, "Imagine for a moment if the funding agencies were coming here to Notre Dame and were inquiring about your behavior that they're noticing, which is you keep doing mass, some of you every day, most of you at least once a week. Is there something that's not effective about the way you're doing mass? If you did it once, would it not be" — in other words, we don't apply that …

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Lederach: We don't apply that lens to something like mass or music or other things. We understand that the purpose that it has is to create a space that permits you to get back in touch. Now here's where it becomes important. That words often move things to a head level, explaining …

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.

Mr. Lederach: … but the violation lies at the level of the bone. That's something that you feel in your very core but you may not have words to express.
. . .
Mr. Lederach: So her [Angie's] work was with how and what ways communities and particularly women work with the reintegration of child soldiers. And so you have an identity of being a victim, but you also are brought into a fighting force where you become a part of something that requires you to do violence for survival, so you become a perpetrator. You are a motherless child mother.

What she saw rather clearly in the work that she was doing, that in the times when they were interviewing young women who were child mother soldiers about their experience, they found a very sort of flat effect reporting of their life story. A number of them could not read or write, but poetry permitted them to bring forward a voice that was nowhere present in the interviewing format. On the other side of that coin was how, particularly, mothers and communities brought child soldiers back into communities that they — that is, the child soldiers — had actually violated.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Lederach: And among the modalities, especially in West Africa, was that many of these went back to rituals of rebirthing. So you would use a birthing ritual, which would typically be done when a child was born into a family or community.

Ms. Tippett: Oh.

Mr. Lederach: They used formats of those rituals in order to bring back people into a sense of connection to the community again. And those almost invariably at one point or another involved singing.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Lederach: And certainly in some instances drumming. All of which has sort of this vibrational component to it that sits at a much different level than the ones that are more typically explained, especially in the therapeutic understandings of psychological counseling.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Lederach: Which seems to be the least useful things in those contexts.

So often we think of music and poetry and art as nice add-ons to life, rather than essentials. They are the first things to go when we are cutting school budgets. They are seen, in Krista Tippett's words, as "sweet" and "fluffy." And yet these things are at the core of what makes us human, and they are vital in healing. That's certainly my experience, and it's fascinating to me to hear this explanation of how that works on a larger scale. It fits with my exercise podcast from today, too.

Another interesting part of this podcast was Lederach's haiku.

Mr. Lederach: I've gotten very interested in the connection between poetry and peace building over the last years. One of those insights and one of those areas of personal discipline for me was both discovering and working with, but then deepening a kind of a haiku understanding of complexity. Which, as I see it, is an ability not to simplify the complex, but to some degree the haikuist is constantly trying to capture the full complexity of a human experience in the fewest words possible. And that discipline is a very interesting one and it requires haikuists — I'm an especially big fan going back into its origin toward Basho and Kikaku, a variety of these haiku Japanese poets. Their understanding of what they were doing was about a kind of a way of being in a context, particularly nature for many of the haikuists, the link between the human experience and the experience of the richness of nature, in a way you could fully capture the moment, the season, the human experience, but in this very short five syllable-seven syllable-five syllable kind of a format.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, "I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity."

Ms. Tippett: I love that.

Mr. Lederach: And that is what the haikuist is after. So I do a variety of things. One of them is that I've become much more respectful of, I think, the link between appreciating being in and feeling nature and noticing things that we're involved in when we're in settings of violence. For me it's like a recuperation of sorts. But the other is that as I travel in work, I listen for haiku in people's conversation because what I find is that quite often when people say something and we all have a kind of an a-ha moment around what was said, it often is a capturing of the complexity, that simplicity on the other side, and it comes out very close to, if not actually in the form of, a haiku. And I could give you one or two of those if you want.

Ms. Tippett: Yes.

Mr. Lederach: I refer to them as conversational haikus or poetry in conversation. That is, that people don't take notice of their poetic capacity in the midst of their conversation, so I take note of it. So I jot notes of it. I sometimes — I don't often keep all these in sort of my own repertoire. I give them back to people. In fact, I've done whole summaries of meetings sometimes just by capturing a range of these haikus. I think you were in one of those once.

Ms. Tippett: Yes, I was at a meeting and you sent us all the haikus at the end. They were fantastic. Yes.

Mr. Lederach: Yeah. So if you want, let me start …

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Mr. Lederach: … with one or two that are of that nature.

Ms. Tippett: OK.

Mr. Lederach: Seven years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I was sitting in a seminar and people, while still happy that the agreement had held, felt that Northern Ireland has fossilized in its sectoral relations. That is, that things were simply not changing and that it may not get much better. And in a dinner conversation, one of the colleagues from Northern Ireland I was sitting with said this that I placed into a haiku. I actually gave this one a title. I don't always title my haikus, but this one's called "Rainbow's End?" Maybe, he says, this / is as good as it will get / peaceful bigotry.

Ms. Tippett: Hmm.

Mr. Lederach: A few that were, for me, things that I've picked up in places I've been that just give a flavor. I've worked on occasion with a group of people from Burma —inside, from the ethnic minority groups. They call them ethnic minorities even though they're the majority. That means they're not Burmese. And many of them have armed fronts that have been fighting, some of them for decades and decades, against the current regime. I worked primarily with a small group of people who for one reason or another were brought into being shuttle mediators, attempting to open up, discuss, or move some kind of a negotiation on between people in the Burmese government and various of the armed ethnic groups. There were small sets of people who had these experiences from each of the seven or eight ethnic groups. And in 2003, I spent the better part of a week simply listening to their stories. They were, from a mediator's standpoint, some of the hardest stories that I've ever heard.

I can remember one group who lived very close to the Bangladesh border with Burma who needed to carry a message across the border to the commander of an armed movement that was just on the other side, but they could not pass directly through the border to that area. They needed to travel all the way to the capital city of Yangon, get a passport, and every passport has to be turned in after each visit. So it's a one-time passport. Then fly to a third country in order to convey one message. And then all the way back again to bring it forward, many times sitting with local commanders or groups who would arrest them and keep them imprisoned for weeks on end until they sorted through whether they were legitimate.

The perspective that you have in these situations is so unbelievable about the kind of difficulties that they're facing. And the group that I was meeting with used a kind of an informal name. They referred to themselves as "The Mediators Fellowship." And so I wrote a little haiku when I was leaving Yangon, and this is in March of 2003. It was titled "Advice from the Mediators Fellowship."

Don't ask the mountain/ to move, just take a pebble/ each time you visit.

Ms. Tippett: Hmm.

Mr. Lederach: Want one more?

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Mr. Lederach: Tajikistan. This was translated back from Tajikian to English, and the way that it rang in the translation, I played with it a little bit and it came out almost as a perfect haiku. They have very odd borders in Central Asia that were created by Stalin that have separated small portions of each major group so that every country has a minority of every other country's majority. And some of the most significant cultural cities of one group are located in a country where they don't live. So this was the haiku that came out. This one was in April 2003.

Gods and men love maps/ they draw borders with pens that/ split lives like an ax.

Don't you want to have Lederach over for dinner and listen to him talk for hours? I do.

The Story from Haiti, part seventeen

This episode was aired July 12th, the six month anniversary of the earthquake. Only one of the segments is about Haiti, and it's the first one. This isn't an interview done by Dick Gordon; it's from a radio station in Miami called WLRN. We actually heard this segment on the radio while we were driving through Florida. It's about some medical personnel from South Florida who went to Haiti right after the earthquake, and about what happened one evening when someone came into the middle of all the horribly injured people and started playing a guitar.

It made me cry, but I know that means nothing to you if you've read any of my previous posts, because you know everything makes me cry. But it would make even a non-basket-case person cry; even my husband had tears in his eyes. Please go listen to it. This is what I've been telling you about Haitians. They have always been like this, and now others are getting to see.

Here's my index to the stories this program has done about the Haitian earthquake.


I have been cleaning out my email inbox in between bouts of unpacking and putting away, sorting old messages into folders a hundred at a time. You don't even want to know how many emails I have in my inbox, all read and responded to, but still sitting there. I delete most of my email, the non-personal stuff from lists I read or ads from companies I once bought something from or the hundreds of spam emails I get every day, so all of the emails I'm going through now are things I want to keep, or at least that I wanted to keep at some point in the past. You might wonder why I didn't do this sorting during all those months when I had hours of free time, instead of now when I am surrounded by work to be done, and to that I would say, I have no idea. I just suddenly had a strong need to have an empty inbox to start the school year. I'm not there yet, but I'm making progress.

As I go through the old messages, inevitably I'm rereading. Today I've been looking at notes I received in January and February. I saw the one I sent out the first time I got back on the internet after the earthquake, with the subject heading "We are alive," and I saw the dozens of responses from friends asking if there was anything, anything, they could do. I saw messages from people asking for help with donating money and supplies, and from people reminding me that God was still God and that they were praying for us. I saw responses to messages I had sent to friends in Haiti asking if they were all right and messages making arrangements for me to speak to groups once I got to the States. I saw messages from people in the town where I was staying in the US, making arrangements to spend time with me and encouraging me.

Those days seem a long way away now, and yet as I read the emails I feel those emotions again, the panic and fear and the rush of adrenaline, and the gratitude as well.

If you wrote to me during those days (and many of you did), thank you. I think I answered everyone, but I know that you can't understand how much it meant to hear from people who cared and who wanted to help, both while I was still in Haiti and after we had been evacuated. My inbox is full of evidence of people's love and concern, and even though I am putting that evidence into folders, I couldn't possibly delete any of those messages. I won't ever forget the way I was supported by my friends and family when everything around me fell down.

Another View from Haiti

Jen is a doctor who has been working with Heartline Ministries to treat people injured in the earthquake. She blogged yesterday about how things are now, both the hope and the pain.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Not Pig, Pigeon

The electrician wasn't here fixing the electricity (see last post). He's also a plumber, and he was working on our water tank. It turns out that the covering of it fell off during the earthquake, and a pigeon had died in there. That affects the quality, color, and smell of one's water.

All I could think of was Fawlty Towers.

Six Months Ago Today

Today is another six month anniversary; six months ago today, my children and I were evacuated from Haiti with one small bag each. This morning I worked on unpacking the (several more than one) bags we brought back with us yesterday.

When we checked in those bags at the airport in Florida, our porter was Haitian. Several of the porters were talking together in Kreyol, and when one of them saw where we were lining up, he said in Kreyol to the other, "They aren't going to Haiti." Ours turned to me and asked in English if we were going to Haiti, and I answered him in Kreyol saying yes, we were, and that I guessed the other man didn't believe it. He suddenly was very friendly and we spoke Kreyol for the rest of our brief interaction. I was happy to be speaking Kreyol again; it felt wonderful.

It was strange disembarking into an airport that I could hardly recognize. The main building of the airport is badly damaged, with huge cracks in it. We were put in a bus and moved to the old cargo area, now used for passport control, baggage claim, and customs. Everything was calm and orderly, except the little girl who came in blowing on a vuvuzela. Was it my imagination, or were the greetings a bit more heartfelt than before? Certainly there were tears and joyful hugs, but perhaps I was reading into what I saw.

The pickup procedures at the airport are not exactly streamlined; the driver who had come to get us drove past slowly while our redcaps flung our bags into the van and then my husband jumped in, hitting his head on the ceiling. "Did you count the bags?" I gasped.

"Yes," he said, just as one of our redcaps ran up to the van, with another whole cart of our luggage which hadn't made it into the van. We grabbed that too, and were on our way.

In some ways, I feel as though I just briefly walked out of my life and then back in. The streets look much the same as the day I left. The differences: there are many more tents now, tents everywhere. I could see them from the air as our plane came in, the blue and white of tarps and bleached out pup tents, designed for families to use for the weekend, not for a whole city of people to live in for six months. And on the main roads, some rubble has been cleaned up. On back roads, not so much. The day we left, people on the streets still looked a bit shell-shocked, though they were moving about purposefully, doing what needed to be done. Now, people seem calm and relaxed, as though this is how life is now; might as well make the best of it. I took pictures, even though they were really bad, blurred by the movement of the van I was in, because I know that soon I, too, will stop seeing the tents the way I did at first. They will start to seem part of the scenery. (Talie, who is Haitian, has a great post on the downside of this remarkable Haitian ability to adapt to the worst situations.)

In my house, some things haven't changed at all. My verse-a-day calendar is still on January 15th, the day before we left. There was clean laundry that I hadn't put away yet when I left in January (but not any more; I put it away this morning). The books I got for Christmas and hadn't had time to read yet are still by my bed. The Christmas tree isn't put away yet. (Thankfully, we had taken it down, or it would have fallen down, like everything else in that room did when the earthquake hit. But the box is still in the stairwell, ready to be put back in the closet.)

In other ways, though, many things have changed. My house is full of the evidence of people coming and going for six months, bringing all sorts of things with them and leaving them as they moved on. Things like XL size t-shirts in large quantities; apparently they had trouble finding XL size Haitians in the tent camps to give them to, so my husband ended up with many. Things like insect repellent by the hundredweight. Apparently my husband ate mostly trail mix and sardines while I was gone (and it's not because he's helpless in the kitchen - he is a great cook and does most of our cooking; it's just that there wasn't time for such frivolities). There are bags of trail mix all over the place. Did he just grab a handful whenever he felt hungry, I asked? Apparently so.

Last night we ate a celebratory welcome-home dinner of chicken and diri djonjon. I have been congratulating myself on living six months in the Land o' Plenty without gaining any weight, but I think that dinner, complete with two glasses of grenadia juice, probably put on five pounds. How blessed we are to have food to eat in our house, which is still standing. How blessed we are to be alive, and together. I started to cry (yeah, I know you didn't see that coming, because I never cry).

This morning I had a reunion with "my" electrician (long-time readers of this blog will recognize him as a frequent presence in my life; we have quite a bond based on years of his constant visits to our house to fix our constant electrical problems, and his children recognize my voice on the telephone). He is fine, and everyone is alive in his family. I wonder how many of these emotional meetings are ahead; many, I know. I talked with another Haitian friend, too, and we discussed how nobody will ever know how many people really died in those moments on January 12th. She said that whole families disappeared at once, maman, papa, ak pitit yo, mother, father, and children. Her life is complicated now (more than before); she has to move from where she has been living in a tent, to somewhere much further away from her work and less convenient. How many tap-taps to get to work, I asked? Two, or three, or sometimes four. But then we talked about how happy we are to be alive, and how God gave us our lives. Béni soit l'Eternel. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Six months ago today, I left this country in grief and pain. Now I am back, and mostly what I feel is joy. Yes, there is still grief, but I am so happy to be home. I didn't even realize how much I missed the sounds, and the smells, and the beautiful smiles. Whatever problems there are - and they are many and huge; I don't wish to downplay them - seem surmountable because we are still alive.

Poetry Friday: Haitian Earthquake Poems

If all goes according to plan, by the time this post appears automatically, I will be at home in Haiti. I don't know what kind of poem is appropriate for such a day, but while I was looking for one, I found this article, which is several months old, but which I hadn't seen before, about how some Haitian poets responded to the disaster.

John-Dany Joachim wrote:

I went and I am back, tande ak we se de
It was like in a dream,
or one of those movies that show the after world.
Two hundred years of words I will need to describe
the desolation my eyes have seen.
Two hundred years of memory to heal the scars
many years of labor,
and many more years of relearning.
I saw Port-au-Prince with its guts open,
its bare bones exposed to nothingness.
I saw tangible fear.
I could feel the anxiety and the anguish of the survivors,
but also I saw life waking up slowly.
That reminded me of ants,
coming out of their holes after a heavy rain.

There are some more excerpts at that link.

I hope soon to be able to post some of my own responses to how things are now in Haiti.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Lakay se lakay. (Home, sweet home.)

It's been a long, exhausting day, after a night of sleeping like a baby (which is to say, waking up every two hours). I will write more tomorrow, but just wanted to let you know that we arrived safely in Haiti, and the power, water, and internet are all working. It's a miracle!

Thanks to those of you who were praying for our trip.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Transit

We are in a motel room in Florida, waiting to leave for Haiti. We are surrounded by luggage - it's hard to walk around in the room because there's so much of it. I can't find anything I want to wear, or read, or use, without digging through piles of other belongings. I'm very tired of living out of suitcases and ready to be home.

And yet I'm afraid.

For months I have obsessively read everything published on the internet about Haiti. Now, I can't read any of it. On TV they showed the footage from the security cameras at the Palais National, taken during the earthquake. (That video was making the rounds on Facebook months ago, but somehow the US media is just now getting hold of it?) I have watched the video many times, but I couldn't watch it now; I left the room.

I'm sick, too. A friend wrote and asked, "Are you sick sick or stress sick?" Definitely sick sick, with whatever bug has been going through our family for the last week, but my physical condition does match my emotional one pretty accurately. I'm feeling fragile.

And I'm afraid.

I keep thinking about flying into the airport that I left six months ago, where rebar was hanging down from the ceiling and groups of us huddled, talking about what we had seen and heard. I think about driving through the streets of the city as we did that day, seeing destruction on an enormous scale, buildings pancaked on themselves. I think about all those people everywhere.

A woman at church the other day said to me, "I admire you so much. You are such a strong person to do what you do."

I feel uncomfortable being put on a pedestal, especially when I know so very well how inaccurate the sentiment is. Strong? Uh, no. So I replied immediately, "When all of this happened, I realized how weak I really am."

She kept smiling brightly and assuring me of how strong I am.

Believe me, I'm not. I'm weak and sick and terrified.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians: But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

It's still hard for me to boast in my weakness. I want to be strong and self-sufficient. I don't want to be the person who ran away from all of it six months ago, and is now cautiously creeping back. I want to be bold and courageous, perhaps riding a white horse. (OK, the horse might be taking things too far.)

Let's just hope His grace really is sufficient for me, and for all of us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Six Months

Today is the six month anniversary of the earthquake. On other anniversaries I have posted articles but I can't do that today. Please read the articles anyway - they are easy to find - and keep Haiti in your thoughts and prayers. I can't read them, somehow. I am on my way home to Port-au-Prince to see with my own eyes, to bear witness to what is happening there. Six months ago everything changed for my family and for millions of Haitians. It seems like another lifetime. It seems like yesterday.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Poetry Friday: Death, Be Not Proud

Nearly three years ago we lost a friend and colleague at our school in Haiti. This week we lost another, and I want to post what I shared with my students when K. died in 2007. This is the poem my brother-in-law sent me when my grandmother died, and though I had read it before, reading it with fresh loss in mind made it resonate even more.

I recognized that this poem was a bit much for my seventh and eighth graders, so I wrote a paraphrase that I also shared with them. So, first, Donne's version, and then mine.

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

Here's my original post of this paraphrase, complete with descriptions of middle schoolers and mourning.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Carol's Corner.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Lessons Learned

Ever since the earthquake, I have been writing constantly on this blog. Probably very few people have read every word of it, but I have read and reread it, and it has been therapeutic for me to write it and to read it. As I get ready to go back, I am making a list of some of the lessons my family and I have learned during the last six months. Many are ideas about which I've already written at great length. And many are concepts we would already have said that we knew, but experience has made them more real to us.

1. Flush. In the United States we flush every time.

2. We learned how to live in winter. The youngest among us had never put on gloves, never suffered chapped skin, never really even felt cold beyond the occasional day in the 70s at home.

3. I love teaching. Probably most people think a vacation of six months would be a good thing, and there were definitely good things about it, but I learned that my job is very important to me. I missed my students and my classroom so much that I had to keep myself from thinking too much about either. I know that there are big challenges ahead at work, but I feel ready to be back in Room 23. This email from our friend Dave Carter kept me going.

4. I love my husband. I have been married to him almost half my life now, so I was aware that I love him, but being apart has reminded both of us how much we love and need each other. In those early weeks it was hard to feel connected because we were able to communicate so little, and I wrote a lot about him and about our history together; that helped. (Here's one of those posts.) Being back together as a family has been healing for all of us.

5. Emotions are funny things. It's always a good idea to carry tissues at all times. I never know when I'll be overwhelmed by a crying jag, even if I've been fine for a few days. Several people have encouraged me to accept the feelings as they come, and that has been helpful advice.

6. Friends matter so, so much. I can hardly find the words to express how much. I heard from hundreds of them and spent time with many as well. Each was a blessing. I learned that people are kind, in ways that take my breath away. I learned that love is the one thing that matters. And I learned that I am incredibly fortunate to have so many people who love me and who were there for me. Thank you, thank you to all of them.

7. Talking, writing, music, and laughter are healing.

8. At a time when I most needed God, I found it difficult to pray. But God was still near. I learned that when I can't hold on any more, God still holds on to me.

9. I was surprised to learn that I couldn't read for weeks after the earthquake. Regular blog-visitors have seen me come back as a reader, but it was terribly unsettling for me not to be able to focus on a book.

10. Everything can change in an instant, and you can't predict how you will react to that. Any cracks, both literal and figurative, will be exposed. Any weakness will come to the surface. I learned that I am weak and need other people desperately. This was an uncomfortable lesson.

11. I learned that all I have is today.

12. In the time I have left, long or short, I want to "Add to the Beauty."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Last Walk

This morning I took what will likely be my last walk of 2010 in this town where I have lived, so unexpectedly, for nearly six months. This is a town where I have done much of my growing up. I lived here for two years as a child while my parents continued their education and my brothers and I were homesick for Africa and learned about life in the United States, and I walked to school and to my piano lessons. I came here for college as an eighteen-year-old who thought I knew everything, and I remember walking to a friend's house during Freshman Orientation through the darkened streets, full of the wonder of this place and so many people who turned out to be wonderful too. I met my husband here and we took many walks through these streets when we were dating and had no money and no car. I came back here from Haiti as a new mother and carried my baby in her frontpack and then, as she grew, pushed her in a stroller through this town. And in January, this is where I took refuge with my children in my time of deepest need and weakness, leaving a shattered Haiti, and my husband, behind. And again, I walked.

I have blogged often in these months about my walks, about what I thought about and listened to and about how important the exercise and fresh air were to my well-being. I walked in snow and after floods and now, in July, it's warm and sticky and feels almost like home. I've cried and and I've listened to radio shows and sermons and all kinds of music and I've sung along with my iPod. And I've talked, on the days when I walked with my walking buddy; I'm sure she doesn't know the half of how helpful she was to me.

This morning I listened to Steven Curtis Chapman while I walked, in memory of those early days here, back in January and February, when I would listen to his album Beauty Will Rise again and again and again. (I posted several songs from it at the time, here and here and here.) Today I let the tears come as I played the whole album, tears for the Chapmans' pain of losing their daughter, and for my pain, and for Haiti's pain. I am grateful to Steve Curtis Chapman for writing these songs and performing them. Many of them he wrote in the very early weeks after losing Maria, and they are raw and full of deep grief. It is music to mourn to, and yet there is hope in every single song.

As I listened to the words "If you can't believe, I will believe for you," I thought of all the people who have believed for me, prayed for me, held out hope to me on days when I had none of my own. People who wrote to me, and sent me packages, and listened to me, and took me to lunch, and showed me love in so many ways. As I listened to the words, "This is not where we planned to be/ When we started this journey/ But this is where we are/ And our God is in control," I thought about the journey, the years that have taken me around the world, and the people that I have been privileged to know, and I knew that Jesus will continue to be with me as I keep walking.

Back in January I noticed a broken mug by the side of the walking trail. I'm not sure why I didn't just pick it up and throw it away, but I didn't. I kept seeing it day after day. The handle was on one side of the trail and the rest of the mug on the other. I speculated about what had happened. Had someone thrown it from a car? Had someone been walking and drinking coffee and just dropped it? Why was it not all together? At some point most of it disappeared, but the little piece of handle is still there, and I saw it this morning. It's getting a bit weathered now, after all these months. You know me, readers; I always have to make metaphors out of everything. That little handle reminds me of my grief. It's not as fresh now, and it's not everything that I am any more. Maybe it will get smaller; maybe you won't even be able to see it when you talk to me. But it's still there, and I know it always will be, like a little nub of mug handle that somehow ended up on the ground.

I hope to walk the streets of this town again next summer, but who knows? I plan to watch the parade go through the streets tomorrow, but again, who knows? Today is all I have for sure, and today, I had a beautiful walk and was filled with love and gratitude. Thank you, Lord, for this town and for my walks through it at so many stages in my life.