27 May 2010

One weather forecast, salt on the side

NOAA is predicting a "very severe hurricane season ahead," I read today. Talking with folks here, you have to take these predictions with a grain of salt, of course. But with all that this country's been through, we surely don't need a repeat of the 2008 hurricane season.

NOAA's outlook points to a 70% probability of 14 to 23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes—and three to seven major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 miles an hour. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.
"If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record," said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared" (WSJ.com).

I, on the other hand, would like to urge everyone to be praying...please pray that these storms would not fall on Haiti, that we would be miraculously protected. At the risk of stating the obvious, I just don't know what it would do to the people still living in tents here if we had a hurricane.

Thanks for being invested in us.

21 May 2010


"Great deeds rarely occur. The happiness of life depends little on them, but mainly on the little acts of kindness in life. We need them everywhere; we need them always" (Barnes' Notes, 1997).

The family living a few apartments down is from Port-au-Prince…they moved up here after the earthquake. They give faces to the term “internally displaced peoples,” one that gets thrown around a lot by governments and newspapers. K is their son…he’s living up here with his mom, as well as aunts and uncles and cousins. When we first met him, he took a liking to David immediately. He’s a shy kid, about ten, skinny and a bit awkward. Not quite as good at football as the other kids, but just as competitive, much like a certain husband I know.

Lately, there’s been a change in him, however. He’s stopped playing football, because he says he’s too tired. They hired a tutor, because he’s not doing well in school. They took him to the hospital the other day, because he’s not eating. His grandfather is in the hospital here in Pignon, and they go to visit him often. Even from my limited experience with such things, he has PTSD written all over him. 

I’ve been trying to spend more time with him lately, and a few days ago, we were paging through my Creole/English picture dictionary. He was reading things to me and pointing things out, when one of the puppies went by. “Puppy! Puppy!” I called to it, and it looked up and wagged its tail. “I’m friends with all the dogs here,” he informed me. I was surprised, because most Haitians don’t like dogs—having a pet here is unusual. “Oh really? Why?” I asked. “Because they bark at night,” he replied.

Now, I’m as sensible as the next person, but I couldn’t see why that was a good thing. That happened to be the very reason I despise them. “Is that good?” I asked him. “Yes, it’s good, because they tell you when robbers are coming.” His face sobered and his voice dropped. Finally, we were getting somewhere. “Are you scared of robbers?” I asked. He nodded. “Why?” His voice dropped almost to a whisper. “Because they can kill you. The dogs protect you.” 

It was one of those moments in life when you know exactly what you need to say, and in this case, I even had the language to say it. “K, you have more than dogs to protect you…you have your family, and you have God. And you know that He is bigger than anything—He can protect you better than anyone, right?” He didn’t say much after that, but I could tell it was sinking in.

Later, his mom came by and tried to thank me, but I didn’t understand most of it. Still, I got part of it: “your good word.” That time, I didn’t have the language—to tell her that it’s not really mine. 

Thanks for enabling us to share the “good word” here.

19 May 2010

Cooking Class

Welcome to your first session of Christine’s Village Cooking School! Tonight, we’re going to work on dinner. The first step should have been done this morning, when you checked your beans for rocks and set them to soak. What’s that? You didn’t check them? Oh, well, don’t worry—I only found eight in my batch this morning. I’m sure you can eat around them.

Around 4:30, it’s time to light your propane stove and start cooking the beans. Add a little salt first for taste. You might also want to start your tortillas, which need to rest for 40 minute before you can roll them out. Take a moment to sweep the floor to collect up any food that might have fallen—cockroaches like beans and rice more than you do, after all.

Also, don’t forget to start bleaching your vegetables about 20 minutes in advance of when you need them…otherwise, you’ll find your beans overcooked, and you’ll be cooking in the dark. Bleach your onions, your shallot, garlic and a few green onions…what’s that? Your green onions went bad? And you only bought them four days ago? I sympathize. Cooking without refrigeration is quite different, isn’t it? No worries, students—you’ll get used to it.

When they finish bleaching, pull out the dull Japanese knife you bought in the market for $1 US and half-sized cutting board that was provided to you. At 5:30, go ahead and drain the water off your beans and fry them up with the veggies. Add the water back in and bring to a boil. If you use the same water, it saves having to carry more from a half-mile away and adds a nice flavor as well. Pull the rice out of the creature-proof container where you store it, and add it in. Bring to a boil, and allow all the water to boil off.

As the rice is finishing, it’s time to make your tortillas. Segment the dough into six equal pieces and roll each out as thin as you can. What’s that? You don’t have a rolling pin? Well, then you’ll need to improvise: my Nalgene seems to work fine as a rolling pin for me. Of course, you’ll need to run a hand wipe over the outside first…I know where it’s been. Fry the tortillas on a dry frying pan one at a time, rotating them to compensate for the warped, uneven heating of the pan.

At last, when it’s all finished, present your creation to your family. If they are like mine, they will be grateful, forgiving and uncomplaining, even if there’s not enough, or you burnt the onions again, or if you should have picked ten rocks out of the beans this morning, not eight.

Thanks for your prayers, everyone!

17 May 2010

A walk into Pignon

Don't forget, if it's too small, you can click on the button with all the arrows to make it bigger!

13 May 2010

More Pictures of Our New Home

I was going to post some more pictures on the blog, but I am having technical issues, so I am just going to post a Picasa link.

10 May 2010

Two-Man Job

Before I begin, I have some unfortunate news…right now, I have things to write about, because so many things are new or different here. But already, things are starting to become, well, normal. And I fear that I will soon begin to struggle for interesting things to write about. Already, you may have noticed a distinct reduction in the number of my posts. This is your warning: I am almost out of “firsts.”

But yesterday had two “firsts.” The first occurred after church, when we were offered a ride. We eagerly accepted, because I assumed that it would be in a car. We followed our generous friend down a dirt alley, until he stopped at a large gate. “Wait here a second,” he said. (He actually did speak excellent English.) Before long, he returned…pushing the handlebars of his motorcycle. Before I continue, there are a few things you should know about motorcycles here. 1) Almost no one wears helmets. (This guy didn’t have one, let alone three.) 2) There is no “correct” side of the road for them to drive on…they drive the path of least resistance. 3) I’ve never been on one, having been instilled from birth about their hazards. 

I stared at it for a moment, contemplating. My church skirt was straight and denim, and there was no way I could sit properly, unless I rode side-saddle, as most Haitian women do. However, this left the problem of hand-holds…as David pointed out. “Can’t you hold onto the bike?” he yell-whispered as we pulled out onto the road. Answer? Why no. I had one hand firmly clamped on his knee and the other less-firmly clamped on my driver’s shoulder. (We’d just met. A firm clamp didn’t seem appropriate.) It was definitely good that I had two of them to help keep me on, and my feet threatened to slip off their footrest several times, but over the rocks and despite the swerves around donkeys and pedestrians, I actually felt quite safe. Also, another advantage to motorcycles became apparent: we arrived home 25 minutes quicker and not bathed in sweat from head to toe.

Speaking of bathing, I turned on the shower this morning to discover the tank was empty. (I pity the people I sat next to in church…then again, they didn’t smell much better.) The nice guy who runs the school where we live is out of town, but before he left, he warned us that this might happen and gave us a number to call. (Like I said: nice guy.) At 8 AM, I called the number: “This is Madam David, and I live at the college. We don’t have any more water,” I told him in Creole. “I’m coming right now,” he told me. Five hours later, still without water, I texted him: “Could you pretty please come and fix the water soon?” (Yes, I really do know how to say “pretty please” in Creole.) No response.

It was time to take matters into my own hands. Literally. With two gallon-sized plastic water containers in hand, I sojourned across the compound to find the pump. Since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, it took me a while—they’d hidden it inside a pump house (of all the nerve). It was dark inside. Empty potato chip bags, cracker packages and candy wrappers were piled up along the wall. At least it didn’t smell as bad as the latrines, which I hadn’t had to try yet (but might have to if we didn’t get the tank filled soon). The first ten pumps did nothing. The long handle squeaked a kind of chorus, and as the water started to flow, I noticed that most of it was flowing onto my gallon, not into it. I shifted the container, but not before the water stopped, leaving me unsure about which way to scoot it. This was proving more difficult than I thought…what I wouldn’t give for a bucket. The first gallon, I could feel my back starting to tighten up, my muscles unused to such work. I changed my stance for the second gallon, trying to use my arms more, which improved things a little—until I had to carry the gallons back across the compound. Climbing the stairs, heart pounding, sweating on my church clothes, I had a sense of real accomplishment. I had just pumped water in Haiti, all by myself! That sense of accomplishment quickly turned to dismay, however, when I used 1½ gallons to flush the toilet. Suddenly, latrines were starting to make a lot of sense.

Disappointed, but determined, I headed back across the compound, only to discover that a little boy in a bright yellow shirt was peeking at me from inside the pump house. A lot of kids here haul water for their families—in buckets, on their heads, quite often. I approached the pump house cautiously, not wanting to scare him. His bucket was empty, but when I inquired, he insisted that he was done and that I should go ahead. I tossed my gallon toward the spigot, not bothering to position it, until the first water began to flow. My friend, however, beat me to it. Not only that, he replaced the second gallon when the first one was full. Maybe this water-pumping thing wasn’t so bad after all—maybe it just required the assistance of a friend. When I finished, I thanked him and offer to do the same for him, but he shyly assured me that he didn’t need help. Still, as I slowly gathered up my gallons, I subtly scooted his gallon under the flow with my sandal, and he grinned at me. He was almost riding the pump handle, like a one-man seesaw, throwing all his weight to pump it. “Mesi!” he called breathlessly as I started back across the compound. It only took one more visit to the pump house that evening to get enough water for the bathroom at night and enough to do dishes after dinner. This time, I brought my own help…after all, it’s a two-man job.

Our work here is a many-man job…we couldn’t be here if you didn’t pray for us. Thanks.

03 May 2010

Apartment Pictures

Here are the promised pictures of our new apartment. We are currently living a school, where they have a few apartments. Overall, it is a better place to stay than the guest house, although it is lacking amenities, like, reliable electricity (We usually get it from 9 AM to about 3 PM Monday-Friday, if they have gas for the generator) and reliable internet, it usually works when the generator is on, but not always (And to get the wireless we have to stand outside). We are adapting though to this and overall enjoy our new place to live. Although, I have to say, I miss the internet more than the electricity.
As I mentioned before, we don't have power at night, so we use a kerosene lamp and it seems to work well. I need to see if I can purchase some jet fuel for this, as it is cheaper per gallon than the kerosene in the market.
This is the view from right outside our door. It looks over the school. Thankfully they planted palm trees, which give us a little privacy from the school, and provide shade in the afternoon.
This is our living room. It is small, yet functional. We have a bedroom and a bathroom in the back. We do have running water, and cold showers aren't that bad in the tropics.

Well, that's the old homestead. It will function for the next several months. No need to worry. Christine is keeping us well fed! Many Haitians were surprised to hear that Christine could/would cook. She is doing an excellent job, in less than optimal circumstances for cooking. Thanks honey!!!

Haitian rain

Thought we'd give you a little taste of what it's like during the rainy season here...sorry I couldn't get the thunder--it's magnificent!!

Not much internet here at the moment, but those apartment pictures are coming, I promise! :)