Thinking back to our time in Haiti

One of the houses we built

One of the houses we built

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and it’s been 2 and a half years since a group of us spent a week there building 2 houses. A week that changed me forever.

I am grateful for the reminder today to go back & read through the string of posts I wrote about our time there. I am sitting here on the verge of tears for so many different reasons.

It was the most consistent physically demanding week of my life. It was flat out really hard. But the people we encountered and the scenes that we saw are forever etched in my heart. Continue reading

Good Reads: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

This is a simple book review that is long overdue.

Before traveling to a place, I always like to try and read a book about it. Particularly before trips to foreign countries. So prior to our trip to Haiti, I wanted to find a book that might give me a little insight into the country, the people, and the culture.

The book I found was Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. I didn’t get it finished before we left, but had at least a good portion of it done. I then enjoyed reading the rest after we returned. If you are interested in reading about mission work in Haiti, I do highly recommend this book.

It is about a young guy, Kent Annan, and his wife that give up their life in the US, sell most of their possessions, and move to Haiti to work with Doctors without Borders. Wanting to immerse themselves in the culture first, they move in with a Haitian family in a town far outside of the capital. They live with them for several months (which provides some great stories) before moving back to Port-au-Prince, getting a modest house built, and jumping into their work. He takes the reader through the ins and outs of life in Port-au-Prince – how he has to take 4 different modes of transportation just to get to work every day. He takes you through his interactions with new acquaintances and his fumblings at trying to live among the people and not be viewed as a “rich American”.

From a cultural perspective, it was a fascinating and eye-opening read for me – learning about social norms, family life, the challenges of everyday life, etc. in Haiti. It helped me have some sort of informed reference point for when we went. Equally interesting to me, and I didn’t realize it until we got there (and started our work of building 2 houses), was reading about the difficulties in the construction process of their home, the interaction of the Haitian workers, and how they related to Kent, who the Haitian workers would call “boss”. He had set out to live amongst them, to build a modest house so as to be viewed as more of an equal, but was still being called “boss” because of the color of his skin and his country of origin. It was interesting to then be there in Haiti, working alongside Haitians on each house, and much of the interactions and challenges were very similar.

Aside from that, this book challenges the reader to have courage in going through the eye of the needle. To reject the ordinary life and follow the calling God has placed on each of our lives.

I don’t know if God will ever call us to be missionaries in another country (though we have talked about it), but no matter what, I don’t want to live an ordinary life. I do want to have the courage to follow through on our callings, whatever they may be.

Haiti Wrecked Me

This is my last post recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti over the July 4th week. To read them all, click here and continue back to the first one titled “We Came Back Changed”.

Haiti wrecked me.

At least for a little while…

When we first got back, it was so hard to process all that had happened. I needed some time for it to all sink in. To think about it and weigh the significance of it all. I still have not finished the last 2 days in my journal because I almost can’t put it into words, at least words that do it proper justice. That, or I don’t want to close that chapter. I’m not sure.

When I walked in to work on Monday morning and people started asking about the trip, it was so hard to figure out what to say first. How do you sum up something so substantial into a few trite statements. “It was great” doesn’t work. And how interested are people really? I could talk about the week and all that happened for well over an hour, no problem. But how many people really want to know about it, really? Most people just ask to be polite. “Oh, how was your trip?” But then it’s right on to the next thing. So it was hard to know how to handle all of that. How to handle those conversations and then move on back to my “real world”.

Something else I didn’t anticipate were my emotions. For those that were truly interested, I’d start to share a few specific stories. It’s easier to break it down that way. Katiane’s story was one of them. Not 30 minutes into my first day back to work, I was crying as I talked about her. I didn’t think that was going to happen. I remained a bit emotional that first day, and probably the next few.

That entire first week after we got back, it was hard to focus on anything. Haiti wrecked me. All I wanted to do was to read more about what was going on there, to learn all that I could. I wanted to talk about it with others. I wanted everyone else to know the severity of the situation there. It was so hard to get back to my “real world”. To do my job, to clean my house, to start another class for my MBA program. I realized that our garage was bigger than the houses that we built. I got annoyed when we had to clean the house and dust all of our stuff, and all those other upkeep things you have to do with the more possessions that you acquire. It took up my time that I could be doing other, more important things. It was all weighing me down.

After experiences like that, it really makes you question what you are doing with your life. What am I doing here? Am I really helping people? What difference am I making? What kinds of things and activities do I need to cut out so that I really have time to do more for other people?

I found other opportunities to plunge into. Not huge things, but little things. I got involved in helping promote the World Vision Aids Experience that is in town right now. I signed up to help at a World Vision artist associates concert later in August. I found out about, and signed up, to help with a benefit dinner for International Justice Mission in September. And I still so badly want to sign up to be a friendship partner to a local refugee family. I am just afraid to commit the time to a family and then have to let them down.

Haiti wrecked me. At least for a little while…

It has now been exactly one month since we’ve been back. I find it a struggle to keep that fervor that I had 4 weeks ago. Why is it that an experience so significant, that we felt like changed us so much, can start to slip away so easily and so soon? It scares me a bit. I don’t want it to fade. I don’t want to be coerced back to my normal patterns. I want to hold on to that feeling and the preoccupation I had with figuring out what I could do to make a difference. The knowledge that our “stuff” doesn’t matter. That there are so many people in this world hurting and in need, and that we can do something about it…

We are only given one chance here on earth. I want to make it count…

“Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.”
-Romans 12:1-2 (The Voice)

Photos taken by Jason Welch. Check out his photography blog here.

Final Day in Haiti

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all.

Friday was our last day in Haiti. We were all sad to see it come to an end. We got up & out early as usual – 5:45am – to head to the 2nd construction site where we had been working the last 2 days. We only had until about 10:30am or so to get our work done. It went very quickly, but we did it. We accomplished what we needed to accomplish. We finished all 11 rows of block on the 2nd house! It was awesome to see it completed. We also ended up with enough time to get another good dose of playing with the kids in, as well as to get a special coconut treat.

Jean Vierre & Daniel working. Notice the Pay it Forward bracelet. (Photo by Jason Welch)

This is the 50-something year old man who climbed the coconut tree like it was nothing, knocked them down & hacked them open to share with everyone. I love this picture. (Photo by Jason Welch)

(Photo by Jason Welch)

Trying the coconuts

Cason attempting it...

We then headed back to the church to wait for the folks from Baptist Global Response to arrive. They wanted to come see the work being done in Petite Goave. We were able to walk with them over to the first home site where the team from Mississippi had completed the roof. The house was basically finished (with a few things that the Haitian workers would finish over the weekend). It looked great! It felt like a huge victory to see it completed. We took a walk around to check it out. We took some group photos. We visited with “our kids” one last time. It was the hardest to say goodbye to them.

Inside of the completed 1st house

Group shot in front of the completed house

Then we loaded up in the trucks and went to the 2nd home site, to show it to the BGR reps. We took our group pictures there and said goodbye to our fellow Haitian workers and those children. We were able to give many of our work gloves & some other items to the workers at both sites.

Group shot in front of the 2nd house

Dad, Cason, & I at the 2nd house

It was very hard to say goodbye to Pastor Joseph, his wife, and children. We had grown so attached to them in such a short period of time. What an amazing family!

From there, it was a whirlwind. We had a quick stop at the hotel to shower, get our final things packed, and grab a quick peanut butter sandwich. We left almost all of our clothes (& shoes, hats, etc) we had worn during the week there for Stephen to give to the Pastor, for him to distribute to those that need them.

We loaded up in 2 vehicles, with the BGR reps, and started the 2.5+ hour drive back to Port-au-Prince. You can see many of the pictures we took on that drive here in my previous post about seeing the towns along the way. I think I was able to soak in more on the way back than I did on that drive the first day. It was so sad to pass through all of that devastation – passing through the town where the main earthquake was centered (Leogane). So many people are living in tents everywhere. So many buildings are crumbled. The roads are cracked right down the middle. Bridges are out. People are in desperate need. In some places, you can barely tell that there has been any progress made in the last 6 months.

We arrived back at the BGR compound on the edge of Port-au-Prince in the late afternoon. This is where we were to stay the night before flying out early the next morning for home. In a word, it was HOT. No air conditioning here. Just some fans and some tents. Two other groups were staying the night there, along with our group and the handful of regulars that are there all summer and beyond. They said it was the most crowded the compound had ever been. We had to sleep 4+ to each tent. The 4 of us ladies shared a tent, the 4 guys shared a tent, and my dad slept out under the canopy used as the eating area. We all had air mattresses, some in better condition than others (and with varying degrees of odors). I’m still not sure why, but that night for dinner they served us piping hot stew. (In the morning we ate piping hot oatmeal). Hot food in the hottest, most uncomfortable weather I’ve ever been in.

I won’t go in to the narrative of the entire evening and night (you can ask me in person if you want those stories), but we’ll just say it was miserably hot & humid. If I’m going to be completely honest, it was the worst, most uncomfortable night’s sleep I’ve ever attempted. We later learned from the guys that the tents they had were actually designed for arctic weather! To keep the heat in. Dad probably had the best arrangement – outside where there could at least be a breeze. We were lucky enough to have an outlet in each tent that we could plug a fan in to and keep constantly blowing on us all night. By about 9pm, we didn’t know what else to do but to just lay on our air mattresses and try not to move. You know how you can get in such a miserably uncomfortable situation where all you can do is just laugh? All we could do was to laugh deliriously about it all. And then the techno music started bumping from somewhere nearby. It was like the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae. Needless to say, we didn’t really get much sleep that night. We were just counting down the hours until our flight. And yes, we made it just fine. And now it is a funny story to us all. However, I tell you what, those were some of the slowest 12 hours I’ve ever experienced. It made us so grateful that we had hotel rooms for the rest of the week. With all of the physical exertion that we experienced during the day, it was so nice to have a bed at night, a ceiling fan, and decent air conditioning.

The tents at the BGR compound

Jason in the tent... with his fan...

But you know what? There are over a million Haitians sleeping in tents every night in that weather? That’s all that they have. And for most of them, there is no electric fan and there is definitely no air conditioning. And that is their permanent situation. They don’t have a flight out of the country leaving in 12 hours to count down to. A shower and bed waiting for them at home. Those tents, or tarps, or shanty shack – those are home.

Back on what feels like the more superficial side of things, we made it to the airport early Saturday morning, un-showered and smelly. We left the country in a daze, sad to leave the experience of the week, but honestly looking forward to getting home to our cushy houses. By the time we got back to Nashville, we were exhausted. We really didn’t even have many words for each other. We didn’t get a proper debrief time, just due to the nature of the night before and the hubbub of the early morning.

I’ll tell you one thing. The entire week was amazing, but after a night like we had just had, on top of the sheer exhaustion, I was so worried that I had personally ruined everyone in the group forever on mission trips. However, I am very glad to report that in the days that followed, as we all got a chance to talk about the trip with each other and with others when we had opportunities to share, it came out piece by piece what an amazing experience everyone had. How we all immediately wanted to go back. We wished we had another chance to go do more. Help more people. The hard parts (especially those last 12 hours) were glazed right over by the sheer impact of it all.

As my first post after the trip stated, we definitely came back changed. And it’s a change that I really hope and pray will last. More on that next time…

Final group shot in Haiti

Last Full Day of Construction & A Very Memorable Dinner

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all.

By Thursday the 8th, the heat and physical challenges of the week were starting to wear on all of us. A few of us didn’t feel well that day. We were dropping like flies. I stayed back at the hotel until they came back for breakfast & then I joined back in. Two others stayed back until after lunch. Luckily, everyone was okay by evening. It could have been so much worse. Two weeks before our trip, everyone in that group had gotten terribly sick (apparently from eating bad fish. We avoided fish during our week).

But the construction went well that day. You could tell we were all lower on energy. We were dragging a bit more. The afternoon was a real struggle to make it through. The house was looking really good though. By the end of the day all it lacked was the back section & then the window blocks. We would only get to work until lunch the following day, so we were hopeful we could see it completed.

This is the house at the end of the day on Thursday. Almost done.

We did have a lot of fun with the kids that day. Ashley & Lisa taught them leap frog, red light/green light, duck duck goose, & the shark song. It was great!

Hanging out with the kids

Some of the girls with our stickers all over their faces & hands. They loved the stickers!

The highlight of the day, by far, was going to the church to have dinner with the Pastor & his family. Madam (& probably an army of other women) cooked for us. When we arrived, they seated us at the tables, which were covered in cloth. After everyone was seated, several women came out and rolled back the sheets to reveal mounds of food. They had probably gathered all of the best plates and silverware they could find for us to use. There were even 4 Christmas plates out. The women came around and served us cokes & sprites. There was a blessing said & then we feasted. It was, by far, the best meal of the week. We had fried chicken, rice, beans (that you put a coleslaw mix & a sauce on top of), fried plantains, and french fry potato strings. It was all so delicious. And while we ate, they actually had a choir practice going on, on the other side of the tarp. It provided a perfect backdrop!

Somehow we were able to convince the family to actually eat with us. Stephen had told us that the previous group was also invited over for dinner, but that they came in, served them, and then left them to eat as honored guests. That’s just what they do. But we joked with them that we would not eat if they didn’t join us. So we were so glad they did!

Best meal of the week, before it was completely unveiled.

Their family consists of Pastor Garnell Joseph, his wife (everyone just calls her Madam), & their three children (2 boys & a girl). They are precious! Such an amazing family. They are so sweet & kind. Always smiling & encouraging. The Joseph family is a true light there in Haiti, in Petite Goave. They are always taking care of everyone in the community. Multiple other people are always living with them. They truly embody what it means to live in community & in service to others. We felt so attached to them by the end of the week. It’s amazing how attached you can get to some people, even after a matter of only a few short days. Someone said that they needed to come visit us in the US someday, and Pastor Joseph very genuinely said, “mmm, ok, Madam & I are going to pray about that, we’re going to pray about that.” 🙂

After dinner we presented them with the gifts we brought for them. A bag of stuff for each person in the family. They were floored, and so grateful! We were also able to leave them with several bags of stuff to distribute to other people, particularly children’s toys, coloring books, stickers, etc. (Before we left on Friday, we loaded up a couple suitcases full of our clothes, shoes, etc that we wore that week for them to distribute to people who need them.)

The Joseph Family

Our group with the Joseph family

The ride back to the hotel that night, all loaded up in the back of the tap tap (pick-up truck), was one of those memories & feelings that I will remember. It was neat to be out in the streets at night. That was the only time all week that we were.  But everyone seemed to be out on the streets or sitting in front of their houses or tents. It was one of the coolest times of the day, so people were outside visiting & hanging out. We had also just had an amazing dinner,; it felt very much like our “last supper” of the week. We were sad to be ending the week, but feeling so grateful for everything we had experienced and been able to do. The next morning, we were going to have to say goodbye…

…And just for fun… that night, back at the hotel, there was a great commotion. Below, you can see why. We found this beast crawling around on the patio area just out front of the hotel rooms! Literally 10 feet from the doors. It then started climbing the tree that could take it from the 1st floor to the 2nd.  The boys were quite fascinated by it; the ladies, not so much. That night everyone shoved towels in the cracks underneath the doors. This one was certainly too big to get in, but just in case “she” had babies somewhere near by…

My Haiti stories are almost done. Another day & a half to go. Maybe another post or two. Thanks to everyone who has been reading them. Please continue to be in prayer for the people of Haiti, for people like the Joseph family, and please continue to contribute to organizations there that are making a real difference (,, etc).

Katiane: How One Girl’s Story Made it Personal

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all. You can also subscribe to receive the updates by email by entering your email address at the top of the left column (under “email subscription”) and hitting submit.

On Wednesday we met a girl, Katiane, that I will probably never forget. In our brief encounter, she’s one of the people there that had the most impact on me.

She was wearing a beautiful, but tattered, cream dress, & she was carrying a trash bag full of possessions. She was maybe 7 or 8, and a beautiful girl. But she had some of the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Her dad or grandfather (we weren’t sure which, for their was a big age difference) tried to start up a conversation with someone in our group, but they couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. So at some point, he walked back up the path and came back shortly after with photographs & xrays, to help him get his point across. He was explaining to us in Creole (so the little Stephen could understand, plus using a lot of body language) that both of Katiane’s legs were broken in the earthquake. He showed us a photograph of her in the days after, laying on a sheet on the ground, all bandaged up, him stooping next to her. They were in front of a background of tents. With the xrays we could see that she now has 6 or so screws in her leg. Her dad/grandfather was trying to get work. He was asking for a job, but we couldn’t give him one. He really did try so hard, it was heart-wrenching to have to turn him down. He just wanted to provide for his family.

Katiane looked so sad. We couldn’t get her to smile. We tried so hard. Lisa communicated back to her that she too has some metal in one of her legs. Jason & Lisa gave her one of the dolls they brought and my dad gave her 2 cliff bars for some food (it’s all we had with us). A couple people from the group prayed over her. When it was just Katiane, Nicole, & I sitting on the log, I leaned over and quietly said to her one of the only phrases that I knew in Creole that could possibly be applicable in a situation like this – that Jesus loves her. I think a very, very slight smile appeared, but it was gone just as quickly.

In a way, I was very glad for the opportunity to meet Katiane & her dad/grandfather. It was a chance to make it personal. I would hate for our group to have left there without having heard some personal stories about the earthquake. Over 230,000 people died! Probably most everyone has lost a family member or their house or both. Everyone has a story and everyone was affected by it. There is still great fear there. A large proportion of the population is still sleeping in tents six months later – either because they lost their house or because they’re still terrified of sleeping in theirs, even if it had no damage.

And girls like Katiane, who have been so traumatized, it’s like they have forgotten how to smile. It is heartbreaking to see children like that. We had such an extreme language barrier that it was hard to find out people’s stories. We weren’t even sure if it’s something people talk about or they try to avoid the topic. Even the waitress in the little restaurant at the hotel, that we joked that she had such a bad attitude most of the time, I’m sure she has a story. Maybe she lost a family member. We just don’t know what each person there has been through.

It made me want to do even more smiling, and waving at people, and greeting them with a bonjou or bonswa (good morning & good afternoon/evening). I love to see people smile and it breaks down outer walls. So if we could spread a few more smiles there in Haiti, then that is a very good thing.

One thing we often wondered about was the unemployment issue. So many people come by asking for work and we can’t help them. We’re there working for free & Baptist Global Response only has the budget to pay for 2 Haitian workers per site. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to build as many houses. The unemployment rate there is sky high. It really is a desperate situation. Do the Haitians see us as coming down there & taking their jobs? Do they think they’d get the work if we weren’t there working for free? It costs between $1500-$2000 to build one of those houses. Would it be better if we didn’t come & we sent the $1800 per couple that it costs us so that they could build more houses & employ more people? These are questions we kept thinking about.

It does send a good message though that we, as Americans, are there getting our hands dirty & doing the work, as opposed to just sending money down & telling people what to do. We were told at the beginning of the week that many of these people had probably never seen an American do manual labor before.

We did learn, at the end of the trip & since getting back, that part of what BGR is doing with these volunteer teams, is using these weeks to train the Haitian masons in how to build this quality of house – using the rebar, etc. It is, in general, a different style of construction for them, so they are being trained how to do it. That way, when the volunteer teams stop, they are able to continue the work, at this level of quality of construction. That also means that more Haitians will then be employed to do the work, as these volunteer teams are phasing out. I was very glad to hear that.

More tough questions we kept wondering about: What about those that don’t get a house? Baptist Global Response has enough to partner with Pastor Joseph’s church to build 40 houses in Petite Goave. He had to select which 40. What about the people who didn’t get selected? When & how will they get a house? How long will they be sleeping in tents?

These 2 houses that we helped build will leave behind a legacy of hope though. These are 2 families getting homes that didn’t have them before. And the home owners will always have a story of how they got their house – through the church & with the help of some American Christians who cared about them & obeyed the call to come work in the extreme heat in the name of Jesus. And their neighbors will know – the ones we visited with & the kids we played with. They will remember & hopefully it will have an impact. Plant or water some seeds. Hopefully it will have a wider impact than we may have first imagined. Maybe one day down the road someone will be more receptive to learning about Jesus because of the encounters they once had with us American Christians who were friendly with them & who showed a good work ethic. Maybe we are helping to sow a seed that someone else may help reap someday. I hope so.

Anyway, I vividly remember Katiane, and that there are so many other Haitian children in a similar situation. It shouldn’t be like that for any child. They need our prayers & they need our help.

On to the 2nd Home Site

Wednesday was a good but long, hot, & tiring day. Maybe the hottest day I’ve ever been out working in. But…we made it.

The 2nd house is off the main “highway” (which is the busiest area of town with shops, buses, big trucks, and moto taxis), but the house was about a quarter mile back, off a little dirt path. It felt like a small village, yet right next to everything. It was kind of nice back there. A little quieter with lush vegetation and a lot of space. This house is on a little square of land.

This is the main, bustling "highway" that the 2nd house site was off of.

This is the 2nd home site, on its nice little plot of land.

This is standing right next to the house site, looking further back. It felt like a little village down there. Totally different than the 1st home site.

Right next to the road, & the path back to the house, there is a big building that collapsed in the earthquake & looks like it’s never been touched. This big, concrete building just flattened. Stephen said that if there were people inside, they’re probably still in there, entombed in that rubble. They just don’t have the heavy equipment to take care of all of the rubble. It was really sad to walk by every time we came and went. A stark reminder of what happened all across this country, and what the people are still dealing with.

The collapsed building right next to the steep path that lead us from the main road down to the house site.

One thing that made this day’s work even more of a challenge was the fact that the materials (the blocks & sand) were dumped off beside the road and had to be carried down a steep incline and along a small, bumpy, muddy path that crossed a little creek a couple of times. Nothing like an added challenge.

Once you reach the flat part, this is walking the path back to the site.

Miraculously, when we got there in the morning, someone had already taken a bunch of the block & sand down there. We have no idea who or how, but we said it was angels looking out for us!! It was a definite help but there was still much more to bring down. The guys spent a good chunk of the morning going back & forth, up & down, with wheelbarrows hauling all of it. That was really hard work & they did such a great job. We ladies sifted sand to use in the mortar & then would go spread the mortar for the blocks being laid in.

Looking from the home site back up the path. You can see the steep incline in the distance & the guys with the wheelbarrows.

At this site we had Jean Pierre & Eli as our head boss & boss #2. Then there was a third guy from the church that showed up & just worked as a volunteer (Sonic or Soniq). We were very encouraged by him being there to help, without getting paid. That was great to see!

Cason with Eli & Jean Pierre

Working away with our backs in the jungle

Even with the extra hauling, we got work done on this house quickly. Jean Pierre was a very good boss. He was efficient & quick. But the heat was killer that day! Worse than the other days. It drained us quickly & started taking its toll. After lunch it was pretty unbearable. The last hour was a really long one. We couldn’t have worked much more & were so ready to go when 3pm rolled around. But we made it…

“You will not succeed by your own strength or by your own power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.” Zechariah 4:6

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” Ephesians 6:7

A couple more random things:

It’s amazing how attached you can get to some people after only a couple of days. We had only spent 2 days at the other site, but on this day, moving to the new location, we missed those other kids terribly. We had started building relationships with them & were sad to move on. But, even down there off the beaten path, there were plenty of other kids to play with (more on them later).

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the trash & the ditches that run through the town. They left a big impression on us. There is a huge lack of infrastructure in Haiti, and that applies to a complete lack of trash collection or sanitation. Trash everywhere. We’d give candy to the kids and they’d just throw the wrapper on the ground. Adults would do it too; that’s where they learn it. And those ditches would also carry nasty water – from peoples showers, bathrooms, rain water, everything. Kids would just be running around barefoot across it all. It’s all they know. It was so sad.

A typical ditch beside the street, filled with trash.

Another typical street scene

This is a sort of makeshift dump. We'd pass by there and see school children walking across it on their way to school.

Language Barriers, More Construction & Kids

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all.

This is Simone with Pastor Garnell Joseph. She is the owner of the house we were building. She will live there with her dad & brother.

Day 2 of Construction

On the 2nd day of construction, we did not finish the walls of the house like we had hoped. We could have finished it for sure, but everything runs on Haitian time – much slower than we might like. It was definitely a lesson in patience. The head boss, Mulanje*, wanted to stretch everything out to make sure he got paid for more days. It was disappointing, because we could have gotten so much more done. The next day we would go to the next house site. Mulanje & his apprentice would finish the walls, windows, & doors, and a team from Mississippi would come in to do the roof. There were many times that we’d have to wait on the Haitian bosses to do the corners or something before we could continue our part. The work there was could only be done by a limited number of people. We did a lot of waiting & sitting.

A picture of the guys up on the make-shift scaffolding, getting work done. That is Mulanje (the Haitian boss) with them.

When there was some work to be done the guys did most of it and us ladies hung around, helping when we could. However, it did give us opportunities to hang out with the kids & neighbors that were around. It was good for building relationships. Hopefully we were helping to build bridges that could reap fruit in the long run – for the church and for relationships with Christ. Maybe, just maybe, by us being there, caring about them, working hard, and being warm & friendly, and by them hopefully getting the message that we were Christians & working with the church, it could possibly open doors to future American teams to come in an share about Christ with them. Maybe this is the first time some of them have seen Americans working hard to help in their community and it softens them to the next team that may come. Or it could open up opportunities for that local church we were partnering with. We never know the long term impact that we can have, even by small actions.

These are the neighbor girls who hung out on the front porch most of the days, watching us and interacting with us.

The Language Barrier & the Children

Throughout the week we learned bits & pieces of words & phrases in Creole, but the language barrier obviously hindered our ability to communicate with the Haitians. The kids would come up to us and just start rattling off stuff and we couldn’t understand what they were trying to say. I wished we could communicate better, with the kids and the adults too. That got a bit frustrating. We couldn’t really share about Christ or explain why we were all there. (We did learn how to say “We work for Jesus”, among other things.) We mostly had to communicate with smiles, waves, & a few very simple words. But a smile & a wave can go a long way. It was amazing how you could pass a very stern, serious looking person, but with a simple wave & a smile, & maybe a ‘bon jour’ they would just light up. Their demeanor would instantly change. That was really neat to see. Every day, riding in the tap-tap, it was like we were in a parade. Again, we were obviously quite a spectacle. So everyone would turn and look at us as we drove by. So we’d smile & wave at everyone we could, offering up a friendly bon jour.

We passed these kids in the tap-tap a couple times a day, to & from the hotel. Most of the time they'd be hanging around, seeing us coming, and run out to wave at us.

And with the kids, it almost didn’t matter that we couldn’t speak the same language. We’d do the best we could with gestures. It didn’t hurt that we generally always had little candies & stickers to hand out. Lisa & Jason Welch also had handmade dolls with them that they would give out to the girls. We learned that most kids are attention starved at home, so when you show them the slightest attention, they cling. They just want to be loved and touched. One boy on the first day of construction kept hugging me & talking about how we were all his friends (a word we did learn in Creole). Throughout the day he would take my concrete-covered hands and either brush or scrape them off. He even scraped some out from under my fingernails. It was a very sweet gesture.

This was my buddy - the one who kept cleaning off my hands. He had a good time hanging around with us & vice versa.

On this 2nd day, there was a little crowd of kids across the street. They were so adorable. We enjoyed being with them & their grandma. She brought out a photo album & in Creole showed us each member of her family (including the child’s parents who we figured out were in Miami). She even brought out the little boy’s report card! The smallest boy (maybe 1-year-old) fell down at one point & started crying, so I picked him up (no pants & all) & held him for a couple minutes. He stopped crying immediately. He was precious.

These are the cute boys across the street. Jeveson* & probably his little brother.

So we enjoyed all of those times with the children & with the neighbors, even if we weren’t making great progress on the construction.

God has a plan for all things, even if it doesn’t seem like we’re accomplishing what we think we should be.

*Disclaimer: I really don’t know how to spell the names of most of the people we met, so I’m trying to guess. 🙂

Here are some more great pictures:

A precious girl across the street.

I love this picture!

A girl with one of the dolls the Welches were handing out.

Most of these photos were taken by Jason Welch. Check out his photography blog here.

First Day of Construction in Haiti

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all.

This is the before picture of the first work site

When we arrived at the first work site the foundation had already been laid, but there was a big pile of dirt & rocks in the middle. We got to work clearing all of that out, then we started in on the first row of cinderblocks. The first row is the slowest, as it has to be perfectly level, since the rest of the rows will be built off of it. It was interesting to see the process & the tools used. String, tied across, was used to measure if it’s level and to guide as we laid down block.

Sifting sand to make the mortar

We made our own mortar. First, we sifted sand to get the bigger rocks out, then mixed in some powered cement & water. Mixed in a pile on the ground & then loaded in to buckets. It was like gritty mud slop. We would put it between the blocks, in the holes with the rebar, and of course between the rows. Us ladies got pretty good at doing the mortar work. We were like a mortar brigade. The guys could do the heavy block lifting and we were good at doing the detail work.

Lined up filling in the mortar

The houses are about 12′ x 16′, one room, 11 rows of block high,  a door on either end, & a window on either side. The roofs are wood & tin. No electricity or running water. These are definitely upgrades from most of the houses in the neighborhood, especially for the fact that these incorporate rebar into the structure.

All of the materials were acquired locally – the cinder blocks, rebar, bags of sand & cement, the window blocks (cinder blocks with holes in them for air flow). As for labor, Baptist Global Response has enough money to hire 2 Haitian workers (we called them bosses) per work site. This posed some challenges as people would come by asking for jobs all of the time. When we’d arrive at the work site there would be a few guys there already working, just in hopes that they could get paid. But once they were told the would not be getting any money, they’d pack up and leave. You can’t fault them for trying. Unemployment is so high (70+% I think). So many people are looking for work to be able to support their families. But it is a dilemma for BGR because they have to manage costs. Hiring more workers would mean they would have to build fewer houses.

There were people there all day just watching us work. We were definitely the show in town. People would just stand or sit there and watch, for hours. I know we were breaking some barriers and I enjoyed that. We were told that they may have never seen Americans do manual labor. In Haiti, if there are Americans, normally they are the ones paying the workers, not the ones getting dirty and actually doing the work. Secondly, we had 4 women on the team working and I’m pretty sure that is not a normal occurrence.

It was a little disheartening at times though that there would be so many people standing around watching us. Here in Nashville, after the big flood in May, neighbors were out helping neighbors clean-up and rebuild. In Haiti, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There doesn’t seem to be a culture of volunteerism, which saddens me some. But there are exceptions. After lunch, we came back to the site and there was a woman there hanging around. As soon as one of the mortar buckets was empty, she would get it from us, go fill it with more, and bring it back to someone who needed it. With the language barrier, we couldn’t communicate well, except to say thank you. We started to assume that this must be her house. Later, when the pastor came around, we asked about her. Apparently she is a woman from the church & a friend of the homeowner, and she just wanted to help. That was encouraging.

One thing I didn’t anticipate was the complete lack of toilets & running water. I didn’t think everyone in town would have them, but maybe someone like the pastor would. But apparently no one (or hardly anyone) has them. There is really no septic system in town (except for whatever the hotel has). There are just ditches besides the road where all of the nasty, murky water runs down the street from runoff, people bathing, etc. When we went to the church to eat our PB&J sandwiches for lunch, we had to use the restroom. Since the pastor’s house is adjacent to the church, they took us in there. Apparently there was a (sort of ) outhouse out back that they took the guys to, but for us ladies they led us one at a time to a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor. They would then clean it out after us. That was a humbling experience. We learned in subsequent days that on that particular afternoon, they were embarrassed for us to use the outhouse area. We did use it on those other days. But still it was just a bucket behind an area with a sheet.

The heat & sun were ridiculous. I’d be dripping with sweat by just standing in the shade. We were drenched & nasty. Sweaty & sunscreeny & filthy. At some points the heat & sun were almost unbearable. We felt like the sun was just roasting us. It would just make me feel miserable. Sweat dripping down everything. My pants got saggy & would just stick to me. So uncomfortable. But somehow God gave us the strength to keep going. I like to think that we acclimated to it, at least a tiny bit, in the course of the week.

Seeking a moment of rest in the shade

By the end of the work day we had completed 5 rows of block, all of the way around. We were feeling pretty confident that we could finish it the next day…

A Typical Day in Haiti

This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all.

We began construction on Monday, July 5th. This post is mostly for our moms or anyone else wondering what a typical day of construction looked like for us.

5:15am – Wake up, throw on grubby clothes & brush teeth. No need to shower since we were off to get dirty & nasty.

Cason & I, grubby together. Like my awesome sun hat?

5:45 – Load up in the tap-tap (the back of a pick-up truck. We’d “tap tap” on the roof of the truck when we were all in and ready to go) & head to the site to start working. We’d start so early to try and beat the heat a little bit. That helped some, but we’d still be sweaty & dirty within the first hour. We definitely appreciated the early start though by the time 2-3pm rolled around. It would be pretty miserable by then.

All loaded up in the tap-tap after getting some work done

7:30ish – Back in the tap-tap, drive back to the hotel for breakfast (they weren’t serving breakfast early enough for us to eat before we went out). Breakfast was generally fresh fruit (mostly pineapple & mango, sometimes watermelon), toast & butter, and the other part would rotate. One morning was a hot meat & potato soup (!), one time potato pancakes, sometimes eggs, and many times cold pasta (!). An interesting combo, but we ate whatever we had available. Often carbo loading I guess.

8:15ish – Drive back to the site to continue working. This was when we’d have our biggest bulk of continuous work without a break.

Getting some work done

Daniel, one of the Haitian workers, Stephen, & Cason with his makeshift sun shade

12:00 – Break for lunch. From the 1st site we could walk around the corner to the church (we had to drive from the 2nd site). We sat at a table under the tarps & eat. Sometimes it felt even hotter in there, without a breeze. A couple days the electricity was working and they would bring the fans out for us. We were so grateful for them on those days. We brought peanut butter with us, bought bread there in town, and just ate peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and other various snacks that we brought for ourselves. The Pastor’s wife (everyone just called her Madame) would every day bring us out some fresh mango & pineapple also. Delicious & refreshing! Pastor Garnell would also have cokes & sprites for us.

1:00ish – Walk (or drive) back to the site to continue working. 1:00-3:00pm was always the hardest part of the day. It was at its hottest, the sun would be baking us, and we would just be so physically exhausted. You could only work for a little bit at a time and then you’d have to stop, take a break in the shade, and drink something. I feel like we could have gotten so much more done if we could have removed the heat factor.

This is definitely a picture from toward the end of a work day. Can you tell? We are looking pretty rough & have sought out a moment in the shade.

3:00 – Stop working for the day, drive back to the hotel. Wait on electricity to come back on (or for them to get gas to start the generator back up) so that we could shower. Sometimes this would take up to an hour. The rest of this time in the afternoon, after showers, we would lay on our bed under the fan (if the electricity was working) with our feet up. Maybe nap. Maybe write in our journals, read our Bibles. Sometimes sit outside and just hang out chatting.

Myself, Cason, & Dad sitting outside after getting back probably waiting for the electricity to come back on so we can shower

5:30 or 6:00 – Walk over to the outdoor restaurant patio area together. Stephen would get our dinner ordered. We’d talk, do our group devotion time, and hang out at the table. This was really good reflection time to talk about the day. Some things from the day wouldn’t really sink in until we could talk through them out loud with the others. But then we’d start getting really hungry and antsy. In the later days we started eating snacks before dinner or even bring them to the table to help from getting too cranky. Even if we ordered at 5:30 or 6:00, it was mostly 7:30 or even 8:00 before the food would arrive. I think one night it was a full 3 hours later! Haitian time was something we definitely had to try and get used to. It really tested our patience some nights.

This is the crew sitting at the table in the restaurant area waiting on dinner. I love how Wes is passed out in the foreground. You can tell how exhausted we'd often be by this point in the day.

Dinner was most often rice, beans (mostly a liquidy consistency that had a few beans in it). The meats changed (fried chicken, a tasty beef, fatty/boney goat), most days there were fried plantains or potatoes or french fries. One night we had a pasta dish, but it had a strange oily sauce on it that almost tasted oriental.

A dinner - beef, fried/breaded plantains, french fries, rice & beans, & this night we had a semi lasagna dish. Interesting combo.

After actually eating, we’d hang out chatting a bit more. One night we played a loud, crazy game of Catch Phrase. That was a good time!

8:45-9:30sih – We would wander back to our rooms and pass out for the night. The hotel definitely looked beautiful on the outside, but the rooms were quite basic. But everything we needed. The beds were a little harder & the pillows a little flatter, but I think we all slept like rocks most nights out of sheer exhaustion. We were so grateful, though, for the air conditioning and ceiling fans that we had at night. When we first signed up for the trip, we thought we’d be sleeping in tents. (And after our last night in Haiti, when we did have to sleep – or not sleep – in tents in a miserably hot Port-au-Prince, we were even more grateful for the hotel rooms that we ended up getting blessed with in Petite Goave).

Anyway, that is what one of our typical days looked like. More to come soon. I promise.