Thankful

Several times these past few weeks I’ve started formulating a blog post in my mind of all the numerous complaints I have living here in this village. One day I even started writing it. A quick look at my desktop just now shows it’s still there, half written, the document entitled, “Haitians Annoy Me.”

Honestly, some days I feel beat by the multitude of interactions in a foreign language, the physical discomforts, the lack of privacy, and simply the frustrations of living here.

BUT! What has held me back from letting my complaining get the best of me is the wisdom to know that complaining does me no good and is a dangerous path to start upon. Instead, I’ve been trying to think of things I’m thankful for.

I want to list a few of the things I’m thankful for here.

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Health. This is the biggest for sure. In seven months of living in Haiti I have yet once to get what they call, “Haitian Happiness” (that is, food poisoning). With the unsanitary conditions I’m in now, the sketchy water I’m often drinking, the fresh vegetables I’m always eating, the multitude of street food I’ve had and still have, my healthiness is nothing short of a miracle. My friend Ryan just had, “Haitian Happiness” this past week.

Also, the fact I have yet to contract malaria is also amazing. The previous driver for Heartline got malaria, and I stayed in the same room he did for twice the amount of time as he. On top of that, I’m constantly getting eaten alive by mosquitos. The director for Heartline, John McHoul, has had malaria 17 times. I’m sure my time is coming, but I’m thankful to have not had it yet… I take no malaria medication.

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Communication. Missionaries of old didn’t have e-mail. While my e-mail and internet is frustrating (I have to walk up a nearby hill to get a good signal), at least I have it. I can talk with people back home. I was even able to get a video-Skype conversation to work!

But even greater than the technological ability to communicate, I am thankful for family and friends who are more than willing to take the time to talk, listen, and encourage me. I am so thankful for that.

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Today (Saturday) I was given MUCH reason to be thankful!
Six friends from Port-au Prince drove up to visit and encouraged me with their conversation and time. They brought a good lunch we ate in my house. Ryan brought things I needed – he had made a special trip in Port to get these.

And before leaving they prayed over me. What a blessing! What an encouragement!

What really blew me out of the water was how Anachemy, my Haitian/American friend from Port, gave such a generous and timely gift of food! There was snack-food galore (Cheez-its, Crackers, Granola Bars, Chocolate, Jelly Bellies, Raisins, Apples, Taffy, Dr. Peppers, Vanilla Cokes, and even Oreo’s) as well as other “real” food, not to mention needed medical supplies and even hygiene items.

Was eating from the package of Oreo’s and thinking, “Gosh, these are amazing, I really should buy more of these sometime after these are gone,” then saw the price-tag on the package: $10 US! and remembered why I don’t usually buy them!

I received this generous, unexpected, and morale-boosting gift of abundant food as from the Lord.

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The Haitians here in this village, while sometimes driving me nuts, do look out for me and genuinely care for me. There are teenage boys here who have already become special friends of mine, and whom I feel privileged to know.

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I am thankful there is not animosity between me and the villagers. I am thankful they are kind to me. I am thankful they let me go fishing with them. I am thankful they willingly helping me learn Creole. I am thankful for the opportunity it appears I will have to study God’s Word with at least one of the young men (Nöe).

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While aspects of living here are uncomfortable, I am thankful for the comforts I do have. I’m thankful for my solar panels which provide, among other things, 1) lights for my house at night and 2) a small electric fan to help me both study in the day and sleep better as well. I am thankful for my cell phone that gives me access to the outside world. I am thankful for the roof over my head, for a mosquito net, and for ample food.

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This list so far hasn’t even touched on how much I’m thankful for my supportive family, my siblings who keep up with me, my parents who pray for me daily, my church family at Westside who I don’t keep up with well but who regularly pray for me anyways, and for friends I’ve made around the world who take the time to write encouraging e-mails.

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My life is rich! Why would I complain? How could I complain? The experiences I’m being blessed to have are one-of-a-kind. So what if there are a few bug-bites along the way? 🙂

Surprised

My new schedule includes starting each day with a jog and and then jumping in the ocean afterwards. This morning the water was perfectly calm and crystal clear right up to the waters edge (usually the waves make the water up close dirty) so I decided to get out my snorkeling gear and take an underwater exploratory swim of the area (why hadn’t I done this before?).

Little did I know there is a tropical reef right off my beach!
Yeah, and it’s really quite beautiful, I thought. It felt like a special gift from God to discover this treasure I’ve been living next to unawares.

Fact is, it was more than fun, perhaps delicious is the right word (my new favorite adjective)? To soar among the bright fish and multi-colored coral, to touch the wavy tendrils of the who-knows-what you’re probably not supposed to touch, to avoid those spiky sea urchin thingys that want to stick you, to dive down amongst the crevices, to in general have a fun time exploring an underwater fantasia-wonderland.

My favorite view is at the edge of the reef where the bright coral ends and the ocean plunges to the depths. The bottom can’t be seen, only ever-changing iridescent hues of blue with penetrating sun-rays happily dancing towards the interminable deep.

If anyone wants to come visit someday, I have an extra mask. Though it’s probably not as amazing as I make it out to be. I’m more easily entertained than most. After an hour or two of swimming I was beat and ready to call it quits myself.

But still, after one is surrounded by dirty and trashy surroundings awhile, any beauty seems special, particularly God’s 5-Star variety: a stunning sunset, a coral reef, these things keep surprising me, and reminding me there is an infinitely fascinating author behind this book we call life.

Sighting a Foreigner

I feel like such a foreigner all the time in my village. Recently there was an incident that happened which made me feel better though: I saw someone alone in Ravine Seche more out of place than myself.

First let me paint the setting because it’s half the story.

It was about 10pm, I was hanging out in the shop that is right outside my door. It’s a little “canteen” that my landlord runs.  I’m allowed to work in there as cashier/helper, and this evening I was.

Music was loudly blaring, but cutting in and out because the radio controller was an antiquated piece of junk.  Ironce, my landlord, decided he was going to fix it once and for all and to that end borrowed a screwdriver from me and between that and a butcher knife (which was missing the handle), began “fixing” the stereo.

On top of the blaring music was the sound of their tiny, aging generator whining away in the background. It sounds like a weedwhacker engine, and for no apparent reason I can tell revs up and down. In cadence to the revving, the single lightbulb in our shop-shack was shining dimmer and brighter.

Outside the window where people come up to buy things a drunken Haitian man was loitering. One of the boys explained to me how this man was loco with alcohol, and how he had earlier publicly beat his wife (li battery madam) while she was holding their baby no less. The story was told me in Creole, but the confrontation pantomined as well, with gusto, so I was sure to understand.  The man didn’t deny the boys accusations or pantomimed story, though did take a halfhearted swing at him too, which the boy easily ducked out of the way laughing. The drunk then addressed me in a slurred English-Creole mix, “She’s my wife… I can #$!@ $%!# her if I want… The money ran out and so did the love…” Though apparently there was still enough money for one last alcohol binge.

As if things couldn’t get more bizarre, outside in the dirt street in front of our store, a young man who has Down Syndrome and a burly beard was performing a thoughtful jig to the blasting music. One foot out, other foot out, arms in a robot-dance now…

Into this melee an athletic looking, obviously uncomfortable, tall Hispanic man in slacks and a white tanktop appeared at our window. He wasn’t given much notice.

Ironce, who was working in the window inches away, ignored him, intent on his work, applying the broken butcher knife to the innards of his stereo, twisting the blade this way and that.

The boys standing nearby informed me this was a Dominican. Darline, the wife of Ironce, concurred with his assessment,  telling me loudly over the sound, “He’s a Dominican!” What was he doing in Ravine Seche? Who knows.

“Does he speak Creole?” I asked idly, as I watched him jump back from the window because a moth had landed on his arm.  Now the moth was on his face and he was swatting wildly.

Apparently the Dominican didn’t speak Creole because what I eventually picked up over the bombastic din was, “…dos…..nochas…” Darline understood (or thought she did) and pulled a mosquito candle from the back shelf and handed it to him through the window around her working husband on the inside and the drunk on the outside, neither of whom had yet acknowledged the Dominican.

Money was passed for the candle. No change was given. He looked perplexed. He shifted on his feet uneasily. I think he wanted two candles. Or change. Darline gave neither. He started to argue, but couldn’t be heard, and that was assuming someone was even paying attention, and nobody was. Eventually he began backing up, then hastily turned and disappeared into the night.

Ironce bumped the wrong wire and the music quit. Just the cycling whine of the generator could be heard. In the sudden quiet the drunk said the obvious, without ever having even turned his head to see who had been standing next to him, “The Dominican left” (in Creole).

I felt sorry for the poor Dominican, he was obviously a foreigner in this environment, and in a way I was the insider. “What an unusual twist,” I thought.

As Christians we are called to be foreigners on earth.  I think if we ever get too comfortable with where we are it might be time to move on to do something different.

Uh-oh, Ironce “fixed” the music. Back to not being able to hear myself think. What to do? I guess if I can’t beat them, join them. So a group of us went into the street and joined our mentally challenged friend in dancing to the music.

The Sea and Her Moods

Standing by the ocean watching a massive, awe-inspiring thundercloud approaching offshore, shooting lightning across the night sky, silhouetting the island Loganave, and blotting out half the stars in inky black.

But above me is cloudless… the moon’s light behind reflecting a silvery, ghostly sheen upon the ocean, its frothy waves being kicked up by the fresh, wild  breeze scudding in front of the storm. The wind and salt spray feel cool against my skin.

Seeing the ocean in her various moods is one special perk of living so close to the beach (about a two minutes walk).

Yesterday morning, before the weather described above developed, I did exploring up the coast with a local boy who explained “all” to me as we went along.

Many individuals own small sections of private beachfront property and our walk took us directly across each one. My new friend assured me it was fine because 1) no one was home and 2) he was friends with all the security guards (and most didn’t have guards anyways).

At each beach we would cross my new friend would tell me something about the owners: this guy lives in Port-au Prince, this guy lives in New Jersey, this guy has dogs, this guy just slovenly lays around in his hammock eatung, this one has a big tattoo, etc.

At one particularly scenic beach I asked him if he went swimming there. “Yes,” he said, and pulled up his shorts to show a scar on his leg, “From that rock over there,” he pointed. Adding, “This place is dangerous.”

One house was imposing like a castle and obviously owned by someone rich. We climbed up the stairs to the ramparts above, all the while my boy calling out for the security guard (whom I was assured was a special friend of his). We never saw the guard, the speculation being he was either asleep somewhere or else in town visiting his girlfriend. The property was amazing: an imposing wooden deck overlooking the ocean, a swimming pool and tall waterfall coming off the pool, etc. Some people have money in Haiti.

Anyways, here is a picture of my local guide and the scenery.

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I like the ocean 🙂  Sometimes she is peaceful and placid, other times wild and stormy. Yesterday I saw her in both moods.

Yesterday I felt God’s beauty  reflected in the calm blue waters by day, and His power reflected in the flashing, awesome storm by night.

In Which Nick Gets Sunburnt

Today I went on my first fishing trip with the locals.

Ten of us guys went (I thought it would just be several). We took two boats (I thought we would just take one) and were gone nine hours (I thought we would be gone only a little while).

Needless to say, communication is difficult when you can’t speak each others languages well.

Case in point, yesterday one of my neighbors was telling me that in order to fish real well I needed, “Fee-zee.” I guessed he meant, “Physique,” as in I needed, “Muscles.” I told him, “Yeah, I’ve got that.”

He got quiet and leaned up and asked, “Where?”

I then guessed it must not mean physique and told him to hang on while I got my dictionary. Turns out the word, “Fee-zee,” is, “Rifle.” No, I don’t have one of those.

Anyhow, today was a pretty awesome day. I’ll probably always remember it.

The fishing itself was a little frustratung at how little we actually did or caught. After seeing Haitian fishing techniques, including casting the nets two times in nine hours, taking long naps on the boats at anchor, and speculating on the local fishmarket prices, I will now sleep easier for the safety of all little fishies around my village.

Today more skin diving for lambi (a local shell fish) was done than casting of nets. In total, we didn’t get that much, unfortunately. The biggest haul was a drowned cat another fisherman donated to our cause, and which my compatriots were happy enough to receive, though the smell of said cats decaying body roasting underneath my seat made me wish we could have thrown it back in. And its gaping eyes were a bit haunting too.

But the water and scenery were amazing, just as if I were floating through a paradise calendar.

I greatly enjoyed just being out on the water in the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean.

I swam around a lot with the locals. The first time in I was afraid to dive because I thought the water was shallow. Wasn’t that the ground right under our boat? But then, after submerging feet-first down as far as my lungs would carry me and not reaching sand, I realized the water was clearer than I was used to.

The boats were sailboats, which intrigued me, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the fisherman were sailors. We rowed most the time, only sailing truly on the way home with the wind at our back.

The boats were crude and in no way kept, “Ship-shape Bristol fashion.” In fact, it’s an absolute wonder they floated at all and are still operable. Bailing was an ongoing chore. Everything was homemade (out of sticks and scraps of wood). That would include the oars, mast, and spars. There was essentially no metal anywhere, and no pulleys. And all the rope was old and rotten stuff I wouldn’t have deemed good for use anywhere on one of my boats.

The first time we threw in the nets (not little ones mind you, these were about 100 yards long and tied between the two boats – with one kept at anchor) the main rope snapped. I wasn’t surprised… not with the efforts of five guys heaving on it.

Definitely the day felt surreal, like being transported back in time 300 years to a more difficult age before machines had been invented. I even thought about Jesus and the disciples on their boat in Galilee. Theirs couldn’t have been much nicer than the one I embarked upon today?

Next time maybe I’ll bring my phone so I can take pictures.

Right now I’m back in my home resting, writing this, and kinda frustrated at all the frustrations here. But I just read 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and afterwards figured my frustrations probably weren’t so bad afterall.

Anyways, it’s raining outside now, which makes my house noisy because of the tin roof. In fact, when it rains real hard the sound can be deafening, and I’ve actually covered my ears because it was that loud!

Ok, that’s all for now.