Remember the States

My co-workers Ryan & Melissa are back in the States this week.  I drove them to the airport this morning.  Then my co-worker Barry went back to the States on Wednesday.  He’s now Facebooking pictures of snow from out the window of his 3,000-story hotel in New York City.

I was trying to remember what it was like back in America, back in the States.  Today I drove close to 4 hours around Port-au Prince and that wasn’t an un-typical day.  I haven’t been here long, but already my brain seems to filter out most the smog and litter and garbage and general mayhem.  Something has to be pretty unusual to grab my attention.  Like when those two people passed me today on a moto with the rear passenger having tucked under his arms the end of two looong wooden 2×4’s, letting the other ends drag way behind along the ground.  And they weren’t going particularly slow… passing me at perhaps 30mph.

I’ve always wanted to roller-blade behind a car.  You know, tie a rope to the rear bumper and have a friend drive while I skate behind holding on like water skiing?  I‘m thinking Haiti would be a good place to practice this without anyone telling me different.

The lack of road rules may even be wearing off on the UN. I thought this after seeing one of their massive trucks roll by with a cardboard box atop and, instead of it being properly fastened with a strap, a soldier was precariously balanced on high, leaning at a dangerous angle and holding the box from falling out while they drove through traffic.  Didn’t look safe, or what I imagined would be per official Policies & Procedures for safe cargo transport.

So anyways, I was trying to remember what the States looked like.  To that effect I pulled up my road trip pictures from 2011.  This did jog my memory.

Since I’ve never posted my State signs collection from that trip, I thought now would be a good time to pay tribute to what some of our wonderful States look like.  At least what their wonderful entry signs look like.  Though granted, the scenery and signs are marred by my presence in the foregrounds, backgrounds, and sidegrounds.

Nebraska (the Good Life) but No one Lives There to Enjoy it South Dakota

Wyoming Forever West (and Forever Freezing)  Idaho (Land of a Thousand Potatos) Look, here's one now!

Utah (Life Elevated) Arizona - (Grand Canyon State, Been There, Done That)

California Dreamin' Washington (The Evergreen State)

New Mexico (Land of Enchantment) and two-headed tourists Nevada

Texas (Where Everything is Bigger, Even their Signs) Oregon (Home of my Brother) Yipee!

Perhaps these pictures prove I was too bored on that trip…

Hoping the next “Grand American Road Trip Adventure” will be with someone more entertaining than myself!

Daily Excitement and Daily Poverty

In Haiti, roads chew up cars. 

Granted, the primary inter-city roads aren’t too bad, but in Port-au Prince the best streets are heavily pot-holed and the worst all but impassable.

Today I was behind the wheel perhaps four hours running errands.  With no A/C I had the windows down, enjoying the heavy smell of aromatic diesel smog.  Nearly got in several wrecks, but as is usual, all were just near misses.

There is usually always some type of excitement here in Haiti on a daily basis.  Maybe as little as a freezing cold shower to jar my nerve endings awake in the morning.  Or maybe as interesting as a random stranger opening the backdoor of your car and start pulling out grocery bags, then running off with them.  This just happened to a friend of mine.

I’m thinking what the routine excitement for today was.  Was it that time I got stopped by the police and they weren’t happy with my insurance paperwork?  This caused drama, but worked itself out (though somewhat underhandedly).  Was it that other time I was stopped in traffic on an uphill and accidentally rolled my vehicle back into a Land Cruiser?  Oops.  But no, he just laughed and waved me on.  Or how about the leather factory I visited that had the antique equipment, musty odors, and unique products exported worldwide?  Nah.  Maybe it was searching the bottom of our kitchen oven with a flashlight for the rats nest our workers are pretty sure is hiding under there? 

All these were interesting, but when I think back on today the most surreal moments are when I was interacting with the needy.  Beggars coming up to my window asking for money.  A man in the factory performing repetitive tasks for hours on end: tedious labor in exchange for a living no American would envy.

Perhaps most poignant was a young street boy wiping down cars in between bumper to bumper traffic with his little rag.  Could he have been older than seven years?  I let him clean the dust off our vehicle while we inched along.  At times he would run to keep up.  In order to reach the front window he jumped up on our running boards, catching a free ride while he worked.  I gave him 25 GD for his labor and at the time felt especially charitable for 1) having given him my business (how many other kids did I turn away?) and 2) giving so generously as the going rate is only 10 GD for this service.  But when the equivalent of 25 GD is still only 50 cents, how could I have possibly felt charitable for that? 

Living on the streets in Port-au Prince is a difficult life.  One of the main motivations I’m here is to try helping just such kids.  It weighs heavy on my heart that as I get ready to go to sleep in a nice bed with a pleasant fan blowing, that same little boy who wiped down my window earlier is most likely curled up in some alleyway with a piece of cardboard over him.

Well, on that cheery thought, guess I’ll go to sleep now.

Tomorrow morning I’m planning to attend a seminar on the state of the national church in Haiti. I’m thinking they better have some good excuses ready. 


Narrating Pertinent Happenings

The last several weeks have been nonstop.  So busy I’m dizzy.

Therefore I requested today (Monday) off – and it was granted.  Last night I slept 14 hours!  Holy smokes.  Then late this morning I was happily munching cereal whilst watching others work.

After getting caught up on a mess of e-mails, making a relaxing airport run (stopping by Deli-Mart for a chocolate Bongu drink enroute), and playing the piano at Ryan and Melissa’s house (thanks!) I now feel composed enough to write a blog post relating pertinent happenings.

***   Three days later…   ***

It’s hard to find time to write (and finish) blog posts.  Now it is Thursday.  Without further ado, and with my thinking cap firmly affixed, I’m attempting another noble stab at publishing this.

Barry & Run for Life

Let’s see, my friend Barry McDonald ran across Haiti as a fundraiser for Heartline.  My part was to drive one of the support vehicles.  In short, this was an epic adventure.  Who else gets to go road-tripping across a beautiful third world Caribbean country? 

Despite the fact we lodged in a few nice places, mostly we stayed at hole-in-the-wall hotels and local ministries widely differing in quality (though great hospitality all around). 

I now have a much better grasp of the geography of Haiti, seeing I logged about 50 hours behind the wheel.  And some 50 miles laced up on the road chugging along with Barry.  Perhaps no better way to see the country than on foot, eh?

On the run we had occasional excitement what with roadblocks, protests, Barry about keeling over from injury, our truck getting stuck in the mud, team drama, and an auto accident witnessed before my eyes. 

The day after we got back home, excitement continued with Ryan and Melissa’s house getting broken into while they were home sleeping.  Ryan wrote about that here.  And in the photo below Ryan is getting the Canter unstuck.  He gets around.

Ryan pulling out the stuck canter

Other Happenings

So what else is happening?  Time is flying by.  It seems like I’ve only been with Heartline a few days and it’s coming up on two months.  They keep me hopping.  This week Ryan and I are spending coaxing our ministry 4Runner back to life.  We’re making progress, its’ heart is beating again.

I’ve read a few books recently: African Friends and Money Matters, The Copper Scroll (Rosenberg), Monster (Peretti) and The Forgotten Children (about terrible conditions in Northern Uganda).  Wish I could read more, but don’t have much reading material, nor time.

Since coming to Haiti I haven’t watched a single movie or hardly any YouTube.  Internet is slow.  Oftentimes my entertainment during an evening is visiting with guests.  I’ve met many interesting people. It’s sad saying “goodbye” so often.

Another great form of entertainment (and one of my favorite things to do) is driving around town with music cranked up, singing along.  Few people in Haiti own a car or know how to drive.  It’s a shame, because they’re missing out on a real pleasure.

Somewhere in the world it is cold outside.  That place is not here.  Somewhere in the world all mosquitoes are deceased, happily tucked into their graves.  That place is not here.  The other night I woke up because my fan had gone off (which means city power had gone off, the backup batteries had died, and the generator was out of gas).  Consequently, mosquitoes were chewing me up with their fang thingies, particularly my head and arms.  In my drowsy stupor I got up and took from my shelf what I thought was the all-natural ingredients variety of insect spray and squirted it right at my face and all over my head.  Then I looked at the bottle and saw I had picked up 100% DEET spray instead of Lemon Eucalyptus.  Oh well, no more bug bites that night.  Perhaps cancer next week though.

Health Stats

I was surprised to notice I’m losing weight.  For the longest time I always tipped the scales at a comfortable 165 pounds.  But at the clinic last week I measured myself on a spiffy scale (with balancing weights) and it reported I was down to a middling 154.  Hmm, 11 pounds under normal.  On the bright side, maybe now my previously non-existent gut is gone.

At one of the hotels we visited there was a floor length mirror (not attached to the wall, but in the room) and upon witnessing my scarecrow self made a mental note to begin working out.

It’s not that I don’t eat, I eat like a horse.  But it’s healthier food than I’m used to.  I don’t know… my body might not do healthy.  Leastways, it’s not used to it, and healthy doesn’t stick to my ribs like Taco Bell, apparently.

Here is a picture of my Daily Bread (rice and beans with chicken):

My Daily Bread

Discussion on Poverty Relief vs. Teaching God’s Word

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the entire “alleviating poverty vs Gospel work” debate.  Over the last few weeks I’ve seen and visited with a number of people in various ministries.  And worldwide I’ve interviewed many ministries and seen firsthand this struggle Christian organizations have between meeting pressing physical needs with less apparent spiritual ones.

I’ve heard it said we don’t need to share God’s Word because showing love is enough.  Others claim our focus should be on long term development, creating jobs, alleviating misery.  Here in Haiti there is certainly plenty of physical misery.  Read Dying in Haiti – No Urgency for the Poor, if you want to be depressed about misery here.

I’m thinking the deeper issues are deeper than meets the eye.  Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5)

I recently saw a motorcycle accident happen.  When I came up to the thrown cyclist his obvious visible injury was a broken leg.  But I remembered from my EMT class being taught it’s not uncommon for the more serious injuries to be internal so not to get hung up on something that looks bad on the outside.  Forgetting this can result in someone dying from hidden injuries while the responder is busy treating serious, but not life-threatening, external problems. 

In the same way, I think there is room for caution in thinking we only need to treat physical need and neglect spiritual need.  I think saying all we need to do is “share God’s love” is misguided.

No doubt poverty and destitution kill people.  It has, it does, and will continue, despite interventions of well meaning people.  Poverty will never be eradicated.  Even Jesus said so, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” (Mark 14:7). 

Feeding programs, home construction projects, medical clinics, schools: all efforts at helping that can be accomplished by both Christians and non-Christians.  What I ask myself is, “What can a believer do that a non-believer can’t?” 

Well, they can give hope to others for the next life.  They can share their faith.  They can tell about their personal relationship with God.  They can teach God’s Word, the Bible.  In short, they can treat “internal injuries.”

I have more to say on this topic, but am too tired to write it. 

On Enjoying Life

I’ve never met someone who wasn’t going through something challenging in their life.  Even those who look like all is together are still invariably hurting about something or being stretched in some way.  That’s just the way life works.

Despite this fact, I find it good to step back and thank the Lord for everything that is going well.  To thank the Lord for the glimmers of beauty he shines through into this sin-cursed world. 

Sometimes the beauty in life hits me over the head, like last week when I enjoyed the stunning sunset pictured below.  Other times it’s more subtle, like sharing laughter with a good friend.  But life is a beautiful thing, and it’s imortant not to take it for granted, I think. 

Life is Beautiful

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
~Reinhold Niebuhr

A Detailed Summary of my Saturday

Breakfast at 7am.  Two pieces of french toast with a side of mango fruit, washed down with juice. 

Meet Barry to go jogging.  We plan to drive to a big hill and run up it.  But the car won’t start (our not so trusty 4runner).  After fiddling with it some 40 minutes, we give up and take a different car, somewhat guiltily, because that other car was reserved, but we promise to be right back, ha.

Fight traffic.  You always see something interesting driving through town.  Today we saw a motorcyclist wearing a snorkeling mask (that was a new one).  Then there are the vehicles broken in the middle of the street being worked on.  Today we saw a large truck in an intersection up on a jack with a guy underneath working.  Good grief.  We drove around, carefully. 

Then there are the tap-taps filled to the brim:

Full Tap-Tap

Arrived at our running destination: the BIG hill.  Barry ran up the hill (nearly 5 miles).  I walked/plodded up some of the hill (3.5 miles).  Even so, I gained about 2,500 feet of altitude!  Maybe it was a mountain.  I had to pop my ears going up and I could feel the temperature dropping the higher I went. 

It wasn’t the clearest day, but here is a picture taken with my cell phone from up high (looking over Port-au Prince):

Port-au Prince from the South

Let’s see, not much else happened eventful on the run.  Some people yelled at me, but most were pleasant and gave a kindly, “Bonjou.”  One elderly women even proffered a, “Bonjou cherie” which translates to, “Good morning dear.”

A boy about eight ran along with me some 100 yards, then pooped out gasping for breath.  This made me feel better.  What didn’t make me feel better was dropping my cell phone on a rock and the screen shattering!  Oops. Oh well, these things happen, fortunately I have a spare phone.

Back at the car we tanked up on cold Gatorade and headed back.  And none too soon, because people were waiting on us to be taken to the airport.  The traffic was terrible though and we inched along agonizingly slow.  Whilst crawling along at least three beggars came up to our windows asking for something.  I think we only gave money to the lady on crutches.  It’s hard to know how to deal with beggars.  I’ve been through this internal struggle in other countries as well.

On one narrow road traffic came to a complete standstill because two drivers in opposing lanes stopped to visit with each other through their windows!  Needless to say, this backed up traffic both directions while they had a nice chitty-chat.  Hatian culture is very social, but we laid on our horn to put an end to it, as we were in an American hurry. 

Back at the ranch I quick hopped in the van to take a couple young ladies to the airport.  One of them was oh-so-sick with dengue fever.  This is an awful disease contracted through mosquito bites that makes one ache all over, have chills, throw-up, get a pounding headache, etc and lasts days. 

With a cold compress on her forehead she staggered into the vehicle.  As we lurched over potholes I looked back and saw she was cringing with every movement.  Ouch, I felt bad for her.  But no doubt my turn is coming.  Dengue fever, here I come.  Or malaria, or something awful, I shouldn’t wonder.

We arrived at the airport and were swarmed with the usual luggage “helpers” who accost everyone pulling up.  I got out and three came up ready to help, vying for business.  I looked at them with a serious expression and pointed to the sick girl, who at that moment was unceremoniously vomiting into a bucket, telling them, “Li ampil malad” (she is very sick). 

Suddenly they backed up and didn’t want to help us so much anymore.  Go figure!  But I gave the biggest guy a few dollars to help, and he did, hopefully even finding her find a wheelchair inside.  I tried making him understand she needed one, and I think he saw that was the case.

Let’s see, back at the ranch lunch was waiting, the usual standby of, “Viri ak pwa avec poul.”  That is, “Rice and beans with chicken.”  This is standard lunch fair and deserves its’ own blog post at a later date.

Read a book, napped for half an hour, drove to Deli Mart to get a new battery for my phone. 

Took the 4runner to Deli Mart.  Of course now it started up on the first try, unlike earlier in the morning with Barry.  But funny thing is the front left brake caliper is stuck engaged all the time so the car pulls hard to the left.  In fact, it pulls so hard if you let go of the steering wheel it just spins to the left! Never seen anything like it.

It got worse the further I drove.  By the end the brake was so tightly engaged my back tires were literally spinning gravel just trying to move forward in 1st gear.  Quick way to wear out the clutch, I shouldn’t wonder. 

The wheelhub was blazing hot by the time I got back.  So that’s another item to add to the “needs to be fixed” list.  Along with the leaking toilet, the water handle that fell off in the shower, intermittent starting issues with two vehicles, our well pump that doesn’t always turn on when it should,  the soap dispenser that won’t dispense, etc. 

It’s not that Heartline doesn’t keep up on repair issues, they do.  But it seems like keeping up with repairs here in Haiti is like that arcade game I once played as a kid where you get a hammer to hit little rubber heads that pop up with the goal being to smash them down as fast as possible but the faster I smashed the quicker they always popped back up. 

Hatians even have a proverb about this:  “Dye mon, gen mon.”  That is, “Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” 

At least my radiator patch is still holding.

Ho-hum, what else happened today? 


This evening the Heartline staff got together with a lady (Karen) who is adopting two Hatian children: a brother (age 3) and sister (age 5).  Karen and her husband have been in the process for three years and she has made over 20 trips down to Haiti.  Seems weird, but I’ve picked Karen up at the airport twice already just since I’ve been down here. 

So Heartline used to do adoptions, and these two kids are the last to be adopted through them.  Yesterday all the final visas were acquired and they are all flying to America tomorrow!  Tonight everyone got together and there was a time of sharing, and remembering, and praying, and even though I’ve only known Karen (and these two kids) a few weeks, it was still emotional.

Those little Hatians kiddos are gonna be shocked when they arrive in Vermont tomorrow.  For one thing I’m pretty sure it’s colder in Vermont than Haiti.  And isn’t it neat they arrive before Christmas? 

Looking from the big picture they are very fortunate to be adopted because only some 51 children have been adopted from Haiti this year (due to endless bureaucracy). It’s estimated that even before the earthquake there were some 350,000 orphans in Haiti.

But what is also amazing to me is that Karen and her husband already have grown kids – they are essentially starting over again as parents. Brave.

Oh, did I mention Karen now has malaria?  Yeah… visited over 20 times and gets malaria on the last trip.  She’s pretty ill. 

The End

So now I’m heading to bed.  I’ve already brushed my teeth.  But I ate skittles while writing this so need to go brush them again.

Final thought: Despite attending three Christmas programs this past week (with one or two yet to go) it still doesn’t feel like Christmas.  For one thing, I got sunburned today – it was close to 90 degrees!


Running in the Dallas Airport

I didn’t think I could make it another step, the mountain of luggage slung around my shoulders weighing me down like a boat anchor. 

People were looking at me weird, their eyebrows raised, just as I usually do to others I see running through an airport.   

Over the intercom I heard, “This is the final call for flight 1394 to Fort Lauderdale.” 

“Not… going… to… make… it!” I groaned, then rounding a final corner I saw the finish line: Blessed Gate 14.  A minute later I arrived, all sweaty and out of breath.  The area was empty and technically my plane was supposed to be taking off just then. 

“Sir,” a counter agent asked quickly, “Are you on this flight to Fort Lauderdale?”

*gasp* *gasp*

They repeated the question.

More gasping, I couldn’t talk.  But I was thinking to myself, “Yes, of course, that’s why I’m here in a sweaty puddle!”

Finally I got the words out, explaining, “Uh-huh, and I’m the one the checked luggage people called ahead about regarding all the tons of extra luggage I have you’re supposed to checked under the plane,” as I unceremoniously dropped a 50 lb bag at their feet, not counting the two other backpacks still on my back I was hoping to all get crammed into an overhead compartment or checked below.

I added, “This all needs to be checked through to Port-au Prince, not just the next stop of Fort Lauderdale.” 

One lady started protesting that the airplane door was supposed to be closing right now and they didn’t have time for this monkey-business while another lady thankfully began hastily making up tags and radioing below to the cart lackey’s that more bags were a-coming so re-open the baggage bay doors pronto. 

I crossed my fingers.  Fortunately, the second lady won.  I was shooed into the plane (amidst repeated urgings of hurry, hurry, faster, faster) the proud last passenger aboard.  Everyone else was buckled up, even the overhead storage bins were already closed.  Ha, Safe!  Just in the Nick of time.

Running to Jingle Bells

Last weekend on the first day of December, myself and 817 other Wichitans participated in a 4-mile benefit run for Arthritis research (and also to kick off the Christmas season). 

The start and finish lines were at the Exploration Place downtown and the route followed Wichita’s scenic dried-up river bed.  It was great fun, I set a new PR, and, considering the number of runners, was happy coming in 80th place.

I couldn’t have gone as fast without the extra boost I received from everyone cheering me on: my brother and his girls and my parents with my niece Alexis.  They all strategically staged themselves along the course and made a scene as I passed! 

Seth took this picture with his iPhone:

Having Fun at the Jingle Bell Run in Wichita

(note the bells on my shoelaces! it’s not called the “Jingle Bell Run” for nuthing)

The race was on a nice chilly, cloudy morning.  Not like what I’m experiencing here in Haiti, less than a week later! though admittedly it is not as bad here as I was expecting, currently this being Hatian winter (with highs more in the 80s rather than 90s). 

My friend Danny asked me if I had been running more the last couple months to work up for this race.  I told him, “No, it’s the other way around: since I’ve gotten into a running kick of late, this was my way of celebrating!”

Thoughts on Form (and Thoughts on Thinking)

Recently running has become more fun for me than it used to.  I think one reason is because I’ve changed my form, resulting in the activity becoming less painful. 

I used to always jog with long strides, heel-striking every step, and oft as not hunched over as well.  Apparently, this is not ideal form. 

They say one of the best ways to learn “proper” running form is to run barefoot on a grassy surface and see how the body naturally responds.  Lo and behold, doing this results in 1) a much lighter step 2) instead of heel-striking the foot naturally ends up landing more towards the middle to front of the foot 3) strides becomes shorter and 4) posture more erect. 

Says certain experts, all these components: shorter strides (such that the footstrike ends up landing underneath the body instead of reached out in front of the body), faster cadence, running on the toes (or middle of the foot), standing up straight, all make for the most efficient running technique, whether barefoot or shod. 

So, whether this is all hair-brained science or not, I’ve been trying it!  In short, trying to morph “sprinting form” down to a jog.  At first this caused my calves to be incredibly sore after running, but now I find this to have resulted in my being less tired and being able to run faster and further than before.

The physical aspect of running aside, I do love (and always have) the process of thinking while exercising.  Seems that while my body is healthily working (not just running, but bicycling, feeding cows, whatever) my mind is freer to think about the deeper aspects of life, to delve hidden crannies of introspective reflection.

Important decisions in my life have been made while running!

Run for Life!

Read More About Run for Life by Clicking HereYesterday I met runner Barry McDonald.  A group of us went to the United Nations headquarters in Port-au Prince to eat at an American-style restaurant they have on base (I haven’t been in Haiti long enough to crave American food, but sure wasn’t complaining ‘cus I do love me some a cheeseburger!). 

Anyways, Barry was there, and I got to talk with him awhile.  He is planning to run across Haiti (12 marathons in 12 days) to raise money for a much needed maternity center for Heartline (the organization I’m currently volunteering with as a driver).

What he is doing is pretty exciting, and I may get to help in some way with the logistics of his big run (planned for mid January).

You can learn more about the run (and the cause) here.  I think it’s pretty interesting…