Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From the God's Politics Blog Today

The jolt in Port-au-Prince herniated a disk in my lower back last month. The pain is making it hard to sleep at night. I’ve walked with a sideways bent and haven’t been able to pick up my two young children since.

But here’s the thing: The jolt happened while riding a motorcycle taxi to a meeting in a tent camp where 50,000 people live under tarps. So I can’t much indulge in feeling sorry for myself.
I travel to Haiti regularly for work with a nonprofit, but right now I’m back in Florida where I have a safe, dry home to sleep in; I have a bed; I’ve already been to the physical therapist four times; I can afford ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Aleve; I eat more than enough each day. You get the idea.
So when I start complaining, then remember this context, it seems my basic choices are either to be grateful or to be an ass.

On one hand, this is the proper perspective. On the other, this is a potentially exploitative “benefit” of what are typically called some variation of a “service trip,” but are also sometimes critically called “poverty tourism.”

We see people suffering so much more than us, and then come back and say, “It just makes you so grateful for what you have.” Or, “It puts life in perspective.”

The motorcycle taxi driver I was riding with lost a staggering amount in the earthquake. The church he attends collapsed on more than 200 people inside, his friends, his relatives. After getting off his motorcycle, I was soon talking with people in the camp who lost everything and have little reasonable hope for improvement any time soon.

A sore back? Sheesh.

But if the longest lasting result of my working in or visiting a place with much suffering, is that I feel a little better about my own life … well, then I’ve probably exploited people struggling with poverty even more than they’re being exploited already.

So for me, three differences come to mind to keep these trips from being “poverty tourism”:
First, who and how do I visit people? Is it marked by dignity, without patronizing, with humility, as a learner. Are we visiting with people or an organization who have respectful, engaged relationships with the community? What kind of photos do we take or stories do we tell? What side comments do we make to our fellow travelers? Do we ask ourselves the hard questions? How do we, or shouldn’t we, talk about “them?”

Second, and related, does it make a difference to how I live “back home?” In how I give, what politics I engage in, or in whatever the area is that we each can make a difference to the systems that perpetuate pain. How do I think and talk and act?

Third, is my visit only the beginning of a long-term commitment to finding effective ways to help? Even if I worked hard to build a community center or learning language or to add on to a church building, it wasn’t much in the big picture. People are often gracious hosts and share the best part of their smiles and lives with us when we visit. But sometimes that seems to give us an excuse to quarantine the unsettling part of our experience, the part that might demand a lot of us.

These are some of the factors for me. I’m in Haiti many times a year, but I still need to check myself.
If we come back with a kind of souvenir that makes us feel more comfortable about our lives, then it’s likely been exploitation. If we come back and we’re more uncomfortable, and also committed to smart, respectful ways to help, then maybe we properly honor the hospitality we’ve received.
Can we find good ways to contribute to each other’s well being?

Some people think there shouldn’t be these exchanges at all. I don’t agree. I think they’re important for working for justice. But I do think there are differences between traveling as a poverty tourist and a citizen of the world.

Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners (www.haitipartners.org), which has set up an Earthquake Response Fund. He is the author of After Shock, which explores questions of faith, doubt, and searching, and he is also the author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously, which is about living and working in Haiti.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

You've Got Mail!

Last week I got a couple of pieces of mail and you know what - it was quite exciting! Some of you have asked if you can send me mail, and you can!

I can receive mail through Dr. Manno's MFI address as follows:

Dr. Emmauel Mareus (HCCC)
c/o Missionary Flights International
Unit 1053, 3170 Airmans Dr.
Ft. Pierce, FL  34946 USA

MFI brings our mail every Thursday by plane to the airport in Cap. To make sure the mail gets to me - write my name somewhere on the envelope.

You can also send packages, however we ask that you send $1.50 or $2/lbs to cover shipping costs to MFI. If you are going to send a package, let me know so that I can give you the details of how to do that.

So... I'm waiting for your letters!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trying to plan in a culture with little concept of planning

In just over 2 months I will be getting married to Calvin. I’m so excited! As I shared in my earlier post, planning for a wedding here is a little different, but it’s been going pretty well. However, as the wise advice says – “don’t just plan your wedding, plan your marriage” – we’ve been trying to do that as well. Part of that is preparing our living arrangements. In Canada, I’m a great planner – I like to know what’s going to happen and how much it’s going to cost before I do anything. That’s a little more difficult here in a culture that doesn’t really value planning or preparing. Part of this is understandable – it’s hard to plan in a country where so many things can go wrong and prevent you from accomplishing your goal. But sometimes, just a little planning would help make the simplest task easier.

Anyways, since I arrived in Haiti, I’ve been blessed to room and board at Manno’s mom’s (Mama) house. I really don’t have to worry about anything here. I get 3 delicious meals prepared for me every day, I always have company around and can go into the kitchen where one of my Haitian moms will take care of me. Really all I need to do is clean my room and bathroom – pretty simple.

But, when Cal and I get married, we hope to have our own home. We are looking to rent a house that is located very close to the clinic that is owned by a Haitian American in the States. We took a look at the house in November and it’s pretty nice by Haitian standards. It has 3 bedrooms, a large bathroom, a living room, a dining room and kitchen that are all tiled and painted. Only the kitchen needs a bit of work with some counters and cabinets installed.

When we started looking at the house in November, we figured we could get everything ready by April, no problem! But then Cholera happened and MSF rented the house for some of their Haitian staff, so our needs were put on hold because MSF is paying a whole lot more in rent than we will! We still aren’t sure when MSF will leave ... we’re waiting.

In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare and plan for something I have no control over. The house isn’t really furnished – it has a dining table and chairs and I think a little propane oven. So, we need to find some things. The other Saturday when we were in Cap we started pricing out some things. A double bed will be about $300, an apartment sized fridge $300 or a full sized fridge $600, a small oven/stove - $300 or a snazzy full sized, 6 burner propane oven for $600. We went to the docks to look at living room furniture. I would really like a couch, a North American style one – not the uncomfortable Haitian kind. At the docks, things don’t have price tags so once the vendors saw the white girl, the price was probably tripled and they said they would sell me a couch, loveseat and two chairs for $10,000 Haitian – which is probably $1300 or so US. Yeah right!! And they wouldn’t sell a couch by itself, nope you need to buy the whole set! I think our living room will be furnished with plastic patio chairs!

I would love to buy some things second hand – but it’s a great gamble here. Nothing here is ever “gently used” and it’s hard to know how “used” something is until you have it. In addition to furniture, we are planning on getting an inverter and batteries so that I can be spoiled with 24 hour lights. I go back and forth on this – I mean, I survived for a year here without reliable electricity – can’t I keep doing it?

Along with having a house, I’m going to have to learn how to manage a house in Haiti! We are going to need food, laundry, clean water, etc. And well, I haven’t really been responsible for that. I know I won’t be able to go to the market shopping by myself and shopping in the grocery stores in Cap is too expensive and too far away to be an option. I’ll have to learn how to cook here with limited cold storage capacity and access to familiar ingredients. I loved cooking in Canada, but things are just different here and take a lot of time. Because of this, I hope to hire a cook for our noon meals during the week so that Cal doesn’t go too hungry as cooking a large meal takes a couple of hours here – you can’t whip something together in a half hour or call out for pizza.

Anyways, all this to say, is that there are a lot of decisions and purchases to be made in the next few months. Along with that, I need to trust that my increased monthly budget will be met as well to cover our living and travel expenses. When I start to think about this too much, I get stressed. I’m trying to let go of my planning personality – which is difficult – and learn how to trust that God will indeed provide for all of our needs and that we won’t end up without a roof over our heads or without food on our plate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Solar panels, inverters, batteries and a bunch of things I don't understand!

When the cholera outbreak hit Limbe last November, Ebenezer Clinic went from being a Monday to Friday day clinic to a 24 hour, 7 days a week treatment center overnight. Thankfully, the in-patient hospital had just been finished 2 days before, but we had not yet gotten to the point of purchasing and installing an inverter system to provide 24 hour electricity. So, for the last few months, the clinic's generator has been running pretty much 24/7 - which uses a lot of diesel and costs a lot of money. Sometimes as much as $400 to $500 US a week depending on how much EDH we receive. We don't really have the budget to sustain that at all, so the ECCC has been working on fundraising for an inverter system for us. This has all come together in the past few weeks and last Friday, Josh from Strathmore arrived in Cap with 6 solar panels (still intact!) and the inverter system for the clinic. After a bit of negotiation at customs, we were able to get everything released for a "fair" price and made the journey on the bumpy roads home without breaking anything!

Josh has been working hard to install everything and last night, the hospital was able to run on the batteries for a good portion of the night. He'll be doing more testing in the next couple of days to see how much energy the panels can produce and how much we will have to run the diesel generator.

This is such a great gift for the clinic - everyone is so excited! Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to plan a wedding in Haiti

Growing up I was never one of those girls who dreamed and planned their wedding out exactly. Sure, I thought about it sometimes, had a few ideas, but never really held on to them for very long. To tell you the truth, in recent years when I thought about trying to plan a wedding in Canada, it kinda freaked me out. Anyone who knows me well knows that I really do not enjoy shopping, too much choice overwhelms me and I get a headache and run out of the store or mall! From what I could see, the wedding industry is made for people who like shopping and choice and all the newest things. Not my idea of fun at all.

And now I'm in Haiti trying to plan a wedding and its the exact opposite! It's all about limited choice here and it makes decisions so much easier - except when you can't even find one choice.

How have things been coming along. Well, let's see.

Venue - check
The trick here is to find a comfortable venue that is close enough for your guests to get to too, but far enough away to deter uninvited guests. We are having the ceremony and reception in the auditorium of a radio station about 20 or 30 minutes away. It's got air conditioning (a definite plus for April in Haiti), modern kitchen and sound system.

Caterer - check
Two local ladies who cook in the university cafeteria will be doing the catering. Since they consider Cal and I "their children" they are giving us a good deal and I know that they will do a great job with everything.

Dress - check
Now for this, I went out of the normal parameters of a Haitian bride. Brides here typically rent their wedding dress (a great idea which I think should take hold in North America), which I did. But, as I've moved past my 8 year old desire for an 80's style, pouffy, wedding gown, I decided to rent my dress from a bridal shop in Santiago, Dominican Republic where they have many more contemporary choices! You get the dress, tiara and veil, all for $80 US!

Flowers - almost check
Found a florist in Cap Haitien. They can order flowers from Santiago. To see their selection, I looked through the photo album of weddings they've done before. They don't actually have any flowers in the store. Now, I know they quoted me the "white girl" price, so we're gonna negotiate some more before we order. But we'll be able to get rose bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, flower girl baskets and a few arrangements for the altar.

Engagement/Wedding rings - check
Again, for more selection, we decided to get these in the DR. We were able to get them on our trip there but had to get them sized back here. The day we sized them is a day that I was reminded as to how abnormal my life is here sometimes. We were recommended to go to a guy in Limbe, about 10 minutes away. We found his house and he was all set up in his gallery (front porch) with his table and tools, complete with propane torch at his side. I was very skeptical and suspicious, especially as he started to cut my rings, but he seemed to know what he was doing. He got the job done, my rings fit now. Although I think I'll take them to a jeweler in Canada to get cleaned up a bit.

So that's where I'm at - so far so good. Now, I'm just praying that this country will stay relatively peaceful until after April 23 so it's safe for my friends and family to come and celebrate with us!