Monday, May 20, 2013

2 Weeks Left

In less than two weeks I will be waking up in America. In less than two weeks I will be moving back to the states, away from Haiti. This trip from the Port-au-Prince airport to Miami and then back into DFW airport is a one-way ticket. I’ve only spent two years in Haiti, a blink of an eye compared to those who have spent decades (yes, decadeS), but numbering days is just one way to measure time, and I think the most significant way I can measure these past two years is in friendships.

There are dozens of things about Haiti I will miss: fresh mangos outside the door, incredible sunrises and sunsets, avocados the size of your head, beautiful little girls in braids and ribbons smiling and waving to you (even though you are a complete stranger), awe-inspiring terrace farms lacing the mountains, the smell of rain washing away the dust and dirt, and the oh-so-satisfying sound of a mosquito being zapped by a bug-zapping racket. 

But here are some pictures of the “things” I will miss the most...

and my favorite picture.....

Friday, April 12, 2013

Two Announcements

Dear blog readers:

Yes, it has been quite a long time since I sat down to write a blog. The school year is trucking along as usual and time seems to be flying by. I wanted to share an announcement that most of you probably already know, but wanted to officially put it on the blog: 

I got a dog.

Macy: showing off her new leash and collar at the beach.

I’ll write another blog explaining how I got her and go on and on about how adorable she is later. Right now, she is living in America with my parents. Why, you ask? Well, one reason is that she will be too big to fly on the plane in June, so I took her home at Easer. The main reason, however, has to do with my second announcement.

I will be coming back to Texas soon, and for good.

That’s right. My two-year commitment with Quisqueya here in Haiti is coming to an end and I have chosen not to renew my contract, but to return to the states. There are many reasons, but the main one is just to be home: to be near family and old friends and to do ministry in a country where I know the language and the culture and can be near people I love. Not to say that I don’t love the people and community here, because I do. I have not even begun to process what it will be like to not be near them and live life in this community, because it is just too hard to picture. Haiti has taught me a lot and allowed me to grow and experience so many new things. The coming weeks will involve squeezing in as much time as possible with the teachers, students, and friends here before returning to the states. 

I wanted to ask prayer for many things in the next few months:

--For strength as I leave this country and community of friends. 
--For a job! I’m looking for a teaching position for Fall 2013 (if you have any leads, pass them my way!) and finding one sooner, rather than later, would relieve a great deal of stress. 
--For Quisqueya. Many teachers are leaving at the end of this year. Prayers for all those leaving and for new, fabulous teachers to replace them. 
--I’m sure many more things I can’t quite think of right now.

Thanks for following along. The rest of this school year is going to fly by before we know it!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Back to the Crazy That We Call Normal

After about two and a half weeks of vacation in the states (and Germany) I arrived back in Haiti on Sunday morning. I had an early morning flight from Miami. For those who have never been to Haiti, the craziness begins in the Miami airport. The boarding time for this flight is 20 minutes earlier than any other flight, domestic or international, that I have ever been on. People are shoving the largest carry-ons I've ever seen into overhead bins. Women with large woven bags full of who-knows-what are trying to shove them under the seat in front of them without breaking anything. The ones taking their time shoving stuff places don't seem to understand the flight attendants asking them to please hurry along. After the first few times I took this flight it became less frustrating and more comical. Knowing what to expect makes it a little funnier...a little.

The Haiti airport used to terrify me. It was a lot jankier than it is now. They've done some wonderful renovations in the last few months making it seem like a legitimate airport, but it used to be the scariest place in Haiti for me. You used to have to walk down this long sidewalk without knowing for sure if someone would be waiting for you at the end. If there wasn't anyone you would have to sit on your bags outside the airport where dozens and dozens of people were milling about. Your mind begins to play tricks on you and all the "Dangers of the Third World" portrayed by certain American news channels begin to roll around in your mind. When I arrive back in Haiti now I am not nearly as nervous as I used to be. I have a phone and know multiple people to call if my ride was delayed. If that fails, I know enough Creole to get a ride to my school and I know the area well enough to know if my driver is taking me there or someplace else.

Thankfully, I have always had a ride and Jill was there right on time to pick me up. We drove over the potholes, down the crazy roads, past the women selling their wares on the street, beside the pig eating from the pile of trash in the middle of the road, along the roads, every one of which is lined with walls of all shapes and sizes....walls everywhere.

It felt like home. This is normal. Driving 20 miles an hour because any faster will take off your wheels when you hit a pot hole (not "if," "when"). The sights, smells, and sounds assault your senses, but after 18 months it isn't new, exciting, or scary, it is familiar. The quiet I heard in America, the smooth roads and the clean air, while refreshing, was unfamiliar. It didn't feel like I was home. I was visiting. I was on vacation.

I've never lived in a place so different from my "normal" for so long. It's a weird feeling that is difficult to explain. It's strange that I am weirdly comforted by the horns and yelling on the street....unless it's after 9 pm of course.  This all makes the transitions from Haiti to America and back again difficult and unsettling. Its almost like having two homes and it's weird.

Those are my musings for the current moment, thanks for reading. We've had two days of the new semester. The students seem ready to be back, albeit a little groggy from the break. It's nice to see them and nice to get back into the routine of the school week. It should be an exciting semester so check back for (hopefully) more frequent updates.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Update With Not Much to Update.

I haven’t blogged in a long time and here’s why.

Nothing much is going on. Seriously. My friend and colleague Ben K said it very well here. Life and routines are very similar here. I teach, I grade papers, I work out, I hang with friends, I read books, I cook, normal life that I won’t bore you with.

It’s the last week of school before Christmas break. Today (Monday) is a full day of school and Tuesday-Thursday are half days. I fly out Thursday afternoon, spend the night in Miami, and then arrive in Dallas Friday afternoon. I’m excited to see my family and friends, eat good food, drive around, and feel cold. More to come during the break.

The Moto Taxi: Preferred Mode of Transportation

There are lots of ways to get around in Haiti. Some are different than what you might find in other capital cities. There are no subways, trains, or yellow taxis, but there are taptaps and moto taxis. You can’t really ride a bike around, but you can walk or drive a car. However, with all the options, my favorite mode of transportation has to be the moto taxi. What is a moto-taxi you ask? A moto taxi works like a normal taxi: a driver who takes you where you want to go. They don’t have scheduled routes, they go where you want them to and the further you go, the higher the fee. The only difference between a moto-taxi and a normal taxi is the fact that you are sitting on a questionably put together motorcycle and at the mercy of the driver.  Instead of the safety (and comfort) of a car with “walls” and a “ceiling” and maybe some airbags and a soft seat, you are straddling the back of a motorcycle, trying not to burn your legs on the tail pipe, wondering where to put your hands (I prefer the clutch-of-death on the back of the seat approach), and repeating to yourself “think thin, think thin” as you weave through impossibly narrow gaps between cars. 

I love it. 

I love it for many reasons:
  1. They take you right where you want to go. Instead of taptaps that go on certain streets and routes only, the moto takes you straight ot your destination. No walking. 
  2. Convenience: you can never depend on cars to go anywhere. The keys might be missing. They might all be broken. Flat tire. Expired registration. You can never predict if you’ll have a car or not, so the moto offers you a way to still be able to get out and do things. 
  3. Traffic--Port-au-Prince is insanely overcrowded and doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of people and cars that are here so that equals traffic. Anytime other than before 8am on a weekend you can almost guarantee you will sit in terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad traffic...but not on a moto!  Motos zoom around, between, beside (and almost any other preposition you can name) cars without having to just sit and wait your day away. 
  4. It’s hot. I don’t mean hot-hot, I mean temperature hot. Always always hot here. Imagine sitting in a car (with no A/C) for hours in traffic. No breeze, no wind, just the feeling of sweat dripping down your back as you wait and wait and wait to move another quarter of an inch towards your destination. Now, imagine you are moving fast, with the wind in your face, the cool breeze...that’s more like it.
  5. The awesome-tough-badA factor. Most blan aren’t even allowed to walk down the street in the middle of the day. Many have never taken a taptap and most would never consider climbing on the back of a moto. I secretly enjoy the “wow” look I get when people ask “How did you get here?” and I casually respond “Moto."
  6. All around the city at corners, busy intersections, or gas stations there are groups of about a half dozen or more guys sitting on motorcycles waiting for patrons, the same way taxis will line up outside a theater or train station waiting for people. Some people have a certain moto driver they always call, but we prefer the “walk to the moto-station and find someone” approach. 

So, if you are ever wandering around in Haiti and need to go somewhere, I recommend taking a moto. And, to help you with choosing a moto driver, below is my guide to choosing a moto driver:
  1. Look for the oldest person there. Find someone who looks dependable and might have a wife and kids. They’re probably going to take less chances on the moto.
  2. Avoid anyone who calls you “sista” or says you’re beautiful or asks you to marry them. That’s annoying.
  3. Choose someone with a lot of zip-ties on their bike, but make sure you understand the purpose of the zip-ties. If the zip-ties are holding the brakes in place: no. If the zip-ties are decorating the bike like badges of honor: yes.
  4. Always go with the guy with the extra helmet if you don’t have your own. You don’t want to have your head examined at a Haitian hospital.

Happy moto-ing!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dominican Vacation

When most people visit the Dominican Republic, they fly from their home to Miami and then from Miami to Punta Cana or Puerto Plata. When you come from the other side of the island, you do things a little bit differently. 

November 1st and 2nd are recognized as "All Saints' Day" and "All Souls' Day" respectively. I'll be honest, I don't know what those days are really about, but I know we got two extra days off of school and a long weekend. Jill and I needed to get out of the city and rest a few days. Thanks to Groupon, this was possible (if you've never looked at Groupon's getaways, do it now! They're worth it and very easy to use). We found a great deal for a 3 night stay at an All-Inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. We booked the Groupon and began to look at flights. There is a bus you can take, but with such a short amount of time, we chose to fly. We booked on an airline I had heard others use before, TortugAir. I could use this blog as a long and bitter diatribe written against Tortug, but I will try and exercise some self-restraint. Let's just say, for those of you who would live in Haiti and want to fly to the DR (or anywhere else they fly) and are considering using Tortug, don't. There, that's all.

We left on Thursday afternoon and flew from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. I knew the plane would be small, and I thought I had prepared myself for that, but I hadn't. I didn't know that I would be close enough to the pilot to tap him on his shoulder and ask him why certain buttons were flashing red and another screen kept flashing the word "ALERT." (In case you're wondering, I didn't tap the pilot on the shoulder at any point, though I was close enough. I was too busy checking the propellers outside the plane to make sure they were still turning!)

Sweet laminated boarding pass....
Teeny little plane.
What's up pilot?
We landed in Santo Domingo a terrifying mere 45 minutes after takeoff. The airport was nice, but located far outside of town (with this airline you don't fly into the main airport in Santo Domingo). We were ale to share a cab with a nice couple in front of us who were staying in a hotel near ours. The first night of our trip we stayed in the Zona Colonial area of Santo Domingo. This would be considered the historical district as well as the arts district I think. When we walked into our hotel we were greeted with a blast of cool air and a glass of champagne and knew we had made a good choice of hotels. The staff were warm and welcoming and the rooms were great. 

Old church/mission near our hotel in Santo Domingo.
Outdoor patio restaurant things. 

Our next stop though had to be food. We had passed a road a couple blocks from our hotel that was in front of an old church and had restaurant after restaurant lined up, each with an outdoor patio seating area. Our eyes stopped on one particular restaurant and, without discussion, knew we needed to eat there: The Hard Rock Cafe. 

Now, some people will judge us at this point..."you went to another country and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe?!" Absolutely. Try as our cafeteria might, they just can't make a cheeseburger that will compete with an American cheeseburger. We wanted something in English and something that tasted like home. Enter the pulled pork sandwich with french fries and a coke. Delish.

'merican food. 
Still decorated from Halloween the night before. 
Sooooo good. 
After dinner we wandered the neighborhood where an artisan fair was going on with all kinds of crafts from Colombia. When we had seen all we wanted to see we went back to the hotel, sat in the air conditioning, and watched TV. Simple pleasures.

The next morning we needed to catch a bus from Santo Domingo to Punta Cana. I knew the name of the bus-line and the address. We got a taxi from our hotel and were dropped off at a very sketchy building. But, at 6:45 the doors opened and we were inthe right spot. We paid $375 RD (about $10 US) and hopped aboard. The bus left at 7am and as we drove through the streets of Santo Domingo, something just seemed....different. It finally hit me: no walls. There were no walls around the houses, buildings, businesses, nothing! In Haiti, EVERYTHING has a wall around it. The streets are not a mixture of different porches or houses with different paint or different brick. It is all a jumbled mx of different kinds of walls. 

We drove through the countryside on this very nice bus for about 4 hours. No, we weren't exactly sure of where we were supposed to get off. Any Spanish I picked up in high school had been violently shoved out of my brain when I began learning Creole. When we reached the last stop and everyone was getting off, I figured we should to. We were dropped off at a gas station parking lot and immediately swarmed by taxi drivers. We found one, and fifteen minutes later arrived at our resort. 

The next few days involved very little physical activity (aside froma very diverse volleyball game played between Americans, Dominicans, Chileans, Russians, and a Canadian). We ate, sat on the beach, read, ate some more, read some more, and slept. It was great! 

View from our room (semi-blocked by the tree).  

Another shot from our balcony. 

The last day and night we were at the resort both Jill and I were feeling kinda crummy and not entirely looking forward to the trip back. However, the transportation to return to Santo Domingo worked out all right. We arrived in the capital with a few hours to kill so we took advantage of the several American food chains in the area: a bacon cheeseburger at Wendy's and an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins. There was also a grocery store nearby so we bought a few items that were much cheaper than our local stores here in Haiti. 

On the way back to the airport we attempted to figure out the Metro and did so semi-successfully. We made it back to the airport, had one more fight with Tortug Air, another terrifying fight, and safe arrival in Port-au-Prince. 

Restful weekend and another country stamped on my passport. Win. 

Parent's Visit to Haiti

Whew, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. A lot has been going on: trip to the Dominican, school events, and my parents visiting me!

In the middle of October, my parents flew to Haiti and arrived on Thursday afternoon. I picked them up at the airport and drove us back to the school. What followed was a weekend of running around sight-seeing and trying to let them experience all that my life involves around here. 

On Thursday we walked around the school, watched a bit of a soccer game happening on campus, and then visited the grocery store. We ate a Haitian dinner made by a sweet friend of ours, Madame Josef. We had an early night to rest up for the weekend ahead of us.

Friday morning my parents joined me at our weekly Friday morning staff meeting. They were introduced around and were able to put faces to the names of the people I tell them about. After the meeting we headed out to TeacHaiti. My parents sponsor a little girl in 5th grade and I know they enjoyed getting to see where she goes to school. We visited a few of the classrooms and got to check out the fabulous jewelry program they have going on there. We then went to another business/ministry called The Apparent Project. This ministry hires parents of children to make crafts, goods, etc so that parents can make money to keep their children instead of giving them up for adoption as some parents feel they must do. We did a little shopping here and got some fun souvenirs. 

View around TeacHaiti.
TeacHaiti classroom.
A student my grandparents sponsor in TeacHaiti. 
Little ones lining up!

Later that afternoon we headed back to campus for lunch. We rested up a bit before heading out again. We drove to Petionville to visit the grocery store, Giant, where we do some of our shopping. After touring through Giant we made our way to a nice hotel, Karibe. After getting caught in nasty traffic on the way there we rested in the cool air and calm environment of Karibe. We ate a nice, early dinner and then came back down the hill to the school. 

Views from around Karibe. 

On Saturday morning we visited a basketball clinic that was being held on our campus and relaxed around the apartment. Around mid-morning our friend John Ackerman picked us up to take us around town. What a blessing this was! John and his wife Jodie have been in Haiti almost 30 years and they know their way around town. John took us downtown to see the ruins of the Presidential Palace. We saw various monuments and the cathedral downtown. My parents were able to see a part of Haiti even I hadn’t seen before. 

Photos of the remains of the palace. 

We got back late afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing and packing.  They flew out early the next morning and had a long trip home. It was great for them to experience my life here and be able to put a picture to some places that I talk about! Thanks for coming, it was great!!