We had a very busy last few weeks in Haiti with many overlapping visiting teams, while trying to pack up our home and fight off infections and 105 degree fevers that 3 out of 4 of us were hit with. It was chaotic and stressful and also very sad. Our daughters were incredibly bummed to have lost so much time at the orphanage due to the fact that they had to remain in bed.
Thankfully, about 2 days before we had to leave, most all of us were on the mend and we could spend some time with all of the kiddos.
Packing up our home was difficult-not knowing exactly when we will be back. However, we decided to leave most of our things behind. Even though we only had 220 square feet of "personal" space these last 6 months, it was still our home and we made some amazing memories. That time a crab crawled up through the sink and freaked me out, or the time I had just finished coloring my roots and stepped in to the shower to discover we had no more water. The times the girls wanted to sleep on the floor, because...that's the Haitian way. The time I stitched up a guy on our little dining room table. The times our ugly large ratmates who lived above us would fight with each other late at night. The nights where the pain and heartbreak of the day was so overwhelming all we could do was pray...and pour ourselves a nightcap. The times we had sick little kids come stay with us as we scoured the home, turned it upside down to search for any medicine we had left. It was small. We got on each other's nerves-but we did it. One of the many things I've learned these last 6 months is that really...anyone can do anything. You may think you can't do something-but with some time, patience, and perseverance-anything can be done. You are stronger and more capable than you think. We will miss this little bungalow.
The day before we left started the sad, long, tearful goodbyes. You never really know just how much of an impact you've made, especially with the language barrier, until it's time to say goodbye.
Children living at an orphanage have all sorts of issues. There's no way to sugar coat that. They were either abandoned by their parents, have no parents at all, or had their parents kick the crap out of them because they kept crying for food and the parents no longer wanted to hear them cry. Sick babies, special needs kids, malnourished kids...all of that mixed together now living in one place...there are bound to be some issues. For the most part though, the children are kind and loving. They love to come up to you and sit on your lap, play with your hair, ask to be carried around, and generally want to be with you. There are a few, though, that play hard ball. They'll tell you they don't want you there, run away from you, avoid you and all eye contact, despite your many attempts. And that's ok. We get it. There's some seriously wounded kids here.
What surprised us the most though, is that these handful of kids, who seemingly wanted nothing to do with us while we were there, were the ones that cried the most when we left. The day we left, I had one little 8 year old boy, hyperventilating in my lap. The one who never showed any emotion or interest in hanging with us was now struggling to breathe as we said goodbye. There was one sweet, but very difficult teenager, sobbing in Tass' arms. Many kids were crying, but we were definitely shocked to see who had the most difficult time with us leaving.
The morning of our flight, as we were packing up last minute things, I brought out our first suitcase and set it on our porch. That started it. Slowly, one by one, the staff and people who we lived with, started to congregate around the vehicle that was taking us to the airport. Everyone. The groundkeepers, the barman, the housekeepers, the servers, the cooks, the drivers, the manager of the resort, they all slowly and somberly made their way to the vehicle and just sat there and waited. The didn't say anything, they just sat there with their heads down. It was the saddest and sweetest thing I have ever seen. In our 6 months there, we've seen a lot of people come and go, but never, had any of them had a send off like that. I hugged the woman who cleaned our room every day and thanked her yet again as she cried. I hugged the 50 year old man who squeezed fresh juice for our family every morning as he teared up. Our family is not perfect by any means, but I can say with 100% truth in my heart that I gave all I had to these people every day. When I didn't feel like smiling because I was so tired, I did it anyway and asked how their families were doing. When I didn't feel like I could converse in another language a minute longer at the end of a long day, I forced myself to anyway. I wanted to make sure these people knew they were important, valued, and appreciated. If they had a headache, I would get them medicine. If their kids had to go to the hospital, I would make sure we tipped them extra that week. For me personally, I viewed my time with the resort staff just as important as I did with the kids at the orphanage or in the community. These people are the community too. They are the community kids' parents. These workers have families, some very far away, whom they only see once every 10 days or so. They work tirelessly, day in and day out, to serve us and other guests, so they can provide food for their families. Not internet, not shopping sprees, not swim lessons or ballet lessons, not vacations; they work so hard so that they can just provide food. I made sure that I showed them appreciation every chance I got. They will be greatly missed.
In the 15 years that I have known my husband, he has really only ever cried concerning one thing and that is his grandfather. He loved his grandfather very much, and often I would joke that even if I died, he wouldn't cry nearly as much as he cries when talking about his grandfather ;) But those last two days, he was a wreck. The car ride to the airport was...the only word I can think of is brutal. We all cried the entire drive to Port-au-Prince. Our driver was probably convinced we were nuts because every Haitian has one dream-and that is to leave Haiti. The place where they think God only visits maybe once a year. Every Haitian has this one common goal: to leave. They desire to go to America-a place where they think God visits every day. And here we were, sobbing because we were leaving their seemingly God-forsaken country.
Our oldest daughter, Ellie (8), probably had the hardest time leaving. The plane ride to Miami was just as bad. What made it worse for me was seeing everyone else's reactions as we left. The week before we left, I was actually getting excited about coming home. I was ready for some easy. I was ready for the convenience of running to Rite Aid if we ran out of medicine. The melancholy in me was ready for some alone time. Although sad about leaving, I was definitely looking forward to being home. But after we saw everyone else's reactions, and how much we meant to them, it was stunning and shocking and just made it that much more difficult to leave.
We landed in Miami in the evening, checked in to our hotel, and then headed to get some food. Now, more than anything else that we missed while being gone, was none other than food. We, and the other long term Americans that we lived with, every day we would sit and daydream about all the wonderful options and variety of food that America has. Not that our food in Haiti is bad; quite the contrary-it's delicious. We have some of the best cooks in Haiti. But it's the same thing over and over, every single day. The kids would fantasize about Pinkberry and Chipotle. We did a lot of "pretending" of what we were eating each day.
Now came the time where our fantasies were about to become reality. We ordered some yummy food, and after months of looking forward to this moment, when the server brought out the food, Ellie couldn't eat it. She was so depressed about leaving Haiti that she couldn't even touch her bowl of clam chowder. Then, the tears came even more as she realized the dilemma she was in and said, "But Mom, I don't want to waste it...this cost FIVE DOLLARS!". Tass and I both looked at each other, held back tears, and told her just how proud of her we are. The way she thinks is differently now. I love her heart, and the way that it is continuing to expand and grow, beyond herself.
Lilah....Lilah is not quite there....yet. She beats to her own drum and is excited to stay or go, wherever we go, she's down for anything.
My parents picked us up in San Francisco last week and we have been doing our best to get re-acclamated to Californian life. Tass is taking any and all the work he can get. Tonight, he is headed out to Yuba City to run sound for local artist Lisa Daggs. He is also working with our long time friend and best man at our wedding, doing various audio visual installs. We are hoping and praying for steady work for him.
For me, while we were gone, I had secured a short term substitute music teacher for most of my students, with everyone's intentions of resuming lessons with me upon our return. But plans change, people move on, they bond with a new teacher, or want to try a new activity all together. Out of my 18 previous students, 2 are returning to me. While I am sad and disappointed, I do understand. I understand that with families not knowing our traveling plans and future lifestyle, sometimes it's best to part ways. I love them all and will miss them all greatly.
It does leave me incredibly bored though. It's only been a week and I am bored out of my mind. No one is dying, no babies are being abandoned, nobody is sick and needing to be rushed to the hospital...it's quite a different feeling to go from being needed every minute of the day, to a place where everyone has their own self sustaining life that doesn't really require our help at all. I am not saying there is not purpose or meaning to living here...I know there is. But it is just so different than living in emergency mode, as we have been the last six months.
I will likely take some more online medical classes like I did last year. Stanford University offers many free online classes and has been a great resource to me. I'm not going for another degree, it is the knowledge that I appreciate having. That is what is beneficial in a place like Haiti.
Our family will also continue learning Creole, as well as expanding to French. Creole is spoken and understood by everyone, but French is the language that is taught in the schools-so if you are lucky enough to afford school, you are taught how to read and write French. Only about 10-20% of the population speak French. However, because we live at a working resort, most everything is in French, to cater to the upper class Haitians. Our Creole is pretty good, but I found myself many times wishing I had taken the time to learn French! I plan on making that one of our main focuses while we are back in the states. Our neighbor is a French teacher so we will hopefully we working out some sort of exchange with music lessons.
Another, slightly unexpected adjustment, has been the food here. For the last six months, we have eaten everything fresh for every meal of the day. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh juice, etc. If you wanted meat for dinner...great...you go out and kill it that day. Fresh eggs, even fresh dessert. Coming back to American food with all of the preservatives and sodium has had us walking around all week feeling legitimately drugged. Hopefully our systems will acclimate soon.
Truth be told, I think we are all suffering from a mix of depression, probably a little PTSD, and an overwhelming feeling of feeling lost. I refuse to go to the grocery store and shop until every single thing from our refrigerator has been consumed. It doesn't matter that I can't really make a decent meal out of grapes, lemons and some eggs. But until our fridge is empty, I just can't bring myself to go back to the grocery store.
Everyone inevitably asks us what our future plans are and if we're going back. Our answer? Absolutely! The when is somewhat uncertain. Our goal and plan is to return again in January for another 6 month term, but truthfully we all don't know if we can wait that long. We are excited to return and pick up where we left off and to hopefully make even more progress than we did the last round.
Tass and I are both continuing to serve Mission of Grace and Ocean View remotely while we are here. Tass is still busy coordinating teams and projects and thankfully it's actually a bit easier to communicate with teams stateside because we have working US numbers again. We stay closely in touch with the directors in Haiti through the God-sent app...Voxer. We also bought a few people smart phones before we left Haiti, installed Voxer and Whatsapp for them and we will continue to buy and send them data and minutes every month so that we can be apprised of situations and people. It's not the same thing as being there, but it's the next best thing. Plus, continuing to write and speak in Creole will hopefully help us maintain the portion of the language that we did learn.
We want to again thank each and everyone of you for your love, prayers, and financial support you have given to our family and the work that we are doing in Carries, Haiti. We could not have done this without you and you are just as much a part of this as we are. The times where I didn't think I could make it one more day, one of you sent me an encouraging and inspiring note. The times where we were sicker than dogs, and our kids had such high fevers and our medicine had run out, you fervently prayed and lifted us up. The times where we didn't have enough money to meet yet another emergent need, you sacrificially gave. We are so thankful for each and every one of you, and we look forward to seeing you all and spending time with you before we head back out to our second home!
All our love,
Tass, Sheena, Ellie & Lilah
Checking on baby Marvens before we left. He is doing so much better and has learned to latch on and eat!