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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Patriotic Cookies!

First of all: Did you know that they make half-sticks of butter now? They're TINY!

Since I've moved from the RV (my home for two years) to the Nuthaus, I have cooked a lot. We average six major meals per week at home, plus special things like making cheese and desserts, etc. But I haven't tried to do any specialty baking since we got here. Last week, I did make my first layer cake and it was delicious, but not particularly fancy. I was ready to do something fun and frivolously complicated.

Last year, shortly after James and I started dating, I went with him to his aunt's and uncle's house for the Fourth of July. It's an all-day potluck with fireworks-shooting to cap off the day, and James hadn't really prepared anything to take, so the day before we went, we made cookies. There is a recipe that is fairly "well known" in my family, and I kind of remembered how to make it, but I'd texted my mom anyway, to see if she could send me the recipe. I didn't get her message until it was too late, but the cookies turned out pretty good...

Actually, they were fairy amazing, and it was a total fluke. I'd made chocolate chunk cookies the best I could from memory, and they tasted "right." James' apartment's kitchen was... well, let's just say "low on counter space" and be gracious about it, shall we? So I put the ceramic mixing bowl on the stove while the cookies baked. This resulted in some of the chocolate chunks melting, so that the dough ended up marbled. Well, the marbled cookies were beautiful, and they all tasted good, and the cookies were gone by the end of the visit, so that was a nice compliment.

This time, though, I had an idea: American flag cookies. I've done something similar with a wreath for Christmas, and I've also done checkerboard cookies. When I showed my wreath cut-out cookies on Facebook, a friend saw all of the work I'd done on them and said, "Oh, Laura, you can buy those at Wal-Mart." Of course, she was talking about Pillsbury. Guess what? They also have flag "Holiday Shape" cookies. But guess what else? I don't care! They don't taste as awesome as mine will, and I wanted to challenge myself and make use of the extra space for which I am so grateful.

So... Friday night, I picked out a recipe for chocolate cut-out cookies, and a recipe for rolled sugar cookies. Saturday morning, I made the sugar cookie dough, divided not into thirds but into three sections, left one white, colored one red, and colored the smaller dough blue. I had to add a ton of color to get anything besides pink and baby blue, so I had to add more flour and hope for the best.

Saturday evening, I had some unexpected free time, so decided to go ahead and make the flag. James took some pictures...

The unsuccessful beginnings of the red stripes. (I wasn't quite ready for pictures yet.)
I wasn't being scientific with the ratios or even the number of stripes. I only planned to have 9 stripes, and no stars at all.

After much re-rolling and added flour, I had the shape I wanted!

See? Just like Merica!
When I was making the "chocolate" dough, after having bought groceries the night before AND having run up to the 7-Eleven for tiny butter (I hadn't noticed we'd need so. stinking. much.) I realized that we were actually out of cocoa. Instead, I substituted this organic chocolate syrup that D uses for her chocolate milk, and also a few tablespoons of this Whole Foods Nutella-type spread. It made the dough darker than the "white" dough, which was really all that I was going for. Of course, I also had to add more flour to that. Then I rolled it out.

After I wrapped the flag roll in chocolate dough and froze it long enough for it to be cut-able, I eagerly sliced into it...

I put the dough back into the freezer between batches because I wanted it not to get too "wilted." But it wasn't frozen, which would have made it crumbly when cutting.

Ready to cook the first tray!
Fortunately, the cookies didn't spread a lot and I realized that I could actually fit almost twice this many on one sheet, so the rest of the batch got completed in just a couple more trays.

In the end, I had almost as much scrap left over as I had usable dough. It wasn't in the right ratios to make more flag cookies, though. Instead, I put it all in a bowl and made a "tie dye" log. That's the round 'uns.

Ready for our 4th of July celebrations!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Radio Breakdown

A strange thing happened on the way to a play date today. Daphne and I were driving up Mopac when a two-year-old song came on the radio. Maybe you've heard this little ditty. It's called "Titanium." Daphne and I have listened to that song a lot, and its release in early August of 2011, during which time I was going through Round Two of what I consider three rounds of craziness surrounding my personal life, made it my anthem at the time.

Since it's not a brand-spanking new song anymore, the song doesn't see as much radio time as it used to. For some reason, as I processed the lyrics, I found myself with tears streaming down my face. I could picture myself, standing, with arms open, during the chorus... something I used to play over and over again in my brain in order to steel myself against my reality.

In case you haven't heard it, or you just weren't paying attention to the lyrics, here they are:

You shout it out,
But I can't hear a word you say
I'm talking loud not saying much
I'm criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up

I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won't fall
I am titanium

Cut me down
But it's you who'll have further to fall
Ghost town and haunted love
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I'm talking loud not saying much

I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won't fall
I am titanium

Stone-hard, machine gun
Firing at the ones who run
Stone-hard as bulletproof glass

You shoot me down but I won't fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won't fall
I am titanium
I am titanium

Why did I cry so much? Why did it hit me on this day?

There were several things:

1) Titanium is hard. It is very strong and not easily worn down. For years, I lost myself under layers of protection. I got to the point that nothing could hurt my feelings. I had to in order not to have a breakdown. I think about how vulnerable I am privileged to be with James, and it makes me sad for that person who existed for about a decade. It kind of also makes me sad that James sometimes has to navigate a minefield that might still be lurking, but just last night, I was able to talk to James about something that was bothering me in a way that I would not have felt safe confiding several years ago. And he listened. He might not even have agreed with me, or thought that I had a point. In fact, a lot of times, he probably thinks that I am absolutely ridiculous. But there is the safety here to express my true self and not be mocked or reprimanded or resented.

2) When the person who is supposed to love you the most doesn't trust you and you can't trust them, then it skews your view of the whole world. A few years ago, I felt very much on my own except for my child, and she's a child, so I never leaned on her for emotional support. I came to a point of hopeless desperation where it seemed to me that, if I were ever to have a chance at emotional well-being again, I was going to have to seek it out for myself.

Because of my circumstances and my own weakness, I did not believe that I could trust anyone. Honestly, I probably didn't think that I could trust God at that point. I felt like, if the situation stayed the way that it was, I would be better off just dying, but... I have a kid and I love her very much. However, so many very well-meaning people tried to pour into me the prudent advice to avoid the appearance of sin, and I felt a lot like the time that a friend's brother's wife tried to physically accost me, I said, "I'm going to get the *eff* out of this house," and the elderly mother told me not to swear. I was incredulous. "She can threaten me physically, but the 'f' word is unacceptable?"

I don't know how to explain what was happening to me except that I had been in a deep, dark hole for years and years, and I was finally in possession of the strength to climb out, and once I hit the light, the people standing outside of the hole were yelling at me that my clothes were inappropriate, and trying to shove me back into the hole until I could find something suitable to wear.

This all made me very, very angry and very, very hesitant to trust anyone with the full details about what was going on. Consequently, if you were involved in my life at that time, I owe you an apology. If you tried to give me advice, I most likely did not listen. If you asked me how I was doing or what was going on, I probably lied to you. I was extremely open about my life and my struggles up to a point. Then a couple of things happened: Even though I told the absolute truth, I was treated as though I were guilty. After that, other people started telling their own versions of what was going on. And a lot of people believed a lot of lies, and I'll admit that I did NOTHING to dispel any of the rumors because, after years of sacrificing relationships and trying literally everything that I could think of, I was DONE.

I am not making excuses for the way I conducted myself; lots of it was rebellious and wrong. I'm just explaining that there is a survival mechanism that kicks in after years of being undermined and betrayed by the person who is supposed to be your most trusted companion, and it skews one's view of how much to let anyone else in, and how much to let anyone else speak into your life or demand answers of you. Two years ago, I was very much in the, "Screw you; I'm just trying to survive here" mode. And I truly am sorry.

3) My sister knows a lot of stuff about me. She grew up with me, true, but over the years, as we've led separate grown-up lives, I've also told her just about everything. She is, I believe, a "safe" person in whom I can confide. Now, if she ever got mad at me, and if she were mentally disturbed in some way so that it became her goal to manipulate me into a certain outcome by threatening to air my dirty laundry AND to add some of her own embellishments to the stories in order to curry favor or turn people against me, it would come as a huge shock and pull the whole "trust" rug out from under me. This happened to me TWICE in just a couple of years. Two people with whom I'd been close did not like the path I was taking, and took it upon themselves to contact people we knew in common with information both real and imagined in order to... I don't know? Shame me? Cut me off from everyone else so that that person was the only one left who would still talk to me? I will never understand this. I have  been plenty pissed at plenty of people, but I cannot imagine trying to ruin someone's friendships, reputation, etc. by spreading gossip.

That's the worst thing ever: When someone you've loved and trusted enough to be open about your faults and fears takes those things and twists them around to use against you. The second worst thing is when people who weren't as close, but whom you also admired and respected believe the stories and/or distance themselves from you.

When all of that was happening, I had to bow myself up against the constant pain of people I thought knew me better falling away from me. I had to convince myself that I was bulletproof. Otherwise, I was going to be ripped to shreds.

In the end, I could not fight anymore. It's the main reason I moved to Austin. Well, that and Austin is just an awesome town. :)

There is so much healing that has happened over the past year or so that I can barely even fathom it. It's my nature to want to "fix" and I hate leaving messes in my wake. But sometimes, you have to give up and walk away. 

My heart is so much softer now than it was for a long time. I am grateful to James for his patience and for his creating an environment where I am free to be who I am, to have the feelings that I have (whether they make sense or not), to express myself, and to explore my passions. And I can do it as myself, not as a fake version of me that I've had to build up to protect myself.

Now, this is more the speed of my heart:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The beginning of the real end...

This post is not for everyone. I'm not publicizing it on Facebook or G+, and I'm just telling you now that if you are at all squeamish or you just don't care to hear about the end of my failed pregnancy and all of the physical stuff that goes with it, now is the time to bail. Might I suggest The Doghouse Diaries?

Okay, for those of you who are still with us...

As you know, on Sunday, June 2, I started spotting. I vacillated with being scared and hopeful and even went to see a midwife, but cancelled my Thursday ultrasound when I woke up bleeding a lot and passing tissue on Thursday morning. For the next two weeks, it was just like having a period. And, actually, because my periods are so long, it was really only a couple of days longer than a marathon episode, lucky me.

Then, finally. last Wednesday, it seemed to let up.

Until Thursday night, when I woke up and we had a major clean-up in the bedding department. *sigh*

Yesterday, I felt crampy, but not menstrual. It was almost like gas in my side, but I was tempted to think it was almost like mild contractions. One or two stopped me in my tracks. I walked a couple of miles with Daphne and felt better.

This morning, I got out and rode a couple of miles on my bike to run errands. Except for the chain coming off of the gears when I was crossing 24th, the ride was pleasant and uneventful.

After I got home, I went to the restroom and, here's where it gets potentially gross and a little weird, I heard a sound you'd expect to hear if you were dropping a deuce, so to speak. Except that I wasn't.

Those obnoxious "fetal development" charts tell you that, at 9 weeks your baby is the size of a green olive and that Doppler might pick up a heart beat (ours didn't, but we know why). I don't know when the baby stopped developing, but I have to tell you: What I found deposited in the water resembles one of the things you pull out of the bag of gizzards they stuff back into the chicken after butchering. It is approximately 1.5-2 inches long, and I'm guessing is the whole thing: embryonic sac, fetus, etc.

This is both fascinating and disturbing and reassuring, and I'll tell you why.

The disturbing part is that, well, it's physically icky. And might have been more emotionally icky if several weeks hadn't already passed, and I hadn't gone to Haiti, and life hadn't gone on in its marvelous way.

The fascinating part is that, somehow, something that tiny, can conceivably grow into a whole person. Daphne was encased in that two-inch chicken-organ-looking thing. It's crazy. I've read that people say they can make out features of their miscarried babies at this age. I'm not squeamish, but I don't think I'm up to trying to remove it from the sac for closer investigation, either.

The reassuring part is this: When the pregnancy test was positive, I was so shocked, I just looked at it and threw it away. James never saw it. He took my word, of course. But still. Then I had so few symptoms, except for being sleepy.

A few times, it's crossed my mind that maybe I wasn't actually pregnant. Maybe I am just peri-menopausal, my crazy hormones delivered a false positive on a pregnancy test (I don't even know whether that's possible), I missed a period, and then had a REALLY heavy one the next time.

So this, at least, confirms that. To me and, should he wish to investigate, to James.

Now, the question is: What do I do with this? Do I put it in a box and bury it in our yard? What is the protocol? James is on his way home from work. What a sweet man. I love him so much.

Monday, June 24, 2013

An Electronic Anniversary

Facebook Mobile has been reminding me all week that today is James' and my anniversary (Facebook Online has remained oddly quiet about it). It's actually a pretty silly anniversary, to be honest. But I'll take it.

Last year, I went to visit James in Tulsa the second weekend in June. Our communication over the years has been spotty but consistently present. But the weeks leading up to my seeing him had me concerned about him. And I was heart-deep in nearly a full year of heartbreak; I needed to get out of town and reconnect with an old friend.

After that weekend, James contacted me and requested one more visit before I moved to Austin. He came to see me and also interviewed for jobs in Dallas while he was in Sherman. After having spent the better part of a week together, getting reacquainted, we realized that we were becoming pretty special to each other.

When James got home from that trip, we were chatting online and I mentioned that it'd be funny to change our Facebook statuses; James was game. And that was June 24, 2012.

It's been an eventful year!

Since the last time our Earth was in this position relative to the sun, James and I have become best friends. We have fallen in love. We have shared stories, and laughed a whole lot, and cried a little.

We have wrestled with setting boundaries for a relationship with a person who was coming from a completely different mindset. Stunned, I have said, at least twice, "If this is the reality, then we need to break this off right now." James has sat in Dallas traffic the morning after one of "those" talks and asked himself, "Do I really want to be involved with someone who has this many needs?" We have compromised and found common ground, and gained more in the process than either of us had ever imagined.

We have cooked together, and learned together, and made cheese and made a home. We have moved James twice (including once in August with just the two of us!) and me once. We have maintained a long-distance relationship.

We have faced down scars together, and carried each other's baggage, and jettisoned some of those bags over a cliff.

We have explored Deep Ellum together, and have become enamored with Austin together. I have met some of James' family and have become reacquainted with others. James has seamlessly become a part of my Texas family. I have met James' friends, and he has met mine; we have developed new mutual friends, and have reconnected with old high school buddies. We have visited the Texas coast, and another country, and a couple of Buc-ees.

We planned the simplest and most fun wedding ever, we got married, and long before that, we were a family. We merged households. James bought fully into parenting, and we are partners in home and family management. We know our strengths, we contribute as well as we can, and we forgive each other's foibles. We made a baby together, and we lost that baby. We have seen each other healthy and happy, and we have trudged through each other's injuries and illnesses.

We are for each other. We are for us. We have come a long way in a year, and I am extremely grateful that I have every year for the rest of my life to live with this man. I love him dearly, I respect him completely, and I am over-the-moon happy that I get to be with my best friend every single day.

Happy silly little anniversary, James.

Alec Hilliard Photography

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Leaving Haiti

Saturday morning was difficult. We were up and ready to go by 6:00 AM. We drove into town and picked up Dario, who asked James if he was Haiti-sick. James answered that he already was. It was true. Leaving was not easy. I missed my girl all week, and James had started missing her at some point (he's a very in-the-moment guy), but if she'd been there, it would have been tempting to "accidentally" oversleep and miss the transport to the airport.

Just to give you a little taste of the ride from the hills of Kenscoff into the city to the airport, there are four videos. I didn't spend much time editing them at all; I just overlaid a song because some of the conversations in the van were pretty private. But feel free to turn down your sound altogether if having the same song over and over bothers you. ;) (P.S. This was pre-7:00 AM on a Saturday; otherwise, the streets would have been a LOT busier!)

So, that's Kenscoff to Port au Prince.

After having spent a whole week in Haiti, even brushing our teeth with the sink water (gasp!) and not having gotten sick, we showed up in Fort Lauderdale to find that they were under a boil water notice since e. coli (fecal matter) had been found in the water supply. It was tainted. Lit'rally tainted. (Bonus points if you get that reference.)

Besides James getting selected for a "random" pat-down three times that day, and some pretty loud-mouthed airport employees, and that whole "Welcome to Chili's, you can only order a burger and hope you didn't want any iced tea" stuff, the day's travel was pretty stressful, and a startling departure from our beloved Haiti experience.

Seeing Daphne at the airport made up for all of it (even though she did run to James first), and the rest of my immediate family was there, as well. It was a sweet welcome.

We appreciated everything that my parents did when they were here (opossum-running-off aside, they also made sure Daphne had a busy and productive week, they did laundry and cleaned the house, and even left us some food so that I didn't have to buy groceries for nearly a week after we returned). We were so moved and impressed with everyone whom we met in Haiti. I loved getting to know some of my church friends (and other-church friend!) better.

Here I am a week after we returned, and I'm still trying to parse everything out. What do I do with this new corner of my heart that belongs to and in Haiti? How do I try to get other people on board effectively, without overwhelming anyone and "talking" so much that they just shut me down? I know that there will be more in the days and weeks and months to come, and I'm just extremely humbled and privileged to have this Haiti experience to carry with me now.

Thanks for coming along on the journey.

Haiti, Day Seven: Yahve Shamma

We spent most of our last full day in Haiti at the Yahve Shamma orphanage. School was out for the summer at 11:30, so we headed over there as soon as the school kids had left.

They're a little more serious about guarding
their pizza outlets than we are.
We'd decided to throw the kids a pizza party in honor of summer break starting, having passed a Domino's Pizza in Port au Prince. But guess what? They don't have the $7 medium carryout special there like they do here. But we all chipped in and it was so worth it to see the kids' reactions!

Many of them had never had pizza before, and while at first we were impressed that all thirty of them waited while we handed out slices and drinks, we realized after the blessing that many of them had no idea how to eat the pizza. Later, we learned from Jean Alix that they are taught at the orphanage not to use their hands when they eat (I imagine this is a huge change-over for a kid used to living on the street). But even considering that, our interpreters had to show many of the kids how to hold the pizza on the crust side and go at it from the point.

After lunch, we did crafts with them, and most of us walked away with pictures created for us by our friends, complete with our names spelled correctly and everything! Lina painted me a picture, while James got artwork from Marceylle and Naderson and several other boys.

Photos from this day start here; click on the picture to go to the album:

Lina took my camera and was snapping pictures of James, me, her friends, and eventually disappeared into her room. She took a picture of her bed because she wanted me to see it, and also of her door. When she saw that other girls were getting their hair done, she sat me down and pulled my straight hair back into a very tidy ponytail, pinning down the short, stray hairs that kept blowing in the wind.

When it was James' turn to have his hair put in corn rows, Lina acted as an assistant to the girl who was braiding, and held the comb when it wasn't in use. James' friend Marceylle watched with no small amount of skepticism.

Again, the kids honed in on James' tongue ring. They also wondered about the earring Andrea has in her upper earlobe. It might be the voodoo influence, but they were quite concerned that either might have sinister connotations. Both our interpreter Dario and their pastor Gaetan assured them that the piercings were fine and not indicative of anything dark.

At one point, James was carrying a little boy around and walked him up a hill near the edge of the property. The little boy indicated that they should just keep walking, out of the orphanage and on. James said that that was a bit poignant for him. All of the kids I saw appeared happy and well-adjusted, they were charming and endearing. But I can imagine some just want to be in a small family and even though Help One Now has assured Pastor Gaetan that no one is coming to fish for adoptable kids, I can't help but wonder whether the kids themselves hold out some hope of that.

Legacy Project from Help One Now on Vimeo.

This project was actually funded and the school building is mostly up. It will be an awesome resource for the kids and the community. Help One Now constantly has projects in the works to work with Haitians to improve their lives. If you are at all inspired by these stories, then you should go read about Ferrier Villiage and think about making a donation. I will always want to be a part of what's going on here, now that I've seen it for myself. And I'd love to have as many friends on board with me as possible.

A Break In the Action: Haiti Observations

I'll get to Friday, our last full day in Haiti, soon. But today, I wanted to jot down some observations from Haiti that don't necessarily fit anywhere else.

1) Privacy: Privacy takes second place to ventilation and airflow, in regards to being able to shut oneself off completely from anyone else. In the house where we stayed, every door had a three- to five-foot open area above it. So even though you could close and lock the door to the bathroom, for instance, whatever you did in there was plainly heard by everyone else in the house. Even the upstairs bathroom, because the upstairs was open by a courtyard atrium to the bottom floor. I won't tell anything too personal or embarrassing, except to say that one member of our travel team reacted quite vocally to the cold water of the shower. It made me smile, and I'm extremely glad that he didn't hold back.

The same held true in the public restrooms. Door for privacy, but there was still an opening on top. Also, our bedrooms. The "honeymoon suite" had the opening slightly "boarded up," but it was a thin piece of frosted plastic similar to plexiglass, and we could hear everything going on in the rest of the house, so I can only assume that they could hear us, too.

2) Showers: Speaking of showers: the majority of our showers were cold, although the family with whom we stayed does have one of those awesome on-demand water heaters in the upstairs bathroom. However, often when we got home in the afternoon, city power would be off and there wasn't really any justification for turning on the generator until it was later and darker and almost time for dinner. Also, sometimes the city power was still on, but only powering minimal things like lights and wi-fi, but not the freezer or the water heater.

Whether the shower was hot or cold, it went like this: get wet, turn off the water, soap up, then rinse off. Jean Alix said that even when he visits the US, he takes "Haiti showers," because he cannot bear to waste water, regardless of where he is.

Sometimes, the plumbing would peter out during our afternoon shower sessions, and then it was necessary to take a "bucket shower." This is what your mom did to you when you were a baby: Collect water in a container, then use a cup to pour the water over you, recollecting it and reusing it to rinse off. This happened once in the middle of Rachel's shower, after the conditioner application. So she got to have the beauty parlor treatment while Julia rinsed her hair out with the "bucket."

As I mentioned, the woman in Guibert with whom we had the privilege of helping with her house took a full-out (but clothed) shower when it was raining. She was very efficient and it made sense to take advantage of the pouring down on our heads.

3) Religious phrases. There were a lot of religious phrases everywhere. Many vehicles had personalized messages applied to the front windshield, a la this one:

Many, however, would say Exodus 12:12-14, Grace of God, or Jesus Saves. The tap-taps had a lot of this, as did, inexplicably, the lottery kiosks. There were many lotto shops called Fils de Jah or Fiels de Dieu, or Grace Eternelle, etc. The motorcycles had vanity plates mounted long-ways on the fender of the front tire. Many of these had religious messages, such as Merci, Jezi or even headlight appliques like this one:

There was one beauty parlor called "Blood of Jesus Boutique." Someone pointed out that it might have been a voodoo shop. My thought is just that it's in English, and maybe the cultural significance of what the blood of Jesus represents versus getting ones hair did simply does not translate.

4) Singing. We heard lots of it. I played you the mid-day church service and the lady in the garden. Here's another, taken from the courtyard of the place where we were staying. We heard them singing a few times during the week.

5) English T-shirts. There were lots of Christmas-themed and "Let It Snow" type shirts sported in the upper-80s weather, though seasonal appropriateness is probably not on the average villager's list of important priorities. One boy had on a shirt that said, "Brownies can do anything," which I totally wanted to steal for my nieces and nephews, but beyond that, I wasn't sure what it was supposed to have meant. Another little boy had on a bright pink shirt that said, "Broncos cheerleading." I also saw a lady with a shirt that said something like "Whale kiss ocean love," and it reminded me of

6) Friendliness! Everyone we passed when we were walking either greeted us, or, if they didn't get to it first, responded very brightly to our "bonjou!" Else they'd snicker and reply with "bonswa," letting us know that, to them, morning was over and we needed to check our expression. I will say that several people greeted me in the evening with, "Good morning!" but I thought it was awesome that they were trying out their English, so I just "Good morning"ed them back. :) 

One lady went so far as to greet me with, "Bonjou, cherie," which I found charming and motherly, even though she was probably my age (although she could have been 60; Haitians seem to age slowly and well).

A couple of times when James and I were walking off to ourselves (we always stayed togetherish, but because of the accordion effect would occasionally be on our own at the middle of the pack), we attracted groups of boys who were probably 10-13 and who were very tickled about trying out every single English phrase that they knew. They'd walk with us for ten minutes, saying, "Good morning... How are you?... Let's go!" and other random phrases. They'd giggle, which is something I got used to and stopped wondering if they were mocking us (sometimes they definitely were, but it was never mean-spirited). We would answer, "Good morning! We are fine; how are you?" and compliment their wonderful English.

When we were in the van, travelling en masse, especially through marketplaces or in narrow streets where there were a lot of pedestrians, people would stare... until one of us smiled and waved. Then the entire aspect changed, and we'd get big smiles and waves.

When I was working on the bricks at the build site, I felt something on my hat and leaned up. A lady was just trying to get a good look at me, so when I stopped what I was doing and smiled, she hugged me and went on her way.

We pass a lot of people walking around here in downtown Austin. I'm trying to keep this openness and friendly outreach in my heart strongly enough to be cordial to everyone, even if they ignore me.

7) Animals. When we met Gene St. Cyr, Junior, he asked us if any of us liked animals and mentioned that there was no such thing as PETA in Haiti. Now, I think PETA is an organization with largely wacko ideas (though I feel that ethically treating animals is our responsibility as humans; PETA and I just differ on what "ethical" entails), I cringed a little to watch the village women throw rocks at the wild dogs to get them away from their houses. The wild dogs are clearly not pets. They were very well-behaved, though. They might beg with their eyes, but they did not try to steal our food from us. When we'd throw them (mostly the obviously prolific mamas) a few scraps, they'd happily take them. If we approached them, though, they were uncertain.

I was sitting there petting one of the sand-colored dogs when a little girl walked around the corner and watched me as though I were trying to kiss a frog. This was clearly an oddity for her, watching a human give affection to this animal.

There were a few dogs and cats at the Yahve Shamma orphanage. They very smartly hung out around the kitchen while the women were preparing chicken. James observed one of the cats begging and one of the women in the kitchen finally dripping some water onto the floor for the cat to drink. When she did that, a tiny baby came out of hiding and lapped a bunch of it up.

I never saw overt cruelty, but it seems like the animals are just there and largely ignored, though I suspect that in the village, some of them probably end up as dinner. They were good guard dogs, too, though. I saw them barking at someone they didn't think looked "right" coming down the walk toward the build site. I guess they thought we were okay, though, because they never gave us a hard time.

One of Jean Alix's dogs often ran out of the gate when there was traffic and would end up spending most of the day sitting outside of the walls until we got home. I suppose he's a deterrent to would-be thieves, too, but, again, it's difficult to imagine why. He's not vicious at all. According to this blog, a past president told the Haitians that he would come back as a dog and kill them. Here's an entry about Haitian dogs by a person who lives there.

8) Dress code. Almost without exception, everyone we saw was dressed nicely. That guy throwing concrete up onto a wall to reinforce the rebar? Well, he took his dress shirt off, but he's still wearing his khaki slacks. The lady whose house we were working on? The first day, she wore a denim shirt and nice blouse the whole day, while she shoveled and carried and ran around. Ladies walking down impossible hills from the market, carrying a laden basket on their heads, were doing so in dresses and three inch heels! Some of the people had clothes that were torn, but they were very clean and very dressy, as a whole.

I'll probably think of more later, but those were some of the interesting ones that stand out in my brain. :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Haiti, Days Five and Six: Building in Guibert

June 12, 2013: Wednesday; and June 13, 2013: Thursday
We got up and made sandwiches for our lunches, then headed to Guibert to do what we could to help with the construction on the house being built there in the village.

When we got to the site, we separated and worked on two different things: some of us hammered (and rocked) at cinder blocks to open up any filled-in parts so that rebar and cement could go through them. The rest of us went up a hill to sift rocks from pebbles and transport the sandier stuff down the hill to be used in the concrete mix.

Our teammate Jerry Espinosa captured this video, which is from the second day. It pretty much sums up our activities.

The lady in the pink slacks is the homeowner. She was a machine. The first day, she shoveled and shoveled and directed everyone else's activities as they sifted and hauled. Her two kids ran wheelbarrows down the hill, often with sound effects, and at speeds that caused us leery grown-ups to cringe. But even when they wiped out, they were smiling, then back up and back at the running with a load of "sand."

So, the homeowner would shovel these giant loads into the pails and wheelbarrow if her kids or other Haitians were hauling. When it was the Americans' turn, she would do half loads and then smile and chuckle when we asked for more. If we did something that was less efficient than it could have been, she let us know by directing our feet or moving buckets or taking over. Her work ethic, like all we encountered during the week, was humbling.

On the first day, at around 11:00 AM, women from the village started bringing the men working on the house their food. We took that as our cue to go to lunch, also. We walked about a mile to the school to eat lunch at tables. It was beautiful. I love the Guibert countryside.

There were several dogs at the school who kept us company during lunch. They were polite but pitiful. I mentioned that we'd made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but one of the sammies that I made him was peanut butter, bacon, and banana. I think it gave him the necessary energy to make it through the afternoon that was shortened by a rainstorm, which turned into a thunderstorm, which meant we all huddled inside an enclosed porch until we were relatively confident that we wouldn't be struck by lightning before walking another mile in the opposite direction to get to the van.

By the way, a couple of the best "honeymoon" moments happened on the walk back. Everyone had handed their precious electronics over to Kendi, who was the only one of us bright enough to bring a poncho. As we headed up the hill to the main road, it was still pouring, and I was more than a little nervous about slipping (which I didn't, and a much younger man than I am did, but he made it look good). Once we got to the road, though, it was a gorgeous walk. At one point, Rachel pointed out a "mudfall" to our left. Earlier in the day and the week, we'd seen a trickling waterfall where the team had hiked last year. But now, with the rain, it looked like a chocolate waterfall straight out of Willy Wonka. It was beautiful, but you'll have to take my word for it since my camera was a quarter mile up the road in Kendi's pack. Stunning. James and I both just stood and started at it for a few moments.

Then, a bit further down the road, we got to a little clearing where water was running off of the road and down the side of the hill we were on. I stopped and made some joke about it being our own personal mudfall, and then we just stood there watching the water rush down in front of us, a light rain falling, and we kissed under our hats (my big ugly one, I left in Haiti; thanks again, Jadey! I loved it!). I told James that we could not have had a more romantic honeymoon.

The next day, we went back to the same site. We'd busted up all of the blocks, so we mostly worked with sifting and hauling. The house went up very quickly, and it seemed like after a third day, all of the walls should have been done. The actual construction is done by paid Haitian workers. Of the $2000 we had to raise for the trip, $500 went into the local economy directly, much of it to pay for these supplies and craftsmen. We tried to find a balance between helping them expedite the work for the family and not taking billable hours away from them.

On the second day at the build site, the first time we saw the homeowner, she was running a long bent piece of rebar down the road (as shown at the end of the video above). That encounter left mud on my shoe, and it  was tempting not to wash it when I got home. She did supervise some of our sifting that day, but she also ran more rebar and apparently had to work in her garden, so we didn't see as much of her. Although we didn't see her in her garden, we did have the privilege of working next to this lady. I was shoveling, and James was trying to be surreptitious, but you still get the general idea.

After working our second day, we went to a convenience store for some world-famous Prestige beer (winner of the World Beer Cup!). Fortunately for James, I don't like beer. I did order one and tried it, and guess what? Really good beer is still beer and it's not my favorite. So, James got two beers for the price of one. :) We had to drink it in the parking lot of the convenience store (which, fortunately, had a gorgeous overlook, so it's not as ghetto as it sounds) since our hosts are not imbibers of alcohol.

The store was interesting. There was an armed security guard at the front door, for starters. The products inside were fun to try to decipher. There were a bunch of bags of differently-flavored farina (like Malt-o-Meal) that was designed to be baby food, but that also said it was good for "ages 1 to 100." I was interested in the banana meal, but it was pretty expensive. Most of their "typical American" items were a lot more expensive there than here in the US.

We did end up buying a bag of Caribbean-produced Oreo-like sandwich cookies, except that the cookies weren't as dark and they were square, and the filling was peanut butter. Also, they were wrapped in 4-cookie packs. They cost over $4, even though the price tag in gourdes would have translated into closer to $3... but maybe that was also for tax. Now, too, I feel like a goober for eating them all and not having taken a picture!

When I was in the back of the store, a young man working in produce noticed that I had a camera and asked me to take his photo. I did, showed him, he thanked me, and that was it. People love having and then seeing their pictures made.

Which reminds me of something else: When we'd pass anyone on the street, we'd say "bon jour" or "bon soir." Actually, in Creole, it's "bonjou" and "bonswa" but, of course, those sounds the exact same; they're just spelled phonetically. In fact, if you look at this list, it's very easy to see the French spelled as it sounds. Interestingly, to me, I see that there's a different phrase asking where the bathroom is, but I was able to ask with "Ou est la toilette?" and the lady at the orphanage understood me. :) I guess "toilet" is pretty universal, too, though. Also, I did hear our interpreters asking "Ca va?" so I did that, too, and the response was usually "Yes, well, thank you. And you?" So I'm assuming that means more, "You're doing well, yes?" than "How are you?"

Wednesday and Thursday, James and I did stay up to play games. Something about being very active during the day gives me more energy at night.

I got a slight sun... I hesitate to say "burn," so will just say "kiss" on Thursday, and it's a total farmer's thing, but the sun was not as bad as I had expected it to be. I only applied sunscreen in the morning, but it didn't ever feel like it was bearing down on me. I credit the hat, too, of course.

Only one full day left in Haiti. Thanks for traveling with me!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Haiti, Day Four: Guibert and the "Tent City Church"

6/11/13 - Tuesday
The third day of our Haiti trip, we traveled first to Guibert to officially tour the build site where we'd be working the next couple of days. We also saw a bunch of houses that had already been build through the 100 Homes Project.

Here's a video about the first home (the background music is a little loud, so you might have to really listen to understand the spoken audio):

Kenscoff Interview from Help One Now on Vimeo.

As we were walking past the soccer fields, not for the first time, I heard singing.

After we saw a few of the houses, we went over to see the new guest house near Pastor Jean Alix's church. While we were there, some of the little kids were apparently on recess. The kids ran out of the building, spotted us, and started yelling, "Blanc! Blanc!" These kids had apparently zero boundaries, as they darted toward us, jumped into our arms, pulled at our skin, opened our mouths and pushed their fingers in to separate our teeth, attempted to get up under or go down our shirts to see whether there was any part of us that wasn't white, tried to pick-pocket phones to play with, took hats, and shared with each other, "Blanc est gross!" The mole beside my belly button was of particular interest to them, despite my protests, and James was soon on the ground with children climbing all over him, pulling on his hair, and trying to dismantle his Camelback.

After the kids went back in, we visited with Richard Cadet, a local artist who also had a home built through the 100 Homes Project. If you look here, you can see at the time of this blog that he was in the process of adding on to the original structure (you'll also see a picture of him with his work). It's finished now, and is his studio.

From Haiti 2013
(If you click on that picture, go back a few frames to see some of his work and the interior of his studio.) You can purchase some of his work and read his story here. Richard Cadet has won Haitian art prizes and been featured in magazines. He teaches local kids how to paint, as well.

For lunch, we headed to the Tea Terrace at the Baptist Mission, which has been in Kenscoff for a long time and I know they do great work, but, bless them, it's hopelessly American and there were more white people there (many with new Haitian babies) than anywhere else except for the airport. One upshot of a distinctively USA place? They had Diet Coke! My sole diet soda of the week! While we waited for all of our orders to be correctly filled, James had kibby, something Dario could only describe as, "Sort of a meat thing. You should try it." It was actually pretty yummy. Also, the dining area is totally open to the mountains, and we had a gorgeous view of the rain storm that hit while we were in there.

We spent the afternoon and evening in Petionville, visiting with Pastor St. Cyr, who has ministered to the Haitians in the biggest tent city for the past three years. He has a church, in which he also lived, before the earthquake and was home when the earthquake hit. After the tremors ended, he attempted to take an injured person into town to the hospital, but the roads were just jammed with people in confusion. By the time he reached the main road, he had seven injured people with him, and then he ran out of gas. People had to push his truck back to his home, where he and his wife tried to tend to the injuries as best they could.

Three days later, fuel was finally available. He showed up at the gas station at 4:30 AM and by 3:30 PM was finally able to get fuel, which he used to power his generator and hold a worship service. He felt that the people needed this, and he held services nightly, continuously, for months. Many people have come to work with him (including famous people, there long enough for photo ops), and he has always welcomed any help, but with one caveat: Anyone who wanted to speak to his church had to agree never to tell the people to whom he ministers that the earthquake was God's judgement on them. He said that his people had suffered enough, and the message that they needed to hear was that God loved them and that God was with them in their struggles.

Pastor St. Cyr also hosts a school at the same site as the church/home that was damaged in the earthquake. The school is presently outside, but thanks to donations and Pastor St. Cyr's drive, he has just completed building a new, safe church building with a school downstairs, which will open in September. Additionally, there is a corner of the building reserved for a walk-in clinic; the pastor only needs volunteers and supplies. 

The pastor's son, Jean, just moved back to Haiti from the United States three months ago. He spent time in Haiti when he was 10-15, but then went back to go to school and to work. His father has asked him numerous times to return, but it has only been recently that he felt the call to take this request seriously. He does have fond memories of his childhood in Haiti, though at first he was a bit put off by the fact that they didn't have consistent electricity for his video games. He said that he learned to entertain himself, and recalls sitting around with friends telling riddles to pass the time. As we walked with him to see the rental where his family is currently staying (a safe place, as opposed to the damaged home), he pointed out a tall pink structure and said, "That used to be a parking lot. I learned how to fly a kite there. I never flew a kite in the States. I never needed to."

We were able to attend mid-week services at the Compassion of God Baptist Church. Afterward, James and I were standing outside on a porch when a couple of girls below on the street noticed my camera hanging on my arm. They had an old, taped-up, non-functioning film camera with which they mimicked taking my picture. After I posed for them, I asked if they wanted me to take their picture. They did. I walked down the stairs to show them the result, and they giggled. I went back upstairs, they got my attention again, and the older girl asked for another picture. This time, she brought on the full model action. When I went down to show her, she was even more tickled. She tried to get the little boy who was with them to pose, but he didn't understand what was going on. Then both of the girls posed for one more picture, and it was time to go. As we were leaving, I saw the older girl with her mom, explaining that I was the one who'd taken a picture of her. I feel like we're all friends now, and we didn't exchange much at all by way of language. 

From Haiti 2013

That night, we had a late dinner and skipped our evening meeting. The next day was to be a work day, and we needed our rest.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Haiti, Day Three: Kids, History, and Shacking Up

June 10, 2013, Tuesday: Yahve Shamma
Monday morning, we chatted quite a while with some men who had been visiting Pastor Jean Alix's home from North Carolina. They left for the states Tuesday morning, which meant that James and I got the green light to relocate to the single private bedroom at the back of the house. Well, it was private in that it had a door that closed, however... This *is* a family's home, and the first night we were in the room, about 5 minutes after we had gotten into bed, Markley knocked on the door, waited approximately 7 seconds, then opened the door and turned on the light. He needed a heavy blanket out of the wardrobe. Most fortunately for all of us, my post-pregnancy predicament rendered marital exploits verboten, so he didn't walk in on anything more than some drowsy conversation.

But that was Monday night, which means I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up, shall we?

Monday morning, we went back out to Yahve Shamma, the orphanage in Petionville that is run by Pastor Gaetan. The people who had been there last year were blown away by how much work has been done in the past twelve months.

This was the property three years ago:

Their school is now in the area in back where Pastor Gaetan pictured a soccer field. They are still under tarps, but their school building is almost complete. There are dorms for the kids, and the Alcegairs are back in their house. The church building has all walls up. The next project is a suite of bathrooms.

There is a photo essay of some of the work that was going on at this site here. I believe that the big picture in the middle is "my" Lina!

Pastor Gaetan told us a little bit of his story... He didn't go all the way back, though. Apparently, Pastor Gaetan was an orphan himself. He had come to the United States and, in Arizona, visited a church where there were a couple of Haitian members. This church was impressed with Gaetan and offered to contribute $500 a month for him to go back to Haiti and run this orphanage.

He returned to Haiti, and took in 14 kids, and waited... then received no further support from this church. When he contacted them (repeatedly), he was told, basically, "We have our own problems. We can't help you." Over time, at least six other church or para-church organizations visited Gaetan, promising to help, and then disappeared. He spent all day every day trying to track down water and two meals for the children that he had at the time.

Help One Now was able to follow through, thanks to the support of people like YOU, and as the resources have become available, Pastor Gaetan continues to dream bigger and bigger. He told people that he wanted to have a school for 200 kids. And this seemed impossible... but it happened. I can tell you, with some embarrassment, that the trigonometry and some of the other things on those blackboards made me feel ridiculously ignorant.

Now, once the school building is completed, he wants to use it at night to host classes for adults for things like welding and masonry. He wants to see his students have access to computers to learn basic skills, and he wants to be able to use his connections to help them secure jobs when they leave the orphanage.

And unlike the American foster system, once these kids turn 18... they're still family. Pastor Gaetan envisions their returning "home" as often as they like. He wants to continue to provide support for them for the rest of their lives.

Children in the orphanage (who often aren't technically "orphans," but might have lost one parent and/or have families who simply cannot feed or care for them) are sponsored 5 times at $40 per month, to help care for their lodging, food, and school. According to the website, it looks like all of them are fully sponsored! (Don't think that lets any of us off the hook; there is so much else going on in Haiti that requires funding... In fact, all of these kids have recently been rescued from trafficking and they need sponsors!)

Children in the school are sponsored 2 times at $40 per month, to pay for their school supplies and teachers' salaries. The children have a $25 annual school fee, but many families don't pay, and Gaetan isn't going after anyone for the fee.

While we were hanging out with the kids, it became obvious that many of the boys were very interested in James' tongue ring. They pointed it out to Pastor Gaetan, who asked him whether it hurt. The boys wanted James to take the ring out, but he can't. Pastor Gaetan also asked James if he were Jewish. Maybe it was the hair and the ringlets at his temple?

Promising these loving and seemingly well-adjusted children that we'd return on Friday, our team left so that the kids could have their lunch. That's another of Gaetan's goals: He wants to be able to provide lunch for all of the school kids as well as "his" residential children. Many of the school kids probably don't eat much at all at home.

As for us, we went to lunch at Hot N Fresh. It was mostly Americanish food with a Haitian twist. Spaghetti seems to be huge in Haiti. It is served in most restaurants and at all meals. It reminds me of when I was little, and we had company, and I asked my mom why, every time we had company, we served spaghetti. She said that it was because it was inexpensive to feed a crowd. I got plain spaghetti. James got some with meat sauce. Jacob treated us to ice cream for dessert, and I loved the mango!

Next, we went up to Fort Jacques for a tour. Dario had contacted an acquaintance to be a guide, but once we started getting off of the van, men started vying for our attention. In the end, we took another gentleman on, too, and between the two guides, we got a pretty good picture of this fort's history. One of the guides kept giving us quizzes, and James was the only one who could answer all of his questions!

This was filmed shortly after the earthquake:

I am very happy to say that the fort has been restored for the most part. The cannons are now down at a lower level, but the walls have been rebuilt. My pictures of that start here.

Basically, Fort Jacques and Fort Alexandre were set up to monitor activity coming into Port au Prince from the ocean. It was to protect from the French, but they never came back, anyway.

As we were leaving the site, there was an elderly man asking us to buy greeting cards made with banana leaves. I purchased one, but in hindsight wish I'd gotten one for every person who contributed toward our trip. They were lovely and much more affordable than mass-produced cards from CVS.

The gentleman vying to guide us, this card-seller, and even the young boy at the top of the fort who told me to take his picture, posed, then asked for a dollar for his troubles, all highlighted a difference to me between Haitian need and American need. Everyone who asked me for money in Haiti was asking for money IN EXCHANGE for something: either a souvenir, or a service, or artwork. There was no, "I'll take whatever you can spare." It was always, "I'll give you this in exchange for whatever you feel it's worth." Yes, some of it was pretty desperate and/or aggressive, but it was always a value-added transaction, never a charity. They want to work.

It also struck home as we were driving past the markets and even just through the streets: If someone has a plantain tree in their yard, they are bringing the fruit to town and trying to sell it. That can't happen here in the US, because to sell food, you have red tape, and I know some people are gung ho on public/food safety, but it really does prevent a lot of smaller-scale garden/farmers from entering the marketplace. (Austin with the food truck industry and tons of farmers' markets is a little friendlier.)

So, from Jean Alix's home, to Guibert, to every street we drove down, it would appear that the Haitian people are workers. Every day, the streets were packed with people selling... meat, vegetables, brooms, chairs, art, souvenirs, their services. Women walk with baskets full of groceries on their heads, wending in and out of the stalls, up hills, in heels, and they make it look easy. Men build, excavate, drive tap-taps, and ride motorcycles. They sell bracelets and paintings and carvings.

I love how someone can just walk up the sidewalk, sit down, start roasting some corn, and sell it. It give people the opportunity to succeed, if only on a small scale. Dang it. Now I want some roasted corn.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Haiti, Day Two: Church, Local Flavor, Sabbath

6/9/13, Sunday 6:30 AM
We were supposed to be up and ready to go at 6:15 but... well, the ladies were. :) There were some issues with some of our phones adjusting to the time zone, and our driver and interpreters had to wait patiently for us to get ready.

The church service we were attending in Petionville started at 6:00 AM and was over at 8:00 AM. Dario, our go-to interpreter and guide, assured us that arrival at 7:00 would be fine.

Our host home provided us with a "quick" breakfast on this early start day: Rebo coffee, many cereals, a variety of breads including a pull-apart cinnamon roll, and fresh bananas. Oh, man, I love local fruit.

Sleeping upstairs in the girls' bunk room wasn't bad. We slept with the windows open, and the sounds of nature were a nice departure from the urban sounds to which I am accustomed. It also helped that I'd had some pre-bed couch time with my honey, and we were both extremely exhausted by the time we called it a night and went our separate ways.

Church Service
There was a whole lot of singing going on by the time we arrived at the church service. Although most of it was in Creole, they did sing a few familiar songs, like "Hallelujah/The Lord God Almighty Reigns," and, I believe "Angry Words" at the close of the service.

Jacob spoke very briefly, which caught Pastor Gaetan Alcegaire off guard because he'd allotted Jacob half an hour and had just neglected to tell him. Pastor Gaetan finished up, then dismissed the service.

This church building in progress is located at the Yahve Shamma orphanage. During the service, a couple of the resident dogs walked in, hoping someone might drop food. It was obvious that the mentality toward wee puppies is different with Haitians than it is with Americans. We were smitten by the little guys; they were just an annoyance to everyone else.

There was a young girl, perhaps 12 - 14, ushering the entire service. When someone would walk in, she would disappear and come back with another chair. If one of our men gave his chair to a woman, the girl would again take off and return five minutes later with a replacement chair.

After church was dismissed, many congregants came to us to shake our hands and wish us blessings for the day. Once they'd greeted us, though, the children stayed. I looked over to see James holding hands with a young man named Marceylle. According to the website, he is nearly exactly one year younger than Daphne. Marceylle has beautiful wide eyes that seem to take everything in, and he had a more serious aspect than some of the other children.

Samantha and Manitha were the first to stick to me. Manitha is a very poised and charming teenager, who clearly adores Jacob and who is also apparently a quick friend-maker, as noted in this blog post (which I highly recommend that you read for a little background of Pastor Gaetan and the orphanage. My favorite quote: "Thanks be to God who moves mountains. And thanks be to God for men and women who pick up the stones, one after another, until the mountain moves."). I also met Lina, a girl about 3 months younger than Daphne, who is not technically an orpan, but whose family cannot afford to take care of her.

At first, it was tempting to feel awkward. There we were: holding hands with these kids, not speaking the same language, just... standing there. Holding hands. And then, once I got over that initial catch, I realized that it wasn't awkward at all. It wasn't any more awkward than sitting around holding hands with my daughter or my husband, and not having to talk, but still communicating.

Sabbath Afternoon
About a half hour later, Jacob had our interpreters tell the kids that we would return the next day, and we left to go get a farther-off perspective on the city of Port au Prince.

While we waited for access to the look-out, we met some local vendors who wanted very much for us to buy their works of art and jewelry. If we insisted that we weren't buying today, they would cajole, "It doesn't cost anything to look!" And when James mentioned that he'd forgotten his money (we did have that rushed start to the day) they suggested that he "ask your friend to loan it to you."

Looking over the city was my first real feel for how populous this area is. The density is a bit staggering. I never felt claustrophobic in the streets (though that might be different if I were having to drive!), but those houses represent a whole load of people.

After the overlook, we headed back to Jean Alix's home. We didn't have much planned for this day, because this was the Sabbath and our host takes the mandate to rest seriously. (Which is ironic, considering that I rarely saw him sitting down for more than as long as it took to consume a meal or to politely visit with us in the morning or evening for a bit.)

Our interpreters had mentioned that they were going to go into town for lunch. Jacob wanted to join them, so we were all invited to go. As it happened, the famous/infamous Sunday pumpkin soup had been prepared for breakfast after we left and saved for us to have for lunch. So we did eat that as an "appetizer." There is a recipe for it here, but I wouldn't use the Whole Foods version... scroll down to the second user, who explained how to make it in more detail. Ours definitely had potatoes in it, but I'm not certain about whether or not it had meat. James really liked it, and I'll try a vegetarian version of this very soon.

Following pre-lunch, we went into town to a small restaurant which we very nearly filled. No one ordered food; we just ordered drinks and then waited for our meals. We ended up getting a varied plate with a piece of chicken, some French fries, fried plantains, a potato salad made with beets (and consequently extremely dark pink!), and very delicious pickled cabbage. It was a lot of stuff, but the portion size wasn't gigantic, so we were able to put most of it away... until about fifteen minutes later when the server brought out plates piled with rice and peas! I hope they weren't offended when most of the rice went back to the kitchen. We were just SO full!

With a couple of hours before the afternoon church service at Jean Alix's congregation, we went ahead and drove out to Guibert. This is the village where we were to work on preparing construction materials for a house being built, and was my favorite place that we went. It is up in the hills, and there weren't any big estates with cinder-block walls to obscure the views. There was farmland impossibly situated on the side of slopes, and it was just extremely beautiful. (My pictures of that day start here.)

We saw a completed house that had been built by the 100 Homes Project, on which the group from last year got to work. There are some details about the project here:

(I LOVE THIS VIDEO! You'll see Richard Cadet, an artist we will "visit" later, and I see Lina! Also, Pastor Jean Alix is the dressed up "tour guide" for the house with the pink walls.) If you want to donate, visit Help One Now.)

We hung out near the church and rested, "visiting" with kids while we waited for services to start (taking pictures and letting them use our cameras). We also saw the progress of a guest house that is being built for future groups, so Jean Alix's family won't have to play continuous host, and they'll be closer to the community where they're working.

At church, the service was dedicated to children. They all marched in by age, dressed in red and white. The boys all had on red ties, white shirts, and black slacks. The girls were dressed more individually in red dresses with white jackets or red blouses with white skirts, white tights, and red shoes. Laurie, Jean Alix's daughter, was one of the emcees, and many of the kids presented.

Although the entire service was in Creole, again, there were elements of familiarity. We sang "Father, I Adore You" (Pere, Je T'aime) and then, after a reading from 1 John, sang "Beloved, let us love one another..." complete with the address tag of "1st John 4, 7 and 8." Except, you know, not in English.

I was taking notes during the service (it was more than two hours long, so please have mercy on me), and the boy in front of me noticed my quick scribbling. He pointed this out to two of his friends, who watched me write for some time. I was feeling a little guilty about that, so I was trying to finish up when this same boy noticed my ring finger tattoo. When he mentioned this to his friends, the woman sitting beside him made him get up and go to sit at the end of the row.

Sunday Night at "Home"
Returning to Jean Alix's, we had pasta, chicken drumsticks, eggplant, fried plantain, salad, potato salad, green beans, and some kind of meat-wrapped vegetables. At this point, I was becoming decidedly not hungry!

Once again, our evening living room wrap-up let out at about 9:00 PM and most people went in to play a game. James and I were both exhausted. I invited him up to the girls' dorm with me, and we crashed out on my bunk. It was nice to spend an hour or so with him, even though we were both completely wiped. A bit after 10, Jacob came upstairs to announce that the girls were coming up to bed, so he had to break up the "party." It was literally a slumber party, and was not too difficult for me to resume the festivities once James headed downstairs for the night.