Friday, September 24, 2010

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

What are little boys made of? Well, I'm learning.

On Monday we taste tested sardines and oysters, where Noah and Caleb practically licked the metal trays clean.
On Tuesday they non-chalantly disposed of the tarantula in our classroom. Twice. Upon Caleb's discovery, Noah simply chugged his cup of water and used it as a trap. Considering the production it took Leeann, Teagan and I last spring, I was in utter shock and relief. They are the ones I will be calling the next time I need a disposal squad for the unwelcome critters I have in my apartment.
After Wednesday's recess break, I rang the bell around the corner of our schoolhouse towards the field where the boys were hiking with tree root walking sticks. In the rain.
Yesterday they made one-wheel racing contraptions from a pencil wrapped up in a spool.
A few times a week, they knock on my door with oversized beetles or snakes in tow... Their suggestions for new science projects.
The poetry that we've written so far as a part of our writing unit revolves around the outdoors. Sharks, mice, frogs, climbing trees, and torrential downpours to name a few.
It never fails, at least once throughout the morning their eyes grow wide as large winged insects fly around the walls of our classroom or a lizard scampers between their desks. Through their gaze I can see that it's all they can do to stay in their seats and not attempt to capture it.

If this is how the first week is going to go, it's sure to be an eventful year!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A beautiful mesh.

The clear rippling water transforms into a deep navy blanket as the sun sets on the horizon. The surface glitters a reflection of a million bright crystals. The waves reach the pebbled shore with a soothing melody.
In my mind I can smell the campfire frying fresh pickerel. I can hear the chatter and laughter of friends and family around the circle of picnic chairs. I can see the line of cars parked along the side of Mohawk Pt. Road.
This waterfront view I am witnessing is the same one I saw summer after summer growing up at my family's cottage, and yet as I look at the surroundings I am in today, it's so very different. To my left there is a field of plantain trees. Just beyond the trees I can hear a man showering under a hose singing a song in Creole (loudly - gotta love it). To my right there is a cement breakwall, which the gardener uses as a support beam for shelter with his tent. On the sides of the horizon, mountainous landforms are faintly visible over the saltwater mist.
Looking back at the sunset over the water, if I let myself, I am sitting around that campfire in the Northern town where I grew up, but in the same moment I am breathing in a reality of life on a Caribbean island.

It's amazing how my memories of life in Canada have overlapped to where I am today in Haiti. The sights and sounds engrained in my mind from childhood and teenage years often show up in the most surprising places in Haiti. Today I need to share how the Lord has surprised me in my day to day life, and the beautiful way my Canadian upbringing meshes into my life in Haiti today. Here's how:

A song.
Saviour, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.
I had to catch myself for a minute this morning in church... Listening to the crowds of Haitian people, arms outstretched high, singing to the same melody I heard years ago, except in a different language.
I remember the first time I heard that song. Riding down the highway in the back of my friend's Grand Am GT. I remember the weeks following that first listen - reading the lyrics on the song sheet before Tuesday Night Live worship practice, and trying to move my fingers properly on the guitar strings to play it in my bedroom. Today, I was standing with a totally different kind of congregation and sing that same song again. What a wonderful sound it was.

A bright yellow Roxy polo.
I chose it as my one new shirt for starting grade 10 - mostly because of the blue embroidered symbol next to the buttons. 'Roxy' was known at my high school as one of the popular clothing brands, and my parents agreed to buy it for me as my back to school shirt. It was by far my favourite item of clothing for many months. But of course, we know that time passes and styles change, and it slowly but surely it made it's way farther and father back in the closet. In my trips to Haiti, my mom has found her way far back in the shelves of my wardrobe and sent bags of Broc and I's clothes for me to give away. The Roxy shirt was one of them. I found it in one of the bags and smiled to myself. This shirt deserved to go to someone special.
Now I see it at church being worn by Senson, the 8-year old boy who lives with his family in the mountains. He knows nothing about the over-priced tag that once hung from the hanger nor about the significance of that shirt in the hallways of my high school, but he wears it proudly just the same. The shirt may have been designed for girls, and it may be faded from dust and sunlight, but I think it looks better on him than it ever did on me.

A velvet couch.
I have mentioned this couch in previous posts. This is because it's earned a good reputation. It was purchased my my newlywed parents over 25 years ago. It's the couch that I would sprawl out on during the sick days of my school years while watching 'The Price is Right'. It's the couch that Broc and I would argue on about crossing the invisible line we created which allowed us to have our own space. It's the couch I would sit on while waiting for the school bus to come in the morning. It's the couch that my family members congregated on to watch the Survivor finale. It's the couch that my friends and I would whisper and giggle on into the early hours of the morning.
3 years ago, my parents helped me truck it to the van der Marks garage where it was then loaded onto a container and shipped to the landing port in Haiti. It was the first piece of furniture to enter my empty apartment. Now, it's the centerpiece to my living room. Indeed, the crushed red velvet cushions may not be ideal for a Caribbean island... The thick material and colour tends to absorb more heat than anything, however it still manages to attract a large amount of people who come to rest their feet. It's been the landing mark for many after a hot day, and the viewing platform for a variety of great movies and shows after dark. The velvet couch holds more memories than I can recount, and it's still going strong.

I could go on.
I think if I was more deliberate about it, I could write about another reminiscent I find at least once a week. I guess it goes to show that no matter where I am, a part of where I've been will always stay with me. These familiar pieces in the back of my mind pop up time and time again and I pause in wonder at how my life has unraveled and how the same strands stay woven into who I am. It makes me think about how these memories will continue to appear in the years to come. How someday I may be in a different place, and the memories of glass Cocacola bottles or rain pouring on a tin roof will time-travel me back Haiti in my mind.
Most of all, these moments cause me to look back on the road I've journeyed. I stand in awe at the sequence of events that took me from small-town Wainfleet to a dot on the island of Haiti. It gives me hope to believe that whatever twists and turns await as I travel this path, the Lord is guiding me step by step. It's His provision that supplies me with faith to press on, and it's His faithfulness which remains when all else fails. It's His goodness that allows me to be reminded of the ways He has walked with me in the past, and it's His love that spurs me on to all this is to come, wherever I may go.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Class size cut and paste.

Any teacher who loses half of their class within 3 days would normally take it as an insult to their teaching. It is a pretty bad sign to have such a significant drop out rate in such a small span of time.
This week I went from a class of 4 to a class of 2, but I'm not embarrassed in the least... I actually couldn't be happier about it.
And this is why:

As many of you have been tracking, my two youngest students, Ana and Mina, have been awaiting their Canadian passports over the past year and looking forward to going to Canada to reunite with their family.
It feels like it has been a never-ending process and extremely painstaking journey for the vanderMark family. Haitian government offices do just about everything under the sun to prolong the paperwork from being finalized, and every time we have thought the girls were home free, another roadblock came out of nowhere. At last, on Tuesday evening Ana entered my apartment and with a bright wide smile announced that her and Mina were going to Canada. The passports and visas had been granted, and much to our delight, Laurens boarded a plane with Ana and Mina on Wednesday afternoon landing in Canada that night. What a reunion it must have been... I get choked up just thinking about it. All glory be to God for His faithfulness and joining this family together for good!

So now it's just me and my boys. Noah and Caleb Mazur are here with their parents John and Mary - John is heading up the 500 homes project for families who have lost shelters through the devastation of the 2008 hurricanes and last winter's earthquake. I am excited to get to know them more personally over the next month and a half before the vanderMarks return as a family and my class size triples. Ana and Mina will return to school bringing their 2 older brothers, Grayden and Bridgely who I have taught since moving to Haiti. It's going to be a great year!
In the meantime though, I do have some extra time on my hands. As I presented in my report this past summer, I am excited about some of the new ministries that are beginning, and getting involved as I can. After my morning school sessions, I am plugging into a few different areas which will carry me through until the vanderMarks return at the end of October, and we'll see where that takes me.

First off, I am loving visiting the families in the mountains who I have gotten to know better since meeting them last winter. I have gotten creative and hitched rides with staff members to and from the mission here and there, and continue to make the independent trek when all else fails. I blogged a bit before about how I do some little school sessions with them and it's awesome to see how they catch on and even the parents participate. Please keep these families in your prayers in the coming weeks that they will have the chance to enroll at the School of Hope. There are so many children needing education after many school facilities toward Port-au-Prince are no longer functioning after the earthquake. This creates a huge influx of incoming students making it more difficult for the mountain kids to be accepted. Pray that they will have a chance to learn in the classrooms this year, even if it's through the afternoon school sessions that the Mission will be starting this fall. I will keep you posted!
The second thing that I am getting more and more excited about is the awesome business that is starting for amputee ladies who have received new legs from the prosthetics lab. Diana Cherry (the 'other' Diana at the mission), who works as the prosthetics coordinator at the mission has initiated a program for women to create fabric accessories to be sold to teams that come to Mission of Hope. The money that comes from selling the created products goes towards a consistent income for the women, as well as future investments in helping local families and earthquake victims get proper education and housing. It is a fantastic ministry, and the women are so excited to begin.
Yesterday I met with the Diana and a few of our interns, as well as the women, and we discussed their official employment with the Mission of Hope. It's such a thrill for me to be a part of this new development and join the women in their work on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Not only will we be making the cutest hair wraps and accessories, but I will have a chance to build relationships with the women and further my Creole vocabulary. What could be better!?

So there's a glimpse into my weekly schedule... Somewhere in the mix I also get the chance to hang out with a beautiful group of people on the staff side of the guesthouse. We have prided ourselves in mastering the art of making Haitian fruit juice, and spend our evenings in great conversation with some of the best background music on the planet.
The simple joys of serving and sharing as a community definitely outweigh any leaky ceiling, pesky mosquito bites, or sweltering hot living rooms.

Life is always better together. Thank you for sharing in the journey.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On your mark...

Sweep classroom - check.
Sharpen pencils - check.
Wash chalkboards - check.
Plan first week activity schedule - check.
Sort textbooks - check.
Break down subject units - check.
Read novels for literacy study - check.
Hang posters - check.
Arrange desks and bookshelves - check.
Prepare memorization verses and devotions - check.
Organize classroom supplies - check.
Record class agreement - check.
Label journals and scrapbooks - check.
Hide scavenger hunt items - check.
Beach trip - check. (okay, so it's not really a 'mandatory' part of school prep, but I like to think of it as a 'professional development' tactic - clear the sweat out of my pores!)

All systems are go.
On your mark, get set... ring the school bell!

As we sang in church this morning...
Nou bay ou tout lwanj ak glwa, nou adore Senye, Ou merite tout louanj!
Translation - We give you all the glory, We worship you oh Lord, You are worthy to be praised!
I know that all that will be accomplished in the lives of my students and I this year is only because of the strength and grace of God. May He multiply our knowledge into love for Him, and may we give Him all the glory.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The little things.

Metal slats.
I never knew how significant they could be until yesterday morning.
Long story short, I've been sleeping on a box spring and mattress on the lower bunk since my arrival to Haiti a few weeks ago. Despite the funny appearance, it was working out fine for me, until Pierre graced us with his presence and my mattress became the centerpiece of our living room.
SIDENOTE: Pierre is doing really well! He has moved down to the Hope House and will continue to stay there in the days to come as more options for a permanent place are searched out. We are so thankful that his health is improving, but we're also sad is because he is no longer our houseguest and we MISS him! See why?

So shortly after the mommies came to retrieve him, I makeovered the apartment back to normal which included returning the mattress to our bunk bed. I decided that it was a good opportunity to remove the box spring since the mattress was off anyways, and so I proceeded to reef it off as best I could. This is when I discovered the harsh truth about our bunk: The lower bed frame only consisted of 2 metal slats. The side beams indicated places for about 8 slats spaced a few inches apart to fully support the mattress. At first, I didn't think it would be a big deal, but upon laying the mattress back on without the box spring support, the bed sagged in the center immediately on contact. Not good.
With no idea where to find the other metal slats, I searched out an alternative support system which involved using a side plank of our not-yet-assembled bookshelf to lie perpendicular to the 2 slats (improvisation to it's extreme). This is how I slept on Tuesday night. At first, it didn't seem to be much of an issue, especially compared to the 2 slats alone. The plank prevented the center part of the mattress to fold, however by the early hours of the morning, my body was getting tired of aligning myself with the center bookshelf beam as to not be gravity-pulled one way or the other.
Needless to say, I woke up the next morning knowing that I needed a better solution, and wishing Cheryl was here to give me an adjustment. By evening Sarah and I started on a hunt for the missing pieces to our bed. We began putting the word out and then made our way to the pink house where a lot of furniture is currently being stored, hopeful that the missing pieces to our bed would be there. We were in luck! When we flicked on the light, there were piles of mattresses and couches everywhere, but there in the center of it all lay... the missing slats. Cue heavenly music here.
So with lots of laughs (just picture 2 overtired girls in a hot apartment trying to move heavy equipment), we completed the task of assembling our bed. The missing pieces had made their way back, and I slept like a baby last night!
Sometimes in Haiti it's all about the little things.

And speaking of the little things, today I took a mountain walk. It was like any other mountain walk, except this time I did it without accompaniment. My fellow mountain walker, Sadrac, is now in the Dominican Republic attending university and living with his sister who is also studying there to become a doctor. It took me a while to bite the bullet and make the trek alone. It just feels so bizarre, and yet I knew most of my hesitation and worries were silly compared to the joy that comes from visiting my dear friends. This morning I tumbled through the farm fields in my flimsy sandals (next time I'll be sure to wear runners), and as I came into view of the tents ahead, the children ran to greet me. They take the cake for the best greeting committee ever.
I spent my visit going through a few of the basics of counting and alphabet letters with the children. This small amount of learning time that we did is a little thing too, but I believe that piece by piece a foundation will be built and that the Lord would enable and equip these children to achieve great things in their lives. Great things that can only be accredited to His love and grace.

Little things.
Whether we recognize them or not, I think they have the potential to affect us for better or for worse. I remember many years ago reading a book about how to not sweat the 'small stuff'. I easily let speed bumps affect my attitude and outlook. Often one set back can define my day and ruin my joy. Just as the little pick ups brighten the dark spots, seemingly insignificant hiccups can throw me for a loop and my perspective is lost with the wind.
It's my prayer through the reminder of promises in His word and witnesses of His grace in those that I get to do life with, that I would be more fixed on the little pieces of joy that the Lord places in my life each day. That His presence would train me to be constant in the ups and downs of life. That His love that pours out in the most unexpected places will renew my hope. May we have the eyes to see the Light beyond the clouds and be a vessel to shine it onto others.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Slumber party.

It's happened before.
Babies left at the foot of our doorsteps and our hearts. Innocent lives that have been abandoned and left helplessly in the balance.
We've witnessed the miracles in Hannah, Jeremiah, Job, Smider, Angeline and now... Pierre.
Yesterday afternoon I got a call from Sarah, you may remember me referring to her as 'Cheri' in past posts. Sarah works at the clinic coordinating weekly medical teams and everything else in between. She is so wonderful and you need to check out her blog here.
Sarah informed me about a little boy about 2 years old who had been abandoned by his mother at the clinic. He was seen for a case of muscular dysfunction that day, and was found by the benches in the clinic waiting area afterwards without a parent.
Thus began a small team of medics from our mission searching out Port-au-Prince hospitals for available room or treatment for the little guy. Nothing was currently available for Pierre, so he was taken to the Mayor's office in Cabaret for a decision to be made about what to do. Mr. Marc was contacted by our staff and our hopes were fulfilled by 10pm when Sarah and Lindsay returned with the baby in their arms.
Within minutes, the girls and I transformed the Friday Night Lights theatre into a baby haven. Out with the coffee table and in with the double mattress. Out with the decorative pillows and in with the bed sheets and diapers. Out with the school books and laundry piles stacked on the kitchen table and in with the Pedialyte and bottles.
Pierre slept between Sarah and I peacefully under our softest towel last night. He awoke twice, once for a bottle and once for a diaper change. Sarah and I did our best to keep him snuggled. It was quite a memorable slumber party. This morning, we fed him mashed banana and applesauce and managed to get a few toothy smiles out of him. We don't know what will transpire in the days to come, but we do believe that the Lord has a plan for this little life.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18

Thank you for your prayers for baby Pierre, for the family that is undoubtedly broken, and for us who get to sleep by his side and wait for what happens next.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hold hands as you cross the... waterfall?

You may remember me mentioning in my last post about still waiting for my chance to experience the Sodo waterfall... Check!
Yesterday afternoon, I tagged along with the film crew on their afternoon adventure and it was fantastic! We tread our way up through Oranje and Turpin to the landmark high above the mission. Xavier (our Haitian driver) steered us up gravel turnpikes and through rivers as we climbed and took in the beauty of the lush mountain land. There's something about the higher you go in Haiti, the more you realize the beauty of the nation. Seeing the farm fields on the sides of the mountains, vibrant blossoming trees, the shimmering sea far below, and people going to and from their villages with wide grins and waves as you zoom past. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in life behind the mission gates, but yesterday's trek was an instant cure.
Upon our arrival in Sodo, we took sidewalk stairs down to where the rapids flowed and cool water droplets kissed our skin. I can't even express the refreshment after sweating many layers in the classroom all morning. I was so eager to get into the water, but I was warned that the rocks were slippery and to proceed cautiously in my rubber flip flops.
Before I knew it, 3 Haitians were at my side. 2 older men held my arms and a little boy stood in front of me showing me which rocks were safe or unsafe to step on. Now me being slightly uncoordinated (okay, really uncoordinated), I tried to be appreciative and accepting of their kindness, but a lingering thought began to enter my mind. The more we climbed, I became less worried that I would slip without someone to catch me versus taking down the whole crew of helpers (this would not be unusual knowing my history).
Here's why: When I would put out my hands to balance they would grab my arms and urge me in the forward direction which only lessened my thread of stability. The difficulty increased as we ascended toward the waterfall and the water surging around our feet grew more powerful, not to mention the thick mist spraying into my eyes and making it nearly impossible to see. Still my trusty friends stayed by my side.
As the rocks grew few and father between and the water current intensified, the risk of me pulling down my friends grew ever greater and I decided the best option would be for me to get down on all fours - which is what I did. In broken Creole I thanked them for their assistance and pressed on alone. Luckily, they let me go. I think they were just as aware of our risk of tumbling and being taken downstream as I was, although they did a good job of not letting on.
I pressed on after my more competent friends who were already in the heart of the surge and sat in the whirlpool of water blowing and spraying and pouring down everywhere. It was deafening and stinging and exhilarating. Here's a shot of one of the waterfalls. Isn't it glorious?

I didn't want to leave... until I started shivering (much to unpopular belief - yes, shivering CAN happen in Haiti).
After sufficient filming and picture snapping, we returned to the truck waterlogged and chilled to the bone. I actually had to ask Xavier to turn down the AC on our drive back to the mission.
It was a great time... One that I will continue to reminisce about in the days ahead when cloud cover is non-existent and the cement walls of my house begin to radiate heat on the inside.
In the meantime, it's back to the books... Science texts and curriculum documents along with the new lineup of novel study chapters are calling my name. Today I swept up 2 months worth of dust, dead insects and droppings of lizards, mice and I'd rather not know what else from the classroom floor. So far there have been no snake sightings, although I did have to whisk out a small tarantula with my broom. My students come to visit me from time to time. I dare say that I sense a hint of anticipation for school to start?
Stay tuned for more adventures to come!