Friday, October 10, 2014

Thoughts on our first year of marriage in the third world

I was riding with a friend on the back of her motorcycle to grab some plants a few weeks ago, and we got to talking about what I had learned during my first year of marriage. Our dating, engagement, and married life have all been pretty unusual- and I think that's an understatement. Our time together has almost exclusively been in Haiti, which makes things, well, a bit out of the ordinary.

So here are some thoughts on our first year of marriage in the third world:

1. Be very cautious at giving and receiving advice regarding marriage. You do not have a full view of someone else's marriage, and no one has a full view of yours. Advice can be a very dangerous thing, so seek it cautiously and ask advice of people who know both parties in your marriage. I believe that if we spent more time listening to our spouses and less time rallying people to "our side" our marriages would have stronger foundations.

2. Be together. I know that sounds simple, but it can easily be overlooked. My love language is definitely quality time, so I may also be a bit biased. I can look back at the amount of time Chris & I have been able to have our first year and see how vital it was to our marriage. And I am not just talking about the ooey gooey romantic stuff- though that is nice too. Spend time together in, what Patrick McManus would call, A Fine and Pleasant Misery. These things include but are not limited to: trying to sleep in blazing heat and sweat (do not touch me and I will not touch you), fighting off mosquitoes, cleaning up dog vomit &/or puke, paying a power bill (not a simple task in Haiti), hauling drinking water up and down the stairs, washing clothes by hand, etc. Be together. Listen when your tendency is to talk, and talk when your tendency is to listen. Choose to be together when it is uncomfortable, frustrating, and difficult. We have learned to better communicate (yep, we will always be working on this one) simply because we have waded through hard things. Also, by being together you get to learn about your spouse. Not a stereotype of a man who, honestly, may or may not be your husband, from a book. You get to learn more and more about who he is. If we spent more time with our spouses and less time reading about who society tells us they should be, I believe our marriages would not only be stronger but have greater depth.

3. Do not underestimate the power of continuing friendships with your single friends. Sometimes I feel like we are told to forsake any individuality and cling to your marriages. But I have some dear friends who are not married who are the most encouraging, fun, and easy to talk to people. They are not depressed, bitter, or angry. I feel as though we can underestimate the influence single people can have in marriages, and vice versa. By embracing each other as who we are, single or married, we challenge and enjoy each other. We bring the Kingdom to Earth and we challenge the world to change.

I believe by continuing to figure out who we are as individuals as well as couples, we build stronger people and stronger marriages. Embrace frustrating things because they teach you to forgive, communicate, and sometimes just laugh at yourselves. 
First anniversary celebration in Labadee.
Yes, in my one year of marriage, I have essentially learned three things. Who knows what the rest of the years will bring?
"If you never did, you should
These things are fun and fun is good."
-One Fish, Two Fish, Dr. Seuss-

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cap Haitien here we come!

Happy Fall! You want to know the funny thing about fall in the Caribbean? It looks pretty dang similar to winter, spring, and just a bit cooler than summer. So we sit, sweat, and dream of Pumpkin Lattes, candy corn, and falling leaves. On a happier note, it has started raining in Gonaives! Since I moved here in 2012, we have had very little precipitation. It bring me such joy to watch clouds roll in and cool the earth off about 2 or 3 times a week!
With the changing of seasons tends to come other change. I am happy to announce that Chris & I will be moving to Cap Haitien! This is a city about 3 hours north of Gonaives where I will be starting a job as Programme Manager for a UK-based organization called Haiti Hospital Appeal (check out the link!). We are insanely excited for a new chapter in our lives in Haiti- as well as sad to be leaving friends and neighbors in Gonaives. 

This city we are leaving will always be close to our hearts. It is where we first lived in a third world country. It is where we fell in love, where we spent our first year of marriage. Where I first experienced being exposed to tear gas. Where Chris became a University professor. It also contains some of my favorite people. 

Gonaives is a place that is considered, even for Haiti, to be an undesirable place to live. When we travel & tell people that is where we live, their response is typically, "Why?" But it has the best bakery in Haiti. Better power than Port au Prince. And is home to some of the most rambunctious, resilient, and amazing people.

Transition can be hard. As we gear up to move next month, my calming reminder comes from the Jesus Storybook Bible.
"All day they listened to stories about the wonderful things God has done for his people. How he made the world. How he gave a promise to Abraham. How he rescued them from slavery. How he spoke to Moses and showed them how to live. How he brought them to a special land. How he rescued them- no matter what, time after time, over and over again- because of his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love."

So we are remembering the stories of what wonderful things God has done for us during our time in Gonaives. We remember that He is a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever God.
Photo Credit- Becca Brooks
"Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them- that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.
-Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery-

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Real Simple


I love when people ask me questions like "what made you decide to move to Haiti?" I could give you a long answer. But the real one is simple. Ifoceur.

When I first visited Haiti, I worked closely with this sick kid named Ifoceur. He's a kid that has a smile that makes you melt, gives the world's best hugs, and is a leader (for the good and the bad sometimes). Long story short, he ended up testing positive and going through TB (tuberculosis) treatment here in Gonaives. Fast forward to this year.

In April, Ifoceur started being "sickly" again- fevers, cough, ect. It made me nervous- so nervous that we sent him to the joint Cuban/Haitian run hospital in town. He came back with a prescription for some antibiotics. They didn't help.

About 2 weeks later, he started having bloody noses. Like crazy long-lasting bloody noses. And he clearly had lost weight. So off we sent him for another TB thinking surely, it can't be.

They started him on meds after only one sputum test.

We withdrew him from school and started daily visits, but very quickly I realized, he is on the same medication as before. What are the chances he doesn't have a resistant form of TB?

After a few emails with people smarter than me, I knew we had to try something. While Gonaives is the third largest city in Haiti, we lack things like good laboratories, doctors working in infectious diseases, and consistency. 

A little back story- this sweet family had 3 children. When I first moved to Gonaives in January, 2012, Ifoceur had started TB treatment. About a year later they lost their youngest to TB meningitis. After he passed, both parents were treated. The loss of Lifetson, their youngest, continues to feel like a failure for me. Like we lost. It is grief that his parents, specifically his Dad, continue to bear. As I began this journey (again) with Ifoceur, I had this drive- we lost once, we weren't going to lose again.

The only place I knew of that did MDR-TB treatment in Haiti was with Partner in Health- Cange. This is about 5 hours from Gonaives and very difficult to get to. But after a few phone calls and emails, we heard about a place in Port called Gheskio.

We talk a lot here about how Haiti is moving from third to second world medicine. And I got my first view of what that looks like. This place was orderly, clean, and easy to navigate. I met with a female pediatrician with Ifoceur who, after a little back story, did exactly what we had hoped to get done. A sputum test with sensitivity. She was fantastic!

On the visit to get his results, she told us that, while he did have a form of resistant TB it, as she put it, "wasn't too bad." 

This strong, handsome boy and I walked to get a chest xray before returning to talk with her. As we sat and waited, we played a game and he talked about how much he misses going to school. He laughed, skipped and joked with me. When we returned to her office, she showed me a chest xray that blew my mind. It looked like he had maybe 1/4 of function in his right lung, 1/2 in his right. How he laughs, plays, and just lives everyday with that much infection blows my mind. The pediatrician assured me that after he began him new medications & shots (ouch!) his chest xray would improve drastically. 

Sometimes I feel as though things here are so symptomatic that they are confusing- the dramatic lady with acid reflux, the young man who turned his ankle, ect. But every once in awhile I get the opportunity to have a patient with insane, God-sized amounts of strength. Ifoceur is one of those people.

We are one month into treatment and going strong. And the bonus for me these days is that I get time with Ifoceur every single day.

"If God really does exist, then that must have implications for the whole of life."
Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth
Chris & I are headed Stateside for a few weeks in July. We are trying to re-stock some much needed items for Klinik Jubilee. If you are interested in contributing, please check out our Amazon Wish list. Our list is simple, but these things go a long way!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Never be put to confusion

We have anywhere between 150-250 patients who come through our Klinik door every week. That is a lot of different faces, illnesses, cuts, and difficulties. The shocking part is that there are patients that I see every week and I still have a difficult time remembering their names. Others I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Certain patients stick with you.

I have been taking care of a special family since I first came to Haiti. I have seen every single member of their family for one reason or another. Serious illnesses, cuts and bruises, pregnancies, etc. Our story has involved lots of joy. The joy is sweet when it comes because we also understand great sorrow. We walked together after they lost a child. Still, to this day, the sweet Dad cries when he talks of losing his youngest.

The end of this week and this coming weekend are some big days for this family and for our Klinik in general. Our nurse will be going to Port au Prince to follow-up with a patient who we sent for cancer treatment. Keziah, my fellow ninja nurse, is taking two patients for surgeries. One for a cleft lip/palate repair, another for plastic surgery to repair damage from a burn. I will be taking this sweet family to a different part of Haiti in hopes of getting some more extensive medical care than what is offered in Gonaives. This is always a gamble, but pray with us for guidance, wisdom, and health.

The name of the Momma in this family is Dieu la. Literally meaning "God is here." Her name was written on a boat out by the ocean. As we passed it today, I was reminded that God is here. Right here.

"In You, O Lord, have I put my trust. Let me never be put to confusion."
Psalm 71:1

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Give us courage

As we walk through Holy Week and prepare for Easter, I am reading from Common Prayer.
I love the mix of liturgy, songs, and scripture. 

"Save us, Lord, but not us alone: redeem your whole creation."

Some days as I am in Jubilee, my eyes so easily see beautiful things. A little boy learning to walk for the very first time using a walker, every step such a triumph. Our dear nurse, calling to give me updates on a sick cancer patient, telling me she prays for her every night. A musical medley coming from Klinik Jubilee, a room filled with malnourished and developmentally delayed kids playing instruments together.

"Save us, Lord, but not us alone: redeem your whole creation."

Then other days there are haunting faces you cannot forget. A girl in her early twenties diagnosed with cancer. A perfectly healthy baby boy abandoned by her Mom. A pregnant friend who was slapped around by an ex-boyfriend. A little boy with a burned arm.

"Save us, Lord, but not us alone: redeem your whole creation."

So as we enjoy a cooling rain here in Gonaives, I sit in bed and remember that He has redeemed.

"Give us courage to live in a world we cannot fix with hope that is has already been redeemed."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

#thirdworldproblems

I don't Twitter. I don't Instagram. I don't Snapchat. 
I do old-fashioned things like Facebook, Skype, text, and email. And, of course, blog.
I have noticed the #hashtag phenomenon and, to be honest, it just cracks me up.
Hipsters making normal life sound cool.
But truth be told, my posts would be misplaced and more than a little weird.
So here is short a list of my possible #thirdworld posts.

Power has been out for 20 hours and we just ran out of candles. #thirdworldproblems
Giving blood 3 months after having malaria is a bad idea. #thirdworldanemia
Nothing starts my morning like finding worms in a leg wound. #thirdworldsicknesses
Went to take a shower and found no water. #thirdworldbodyodor
Extra load of laundry today after getting peed on while doing therapy with some kids. #thirdworldnurse
Spent an hour watching kids try and catch a crab in a canal. #thirdworldentertainment
Trees growing on the salt flats! #thirdworldjubilee

Continue to post away, #firstworlders, just avoid showing me pictures of your food. It is nothing less than torture to see photos of your pizza, salads, and ICE CREAM.

Green is coming to Jubilee!
Gardening lessons with Anne.
Giving some blood to stock the hospital up for Karnival.
"From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.!"
-Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Friday, February 14, 2014

Richer, fuller


“None are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things.”
-A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken

Some weeks are better than others. This tends to just be a natural fact of life. And this one has been a rough one. Power that blinks on & off, rarely strong enough to power appliances. Learning that an infant we have been seeing weekly was killed by her own mother. Very little sleep. Constant construction and chaos as the city prepares for Kanaval (Haitian version of Mardi Gras). A week where it feels as though ever person who walks into Klinik Jubilee is HIV positive, even a 16 year old who is 7 months pregnant. This week it seems as if the problems of every person walking on the street gets somehow transferred to being very personal. And that makes walking outside the door (ok, let’s be honest, it’s just a gate) a little intimidating.

While weeks like this are emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining, I find myself repenting. My biggest struggle tends to be to meet every person at a time. See each person as an individual. There tends to be a lot of asking in Gonaives: maybe because the country itself has an excess of NGOs or maybe it’s because there are not a lot of people walking the streets whose skin color is different. So my struggle of the day tends to be to attempt to listen to each person and hear each story, regardless of my ability to help.

“Give me one dollar.”
“You’re stingy.”
“What can you do for me?”
…all phrases that I hear frequently on my 8 block walk into Jubilee.

And, come on, I tend to do a great job. For the first 12 people. But heaven forbid you are that unfortunate 13th person to ask me for something.  My patience has worn thin, I haven’t eaten lunch, my phone is ringing, or I am already in the midst of a stressful situation- I have such a myriad of excuses.

In the book of Matthew, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 comes to mind. Remember it from the bread and fishes story during Sunday School? But it is not the miracle of Him producing enough food that I have been remembering. Before that miracle, Jesus was attempting to go into seclusion, to spend some time alone. But the crowds followed Him. And, get this, He had compassion on them.

There it is. Compassion. I read this story on Monday (if I didn’t believe Jesus was God on earth, this alone would have turned me) and have begun making it almost my mantra during that 8 block walk into Jubilee. Calm down, deep breaths, asking for compassion that I have the inability to produce on my own. Simple yet powerful. And I trust He is there encountering each person with me. Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes waiting for me to ask forgiveness for my impatience. He has compassion on me as well.

"Oh love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee
I give Thee back the life I owe
That in Thine ocean depths it flows
May richer, fuller be"




“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
G.K. Chesterton