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Breathe In... Hold

“I’m praying for two months” says Geri, and we all think: but bracing for longer. Halfway into my third week post-language school, I find myself reflecting on the past couple weeks.

My “Old” Routine

The first two weeks were exciting and exhausting as I was exploring GwoMòn, my new home with a name meaning "Big Mountain". Tailing my new housemates to their various worksites I wondered, what in the world can I do here? Abby is the same age as me and she dips her fingers into a lot of metaphorical pies. Working closely with one school, she does classroom observations to determine how she can help teachers and students with efficiency in the classroom and outside of it, inspires new ways of creativity and fostering pride in students and their culture, started working on a sports program for the kids, and working in the office of MBB—a scholarship program which provides tutoring, computer access, library access, and other things—with data collection and other various tasks. She also visits a home for the elderly at least once a week and talks and plays games with the residents. Abby is a joy to get to know and I really look forward to watching how her passion affects the people around her.

With Abby, I was able to visit the home for the elderly briefly, the school, and the MBB office. On my first visits, I felt decidedly useless. Kind of like a lost child really, or rather me specifically as a child and lost (probably not all lost children are like me), nervous to talk to people and following the only person I was familiar with but also knowing I needed to talk with people so that I could use Kreyòl… you know, that language I’ve been learning for two months? Yeah, you gotta use it to get better at it and keep it in your language repertoire. Shocker.

So instead of feeling useless all the time, I helped Abby with little things like taping together laminated paper with squares to make pre-made graphing paper. Then the teachers don’t need to painstakingly make new graphs on the board each time. With my background in computer sciences, I also helped a Quest Volunteer, Vivian, with some coding on Google Sheets for a master attendance sheet. I won’t go into details, but the thing she wanted to do and the way that everything was set up made it really complicated. So for a few hours I tackled that and solved it. For such a short line of code, it took the two of us a lot of brain power to figure it out. At MBB I did the same and helped Abby with some coding for easier data collection… then we thoroughly confused ourselves with a built in function so that when we finally figured it out, we smacked ourselves and laughed like idiots. Being in a room with a bunch of Haitian schools girls, they probably thought we were crazy.

Sami, a seasoned missioner who’s been with Maryknoll since I was born, took me to her worksites too. She helps a lot with finances at a couple different sites and troubleshoots different problems that come up, especially if it requires research. My first day, we took a moto (MY FIRST TIME!!!) to one of the eight communal sections of GwoMòn… Bukan Richard… I think the name of the place is?… where there is a piece of land owned by… a local church?... to be an example to the community of how to farm without cutting down trees. They grow bananas, cocoa trees, mango trees, papaya trees, and beans… lots of good stuff. They showed me around and discussed some things that they had to do when they started having problems with flooding and woodpeckers. I got to have some nice conversations with an agronomist and my moto driver too. It was really cool.

Later in the week Sami brought me with her to the henhouse to see the ladies. They have somewhere along the lines of 900-1,000 hens (I know… 100 is a big range but they bought 1,000 and some died… so now they have less). Being unsure about my allergies with chickens (I shared I was allergic to dogs and cats and have had problems with my down comforter at home), I couldn’t don a white lab coat (it tricks the chickens into thinking you’re just a big cluck) and go in to collect eggs but I got to observe. The hens themselves are a fun-looking bunch to watch at least. Their combs, or the red flaps of skin on top of their heads, can be classified as “upright combs.” But the upright combs are so big that they flop down to one side and cover one eye. The girls all sport stylishly cute peek-a-boo bangs! Sami also puts music on for them so they are cultured as well as stylish.

The last place that Sami works is a place called Grepin. She wasn’t able to take me herself but another Quest Volunteer, Timi, took me and showed me around. I’m not sure who runs it, but they have a lot of sustainability and community support projects running out of it based on the time of year. It’s a big piece a land where they grow various fruit and nut trees and other farmed produce. Sami works with the tree nursery specifically.

At home, I’ve been getting into a lot of routines too. I met Dani, who does our laundry twice a week and cleans the house once a week, and Diana, who cooks for us once a week and goes to the market for us. I learned about who we call when we need more drinking water and who to call if we need non-drinking water for everything else. My housemates showed me how to make tortillas, check the water tank on the roof, look where the solar panels are, the market, and favorite places to eat. We watched movies together and played “fun family games”. I was also introduced to our dog! Her name is Wrinkles because when she gets excited, her face wrinkles up. She’s one year old and a silly puppy. And yes, I did mention I was allergic to dogs but she’s an outside dog and not allowed upstairs where I sleep. She is quite cute and a troublemaker.

My Newest Routine

In the past week, there have been some big changes. On Thursday, March 19th, President Jovenel Moïse announced two official cases of the Corona Virus in Haiti. Schools closed, places of worship closed, a curfew was put in place from 8pm-5am, and borders started closing down. The two Quest Volunteers, Timi and Vivian, were sent home, able to catch a flight out a few days later. We chose to stay. Sami currently still goes to the henhouse but Abby and I have mostly been at home with a few trips out maybe once a day. We’ve been mostly working from home and doing things around the house like cleaning, laundry, and cooking. Dani and Diana were paid for the month and told to not return for the next week at least.

Sitting here and typing this, there is a lot to reflect on. Barring just Haiti, the poor in all countries are the ones who will take the brunt of this pandemic. For those who already struggle to provide for themselves and their families, how are they supposed to sustain themselves now? Hospitals are being flooded with new cases every day and are running short of supplies on top of the work they already do for people with cancer or other serious illnesses. Those who were already in hospitals to begin with are at an even greater risk being. God bless our health-care professionals who have stepped up and been on top of their game those who even came out of retirement to help. It’s all hands on deck; and we don’t know when it’s going to end.

While we have not yet experiencing any deaths from Corona Virus, there are many other concerns here in Haiti as well. At the end of 2019, the country experienced “peyi-lok”, or a country-shutdown. Borders and schools were closed for approximately two and a half months. The kids that Abby has been working with and serving are among the poorest in the community, often relying on the school for nutrition and at least one meal during the week-day. Now they aren’t getting those meals and combined with the peyi-lok, this shutdown is devastating to their education. When things get back up-and-running, what will happen? Will they have to repeat the school year again and pay for another year when they already paid for that year to begin with? Do they advance and leave the teachers playing catch-up the entire year?

My Blessings and Joys

It’s easy to look outside at the world and think that time has paused. Stuck in quarantine and stuck in our homes whether you work or not isn’t much of a life. Everyone is holding their breath and turning blue. We’re waiting for the end. We’re waiting for our lives to start again.

Taking a step backwards… life is continuing on. It’s taking a different shape than it has in the past and there is a lot of fear, but this distance we have physically put between other people and ourselves does not mean we have to do the same for our hearts and our lives. We can still find meaning. There are still those we can help and pray for. There are still people fighting in the midst of this crisis we can admire and support. Just because we have put physical space between ourselves does not mean we have to actually socially distance ourselves, even if that’s what we’re calling it.

This past week, I have been astonished into a continual state of awe at the world around me. For five days this past week, I have been invited to join Zumba classes on Zoom, joining anywhere from 10-20 other people as we dance together in our respective homes as well as yoga. I have live-streamed mass in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Australia. I’ve talked with other missioners in El Salvador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Cambodia. My siblings and I have a monthly book club and I sing with my community when a great song comes on. Most of all, I’ve prayed more.

Being on one of the busier streets in GwoMòn, I currently can’t imagine looking out my window and seeing no one. Or not hearing cars and big trucks and buses go by, or here the horns of motos or blaring music. It’s probably boring and stressful at home. My prayers go out to everyone. The people who have been and are being affected, everyone stuck in their homes, our medical professionals and staff, those who are suffering because of the shutdowns…

Now is a time of intentionality. Of giving our lives a purpose rather than letting ourselves be defined by our job or what others think. Give meaning to your own day and offer it up to God. I believe everyone is called to mission and we are still missioners even now.

“The smile on my face doesn’t mean my life is perfect. It means I appreciate what I have and what I have been blessed with. I choose to be happy.” ~ Charlie Brown

And breathe out.

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